Getting Started With Email Marketing

A common question I receive is how do I get started with email marketing.  Here’s why I love that question (and it’s not because of the obvious answer of me shouting “Hire Me!”).  I like the questions because it is being asked.  So many individuals or organizations never really consider the question.  Here’s some ideas on weighing your options.

How much time, money, and effort are you willing to invest?  If you have a budget and will make time to meet with consultants or email marketing professionals, that typically nets the best results fastest.  There are experts that deal day in and day out with getting the best campaigns they can.  Depending on the size of your budget you can hire large marketing firms, smaller specialzed firms, or independent consultants/freelancers.  Typically the budgets necessary will slide from large to small based on the size of the firm mostly because of the manpower it puts at your disposal.  So if you have a campaign that needs constructed quickly and have a large budget to facilitate it, a large firm is the best bet.  Smaller budget and more time might lend itself to  a smaller firm or individual.  I’ll skip the email marketing commercial here and move on to options outside hiring someone.

The first step is deciding to invest the time to do a campaign.  Think carefully about the answer.  Many times people are better off spending money rather than doing it themselves because they get frustrated and quit or it’s an inefficient use of their time.  If you still believe that’s your best or only bet (no budget for it), than reading is vital.  If you’re reading this you’ve already found one great source of information, the internet.  Do searches and gather some tips and best practices.  Make sure you get some good ideas on all aspects of email marketing, from legal requirements, layout, design, consistency, list building, and content.  The bookstore or library will also have many books on  constructing campaigns.

After crafting a plan that makes sense, get started.  I highly recommend having at least $20 a month available to sign up for an email marketing service.  They’ll provide all legal requirements and usually some templates to get started.  Once you have your target audience in the system and the emails constructed you’re ready to roll.

From this point on it’s really about watching the reports and responses and refining your campaign.  Always look for ways to improve and test changes out to see if they help or hurt your responses.  Do get more sophisticated by making custom layouts and unique content.  Once you start developing good interactions it starts becoming a problem to use “standard templates” or “borowed content”.

A couple words of warning whether you try email marketing yourself or hire someone.  Make sure you want to invest time, money, and/or energy.  Too often people hear that email is “cheap” and effective and they dive in without thinking things through.  A good campaign can be much less expensive than other marketing media, but anything of quality is never “cheap”.  The cost will come in dollars and/or sweat.  If you don’t hire someone and don’t put the sweat in you’ll have a “cheap” campaign that, at best, hurts your business or organizations relationship or, at worst, faces legal action.  If you’re going to do a campaign, commit to it.  Otherwise you’ll get frustrated and quit.  If you’re not in it for at least several months, don’t get started.  It will only waste time , energy, and/or money.

Create a Favorable Interaction Online: Say what you’ll do, and then do what you say.

It’s amazing how many sites continue to use deception in their marketing.  Don’t believe me?  Do a search on “working from home” and submit your name to a few forms.  I’ve yet to witness a legitimate opportunity that actually delivered what was advertised.  They typically lead to SPAM or SCAM, bombarding you with ads or asking for money for a “starter package”.  Many reputable businesses use more subtle methods but are equally as frustrating.  Avoid this tendancy like the plague.  For good interactions that lead to productive and profitable relationships, explain what you’re offering, show the user exactly how to take the next step, and deliver what you offered. 

It sounds simple but most sites don’t do it.  I’ll give you a good example and a bad example I recently ran into.  The first was on an airline ticket confirmation email.  After the ticket was purchased I received the confirmation in my inbox.  I, unlike many people, read most of the policies on things like this.  If the airline includes the information, it better be accurate, no matter how small the type is or where its placed.  I was travelling with golf clubs and read the policy on baggage size to be sure my carrying case would be acceptable (fearing that I’d have to mail it home if it was outside standards).  I measured it and found that it was well within specs.  As I was waiting to check in on my return flight, I noticed a sign that stated, “golf bags $50 extra fee”.  I hadn’t paid the fee on the first flight and was gearing up for a fight.  How dare they try and pin this on me on my return flight when I had little option but to pay!  I was waiting to start a fight over the fee as my bag was checked in, but the fee never came.  Curiosity got the better of me and I had to ask about the sign.  The employee was very nice and explained that the policy wouldn’t be in effect for a week.  The sign was to make people aware of the impending change and he assured me that the information would be included on any confirmations in the future.  I left the counter thrilled with the airline (USA3000, a small airline but based on this experience I’d recommend them).  That is how online interactions should be, providing a smooth transition an interaction with consistent communication.  They gave all the critical information I needed and were aware of the fine print details as well.

Now for the bad.  I was recently looking at individual health care costs.  I was curious about policies and was looking for a form that would give online quotes.  I was duped, not once, but twice, into submitting my information for an “online quote”.  The sites were mocked up with the logos and brand of several large health insurance providers in my area.  They looked the part and as it stated online quotes largely, I didn’t read any fine print.  Did I get the quote I was promised?  No, I got a message saying that insurance agents would be calling.  I didn’t want insurance agents to call!  If I had I would have looked for an insurance agent directory or “contact me” form.  I eventually found the right site and received my online quote.  However, I was bombarded with no less than half a dozen insurance agents calling and emailing.  It took 2 weeks for them to stop and/or me replying that I wasn’t in the market for insurance now.  These sites infuriated me.  Worse they waste the agents time.  They are either paying to get these “leads” or it has been provided as a “feature” to partner with a particular insurance company.  What they’ve signed on for is duping website users, ensuring that they will call the same person as their competition at the same time, and likely get a resistant prospect who never wanted the calls in the first place.  Their fine print might have explained what I was filling the form out for but as it was the only purpose of the form, fine print doesn’t cut it.  Hiding the real offer is a sure sign of culpability.  You should want people to know what they are receiving.  If you’re trying to hide it behind another offer, you’re setting your users and yourself up for frustration.

Don’t use deception in your online marketing.  Do what you say you’ll do.  In the end it will make you feel better about yourself but will also make work easier.  It takes too much effort to try and trick people into interacting with you.  Instead, give them a good reason to and you’ll be surprised how willing they are and how productive those interactions can be.