If you’ve read the biography page ‘About Shanelle‘ on this blog, then you would have seen that I count email marketing as one of my specialties, yet I haven’t written much on the subject. I’m not sure why, I guess I’ve been focusing on new and emerging channels and trends but today I wanted to outline the basics about how to use email for your business and if you’re already using email as a communications and marketing channel, how to get the best out of it.

Email marketing - acquisition and retention of email subscribers

How to use email for your business – acquisition

In my experience, email is both a strong acquisition tool as well as an excellent retention channel. However, using email for  retention requires a short, mid and long-term strategy and effort to stay the course. Email for acquisition can be done in a number of ways. Obviously you acquire new email subscribers through your website and call to actions to join or connect or sign up. This will create some organic growth but you’re unlikely to acquire new users at the same rate as they drop off, or churn at the other end (unsubscribe). This is passive growth at best.

You can also acquire new subscribers to your email database or list by list swapping, where you find a partner organisation and do a cross promotion to their database trying to encourage their customers or users to also sign up to your business newsletter or email list. If you choose your partner business with care (if they are relevant to your customers/ users and in context), this tactic could prove to have a high return. Of course a businesses customer database is their most valuable asset and you may find it difficult to find a business willing to trade with you, especially if your email database is not of comparable size and of interest to them.

You can also purchase an email list – or rather, purchase the right to send one email to an already established email list. If you’re prepared to spend some serious cash (like around $30,000), you will be able to purchase each email address record at around $0.30. Most email brokers work on a sliding scale, the more records you purchase, the cheaper the record purchase price. While purchasing a list is a great way to grow your email subscriber list quickly, you will often find it necessary to incentivise cold lists with a promotion. A promotion might use the pull tactic to win a free ipod or win $500 cash to gain a subscription but you will usually find that this type of subscriber is of very little value to your business and they will likely unsubscribe as soon as the promotion is over or remain inactive in your database.

You can also add email sign up call to actions into your search engine creative. If online users are already searching for your brand, perhaps you can take this opportunity to use your brand search keyword terms to try and convert warm search leads to a soft acquisition – such as a newsletter sign up. There is little media wastage when using your head or brand terms this way and this type of user is already familiar with your business and is looking for you already. If their search was because they are interested in buying or ordering your product(s) or engaging your services, this call to action to subscribe or sign up to email will not dissuade them.

Of course there are also old school methods such as direct mail survey‘s and straight Update Your Details types of incentives to your existing customers or email subscribers to try and re-activate them once they have become passive, but most businesses need to ensure they are constantly acquiring new users and customers.

How to use email for your business – retention

As I mentioned above, acquiring email subscribers is not rocket science, there are many ways to do it, some free and others have a cost attached but it is absolutely doable. Retention on the other hand is much more difficult simply because email is such a cluttered space. I don’t know about you but in my line of work I hear people complaining every day about the amount of email they receive. Most of us can’t keep on top of our personal emails let alone all of our work emails, newsletters and promotions we’ve signed up to and now seem to receive 10 new offers each week. Daily or weekly digests of networking groups or forums you may have joined, notification and transactional emails from your social networking profiles or maybe your health insurance or gym membership. It seems never ending. So how can you cut through all this clutter and make your email stand out?

This section will not be long and involved. It’s simple. There are two things you need to do to retain your email subscribers.
1. Make sure that you have a solid contact or email communications plan in place for the first month after a new customer has subscribed. I will explain more below.
2. Ensure that your email content is relevant to your customer and to what they would expect from your brand.

Your best opportunity to retain an email subscriber is within the first month, or really the first two weeks after they have signed up to your email newsletter. Best email practice would be to send a Welcome Email, confirming their subscription and introducing them to your brand, your products and services. There are different points of view on this, but in my opinion, at the first point of contact after subscription, the welcome email should not make an ask of the subscriber. It should be a confirmation of their subscription, a brief intro to the business and letting them know what the benefits are to them, the end user.

Perhaps 2 or 3 days later, there should be an automated or trigger email. Depending on the resources available to you and the sophistication of your businesses email campaign tool, you may be able to set up this trigger email to relate directly to their interests (captured at sign up) or their online behaviour (based on what they did on your website) but most of us have to make do with a more generic communication. If you are going down the generic email route, then send them your last information newsletter – many businesses now have a monthly or a quarterly newsletter. This will support the information they received in the welcome newsletter about your products and services and will engage them in your brand.

Perhaps 3 or 4 days later (all of this needs to be tested with your own users – every product and business will be different), about 7 days after their original subscription, set up a triggered email to make an ask. If you sell products online, send them a special offer. If you are a charity, send them your most recent appeal and ask them for a donation. If you are a news website, send them a survey to complete or ask them to refine their categories of interest.

A new subscriber is most engaged with your brand within the first two weeks after the initial action. This is your best opportunity to retain them into the future. Once you have established that your brand is reputable and regular, a relationship has been established and the user will now trust your emails to contain information that is relevant to their needs. So long as you do nothing to re-stabalise this trusted relationship (such as send them partner promotions that they are not interested in – beware of list swaps such as mentioned in the acquisition section above), your subscriber will remain engaged.

Once you have exited the initial month of email courtship, your emails should become less frequent and the subscriber can slot into the normal cycle of communications. Having said that, normal still needs to be regular – either weekly, fortnightly or monthly, as needed by your business. If someone has signed up for daily deals, then it should go without saying that they expect a daily email. But for a newsletter, the emails need only be as regular as the information they provide.

For top email retention tips, watch this space.