As anyone who reads my blogs or follows me on social media will know, I am a keen cyclist. In my home town there are two independently owned bike shops I could potentially visit to service my bike and make the occasional purchase.

Both shops offer a quick, efficient and highly professional service. They are fairly well-matched in terms of available products and stock, and are a similar distance from my house. There is very little difference between both shops, so why would I choose to visit one much more regularly than the other?

The simple answer is email marketing.

While bicycle shop #1 takes my money and lets me leave the shop, adopting the strategy of hope as their only effort to make me return, bicycle shop #2 makes a considerable effort to stay on my radar and win future business.

When I first visited shop #2 to buy a new winter cycling jacket (I was initially attracted to a highly visible promotion in the shop’s window) they not only took the time to understand exactly what I was looking for (they even offered me a cup of coffee), they also invited me to open a free account which would have immediate benefits. In exchange for my email address, they would hold a record of all my previous purchases (useful if I ever had any problems and needed to make a return), email me my receipts, and offer a 10% discount on all purchases including the one I was making that day. I would also receive an informative and interesting monthly email newsletter highlighting a range of products to suit the season, relevant local events, and other great offers. I’d be a fool to decline such an offer.

Because their emails are so useful, I open them even when I’m not interested in buying something and (very occasionally) they will change my mind and I will make a purchase. The great thing about this one particular shop is they get the whole multi-channel retail thing, meaning I can go directly from their email newsletter to their website and buy a product and have the item shipped directly to my home or office or pop into the shop and pick it up.

I believe all great marketing (like all good products or services) should be useful. My favorite bike shop understands this and always attempts to be useful as opposed to simply selling. They use content as the bait and a good call-to-action as the hook to reel me in – and I’m happy to be caught in this manner.

Many real world businesses are afraid to ask for email details because they believe their customers will have a negative impression of email marketing. Keep it useful, like bicycle shop #2, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.

UPDATE: Bicycle shop #1 has upped its game and started making an attempt to market itself to the local cycling community in my home town. They have taken to taping flyers to bikes chained up at bike racks throughout the town. There are a couple of reasons why I don’t like this. First, it creates litter and secondly, I don’t like people touching my bike when I leave it outside a shop. But this approach is also indiscriminate. The people taping flyers to bike handles have no idea if the bike belongs to an existing customer or not. The flyers do not build relationships and ultimately seem a little desperate. Wouldn’t it be easier to ask for an email address and build reputation via word of mouth or more commonly distributed these days via social media?

This abridged post first appeared on the iContact Email Marketing Blog and is taken from the book Bricks & Mortar Oughta: What Real World Businesses Can Learn from the Internet.