Stephen and Catherine Toms know digital marketing. As lead Instructors at digital education institution General Assembly and founders of start-up Smithfield Digital, they live and breathe it every day. The husband-and-wife duo arrive at this juncture from different backgrounds. Prior to launching Smithfield five years ago, Catherine spent the first 20 years of her career in the UK advising global brands on their digital strategy, while Stephen was deputy head of a school in London.
After the pair met, married and started a family, they took a few years out to backpack with their two young children while relocating to Australia. During this time Stephen retrained in digital marketing. Combining Catherine’s digital nous with Stephen’s education and training skills, they formed Smithfield soon after settling in Melbourne. Their first client was General Assembly. “They were looking for instructors to deliver classes and workshops and then it’s just grown and evolved from there.”
Today they’re lead instructors for General Assembly’s digital marketing courses and workshops and they also design and deliver custom training for their global enterprise clients. The pair estimate they’ve trained around 10,000 digital marketers, and with virtual training now the norm, they’ve broadened their reach to more than 30 countries including Singapore, Hong Kong, Iran, Nigeria, the UK, Netherlands, France, Japan as well as all over Australia. Attendees often remark on the pair’s energetic, jargon-free, easy-toapply approach.
Stephen and Catherine offer their thoughts on the value of email marketing for small to medium businesses – and how to make sure yours resonates with and adds value to your audience.
There are some legal requirements associated with sending marketing emails. If in doubt, we recommend you seek legal advice on email marketing compliance.
The role of email in the overall marketing mix
CT: The foundations of effective marketing have been the same my whole career: understanding your customer, adding value, knowing how to connect with them correctly and delivering compelling messaging.
ST: Email marketing is the perfect example of something that doesn’t change too much. It’s still known as the currency of the web, it’s still delivering... no channel is going to give you a wider reach than email marketing. Litmus reports that for every dollar spent on email marketing, you can get up to $42 in return. So, it is the channel that drives the most return for your marketing dollar.
Isn’t email regarded as “old-school” by some?
CT: I think when people think it’s an old-school tactic, it’s because they’re using it in an old-school way. A lot of people do email really badly. If you’re spamming your database with one-size-fits-all newsletters, you’ve missed the point of email marketing. To do it right, you’ve got to reach the right audience with relevant content, at the right time.
A few years back we all got lured in by the shiny-new promise of social media. “Oh, we can connect with our audiences over here, isn’t it beautiful?”, and then, social media reach fell off a cliff and algorithms changed, people realised it’s a lot of work for very low returns. Now it’s starting to almost come back full circle to email marketing, but it’s changed and evolved.
Strengths and weaknesses of email marketing
CT: In terms of strengths, I think number one is to reach the people that want to be reached. They’ve already demonstrated some level of intent with your business; they know and like you enough to share their email address with you, so that is huge. Number two is that it’s a one-on-one channel; you can personalise and be relevant. You can connect those messages directly to the people that want to read them and the things they’re interested in.
ST: You’ve got more control. Two important words in digital marketing are Targeting and Relevancy; to have a target audience and creating relevant content. Email marketing allows you to look at both. Number three… It’s cost-effective. Apart from time, there’s no cost associated with it, unless you’re going to go down that marketing automation route – and even then it’s very cost-efficient.
CT: Number four is, you own it. With platforms like Instagram and Facebook you can’t control how much reach you get. The rules change. The control you get with a channel that you directly manage is a big strength. The only weakness is if you’re doing it badly. If you spam people, you’re going to irritate them. You’re going to potentially switch people off your service if you’re sending too frequent or irrelevant emails.
ST: We always say, before you send an email, ask yourself not what’s in it for you, but what’s in it for the reader or viewer? What benefit are they going to get from this content? Your monthly newsletter, for example: it’s a really good opportunity to showcase your credibility.
Logical starting points for small to medium businesses
ST: First question is to ask yourself, what’s your objective – what do you want to achieve from your email marketing? Next, are you collecting email addresses? What do you know about those on your email address list, and can you segment them into groups? Your clients are going to have different needs; they’ll have different challenges and you’ll have to communicate to them in different ways. It’s a balancing act. Don’t try and segment to the nth degree; that requires too much content. It’s about finding your highest priority segments; so it might be two to four segments of your most valuable customers.
CT: You’ve got to make sure that your data from your list of people is really clean and you know who you’re connecting with, and that it speaks to what you know about those people in terms of interests.
ST: Number three would be, how can you grow your database? For example, what are those lead magnets, what are those downloadable white papers or webinars that will incentivise people to hand over their email address so you can start to nurture them and educate them about what you do? Then there are questions like: Do I need an email service provider? How much testing do I need to do? How often will I email out – weekly, fortnightly, monthly? What’s the customer journey – for example, someone downloaded a white paper, what happens next? What email sequence are you going to design to educate them over, say, a course of four weeks, four months, whatever the duration might be?
CT: The most important email that anyone gets from any business is the welcome email. It’s what tells you you’ve successfully subscribed and has open rates of around 70%. It’s the perfect opportunity to create a really great first impression and let people know how often they will hear from you and what they can expect in your emails. Finally, content. Spend some time working out what you’re going to talk about. Take some time to get the copy right. Marketing today is about adding value and sharing your knowledge so that people get to know, like and trust you. As a broker, you have an awful lot of knowledge and expertise that people pay you to share with them. Decide how much of that you will give away? Be relevant, topical and timely.
Working with an email marketing partner versus doing it yourself
ST: It comes down to how much time and resources you’ve got to do it effectively. Let’s start with a fortnightly or monthly newsletter: You might need a bit of training or need some help in establishing a content strategy, but apart from that, it’s very manageable – including the setting up and testing of your emails. You can probably manage this yourself.
CT: [With a newsletter] you’re not going to see a massive surge of business, you’re not going to see a massive uplift; it’s just a way of staying connected, a way of staying front of mind, but it’s the lowest common denominator in the world of email marketing. If you do marketing automations and actually do it properly, there’s a bit of time investment upfront, in terms of understanding what a strategy is and getting your data set up. We definitely recommend working with an expert on this; the pay-off is that you’ll certainly get that back once it’s set up and established. Marketing automations put your email efforts on “auto-pilot” which is a huge help in those busier times.
ST: In terms of email marketing systems there are a lot out there. Choose one that is relevant for your size of business. MailChimp is a great starting point, and Active Campaign is one of our favourites. Measuring the effectiveness of EDMs
CT: Focus on your open rate as the biggest measurer of impact; remember your goal is not to get into someone’s inbox, your goal is to get them engaging with your content. Depending on whether you’re emailing prospects or customers, you should be aiming for about a 30% open rate, but with automation you can achieve up to 50%, 60% because you’re providing people with very targeted, timely communications. And ensure you’re building your emails with some kind of call-to-action. There’s always something for people to do next – what do you want them to do after they’ve seen that? So another measurement would be how many people clicking the links in your email, or contacting you to learn more. The idea is your audience not only reads your email, but takes that next step.
Trends for 2021 and beyond
ST: Personalisation has never been more important. Any content we get from brands these days that isn’t personalised can do more damage than good. Focus on targeting and segmenting your database so you can reach them with relevant communications when they need it most. More broadly, we’re seeing mobile marketing continue to grow. Most emails are opened and read on mobile so make sure it looks good across all devices.
CT: Marketing is a contest for people’s attention – we’re seeing growth in short, “snackable” easy-to-digest chunks.
Disclaimer: The opinions and views expressed are those of the individual contributors and not of NFC Aggregation. Any reference to third party goods and services are not endorsements or recommendations by NFC Aggregation.