Believe it or not, 2018 marks 40 years since email was first used for marketing purposes. Rather than nearing midlife-crisis territory, however, email marketing remains very much in its prime. When used correctly, it’s a cost-effective way to promote your products and services, and ultimately drive business.

Email marketing has evolved significantly over the past four decades. Let’s take a brief look at the history of email marketing, and see how you can get the most out of it for your business.

Email marketing at 40: A brief history

It all started in 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager for Digital Equipment Corp., sent an email to 400 customers promoting the company’s equipment via ARPANET, which was the foundation for what we know today as the internet.

At the time, 400 recipients constituted “mass” email marketing, but the message Thuerk sent wasn’t exactly welcome. In fact, his message resulted in a number of complaints, and he later became known as the “Father of Spam.” The effort was a success, however, resulting in a whopping $13 million in sales.

Fast forward to the early 1990s, when the internet, along with email, started to become more widespread. Businesses of all types began sending hordes of email marketing messages, leading to an abundance of flooded inboxes.

Later that decade, in 1998, the Data Protection Act made it mandatory for email marketers to include the ability for users to opt out. That was followed by the CAN-SPAM Act in 2003, which laid regulatory groundwork for commercial emails in the U.S. Email continued to grow in popularity and became even more accessible in the 2000s with the rise of smartphones.

Today, more than 75 percent of the population uses email at least once per month, including more than 90 percent of internet users. This makes it one of the best ways to promote your business to potential customers.

Why email is still relevant

Like most technologies that have become popular over the past 40 years, email marketing only keeps getting better and better. While spam remains a nuisance and can turn off some internet users, most people not only expect email marketing messages, they want them. In addition to driving revenue for small businesses, email marketing messages can be helpful to customers as they decide whether or not to purchase a particular product or service.

Here are three of the top email marketing benefits for small businesses:

  1. It’s low-cost. Email marketing campaigns don’t cost much to execute. In fact, setting up a basic email campaign yourself will only cost you a few minutes.
  2. The return on investment (ROI) can be huge. Email marketing has a median ROI of 122 percent — that’s more than four times higher than social media, direct mail and paid search.
  3. Measuring success is easy. It’s very easy to see how many of your emails were opened (and presumably read) as well as how many recipients clicked on a link within your message. This gives you a sense of which types of messages work well, and which don’t.

Building your email list

While email campaigns can be effective, they only work if you have willing recipients to send them to. Here are three quick and easy ways to get existing and potential customers to sign up for your email list:

  1. Try website sign-ups. Include an area on your business website where visitors can enter their email address to join your list.
  2. Use social media. You can also promote your email list using your social media accounts by linking to the sign-up page on your website.
  3. Collect addresses onsite. If your business has a physical office or storefront, encourage customers to sign up when they’re onsite. One way to entice sign-ups is to run a monthly drawing for a small giveaway, with everyone offering their email address automatically entered for a chance to win.

Deciding the types of emails to send

One of the main challenges of email marketing is deciding the types of messages to send. Here are six surefire ideas:

  1. Welcome messages: This is a basic message welcoming those who are new to your email list. You may consider giving recipients a special offer as a “thank you” for signing up.
  2. Promotional emails: These are emails that promote specific products or services, or any special sales you might be running.
  3. Email newsletters: These messages are sent on a regular basis, typically once per month or every two weeks. They can include promotional messages as well as news about your business and industry.
  4. New inventory emails: Just as it sounds, these are messages that promote new products or services your business is offering.
  5. Reorder emails: These are friendly reminders sent to customers to let them know when it might be time to reorder a particular product.
  6. Survey emails: Email can be used to collect various types of information about those on your email list, such as buying habits, or basic demographic information, such as age, sex and location.

Email keeps getting better with age

Email marketing may be 40 years old but, just as the cliche about fine wine goes, it keeps getting better with age. Because of its low startup cost and potentially huge return on investment, email marketing is a must for almost any type of small business. In addition, the ability to track results and gauge the effectiveness of email campaigns make it a no-brainer marketing tool.

There’s no telling what the next 40 years have in store for email marketers. But, for now, there’s no doubt that email should be a go-to resource in all business owners’ promotional arsenals.

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© 2018, Contributing Author. All rights reserved.

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