The Definitive Guide to Email Marketing

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Email is a powerful way to reach leads and prospects, especially when you combine it with cold calling. Your first campaign will take a lot of work to put together because you'll have to design it from the bottom up. Just remember that once you come up with a campaign that works, you'll be able to recycle the pieces in future successful campaigns.

First Steps

The first step in launching a campaign is collecting information from your intended recipients.

You want your message to be something that's appealing and interesting for these people, not something they send to the trash folder without reading it. You can get some ideas along these lines by asking your existing customers for advice.

The big drawback to email is that it's easily ignored; to succeed, an email marketing campaign needs to be spot on. Your best customers are experts on what other customers and prospects will want to see from you, and they're generally happy to share what they know. Your approach can be as informal or as formal as you like, depending on which you think would work better with your customers. Whether you set up actual focus group meetings with your customers or simply pick up the phone for a chat, you'll want to ask questions like, "What kind of information do you like to see in marketing emails?" "Would you prefer to receive coupons, discounts, gift cards, or some other kind of bonus?" "Are there marketing emails that you particularly like, and why do you like them?"

Take special note of the sample question about bonuses. Any email marketing campaign must have something to offer your recipients, and it must be something they'll consider valuable or at least useful. Your value offering can be a coupon, a bit of useful information, a link to a great website, a how-to guide on something of interest, or a combination of these items.

The information you collect from your customers will tell you what type of value item(s) is most likely to appeal to your recipients.

Game Plan

Once you've picked out a few likely value offerings, it's time to prepare your game plan. Your initial email marketing campaign will only be the first of many, so you want to make it something that you can use as a basis for future mailings. The more you know about your prospects, the better you can tune your campaign to appeal to them. For example, if your prospects are retailers who get busy during the holiday season, you can send them information about maximizing profits during the holiday rush at the time when it will be most useful for them.

By now you should have an idea of the type of person you'll want as a recipient, so it's time to assemble a specific mailing list for your campaigns. Like phone campaigns, email campaigns will live or die by the lead list. A poorly chosen list full of irrelevant leads will not generate a good response no matter how wonderful an email you design. Also, never put a prospect on your list unless he's given you permission to send him email communications. If you include recipients who haven't requested the information, you're sending them spam, which is both unprofessional and illegal.

Opt-In List

It's not difficult to find prospects who are willing to opt-in to your list – all you need to do is give them the chance. You can put a basic sign-up form on your website, include a link on your social media platforms, hand out hard-copy sign-up forms at retail locations or anywhere else your prospects tend to go, and so on. One of the best ways to collect new names for your list is by attending industry events. Not only can you hand out sign-up forms (often in the guise of a promotion) but you can collect business cards and verbally ask permission to add the person to your mailing list.

While you're assembling your list, your next step is to design an email template. Ideally, all your email campaigns should use the same template – it gives a coherent feel to your messages. Pick a template that reflects your company image and leaves plenty of room for links and possibly images.

Building brief paragraphs and bulleted lists into your template makes your emails look and feel more readable to your recipients.

At this point, you'll want to craft a powerful "opener" email that will kick your campaign off with a bang. The more powerful, intriguing, and valuable that first email is, the more likely your recipients are actually to read your follow-up emails. That first email should reflect the style that you intend to use for all of your emails of this particular campaign. It's also a good idea to let your recipients know how often you intend to email them during the campaign. And don't hesitate to request feedback from your recipients. If you can turn the campaign into a conversation, you can magnify your results.

Your first round of emails should use the softest possible sell. It may be the first email these folks have ever received from you, so it should be heavy on value offerings and light on selling. Use this email to introduce yourself to the people on your mailing list and ask them to tell you what they'd like to hear from you in the future. The more of a dialogue you can get going with your list members, the better you'll be able to target future emails to their preferences.

Email Scheduling

Now it's time to set up an email schedule that will incorporate your initial campaign and look forward to future ones. Your campaign plan should also factor in your customers' buying patterns. For example, if you know that your customers tend to make big purchases early in the calendar year, when their budgets have been refreshed, plan for your email campaign to climax around that time. Similarly, you should consider any planned major product releases by your company.

After the initial round, your emails should be as personalized as you can make them. Always send them from the same email account and sign them with the same name – this gives recipients the feeling of having a real person as a correspondent rather than a faceless company. You should include the recipient's name at the top as well as any other customized details that you can work into the body of the email (for example, their company name).

Don't bombard your recipients with too many emails or too much information in each email. A good starting place is one message every other week with each message containing at least three useful tidbits of information. These tidbits can be ideas for using your product, industry-related news, interesting quotes, etc. As a general rule, the more frequently you send out emails, the shorter they should be. You can tell if you're sending too many emails by keeping your eye on your list's unsubscribe rate. A small percentage of recipients will unsubscribe from your list after every mailing, but if that rate starts to climb it's time to cut back on email frequency and possibly get in touch with some of the unsubscribers to see if there's another problem that you haven't noticed.

Ideas for Content

If you're having a hard time coming up with ideas for content or attention-grabbing subject lines, try subscribing to a few of your competitors' email lists. Newsletters related to your company's industry can also be a rich source of ideas. You can also use material from your company's print advertising and press releases. Finally, stay on top of new product releases or upcoming model changes for your own company's products so that you can communicate these details to your subscribers. If you know a new promotion or special offer is coming up, by all means, mention that as well.

With HTML emails, you can include all kinds of visual and even auditory extras such as video, animation, and so on. However, very busy emails with lots of moving parts will take longer to download, and many email clients will block these parts of the email by default as a security measure. Keep this in mind as you design your emails so that they'll look reasonable with just the text portions as well as with the full set of images.

Once you have a design you like, don't change it unless you have a compelling reason. A consistent look and feel to your emails will help your subscribers to recognize them at a glance. If you do decide to try a new design, test it first by sending the new version to a small group of your subscribers while sending the old version to the rest of the list. If the new design gets a more positive response than the old one, you should consider rolling it out to the whole group. You can use the same technique to test new subject lines, copy components, or even sales offers.

After you wrap up your first email campaign, be sure to save plenty of notes on how it went – what worked, what didn't work, how frequently your recipients asked to get emails, whether they asked for specific value offers (e.g. how to use your products), and so on. The last thing you need is to have to start from scratch with every email marketing campaign because you've gotten hazy on the details of the last one. Also, keep track of the size of your subscriber list. Usually, it will grow gradually over time, with the occasional spike upwards after an industry event or particularly successful mailing. If the number of subscribers stays about the same over a long period or drops off suddenly, you need to find the problem and fix it.