Although many people may be turned off by receiving email from companies because some senders have overwhelmed inboxes mercilessly, the electronic form of communication still remains a good way for you to reach customers. Make sure that you receive the permission of people you send email to and keep the content relevant. Aside from the possibility of making an immediate sale, email offers you the chance to further establish your brand and reminds customers that you are out there (out of sight, out of mind).
Email should be opt-in, meaning customers should specifically be asked if they want to receive email – just because you have their address from them placing an order for your site doesn’t give you permission to send them your weekly specials email. There’s a couple of ways of doing this: (1) you can have a checkbox or settings for a customer’s account (see Overstock.com example to the right) which they can opt-in when they create their account (and opt-out at anytime); or (2) you can have a sign-up box (usually provided by the email marketing software company you use). The sign-up box is especially effective for things like newsletter or other focused email lists because it allows for visitors to your site to sign-up even if they don’t register for an account on your website.
Overstock also allows visitors to opt-in to email marketing with a sign-up box on the bottom of each page:
News, News, News – Read All About It!
Newsletters are an excellent way to keep customers informed of your offerings while reminding them that you’re out there. If you do a newsletter, please make it look professional, with the email marketing software out there that provides templates where you can drag and drop what you want into the design, there’s just no excuse for amateur looking emails. Don’t that to your brand even if you save a couple of bucks – just don’t do it.
WebMarketCentral has a great article on how to write a newsletter. Here are some highlights from the article:
- Try not to make a “hard sell” and just focus on a product for an article – this just turns off readers. Instead tie in your product indirectly. For example, when I had a newsletter, I focused on things like: modern home style trends, home improvement ideas and interior decorating articles. Sometimes I would mention a product alongside other things, sometimes I wouldn’t. Plant the idea in their head that you’re the expert in whatever your selling, such as modern home improvement products, so they automatically start to think of you when they think of that product line (and buy from you).
- Offering How-To’s and Tips about your product is a way to mention your products indirectly so people don’t just feel like they are reading an ad in the Sunday paper – it’s also a great way to illustrate benefits from your products.
- Include success stories of people using your product and how they’ve benefited.
- Don’t make it too long – long emails are also a turnoff for readers. It doesn’t necessarily that your articles are short, but you should probably only show the intro for an article (i.e. 1-3 paragraphs) and then have a link to “continue reading” where people can read the entire article, so people don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of time it looks like it would take to read the newsletter and so there’s a better chance that they review all of your article headlines (since it’s unlikely all articles will appeal to them)
Autoresponders are functionality that can send emails on a set schedule. Different than newsletters, where you’re sending out the same exact email to everyone at the same time, you may want to send the same emails to customers in certain time intervals. This is especially useful if you’re selling a product that isn’t a traditionally impulse buy where people need some time to think before making a purchasing decision. Typically you’d have a sign-up box offering visitors a specific piece of information such as this example to the right (click to enlarge).
To take an example, let’s say that you are selling a big ticket item, like hot tubs. A person who buys a hot tub usually doesn’t buy the first one they read about – they probably will get the idea to buy one, do some research online, mull it over, and then make a decision to buy it from somewhere. When this is the case, you want to make sure that they keep you in their mind so they shop you once they are ready to make a purchase. On the website I found this, they offered a free report (a PDF) on the health benefits of hot tubs. With an autoresponder, they can send you an email with the report once you sign-up (this is how they verify your email), and then send a series of emails in preset time intervals. In other words, have an a second email that sends a report with successful customer stories about how a hot tub changed their life, in two weeks send you a report on how to select a hot tub in a week, and maybe in three weeks send a report on how to pick a good hot tub dealer. This process automates what a sales person historically had to do by making follow-up calls to prospects in regular intervals – to remind them of the product and of who they could buy it from.
Sales and Promotions
You might want to consider having an email list for sending emails on sales and promotions. I think that this is a good idea, but would like to mention these things for your consideration:
- If you do a newsletter also be careful of using the same list. It’s easier to maintain only a single list, but you may turn off some people who may accept something that is more of a soft sell (i.e. a newsletter). Start with the same list, and if you see a lot of people unsubscribing after receiving the sales/promotion emails, consider splitting the lists.
- Don’t send them too often, weekly at the most
- Do the sales in conjunction with your website software to coordinate the promotion/discount codes
Picking Email Marketing Software
Aside from having ready-to-use professional templates, there’s many reasons to use email marketing software to help you:
- They have a much higher acceptance rate (avoiding junk and spam filters) because they have policies (and enforce them) against spammers – you don’t want email providers like Hotmail considering email from you as spam, unless you want to risk customer not receiving emails related to orders.
- They can track things like how many: read the email, forwarded it, unsubscribed and marked it as spam. This tells you valuable info on how your emails are being perceived.
- They offer the code for putting up sign-up boxes on your website, so it’s easy to allow visitors to sign up for emails.
- They offer autoresponders which can act as virtual sales people who ask for the business of prospects regularly (without you even asking!)
- The monthly price of the software is very affordable and does not require a contract (in case you want to end the service)
Here’s a list of email marketing companies along with the features they provide. I recommend clicking on the Fullscreen link (in the bottom right of the comparison matrix) to see everything easier.