Using Email Marketing to Create and Grow Customer RelationshipsFor small businesses, online competition is fierce. And that’s in part because you’re not just competing against other businesses for your audience’s attention, you’re competing with a person’s friends on Facebook, their favorite entertainment blog, the news, and everything else they seek out online.
If you’re going to have any chance of getting and keeping your audience’s attention, you have to develop a relationship with them. You want your customers to think of more than just your products when they hear your brand name.
To do that, you need to cultivate relationships that go beyond the transactional, and give your customers opportunities to interact with you at moments other than when they’re about to buy. Where building customer relationships used to primarily happen in person, that process has now largely moved online for many businesses.
Instead of urging your audience to make stopping by the store a habit, you want to give them reasons to keep coming back to your website regularly. The most powerful marketing tool you have for encouraging habitual online interactions with your brand is email marketing.
Email is the Cornerstone of Good Relationship Marketing
Email marketing is a cost-effective solution that gives you the power to reach customers in a place most people visit every day — their inbox. Anybody who takes the step of signing up for your email list is telling you they want a relationship with your company.
That makes them some of the most valuable customers you have. The research backs it up: 66 percent of consumers have made a purchase as a result of an email marketing message.
Email is almost 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined in helping your business acquire new customers. Email marketing has a great ROI – businesses get an average return of $38 for every $1 you spend.
As with any marketing tactic though, the power of email marketing doesn’t lie in the platform itself – it’s all about how you use it. The reason email has so much potential for success is because it gives brands a way to reach loyal customers regularly and directly.
Relationship marketing – a marketing approach that prioritizes developing an ongoing relationship with customers – depends on this kind of access. Once customers agree to let you in, you have the opportunity to show them how much they matter to you with the kind of valuable content and special offers likely to keep them coming back.
You can practice relationship marketing through other channels – on social media, in customer service interactions, and with loyalty programs, for instance – but none of those provide the direct, consistent interactions that email does. It’s quite simply the most important component to any relationship marketing strategy.
Best Practices for Email Marketing
Every time a person signs up for your email list, it’s a marketing triumph – but there’s no promise that their decision to opt into the relationship is secure moving forward. You have to earn that. And it can be a challenge to pull off.
For your email marketing to succeed – not just in terms of getting you new sales, but also in giving your customers reasons to continue reading and interacting with your emails– you need to follow a few main best practices.
1. Make email marketing part of your content strategy.
Email marketing works best if it’s folded into a larger content marketing strategy, because email and content marketing are a perfect fit. Your email list functions as a tool to promote the content your team produces, while your content does the work of enticing more people to sign up for the email list.
As you use your content more and more over time to build trust with your email recipients, you increase their comfort and familiarity with the brand to the point where they’re likely to help you in your promotion efforts.
Email subscribers are almost four times more likely to share posts on social media than those from another source. And your email analytics can provide useful insights to help you understand your audience better and tailor your entire content strategy over time based on what tactics, formats, and topics perform best with your subscribers.
Email is widely considered one of the most effective forms of content marketing, but it can be as useful for how it helps you promote and strengthen your other content marketing efforts as it is in and of itself.
2. Follow the rules – give customers the chance to opt-in.
When you ask permission, you’re able to build a list of subscribers who are interested in your business and excited to hear from you. 64% of people say the main factor in deciding whether or not to open an email they receive is who it’s from.
If you buy an email list and start contacting people with no prior relationship to your company, they have no reason to open the email you sent. Worse, not recognizing who the email’s coming from makes it likely they’ll mark it as spam – 43% of people say they click the “spam” button based on what’s in the “from” field.
When people mark your emails as spam, you can end up blacklisted by some email servers, making it less likely that your emails will reach the people who actually want to read them. That’s bad, but what’s arguably worse is that you hurt your chances of ever gaining trust from the recipient.
If they lump your brand in with the hundreds of obnoxious spam emails they get a day – many of them from outright scammers – why would they ever want to start a relationship with your company after that?
Permission-based email marketing is the best route to developing long-lasting customer relationships that can drive repeat sales and valuable word-of-mouth for your business.
The benefits of email marketing are only possible if the people receiving your emails care enough to open them, interact with them, and continue receiving them. Don’t jeopardize that by trying to push emails on people that don’t want them.
3. Don’t over promote.
This is a tricky line to walk, because on the one hand, 61% of people say they’re happy receiving weekly promotional emails from brands (and some say they’d even prefer more frequent promotions); but on the other hand, almost a third say they trust content less if it includes a pitch. You have to find the right mix between providing valuable, educational content to your subscribers and sending promotional offers. And there’s not a clear right answer to how that should work, it depends on your particular audience.
Pay close attention to your email analytics. If your promotional emails consistently get great results, then your mix is probably okay. But if you’re getting a lot of unsubscribes or a general lack of response, then you may be overdoing it.
Pro tip: Give customers a choice. The complicated truth is that some of your consumers will likely have a much higher tolerance for getting frequent promotional emails from you (or even prefer it), while others will get turned off quickly by them.
You can better serve each customer by providing different options for email frequency and letting recipients choose which one they prefer.
4. Use personalization.
Marketing software makes it fairly easy to use segmentation in your email marketing. By creating different email lists, you can create more targeted email campaigns based on what you know about your prospects.
Customers that are already familiar with your brand should receive different offers than new leads that are still getting a feel for who you are.
And different leads can benefit from different email campaigns based on the actions they’ve taken. Use the data you have to figure out what topics and products they’re most interested in so you can increase the likelihood of only sending them emails they’ll find relevant.
Emails that are personalized see 14% higher click-through rates and 10% higher conversions. And 74% of marketers that have used personalization in their email marketing say it increases customer engagement.
Personalization also plays an important role in the relationship building that’s your main goal with email marketing. You can’t build a relationship with a list of names, you have to provide a more personal touch.
But it’s hard to be personal with every subscriber when you have a large customer base. Using data and segmentation might not be on the level of the traditional handshake or wave you’d give when someone came into a physical store, but it can help you achieve a closer digital analogue to it.
5. Provide something unique.
Your email subscribers have taken a big step in showing some level of loyalty and interest in your company. You want to reward that. Share compelling, valuable content they won’t find anywhere else, but also provide them with special deals and information your average Twitter follower or website visitor wouldn’t get.
These aren’t just any customers; these are the ones that took the step of letting you know they wanted a relationship with you. Show them what that means to you by making sure your email campaigns center them and provide something valuable and special to them every time.
Email marketing isn’t always easy to do well, but it can be so valuable in helping you build and maintain the kind of relationships you most want to have with your customers. And the customers who open your emails and visit your blog regularly are likely to be some of your most loyal and profitable customers. They’re worth nurturing.