Content-driven, lifestyle-oriented e-communications are becoming more widely accepted by consumers. When produced professionally and managed attentively, they can become an effective marketing solution for service providers such as equipment dealers and landscape contractors.
Pure Promotions Rarely Work
Purely promotional emails are not very effective, says Dave Fish of IMN, a content-driven e-communications company based in Waltham, MA. Promo-only emails often result in a high number of recipients who “opt out,” or unsubscribe from the list.
“You can erode your email base by 2/3 in a year by putting out thin, promotional emails,” Fish points out. “Because email marketing is so cost-effective, you certainly don’t want to throw this opportunity away by turning off your audience.”
Content is the Key
You can hang onto more than 90% of your email base when you provide useful content. Professional, high-quality content that is easy to read, listen to or watch accomplishes a number of things:
- Surprises your audience because they’re used to getting promos all the time
- Engages your audience because there is interesting content to hold their attention longer
- Helps you stand out from other businesses that are just sending promotional emails.
The Right Frequency is Vital
Send out your e-communications monthly, Fish advises. Quarterly can be too infrequent, causing a larger percentage of your audience to forget about you and opt out. On the other hand, more often than monthly can be too much.
When you send quality content on a monthly basis, Fish says the following are realistic goals:
- Less than a 1% opt-out rate each mailing
- At least a 20% open rate each mailing
“Direct mail typically generates a 1-2% response rate,” Fish points out. “So I think you’ll agree that taking the time to get this e-communications thing right is well worth it.”
Measure to See What Works
Measuring your content to determine what is being read is an essential part of “getting it right.” Companies such as IMN can help with this. “Our unique tracking tools can help you learn what your customers care about most,” Fish explains.
Content can include information specific to your industry or company, such as lawn watering tips or lawnmower maintenance advice. If it’s informative and engaging, it can work.
“Content that’s not so obvious can also work very well,” Fish points out. “For example, we do some ezines for several auto dealerships. Movie reviews are actually very well-received by their customers.”
Don’t be afraid to try new things you believe could be of interest to your audience. But be careful. Measure their effectiveness so that, if they’re not popular, you stop doing them before you lose subscribers.
Focus on what’s working and drop what isn’t.
Incorporating Special Offers
Special offers and promotions should still be a part or your e-communications effort. The trick, according to Fish, is to work them in tastefully.
“You can hang onto consumers longer when you give them quality content,” Fish says. “This is great news because that means you have more time to pitch them your products and services.
“We think of a three-layered approach,” Fish goes on to say.
- Strong editorial that engages and retains the audience
- A “soft sell” such as educational information aligned with what you want to promote
- A hard call to action.
For example, if you were an equipment dealer inside the snowbelt, you might use your December ezine to talk about preparing lawn and garden equipment for winter storage. Perhaps you could work in an offer to store the customer’s equipment at your facility, or invite the customer to take advantage of your winter service special to get their mower ready for the next mowing season.
A landscaper outside the snowbelt might talk about winter lawn care do’s and dont’s. A landscaper inside the snowbelt might talk about snow and ice management tips. In either case, it’s perfectly appropriate to invite customers to take advantage of any service specials you’re offering in these two areas.
“Coupons and special offers are still very important,” Fish reminds. “This is especially true these days with more consumers on the lookout for a deal. But special offers can’t be the only thing you do. You still need that first leg: strong editorial content.”
Creating Content-Rich Communications
You can incorporate content from other sources into your ezine.
“Be aware of copyright laws,” Fish warns. “You can’t just grab anything and everything you find on the Internet. But there could be some copyright-released sources they could explore. It’s also OK to summarize certain copyrighted works and then link to them.”
Creating your own content can be very effective. The biggest challenge is often finding the time.
“Using video or audio as the core of your ezine is a great approach,” Fish says. This is less time-consuming than writing and editing copy. Plus, it’s more entertaining for the audience. So hopefully you have the capability of shooting short videos and uploading them to your computer.”
A third party such as IMN can help create your content. “As an email service provider focused on vertical markets, we can source the content and get it ready to go, including video,” Fish says. “You can add your personal message if you want to. We can create ezine editions specifically for smartphones, so the usability is there in the small-screen environment. We also provide the capability of having your coupon or special offer texted to your customers’ phones.”
For $50-$100 a month, Fish says a small business can obtain these services from IMN. A small business generating its own content, and only in need of an email platform, could expect to spend $10-$20 a month.
In either event, when compared to most other forms of marketing, content-rich e-communications can prove to be a very cost-effective way to develop loyal customers and engage new ones. By carefully balancing quality editorial content with your special offers and promotions, you could be well on your way to finding the marketing solution you’ve long been looking for.
Dave Fish is CEO of IMN, a content-driven e-communications company based in Waltham, MA. He holds a B.S. degree in computer science and electrical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an M.S. in information sciences from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Visit IMN for information on how IMN can help you create and deliver content-rich e-communications to help you grow sales.