One of the most difficult decisions I had to make on an ongoing basis, while managing the store at Unique Photo, was how to spend our limited advertising dollars effectively. Advertising is one of the most important methods we use to build our brand and drive customers to our stores, and so every photo specialty retailer grapples with this.
Co-op funds are getting harder and harder to come by. And we always wonder whether co-op funded ads help the vendors more than they help us. We are all faced with stiff competition, and in many cases that competition has significantly more resources than us. That means Amazon, the New York City Internet companies, big-box stores, eBay, Priceline, etc., have much larger budgets, more staff, better access to data and more technical capabilities than the photo specialty retailer.
“Back in the day,” competition was less and advertising choices were much simpler. The choices were newspaper advertising, direct mail and billboards for those of us located around highways. Today, in addition to those advertising vehicles, we have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, e-mail, web banner advertising, Google AdWords, shopping sites, rating sites, mobiles apps and more. It’s not just confusing, it’s downright dangerous. It’s dangerous because we need our advertising to be more effective than ever and yet it is easier than ever to blow our budgets with little positive response.
There is no stiffer competition a camera store will face than being located in New Jersey. The densely populated area means that big-box stores are no more than 10 minutes from everyone. The New York City retailers sell sales tax free to Jersey residents and provide free next-day shipping. That hypercompetitive environment compelled me to carefully explore and test essentially every advertising vehicle available. After nine years of real-life experimenting, I can say with certainty that the most effective advertising method is . . . drumroll . . . e-mail! And the news gets even better; e-mail is one of the lowest cost marketing techniques there is.
My Top 10 E-Mail Power Tips to Build Your Brand and Business
1. Get E-mail Addresses. Make sure you have a process in place to collect e-mail addresses every time you contact a customer—at time of sale, when they sign up for a class or fill out a rebate form, when they enter a contest, etc. Training your sales staff to collect e-mail addresses is one of the most important things you can do.
Power Tip: To get more customers to give you their e-mail addresses, stop printing receipts in the store and tell customers you are being environmentally conscious and lowering costs by only e-mailing receipts.
2. Use an E-mail Manager. There is no better way to manage your e-mail marketing than with an online manager like iContact, Constant Contact, MailChimp or SendinBlue. They are great at managing your lists, designing e-mails and helping you automate the whole process. I used iContact for years and they are great.
Power Tip: MailChimp has a great designer and is free for up to 2,000 names. SendinBlue is the most economical for large lists.
3. One List Doesn’t Fit All. Not all your customers are the same. You want to be as targeted as possible with your e-mails. Sending a professional customer an e-mail for a point-and-shoot camera special or a beginner class will turn them off, and they may unsubscribe. You need to have more than one list in your e-mail manager. The manager will let you send to any number of your lists at the same time. You can choose based on content of the e-mail. Examples of list names are: Professional, Canon Pro, Nikon Pro, Consumers, Workshop, Prospects, Staff, Store, Internet, etc.
Power Tip: It’s preferable to place customers in multiple lists. Even if you send an e-mail to two lists that contain the same customer, your e-mail manager will only send it once.
4. Be Bold and Beautiful. Design is the most neglected aspect of e-mails today. Your e-mails should have a consistent look to your website and store. They should scream your brand. You are competing against every e-mail sender on the planet. Make sure what you design is attractive, easy to read and logically laid out. If your e-mail looks amateurish, your response rate is going to be poor and you are going to damage your brand.
Power Tip: Hire a graphic designer. If no one is available locally for a reasonable price, there are many places that will design an e-mail for low cost in one day. Try Googling “Email Designers.”
5. Kill the Subject. There is nothing that will drive e-mail open rates higher than a killer subject line. The shorter the better, and the more humor or drama, great offers and originality you put in the better.
Power Tip: Don’t be afraid to exaggerate in the subject line and bring it back to reality in the body. “Free Sony Workshop Today” works great for a subject line if in the beginning of the e-mail body you have, “Free, with minimum $250 Sony purchase.”
6. Experiment for Success. Send out the same e-mail with different subject lines. Send out e-mails at different days of the week and times. Try different kinds of offers. With your experience and some educated guessing, you’ll quickly find what works best for your e-mail campaigns.
Power Tip: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings work the best. Friday afternoon is the worst.
7. Content Is King. We’ve all heard that expression—because it’s true. If your e-mails are boring, uninteresting and don’t provide what the readers want, they will stop opening your e-mails and unsubscribe. Try to view the e-mail from the customers’ perspective and make sure they get a valuable takeaway from reading the e-mail. Too much sales-oriented material is the fastest way to lose viewers. Adding information, advice, news and humor gets the customer to look forward to getting your e-mails.
Power Tip: Every third e-mail you send should contain informational content only—no selling.
8. How Much Is Too Much? E-mailing a customer once a week is the bare minimum. Three times per week is too much. One sales e-mail and one content e-mail are just about right.
Power Tip: When you have a big event in the store, it’s okay and appropriate to e-mail daily a few days before the event. But change the content and subject of each e-mail.
9. Buy a List. There are many sources for buying e-mail lists, and you should do that twice per year. It’s a very economical way to prospect for new business.
Power Tip: Publications like Digital Imaging Reporter and Popular Photography, and your local newspaper, will send an e-mail blast out for you at a reasonable cost.
10. Staff Power. Make sure the e-mail address of every staff member is in a list called “Staff” and make sure they get every e-mail. Test your staff to make sure they are reading the e-mails. It’s a great way to make sure they know what’s going on and they know how important collecting e-mail addresses is to you.
Power Tip: Do a profile on a staff member in your e-mails, making sure to cover all of them in a year. It builds morale, gets staff on board and is great branding for your company.
Using these techniques, I was able to achieve a greater than 30% open rate on e-mails, grow our business every year and keep our workshops filled week after week. Effective e-mailing allowed us to be highly competitive at a very affordable cost.
Have you e-mailed your customers today?