You may not realize it, but email marketing has the power to transform your business.

There’s a reason that businesses everywhere ask for your email address—requesting it when you check out, or imploring you to sign up for their newsletter in exchange for a discount. Getting permission to send marketing materials directly to the inboxes of potential and existing customers is a goldmine, with a monster potential return on investment.

As a consumer, you’ve been getting emails for years. You probably didn’t think much about how one or two messages from brands may have influenced you to convert, or to follow up on an abandoned cart, or to re-engage with a company you hadn’t thought about in months.

Email marketing has gotten more sophisticated with time, and is now an indispensable tool for businesses looking to deliver targeted, personalized, and timely messages. These messages turn one-time shoppers and even online window-shoppers into loyal customers who can power your business to greater success.

If you’re wondering how, that’s understandable. Many people, including small business owners, have an outdated understanding of how to use email marketing. It’s not about blasting generic updates once a month to everyone on your mailing list.

Here’s a look at why you want to turn your customers into loyal customers, and how email marketing helps you do it.

The power of loyal customers

Customer acquisition and customer retention are two sides of the same coin, and yet many business owners think about them all wrong.

Typically, businesses focus more on acquisition than retention. And yet, it costs them five times as much to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one. Existing customers are also easier to sell to, and they spend more than new customers do. That’s why businesses see as much as a 95% boost in profit when they improve retention by just 5%.

Sure, you’ll never have existing customers if you don’t acquire new customers first. Once you have them, though, you must market to this population and encourage them to become loyal buyers. One of the best tools in the small business arsenal for this task is email marketing.

The rules of using email marketing effectively

As mentioned above, email marketing isn’t just about racking up emails and then sending out a generic email blast once a month to remind people you exist. Your email messaging can be as varied and unique as your customer base is.

To get the most out of your emails, there are a few important rules to follow to make sure your messages reach your intended recipients the way you want them to:

Get their permission

You should always get people’s express permission to send them email marketing materials. Otherwise, the recipients of your emails may mark you as spam and will be less likely to engage with what you send. This is the equivalent of throwing your marketing spend in the garbage.

Segment your leads

Your customers are all different people who have engaged with your business for different (albeit sometimes similar) reasons. Segmenting your customers into different groups is how you send the most relevant kind of email possible to each subscriber. Use an email marketing software to automate the creation of segments. Once you do this, each segment can receive custom messaging based on how they found your business, what actions they’ve taken in the past, how recently they purchased something from you, what they purchased, their browsing activity, and so on.

This is particularly useful for eCommerce businesses, as segmentation can help you discern between different kinds of customers based on their purchase behaviours - and thus help you choose the right messaging to drive sales from each segment. Consider using a dedicated eCommerce growth platform to automate segmentation.

Provide value

Don’t you hate it when someone texts you just saying “Hey,” as if waiting for you to turn their overture into a conversation? Imagine if a brand did the same thing. Every email you send should bring value to a subscriber: a discount, news of a sale, an alert that an item they’ll love in stock, etc. Otherwise, they’ll unsubscribe.

5 kinds of emails that create more loyal customers

There is always a place for your monthly or quarterly email newsletter updates about the state of the business, or what’s new in stock. But there are emails with more specific purposes that can turn one-time shoppers or occasional buyers into more loyal customers.

‘VIP’ segment emails

Nothing engenders loyalty quite like being labelled a VIP. Customers who are beginning to buy with you regularly may only need this push to become a loyal buyer.

Segment your best customers into a “VIP” group and send them unique emails (complete with VIP branding) to let them know how much you appreciate their repeat business. Reward them with additional discounts, sneak peeks, early access to sales, and other perks. In fact, save your most lucrative discounts for this group, as it creates a positive feedback loop of buying and rewarding.

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Product recommendations based on past purchases

Bad email marketing says “You should buy this!” to a customer when they just bought that item a week ago. It makes the customer feel as though you’re not paying attention.

Good email marketing reflects a consumer’s past purchase history to offer a fitting cross-sell or up-sell. Various email marketing platforms or accompanying widgets offer dynamic product recommendations. Use it to offer past customers additional items in a category they’ve already purchased in (such as women’s clothing, or running shoes), or items that would pair well with what they already have.

Recommendation engines don’t just need to exist on your e-commerce site. Now you can bring them right to your customers and influence their next purchase.

An Adidas cross-sell email (via MailCharts)

Note: You can also utilize the “Abandoned Cart” email in this instance, suggesting products that a subscriber has left in their cart and encouraging them to pull the trigger.

Re-engaging inactive subscribers

How long has it been since a certain subscriber opened an email from you? Or since they visited your site? It’s time to win them back.  

Sending a “Still with us?” email that offers these users a small, temporary discount for shopping with you is a great way to re-engage a population that otherwise might not buy from you again. Get them to fall in love with your catalog once more, and now you can keep them engaged with the other email types on this list.

You can also use these emails as an opportunity to get the subscriber to confirm they want to continue their subscription. Asking them to confirm their subscription in exchange for the discount means you have good reason to keep emailing them. If they don’t confirm, take them off the list. This might feel like a loss, but the fewer people you’re emailing needlessly, the better.

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Customer anniversaries

Whether it’s the anniversary of the day this customer bought from you for the first time, the customer’s birthday, or some other special occasion like a holiday, these emails demonstrate a connection and thoughtfulness that the subscriber might not experience with other brands. A small gift commemorating this anniversary goes a long way.

Surveys and feedback requests

People want to be heard. You can glean valuable feedback on the state of your business by polling, surveying, and requesting the perspective of your customers with an email asking for a few minutes of their time.

Hearing that one of your favorite brands listens to your experience can create a powerful connection between you and that brand. (Offering a discount for their thoughts doesn’t hurt either.) But the survey results will also help you address problems you might not have been aware of otherwise, such as an arduous checkout process, or difficulty initiating a return. Therefore, these survey emails have a ripple effect, helping you improve the customer experience or your products/services for every one of your customers.

Blenders Eyewear survey request email (via MailCharts)

The bottom line

Businesses that use email marketing close the gap that appeared between brick-and-mortar and e-commerce businesses—the gap of a personal connection between business and customer.

Use some of the above email tactics to strengthen the bonds between you and your customers, re-ignite their love for your business, and learn how you can improve the journey for every buyer. You’ll only be scratching the surface of what email can do for you, but you’re off to a good start.