Jan 2017 | Small Business

Email is dismissed by some as the fading beauty of the marketing world

It is often thought to be unable to compete with bright new channels like live video and social media. But for small businesses, it provides a cost-effective medium to communicate with customers. In this article, we make the case for email marketing in 2017, and consider how SMEs can cash in on the benefits.

Email isn’t dead

At the Nielsen Consumer 360 conference in 2010, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg infamously stated:

“If you want to know what people like us will do tomorrow, you look at what teenagers are doing today. Email – I can’t imagine life without it – is probably going away.”

At the time, this sombre prediction sparked great debate amongst the internet community. Would email be dead in two years? Would customers of the future refuse to accept communications of more than 140 characters?

It seems not. Predictions in a recent report put the total number of email accounts at over 5 billion by the end of 2018, a 27% increase over four years. What’s more, email addresses remain firmly integrated with our everyday use of the web – almost every website out there requires email verification in order to create an account.

In short, email has been around for almost 50 years – it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere soon.

Does it work for marketers?

For resource-limited SMEs, this is a very important question. When it comes to marketing activity, it’s not just money that’s in limited supply – it’s time. The person responsible for ‘marketing’ is often also responsible for a number of other things, so they must ensure the time they spend on it generates a tangible return.

In 2011, the Direct Marketing Association estimated that email marketing typically returns £40 for every £1 invested, performing better than any other platform. As well as helping to convert existing customers, it’s also an effective medium for customer acquisition. Research by McKinsey & Company found that email was a staggering 40x better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter. That may be because people tend to prefer email for commercial communications – 72% of consumers said email was their favourite form of communications with companies they do business with.

At the very least, regular communications reminds potential customers that you exist. Done well, they help you generate high-quality leads, acquire more customers and build your brand. It’s not magic, it’s science.

Customers in focus

Before the advent of the internet, promoting your business involved casting your net as far and as wide as possible. Leaflets, billboards, bumper stickers – all one-way, resource-heavy strategies designed to shout your message loud.

Email marketing software allows you to be a little more sophisticated. Importantly, it allows you to split the people you’re talking to into segments. It’s unlikely that your database of contacts will all be interested in the same aspects of your business. So it makes sense to chop that big database up into smaller sections based on things like stated preferences, age, gender and behaviour with previous emails.

Remember: poorly-targeted emails will irritate your customers and risks harming your brand’s reputation. Customers will have no hesitation removing themselves from your database if they don’t like what they receive. But get it right, and the result will be highly relevant messages that catch the right customers at the right point in their journey – meaning sales, conversions, referrals and more.

Building a database

You can’t talk to your customers if you don’t know who they are. So before you engage in any marketing wizardry, you must begin by acquiring data.

There are two ways of doing this – either by building an organic list of prospects or by purchasing one. Research has shown that, if you have the time to spend acquiring them, organic leads tend to produce strong results. Customers who have opted-in to your mailing list are both interested in your offering and willing to receive your communications.

However, paying for a marketing list is a good alternative. It gives you quick access to a large pool of prospects – useful if you can’t sacrifice the time, resources and investment needed to build an organic list. When choosing a data provider, it’s important to ensure you do your research. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like ‘Where do you source your data from?’, ‘How often is the data verified and how?’ and ‘What selection criteria can I use to build a list?’, so you can be sure that you’re getting the best quality data and most targeted lists to achieve success in your campaigns.

In either case, make sure this list is kept up to date with the data ‘cleaned‘ at least every few months – some estimate that your list degrades by as much as 22.5% every year.

This article appeared on SME Insider.

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