When Samuel Morse demonstrated his telegraph by sending a message from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, it made a splash in the newspapers, but that was all. Morse at first had trouble lining up customers and investors. Businesses, government, and the public saw his invention merely as a novelty and did not immediately grasp the revolutionary potential of the telegraph and its staccato dots and dashes.
However, that attitude did not last long. Soon telegraph wires were strung all over the United States. Suddenly the fast horses carrying Pony Express mail between Missouri and California were no longer needed. While the overland journey by horse took ten days, the telegraph could transmit information effortlessly, safely, and blazingly fast.
Many Plain readers are experienced users of what the world would consider antiquated technologies, but I don’t think any of you communicate with the telegraph and Morse code. Just like the telegraph put the Pony Express out of business, the development of the telephone eventually put telegraph services out of business.
In the 1970s and 80s, fax machines came into common use. Fax machines used the telephone system to transmit information that could be printed out, supplying a helpful service that the telephone itself didn’t offer.
Fax machines are still in use, especially in the medical system, but their use has sharply declined. Once again, a newer technology—email powered by the Internet—has superseded what was once a state-of-the-art business necessity.
At its core, the Internet is a communication network. Human beings are relational creatures by God’s design, and relationships require communication. We don’t know exactly when human beings went from talking face-to-face to developing other communication technologies such as writing, but we know that humans have always been drawn to develop new communication methods.
At its core, marketing is an exercise in communication. As marketers, we rely on communication tools to educate and motivate people in our target audience. Decades ago, marketers relied mostly on mass communication methods such as newspapers, radio, and television. Now Internet-powered technologies offer other, more direct, options.
It is interesting to note that while the telegraph and fax machines have been replaced by newer technologies and other messaging platforms are surging in popularity, email seems to be here to stay for the foreseeable future.
Email as a business tool
Paper, pens, a stapler, a phone, a comfortable office chair, a business license—and email. Though a few businesses get along without email, for the most part, email has become a business necessity for communicating both with other businesses (such as vendors) and with customers.
Many emails are simply transactional:
- Sending purchase orders
- Sending order confirmations
- Sending invoices
- Sending shipping/delivery information
- Sending status updates
- Answering questions from customers
In today’s business environment, customers expect to receive types of these transactional emails as part of the customer experience.
Email as a marketing tool
Email marketing is sending promotional emails to customers or prospects to cultivate them for a future purchase.
The date the first email was sent is generally given as 1971 (this makes email over 50 years old!). When was the first marketing email sent? The first marketing email “blast” sent to a large group of recipients was in 1978 when a marketing manager at a computer company sent an email to nearly 400 email users notifying them of a new product.
That email sent in 1978 is considered the first spam email. Spam email is unsolicited email that is sent usually to a large number of addresses. Various sources estimate that 50% or more of emails today are spam. (Note! Do not add someone to your email marketing list without their permission.)
“The more emails people receive, the more likely they are to disregard or overlook an email from your business.”
Email is an attractive marketing option because it is cheap and easy to use. However, that affordability is also a major weakness—because email is cheap and easy, it is overused, resulting in consumers receiving mountains of email messages. The more emails people receive, the more likely they are to disregard or overlook an email from your business.
Benefits of email as a marketing channel
- Email marketing is worth including in your marketing mix for several reasons:
- People use email frequently. People check their email daily, or even many times daily.
- Email is a personal medium. You can reach people directly through their email. You can personalize an email to include the recipient’s name.
- Email is fast and cost-effective.
- Results from email campaigns are measurable (opens and clicks can be tracked).
- Emails can include pictures.
- Emails make it easy for the recipient to act. They can click a link to visit your website or a landing page, or they can reply to your message to ask a question or start a conversation.
Sending regular emails to your customers (and/or prospects) allows you to stay in touch with them. Seeing your business name pop up in their email inbox is similar to seeing an ad—it gives you a tiny piece of real estate in the customer’s mind. For this reason, use your business name as the sender name for marketing emails, not your personal name.
Regular emails from your business serve as touchpoints that build brand awareness. When the customer is in the market to purchase something that you sell, your business is more likely to be top of mind as an option to consider.
Kinds of emails you can send
The appeal of email marketing is seductive—send more emails, get more orders. However, this approach is counterproductive because it bombards people with unwanted emails.
Instead, approach your email strategy as a way to serve your customers. One way to do this is by sending helpful information to your email list. For example, this monthly article from Rosewood goes to hundreds of people on our email list.
Some of the people on Rosewood’s email list are customers, some are prospects, and some will likely never end up doing business with us. But we provide these useful articles because it’s a win-win—it’s information that readers can implement in their businesses, and some of them will hire us to help them.
Here are ideas for different types of emails you can send:
- Sales and special offers
- Announcements about new products
- News and updates from your business
- Helpful information about using your product
- Do-it-yourself instructions or projects related to your business or service
- Annual, quarterly, or monthly reminders related to your business or service
- Educational information from the industry
- Inspiration or tips
- Case studies
- Product spotlights
Start with considering what your target audience would like to receive, not just what you would like to send. If you would not like to be bombarded with emails urging you to buy now, then don’t subject others to that treatment.
“If you would not like to be bombarded with emails urging you to buy now, then don’t subject others to that treatment.”
A customer or prospect is generally glad to receive periodic information about your business, especially if it benefits them in some way, such as a time-limited sale or a new product they might be interested in.
Remember to be customer-oriented. For example, instead of saying “Check out our new products for fall!” turn it around to focus on the customer: “New products you can use this fall!” Notice that the first example used “our” (business-focused) while the second used “you” (customer-focused).
Email as part of your marketing funnel
Email can be an effective part of your marketing funnel. With your CRM or another dedicated email service, you can set up a campaign to automatically l send emails to subscribers without your repeated input.
This type of campaign is called a lead nurture campaign because you are nurturing a relationship with a lead. However, you can’t send an email to someone unless you have their email address and their permission to use it. How can you get those email addresses?
A common way to collect email addresses is by having a sign-up form on your website. You can offer something of value, such as a free download of helpful information, in exchange for their email address. At Rosewood Marketing, we offer a free marketing assessment download as a lead generator. Addresses can also be collected at events such as trade shows.
What emails should you include in your nurture campaign? Here are some ideas:
- Discuss the problem your business or product solves and show you can solve it for the customer.
- Address common objections or misconceptions.
- Unpack benefits and features.
- Tell stories of customers who found success with your product or service.
- Qualify leads by discussing which situations are a good fit for your product and which aren’t.
- Ask for the sale!
Spread these nurture emails over several days or even several weeks depending on how many emails are in your campaign. These addresses can then be added to your main email list to receive your periodic emails.
Commercial emails in the United States are regulated under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. This law requires businesses to include an unsubscribe link in marketing emails (and to stop sending emails to those who unsubscribe) and to include a postal address in each email.
Your CRM or email service such as MailChimp or Constant Contact takes care of those legal details for you. Newer laws passed in other countries (GDPR in Europe) and state laws include other regulations about using customer data, including email addresses.
If you are not yet collecting and using emails as a marketing tool, make a note today to include it in your marketing plan for next year. It is wiser not to start with a massive content program that you may not be able to sustain. Instead, start with small, manageable steps and learn as you go.