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Improving Your Email Marketing Through Competitive Analysis

Email marketing remains one of the most effective ways that companies can get the word out about their products and convert prospects into sales, nurture current customers and create repeat business. But it can be time consuming to figure out the best way to market to your audience. For small businesses especially, A/B testing can be almost a useless endeavor because it requires a big list to be accurate.

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So how do you make improvements to your emails when your list isn’t huge or doesn’t have a long history? Beyond the obvious action of keeping an eye on the statistics that you’re seeing with each email and noting any jumps or dips, we love to do a competitive email analysis to get the lay of the land and spark new ideas for email.

A competitive analysis is just what it sounds like: you’re looking at the marketing materials (in this case emails) of companies playing in the same space as you and seeing what ideas you can glean from them. Because many companies have long-term email funnels, an analysis can take awhile. Here’s how to develop, organize and track competitor email programs to figure out how you can improve yours.

Step 1: Create an email dumping ground

To stay organized, create a dumping ground for all these emails. We like to set up a separate GMail address that is just for subscribing to competitor marketing materials. This keeps them from clogging up our inboxes while also allowing multiple people to access and search the emails when they want to check them out.

Step 2: Create your list of competitors

For some companies, this is obvious but for others - particularly those who don’t have direct competitors in their space - it can be a little trickier. Think about who is speaking to the same audience as you with similar messaging. Even if they’re not selling the exact same product, there may be some overlap and will certainly reveal useful information. Consider the following categories:

  • Large national competitors: You can assume these companies are well funded and have larger lists, so they may have done a lot of the research for you already. Paying attention to their CTAs, offers, frequency, etc. could give you lots of free insight.

  • Competitors in your market: For obvious reasons.

  • Competitors in other markets: If you’re a local or regional company, see what companies in other regions are doing. These companies may be at the same scale as you, but have other insights or ideas.

  • Fringe competitors: These may be companies fighting for a similar market share or audience but without a product that’s directly competing. (A great example of this might be a meal kit company vs. a grocery delivery company or a CSA. The products are different but they are solving a similar problem for the consumer.) See how they’re positioning their product.

Step 3: Start signing up for lists

Take your list and explore the websites for your competitors. Sign up for their email lists and/or for accounts on their sites to see what happens afterwards. Sit back and allow the emails to flow in.

Step 4: Create a tracking spreadsheet

What you’re tracking will depend on what you’re most interested in. Are you looking to see what offers companies are making? What their value proposition is? Email frequency? Style, graphics? Create a spreadsheet to track this information, so each time you’re going into your shared inbox you’re able to input the data and look back on it later.

One example we recently did for a client was tracking the intro offers of competitors. We created a spreadsheet with the competitor’s name, the offer description, whether it was an intro offer or a one time/flash sale type offer and how long after signup it was offered, as well as when it expired. This gave the client a better grasp on what their prospects and customers were seeing as they researched the product with competitors.

Step 5: Create action items to test

It’s important to note that just because something’s working for another company, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Compile a list of ideas from your research and test them one by one - or just implement them if you fall in love with them. Just reading the emails may bring to mind creative brainstorms that you’d never considered. Keep the action items organized and continue to track the email marketing to mine fresh ideas.

THE EMAIL THAT MADE ME DO A HAPPY DANCE

 

Hi everyone! Kristen here with an email that made my day, both because it made my life easier and because it gives me a chance to talk about really, really smart email marketing!

My daughter turned 4 last weekend, and coming up this weekend, she's got a birthday party featuring all her preschool friends. Having regained my sense of sanity since hosting this zoo/party last year, this year I decided to outsource and she'll be bouncing off the walls, quite literally, with 25 friends at an inflatable playground. I am already happy with this company as I have been assured that I basically just need to place appropriate food orders and show up, music to any mom's ears. 

But Monday morning as I sat down at my desk to map out my week, I threw in a few party to-do's. Order the cake. Order the pizza. Order the goody bag stuff off Amazon. Maybe 30 minutes of actual work, but I gave a little sigh as I added it onto the growing list. Around lunchtime, I opened up my personal emails and I found THIS.

Now, I was fully aware that this party venue offers pizza and cake and balloons and goody bags and all the things that you need to order on top of just booking a party... but I figured, I'll just call the pizza place I like, and pick up a cake on the way to the party that I order a few days in advance, and go to the party store to pick out balloons... you get the gist.

And then, I got this email. And it was all mapped out for me: balloons, pizza, goody bags, even the option for characters to visit the party. And, it was delivered on Monday morning, right when I was getting my to-do list together, but before I'd had the chance to actually do anything. Perfect. Timing. I know that they'll be calling me later this week to confirm party details and when they do, I'll just order everything. Done.

And THAT is how you do effective email marketing. I'm already a customer, of course, but they probably just increased my spend with them by 60% with a single, well-timed email. Genius. Here are three takeaways from my bouncy party email marketing experience:

1. Don't forget your old friends.
While Cowabunga's is, I'm sure, focused on continuing to book parties with new customers, they were so smart to invest in creating this funnel for customers who've already booked. It cost them practically nothing to market to me once the email is created. I'm already in their space, so there's no additional overhead--just profit.

2. Timing is everything.
Whenever we put together an email for a client, we try to get into the minds of the target audience to figure out when they'll need that information. Of course, over time, you can inform some of this with data from your email marketing system - when you get the best opens, etc. But a lot of it is just logic. If you know a parent is planning a party for the weekend, you know the week before is going to be filled with random errands. Send the email before they start them. Put yourself in the audience's shoes and decide when they'd need this info in order to act on it.

3.  Include a Call to Action.
OK, Cowabunga's, there's one thing you got wrong. How do I redeem these coupons? Where's the phone number or link to an online order form? I scanned the email several times without any success, which means I'll have to look them up to give them a call. Don't make your customers do that. Include a clear call to action, like "Call us at 555-555-5555 to place your order!" or "Click here to place your order" so that the customer can act immediately. (Quick update: The day after I received the email, Cowabunga's called me to confirm my details and see if I wanted to add anything to the order, and that's when I chose the add-on's. Still, it would have been good to have a way to be proactive if I so chose!)

Admittedly, an inflatables playground is the last place I expected to get a great marketing lesson this week, but often these great examples come from really unexpected places. This is the perfect reminder that you don't need to spend a ton or even work that hard if you set up smart, automated marketing systems to generate and nurture your leads. If you've got any email marketing examples that have really impressed you lately, I encourage you to post them in the comments!