If you explore this website or see what I post on social media, you’ll know I’m a strong believer in the power of email marketing. However email marketing services weren’t always part of what I offered my clients, and the realization that I should be talking to my clients about email came about by accident rather through some careful strategic thinking on my part (at least initially).
I want to take a minute to reflect on that journey here, because it will set the stage for that moment when we’re talking about a website project and all-of-a-sudden I want to change track and talk about email.
Trust me, it makes sense.
Missed Opportunities for Connection
Integrating an email list subscription form is a common request in new website development. So common, in fact, that it’s included in the checklist on my new client onboarding form. Most often a client will have an existing account with Mailchimp, Constant Contact, or another email service provider (ESP), indicating some background understanding that “having an email list is important,” even if it hasn’t been prioritized in the past.
For early clients I worked with, that was the extent of my involved with their email communication with their audience: they asked for an email sign-up form on the new website we were building, and I provided one, connected to their ESP of choice.
However, after a while I started to notice a pattern. Many clients weren’t doing much with the emails they collected.
A strong email list is such a powerful tool, and it hurts to see a good list wasted! Unlike paid advertising or posting on social media, an opt-in email list creates a unique relationship between you and a prospect/client/supporter (depending on your industry) where that person has specifically invited you to send them email, right to their inbox.
With power comes responsibility, of course, and you must be sure to offer the type and volume of email that the customer expects, and make it easy for them to choose to unsubscribe if they want.
When I saw how underutilized many email lists are, I started to have conversations with clients about their email marketing. These have been valuable conversations, because the potential return on investment for the client is so high, not only in financial terms, but also in building a more engaged customer base that cares more about the client’s business or organization.
Start Small: Send a Monthly Newsletter
The most common use of an email list is to send a newsletter to exist customers who have opted in. Even this can be a challenge for a small business or organization with limited staff time. Indeed, the most common challenges I’ve encountered are:
- Content: clients report having trouble thinking up, or finding time to generate, the content for a monthly newsletter.
- Measuring Success: it can be hard to know if the time you spend on email is worth it if you don’t have a system in place to track the results.
Both of these are genuine concerns, and should absolutely be addressed before investing too much time in email marketing. With some guidance and structure in place, however, both obstacles are relatively easy to overcome.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for email newsletter content, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- New products or services
- Changes at your company: welcome new team members
- Share updates from your industry or sector that would be relevant to your audience
- Share the answer to a frequently asked question
- Share a popular resource or news article
And most importantly, provide an action for readers to take. This could be sharing the newsletter or your website on social media, visiting your online store, or attending an upcoming event.
It will be much easier to find time generating content for your newsletter if you can see the results paying off. This is especially true if the results impact your bottom line: more donations for your nonprofit cause, or more sales for your business.
Luckily, most ESPs make it easy to track how many people open and click on links in your emails. If your ESP’s dashboard doesn’t make it easy to compare results, make yourself a simple spreadsheet with the open and click-through rates for each email campaign you send, so you can test what types of content resonate with your audience.
Level Up: Define Business Goals and Track Conversions from Email
Email marketing starts to get powerful when you can tie specific sales (or donations) back to an email campaign. If you know that those two hours you spent putting together an email resulted in $5,000 in donations for your organization’s fundraising appeal, the return on investment becomes crystal clear.
Depending on your level of skill and the time you have available, some professional help might come in handy here. Most ESPs offer features that will allow you to tie data about how users interact with your email with your website’s ecommerce store or donation page, linking specific emails with transactions or other actions on your website.
Focus on Email Design
If you’re working with a professional, you may also want to spend some time on the design of your emails, and ensuring that they are optimized for display on a variety of devices (from desktop computers to smartphones) and email clients (from Outlook, to GMail, to Apple Mail). Designing emails that perform well across platforms is a specific skill set, and while most ESPs try to ease the pain by providing a wealth of templates, it can be hard to know if your email is performing as well as it could.
A/B Testing Your Email
Your ESP may also allow you to conduct “split” or “A/B” testing, where you create two or more variations of the same email – perhaps with different subject lines or design features – and send them to segments of your subscriber list to see which performs better. Testing your email is a crucial part of understanding whether the design and content choices you are making are the right ones, and a good email marketing program will always involve some degree of trial and error. You know your audience, so you can probably make an educated guess at the type of design and content that will resonate with them. But A/B testing allows you to assess whether your intuition and assumptions hold true in the real world.
Go Pro: Embrace Email Automation and Drip Content
The beauty of modern email platforms is that they place sophisticated marketing tools for email automation within everyone’s reach. Beyond the simple weekly or monthly newsletter, the power of your email list really becomes apparent when you integrate email automation into your business or organization’s workflow.
The most simple example of email automation is setting up the automatic “welcome” email that arrives when someone new joins your list. Your ESP likely places some default copy in there, but this is your first opportunity to interact with someone who has just given you that coveted permission to email them directly. Make the most of it!
Email automation can do more, though. Most ESPs offer some form of automated or “dripped” content, a process whereby a prewritten set of emails are delivered to subscribers over a specific period of time, triggered by a certain event. Here are a couple of examples:
- A Welcome Series: new users receive a series of three emails spread out over the course of a week after they first sign up. Each email might highlight a different product you offer, or a new opportunity to engage with your business. In this case, the trigger is the subscriber completing the sign-up form.
- Purchase Follow-up Series: after a customer makes a purchase, they probably already receive an order confirmation email, and hopefully another email when their order ships. Keep the good feelings rolling with a follow-up email timed to arrive a day or two after the order has been delivered asking for an online review, or post on social media. If it’s the kind of product that comes with instructions, drip out a couple of emails offering tips on how to get best use out of the product.
Tip: since drip campaigns often involve receiving several emails in a relatively short period of time, make clear to the recipients which emails are part of a specific series, and which are just your regular, less frequent newsletter. This will help avoid recipients thinking that you plan to email them every day for the rest of time!
Here are a few links to some great email marketing resources that will help get you started.
- Getting Started with Email Marketing (Campaign Monitor)
- Ebook: Introduction to Email Marketing (Hubspot)
- The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing (Zapier)
If you’re interested in talking more about developing your email marketing program, shoot me an email and we can talk.