E-mail campaigns are a great way to stay connected to your target audience, whether you are trying to reach prospective students, gallery contacts or collectors, and e-mail campaign is an efficient means of communication. There are several third party subscription services available that offer web-based applications for managing your database and creating e-mail campaigns. Constant Contact is the service that I use, it is probably the most widely known service on the market, but there are others available and here is a link to a review of some of the more popular ones.
Why not just use Outlook?
MS Outlook is a good tool for sending personal or business email on a one-to-one basis, as are G-mail, Yahoo, or any of the other web-based e-mail applications available. However, these products are designed for communication between individuals, not mass campaigns sent out to your customer and prospect database. An address book in Outlook or another e-mail application is fine for managing your business contacts, but if you are trying to manage a sales database of 100 contacts or more, you are going to need something more robust.
If you are trying to reach a target audience with a variety of products or services (in my case original artwork and classes), you need to have a place to store and segment your contact list of customers and prospects. You should begin by collecting e-mail addresses–both personally as you exchange business cards and from your web site. An e-mail service will enable you to put a registration box on your web site so that visitors may sign up for updates on the products and services that interest them most. For example, on my web site, there is a box for prospective students to get on my classes and workshops mailing list (click here to see the box on my web page). People who sign up are automatically entered into my Constant Contact database–I don’t have to do anything. Those e-mail contacts that I collect from my classes, gallery openings, etc. I may enter manually or upload from an Excel spreadsheet. Conversely, if someone decides to unsubscribe, Constant Contact takes care of that automatically as well and ensures that the name does not get accidentally added back into the database unless the actual user re-registers. This helps ensure that the people you send e-mail campaigns to are the ones who really want to receive your information.
Once your database is uploaded into Constant Contact, you can segment it however you like into as many lists as you wish. It’s great for targeting your campaigns specifically by product/service and customer need/interest. For example, I will send an e-mail of all my Somerset Art Association classes to my SAA students, I can further segment that if I wish to send to only my pastel students, or only my evening students, etc. You can be as specific or as generic as you wish. A campaign I send featuring classes I would not send to collectors–I can easily exclude collectors from my workshop-related mailings.
One of the best features of Constant Contact is real-time reporting. After sending a campaign, you can track how many of your e-mails bounced back, which were opened, and which were opened and had click-throughs to the links you embedded in the content of the e-mail. It is a valuable tool to track the effectiveness of your campaigns and the interest of your customers and prospects in specific products and services.
E-mail is Great, but Don’t be a SPAMMER
Manage your e-mail campaigns carefully–don’t overuse e-mail as a means of communicating with your database. I try to limit my e-mail campaigns to once a month at most–typically I will send out one to my students with my course offering, another featuring my exhibit schedule for the quarter and another only if I have something very significant that I want to feature, for example, my workshop in France for 2010.
Also, respect your contact’s privacy and don’t share your lists or send to people who have not “opted in” or asked to be added to your database. It will just annoy people and eat up space in your database that will go against your contact allotment (you pay for Constant Contact based on the size of your database, prices increase in increments of 500 contacts).
E-mail campaigns can generate a nice return on a relatively low investment in time and subscription fees (Constant Contact is about $135 for an annual subscription of up to 500 contacts). Used wisely, e-mail marketing is a highly effective tool for reaching your target audience, building awareness of your products and services and testing new products in highly segmented new markets.