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6 ways to use e-mail to market your business

In business settings, e-mail proves its worth on a daily basis as a fast and inexpensive way to communicate with people in the next officeor the next continent.

But as effective as e-mail is as a one-to-one communications tool, it's also a highly effective way to do some inexpensive marketing. Consider these examples:

  1. Company-branded e-mail   With a subscription to Microsoft Office Live Small Business, you can get a custom domain name that promotes your company or products and becomes part of your Web site address. You also get 100 business e-mail accounts that do the same thing.

    So every time you send an e-mail from one of those accounts, you're promoting your company and your Web sitewithout any additional time, effort or cost involved. It's also a good idea to include your Web site and company-branded e-mail addresses on printed materials; it conveys professionalism and credibility.

  2. Email aliases   If you don't need 100 email accounts for the people in your business, you may have spares you can put to use in other ways. One idea is to take advantage of some of those accounts by creating e-mail aliases (e-mail addresses that forward to a different email address or group of addresses) that make it easy for potential customers to learn more about your products and services. It's also convenient for existing customers and partners who need to contact you for specific purposes. If your company name was Northwind Traders, some examples might be:

    You can post these email aliases on the appropriate pages of your Web site, but also use them on relevant printed materials. For instance, put the billing alias on your invoices or the info alias on promotional flyers and marketing materials.

  3. E-mail newsletters   If your marketing budget is tight, an e-mail newsletter can be a cost-effective way to reach a lot of customers and generate goodwill toward your business (see our E-mail Marketing service). The first step in the process is to get permission to e-mail your customers and prospects; otherwise you run the risk of angering or alienating them. There are several ways to collect e-mail addresses; here are a few common approaches:
    • Put a newsletter sign-up form on your Web site
    • Put a sign-up sheet at point-of-sale locations
    • Add a note to the bottom of invoices soliciting signups

    Once you have captured enough e-mail addresses and permissions to make the effort worthwhile, it's time to think about what you'll put in your newsletter. There's a fine line to consider: While the end goal from a marketing perspective is to promote your products and services, e-mail newsletters tend to be most effective with a soft sell approach. If you offer relevant and topical content that people interested in your products and services would care about, then your newsletter will help establish a bond with your customers.

    Let's use a pet food business as an example. The marketing goal obviously is to get folks into the store or to place orders online to buy pet food. But an e-mail newsletter that includes pet care tips or pet humor interspersed with information on new pet food products or special offers is going to be more engaging for the reader over time.

  4. E-mail offers   Another way to use e-mail effectively is to send special offers to people who have given you permission to e-mail them. Many companies send short e-mail "blasts" to announce Web-only specials or limited-time offers. Keep in mind that your customers are busy people and you need to respect their time; don't send e-mail unless you have something valuable to offer them.

    Since many people are overwhelmed with too much e-mail, especially unsolicited e-mail, having your company-branded e-mail address in the "from" line is very important. But equally important is the subject line. Many people set up their inboxes in such a way that the subject line may be all they see without actually opening a message. If the subject line doesn't intrigue them, the delete key isn't far away. Make sure your subject line conveys a strong benefit statement so the recipient is motivated to click to open your message.

  5. Viral marketing via e-mail   Whether it's an email newsletter or a special offer, make sure that your email communications with customers include some version of "forward this to a friend" messaging. You can't buy advertising that's more effective than a loyal customer passing along information about your business to friends and colleaguesand e-mail makes it extremely easy to do.

  6. Special occasion e-mail greetings   Everyone likes to feel valued and a special greeting better yet a gift or exclusive offeron a birthday or anniversary is a nice way to show customers you value them. If you're able to collect birth dates and personal information from customers at point-of-sale or on your Web site, a simple e-mail greeting or e-mail gift certificate to mark a special occasion is a smart way to strengthen relationships with your customers.

    By putting a few permission-based e-mail marketing strategies into play you can build brand awareness and customer loyaltyaffordably.

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