EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 242 - July 12, 2009 - ISSN 1528-6703     2 of 7

Selling Strategies: Getting Started with Email Marketing

By Lisa Suttora

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No matter what you sell or where you sell it, email marketing is a key part of your marketing strategy. You might think that you need to be a high-volume seller or a prolific writer to get started with email marketing. But neither of those is true. Those who are new to selling online can and should start building an email list from the very beginning.

Email marketing allows you to build an ongoing relationship with your current customers, attract new customers and as a result drive new sales and repeat business.

However, in order to create a successful email marketing campaign there are specific things you need to know and do to make email marketing work for your business. In this three-part series, we'll take you behind the scenes and dissect the three key components to successful email marketing:

1) Selecting the right tool

2) Building a verified "opt-in" subscriber list

3) Crafting an effective email marketing campaign

Today in Part 1, we'll look at the options available for different types of email marketing tools and how to choose the right services for your online business.

Choosing the Right Tools
There are many different tools available to help you run your email marketing campaign. Email Service Providers, also known as ESPs, help you collect customer data, organize it in a useful way, distribute emails to your list, provide reporting tools and automate the process. Even more importantly, a good ESP will have an established relationship with the major ISPs (such as Comcast, Yahoo, Gmail, AOL, etc.), which will help to get your emails delivered into your subscriber's Inbox.

If you're just getting started with email marketing, you may be tempted to run your email marketing campaign from your personal email address book,... One word of advice - don't do it!

Responsible email marketing is a foremost part of your overall strategy and the only way to accomplish this is to employ the services of a company dedicated to providing email marketing services - an Email Services Provider (ESP).

Without using a quality Email Service Provider, you endanger your relationship with your customers and risk putting your email marketing and business in violation of CAN SPAM regulations.

Fortunately there are many different types Email Service Providers (ESPs) out there. They come in all variations and prices, and you can rest assured there is one out there that is right for your business. With a bit of research and the fifteen point checklist below, you'll be on your way to finding the best tool for your email marketing needs.

Owning Your List
Before we look at the different criteria to use when choosing an ESP, let's first discuss the importance of owning your own mailing list. When you use an independent Email Service Provider, you "own" your mailing list. This means that your customer names and email addresses can be moved from one service to another. This is a very important thing to consider when setting up your email marketing campaign. Your customer email list is a business asset. And it's essential to retain control of that asset.

Some marketplaces such as eBay offer their own built-in email marketing tools. However, in situations like this, you don't have access to your customer's email addresses. Should you decide to move your business to another platform, you will not able to take your mailing list with you. This leaves you in the position of having a mailing list that you can only use in one venue.

So while Marketplace integrated email services do offer convenience and ease of use, there are definite drawbacks to using proprietary tools.

Therefore, your first choice should always be to build your own mailing list.

Marketplace Policies
Before setting up your email marketing campaign to connect with customers in a specific marketplace; Amazon, eBay, Bonanzle, Etsy, etc., you'll want to check the policies for that specific marketplace. Amazon for example, strictly prohibits third-party merchants from using a customer's email address (or physical address) for marketing purposes.

And under no circumstances, should you ever add anyone to your mailing list without their express permission. This is called permission based marketing, more commonly referred to as "opting-in." And it's just one of the tasks that an ESP will help you manage.

While there are many different ESPs to choose from, you'll use the same criteria to make your selection, whether you are a large volume seller with an existing mailing list, or a new seller just starting to build your list.

Fifteen Criteria for Choosing the Right Email Marketing Tool

1) Permission based marketing. Permission based marketing, also known as "opting-in," is one of the primary functions of your ESP. Your ESP will allow you to create a form that your customers use to provide their name and email address. This form submits their contact information to your ESP. Once subscribed, your ESP should track the manner in which they were subscribed - either via "form" or added manually. While this may seem like a technical detail, it's actually essential to have in the event that you are ever shut down for "spamming" a customer. With the information supplied by your ESP, you'll be able to prove that you are following required email practices.

2) Subscription management. Another requirement for your ESP is subscription management. An ESP should always include an "unsubscribe" link at the bottom of each email you send out, making it easy for your customer to remove themselves from your mailing list. They should also append your name & address information to every email you send. This is required under the CAN-SPAM regulations and cannot be overlooked.

3) Customer management. Your ESP should provide a database in which you can track your customer contact information and the email lists they have subscribed to.

4) Double Opt-in. Email Service Provider Aweber requires a "double opt-in" before they subscribe a customer to your list. Your customer will be required to confirm their subscription request via an email that has been sent to them. This helps to weed out email addresses that have been incorrectly entered and will help you build a cleaner email list. The downside to this is that it requires your new subscriber to take one more step before they are subscribed to your mailing list. Check to see if your new ESP offers the option of double opt-in or if it is required to build your list.

5) Deliverability Rate. When it comes to deliverability, not all email marketing tools are created equal. Unfortunately, trying to compare deliverability rates among services is like trying to compare apples to oranges. That's because ESPs can calculate their deliverability stats differently. Keep in mind that while some ESPs do a better job of getting your emails delivered to your customers, they do not have control over where that email lands in your customer's inbox. For example, an email may be delivered to a customer but end up in their "junk mail" folder. This can be due to the SPAM trigger keywords used in your email subject line or the body of your email or the security settings your customer has set for their email client. Ask your ESP what their deliverability rates are and how they calculate them. This gives you a basis for comparison across services.

6) Segmenting lists. When selecting your ESP, make sure that you select a service level that allows you to create multiple segmented email lists. For example, iContact is just one of the several services that allow you to create multiple email lists within their basic level service. This means you can group your customers according to their interests. If you sell both pet supplies and baby products, you'll want to build two separate lists so that customers interested in pet products only get emails from you about that topic. Emails geared to your baby products business would only be sent to those customers who are interested in baby products news. Keep in mind that the fastest way to get people to unsubscribe from your mailing list is to send them emails about things that they're not interested in!

7) Moving to a new ESP. If you are switching ESPs, find out what their regulations are for importing existing customer names into the new service. Not all ESPs will allow you to do a direct import into their service without requiring that your customers re-confirm their subscription. While this is a great way to clean up your list, you need to weigh the pros and cons of requiring existing subscribers to reconfirm.

8) Autoresponders. Choose an ESP that offers an auto-responder feature. An auto-responder allows you to automate much of your email marketing, saving you a tremendous amount of time and effort.

An auto-responder lets you pre-load a series of emails and set a schedule for when you want those emails to be delivered. For example, if you've offered a ten day series on "How to Cook Heart Healthy with Your New Non-Stick Cookware," you can set up your autoresponder series so that your customers will receive a new tip every other day. As new customers subscribe to that list, they'll automatically receive emails starting at the beginning of the series. This alleviates the need for you to physically send out a new email to your list every day.

Services like 1ShoppingCart allow you set up unlimited autoresponders populated with limitless individual autoresponder messages. With autoresponder functionality, you can set up your newsletter to go out once every seven days and preload the content ahead of time. Or you can set up an e-course or tip series that continues throughout the year. And voila! While you are on vacation, your email marketing is on the job working for you.

9) Broadcast capabilities. In addition to being able to email your list automatically, you also want to be able to send out an email to your list at any given time. This is known as a broadcast email. Most every ESP includes broadcast functionality in their basic packages. Simply create your email, choose the mailing list you want to send to, and send your broadcast.

10) Email Reports. Make sure that your ESP also provides reporting on the results of your email campaign. Reports to look for are delivery success rates, email open-rates, and email link click-through rates. Depending on what type of emails you send (plain text or HTML), reports should be available that are appropriate to the format. Good reporting is invaluable as it helps you measure the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns and enables you make adjustments to your campaigns along the way.

11) Templates. Many services offer pre-designed templates. ESPs such as Constant Contact offer hundreds of pre-designed templates. Email marketing tool Emma offers a unique service in which they will create a custom email template for you that matches your logo and branding.

12) Text emails versus HTML. While all ESPs give you the ability to send both types of emails, it's important to make mention of this age-old debate. Both text & HTML emails can have their deliverability issues. And heavily graphic laden HTML emails do have added challenges in making it through SPAM filters and displaying in certain email clients. However, there are many markets where HTML formatted emails are more effective. This is an area that you'll need to test to ensure that the format you are using is best for YOUR subscriber base.

13) Take the service for a test drive. Most ESPs will allow you to test their services for two weeks or more. Some companies, like Campaigner, give you a free 30-day trial. Free trials give you the opportunity to see if a service will indeed perform the functions you need it to and enable you to make sure you like the look and feel of the tool. Remember, if something is complicated or not intuitive to use, you won't use it. So make sure that the tool you choose is one that works for you.

14) Billing plans. Always go with a service that has a 30-day billing plan. Never sign a long term contract, as you never know when your email marketing needs will change. A tool that worked well when starting your business may not be the same tool you need as your business grows.

15) Pricing. ESP pricing plans are generally dependent on the number of subscribers on your mailing list and the marketing features you choose to use. Services such as Vertical Response offer both a flat-fee pricing structure and a pay-as-you-go option. Your most cost-effective option is always a flat-rate fee based on the number of subscribers you have and the marketing features it offers.

Customer Support and Training
Two other factors to consider when choosing an Email Services Provider is the level of customer support and the training materials on how to use the service and its features. Responsive telephone support, live chat and email support are all standard services provided by the top tools. If you're about to send out a big holiday promotional email and you run into a technical glitch, you want to be confident that you can reach a support person in a timely fashion to help resolve the problem.

Product tutorials, FAQs, and an up-to-date knowledge base are all features that should be a part of your email marketing tool. Some companies even offer free webinars on marketing tactics such as how to write effective emails, how to craft a subject line, and creating compelling email content.

Get Started Today
Now that you know exactly what to look for in an Email Service Provider, it's time to get started. With the right tools in place and training and support at your fingertips, there's no reason to delay implementing this essential marketing strategy.

Coming up next: now that you've chosen an Email Service Provider and set up your account, you're ready to start opting-in interested prospects and customers who are eager to receive the valuable information you have to provide. But there's more to the opt-in process than putting up a link and hoping they'll click. In Part 2 of our series to be published in a future issue, we'll discuss what to do and what not to do when asking people to opt-in to your mailing list.


About the author:

Lisa Suttora is an ecommerce expert and founder of WhatDoISell.com. Since 2004, Lisa has specialized in helping online entrepreneurs master the marketing and product sourcing skills they need to build unique, thriving businesses in today's top online marketplaces. WhatDoISell is one of 34 eBay Certified Providers worldwide. An author and nationally known speaker with more than 15 years of online and offline retail merchandising experience, Lisa brings a fresh approach to the topic of what to sell and how to sell it. Enjoy more business building tips and strategies for marketing your online business at http://whatdoisell.com/tips, keep your finger on the pulse of today's hot trends with the free Hot Trend Alerts newsletter, and visit Lisa's blog at lisasuttora.com.


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