Why Email Marketing Is Still Vital for SMBs

Contact us symbol in businessman hand, Email icon

One of the common themes I hear from small business owners is that they are afraid of “spamming their customers.” This is the primary reason they give for not regularly reaching out to their existing base. Ironically, however, it doesn’t stop them from advertising and posting the same messages repeatedly on social media (primarily on Facebook).

I can’t claim to speak for every consumer, but I will admit two things. And I bet both are shared by many:

  • I barely look at print ads, and for the most part I ignore all paid ads I see on Google Search, Facebook and other websites.

  • I do not “discover” new businesses on Facebook, but I do certainly notice the repeated posts of businesses that I actively follow.

With these 2 concepts in mind, let’s discuss the 4 reasons why active engagement matters, and the fallacy of “email spam”:

1. Ads are ineffective. A 2-5% conversion on ads is considered very good. Small business owners tend to post the same (or similar) ads — sometimes in multiple publications — to try to reach a new audience. A recent article in Street Fight discussed the importance of contextual targeted and mobile, and one of the experts was quoted as saying, “Generally speaking, people have stopped paying attention to advertising.” So, you have a relatively unengaged audience to start with, and if you aren’t mixing up your message, you lose the ability to influence or hit upon a need from a potential customer. You are also competing heavily with dozens of other businesses for the consumers attention.

2. Facebook’s organic reach is dropping. Most small businesses will post specials and content on Facebook. There is nothing wrong with this fundamentally, but what most small businesses don’t know is that their organic reach on Facebook (e.g. the stuff people see without you paying for it) is dropping dramatically, and will soon go to zero. Typically, the only people that see it are people that are specifically asking for notifications when you post something.

3. Email is still (by a LARGE margin) the most effective way to reach your customers. If you want people who already know you to read what you have to say, email and messaging are proven to be highly effective.

4. Conversations matter. When one of your “regular” customers calls or sees you in person, do you talk about the same thing you spoke with them about the last time you engaged with them? Probably not, unless it’s to provide new information on the topic.

Emailing your customers is not spam. In reality, you will likely be hitting up your customers less frequently via email than you are using some of the methods listed above. The irony of “no email because I don’t want to bother my customers” is that business owners are saying they don’t want to do via email exactly what they are doing with advertising and social media!

The key to not spamming is:

— Communicate with your customers on a regular (but not too often) basis. I get weekly emails from local restaurants with their new weekend specials and entertainment options. Some enterprising handymen send me “tips and tricks” monthly with topical advice around the home. None of this is spam. And if you are using an email marketing program, your customers have the ability to opt out. If you get a little more sophisticated, you can let them specify how often they will allow you to email them to keep them from unsubscribing.

— Communicate a unique and compelling message each time. Do not keep saying the same thing over and over! You don’t have to write the great American novel — simply offer up something unique (at least one thing) in each post. You can put the new item on top and then re-state some older content you want to reinforce below that.

— Give your customer more control of how and when to reach them. Facebook is already doing this by allowing consumers to get notified when particular friends/pages update their status, but you want to provide this capability to your customers via all online communication channels.

By using unique and thoughtful content, email can be an extremely effective marketing and engaging strategy. And for those of you saying “Where am I going to find the time to do all this?” I might suggest starting by cutting down on spamming people with ads and social media posts! A little targeted engagement will make you stand out and people take notice with higher frequency than any other marketing activity you can perform.

Scott BarnettScott Barnett is a serial entrepreneur with 25+ years experience in Software Development, Product Management, Sales and Marketing. He is currently Founder of Bizyhood, a startup focused on Content Distribution and Engagement tools for local publishers and businesses.

  1. gregmca
    March 17, 2015

    Good article, Scott. One question, which is key to defining CRM/engagement/CPA success in a post-advertising world: for those businesses that you actively follow and read their posts, why did you start actively following them? And what, if anything, gets you past following and into buying?

    1. March 17, 2015

      For me personally, I follow businesses that I have a personal relationship with or ones that provide content/value for me. The thing is, every channel is different. I get emails from a LOT of businesses that I would never Follow on Facebook. If I need customer support and it’s a larger brand, I might follow them on Twitter. It’s very hard/frustrating for SMBs, but they need to realize that everybody is different, and the way they target people should be personalized as much as possible. Even convincing SMBs to send customers a regular email can be a tough sell. The key here is to show the SMBs how to work “smart” online – this doesn’t have to be a huge effort (time or money) on their part. But doing the same thing repeatedly because it’s “easy” is frankly just a waste of their time.

  2. Jeff Pugel
    March 17, 2015

    I disagree with the blanket statement that “ads are ineffective.” What makes them ineffective? It’s usually bad creative, no call to action, and/or a bad or lacking offer. Interestingly, all three of these are under the direct control of the SMB. As is mentioned, SMBs tend to post the same ad over and over so it shows that they don’t understand the important role that creative plays in the process and are actually contributing to the problem and then promptly turn around and say “it’s not working!” without understanding that what they’re doing is contributing to the problem.

    1. March 17, 2015

      Jeff – I should have said “ads are viewed by the SMBs as ineffective”. For many of the reasons you mention, as well as the fact that SMBs don’t view 2-5% as a “good” hit rate. So, even if they did have good creative, had a great CTA, etc., they would generally still be frustrated with the # of leads.

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