Plenty of us hate email marketing, and even more of us ignore it. So using it to build your own business is a bad idea, right? Not if, unlike so many email marketers, you’re smart about it.

If you have a current database of email addresses from customers and contacts, reaching out to those folks via email—and, critically, doing it well—will build leads, sales and your brand community. Here are the essential things you need to do in order to avoid being annoying or irrelevant, and to use email as an effective tool for connecting with prospects and customers.

1. Get a User-Friendly Platform that Offers Essential Features

If you’re ambitious, and can work with online templates, you may choose to do email marketing in-house. MailChimp is one of the most popular and user friendly. But there are many others, which you can find by Googling “email newsletter services.” The learning curve will be steep, but the cost savings may be worth it.

Make sure that, whatever application or service provider you use, you get a full range of pre-deployment testing options, post-deployment measurement tools, list-segmentation options and design flexibility to create email templates for newsletters or for loading HTML-designed emails into it. All these features are vital to creating, managing and optimizing your email marketing efforts.

2. Respect People’s Time and Respect Your Brand

Design your email so the essential message that will appear in people’s browser inbox is readable without the need for them to download pictures. Certainly, you should use compelling graphics, but, as per the next point, the text must hold its own while fulfilling the promise of the subject line.

Offer easy directions and clues as to where and how your recipients can respond. And craft any follow-up confirmation emails with respect for your brand imagery. The auto-reply should look like it comes from your company—and not some generic message that could have come from anybody.

3. Set the Right Tone in Your Subject Line

You should craft your opening line to avoid spam filters, so steer clear of vague come-ons that sound like an infomercial. Shun spam-triggering phrases such as “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” “free, no risk offer” and “Nigerian prince has your $10 million cheque.”

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