With all the ballyhoo lately about the sales power of social media, it might be tempting to view email marketing as an old technology that should be put on the back burner and forgotten. But that would be a mistake. Designed correctly, an email campaign is a terrific sales booster that can magnify the effects of social media.
“Email can drive perceptions about your brand that translate into social sharing,” says John Arnold, VP Marketing at Denver-based FullContact Inc., and author of Email Marketing for Dummies (fullcontact.com). “It can also drive customer loyalty, repeat purchases and referrals.”
Successful email marketing, though, means more than just sending a few messages and hoping customers respond. “Effective email marketing is part of a larger communication strategy that has the goal of building long term relationships,” says Arnold. Doing it right takes careful planning. “You need to figure out what you want people to remember about your store brand at every stage of the customer lifecycle.”
How, in other words, do you want the public to view your store? As the most reliable source for high end merchandise? As the price leader? Or as some variation of the above, along with a reputation for expertise in a certain department? Firm up that strategy--then drive it home with emails that stand head and shoulders above the crowd.
Here are some tips for doing just that.
Tip #1: Design for mobile
To impress your recipients, your emails should acknowledge the rapid shift toward smart phones. “Most email is now read or at least reviewed on mobile devices,” says Arnold. “So your email strategy needs to provide information that people on mobile devices want to read.”
That means writing copy that gets to the point quickly. It also means encouraging readers to interact with the email text. Include links that take recipients to informative pages on your website. “Provide lots of content that can be watched, swiped, pressed, and tapped,” says Arnold.
Bonus tip: Make all content mobile friendly. Arnold give this example: “Videos with portrait dimensions that fit on the screen when the phone is upright are more effective than widescreen videos that must be viewed by rotating the phone.”
Tip #2: Target customer behavior
Your email campaign should reflect a knowledge of what marketers call “behavioral retargeting.” That term refers to the practice of creating copy that is informed by your recipients’ recent activity at your website. Maybe some visitors browsed your wares a bit, then left without buying. Perhaps some even started to buy items, but then failed to complete their transactions.
“One of the most effective tactics you can use is to send follow-up emails with appropriate messages after a visitor puts something into your shopping cart, then abandons it,” says Jessica Best, digital marketing evangelist at emfluence, a Kansas City, Mo.,-based full service digital marketing agency (emfluence.com). “The customer might have lost interest because of a feeling that the total was too high, or because of shipping costs. Or maybe the person was just distracted. In any case, consider reaching out with an automated follow-up in 24 or 48 hours.”
What should such a follow-up email say? It might invite the customer to purchase the very item that had been abandoned. Or, if your research has shown that your customers in general dislike shipping charges, you might offer free shipping for a limited time if the customer spends a minimum amount.
Follow-up emails can also be sent to customers who complete their transactions, points out Best. “You might invite customers to leave reviews about items purchased recently. Or you might promote items related to recent purchases.”
All of the emails described above can be automatically generated by computer software. And make purchases as easy as possible by inviting recipients to click on links that process transactions. “Help your customers by removing as much friction as possible from the checkout process,” says Best.
Bonus tip: Include a line asking recipients to explain why they did not buy during their recent visit. Their answers can provide valuable marketing insights.
Tip #3: Exploit the “preheader”
Next time you open your email, take a close look at your inbox messages. You’ll likely see one or two lines of text underneath (or to the side of) the subject line. That text is called the “preheader,” and it’s an important sales driver for those who know how to use it.
“An amazing number of marketers ignore the power of the preheader,” says Best. “That snippet of text gets the biggest percentage of real estate in the inbox. So you want to make the subject line and the preheader work together to encourage the recipient to open the email.”
Here are three examples of such combinations:
Subject: Save money on your next store purchase
Preheader: Free shipping for all orders placed before 5:00 PM
Subject: Claim your discount coupon
Preheader: Open this email to print your coupon
Subject: Things we love about the holidays
Preheader: Order prewrapped gifts for your loved ones.
Bonus tip: Always position your preheader text at the top of your emails, above the graphic. That will keep the ugly computer code of the graphic from being pulled into recipients’ inboxes.
Tip #4: Ask ‘em to share
Emails often include social media buttons, usually positioned below the message. But when recipients click on those icons, are they transported to your social media feeds? You can do better than that, says Steve Dodd, a Toronto-based business consultant (twitter.com/steve_dodd). You want to include buttons that will share your content on your visitors’ social media feeds. That will really compound the return on your email marketing investment.
“Very often when I read an email the first thing I want to do is share it,” says Dodd. He could certainly do that by forwarding the email to his list of key people, but that would be pretty limited in scope. “It would be much better if I were able to easily post the information on my own Twitter feed, where I have many more followers,” he says. “That would also let me add a comment to the text.”
In essence, says Dodd, you want to get people to promote you, and helping them share your copy on their social media feeds does just that. In order to share your email in this way, you will need to have the text of the email also posted on your web site. When people click on your email share button they will in effect share your web site page.
Bonus tip: Responding to shared posts with your own comments will promote good feelings and expand the reach of your store brand.
Tip #5: Send a podcast, not a sales pitch
You send an email partly to inform and partly to stimulate a desirable action on the part of recipients. But the question arises: What should that action be?
It’s tempting to just ask the customer to place an order by including an advertisement at the bottom of the email. Resist the urge, counsels Dodd. “People in general are getting sick and tired of advertisements,” he says. “When they see a blatant ad it doesn’t sit right.”
Instead of a sales pitch, offer helpful information that draws people deeper into long term engagements with your store. One excellent technique is to offer complimentary podcasts. While the podcasts provide helpful information, they also operate as soft sellers. They do this by providing in-depth information about how listeners can benefit from your merchandise or services.
Your goal, says Dodd, is to draw people to your core website so they engage profitably with you. While podcasts do just that, so do links to pages of helpful information that also have merchandise offers. Dodd puts it this way: “Instead of saying, in effect, ‘If you like this email, buy this item,’ say this: ‘If you think these ideas are worthwhile, go here for more information.”
Bonus tip: Encourage dialog by including a line at the bottom of your message that says “If you have any thoughts on this email, let me know. Click here.” Then link to a form for feedback.
All of the above ideas share a common denominator: Customer engagement. By promoting two-way communications your emails will encourage recipients to enter into long term relationships with your store.
As they deepen their relationship with your retail organization, customers will come to appreciate your brand—the strategic marketing position which your marketing is designed to promote. “Decide what you are trying to accomplish in your overall business strategy,” concludes Dodd. “Then power that strategy with an effective email marketing campaign.”