||If you're like most small business
owners, you need a generous supply of potential customer names and
email address to effectively market your offerings online.
The good news is you don't have to
deceive or spam people to get them. The bad news is that too many
others have already taken that route, gibing online marketing a
Unlike the offline world. where
consumers get junk mail daily and simply toss it into the recycling
bin, unwanted email message offend people and trigger nasty replies.
People are more protective than ever of their email addresses.
have made it bad for the rest of us,"
says Derek Scruggs, and expert on permission-based email marketing.
So you shouldn't be one yourself; there are enough already out
So how do you build your database of
names and email addresses? Here are seven tips to consider:
1. Be upfront: Put an email
sign-up box prominently on your home page.
Why not just tell customers what you
want? In return, "offer something of value, earn their trust, and build the
relationship," says Jeffrey Graham, Vice-president at Dynamic Logic, a New
York-based online research company. The offers could include free tips and
advice, news alerts, newsletters and/or new product information. Be
creative, but allow people to opt-out of these emails anytime they want. Two
online retailers that follow this strategy effectively ate Heath4her and
BabyCenter. The latter site asks prospective mothers simply for their email
address and the date their baby is due. With that information, BabyCenter is
ready to roll --- it can offer pregnancy and child-rearing tips as well as
cribs, car seats, and other products up until long after the baby is born.
Similarly, Heath4Her, which sells health and beauty products for women, can
directly reach consumers who ant to be reached with recipes, health and
beauty tips, and special product offers. "It has been very successful; we
get 2% to 4% of those visiting our site to sign up," says Louis Jay,
Health4Her President. Putting a sign-up box on your home page, he says,
"should be the first thing on anybody's mind when they start an online
2. Make your promotions and
special offers worth the click.
Contests for cash prizes or free trips will
always attract lots of sign-ups, whether the offers are made through banner
or email newsletter ads. Make the offers worth the trouble. But know that
the jury is still out on the effectiveness of this strategy because those
signing up are not long-term customers. Still, an incentive-based offer is a
way to gather hundreds of names and email addresses, which are especially
viable if if your site is frequented primarily by your target customers --
such as adult women for Health4Her. "We give them a change to win something,
like a free cruise," Jay says. "It's a way to gather names and build
3. If you rent lists of consumer
names, be forthright about it.
This means marketing or industry lists
where consumers have given consent == not the many other lists of names
obtained deceptively or without the consumer's permission. Scruggs
discourages buying even the opted-in lists in his e-marketing rules, though
many other online marketer don't. That's because the potential for spamming
still exists. Not ever consumer who agreed to sign up for the particular
list you bought will remember doing so, and certainly won't know where or
how far his name is being spread. Complaints are all but guaranteed. If you
abide by this risky practice, make sure you indicate in your emails that you
obtained a consumer's name from a complimentary list and that you offer
products and services you believe he or she want to know about. "If you are
not upfront with them about why they are getting your message, you're going
to have a bad relationship," Scruggs says. One other note: the effectiveness
of obtaining customers this way is also dubious. Your home-grown lists are a
more solid investment, says Graham.
4. Put ads and links in
specialized email newsletters.
Which newsletters reach your audience? By
targeting your ads ands promotions in specialized email newsletters, you may
get more promising sign-ups. "It build credibility for you and your
business," says Debbie Weil, a Washington, D.C.-based email marketing
5. Distribute your own free
So you hadn't thought of this already?
Regular email newsletters provide and incentive for people to stay in touch
with you and your business if you provide worthwhile content. What tips,
advice, resources, and other information can your newsletter provide beyond
simply touting your services? (Yes, that you could not do in places
throughout the newsletter.) A bigger question may be: Who could you get to
write your newsletter, if not you? An employee? A spouse? a friend? A
professional writer? Be creative. And don't be afraid to start small, Weil
says. By following tip #1, #3, and #4, you can build traffic and acquire
customer names. Even peaking at a subscriber base of 500 may be worth your
while in terms of customer loyalty and industry visibility.
6. Think geographically (and
A common mistake among many small
businesses today is that they fail to realize their best online customers
are generally nearby. To that end, what are the online publications and
websites that serve your geographic area? What are the email newsletters
that are geographic in nature? Here is where playing up your physical
location ifs most helpful. "Think local, not global, " Weil says. "Know what
publications people locally read, and where they hang out online. "Besides
placing ads in these publications, write articles, submit letters to the
editors, and send posts to discussion lists -- all including your business
name and website address, Weil says. (Even a catchy blurb in your signature
line will help people remember you.) This is an inexpensive way to gain
visibility and acquire names. If you have something thought provoking and
worthwhile to say, you almost will trigger a reaction, she says. "It can be
a great tool, but you have to be tasteful as well as compelling."
Partner with other complementary businesses in email and ad campaigns.
Exchanging email and online ads with other businesses in your industry or
geographic region is often ad effective was of targeting your customer
acquisition efforts. The trick is to find such businesses that aren't your
competitors, says Tom Choate of Aptimus, a Seattle-based online direct
marketer. Co-registration pages, where those who sign up for an offer are
then presented with a complimentary offer from the partnering business, is
one strategy proven effective, he says. Another is cross-promotion in each
other's email newsletter.
Alas, you still may be tempted to buy
or rent that cheap list of names of people who haven't given their
permission to be emailed. Resist. Think about the junk that comes into your
inbox -- and whether your business should be regarded that way.