Video Deep Dive: Leveraging Email for Local Businesses
Mike Blumenthal


This is the 13th installment this year of our Deep Dive Into Local series. For the week ending Monday, April 11th, Mary Bowling and Mike Blumenthal shared their thoughts about the previous week in local. The complete video, including links and commentary on critical happenings of the previous week is posted in the Local U forums (paywall). In the second half of that video, they take a deeper strategic and tactical dive into one interesting area that caught their attention during the week.

In this discussion, Mary and Mike discuss how email continues to be a valuable tool in the digital marketing tool kit, some ideas on gathering email addresses in small businesses and ways to leverage email for ongoing customer relations.

Mary: …and then GetFiveStars, we’ve kind of talked about this on and off through several videos, but they’ve actually figured out a solution for small businesses that are having trouble getting email addresses, where their system — you set up a Wi-Fi hotspot at the business, and it enables people who are using the free Wi-Fi at that business to get a deal. It presents them with a deal to try to get their e-mail address while they’re there at the business. Did you want to add anything to that, Mike?

Mike: So it’s basically what’s called a captive Wi-Fi portal that sits in front of your free Wi-Fi and is programmed with a super simple, as you pointed out, interface to allow the business to create some sort of offer. In return the data, the e-mail data, then flows directly into the GetFiveStars feedback loop. So it creates a very tight loop, and it’s ideal in businesses like a salon or doctor’s office or a coffee house, where you have a number of people coming in, sitting there prior to the use of the service searching for free Wi-Fi. It gives you [the business owner] control of that interstitial space [of the wifi login], and gives you a chance to gather e-mail addresses, which we have found to be very hard [for many small businesses]. It’s one of the stumbling blocks that we see in GetFiveStars, is a lot of small businesses just can’t figure out how to get e-mail addresses.

Mary: Right.

Mike: Some of it is due to incompetence; some of it’s just due to the reality of the industry.

Mary: And with that, I think we’re going to segue into our deep dive about e-mail marketing for local businesses.

Mike: Good. Yes, to that point, somebody like Barbara, where e-mail should be part of the close, right? Should have — Barbara Oliver Jewelry — where there’s an opportunity because you have a one-on-one relationship with the customer. I worked with her for five years, she was never able to do it, and it took GetFiveStars to get her to actually start gathering e-mail addresses. So that’s one type of business where they should be able to put in place a system, but can’t seem to be able to, to all the way to other types of businesses where an e-mail ask is really not natural part of the interaction, right? Like a coffee house. There’s no clear cut way to do it.

I was in a restaurant in New York City, and I thought they had one of the better ways. They handed me the bill, and instead of putting one of those folded American Express vinyl things that always looks so tacky, they just put the bill and attached it by a paper clip to a post card. And the content of the post card was, you know, “Receive news of updates and events and specials via e-mail. Sign up here.” I thought that was a very elegant way to let those people that really wanted to stay in touch stay in touch with the business.

So I think part of the problem with e-mail is just this difficulty that businesses have of figuring out how they’re going to get it. That’s one side of it.

Mary: Well, I think that a lot of the problem with e-mail marketing is that small businesses really don’t realize — unless they’ve experienced great success with it, they don’t realize how much good buying traffic it can actually send to business. Like you said, these are people that you already have some type of relationship with. They’re probably already happy with your business. They know where you are, they know who you are. You don’t have to go through that entire process of trying to sell them on you.

So it gives you a huge opportunity to up-sell people, to get return sales if you sell something that, you know, periodically needs to be renewed, let’s say, an oil change or something like that. It gives you an opportunity to send out reminders, and then if you use the Schema Action Markup in your e-mails, you also get this synergy with calendar, where people can use their e-mail to add things to their calendar. And then once it’s added to their calendar, it can start showing up as reminders on their calendar, or start showing up as reminders in their Google Now application.

Mike: That’s a good point. Yes, and the other thing about this e-mail data is it’s a very direct relationship with these very good customers, but it’s a direct relationship that people like Facebook and Google can’t really see that well. So it really is your most valuable asset as a small business, unlike interacting on a Facebook page, or interacting at Google+ or wherever, those are interactions that Google is, or Facebook, are very aware of.

The other value of this e-mail is that it allows you to enhance virtually every other thing you’re doing. It’s a great way to ask for feedback and reviews. It’s a great way to ask for engagement on your social page. It’s a great way, as you pointed out, to deal with upcoming appointments and events, promoting those events to an audience that’s baked in.

And the numbers are quite clear. The return on e-mail is still one of the highest ROIs of any marketing, and yet a lot of the folks we see at Local U, small businesses, aren’t actively implementing, minimally collection of the e-mail addresses, but optimally collection and developing some ongoing mechanism for leveraging it.

Mary: Yes, and I think that some of them tend to put way too much content in their e-mails, so they become something that people don’t want to deal with, that there’s really an art to successful e-mail marketing, and that a lot of agencies and local SEOs need to be paying attention to that, because as you say, it’s the best ROI, and it gives you a lot of opportunity to bring back old customers.

Mike: So I look at a million e-mails a month these days, you know, feedback requests and when the small business…what we’re seeing is open rates close to 50%. And so what that means is that the attention level is very high on local business e-mails, a small… very high likely that of opening, much higher than average campaign levels.

Mary: Yes. I could see that. And as I said before, a lot of the small businesses I talk to, they say, “Oh, I tried that, it didn’t work.” I contend that it’s time to try it again, if you or your clients are in that situation, to take a look at what’s really happening out there in the world for that business, and how can you turn e-mail marketing into something with a positive ROI instead of something that didn’t work for me.

Mike: Well, part of the problem could be that many small businesses always are thinking in terms of the close, right? Buy this, buy that, when in reality, e-mail’s really only the first part of a long relationship you’re going to have with a customer post-sale. And typically, you probably shouldn’t be hard selling to often via the medium, right? So, asking for feedback, asking for news, asking for interaction or opinions, asking for perhaps likes or comments on your Facebook page, talking about upcoming events, there’s all sorts of things that can have indirect benefits without the direct ask to sell something. And so I think part of it is a misunderstanding of the role of the relationship that you want to have with your customers post-sale.

The statistics are quite clear that an existing customer that’s doing business with you regularly is worth seven to eight times the prospect that you just find, right? So people spend all this money finding new prospects on Google when keeping that existing customer engaged, happy, is probably much, much more valuable in terms of long-term growth of your business.

Mary: That’s true. And as you said, owning your own e-mail list is absolutely huge, and that’s why I encourage people who use social media to promote local businesses to try to use that social media to drive people to e-mail sign-ups, so that you then own the relationship that you have with those people, rather than having to continue it on social media.

Mike: Yeah, I think it’s very synergistic both ways, back and forth with the social media. So with that, I think we’ll call it a wrap, and thank you for joining our Deep Dive, the week of April 11th. We’ll see you next week.

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