Thinking about diving into email marketing? The water is beautiful because email marketing is widely used in virtually all verticals, proven to be effective, affordable and capable of reaching any customer or prospect with an email address (that is, everyone). Unfortunately, the water is also dangerous because email marketing is polluted with spammers, and recipients are drowning in inbox overload. Here is a seven-point checklist to help you determine whether email will work for your business.
1. We have a house list.
An email campaign is only as good as its list, and the best list is a house list, comprised of customers and prospects with whom you’ve already made contact. When you buy lists, you buy trouble. Names may be irrelevant, data out of date — and worst of all, since contacts don’t know you from Adam, they will probably send your email straight to the spam folder.
2. Our house list is being updated.
Contacts and email addresses change, so your house list must be continually updated — otherwise, your number of opens and click-throughs will dwindle to nothing.
3. We have a strategy for building our house list.
Adding names to the house list cannot be done randomly — there has to be a plan. Will your salespeople add names to the list? Will you add an email subscription box to your website, and promote it on social media? Will you canvas your customers to find new subscribers within existing accounts? Without these and/or other activities, your email reach will tread water, at best.
4. We have a campaign goal and the means to measure it.
Many small businesses fail to define a specific goal for their email, but successful campaigns are laser focused on something. The goal could be driving traffic to your website, obtaining appointments or orders, educating subscribers, etc. Once a goal has been established, determining how to measure results is the next critical step. Tracking results may involve some back-end setup on your website and/or to your phone system (phone conversions must be tracked), but without goals and measurement, your emails are like casting pebbles into a vast ocean — they will vanish into nothing.
5. We have plenty to say.
A common misadventure in email marketing occurs when a small business embarks on a campaign to educate customers — and runs out of topics in three months. Successful campaigns map out a content calendar with topics planned months in advance, giving their creative team or agency plenty of time to develop useful and engaging messages. Similarly, campaigns aimed at selling merchandise must map out a schedule of hard-hitting promotions guaranteed to motivate subscribers. Scrambling at the last minute to come up with content never works.
6. We’re patient.
Many email campaigns are aborted before they have a chance to succeed. It may take recipients two, three or four emails before they read one or act on one. Some companies just don’t have the patience to invest in a long-term marketing option such as email. Do you?
7. We know where we need help.
There’s a science behind email marketing unknown to non-specialists. List management and segmentation, subject line composition, split-testing methodologies and design best practices, for instance, have a critical bearing on open rates, click-throughs and conversions. If your business has all of the necessary expertise in-house, terrific — but if not, your success hinges on your ability to assess your weak spots and get help.
Brad Shorr is Director of Content Strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing agency headquartered in the Chicago area. He has written extensively about marketing and other small business topics for leading publications including Moz, Forbes and American Marketing Association.