While the philosophers debate the physics and metaphysics of whether a tree falling in a forest makes a sound when no one is around to hear it, restaurant owners are more concerned about the realities of e-mail marketing programs. If no one's reading the e-mail campaign, no matter how great it is, it's not going to make any noise for your brand or your sales. The start of a great list is one that is filled with customers and prospects who have said "yes" to receiving information from your shop and who will be moved to action if the time and/or offer is right. But the list needs to grow if you want your retail business to grow. Asking for an e-mail address at the end of your phone call is a great start and there are several other ways to gather new additions to your list. Follow these 10 tips and you'll soon find you have an e-mail list that helps win business – and is the envy of your competition. Ask for e-mail addresses at the point of sale. If customers are purchasing from you once, and you do a good job, there's a high likelihood they'll purchase from you again. Tell them they will be notified about discounts on selected items, exclusive e-mail-only specials and first notice of sales by signing up for your mailing list, either online or in person.
Promote (or start) a loyalty program. A loyalty program makes customers feel special with the promise of exclusive, members-only benefits. You can incent customers to sign up for yours (and give you their e-mail address) with an on-the-spot discount or special offer such as a free gift. Offer free information. You have a high level of expertise in your retail business or you wouldn't have started it. What you may not realize, though, is that by sharing a little bit of that knowledge for free you can entice customers and prospects to give you their e-mail information.
For example, if you run a garden shop, you can offer tips on preparing garden beds in the spring and winter, how to care for plants in a draught, etc. And all anyone needs to do to get that information is give you an e-mail address to send it to. Simple! Conduct a poll or survey. Place a poll about something relevant to your business on your website, or use cards and a box in a store location. Offer a free gift or discount as a thank-you for participating, which will be sent to the respondent's e-mail address. Hold a contest. Similar to the survey, you can offer a prize (or series of prizes) to anyone who signs up for your mailing list. In a restaurant, you can put up a fishbowl to collect business cards for a drawing for a free appetizer, meal or party. A clothing store can offer a free alteration or accessory. Use social media to encourage sign-ups. If you already have Twitter followers or a Facebook fan page, ask your followers and fans to sign up for your e-mail alerts. Explain that the e-mails will include information and offers not available anywhere else. You can make it part of your loyalty program, or a separate benefit if you don't have a loyalty program already. Hand every customer a postcard. Customers may be squeezing in shopping trips between other activities and don't have time to sign up for an e-mail program on the spot. But they may if you hand them a pre-paid postcard that they can fill out and mail later. If you also offer them the option of signing up online instead, you'll greatly increase your chances of capturing their e-mail addresses.
Capture friends of friends. Every e-mail you send has the potential for a ripple effect – if you encourage the people who are already on your list to pass your e-mails along to their friends. You can ask people to do it out of the goodness of their hearts, or you can give them an incentive with the offer of a gift or other reward if the friend signs up and mentions them. It definitely helps to offer great content that's worth passing along. Incentivize your staff. If you have employees, give them reasons to collect e-mail addresses on your behalf. Offer a small reward for each name collected, to be given out after the first e-mail is received to make sure they don't ask to be taken off the list right away. Or offer a larger cash reward or other prize for the person who provides the most verifiable e-mail addresses at the end of each month. Get out and mingle. If there are events in town, such as "Your Town Days" or a chili cook-off or a classic cars weekend, sign up to exhibit and be a part of them. Join the Rotary Club or other organization and become an active participant. For business-to-business owners, attend meetings of special interest groups or networking events where customers and prospects might be, get their business cards and ask if it's ok to e-mail information to them. Those are just a few ideas to get you started. There are plenty of others out there as well. The key is to do something. Get your list-building mechanism going, and you'll soon find you have lots of people to whom you can send your incredibly creative e-mails. You still may not know whether that tree in the forest makes a noise, but at least you'll have plenty of customers and prospects listening. * Wendy Lowe is director of product marketing for Campaigner, an e-mail marketing solution that enables organizations to have highly personalized one-to-one e-mail dialogues with their customers, measure how they respond, and analyze those responses. Photo by psd.