email marketingHave you heard the term ‘the money is in the list’? It’s become a very popular saying in marketing circles – and how true it is. Creating your own customer database – building it organically through email data capture rather than buying in lists (that are often poor quality and out of date) – is a valuable marketing goldmine and I cannot stress just how important it is in helping to sustain your small business.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with a fashion and interiors retail shop in Hampshire. It’s a fantastic business with tons of potential, but the owners needed help with their marketing to re-position and develop the business, hence my involvement. I quickly discovered that this particular business is a classic example of how ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses don’t integrate email data capture into their day-to-day operations.
Saying that, online ones fail to do so too, so sorry but the following points apply equally to all you online businesses out there!

Expensive marketing and advertising isn’t necessarily the best route

The retail shop business struggles to get repeat visits to the shop, and their solution to date had been to throw money at expensive blanket advertising or mass leafleting in the local area. Strategies like this may feel like you are reaching a wide audience but they are obviously costly and it’s difficult to actually engage with your target audience. But in the absence of repeat business it’s logical to pursue new customers – isn’t it?

Well actually, it’s not – just bear with me here…

Someone comes into the shop so they’ve made a conscious decision i.e. “there may be something in here that I want” or “I like the look of their stuff” and go in. Which means there’s half a chance that they may actually buy something. So they browse a little, um and ah over this and that, choose what they want, pay for it and off they go. Disaster! You have quite possibly waved a cheery goodbye to this chance visitor who could, in time, have become one of your loyal customers.

A simple technique is to print up some A6 postcard flyers or small business cards with an offer on to insert into the bags (use low cost print sites like – great for small print runs and good quality too, unlike Vistaprint!). Each customer then gets an offer to encourage that repeat visit – X% off if they spend Y on their next visit, spend X and get a free gift (a great opportunity to get rid of distressed inventory), bring along a friend to visit the shop and get a free coffee and cake for two in the café, etc. The offers can change monthly or quarterly to encourage continued repeat visits and ongoing customer loyalty.

Also within my client’s shop there is a lovely café and they run a great offer – buy nine coffees and get the tenth for free. It’s a good loyalty promotional mechanic and very popular, but the coffee cards issued to customers (redeemed once full in return for the all important free coffee) do not include a request for an email address. It’s a tiny omission but huge in terms of marketing potential. That one simple change gives my clients the permission to email these customers – who are already interested and engaged in what they offer and using the café. The email address can then be used to communicate further promotions or special offers to encourage repeat visits and so increase footfall and turnover.

Identifying customer touch points

It’s all part of identifying your customer’s journey, discovering all the key touch points where you can gather customer data – for my clients I was able to identify at least five touch points and ways in which they could gather customer data to enable them to undertake the more cost-effective email marketing.

Make them an offer they can’t refuse

This thinking is applicable to any business – even those that are purely online. You need to find ways of encouraging your visitors to interact with you in some way i.e. offer them something in return for their email details. This could be a free report or gift, a free trial or 25% off their next purchase, the list is endless, and what you offer very much depends on your specific business. But the point is people like getting something of value for free (or at a reduced price) – it’s human nature, and if you offer something that is not available through any other means then it’ll be even more unmissable. And in return you have a name and email address, and permission to contact them in the future. Simples!

And setting up these mechanics are so easy – a feedback form or newsletter sign-up box on your website, a tent card on a café table, an entry form for a competition sitting next to a till. It’s really nothing new, it’s just a case of finding every touch point and opportunity to collect your customers’ details, and remembering to include the all important box for an email address.

Make sure you clearly state what you will be doing with the email address with an opt-in statement – so the customer has a clear understanding that by providing their email address they are giving you permission to communicate with them about your business. If you’re not sure about the strict rules around consumer email opt-ins, the Data Protection Act and email marketing rules – seek professional marketing advice, the fines for breaches can be high. It only takes a few disgruntled customers complaining to the Information Commissioner and you could land up in very hot water indeed!

Don’t forget to act on the information

Of course, as you collect the data you need to make sure you update your customer database (if you don’t have one you could take a look at HighRise or Zoho and use it. You may even need to create several lists if you have several customer groups so that you can segment and target your marketing activity. And over time you should start to see some very favourable results.

Do you already collect customer data? What works best for your small business? Let me know – it would be great to follow this article up in the future with some more case studies.