Whitney Zimet, a busy Miami mom, has figured out a way to build her small business during all hours. She mingles with other moms, hoping to cajole them into giving her their e-mail addresses. Then, she adds the coveted address to the distribution list for her e-newsletter, I am the Maven, filled with coupons from advertisers.
Even with texting and social media making headlines, e-mail marketing is emerging as a powerful factor in promoting business. Retailers are using it to draw customers to their stores and websites. Groups are using it to promote events and workshops. Charities are using it to raise funds. And, moms are using to create home businesses.
Those using it say it's effective and efficient. New research shows it's going to be an even bigger force going forward, particularly with more people reading e-mail on their smart phones.
``It levels the playing field,'' says Vivian Conterio, owner of born2bhip.com, an e-mail marketing consulting firm. ``Any business of any size can use it.''
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At its best, e-mail marketing can be used to publish an electronic newsletter that engages readers with tips, advice and information, often sparking the reader to share content with friends, click on a link to the sender's website or buy a service or product. At its worse, it's spam on steroids.
For you and me, the trend means we're going to have to increasingly manage our Inboxes.
Like most of you, I'm e-mail overwhelmed. I need to spend a few hours unsubscribing from e-mail newsletters that I've been deleting without reading for months. But I receive Zimet's I am the Maven newsletters, read them, and enjoy them. For Zimet, I'm her target customer. To keep people like me hooked, companies that use e-mail marketing will have to hone in on a specific audience rather than chasing a larger distribution list.
Zimet started her I am the Maven business by giving out tote bags through local schools stuffed with coupons from her advertisers. Now, she has formed a relationship with 4,000 people who receive her weekly e-mail newsletters that feature her ``maven-recommended'' places to shop or eat. ``It's like a girlfriend telling you what's so great about a place,'' she says.
Initially, e-mail marketing can be time consuming, depending on your technical expertise and what route you go. Zimet said it took her weeks to create the format for her e-mail newsletter. She uses Constant Contact as e-mail marketing software but there are at least a half-dozen others including Vertical Response or Exact Target. A year after launching, Zimet says she spends about an hour or two each week writing and distributing her e-mail newsletters, a time investment that appears average. The upside, Zimet discovered, is the ability to measure success. ``I know that the e-mails drive traffic to my advertisers' websites because they get a nice bump when I send my newsletters out.''
Kent Crook, owner of Wiremasters Electric, went a different route. ``Everyone in my business is hurting. I realized I need to stay in front of my customers' faces.'' Crook hired Conterio's born2bhip.com to format his electronic newsletters. He updates the content himself each month. His startup newsletter featured electronic wiring tips for hurricane preparedness. The newsletter included a discount coupon, which a handful of customers redeemed. ``One customer told me he had a list of things but was putting it off. When he saw my newsletter, he called.''
Clearly, e-mail marketing success is measurable. One blogger I spoke with says the days he sends out newsletters are the biggest days of traffic on his site. Retailers have told me the same thing.
It's not surprising then that spending on e-mail marketing will expand at double-digit rates for the next five years, according to a report from private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson.
One entrepreneurial mom found her niche in the trend, turning an electronic newsletter into a profitable venture. Boo Province Zamek sends out her Just Ask Boo, an electronic community bulletin, to more than 4,000 people in South Miami-Dade County. ``It's all word of mouth. We don't put anyone on our subscriber list ourselves.'' Zamek, a mom-owned business, launched from home. A year-and-a-half later after launching, she has no debt, six employees and is growing by 400 subscribers a month.
Lisa Sparks says e-mail marketing is embraced by mom business owners who can create and distribute their electronic newsletters outside traditional 9-to-5 hours. She is Constant Contact's regional development director. Lately, Sparks finds herself drawing hundreds to e-mail marketing workshops on how to create compelling subject lines and how to figure out frequency, content and opt-in or opt-out policies.
``There is something about a regular e-mail newsletter that just seems to make people feel connected to you,'' Sparks says. ``But it can be hard work to get those eyeballs.''