EcommerceBytes-Update, Number 246 - September 06, 2009 - ISSN 1528-6703     3 of 7

Getting Started with Email Marketing Part 3 - Build Customer Relationships & Sell!

By Lisa Suttora

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Email marketing is an important way online retailers can build an ongoing relationship with current customers and attract new customers to drive sales and repeat business. In Part One of this series, author Lisa Suttora explained how to select the right tool for building an email marketing list. In Part Two, she taught the right way to build a verified "opt-in" subscriber list. Today in Part 3, she covers how to create an effective email marketing newsletter that serves your customers, builds a relationship with them and as a result, sells your products.

Large Business versus Small Business Email Marketing
Before you write your first email marketing newsletter, it's important to understand the difference between content that works in a newsletter from a large retail corporation and the content that is effective in a newsletter from a small to mid-sized online seller.

While both types of business have the same goal in mind - more sales - the way they must approach email marketing is very different. Every day, I see independent online sellers trying to market like the "big guys," and unfortunately, this approach has the opposite effect and in fact, often produces little to no results.

While big companies can send out an impersonal email with a list of products and deals and have buyers snapping up their products, your small-medium sized business needs to focus on building a relationship with your customers and serving them while marketing your products.

Your email newsletter must market with a content formula I call "SERPCA." SERPCA(TM) incorporates five key elements into your email marketing newsletters that will lead directly and naturally to sales.

The five SERPCA elements are:

  • Serve
  • Engage
  • Relationship
  • Promote
  • Call to Action

Let's go through each of the five elements and I'll show you how to easily incorporate them into your newsletter content, and most importantly, why they work!

Start by Serving
When you look at an example of an email marketing newsletter from a big company, you'll see that it's all about products. There are no tips, no content, no added value for the reader contained in the newsletter. And while that works for big corporations, it doesn't work for independent online retailers.

As an independent online retailer, you have to be willing to offer your customer more than just a "product showcase" in your email marketing newsletters.

It all starts with focusing on how you can serve your customer with each newsletter. Providing useful information beyond advertising your products that will get your readers to a place where they look forward to opening your emails each week.

1) Identify key areas in which to be a resource for your customers. What tips, information, ideas, how-to's, etc., can you provide to your customers each week in addition to promoting your products.

For example, if you sell gardening tools, your newsletters could contain seasonal planting tips, how-to's for growing bigger veggies, or tricks for getting rid of weeds naturally. These are all ways that you serve your customer. It's also a way to practically guarantee that your customer will open your emails on a regular basis, because they know there will be useful information in each issue related to their topic of interest.

Here's an excerpt from a great email from Kassie, owner of SimplySoles sells high-end shoes, but as you'll see in the example below, Kassie does not just sell shoes; she is also "your shoe shopper and fashion guide." In short, Kassie adds value to her emails with her fashion tips, while featuring her products at the same time!


"As I was sightseeing (and looking at recent orders), I noticed the prevalence of the ahh-my-feet-feel-good FitFlops. These are my "go to" shoes for summer. I commute to my office in them. I take my kids to the zoo in them. I even take Molly (my unruly dog-not-bred-for-a-reason) for long walks in them. I feel however that there's an unspoken etiquette surrounding FitFlops that I, as your shoe shopper and fashion guide, am compelled to share with you. So in hopes of helping you navigate the (fashion) perils of summer, here's my list of FitFlops Dos and Do Nots:


  • wear FitFlops for long walks in place of sneakers.
  • pending on your golf course rules, wear them for a round of golf.
  • clean them with soap and water when needed.

Do Not...
...have your FitFlops near puppies unless they are actually on your feet. These are the ultimate "kong" toys for dogs, except they aren't really indestructible.

...wear them with a dress or skirt with the exception of commuting to your intended destination. They have a purpose, and a very good one, but looking pretty isn't one of them.

...wear them after dusk unless you are going to the beach or a backyard BBQ. For the most part, FitFlops have a curfew of 6 pm."


2) Answer a customer question with flair. One of the easiest ways to come up with great content for your newsletter is simply by answering customer questions. Choose some of your most interesting customer questions and select one per issue to answer. But do it with flair!

For example, if you sell pet supplies and you receive a question about whether or not your #1 selling dog house will be big enough for a Great Dane, add a few trivia tidbits in your answer about the history of Great Danes, or the world's biggest Great Dane. Something to engage your reader in their topic of interest - dogs!

3) Introduce your happy customers. Most people (unless they're early adopters) don't like to be the first to try a new product or a new business. A happy customer is your best salesperson! Show your readers that they won't be the first to use your products by including a product specific testimonial.

A testimonial that says "Laura's Lamps is a great place to shop." is better than nothing.

A testimonial that says "We LOVE the wisteria glass floor lamp! EVERYONE who walks into our living room compliments us on this beautiful, but functional lamp" will sell that lamp like crazy!

(Note: Always get permission before mentioning a reader's name or including their photo/info in your newsletter. A quick email to them will usually garner a yes!)

In the example below, a case study combined with a special offer and a buy link is all it takes to convert that customer testimonial into a sale!

4) Wrap the product in your expertise. If you're an expert in your niche, you have a huge advantage over someone who is just trying to "sell a product." Product reviews are hot. One of the best ways to engage your customers and sell your products in the process is to do a product review in your newsletter. If you are selling in the kitchen tools niche and you've just test out a new cookie sheet that you love, write a product review for your newsletter! (Or even better, use a customer review.)

Engage Your Readers
One of the problems with the "Product Showcase" type emails that are used by many big companies is that they do little to engage their readers. A quick cursory glance to see if there is anything for sale of interest and if not, the next action a subscriber is likely to take is the delete button.

That's OK if you're mailing to millions of people. But what if you're list has 100 people on it, or 500 or even 1000? You want to get maximum value from every reader on your list. And you do that by keeping them engaged.

1) Start your newsletter off strong. Jump right in to your tip first. Don't meander around in the first paragraph. After your tip, promote your products. Give first. Promote second. Ask for the sale third.

2) Use a conversational, business-friendly tone. Your newsletter does not have to be crafted in your best college English, nor should it be as casual as emailing your best friend. A conversational email with a business-friendly tone will engage your readers with its approachability, while at the same time positioning you as a serious business.

3) Stay relevant. Don't dilute your newsletter with content, graphics, jokes or advertising that are not relevant to your newsletter's purpose. You have a limited amount of space to zero in on the message that you want to convey and the products you want to promote to your customers.

4) Keep it short and simple. The biggest way to disengage your readers is to send them long, multi-topic emails. Short simple emails are always best and have a much higher rate of conversion to sales. MyWeddingFavors starts off their new email subscribers with a coupon, a free wedding tips report and a few products.

5) Speak in a familiar tone and vocabulary. If you sell wedding dresses, your tone and vocabulary should reflect the conversation that's already taking place in your reader's head. Words like "flowing, dream wedding, beautiful, best day of your life" are all things that your reader is already thinking.

Conversely, an email marketing newsletter that sells snowboard gear to the twenty-something would have a very different tone and include lingo like "dude, 50-50, air, Casper, MC-Twist."

Speaking in a familiar tone and vocabulary also builds the KLT Factor (Know, Like & Trust Factor). If you sell products for infants, new moms will respond to words like "safe, gentle, the best for your baby, products a mother can trust." And with every email newsletter you send, they'll begin to know, like, trust and buy from you.

6) Don't be afraid to have fun. A creative email marketing newsletter can capture the attention of your readers, wake them up and spur them into action. Play around with your message. Don't be afraid to push the envelope from time-to-time. Test the response from one email and see what happens. This email takes a familiar, fun expression and turns it into an eye-catching email newsletter!

Build a Relationship with Your Subscribers
When creating an email marketing campaign, building a relationship with your subscribers is one of the most important factors in the success of your newsletter. And building a relationship with them is much easier than you would think when you follow these four guidelines:

1) Establish a publishing schedule. Consistency is one of the most important keys to establishing a relationship with your customers. So don't over commit yourself in the very beginning. At the very minimum, mail at least once a month. Any longer than that between newsletters and you risk your subscribers forgetting who you are or even worse, forgetting that they subscribed to your newsletter in the first place (a surefire way to get your email tagged as SPAM).

2) Frequency fuels sales. Optimally your subscribers should receive an email from you once a week. A regular email once a week, with a consistent format, that provides value and promotes products will maximize sales. While mailing once a week establishes a good solid schedule, mailing more than that will likely annoy your readers.

3) Solo mailings. Outside of your normal email marketing newsletter sequence you can also do a solo mailing periodically. Solo mailings are a "product showcase" type of mailing and can be used very effectively during big sales campaigns, seasonal events and other special occasions. While you can periodically run a "solo mailing" outside of your normal sequence - for example, if you need to remind your customers of a big sale that's about to end - remember that you want to stay in your customer's mind but not crowd their inbox with relentless emails.

Homespun Hearth used a solo mailing to promote their Thursday Throw-Down Event.

4) The From Line. While most people think it's the email subject line that determines whether or not it will get opened, a bigger influencer is the "from" line. Deciding whether or not your email should be sent from your name or in the name of your business largely depends on the relationship you want to build with your customers. If you want to be the primary focal point and spokesperson for your business, sending the email with your name as the send will build the closest relationship possible with your readers.

Promote Your Products
While the focus of your newsletter should be one of service and benefit for your customers, keep in mind that the reason you started this email marketing newsletter is to generate more sales!

1) Give. Promote. Ask for the Sale. While you don't want to blast your customer with nothing but "product showcase" newsletters, you do have to promote! After you've provided your reader with value, it's time to promote your products and ask for the sale. Without promoting your products and asking for the sale, you'll find that your readers may love your tips, but they're not buying anything!

The short picnic list in the email newsletter below is simple, but useful. A few products, the Buy Now buttons and the reader knows exactly what to do next!

2) If you don't tell your customers... no one will. If you don't tell your customers what's great about your products no one will. Many of us were raised to be humble. Told not to "blow our own horn." But in sales and marketing, if you don't show your customers clearly what's special or unique about what you have to offer, your customers won't stay long enough find out for themselves.

3) Feature new products. One of the biggest problems that online sellers have when introducing a great new product or product line into their store is that no one knows about it or its benefits. Your email newsletter is the perfect place to introduce new products that your customers can't live without!

The iVillage Stuff We Love newsletter is one of my favorite hot niche & trend newsletters. It's also a great example of how to introduce new products to your customers in a way that will make your products irresistible and the next must have thing!

4) Specials, coupons and featured products and more! There is no product in your online store that can't be or shouldn't be promoted! Don't reserve your email marketing newsletter for only the new products that come into your store, use your newsletter as a tool to promote of variety of different campaigns including:

  • Special promotions
  • Hot Deals
  • Discontinued Items
  • Only 5 left!
  • Coming soon
  • This just in
  • Coupons
  • Free Shipping
  • Buy 1 Get 1 Free
  • Exclusives!
  • Top Sellers!

And so on,...The sky's the limit when it comes to promotions!

Call to Action
Ending with a call to action is something that many email newsletters owners don't do! They'll showcase their products, serve the customer good content, but they never ask them to buy anything! Always remember that the return on your investment in an email marketing newsletter is the sale! And to get the sale, you need a call to action.

1) Tell them the next step. A "call to action" is a critical part of every email newsletter. Do you want your customers to "Grab 'em before they're gone!" Tell them so! Should they "Shop now for best selection!" They need to know. "Order before midnight and save an additional 30%!" Make that the last thought you leave them with.

You can include a call to action at different points throughout your newsletter, but always end your email with a final call to action.

2) Use Action Verbs. Always start your call to action with an action verb. "Shop, Order, Buy 1 Get 1 Free, Click Here Before Time Runs Out" - these are all action verbs that will inspire and motivate your customers to take action.

3) Offer a time-limited special. As with the call to action verbs, each newsletter should include a time-limited offer. Remember, your newsletter readers lead busy lives. If you don't put some urgency into your offer, it will get filed in the "to do later" folder and won't be attended to again.

This email newsletter gives subscribers a big incentive to act on day 1 of the sale!

Your Subject Line
Congratulations! You've written a great email newsletter using the SERPCA formula that serves your customer and sells! There's just one thing left to do, and that's to create a great subject line that will draw your customers to click and open your email.

1) Don't use deceptive subject lines. Eye grabbing subject lines that have nothing to do with the content of your email may get the click but in the end will backfire on you. Your subscribers won't like the bait and switch, and it's a surefire way to get them to unsubscribe.

2) Create engaging interesting subject lines. Your subject line shouldn't be boring either! "Weekly Deals or This Week's Newsletter" don't give your reader any reason to open your email now. And now is when you want them to open your email.

Here are just a few examples of subject lines that will get the click:

  • A Laptop Bag So Pretty You'll Want to Carry Everywhere

  • A Stunning Solar-Powered Desk Lamp for the CEO of Your House
  • Relive Your First Date with This Retro Turntable
  • Break-Proof Digital Cameras for the Weekend Sportsman

Your subject line can address your featured product, but this doesn't mean you can't market additional products in your email.

This Week's Deals or Hot Deals can still be used every once in a while. Just don't use them every week. Keep your subject lines interesting and your customers will keep reading!

Learn by Example
The best way to create your own great email marketing newsletter is to learn by example! Subscribe to several email marketing newsletters both inside and outside your industry and see which newsletters and headlines capture your attention. You'll find elements in these examples that will provide seeds of inspiration for your own newsletters!

Overcoming Fear of Writing
The #1 reason that people don't start an email marketing newsletter is fear of writing. Most people tell me it all goes back to elementary school at the point when they had to start doing formal writing.

With the exception of those who went on to love writing, most people swore that once they made it through school they would never have to be subjected to formal writing again. But now you're a business owner and your success and your sales are dependent on a good email marketing newsletter!

And while you can pay someone to write your newsletter for you, I'm going to share a tip with you I discovered which is the best solution for writer's block that I've found: Email.

We're all used to writing emails. Most people can sit down and whip out an email to a friend in nothing flat. Put a blank Word document in front of that same person and they'll sit there frozen, staring at the screen, claiming they "can't write."

You can write. You just need to feel comfortable doing it.

One of the tricks I use to get newsletter content flowing is to bring up a new email window and start writing an email - just as I would to a friend. There's something about pulling up that familiar email window that instantly relaxes you, puts you feel on familiar ground, and is a lot less intimidating than starting with a blank newsletter template or Word doc.

Once you've written your basic newsletter content in email, then you can move it over to the appropriate venue and format it.

And if you're not sure if your email reads well, have a trusted friend or family member read it, just to make sure. Or read it aloud to yourself. That's a quick and easy way to catch any grammatical mistakes you might miss when reading the email silently.

Plain Text versus HTML
No discussion of email marketing newsletter content would be complete without addressing the issue of whether or not to send plain text emails versus HTML. More than 89% of retailers now send HTML emails, up from 78% in 2007. HTML emails are generally the appropriate choice for online sellers.

Test and Track!
Email marketing can be one of your most successful marketing tools. But in order to maximize the results for your business, you must test your email campaigns to see which ones are the most effective. According to eMarketer Daily, only 62% of email marketers test their marketing campaigns. Don't spend your valuable time creating an email marketing newsletter and then stop short of testing and tracking!

You'll never truly know which email newsletters were the most effective and generated the most sales unless you test and track your results. As we discussed in Part 1 of our series, email service providers allow you to put a tracking link in your emails, so you can see exactly which links your customers clicked on and which ones made the sale. Tracking your email open rates will help you identify which subject lines were the most effective.

There is an art and a science to email marketing. When you focus on serving your customers, effectively marketing your products and tracking the results, your reward will come in the form of increased sales and profits for your business!

About the author:

Lisa Suttora is an ecommerce expert and founder of 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, keep your finger on the pulse of today's hot trends with the free Hot Trend Alerts newsletter, and visit Lisa's blog at

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