Portland, Oregon – – Two representatives from Portland startup companies who participated in the PSU Digital Marketing Certificate Program presented case studies at the June 16th, quarterly breakfast meeting sponsored by Portland State University.

Startup manufacturing software technology company Machine Research, and the recently re-branded Heritage School of Interior Design,  explained how their companies use email marketing to improve customer engagement with the long-term goal of customer acquisition. Based on the facts presented, the question isn’t about whether email is still relevant but how do you use it for strategic planning and engagement? Consider this fact: 89% of marketers value email marketing as their primary lead generation tool. If this is true, what leads us to believe it’s dead? Most likely it’s due to poor results.

Three common mistakes

One common attitude is that email marketing is a “should do” in the marketing tool box and a low operational priority. As a result, it is poorly implemented with no analysis of the results. What if you are not using an email marketing platform? Then you won’t not have access to important user data at all. Email is also considered push marketing so marketers often make the mistake of thinking it’s a one-way communication tool for selling.

A relationship building tool

It’s time to think of email as a tool to build relationships. Here’s why: If you don’t know where your customer is stuck during the buying cycle, or understand what information is missing for them to make a buying decision, you run the risk of losing your customers to other companies for problem solving.
Three important facts about email:

  • More than 1/3 of email is opened by mobile users and this number is increasing

Ask questions first, then woo your customers

At the event, Machine Research Representative, Laurie White explained how research and testing are prerequisites to understanding your customer’s needs during the buy cycle. What they discovered was that the trial period for their software wasn’t long enough for their users to adequately use the software and customers missed important features. Most importantly, they learned their customers were further along into the buying cycle then they originally thought. Blogs, product comparisons and online search are essentially replacing the front end of the sales process.  “We must provide “value-add” communication appropriate to the stage of the buy cycle. Then our messages resonate and create an opportunity for real conversations. Hubspot, a marketing automation software company provided valuable tips needed to effectively plan, implement and manage our email marketing strategy. This is a prime example of relationship nurturing, especially for software companies where the sale quickly becomes an ongoing relationship. You must address the customer’s current concerns and be responsive”, says Machine Research CEO, Jim Plymale.

Why are conversations so important?

Heritage School of Interior Design uses email to provide important considerations about how differing levels of maturity in career and education impact educational choices. This is the prerequisite to  conversations with students about enrollment and which school will best fit their lifestyle. This approach opened the door for developing relationships and continuing conversations.  For example, a blog, featured in the email newsletter, focused on students making a career change later in life. It highlighted a Heritage student who had successfully pursued her passion to a great career. This campaign resonated with over 300 click-throughs to the blog article. As a result, enrollment doubled that year! By analyzing the email campaign results they learned that enrollment was directly attributed to engagement with that story. “We focus on stories that highlight our values and connect to people and their passion for design,” said Stephanie Plymale, Director of Heritage School of Interior Design. “It might be a story of a student’s courage, a design trend we’re seeing, or a story about somebody succeeding in the profession. We promote our values and people and that attracts people who share our values into our community; they subscribe to our email newsletter or like us on Facebook or Instagram. When they’re ready to take the next step, they remember the stories that motivated them.”

Planning for your campaigns

Understanding your audience, developing a strategy and applying smart tactics is essential to getting the results you seek and an ROI for time and money invested:

  • Email is intended to nurture an existing relationship not make a new one. Don’t expect it to perform well with solicitations to people who don’t know you.
  • Marketers who use personalization in their subject lines experience a 26% increase in open rates.
  • Adding video can increase your click rates by 300%. Short videos produced even by your phone!
  • Evaluate marketing automation tools to provide feedback (analytics) and capture customer feedback. Machine Research utilizes Auto Pilot with Sales Force. Pendo, like Google Analytics was also a worthy mention.
  • These tools capture rich data and allow you to segment and manage your different audiences. Some offer A/B testing (split your audience and test two messages) to measure maximum impact. Stand alone services can be very labor intensive and require multiple platforms.
  • Make a commitment to test and evaluate regularly as part of your lead nurturing process.
  • Find vendors with good customer support and tutorials to maximize your knowledge in application. Learn the finer features and where they make sense for your products and services.
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