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Believe it or not, email is now over fifty years old. The fact that most people still use it as a primary form of communication after five decades of competing communication channels coming along is a testament to its incredible power to reach customers. 

And before I dive into why, in 2023, email remains the most essential communication channel for small and medium-sized businesses, let’s take a quick stroll down email memory lane.

Through the years, we’ve seen email services and clients wrap the basic three email protocols (SMTP, POP, and IMAP) in various ways to allow users to send and receive emails. 

And while each service and application, like Eudora (1988), Pegasus (1989), AOL mail (1993), Hotmail (1996), Outlook (1997), Yahoo Mail (1997), and Gmail (2004), brought its own user-friendly and business-friendly features, the way we send and receive email has, in some basic form, mainly remained the same for over five decades.  

Some quick stats about the state of email:

  • 61% of email users check and send emails every day.
  • 85% of Gen Z say that they prefer to use email over other modes of communication.
  • An Adobe survey – concluded that 50 percent of users prefer receiving emails from businesses they follow over any other form of communication, including social media. 

Here is why I believe email is the king of customer communication methods and why I think most small and medium-sized businesses are still underinvesting in it. 

Rented Land

Any communication method that relies on a third party is, in effect, entirely dependent on that third party. Has your business worked hard to grow its Instagram following? Guess what. That could vanish overnight when some overzealous moderator at Meta decides that your account has posted something offensive or is against increasingly byzantine and specifically vague terms and conditions. 

When you have a potential lead’s or customer’s email address that they have given to you willingly, you own that method of communicating with them, and no one, except for the customer, can take that away from you.

So, as a small business, you want to avoid the trap of focusing too heavily on the rented land that is social media and other newer channels such as Discord or Slack. A capricious Billionaire can make those channels and your hard-won following on them disappear or, more likely, crush your reach and force you to pay for visibility to followers who specifically have asked to see your content. No one can do that to your email list. 

Highly Effective for B2C and B2B Companies

Many digital communication channels lend themselves more naturally to either B2C or B2B companies. The one exception is email. Email allows companies of all stripes to use it as a cornerstone of customer communications. 

Build an Audience You Can Market to at a Fraction of the Cost of Other Channels

Regardless of what you sell, if a customer or lead has permitted you to email them through an opt-in process, that email is now worth its weight in gold. Study after study, for decades, has shown that email has the highest ROI of any other digital marketing channel. Yes, it outperforms SEO, yes, it outperforms Paid Ads, and yes, it beats Affiliate marketing. 

The trick is to build a meaningfully sized email audience that wants to hear from your business. No matter if you’re selling industrial fasteners in some obscure industry where only 2,000 people on the whole planet want to know about your highly-specialized product or whether you’re selling something much more widely desired, such as a hiking backpack, email is going to outperform your other channels in almost every situation. 

When was the best time to start collecting customer and lead emails? Probably a bunch of years ago. When is the second best time to start collecting them? Today. For this reason, when I onboard nearly every new client at my digital marketing agency, one of the first questions I ask is: “Do you have an email list you market to”?

An Important Tool for Understanding Your Customers

Email is an intimate communication channel because it is a direct feed into the Inbox of your customers and clients. And believe me when I tell you that people are very protective of their Inboxes. So, when you’ve been permitted to invade this sacred space, you can use it to get to know more about your customers. 

You can learn a lot about their preferences, purchasing patterns, and a litany of other psychographic factors through questionnaires, surveys, or simple emails that ask your customers to perform one action. This will allow you to create specific buyer personas and go a long way to allowing you to segment your email list for maximum marketing effect. 

Tailor Content to Specific Audiences

Once you’ve been able to get a better understanding of your customer’s preferences, you can begin to use sophisticated segmentation methods 

that allows you to create specific content for various segments. 

The benefits of doing this are:

  • Improved conversion rates from email offers
  • Improved open rates and click-through rates on email offers
  • Improved ROI on marketing efforts
  • Improved order repeat rates
  • Improved lifetime 
  • Improved average order value (AOV)
  • Improved customer lifetime value (CLV)
  • Minimize unsubscribe rates

Email segmentation can become the lifeblood of how you market to your customers if you have appropriately focused on growing your list and how you can use that list to its utmost effect. 

Communicate Brand Values

I think the days of small and medium businesses playing it safe with their marketing are over. Savvy brands and competitors are becoming fearless in communicating their brand values because they understand one simple fact. Customers want to give their money to companies and brands that share their values. 

In a 2021 survey, 35 percent of consumers said they are more likely to trust companies that take a stance on various social, political and environmental issues. 

Email is the perfect channel to communicate these values because it’s a personal medium and allows for more nuance and explanation of your company values than a social post may meaningfully be able to convey. 

Build Authority

Regardless of your email list size, one of the great things about reaching customers in their Inboxes is that they are already in a “reading state of mind”; that is, they have been primed to read your communication. 

As a result, you can make a case for your brand or individuals working on behalf of your brand to establish a reputation for being knowledgeable and trustworthy on topics surrounding your products or services. Because of the longer-form nature of email, this digital space allows you to demonstrate your expertise and build a relationship of trust with your customers. 

Use Email To Reward Loyal Customers

Through segmentation and other means, you can use email to directly reach your most loyal and spend-happy customers and reward them for their shopping habits. This applies less to B2B businesses but still allows for a channel in which you can provide exclusive rewards, perks, and discounts to customers who have proven to be the most financially lucrative. 

You can lure more customers to your email list by providing hints of such exclusive offers available only to customers who are a part of your email list. 

Easy A/B Testing

If your email list is large enough, you can begin testing offers, ad copy, imagery, and almost any other potentially influential component of your marketing message. Not only can you use the results of your A/B test to tweak and refine future email communications, but you can use the same results to inform your marketing efforts in other channels like SEO, paid ads, etc. 

Use Transactional Emails for Cross-Sells & Upsells

Email isn’t just for blasting out promotional offers. You can use various transactional email communications to offer cross-sells and upsells of your products or services. This can be highly effective as some studies have shown that transactional emails have 8x more opens and clicks than any other email type and can generate 6x more revenue than competing email types.

Automated Nurturing Journeys

Depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, some customers need up to dozens of interactions with your company and its content and marketing messages to even consider making a purchase. This can be a daunting fact that winds up driving your customer acquisition cost into negative ROI territory. 

But part of the beauty of email is that once you’ve captured a lead, you can carefully craft strategically thoughtful follow-up communications designed to move your potential customers down the sales funnel. As a bonus, you can experiment with various email sequences until you find the ones with the most effective conversion rates and can apply them to future leads. This method can be highly cost-effective for turning hesitant buyers into active purchasers. 

A Cost-Effective Way to Driving Traffic to Your Website or Social Channels

Another often overlooked benefit of building and maintaining a highly engaged email list, filled with customers and potential customers wanting to hear from you, is that you can cost-effectively drive website traffic to anything you want. 

If your marketing team is spending a lot of effort creating content or trying to grow your following in other marketing channels, email can be deployed to help get more eyeballs in specific areas of your marketing. In other words, it’s an easy and cheap way to get potential or existing customers to pay attention to what you want them to pay attention to. 

As a result, you can create a virtuous cycle, or flywheel as some marketers call it, where the simple fact that you have someone’s email address and their permission to send emails to them creates a positive ROI loop amongst your marketing efforts. 

Easy-to-Measure Effectiveness

Finally, one of the best things about email for businesses of nearly any size is that it is easy to track its effectiveness in getting your customers or potential customers to do what you want them to do. 

Today’s transactional and promotional email service providers (ESPs) nearly universally offer a suite of tools to allow you to view and analyze the effectiveness of your email marketing and its various permutations. Things like click-maps, open rates, click rates, and conversation rates are easy to track and will help your marketing teams make crucial decisions about what to do next. 

Does this all sound like it’s a lot to absorb about how small and medium-sized businesses can use email to enhance their digital marketing efforts? Give us a call or get in touch with one of our email marketing experts to see how we can unlock the power of email for your organization. 

Sebastian Arciszewski

Author Sebastian Arciszewski

Sebastian Arciszewski has been working in various digital marketing roles for over 25 years including specializations in digital strategy, SEO, content marketing, brand development, e-commerce strategy, and paid ads management. Today he is the Chief Marketing Officer of LRO Solutions with a focus on bringing leading digital marketing services to clients all over Canada.

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