Using promotional emails and newsletters to market your small business

By Chris Freeburn

Few technologies have yielded as much benefit to small business owners as the Internet. Beyond the obvious benefits of e-commerce and professionally designed websites that can make a small business look like a big player in its industry, the Internet permits small businesses an unprecedented opportunity to use email to sidestep expensive marketing campaigns and stay in touch with customers long after a sale is made at a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional mail or advertising campaigns.
Indeed, according to a recent study by the Direct Marketing Association, email marketing campaigns returned as much as $57.25 for each dollar spent, compared to $22.52 for each dollar spent on non-email internet marketing campaigns and just $7.09 for each dollar spent on printed catalogs.

Email marketing is one of the strongest potential tools in your small business's marketing arsenal. It offers a cost-effective way to keep your business securely in your customer's minds even when they are not considering a purchase. Using email, you can advise customers of new products, promotions, sales and discounts, or company news, for just pennies per message. Your business can reap the value of email marketing campaigns regardless of whether your company conducts ecommerce or not. An email marketing campaign can also permit you to gather demographic information about your customers for far less than the cost of hiring a marketing firm to do that for you.

Determining the fit

"Including email in your marketing mix isn't as simple as transferring traditional message formats into electronic formats or abandoning more expensive mediums in favor of email delivery," warns John Arnold, author of E-Mail Marketing for Dummies. Determining how email marketing best fits into your business's overall marketing strategy, and how well it compares against other parts of that strategy requires a certain amount of trial and error, Arnold says. "Delivering your messages by combining different mediums is an effective way to market your business, but you'll probably find it more affordable to lean on a few communication mediums where delivering your message results in the highest return."

It is important to consider each of the marketing elements in your current campaign to determine how email can compliment them. Obviously, email cannot completely supplant other advertising mediums, like print or even Internet advertising, which are important for drawing new customers to your business. Email campaigns are best used to target existing customers and to build and enhance brand loyalty to your firm by fostering a personal relationship with your customers.

Putting together your email list

In order to use email effectively, your customers must provide their email addresses and allow you to send them email. Sending unsolicited commercial emails is illegal, and is known as spamming (CAN SPAM Act). Be sure to seek legal council to ensure that you're in compliance with this law. Getting your customers to part with their email addresses, and perhaps a little demographic information, can be relatively easy.

  • Create a form on your website that allows customers to sign up to receive promotional emails.
  • Offer something to induce customers to provide their email addresses - a small discount on products or services, or a free sample or item.
  • Try to collect more than just the email address. Ask for names, zip codes, gender, and age range. This is important demographic information that can be used to aid your entire marketing effort. But keep the questions general and few in number. Don't ask for too much information, or for highly personal information, like exact ages, since that may annoy some customers, causing them to abandon the effort. Also offer customers the option to skip the questions altogether, which will likely result in more actual email addresses obtained.
  • Offer value. Let your customers know that signing up to receive your emails will give them something useful, like special discounts, or early notice of events, or sales at your business.
  • Allow subscribers to your company emails to easily unsubscribe from your list. A stream of unwanted emails will alienate potential return customers, and anti-spamming laws require you to remove people who no longer wish to receive your company's emails from your email list.

Beyond simple selling: E-Newsletters

Company e-newsletters are a good way to promote your business while providing useful information about a subject your customers are already interested in. An e-newsletter differs from a standard promotional email by offering news, advice, or information that isn't strictly sales related. Customers are more likely to read something that they believe is providing useful information instead of just trying to sell them a product or service.


A garden supply company, for instance, might offer a quarterly e-newsletter with seasonal tips on planting and gardening. While this may require more effort to create than a simple promotional email, it will go a long way toward cementing the relationship between your business and your customers. If customers come to see your business as a source of helpful information, it will help build brand loyalty and encourage repeat business.


Things to keep in mind


Before your launch your company's promotional email or e-newsletter campaign, make sure to follow a few guidelines:


  • Make sure your company's name is part of the email address from which the email is sent. For instance, Many people receive a lot of email every day and have developed a habit of simply glancing at the sender's email address and deleting emails from source they do not instantly recognize.
  • Make sure your company name is in the subject line and clearly visible in the text of the email. This also insures that customers receiving your email will easily identify you as the sender and associate your company with the email.
  • Use the same company logo in your email or e-newsletters as you do on other promotional materials, like business cards, printed brochures, print ads, receipts, mailings, invoices, or your company's website. Consistent use of your company's logo reinforces your brand.
  • Make sure that your email or e-newsletters use consistent fonts and layouts that are easily readable.