By David H. Martin
Email marketing has been available for over two decades, yet today water treatment dealers are taking a fresh look at email as a tool to nurture existing customers and create referrals. While in recent years dealers have invested in pay-per-click, local search-engine advertising campaigns to reach out to new prospects, many of the same dealers ignored the opportunity to reach out and nurture past and present customers through email campaigns, including ones that integrate e-newsletters. What seemed old hat is now ripe for a comeback!
The comeback of email marketing is fueled by America’s embrace of smartphone mobile devices that offer anywhere-access to customers (see Figure 1). While electronic access has expanded with smartphones, your marketing goal hasn’t changed, which is to constantly cultivate your homegrown database of current and past customers, as well as prospects you develop through referrals and promotions.
Certainly you’ve been cultivating a proprietary list of customers and prospects who have voluntarily given you their email addresses, haven’t you? To expand your list, print ‘take one’ pads for home show booth drawings, soliciting email addresses (not just phone numbers). Have your service people solicit email addresses. Some dealers have also established email referral programs with past customers, offering rewards for referrals. In any case, set up a master database that includes email addresses as part of your information bank. Build a profile of every customer in your database for future email campaigns, including e-newsletters. Your list can be easily imported from your ACT or other data file, into your online Constant Contact or iContact account.
Gather content for a customer e-newsletter
The content of your e-newsletter, like your list, is up to you. When you begin to think of the possibilities, you’ll soon come up with a steady stream of e-news, testimonials and enticing offers. Here are few ideas to help you get started:
- A brief company history
- Employee of the month
- Project profiles
- Product profiles
- Customer testimonials
- Home water-saving tips
- New contaminants
- Special sales incentives
- Limited-time-offer coupons
- Contests and sweepstakes
- Surveys and survey results
- Local water issues
- News of community events
Assign one person to be primarily responsible for gathering content. But everyone should be asked to contribute on a regular basis. Take only digital photos, which can be easily uploaded to your newsletter. Remember, the writing style of e-newsletters is lean and brief compared with printed newsletters. Brevity counts. Keep the emails to less than 1,000 words (about 600 words is optimal); people have short attention spans. Most stories should be under 100 words, but longer stories can be continued on your website. (If you have a website, you can ‘tease’ readers with a brief paragraph that allows them to click to get the full story on your site.). Keep your content brief enough to fit on one web page. Limit the amount of self-promotional content to less than 20 percent of what you send out. Keep your emails information-rich and people will want to read them.
Encourage interaction with your readers. Ask them to contribute ideas on how to improve your service. The interaction that potential clients have with you through your newsletter allows them to get a feel for doing business with you, how responsive, friendly and knowledgeable you are. It reduces their perceived risk, making it easier for them to buy from you. How can you facilitate interaction? Make sure you include a highly visible reply button on the page.
Email lets you continue the conversation
Weekly is the best frequency for short email blasts. If you can’t write something weekly, then every other week is almost as good. More than once a week is annoying and less frequent emails tend to lose your connection. If possible, send out emails on the same day of the week for consistency and predictability. Sending email more frequently than monthly or quarterly helps you create a conversation with your readers. Additionally, if your email frequency permits, continue a dialog and content direction you’ve started in previous emails; for example: Arsenic found in local groundwater followed by Officials meet to address arsenic problem in water.
Writing an effective subject line
Make sure your Subject line supports the From line, which identifies who sent the email. The Subject line sells the recipient on opening your email. If your From line lists your company name, you don’t have to repeat it in the Subject line, which frees up space there. But do consider branding your Subject line with the name of your e-newsletter, for example, so that it will stand out in the junk folder and your recipients’ overflowing inboxes. Recent research shows readers often look at the From line first when deciding whether to open an email and then the Subject line.
The Subject line at the top of your email is the most critical element in capturing interest and readership. If you want to write a better email Subject line, pick up your local paper. The headline usually highlights a story’s most important fact in a limited space. A Subject line, in turn, should clearly state what your reader can expect from your email message, what’s in it for them or what you want them to do as a result of the email. However, there isn’t enough space to include all of these elements all the time. Look at the newspaper headline to see how it interplays with the story.
Personalize email Subject lines based on users’ product or content preferences, interests, past purchases, web visits or links clicked. Be careful when personalizing on past purchases, however, because the purchase could have been a gift for someone else and might not relate to your reader’s real interests. Yes, you can use free in an email Subject line. Just don’t make it the first word, use it in conjunction with an exclamation point or spell it in all caps—it could get your email filtered as spam. People still respond to free so the increase in orders or other actions will almost always outweigh the email messages lost from filtering.
Don’t stretch the truth in the Subject line, promise more than the email can deliver or make grand claims that readers will find hard to comply with in order to get a special offer or benefit. Readers will distrust you (and reach for the Report Spam button) if your Subject line doesn’t reflect the email content. Some email clients allow more characters in a Subject line than others, but most give you at least 50, including spaces. So, load your key information in that first 50. Also, make sure the cut-off doesn’t occur in the middle of a crucial word, such as a price or date.
Best times to email?
There is no best time or day to send emails. This is especially true with people who check their email on mobile phones. A recent Nielsen study that showed email is far and away the number-one mobile phone function. With many consumers’ smartphones literally or figuratively attached to their sides, the idea that there is a single, best time to reach them seems rather dubious now. See all those people walking around and staring at their smartphones? Checking email regularly is clearly part of what they are doing, which complicates the theory that many consumers check their email at regular times throughout the day. A recent study revealed that 43 percent of smartphone users check email four or more times per day (versus 29 percent of dedicated desktop computer users.)
Email marketing, including email blasts as well as e-newsletters, is a proven technique for nurturing business relationships, cross-selling products and developing referrals. Why not make it part of your 2015 dealer marketing program?
About the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org