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Keeping In Touch With Your Customers

Email Marketing

Email Marketing falls into two general categories:

  • Spam
  • Opt-In or Permission Based.

Spam is bad and evil. Spam will get you banned by your Internet Service Provider. Spam will get your domain blocked by other service providers (imagine being invisible to AOL subscribers!). But Opt-In or Permission based email marketing is virtually impossible to do without support these days.

If you have to believe in something, I believe in Newsletters. Not the expensive ones that cost an arm and a leg in print and postage costs. No we produce incredibly inexpensive ones with no printing, no postage... posted online.

The Basics

All web sites, every one should have one thing in common: the e-mail collector.
A simple form which allows the viewer to plug in their e-mail address and sign up for a newsletter or product announcement.  At its simplest level, this is permission based marketing. We didn't steal the address, we didn't sneakily abscond with it... they volunteered it, completely without pressure.

Why on earth would they do that? Well, there's my opinion, and then there are the studies. The studies claim people are looking for information and amusement. My personal opinion, based on a decade of writing for newsletters, is that people are looking for special promotions targeted specifically at them, the loyal reader/customer. And they like the newsletters because they "get to know" the business and the owners through these monthly missives.

A typical printed newsletter from a Vermont Inn will include a recipe from their kitchen, a beautiful seasonal picture, a calendar of events, a letter from the owner waxing eloquent about the new upgrades to the second story rooms... and a couple of room bargains. Some of these newsletters are quite beautiful. The Trapp Family Lodge comes to mind. Some are just tacky. All are expensive to produce, and not particularly flexible.

We aren't selling steak. We're selling sizzle, to paraphrase an old salesman. Newsletters are designed to sell the sizzle. Sell the misty, wholesome, romantic vision the customer enjoys imagining. It works with inns, teddy bears, fine art, antiques... there isn't a service or product out there that isn't designed to make the buyer feel good... and newsletters are the perfect way to convey that feeling.

But they are also designed to build a community of loyal customers. After all, aren't happy customers your best advertising bet? Newsletters can invite customer participation by publishing the pictures they send in, holding essay contests, and allowing readers to exchange advice.

It sounds like a lot of work but once you've established the general layout of your newsletter, it is remarkably easy to maintain.

Now, the truth of it is.. this used to be a whole lot simpler.  Collect email addresses, send email to customers or potential customers. Simple.  Add email addresses from people who contacted you via your website... more potential customers! Today, however, harvesting email addresses and sending out bulk email will probably get you censored by your service provider... even a business account isn't allowed to send bulk email any more.  And worse, it might result in your whole ISP address being blocked. Everyone on that server suffers.  And trust me... these people will not be happy with you when their sites are blocked by other ISP's. 

New times.. new methods.  There are two ways to go... very cheap, and reasonably priced. Oh, well, you could go for wildly expensive, but you there is no reason to.  Under very cheap there is CafePress is in the business of printing. They print pretty much anything you can render into .jpg format on almost anything you can imagine. From T-shirts to undies, mugs to tiles, stickers... they print it all. They also offer, as a free service, a newsletter, which you can customize to your own business. Naturally, it is required that you feature one or more of your CafePress store items in your newsletter. But if you have a logo or several cute ideas which would look neat on a T or slick on a mug, not only is the newsletter free, but you'll make a commission on the sale should someone buy a T-shirt, mug, or pair of undies.

Not the graphic design type?  Then there is Plan B:

No html skills requiredConstant is an online service which allows you to set up a link on your site (or have your webmaster set up the link) through which people can sign up for your newsletter. You can import a carefully screened email list, or even manually input a list. And you can build newsletters through your browser using one of their templates for speed, or design your own from scratch if you're feeling independant.  Best of all? The first 60 days are free... and if your email list (we hope it doesn't but if it does) remains under 50 subscribers.. it stays free.  Up to 500 names will run you only $15/month for unlimited emails.

Let's pause and think about this for a moment. Overture, which many people pay as a reflex action runs $20-25/month minimum.  Print media? Don't get me started. Online banner ads... minimum of $30/month for a decent site. Reaching out and touching potential customers and keeping your business in the forefront of their thoughts?

$15/month for 500 names. Plus, of course, an investment in writing that newsletter. The excuses for not writing newsletters are abundant and sometimes even creative. If half that creativity went into writing a newsletter, you'd really have something. Does this sound familiar?

I have nothing to say. Well, of course you don't, sitting there in front of your computer with writer's block. Start a Word Document file named "newsletter."  Every time a good idea pops into your head, jot it down in your file and save it. Or on a slip of paper if you're not a geek.  Then when you sit down to write your newsletter, you'll find you have a wealth of things to say.

I don't have time. Ok people... this is how print media sells advertising to you and yours. Because we have the feeling if we throw money at the problem, instead of time, magically we'll hit the right audience with this scattergun approach. Give it up. Take the money you are going to save by not advertising in print and spend it on help in the garden, around the property, or in the kitchen... and make time to work a newsletter.

People aren't interested. If they're not interested, they'll opt out of your newsletter. Until they do that, you can't make this assumption.  People are very interested in different lifestyles, vacation ideas, slice of life stories, recipes; in short, what you have to offer.

I'm not a geek... I can't do this. This is why, out of all the vendors available, we carefully chose Constant Contact. Because you can do this, right through your browser, with a minimum of technical background. You'll need to have a snippet of code or a link put on your website to manage the email sign up, but your webmaster can do that for you.

The effort required to attract and make a sale to a new customer is expodential compared to the effort required to make a sale to someone who is already familiar with you and your product and generally happy with your service. Email has the advantage of being virtually free, easy to use, relatively painless, and... viral. Your customer may find it so interesting, they forward it on to someone else.

No html skills requiredSo what are you waiting for? The first 60 days are free!




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