It seems like many are ready to anoint marketing through social media the wave of the future, and relegate email marketing to a relic of a time gone by. While it is true that the significance of social media is on the rise, it is far too early to write email marketing's obituary just yet.
According to a 2010 report by research firm Marketing Sherpa, email is still the key ingredient to successful product marketing, with 76% of respondents stating that the importance of "delivering highly-relevant email content to recipients" would actually increase during that year. "Is _____ going to kill email?" the report says. "It's a question we love to ask every few years when some new technology comes along. RSS sparked the last wave of discussions, and of course, now it's social. Will social media affect email? Definitely. Will it kill the medium? Far from it. After all, email is the original opt-in tactic, while social and mobile are newcomers, and email works in tandem with most other tactics to increase engagement, deliver relevant content and build contact databases."
Growing a list of email subscriptions is still the best way to advertise a business. Email is the most direct method of marketing. While other forms of advertising require potential customers to come across an advertisement or visit a site, email marketing allows the retailer to contact the customer to tell them of special offers, new products, etc. And while not everyone uses social media, everyone has email. "At the end of the day, social media is not a broadcast medium, it's a conversational medium," says David Appelbaum, VP of Marketing for email marketing and marketing automation platform company Act-On. "If you're using it correctly, you are using it to help you engage in conversation with communities of likeminded individuals. It's a way to get your message across in a way that is not exclusive. In that way, email is a lot more comparable to advertising, because it gives you the opportunity to deliver your message."
Why is email marketing still effective for any retail business? It is simple, easy, and inexpensive for both merchant and customer. In addition, data can easily be analyzed as to what email campaigns worked as desired and which did not. "You have to think a click after the inbox," says Len Shneyder, senior product manager for IBM. "What's going to happen when they receive it? Are they going to share it, do nothing, go to the store and make a purchase? It's not just getting email to the inbox, it's really thinking through the entire ecosphere of digital communications and how email touches it."
Customers want to know that they are important. Long-time loyal buyers do not want to feel like they are treated the same as prospective customers. They want to know that you value their continued business and want to give them the best deals possible. A blast email to all subscribers, while simplest to compose, is often the least effective. While an occasional generic message will probably do little harm, what makes email messages such a good marketing tool is that they can be sent (or not sent) to specific consumers.
Let's say you sell clothing. If a male customer receives an offer for wedding dresses, there is a good chance he will just ignore the message and delete it. However, if he receives ten messages selling dresses, there is a good chance that he will unsubscribe. This is why it is helpful to get information from your customers when they sign up, in order to find out what types of messages they want to receive. "Controlling the frequency and cadence of your email marketing campaigns is critical to sustaining an ongoing long dialogue with your customers," says Shneyder. "To successfully do that, you need to have a lot of customer data for preferences, channels to communicate with them. At the very heart of it all is having as robust a customer profile as possible, which ultimately informs your email marketing."
There are a number of things to avoid in all emails, no matter who they are intended to serve. Using too much slang or hyperbole is a no-no; while it may seem like a good idea to sound excited about your products, it can easily make the company seem unprofessional. Also, do not use ALL CAPS either throughout the message or in the subject line. Limit overexcitement to a minimum, while being confident in the products themselves and the deals offered. Attachments are something to avoid. It is better to use links instead, as most email users are afraid to open attachments for fear of their computer being infected with a virus.
One thing that is important in email marketing is ease of use. It needs to be easy for your consumers to subscribe to your email messages, but it also needs to be easy for them to unsubscribe if necessary. Nobody wants to lose potential customers, but getting them frustrated by making it impossible for them to stop receiving emails is not going to win any retailer much favor with the public. If the consumer later decides they may want to subscribe again, they will remember if it was a giant hassle to get off the first time.
In addition, there is the issue of multimedia content in emails. While it may look nice on the computer screen, it may not be visible on some mobile devices, so it is necessary for the emails to have content that can be read by consumers that may not be in front of their computer screens. According to a study by Knotice, more than 20% of a sampling of 155 million emails sent between October 1 and December 31, 2010 were opened via mobile devices. With more and more people using cellular phones to read their emails, users may or may not be able to see .jpeg, .gif, and other photos on these devices. If you do use media, make sure the message is clear without it, as many customers have seen a blank screen on their phones and quickly deleted the message.
However, the email needs to get opened in the first place, which is why a strong subject for your message is so vital. Many customers will simply look at the sender's email address, the title and the first line to determine whether or not to open it. The subject needs to utilize key words that the specific consumer will be looking for and therefore be eager to open, much like a web article needs to use Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques to be placed highest in search engine results. "We structure our emails in such a way that we get to the point real quickly," says Appelbaum. "We want to be visually attractive, terse, and relevant because we have less than a second once they click, so there is an importance for graphics, video, and things that are really going to drive the point home as quickly as possible."
Email is still a very vital marketing tool, and can be used for the benefit of any retailer, whether it is for in-store sales or through the internet. While other forms of marketing may be becoming more prevalent, using email marketing effectively is still the most popular and essential way of expanding business.
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