06/05/09

By Paul Bates, Managing Director, StrongMail

Betting on the under dog is a British way of life, whether it’s the FA Cup when a relatively unknown third division team take on the likes of Manchester United or John Sergeant as he tries to keep in step with Tom and Camilla on Strictly Come Dancing. Which ever way you look at it, from the beginning of time people have loved it when the outsider comes out on top — just think David and Goliath.

The same holds true in the business world when smaller companies square up to larger corporations. On paper it looks like they have no way of competing, but, if they use the right marketing channels and have a burning belief in their offering that they can win, anything is possible.

Email marketing, if done correctly, is a great equaliser for small and medium-sized companies — the catapult that lets them take on a giant, if you will — as they compete for customers in an increasingly tough economic environment. So how can email help smaller companies do battle and come out a winner?

The first step is to invest carefully in your creative design. It is so common for companies building an email strategy to repurpose and use direct mail images. But these sorts of images are just too big for email and can end up taking up all the space in someone’s inbox.

Secondly, try to keep close to your customers. As a general rule include two to four elements of personalisation within the email template. If you are just getting started, you can begin with basic mail merge fields like “first name” but quickly move toward personalised content based on past purchases, subscriptions and other unique data that only you can use to build a deeper relationship with your audience. Years ago, only larger companies could afford to invest in the technologies necessary to use personalisation, but today on-demand and on-premise offerings make this a readily available option to the small and medium-sized business.

Thirdly, stay flexible. Whilst large companies are excellent at delivering large volumes of highly relevant content quickly, it is very difficult for them to react to inbound communications based on those programmes — and automated responses still remains a work in progress but, even at its best, it’s still impersonal and can negate much of the hard work carried out during an outbound campaign. A minority of companies do it well, but this is another good opportunity for small and medium businesses to shine, if they can keep flexible and close to their customers.

The next step is to start paying attention to the way in which customers respond to your email campaigns and tailor them according. Most email deployment systems offer reports that allow companies to drill down to individual responses. Taking time to review these reports and respond to customers when appropriate offers competitive advantage. Some systems also provide “alerts” that can trigger text messages to customer service representatives or sales associates, delivering the inbound response details and contact information to enable quick follow-up.

Finally, use your data cleverly. Many email marketers struggle with the issue of data management — especially when working in larger companies. This can be a significant barrier to creating relevant and timely email content. By contrast, most small and medium-sized companies don’t have the same quantity of information to deal with and are therefore able to build flexible and dynamic customer databases that include many more useful details on every customer. This ensures email marketing campaigns remain pertinent and continue to deliver high value content.

No business wants to be the underdog — even if everyone is rooting for them. And if small and medium-sized companies use email marketing effectively, there’s no reason why they should be. If they use it well, it will give smaller companies the opportunity to stand on an equal playing field with their larger competitors. Use it wisely, and no company is too big to compete against!

StrongMail Systems is the leading provider of commercial-grade solutions for marketing and transactional email. Offering maximum flexibility for deployment, StrongMail’s solutions are offered in both on-premise and hosted models to meet the needs of every business. StrongMail delivers its proven email delivery, tracking and campaign management software on high-performance servers that are optimized for maximum deliverability. In addition to providing superior control, security and integration capabilities, StrongMail’s high-performance solutions offer companies a more powerful and cost-effective alternative to homegrown or traditional outsourced ESP solutions. To learn more about StrongMail, please visit www.strongmail.com

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