Get your phone ringing and email pinging with smarter email marketing

Need to know

  • Email is the last truly private marketing channel
  • Know your audience: what they do and what you want them to do
  • Honour the unspoken contract to stay relevant

Email is the portal to your digital life: your work, hobbies, admin, finances and shopping. It’s our last consistent, private space – and it’s where you can get intimate with your audience.

Email marketing takes resilience. You need to balance frequency with relevance and keep up with changing devices and formats. But it might just be the most powerful tool you have in your small business marketing toolkit. Swipe these expert tips on personalisation, building lists and shaking things up.

Building and maintaining your list

1. Don’t give away a laptop: Start building your list with a giveaway, but not a generic product that everyone wants. Give away something specific to your target audience and you’ll attract the audience that brings real value. An electrician giving away a free safety check in their local area will attract local homeowners they want to engage. An electrician giving away a laptop may build a massive list of people who could never be customers, followed by mass unsubscribes.

2. Recognise the value of your list: Don’t get so obsessed with new social platforms that you forget the personal channel you already have.

Connecting with your audience

3. Know their pain: Start with macro pain points of your audience and then zero in to write to specific fears, beliefs and wants. Write to soothe their pain.

4. Keep them on your channel: Embed digital video into your emails so you don’t lose your readers to YouTube.

5. Stand up for quality: Have high standards for images, graphics and rich content and find a way to harmonise different sources to curate your own brand feel.

6. Update your unspoken contract: Users sign up on the condition of genuine value and relevant content. But it’s not set and forget – what matters changes through life stages and milestones. Keep up.

7. Form a habit: I read a marketing industry newsletter every Saturday. It arrives at 10.10am. Every Saturday. It’s become part of my weekend routine.

“Email marketing takes resilience”

Testing, tracking and data

8. Get real with A/B testing: Use it to test emails but don’t change too much between each version or you won’t know what variable moved the needle.

9. Segments and slicing: Choose an email platform that lets you categorise your audience into sublists so you can send the right information at the right time to the right customers.

10. Set up sequences: Follow the data to create email campaigns for different customer types and behaviour. An email sequence is simply a series of emails (preferably automated) that can be triggered by a specific event: signing up, not opening the last three emails, or checking in on their recent experience with your business.

Every email counts

11. You’re welcome: Onboarding emails don’t have to be a missed opportunity. Welcome emails often have much higher open and click rate than other emails.

12. Take every opportunity to add value: Don’t write transactional emails off as necessarily dull. Focus on the purpose then look for ways to engage on something relevant and useful. Seen an email from Uber lately? Their simple emails confirming your trip details include a link to their lost and found process – which went viral as people snooped on what gets left behind.

13. Value check on aisle 2: If you’re not providing value to your reader, with content relevant to them right now, don’t send.

“Don’t change too much or you won’t know what moved the needle…”

Know your customer

14. Be George Coles at scale: The original Coles was a store where the owner knew the customers, what they liked and didn’t, and who their family was. Recreate this with your email list.

15. Do you want fries with that? Give your customer choices, relevant add ons and somewhere to go next. If you’re not sure what your customers want, ask them. Show them you’re interested.

16. Be your most critical customer: Read every draft email with a cynical eye and think about objection points that could throw your reader off. Then fix them.

Engagement is more than clicks

17. Get active: Know the stats to pay attention to and the metrics that don’t matter for you. Engagement goals are personal to your business, and list volume means nothing if they’re not active users.

18. Ask why: Pay attention to the unsubscribes – it takes something special or annoying to unsubscribe rather than simply ignore and stop engaging with the brand.

19. Train your customers: Be consistent so your customer knows what to expect from your emails. You might decide to keep email as a pure sales channel and let your socials do the fluffy stuff.

20. Stand up for quality: Have high standards for images, graphics and rich content and find a way to harmonise different sources to curate your own brand feel.

Legal and privacy things you should know

21. Don’t assume your list is toast because of privacy updates: Reconsent campaigns (asking subscribers to opt-in again) will lose you a chunk of your list, but you can minimise the fallout by drip feeding the information and providing a deadline.

22. Tick of disapproval: Pre-ticked boxes aren’t acceptable anymore – opt-in must be informed and explicit.

23. Know your responsibilities: Do you have a plan if someone asks for their data history or an explanation of how you remove their data if they unsubscribe?

How’s your list?

Which brands send great emails? Let me know in the comments.

This article was originally published as a Flying Solo column.