Email Marketing 101

The most basic form of “New Media” marketing and digital marketing is email marketing. In a nutshell, it’s using email to communicate with your customers. Aside from effectiveness, the obvious advantages are cost and speed. Compared to snail mail, email is virtually free and practically instantaneous.

Still, email marketing is not a slam dunk. It has its own protocol. Violate it and you tarnish your company’s reputation at the least and break the law (i.e., the CAN-SPAM act) at the worst. If you are going to communicate with people by email, you need their permission and you need to deliver useful information. Content is king in the digital world. You cannot simply shill.


Collecting Email Addresses

The first step in email marketing is collecting customer email addresses. Paradoxically, many people would more willingly provide their social security number, driver’s license, and bank account numbers than offer their email address. Thus, you must give people a reason to collect an email address.

The reasons are myriad. Some ask for an email address at the time of dispatch to send a money saving coupon. Some make a green play and ask whether homeowners would prefer the company to communicate by printed mail or the more environmentally responsible email. The most effective means we’ve found at the Service Roundtable is to ask for an email address at the time of dispatch so that the dispatcher can send the homeowner a bio and picture of the technician who will be sent to the home.

I like the bio because it gives the contractor a chance to build additional points of differentiation and value while also highlighting interests of the technician that may be held in common by the homeowner. If the technician and homeowner both share an interest in animal rescue, for example, this common interest will help build rapport. Without the bio, it’s unlikely either would know they share a common passion.

At the point of sale, it’s becoming more common for contractors to add a line to their invoices asking for the homeowner’s email address. Put it on the form and the homeowner’s likely to fill it out. Spiff the tech a dollar per email and the likelihood goes up.

You can also build your list through your website simply by requesting an email address to receive discounts, special announcements, newsletters, and other information. Many websites offer special reports that site visitors want, but that are only sent by email. To get the report on, say, “simple approaches to cutting residential utility bills,” the homeowner must provide an email address and agree to future contact (though not spam).


Buying Lists

It’s tempting to buy a list of email addresses for your area from a list broker. Resist the temptation. While many of the addresses on the list were willingly provided by people, some were likely tricked into offering their email address with no idea their information would be resold. Regardless of the reason, none of these consumers gave YOU permission to email them. As a result, any mail sent is unwanted and unwanted bulk email is spam.

Spam aside, your effectiveness using a purchased list is unlikely to be satisfactory. More than likely, the benefits will not exceed the damage you do to yourself when you get placed on email spammer blacklists because recipients are sick of unwanted mail. Unfortunately, you must build your list the hard way, one email at a time.


Delivering the Mail

There are three ways to email your customers. You can send them mail using your email client, like Microsoft Outlook. You can invest in sophisticated email list management software like the Service Roundtable. Or, you can use a third party email service provider (ESP) like Constant Contact.

Using your email client works for small numbers (i.e., less than 100). If your email address is tracked sending out large blocks of emails, you risk getting blacklisted. If you are blacklisted, it’s difficult to get delisted and in the interim, your email deliverability plummets. If you insist on sending the mail using your email client, remember to either mail to yourself and blind copy your customers or to use a macro to customize the mail.

For most contractors, buying list management software is not an option. The return simply isn’t there. Plus, you will still need to spend time working with blacklisters, white hatters, and major email companies like AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail to stay clean and ensure deliverability. It can be a major challenge just to find out who to talk with as some of these organizations.

The best choice for contractors is to pay a little money and use a third party ESP. The cost is minimal and the ESP maintains good relationships with the email companies and blacklisters so that more mail will get delivered. Plus, the ESP software helps you manage bad addresses and keep a clean list. It’s worth the small investment you will pay.


What to Mail

The biggest stumbling block for most contractors is determining what to mail. Once again, content is king. Send useful information and you will be welcomed. Shill non-stop and you’re as welcome and the newly minted life insurance salesman at his first mixer.
Welcome mail tends to fit into one of the following categories:

• Digital versions of your consumer newsletter

• Family and friends coupons and special offers

• Homeowner tips, whether directly related to HVAC or not

• Reminders, such as filter reminders

• Special alerts, such as warranty recalls or information related to your local community (e.g., your community has experience a flood or other disaster).


Design

Just because something looks good on paper, does not mean it works when sent by email. Similarly, just because someone can design a nice webpage does not mean he can design an effective email piece. Email has its own design rules.

Many email clients do not automatically download images. Make sure your mail can be identified and read without the images (imagine big red X’s instead of pretty pictures).

Make sure the images you use are reduced in size and resolution so they load fast. While you need 300 dpi resolution for print, 72 dpi will serve for email.

Use common fonts like Verdana, Arial, and Times Roman. The unusual font may look nice on your machine, but if not present on your customer’s, the email client will substitute another font. Great formatting can fall apart if the wrong font is picked.

Create narrow designs. Many people view email through web clients or email client viewing panes. An email that spans 7-1/2 inches may look good on paper or full screen, but your customer will only see part of it without scrolling or maximizing the screen.

To comply will all of the anti-spam requirements, make sure you include opt-out instructions in every email and a physical mailing address.


Timing

How often should you mail? Mail too often and people will tire of the mail, opting out. Mail infrequently and people will wonder who you are. What’s the right balance?

While there’s not a hard and fast rule, I recommend contacting consumers about once a month with useful information. If something arises in between the regular monthly email, such as a recall or community alert, send special announcements.

If you are mailing to commercial accounts, once a month emails might not be enough. Bi-weekly or weekly mail is best.


Third Party Mail Services

One question you should ask is whether you have someone on your team capable of executing a steady email marketing program. It’s not a full time job, though it does require time. In the normal chaos of contracting, it’s not unusual for email marketing to get pushed to the wayside for months, then resumed when sales slow. By then, it’s too late.

An attractive option for many contractors is to use one of the third party services like Service Roundtable Money Mail. The best services allow you to control your list (you don’t want someone to sell the list you built with blood, sweat, and tears to someone else), provide you with mail customized for your company, and give you the option to review or modify the mail before sending it. The cost is still minimal. For example, Service Roundtable Money Mail costs less than 4 cents per customer, including the ESP.


Get Started

Whether you use a third party to manage your email marketing or do it yourself, it’s important that you get started. Building your list takes time. Generating results from email marketing takes more time. Waiting won’t lessen the time.


Matt Michel is the CEO of the Service Roundtable, HVAC’s largest contractor business alliance. Join the Service Roundtable for the sales, marketing, and business management tools you need to run a profitable contracting company, for the advice, input, counsel, and ideas from the industry’s top contractors and consultants, and for vendor rebates from the company’s Roundtable Rewards program. And be sure to check out the company’s new Service Roundtable Money Mail turnkey email marketing program for contractors. To learn more, call toll free 877.262.3341 or email Bob Viering at [email protected].

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