email marketingAs a marketing medium, email has developed a bad rap. Across industries, spam has become the norm, and everybody who’s reading this blog post can attest to that fact. Have you ever subscribed to a newsletter, only to be barraged with spam for years afterward? Have you looked at your junk folder recently, and is it overflowing? When you browse through your inbox, how many brand emails are actually worthwhile to you? Probably none.

Now let’s switch gears and think about email from a corporate standpoint. In 2011, firms made an average of $40 for every dollar spent on email marketing, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Those are powerful numbers, especially for small businesses who only have a few marketing dollars to spend in the first place. Email could be your company’s ideal solution for building customer loyalty and reengaging past customers. But how?

The key to successful email marketing is to focus on what’s important to your existing customers. Give people something of value, and they’ll have a compelling reason to sign up for, open, and read your emails. Focus on quality rather than quantity. Here’s how:

1. Establish trust as a priority

Consumers are highly skeptical of spam – and for good reason. Junk mail is everywhere. Signing up for an email list is like throwing your personal information into a scary black box in the sense that you don’t know what marketers are doing with it. No matter how strong of a rapport you have with your customers, they’ll always value their privacy more. You might be wondering how to best get-around this skeptical attitude. That’s the wrong approach.

Rather than fighting consumer privacy, embrace it. Along with your opt-in forms, tell your subscribers exactly what they’re signing up to receive. Summarize what they’ll receive – if you have one available, share a sample. Also, tell them how often they’ll receive your email. Let your customers know that you value their privacy and won’t spam them. Give them a reason to trust you up-front.

2. Create quality email content

Your past customers first did business with you for a reason – a strong belief in your product or service. They absolutely value and care about what you have to say. They may not be doing business with you right now, but they should certainly be open to working with you again in the future.

Knowing this fact, you need to keep your connections strong – you never know when a partnership opportunity may arise. But what’s the best way to keep your customer network alive? In-person meetings are far from practical, and infrequent holiday cards are far from substantive. Here’s where email adds substantial value.

Through content-driven newsletters, tips, or offers, you can keep past customers engaged with your expertise – with a minimal investment of resources. You don’t need to send a barrage of emails every day. The frequency could be once a month or even once per quarter. Give your past customers a subtle, non-salesy, and informative reminder that you’re still around and happy to help.

3. Offer an incentive

Sometimes, people need a gentle nudge to take action. Reward your past customers for staying loyal by offering an exclusive promotional offer or discount. Give people a bonus or discount for signing up for your email list in the first place. Give people a reason that they can’t refuse to stay engaged with you and work with you again.

If possible, segment your email list so that you can market to specific groups with offers that you know they would be interested in. Use your customer data to organize different email lists and send offers that are valuable to that specific group.

4. Integrate social media

A common misconception about email marketing is that it’s a standalone channel. It’s not – email is fully integrated with the rest of the social world. People are constantly communicating and sharing information with one another. Think about it – when was the last time you sent an article or interesting website to a friend?

If you’re active on social media, you can leverage email as a platform for summarizing your social highlights. Did one of your customers leave a particularly nice comment? Did somebody ask a poignant question that would be helpful to others? By all means, share it! Email is an additional social channel to keep your customer dialogue strong.

5. Make peoples’ lives easier

As a marketer or small business owner, you have a distinct professional advantage – you’re an expert in your field. You’re constantly researching your industry’s top trends so that you can be at the forefront of the most-up-to-date information. You know the best blogs, and you’re always coming across interesting articles.

Chances are that your customers care about your industry but don’t have the time to conduct the same in-depth research. So why not make their lives easier? Centralize information into an email newsletter to keep customers educated and involved. Share your favorite reads, or consolidate findings into a straightforward summary. Create a list of easy-to-read tips that people won’t have to dig through articles to find. Your newsletter’s strongest value proposition will be the time that it saves people.

Most importantly: keep it balanced

Chasing a nonexistent sale is like chasing your tail – it’s pointless. Leave the heavy advertising and tacky messaging to other brands. Sure enough, other marketers are spamming your customers at full force. Stand out from the crowd by leveraging email as a valuable resource for people. Say something of value, be genuine, and inspire your past customers to stay connected and continue your relationship.