Email Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make

November 20, 2012

If email marketing seems a bit old school to you, you're not too far off - I mean, email did turn 41 this year. While most technology would be sitting in the waste land of cassette tapes and VCRs at 41, email isn't going anywhere anytime soon. After all, the first computer was finished around 1937 and, much like email marketing, computers are only getting better. Email marketing is getting more exciting because of some of the things you're able to do with it now - from adding video to your email messages to social sharing, email is still alive and kicking and getting cooler all the time.

Email is also universally accepted. Everyone emails every day. You just need to figure out how, as a small business owner, to get some permanent real estate in your audience's inbox.

To an insurance agency, email still represents a low-cost and effective way to nurture relationships with clients and prospects. The rub - while email is inexpensive and fairly neutral as far as consumers are concerned, your content holds great power to either attract or repel business.

Let's take a look the top 6 email marketing faux pas small business owners are making and could easily be avoiding.

1. Email Marketing Without Permission - Opening your inbox to an email newsletter that you didn't sign up for feels like an invasion of privacy to most people - and believe me, these contacts who you're sending to without permission will, and do, report you as spam. If you're saying to yourself 'it can't hurt to send them one email...can it?' the answer is yes, it can and it does.

Some agencies will implement email marketing by buying a list and then sending a newsletter to everyone on this list. That is probably the worst thing you could do for your agency's email marketing reputation. You start off on the wrong foot from day one. There are no short cuts when it comes to building a permission based list - you have to build this list organically for the best results. Buying email lists will be expensive, get you zero positive result and leave you a spam hole to dig yourself out of. This also goes for just finding people in the phone listings, yellow pages or doing a search for your target audience through the search engines.

If you need ideas on building your list organically, check out my blog post for tips on doing just that.

2. Having Irrelevant Subject and From Lines - There is never a guarantee your contacts will open your email, though it's more likely they will throw it out without a second glance if you use a boring or irrelevant subject line. Your subject line should promise quick and easily digestible information that peaks interest.

Who your emails come from is another factor in your open rate. An unrecognized sender or a professional service using a gmail, yahoo or other free email account will have a less successful open rate then a recognized and branded email address.

3. Sending Out Irrelevant Content - Make sure the emails you're sending are relevant to the audience you're sending them to. Your auto insurance customers are already customers, so sending them the hard sell again isn't doing you any favors. And you're homeowners customers won't all be small business owners so featuring a work comp article in your newsletter and blasting it out to your whole list (as opposed to segmenting your list) also isn't going to earn any newsletter devotees from those who will never have a need for work comp products.

4. Never Checking Your Stats - If you're not using split testing or at least checking that someone, anyone, opened your email then you're missing the boat completely. Knowing what worked in an email blast, and what didn't, is the only way you're going to improve you messages and really get a feel for what your audience is looking for from your marketing emails. Try creating an email but use two subject lines, then send to small sample of your audience. Subject Line A is sent to Sample List A and Subject Line B to Sample List B - which one got a better response? That's a split test. From your split test you can now gauge what subject line will be best received by the majority of your audience.

5. Pointless Emails - In my experience, there are many agencies that start an email marketing program with only a vague notion of what their email marketing goals are. So before you send an email think about why you're sending it. What's the point? By starting an email campaign with that thought in the front of your mind the purpose is easy for your audience to see. If your purpose is only to get your name out there, then give something to the customer so they say to themselves 'That agency gave me great info about swimming pool safety, let me give them a call' or something to that affect. If you're just starting out remember that the giveaway doesn't have to be tangible or cost anything. The knowledge you have for risk management is your giveaway. Stand firm on your expertise by saying 'our agency is the best at (fill in the blank) and this is what we can offer you.'

6. One-Sided Conversation- Good information in an email is like a good recipe; if people like it, they will pass it around. And a conversation that began in a marketing email can easily go online to Facebook or Twitter. Provide your audience an easy opening to start a conversation with you through your calls to action. 'Would you like us to review your policy for free to ensure you're taking advantage of all the discounts available to you?' is a great one. And really, who says no to free expert advice?

7. Heart of Stone - The ultimate goal of email marketing should be to deliver the heart and soul of your agency to your audience. If you aren't putting any warm and fuzzy into your emails then your audience will shut off. People can buy insurance anywhere - so why you? If you're not putting emotion into your messages, then you're just a policy factory looking for the next buck. If your normal style of writing is more formal or reads like a text book, ask for some help from someone who's familiar with the warm and fuzzy that makes you the best agent to work for or the best CSR to ever manage a policy. Marketing has changed and the audience of 2012 wants to connect with their purchases on a more personal level. They will even spend more money for the same product just because they had a 'good feeling' about a company. Throw in some warm and fuzzy and see the response you get. I bet you'll be surprised.

What do you think is holding your emails back from being the most successful campaign they can be?

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