Is having an email list important?
If you’d said to me a year ago that the most important client list you could have was your email list, I would have laughed and truly thought you were joking. “Email is dead” I would have said, “you’re better off marketing through Google, Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or one of the other huge social networks where millions of potential customers hang out.”
But one eye-opening day I was listening to a podcast by Amy Porterfield. She was was talking about the importance of a well nurtured email list and how your email list was the only client list you actually own and have control over. This was a new concept to me, something I pondered over the coming weeks with excited interest. The understanding that your client list is not your own if it is crafted through a social media channel such as Facebook was a huge moment of clarity. If you do not own it, it can be taken away from you.
A history of unexpected change
Thinking about lists that we rely on but don’t own, I remember how easy it was some 20 years ago to manipulate the search results in Google and get websites ranking for any search term we chose. We’d keyword stuff the meta fields and hide text on the page, and add pointless extra text to trick Google into ranking websites higher. At the time we didn’t view this as what became known as “black hat” tactics. It was part of a working strategy to get client websites ranking well and therefore bringing in business for them.
Then came Google’s algorithm changes. In 2011 Google released the Panda update which penalised duplicate, spammy, keyword stuffed websites. This game changing update was quickly followed by Penguin in 2012, which penalised websites for having spammy links. Over successive years, Google changed the face of search engine optimisation and how we optimised websites to rank. Ultimately, all these changes have been for the better, as Google manipulates the rankings to show users the best quality and most relevant content available. However, lots of legitimate businesses crumpled during these years, as they went from first results in Google to nowhere to be found. As the much-enjoyed traffic that these businesses had enjoyed dried up, businesses went from prospering to failing.
Then came the advent of Facebook. Originally created as a space for people to connect with each other, Facebook has become one of the hugest marketing platforms in the world. Businesses work to create a list of “Likes” or “Followers”, nurturing their audiences with interactive, interesting and engaging content. Organic reach for posts was high in the early days – meaning that the people who liked your page had a good chance of seeing your post in their feed. Then, in 2018, Facebook changed their alogorithm to reduce the amount of marketing content that was shown organically in followers feeds. This change forced businesses to opt for paid advertising in order for their posts to continue to reach people.
More recently, businesses and public figures have found their accounts suspended or their post reach penalised when promoting or talking about topics found to be in breach of Facebook’s standards and rules.
The same has been seen with Twitter, Instagram and other social platforms. In 2021, Trump had his Twitter account permanently suspended due to his public stances on the Twitter platform.
So what does this mean for your business?
While marketing on any of these platforms is an integral part of any strong marketing strategy, businesses should be wary of relying solely on building their client lists on these platforms, because at any point they could disappear. You don’t own your customer list on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Google. You can’t download a spreadsheet of all the people you are connected with and contact them external to those platforms. And if those platforms were to shut down tomorrow, or your business be found to be in breach of their policies or standards, those valuable client lists would be gone.
Just 20 days ago, Meta (previously Facebook), warned that it may shut down Facebook in Europe if they could not come to an agreement over the sharing of private data with the EU.
If Facebook were to close here in New Zealand, would you still have a customer list? Would you have other ways of engaging with your customers?
So what is the alternative?
The answer is email. A well-nurtured email list is a client list you can own, nurture and grow. Not to be confused with replacing Facebook, Google or other client lists, email marketing should be a firm part of your overall marketing strategy.
How to create and grow an email list
There are lots of great email marketing platforms available today, many with free plans. Mailchimp, Marsello, ActiveCampaign and Hubspot to name a few.
Tip: You should avoid trying to do newsletter mailouts through your own email program as there are rules to follow with email marketing. Your newsletters must have an unsubscribe option, your subscribers need to be able to opt into your newsletter, and you don’t want your email account flagged as sending spam mail. Also, most newsletter software will integrate with your website and Google Analytics, giving you important metrics such as purchases, website visits, bookings etc that have come from your newsletters.
To encourage people to sign up to your newsletter, add your signup form to your website, your website forms, and integrate into social media channels. Encourage your clients to sign up in your communication with them. You can also incentivise signups by offering customers a discount on their first purchase if they join your mailing list.
How to nurture your list
Creating good, informative, engaging content for your emails shouldn’t be an afterthought. A good marketing strategy will include a marketing plan that details what topics you are going to talk about, at what times of the year. Think about key dates like public holidays, seasonal trends, buying trends.
Create a plan that you are able to commit to. If sending a weekly newsletter is not achievable, then commit to one a fortnight. Make sure you stick to your plan, and send out your newsletters consistently on the same day of the week, at the same time. That way, your clients will come to expect your newsletters, and if they are engaging and interesting, they’ll look forward to seeing them in their inbox.
But, people are unsubscribing from my list!
That’s OK, don’t panic. It’s healthy and expected to have people unsubscribe from your newsletter list. You can’t appeal to all people, what you want to achieve is an engaged and interested audience who do want to be a part of your community. In fact its a great idea to keep a tidy list – go through your email list periodically and remove those who haven’t read your newsletter this year.
What can I write about?
There are lots of possible marketing strategies that might work well for your business. Think about the things that you know that you can share freely with people. Think less about how can you sell to your client list, and more about how you can serve them and create a community of like-minded people. What insight do you have to share with your subscribers?
If you own a florist shop, you might decide to send out fortnightly newsletters. One fortnight you might converse with your customers about things that are relevant to them. Show them how to cut, care and compost their flowers. Talk about the benefits of using artificial flowers over fresh. What flowers are currently in season. The next fortnight might be a sales email with your latest bouquets, flowers for delivery, special offers, and seasonal trends.
If you own a tour business, you might send out a monthly newsletter talking about the best locations to visit this time of year, how COVID restrictions are affecting tour groups, how to pack to go on a tour, what camera they might like to buy to best capture the wildlife they’ll see on their tour. Each quarter you might send a sales letter that prompts your subscribers to book your upcoming tours.
If at any point in time you have something you really want your customers to do, make sure your email only has this one thing in it. People will only take one action, so don’t dilute your very important message with other options. For example, if you want people to sign up to your awesome new course, send them a news flash about this and tell them you want them to sign up. Be very clear about what you want your engaged subscribers to do, and don’t mix that message with any other messages. If you have a new product you want them to buy, talk about your new amazing product and link to the product on your website so that they can go and purchase it right away.
What about email automations?
Automations are a really important part of your marketing strategy. This form of email marketing takes a lot of the stress off of you around constantly creating new content and sending this out to your dedicated following. Automations connect with your customers at key times, around key events, with pre-drafted content.
There are many uses for automations, so we’ll only briefly touch on these now. A simple but very effective automation is gathering reviews after a client has completed a purchase or sale with you. If this purchase is through an online shop such as Shopify or WordPress, you can connect your store to your email software such as Mailchimp, and create an email that is sent to your customer a few days after their purchase. It can thank them for their recent business and ask them for a review either on your shop or on your Google Business Listing.
Another common automation is an Abandoned Cart email, which prompts someone who has made it to your checkout but not completed payment, to go back to your online store and complete the purchase.
If someone signs up to your newsletter, you could have a series of automations set up that welcomes them to your list immediately and explains the upcoming emails they should expect. Perhaps they’ll get 2 more this week, then one per week for the rest of the year. This series of emails should be engaging, interesting and insightful.
Marketing through Facebook and Google will likely always be a very large part of your marketing strategy, but it is important to keep in mind that you do not own these client lists. Giants come and go, algorithms change, policies change, and at any moment it is possible that your hard earned client list could disappear.
Email marketing is not dead, its still very much alive. If you nurture your list with interesting content, you will grow an engaged and valuable client list that you own and who want to be a part of your community.