Now there is a new marketing tool to give past customers a nudge; a way to encourage them to buy from you again and buy from you sooner; a way for customers to refer you to their friends more easily than ever. This new marketing tool—a kind of boosted word-of-mouth advertising—is right in front of you on your computer waiting for you to use it. It's Internet e-mail.
THE MOST POWERFUL MARKETING MEDIUM IN OUR LIFETIME
E-mail marketing has arrived. Top professionals say e-mail is the most powerful marketing communications medium in our lifetime. No doubt you've seen e-mail messages from Nordstroms, The Gap, Martha Stewart, Staples, Office Depot and on and on. Some send you fashion ideas. Some send weekly specials. Some are newsletters with advertising attached. Some are simple, plain text messages. Some are rich in color and graphics. Some link you to special Web pages with more information if you want it.
The point is, savvy marketers are starting to use e-mail to market products and services in ways that no one would have envisioned just two or three years ago.
Here is what a recent Kiplinger Letter said about e-mail (with emphasis added for window coverings professionals):
"Use of e-mail marketing is poised for explosive growth . . . nearly 270 billion commercial messages by 2005 versus three billion in 1999."
"Saves businesses a bundle in paper, printing and mailing costs."
"Mostly targeted messages to consumers who sign up to get them."
"A good way to keep customers! Trick is to keep messages relevant."
Here's the story in a nutshell: E-mail saves money, and it gets results! Today, the average Internet user receives 1,700 messages a year. Sounds like a lot, but that is only about five messages a day. If that is all you receive, let me share some of my 60-plus with you. Experts are projecting a 30 percent increase over the next three years—still only seven or eight daily messages per average user. Possibly the most telling trend is that last year, for the first time, there were more e-mail messages than telephone calls.
WHAT ABOUT SPAM AND PRIVACY?
OK, so Internet e-mail is growing, but isn't it offensive to many? What about the intrusion of privacy? If you started using e-mail in your business wouldn't that be spam? Spam (no one knows for sure how it got the name) is unwanted e-mail sent to persons where there is no relationship connection, that has no legitimate return address, is often sent by off-shore Internet providers and is virtually impossible to get off the mailing list. Most e-mail users hate spam. There are technological and legal movements to reduce spam. Whether they will be successful only time will tell.
The relevant issue for window coverings professionals is that it is not spam when you send a message or decorating tip to one of your customers or to a referral source such as a realtor, insurance person, etc. Your reputation will be intact if you provide an actual return address and immediately remove anyone who asks to be off your e-mail list.
HOW DO YOU GET STARTED?
The starting point for your e-mail campaign is to get e-mail addresses from your customers, prospects and referral sources—everybody you meet, anywhere. Remember, a referral source does not have to be a customer. The hardest part of your campaign is to establish the habit of asking for an e-mail address. When you realize the importance you can do it (competitors will likely be sending e-mail to your customers soon).
How to form the habit? Easy. Think telephone, think e-mail. Every time you ask a person for his or her telephone phone number, ask for an e-mail address.
Yes, some people will be wary about giving you an e-mail address—especially if you are uncertain and halting in your approach—so here is an important point to remember: People do not object to giving out their e-mail addresses if there is a reason that benefits them. For example, you might ask, "Would you like us to send delivery updates and a satisfaction survey by e-mail?" Or, "Would you like us to send you sale notices and announcements of new products by e-mail?" Try, "Would you like to receive decorating tips and ideas from us by e-mail?"
Handled correctly and with confidence, you can expect more than 70 percent of people you talk to to give you their e-mail addresses.
Now that you're gathering e-mail addresses, what do you do next? When you have as few as 30 (you probably have 30 people in your e-mail address book already), you have enough to get started. Try sending a decorating tip once or twice a month, something short, not more than 150 words.
Send announcements about new product lines, new employees, training sessions you have attended, certification you have received. There are dozens of things happening in your business that your customers and your community are interested in.
Remember, every message you send is a friendly reminder about you, your service and your quality. It will remind people you are available; it will remind people of the products you sell and the services you offer.
E-mail is easy to forward to a friend. It is perfect for independent business owners. According to experts, e-mail is the lowest cost, most effective advertising you can use. It is the best word-of-mouth communications in our lifetimes. It is affordable. It works. So what are you waiting for? Start asking for e-mail addresses today!
Steven C. Bursten is the retired founder of Decorating Den Interiors and author of a how-to book on starting a new business, "Bootstrap Entrepreneur." He is president of custEmers.com, specializing in Internet marketing to homeowners. Questions about business management, marketing and technology as they impact the window coverings industry can be e-mailed to: sbursten@custEmers.com.