Whether or not retail bakeries can benefit from an online presence is no longer up for debate. The Internet has become an everyday communicative tool for most Americans.
The only remaining question is how retail bakeries should wield the tools available to them, and direct e-mail marketing tops the list of answers.
“It's the sign of the times. People use the Internet as a primary source of information ahead of more traditional ways,” says Sandy Polletta, owner of Edgewood Bakery, Jacksonville, Fla. “Online marketing, direct e-mail marketing in this case, has advantages. It's extremely cost effective, and it's as current as you want to make it.”
According to the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) Power of Direct economic impact study, which was completed by financial analysis and forecasting firm Global Insight, commercial direct e-mail marketing returned $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009. The second-highest return on investment (ROI) in the study, Internet search advertising, brought in only half that — illustrating e-mail's remarkable cost effectiveness. But, as retail bakeries may have found already, e-mail marketing is not without its pitfalls. When the email is sent, for instance, can seriously affect open rates and click-through rates.
Follow numbers, not instinct
Intuitively, the lunch hour might seem like a good time to reach customers via e-mail. Consumers should be hungry, giving baked products added caché, and they should have the time to peruse personal e-mail. But according to a new study released by e-mail service provider Pure360, Brighton, U.K., people generally don't open commercial e-mail at work during their lunch hours. A study of 660,000 e-mail messages sent by 34 companies found that only 9 percent of marketing e-mails were opened between the hours of 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Furthermore, 62 percent of the e-mails that were opened were periodical news or magazine e-mails, not marketing e-mails.
Recipients are far more likely to open e-mails on their own time rather than at work. Almost half (48 percent) of all marketing e-mails were opened outside of office hours.
The research indicates that recipients are receptive to consumer promotions, such as baked products, at the beginning of the working day. Offers relating to food and dining are opened at a 27 percent clip between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m.
The lesson? Don't let your gut decide when to send an e-mail blast. Test for your individual market to see what works and what time frame generates the most opens. Most e-mail marketing services offer performance tracking metrics to follow the data and help develop an optimized e-blast cycle.
Avoiding list fatigue
According to the Email Experience Council, the e-mail marketing arm of the DMA, list fatigue is “a condition producing diminishing returns from a mailing list whose members are sent too many offers, or too many of the same offers, in too short a period of time.” In short, it can be the demise of an e-mail marketing program. List fatigue results in a bakery's e-mails being unread, unopened and eventually unwanted.
Even worse, this decreased consumer engagement isn't always noticeable, at least not through pure analytics. E-mail marketing consultants Return Path reports “only 22 percent of professionals bother to unsubscribe from e-mail they no longer want.” That means the remainder of unengaged subscribers simply delete emails without even opening them.
Marketing firm Blue Sky Direct recommends combating list fatigue by putting more thought into the e-mails themselves. Work on developing compelling and creative subject lines — this will increase the open rate. Include strong calls-to-action and make e-mails memorable and fresh so subscribers look forward to receiving them.
In addition, explore alternative ways to engage with your e-mail recipients. Study and survey them about their online activity, their interests, and what they get online for.
Finally, provide content that makes the click worth the customers' while. Focus on inbound marketing activities. Look at including videos, social media, quizzes or games on your site that will drive traffic and get subscribers' attention by being different.
Finding the right frequency for direct e-mail marketing depends on the customer base, but a minimum monthly blast is a good rule of thumb for a bakery-type business to remain visible. Successful e-mail campaigns may tempt bakers to increase frequency, but this can dangerously fatigue e-mail lists and may increase spam complaints. It's important to understand that while consumers are generally less bothered by what they would consider to be spam e-mail, they also are increasingly savvy with e-mail blockers and ISP filters.
“Frequency isn't just a function of how often you want or need to send your messages,” says Stefan Pollard, director of e-mail marketing best practices, Lyris Inc., an online marketing firm based in Emeryville, Calif. “It must incorporate how often your recipients want to hear from you. Both are valid needs; how you balance them will determine whether your email program succeeds or flops.”
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15 tips for a successful e-mail marketing program
Mitchell Harper, co-founder of Interspire, a Web software company based in Austin, Texas, lists his 15 guidlines and best practices for direct e-mail marketing.
- Avoiding the spam filters
Avoid using words like “Free, $$$, Save or Discount,” in both the subject line and the content.
- Maximizing click-through rates
Internet users respond better to a plain, bold, blue text link as opposed to a banner or button.
- The power of personalization
Personalizing a message can increase both the reading and click-through rates by 650 percent.
- One-click unsubscription
To grow a healthy mailing list, a quick way to unsubscribe, usually using only one click, is a must.
- Sign-up confirmation
Always use a double opt-in confirmation process to help keep a clean list.
- Tuesday/Wednesday prime time
Studies show people are more receptive to communication on these days.
- Repeat e-mail communication
Use an auto-responder (an automated e-mail responding to a subscription) to follow up with your subscribers or provide more information on your bakery.
- E-mail-based learning
Create a series of auto-responders containing unique content that may interest your customers. Schedule the first to be sent after 24 hours, the second after 48 hours, etc.
- On time, every time
When sending a regular e-mail to your subscribers, always make sure that it's sent on the same day, at the same time. Subscribers will come to expect your e-mail to arrive at that time.
- Half-a-second subject line
You have about half a second to catch a subscribers' attention with the subject line of your e-mail. After this, they will either delete or ignore it.
- The free bonus hook-in
If you're looking to grow your subscriber list, offer something for free when they sign up for your newsletter.
- The preview pane
Always have interesting content at the very top of your e-mail, as it is the part that will show in the preview window.
- Link-click testing
Compare the click-through statistics of different e-mail layouts to see which one works best.
- Consistency is the key
If you're running a newsletter or frequent e-mail publication, make sure you keep the look and feel consistent from issue to issue.
- Always sign off
Always include a signature at the bottom of your e-mails. This signature should include your personal details, your company details, and an unsubscribe link.