Last month Halifax hosted the annual conference of the American Association of Port Authorities and wasn’t it a first class event! The Cunard Centre was packed with delegates from throughout North America, and from as far away as Brazil and Africa, for a week of business sessions and Maritime hospitality.
Since my company sells IT services to seaports and given that a large part of our export marketplace was coming to our home town, it was natural that we would be a sponsor. We needed to prepare for this conference in advance because we wanted to make sure we had plenty of visitors to our booth and events.
My colleague Alexandra Fricker, an expert in Internet marketing, took the lead in that regard and came up with a very effective blend of online and traditional marketing, and I was blown away by how effective it was.
The most impressive part of Alexandra’s work was a series of email campaigns that let us know who was interested in what. She had a targeted list of people to whom to email (permission based of course), and within each email were a number of online places to where the recipients could link, like specific seaport-related software, a reception we were holding, etc.
The computer program we used runs from a web site, so since all the pieces were online and we knew to whom each email was sent, we were able to track each individual’s interests. Did they open the email to begin with? And if they did, what link did they follow? We sent these out every second week or so and a couple of days later, Alexandra produced a report showing these types of statistics.
Imagine the power of these reports from a business development perspective. The program we used was one called Mail Chimp, but there are many others like it: Constant Contact, iContact, Benchmark, and Campaigner being other popular ones. They typically only cost a few dollars a month to use, and often have free versions if you don’t mind their advertising banners at the bottom of your emails.
The power of these programs is enhanced when you hook them up with a CRM (customer relationship management) system. We use Microsoft CRM at Nicom and we will soon be interfacing an email program with it (we haven’t necessarily settled on Mail Chimp). So not only will we be able to do targeted marketing campaigns, we will also be able to capture the results in our CRM system for subsequent follow up as part of our normal business development process.
We’ve done this kind of thing for clients before so we know it will work. Combine this with other types of analytics and a very comprehensive picture emerges.
If done properly, email is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to do marketing. One thing we quickly discovered is that the subject line is a very important part of the message. When we added a mention of the conference in our subject, the number of opens and click-throughs spiked upwards quite dramatically. Also you must stay clear of spam filters, the easiest way being to email by permission only, to people with whom you already have a reason to communicate and who are likely to be interested in what you have to say.
There are a number of other benefits to email marketing besides cost. Segmenting your target market allows you to vary your message depending on patterns you’ve been trending, or by things such as geographic location. You can use email as a tool to drive traffic to your website, or even to specific pages within your website.
Another benefit is the timely results you get. Unlike traditional marketing techniques, email marketing lets you know almost immediately what works and what doesn’t, and this allows you to be very nimble in adjusting your strategies. You can also try two or more versions of the same message at one time, something we call A/B campaigns or split campaigns, and see right away which is more effective.
Besides finding new customers, email also provides a good way to keep in touch with existing customers and prospects. A timely message from someone they know, giving them some information of value on a topic they are interested in, will always stand out among the rest.
Email is what we call “push” technology, meaning it allows you to push your message out to a targeted audience, rather than relying on them to find you. When combined with other technologies, such as Ad Words, landing pages, and social networks (all covered in past columns), and traditional sales and marketing techniques, email becomes one of your key drivers for finding new prospects.
And that is the key. Email marketing should be part of an overall strategy that combines technology-based marketing with traditional marketing, and together they all help you drive new business.