Your digital mailing list is a precious thing. But how you use it is as important as the number of email addresses it contains. Enter the email service provider (ESP), the online tool of choice for retailers looking to connect with core clientele.
Popular ESPs share similar features: an easy-to-use interface, the ability to create multiple lists, and tools to track sent messages. But an ESP can be the difference between highly targeted marketing and sending emails into a vacuum. Here are a few best practices for marketing with ESPs.
Pick a winner.
Constant Contact is perhaps the most used ESP around; it was founded in 1995 and now counts more than a half million customers. Critics have likened the service to a slow-moving giant, but it’s the industry standard. Gene Marks, president of CRM (customer relationship management) software specialist the Marks Group PC, appreciates Constant Contact’s eagle-eyed spam filtering. “We’ve been shut down three times by Constant Contact because they’ve inquired into how we compile our lists—and I think that’s a good thing,” he says. “They’re paying attention.” ESPs to be wary of? “New ones that are more interested in building up their customer base than in delivering a good product,” Marks says.
Dedicate the resources.
With ESPs, the subscription costs are negligible. But “the only way these services work is if they’re used consistently and over a long period of time,” Marks says. “The cost is time. Someone has to commit to doing the work. Even beyond the start-up time of designing a newsletter template, you have to fill it with content every month. And maybe it’s not just one newsletter; maybe it’s a newsletter that’s going to four or five different lists and needs to be tailored to each one.”
Divide to conquer.
One of the virtues of ESPs is that they allow users to create and maintain separate lists of email addresses, which provides great flexibility when targeting customer preferences. Example: Send your Pandora fans images of the latest beads in one email and your estate jewelry addicts a newsletter on the store’s recent acquisitions in another.
When creating newsletters and emails, pay as much attention to the design of your communiqué as to the message itself. Pick a simple, clean-feeling template that reflects the look of your store’s branding. And make sure you’re working with high-quality photographs, while maintaining some white (or empty) space in the message template.
Preserving your direct-mail audience is crucial. Sending a daily email to your clients will result only in the slow but steady loss of addresses; inundated individuals will eventually unsubscribe from your store’s emails. For most jewelry retailers, sending monthly mailings of a newsletter and two to three promotional notices constitute a winning ESP strategy.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of JCK magazine.