Your ?master? Email Marketing Plan

Last time, I started off with saying that people shy away from email marketing because they don’t know how to do it. Almost as bad is the lack of an effective plan. In fact, there are so many questions to ask in email marketing before you send out even one issue of your newsletter because of what’s at stake – thousands of dollars in profits, your company’s reputation, customer confidence – that its no surprise to see big companies spending a lot of money just to get email marketing right. So…what does an email marketing plan consist of?
* A strong content base.
* A newsletter template.
* A strategy for acquiring subscribers.
* A publishing schedule.
* An advertising plan.
Let’s look at each individually.

A Strong Content Base.
If you want to gain and maintain subscribers, you must have something valuable to offer. Usually that comes in the form of expert knowledge, unless your business is in providing the latest news about a particular subject, in which case your newsletter can write itself (although if you don’t include any original content, you’ll lose subscribers fast).Email marketing is most successful if you make the commitment to give something valuable to the subscriber first. Everything I’ve said so far about building trust applies here in spades. Make sure you offer something unique and useful to your readers.

Publishing Schedule.
A major debate in email marketing is the question of frequency – how often should you send out your newsletter? Daily? Weekly? Once a month? The truth is, there’s no set formula for this. Instead, the answer lies in your business plan – what you want to achieve from your email marketing, and what sort of relationship you expect to build with your readers. If your newsletter is a “how-to” resource (like this one), you may consider weekly mailings (or twice a week, if possible). The problem then becomes content generation – do you have enough new topics to cover in your next newsletter, and can you write two newsletters in a week? My advice would be not to settle for anything more frequent than a weekly newsletter, and depending on your business model, you might even want to opt for a biweekly or monthly newsletter. On the other hand, some marketers totally ignore such guidelines and publish irregularly , whenever they please (or whenever they have something useful to say). If you’re undecided, you might want to try that approach until you can figure out what’s best for your particular list.

Newsletter Template.
Most email marketers prefer to include the whole newsletter within the email. This however raises a whole set of problems – email deliverability becomes a major issue, as long emails (especially ones that talk about making money) trip spam filters on most email networks. Another problem is how your newsletter is displayed – if you have an HTML formatted newsletter, it might break up or display incorrectly. Worse still is the case with images – many email providers (including GMail) don’t display images by default. Such issues can seriously downgrade the visual impact of your newsletter. And of course, bandwidth becomes an issue if you have a medium to large list. Sending a 100k image-laden, html formatted 1000+ words newsletter to 20,000 is, despite being an exaggerated example, stupid. Third party list management tools can often charge you for high bandwidth, and you don’t want to incur unnecessary costs.

The alternative strategy is to use the emails as a short reminder to the subscriber that a new issue has been posted, and then to post the issue online on your website. This allows you to create a visually appealing, aesthetic newsletter template and by directing subscribers to your website, you’ve already confirmed that they are interested in what you have to say – the click-through rate immediately becomes an important metric for you to gauge how successful your marketing is. No matter which approach you take, keep your template simple and professional – the focus remains on the content, not on the design.

Getting Subscribers.
To make your newsletter worth your time (and for it to help you make money), you need to build your list . Usually this amounts to a flurry of activity and a mad rush for a lot of subscribers when you start off your newsletter, and then it tapers off into a steady stream of new signups. What’s important is to have a definite plan in place for getting subscribers (in other words, traffic to that landing page). It usually means that you’ll be spending some money, unless you happen to partner with other sites in your niche and syndicate your content, or you manage to achieve top search engine rankings (which you SHOULD be doing by now, if you’ve followed this newsletter). If you need to spend money on building your list, consider this – each subscriber has a specific value attached to him/her. This value can be calculated like this:
* The amount of money a subscriber (on average) spends on buying your products during the time he’s on your list.
* The average amount of revenue you get through newsletter advertising per subscriber.

Add those two numbers up (remember, these are averages), and you’ve got the monetary value of each new subscriber. This calculation gives you a ceiling amount you can afford to spend per subscriber. To illustrate, here’s an example – if you earn $15,000 from a list of 3,000 people by promoting just one product in the last three months, then your subscriber value is $5 (15,000/3,000). Of course, this number is for a confirmed subscriber, so if you were running an AdWords campaign with a hypothetical 5% conversion rate on your landing page (good landing pages usually have a conversion rate of over 10%, although it depends on the relevancy of the traffic as well), you can spend at most 25 cents per click – not a bad amount. Your subscriber value can rocket upwards if you use backend sales and market more than one product to your list. Advertising within your newsletter also counts for a lot, and should be able to give you enough “cushion” to allow you to spend money to get subscribers AND turn in a tidy profit.

Advertising Plan.
If you’re running a newsletter, I strongly recommended that you run some from of advertisements in them (your OWN advertising of some sort). As long as what you display is relevant to your readers’ interests, you are bound to profit from the exercise. Also, make sure you map out how frequently you send out purely promotional offers to your list (assuming you take that route). Hitting a list with too many offers too quickly can backfire on you – on the other hand, you can and should send multiple mailings about the same product to ensure a maximum response rate from your list. It’s a tricky balance, but as long as you make sure you focus on providing value first, you’ll do fine.

As I’ve been saying all along, email marketing is serious business with amazing marketing possibilities. Create a specific email template and then map out your email marketing strategies before you start.

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