Topic overview

Email marketing

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Email marketing has become a vital tool for small businesses that want to send regular marketing messages. The initial attractions are obvious - it's fast and cheap. But that's not all - email marketing offers sophisticated opportunities to target messages to the right people at the right time and bring in serious business.

Response rates for bulk emails are higher than for direct mailings, thanks to the immediacy of the medium. Results can be measured and used to make subsequent email marketing more tightly focused.

Direct marketing via email is an ideal communication method for any small firm that relies on its website for much of its business. Email messages can highlight special offers and new products and then prompt recipients to click through to the website.

Email marketing done badly does present some pitfalls, however. Indiscriminate emailing will be seen as spam. Responsibility and relevance are the watchwords. You must have permission to email the recipient, particularly now that there are new Data Protection rules in force and records to prove you're doing all you can to protect their personal data. And if you want your contact database to respond positively, you must send messages that are genuinely of value to them.

Building your email marketing list

An up-to-date database is the starting point for your permission-based email marketing strategy. Your contact list must have all the necessary information about recipients so that you can target your messages.

These recipients must have given their permission for you to send them marketing emails by 'opting in' on a form or on your website. Make sure you include simple opt-in/out tick boxes on all of your marketing material.

Segment your email list into key groups of people who share specific characteristics. Group your customers according to what they have bought in the past. That way you can send targeted messages about specific product ranges to the right people.

The law on email marketing

You can contact customers who have agreed to receive information from you in the past. The important thing is that they must actively opt in. Sending unsolicited marketing emails, or spam, is illegal. Anyone that has registered with the Data & Marketing Association's Email Preference Service should be removed from your contact list. You can check that you comply with the rules by reading the guidance on direct marketing on the Information Commissioner's Office website.

It is illegal to reveal recipients' details on your emails, so you need to create a mailing group that sends a blind carbon copy (bcc). All commercial emails should be clearly identifiable as such. At the same time, you must not conceal your own identity. Finally, each mailing should include an easy 'unsubscribe' option, so people can opt out of future mailings if they wish.

Creating your marketing emails

Whether you send regular email newsletters or occasional offers, the content of your marketing emails must be relevant and useful to the recipient. Send one or two irrelevant messages and your prospects may start deleting all your emails or even unsubscribe.

To ensure relevancy, target messages to specific segments of your database rather than the whole list. Check out responses to previous emails and also buying habits to make sure your message is reaching the right people.

There are lots of ways to make your email stand out. Grab attention with a compelling subject line, but don't use exaggerated claims - they can look like junk mail. Keep the text simple, use images wisely and give a clear call to action and a reason to respond. Encourage recipients to click through to your website.

Before pressing 'send', always review the email and put yourself in the shoes of the recipient. Is it really relevant or useful?

A good-looking email is essential, but some messages end up getting mangled on the recipient's computer because of software incompatibility. It's worth offering both a text-only email as well as an HTML version.

Measuring the response to your emails

Tracking the results of your email campaigns will enable you to establish what's working and what's not.

Gather key information such as: how many emails were delivered, how many people clicked through and how many people opted out. Give each email campaign a code in order to calculate the campaign response rate.

Response rates for email marketing are often higher than for other direct marketing methods. The average rate is about 4 per cent. If you send emails to a large mailing group, you could be inundated with enquiries. Make sure you can handle them promptly and fulfil the orders or you could end up damaging your brand and reputation.

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