Although many are still hesitant to move away from their tried-and-true snail-mail methods, others are rapidly discovering that email marketing is one of the most effective means of generating sales.
When Shop.org surveyed retailers for its State of Retailing Online 2009 report, it found that email was the most-mentioned successful tactic overall.
The Ad Effectiveness Survey commissioned by Forbes Media in February/March 2009 placed email marketing second only to search engine optimization for generating conversions.
And research conducted in 2009 by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that email outperforms all other forms of direct marketing.
The bigger question, of course, is why? Of all the hundreds or even thousands of messages consumers are exposed to each day, why is email marketing so effective?
There are several reasons, and independent operators of small businesses who embrace the following eight principles will quickly join in the chorus of praise.
1. Email marketing has a broad reach
It's tough to find anyone who doesn't have at least one email address, which means you can reach out to your entire customer and prospect base. Just be sure to get their permission first by asking if you can add them to your mailing list.
2. Email marketing is proactive
Many small or independent operators start promoting their products and services by placing ads in a phone directory or a local community newspaper, or by sending direct mail.
The problem is that to see those promotions your customers and prospects have to first stumble across them.
Email marketing, however, goes directly to a place they're already looking—their email inbox. And unlike paper-based mail or ads, email gives them the opportunity—by simply clicking a mouse—to contact you directly to get a quote or more information.
3. Email marketing is targeted
Most forms of advertising are based on the idea that if you hit thousands of people with your message, even though it may mean nothing to most of them, a few are likely to respond.
Email marketing is based on the idea of sending the right message directly to the right people based on their preferences, local market conditions, and other factors.
You can build a master list and then segment it by geographic location, marital status, gender, age, income, time of year, etc. Doing so eliminates a lot of the guesswork that makes other forms of marketing so inefficient.
4. Email marketing provides data
If you're using an email marketing application or service designed for small business operators, you can run reports that show which emails or messages worked and which didn't, so you can improve your next campaign.
You can even run split tests, sending one offer or message to half your list and a different one to the other half, so you can get a better feel for exactly what makes customers and prospects buy from you.
5. Email marketing allows you to engage
It's nice to get the immediate reaction from a customer who sees your ad just before going shopping. But your real goal is to build a relationship with a broader base of prospects so they think of you whenever it's time to hit the stores.
Email marketing allows you to do that by bringing them shopping tips, updates on trends, seasonal items, and special loyalty-program deals on a regular basis. It's a great way to engage them—and keep them engaged.
6. Email marketing has a low cost of entry
Most forms of advertising or marketing require a big up-front investment before you see any results. That can get expensive for a small business operator who is trying to keep expenses down.
Email marketing has very little up-front cost, allowing you to market effectively without having to stop your core business work for long periods to get it done.
7. Email marketing is less intrusive
Unlike telemarketing calls, email marketing doesn't interrupt a prior activity to deliver a message. Opening email is the activity your customers and prospects are engaged in when they see your message. If you've done a good job of building that relationship, they'll look forward to seeing what you have to say.
8. Email marketing works
According to the DMA's research, email marketing generated a return on investment (ROI) of $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009. You're unlikely to find that kind of ROI from any other form of marketing or advertising—the best reason of all to launch an email-marketing campaign.
* * *
When done correctly, email marketing allows you to become (and remain) visible to your customers and prospects with highly targeted messages at a minimal cost, all while delivering outstanding, measurable results that will ripple far beyond your pond of current customers.