Web Marketing: Demystifying Email Marketing

If you attended Quick Printing's panel discussion at Graph Expo, "Success Strategies for Quick Printers," you probably walked away, as I did, with some great ideas.

You may have also left there somewhat surprised about the amount of technology, especially e-marketing, questions that arose. As a panelist at this event, I was so impressed and excited to confirm these issues are truly at the forefront of most printers' worlds—that you printers care so much about what's best for your business and understand the importance of an online presence as well as marketing. Even in some not so great economic times, you're asking these questions to help grow your business and understand marketing is more important now that it has ever been before. And I'm sure those of you who weren't able to attend the panel discussion have the same concerns and questions ringing in your ears.

One topic that kept coming up at the panel was email marketing. How does it work for printers? What's the best way to use it? How do we get started? And just what the heck is it, anyway? Good questions, each and every one, and definitely questions that deserve a bit more discussion than an hour and a half panel can provide. So let's take some more time to tackle the most important "need to know's" of email marketing one by one.

So Much More Than E-Newsletters

It's amazing how many times you begin to talk email marketing with someone and they immediately jump to e-newsletters—those online news tidbits that can creep into your inbox from a huge number of different industries. They can cover any topic from cooking to cars, travel, or sports. You probably receive at least one or two from your vendors and industry experts, maybe even from some of your customers or competitors.

So it's no wonder this buzzword is the first thing that comes to mind when someone says email marketing, but newsletters are only a small part of the equation. E-marketing can be used for a slew of communications such as promotions, special offers, or surveys. You can use it as a follow up to another marketing piece or send invitations to events. Once you start to brainstorm the possibilities, you'll realize how much potential email marketing really has.

E-newsletters can be a wonderful tool in the hands of the right owner. But they require time, content and consistency to be the most effective. If someone signs up for an e-newsletter they expect to get it when you promised and how you promised. E-marketing is fast, efficient, and cost-effective, but it is also a much easier way for your customers or prospects to just say no to your marketing efforts. They don't have to call to be taken off a mailing list, they don't have to say no to a human, they simply have to opt out of your email, hit delete, or the worst of the worst, flag your message as junk mail. So keep your promises and make sure every communication is a valuable one.

If you do decide to try the e-newsletter route, make sure you can keep it running on time and with great value before you begin. And then consider one more thing—email marketing is an excellent way to reinforce your brand, but printed marketing (such as direct mail or printed newsletters) gives your business credibility. You need to show off your printing ability to your prospects and the best way to do that is with printed marketing pieces.

What Do You Suggest?

So glad you asked. In an ideal world, I would recommend we all send printed newsletters to our customers and then follow up with promotional emails tied directly to that printed piece. Here's an example: Joe's Print Shop mails out a printed monthly newsletter. In that newsletter, he always has a "Did You Know" article touting a product or service he thinks his customers might not be aware of. His January edition's "Did You Know" article is all about direct mail—Joe's Print Shop has the ability to not only print direct mail, they can design it too.

The newsletter is mailed to his customers the first week of January. The second week, Joe sends a follow up e-marketing piece with a quick one question survey tying directly back to that newsletter article, "Did you know Joe's Print Shop designs award winning direct mail?" Week three in January, Joe sends a promotion via his e-marketing tool inviting his customers to sign up on his website for a free direct mail design consultation. Week four, Joe sends a quick e-marketing reminder piece with the deadline of the promotion as he watches the responses pour in.

Joe has just completed a month of marketing gold. He has been able to stay on the top of his customers' minds without bugging them too much or sending them e-marketing they see no value in. He's also been mindful of his marketing pennies by using one expensive piece that shows off his best work and an inexpensive, easy-to-track form of follow up. His labor costs are low (compared to phone follow up or more direct marketing), and his return is likely to be high, because not only did Joe stay top of mind, he stayed consistent, carrying one single message (direct mail design) throughout the entire month. And that is the true beauty of email marketing.

Joe's Great, But Where Do I Start?

I think you'd have a tough time arguing that we don't all want to be like Joe with a solid email marketing plan and excellent follow through. But let's face it, if you're still reeling over the idea that you can do something other than an e-newsletter with email marketing, you probably feel like Joe's success is a far cry away from where you sit. Here are a few steps to get you started on the path to your own stellar marketing month.

Get on the list. In order to email market, you've got to have email addresses. Hire an intern or a high school student to call every customer you've interacted with in the last 18 months and ask them to update their contact information—including their email address. Put a sign up screen on your website and invite visitors to sign up to receive your emails. Any trade show, promotion, offer, or giveaway should be tied to collecting a prospect's email address. And don't forget to ask in person; prospects can simply give you their business card.

Quality trumps quantity. Joe's success starts with a sparkling clean, completely law-abiding list of email addresses. The worst thing that can happen to an email marketer is getting flagged as spam or, even worse, getting "blacklisted" from an entire Internet provider because you're emailing to folks who haven't given you permission to do so. Make sure anyone you send an email to has either given you the green light to send (given you their email address), or is someone you have an existing business relationship with (your business has interacted with them in the past 18 months). Quality trumps quantity in the email marketing world. There are no exceptions.

Start simple. Send clean, simple, single message emails touting a single product or service and then track the results. Send to small groups, making one modification at a time to see what works best for your audience. Test time, content, message, and images, but again, test one thing at a time. If you make more than one change, you won't be able to determine what works best. Did the email you sent on Monday at 4 p.m. garner the same results as one sent at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday? When you added your promotion to your subject line, did that help or hurt your open rates? Did a link to a specific page on your website cause more activity than a link to your home page?

Segment. Send a different message to different industries or customers you know are interested in specific services and watch response rates go through the roof. Send your digital printing customers one offer and your offset customers another. An email that reads "10% off winter menu printing" will certainly garner more attention from your restaurant customers than "10% off printing."

Now that you know more about exactly what email marketing is, how you should use it, and how to get started, you should now be armed with enough information to begin your email marketing journey. However, it is important to note that we've merely scratched the surface of tips and tools for email marketing success.

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for more information on email marketing and what works best to get you noticed in crowded inboxes. With a little more education and some willingness to experiment until you get it right, you too may be singing the praises of this marketing tool. I can't wait to see what questions next year's Print ‘09 will uncover.

Tawnya Starr is a former successful print shop owner who is now president of FireSpring's PrinterPresence. She has dedicated her career to educating the printing industry on proven website and marketing strategies. In 2005, she received the Industry Award of Distinction from NAQP for her service as a consultant and educator to the industry. Contact her at Tawnya.Starr@FireSpring.com.