Like a lot of us who began marketing careers in the pre-Internet era, I try to avoid traditional marketing whenever I can. Frankly, I’m sick of it. I don’t like 99% of commercials, print ads, billboards or direct mail. I’m disgusted by telemarketing. I’m not a big fan of most email advertising, either.
And yet, I recommend that almost every business develop an email marketing program. What gives? How can email marketing, which is generally fodder for the trash or junk box, be included in the Inbound marketing strategies I support?
It depends on two criteria.
One: Do you have permission to email?
Permission takes what would otherwise be a disruptive, unwelcome marketing technique, and makes it welcome. The only difference is that instead of the prospect actively reaching out to your website, they’ve asked you to send them information. They’re still coming to you – you’ve just made it more convenient for them.
Permission has long been the cornerstone for email marketing, at least since Seth Godin’s 1999 classic Permission Marketing.(Click the link and read the first four chapters, free.)
If you don’t have permission, you’re sending spam. Some people just delete spam, but others will click the “spam” or “junk” button, and hurt your ability to send future email. You can get blacklisted by ISPs and email services like Constant Contact. You’ll also hurt your brand reputation, and turn prospective customers against you. If you’re a legitimate company, don’t fall to the temptation of buying lists or emailing people when you don’t have their permission. (I’ll address how to get permission in another post, but you already have some ideas, don’t you?)
About 50% of marketing email that comes my way comes without permission. Don’t let your brand join that crowd.
Two: Does your email contain extremely relevant information?
Permission without relevance is worthless. Start sending irrelevant email, and invite the wrath of your erstwhile prospects.
How do you make email relevant? For consumer marketing, is the information based on their personal preferences? Take inspiration from Amazon. If by some chance you don’t have an Amazon account, it’s worth it to open one – just to see how well Amazon focuses emails on items it knows you’re interested in.
In short, don’t send people information about stuff you’re just guessing they’re interested in. It’s the best way to get unsubscribed.
In B2B marketing, make sure the information tailored to the recipient’s precise job needs. There may be different types of content you should send to an engineer, a CFO and a CEO. Or to companies in different vertical markets that use your products and services differently.
And the information better be valuable. Make it about them, not about you. Make it educational, informative and interesting. Give it the kind of value that makes a professional want to save it or share it.
A B2B email marketing example
A provider of high-end office phone systems had been losing business to sellers of low-priced basic systems. We felt that an email campaign could educate the high-end provider’s current customers on the added value of the high-end systems. We wanted to create brand preference, and stem the losses.
We wanted each user of our phone system to welcome the email because of the valuable content. But how?
We created a campaign in which each email was based on a powerful feature of the phone system. Each email highlighted the benefit to the user and the ease of use. Many of these features were not offered by the cut-rate competition.
Notice we weren’t selling anything – the users were already our customers. But we were helping them to understand their phone system better, and get more value from it.
The emails enhanced awareness of our brand and improved its image. What’s more, we were able to use this same content as blog posts, web pages and in sales materials to reach prospects and other non-customers.
So: Is email really a component of Inbound Marketing? If you do it right, absolutely.
Want a primer in email marketing?
I highly recommend a visit to Inbound Marketing University, courtesy of HubSpot, the excellent inbound marketing software provider. The courses change from time to time, but if you look through the list, you should find a video on “Successful Email Marketing.”
If you’re responsible for starting an email marketing program, set aside 45 minutes or so to watch it. You may have to register, but you’ll be glad you did.