Email Marketing Basics

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In today's fast-paced business marketplace, consistent and customized communication with customers is a vital part of increasing business and building a brand. A straight-forward and affordable way to do this is through email marketing.

What is it?

Essentially, email marketing means using email to communicate with clients, customers, and fans of your business. It helps you build a relationship with your customers by keeping in touch with them between purchases and reminding them of your services so they come back and shop again. Think of it as similar to direct marketing: You're contacting the customer directly and with a purpose.

Email marketing is different from direct marketing, however, in that you can't send out unsolicited emails—that's called spam. (Keep reading for more on spam.)

Email Types

Newsletters, special promotions, and reminder notices all fall under email marketing. Depending on your business and its marketing needs, one or all of these may be utilized.

The frequency and format of your emails depends on the nature of your business and the kind of relationship you're looking to build with customers. If you're using email solely to communicate information about new products or sales, your email frequency will be dictated by how often those events occur. If you're using email to build a relationship and maintain a dialog with your customers, you'll want to be in regular contact so your recipients come to expect your emails.

Newsletters are the most popular way businesses use email marketing. In a nutshell, a newsletter is a periodic update containing company news and information on new products or services. A newsletter can be a simple, succinct note from you, or it can be more elaborate and design-heavy. Usually a newsletter has an established send frequency (once a week or once a month, for instance) and is used to establish a relationship with your customers.

Promotional emails, on the other hand, are used to drive sales and can be more sporadic. If you have developed a website for your business or an online shopping section, inviting your email subscribers to visit your site can help accelerate sales and build traffic to your site. You can offer special coupons or exclusive email savings to encourage your recipients to buy.

Choosing a Provider

The first step in setting up an email marketing campaign is to find a service provider. There are plenty of choices out there, with each one offering an assortment of basics and perks. You'll want to conduct some research before settling with a company to make sure your email marketing needs are met.

You'll need to consider how you plan to use email marketing and what size your recipient list is when deciding on a service. Some email providers offer a free service with limited features or volume, which can work for you if your list is small and you don't plan to send emails very often. If you need more features, check out paid providers. LegalZoom partner Constant Contact offers a free 60-day trial so you can test drive their full feature set.

Following the Rules

As you move forward with using email in your marketing efforts, you'll need to know the rules of the game. Familiarize yourself with the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, opt-in procedures, and unsubscribe options. Be sure that you're knowledgeable about these rules, as breaking them may mean heavy fines.

The most important rule is this: You cannot send unsolicited emails. Your business's database of email addresses must only contain contact information provided voluntarily by users. Choosing to sign up for an email list is referred to as "opting-in". Opting-in requires confirmation that the end-user wants to become a part of your email list. There are multiple levels of opt-in confirmations—you may have to do some experimentation to discover which one works best for your audience.

Even if you're not breaking the rules, certain words or phrases can send a red flag to email programs, causing them to stop your email before it gets to your recipient's inbox. Your email service provider should offer tools, such as spam checkers and inbox previewers, to help you ensure that your emails won't get caught in spam filters. Check your emails before you send them; if your emails never get to your customers' inboxes, you'll never reap the benefits of email marketing.

Get Started

You've spent a lot of time building your business. Now, take your brand to the next level with email marketing. Once you determine the type of email communication appropriate for your business and settle on an email service provider, you can start using email in a whole new way.