Email marketing has come a long way since AOL first popularized the medium by announcing to users that “You’ve Got Mail.” While the techniques used to develop and implement a successful email marketing strategy have certainly changed over the last 20 years, one thing has remained the same – email marketing still provides an outstanding return on investment. In fact, email enjoys a median ROI of 122 percent, according to the Data & Marketing Association and Demand Metric.
What’s changed is that email marketing is no longer a novelty. Today, nearly every ecommerce website on the internet asks visitors to sign up to a mailing list. Depending on how freely a consumer gives out his or her email address, it’s not unusual to find an inbox filled with special offers, newsletters, promotional materials, and straight-up sales pitches awaiting you after logging in. Many consumers have even gotten wise enough to the avalanche of junk mail they will receive from businesses that they create spam email accounts to use whenever shopping online.
Consumers have become incredibly fickle about what messages they open and view their time as incredibly valuable. This has placed both small business and large corporations in direct competition for not only a consumer’s money, but also for their attention. Unfortunately, large corporation have the advantage of being able to utilize massive marketing budgets to dominate the inbox.
So, how can your small business’ email marketing strategy hope to compete? Simple, you need to start embracing the three emerging trends of email marketing, personalization, artificial intelligence, and automation.
Automation Enables Easy Action
For many small business entrepreneurs, the word “automation” carries a negative connotation. After all, what separates a small business from its larger competition is the ability to develop personal connections with their customer base.
However, by placing faith in automation you can enable your business to drive more action. Something as simple as an automated email that welcomes a customer to your mailing list can help to ensure that your business is able to reach new customers when they’re highly engaged with your business, such as immediately after a purchase or after having just browsed your site.
Automated emails offer your business an opportunity to immediately establish a rapport with a new customer. More than just a simple greeting, your initial email can offer a coupon for a discount, an invitation to receive a free white paper, or another type of compelling offer that immediately engages with the customer and offers them a reason to quickly reconnect with your business.
Additionally, if your business has embraced mobile apps or “text-to-join” tools, automation enables you to connect with a user directly after they’ve download or texted to join your subscription base. This type of decisive follow-up can be the key to directing consumer action and behavior in your favor.
A 2014 report found that 60 percent of business with yearly revenues of over $500 million had already begun implementing automation into their email marketing strategies, while just 3 percent of small businesses with yearly revenues of under $5 million had made the same investment. While much has changed in the business landscape over the last 4 years, automation continues to be underutilized and underappreciated by small business owners.
Get Smart with Artificial Intelligence
While automation offers you the opportunity to quickly interact with a customer, you shouldn’t mistake automation with a generic template. Nothing will turn a customer away more quickly from a business than regularly receiving messages that do not relate to them.
Customers will set high expectations for your business. They want to know that you understand them and that you’re willing to tailor their experiences to meet their needs. That’s fairly easily done when dealing with just one person, but it becomes trickier when dealing with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of individual consumers. After all, what do you really know about a consumer based simply off an email address and a name?
Here is where artificial intelligence can be your secret weapon in enabling your business to see the full picture about your customers and the best ways to reach them. A recent survey conducted by Salesforce found that 57 percent of respondents called AI absolutely or very essential in enabling them to deliver an optimal one-on-one communication experience with their customers.
With data now available across multiple marketing channels and devices, AI offers the potential to reveal information normally hidden to businesses, such as buying habits and what products a visitor has looked at on your website. Possessing that information could potentially boost the effectiveness of your business’ automated marketing efforts by enabling you to follow up with targeted emails that will help to convert visitors into customers.
Personalization is Key
That same Salesforce survey also found that 65 percent of B2B buyers and 50 percent of consumers surveyed were likely to switch brands if a company was unwilling or unable to connect with them personally.
As we mentioned earlier, the ability to personally connect with its customers is a small businesses greatest advantage when compared to its larger competition. Whether your friend, neighbors, or members of the community, as a small business owner you better know and understand your customer base in ways a large corporation could only dream.
Effectively utilizing that personal information requires more than just relying on that data alone. Ture personalization means that you continue to get to know a customer by asking thoughtful questions and by showing them that their opinions really matter.
This can come in the form of asking direct questions through surveys about when the best time is to contact customers, how they prefer to be informed about upcoming sales and events, to other relevant questions that demonstrate a real interest in how your business can better connect and serve those that matter most.
Developing a successful email marketing strategy doesn’t require having a million dollar marketing budget. But it does take a willingness to embrace emerging trends and technology that enable small business to compete, and win, the email marketing race.