While social media and other forms of new media outreach continue to rise in relevance among the business community, email marketing remains an important and valuable process for brands. There are more than 4 billion active email accounts in the world and that number is only increasing over time. Consider this – whenever you sign-up for a social network or any other form of online membership, what’s the first thing you need to provide to gain access? You’re email address is an important vein of information, and tapping into that, for brands, can create a considerably more durable consumer relationship than building connections through social networks alone.
Having a user sign-up for your email update is permission, a license to be able to speak directly to them – and the best part is, that license isn’t governed by the rules of a third party. Your email list is a direct link between you and your subscribers. But that permission must be treated with respect. Just as people can grant you access to their inbox, they can also revoke that permission at anytime. Spam them and they’ll cut you off. Don’t provide what they signed-up for and they’ll divert you to their junk folder. Your email list is only valuable so long as people are reading your updates. It’s important for brands to understand what they want to say to their audience, but also, to understand what their audience wants to hear.
Meeting audience demand is key to maintaining a strong email marketing program, and the only way to do that is with a plan – here are three things to consider when outlining your email strategy.
1. What do you want to say?
What’s the purpose of your email marketing outreach? The aim of any such program normally comes down to three areas of focus – sales, loyalty or awareness. Now, obviously, boosting sales is everyone’s end goal, but in order to maximise the value of your email program, it’s more effective to focus on a single intention and make that the purpose of your strategy.
For example, if your aim is purely to increase sales, you can use your email marketing program to alert customers to special offers, new deals, copy that puts an upfront focus on direct conversions. Most businesses would see value in using email marketing for this type of communication, but for some, building loyalty may be a better way to go. If loyalty were your goal, you’d be looking to increase community through insider news and events, to establish expertise in order to position your brand as the go-to resource for your field.
For some brands, they’re not always able to sell and convert all the time. If you sell pools, for example, you’re not going to sell the same customer a new pool every week (or month, or decade). In situations like this, you could opt to use your email marketing as an opportunity to raise awareness, to keep those customers updated on new happenings and events relevant to them. This is similar to the aims of the second goal, loyalty, but with awareness, you’re really looking to keep subscribers in the know on new products and offerings relevant to them – it’s less about building loyal bonds and more about maintaining relationships among interested parties.
Whichever goal you choose, it’s important to understand the audience expectations for each, and to segment your email lists to ensure the right messages are reaching the right customers. You might actually utilise all three but create content aligned to each one and sending out specific messages to different segments of your outreach listings.
2. How often do you want to say it?
Consistency is of crucial importance in email marketing. If you can build a relationship with your audience where they reliably know your content is going to arrive in their inbox each, say, Wednesday at 9am, they can then structure that into their own reading routine, increasing both your open rates and the chances of your messages reaching your subscribers and resonating with them. It also shows a level of professionalism – if you can produce a consistent email update, on message and on schedule, every day, week or month, it highlights that you take your business seriously. That may seem trite, that an example so small as regularity of an email can be seen as indicative of a brand’s standing, but attention to detail is the difference between ‘good’ and ‘great’. The importance of consistency, in this context, cannot be understated.
In order to plan this, you need to understand your own internal capabilities and the resources you have available to construct and send email updates to meet whatever schedule you require. For most brands, daily updates would be too much and would potentially risk spamming your audience, but a weekly update could work, or a monthly wrap-up. Whatever you go with, it may be to your benefit to do a practice run, of sorts, before inviting subscribers to receive your updates. Maybe try it out a few times, put together an update, go through the whole process, see how long it takes to construct. Then match that up against your other tasks and ascertain what would be a realistic and achievable frequency target for your email marketing plan.
3. Put together a plan
It’s all fine and great to come up with an idea, consider how it’ll all work, then go ahead and start sending. Maybe that’ll work, maybe everything will stay on track through changes and shifts in your working life and it’ll all come together the way you’d envisioned. But maybe it won’t. Because of this, the best way to approach your email marketing, in a measured and professional manner, is to come up with a structured plan and stick to it.
The most basic aspects of your email marketing planning relate to topicality and timeliness – knowing how far ahead of Christmas you need to send out updates relative to the Christmas holiday break. If you’re an accountant, for example, you know the months you’re going to be busiest, you know the most commonly asked questions – wouldn’t it be great to pre-empt that and have a plan to answer those queries right at the exact time people are starting to consider those same things themselves? Planning allows you to capitalise on seasonal trends relative to your industry, but it also enables you to maintain consistency without having to come up with whole new ideas on the fly. Having a plan in place means you have a backbone for your content and outreach strategy, which will help you stay on track and deliver content to your schedule.
Planning also relates to audience segmentation. For example, the message you send to previous customers may be significantly different to those who’ve signed-up for updates on your website. Now, you may put them all in the same basket, but the power of online data is increasingly building an expectation of personalisation among consumers. The more you can deliver targeted, specific messages, relevant to each individual in your subscriber base, the more successful your email outreach is likely to be. This takes more work, and would need to be factored into your overall planning, but targeted content is where all marketing is headed. It may of benefit to work with this trend.
And there you have it, three crucial steps in establishing and maintaining an email outreach program. There’s obviously a lot more depth to each of these elements in practice, but these are important and relevant processes that all brands should consider when putting together their email marketing plan. Being granted access to a potential customer’s inbox is a significant win, and one which should not be overlooked. The key to maintaining that attention is to provide what that customer wants, consistently, regularly and in a timely manner. Having a level of professionalism in your approach is one of the things that can put you over the top – all of these notes relate to that goal, and to delivering on your audience wants and needs.