Digital MarketingEmail MarketingEmail Marketing for Local Business

Email Marketing for Local Business

Tactics to drive a digital future at the check-out counter.

I write this remotely from a place that is foreign from the hurried pace of home, the steel of skyscrapers, and fluorescent lights of the obligatory cubicle from where most of us, as marketers, press “Send.”

My context? Location is underscored by a place where the local guitar shop, record, and bookstores still do exist. Here big box retailers are secondary or non-existent; they require more than an hour’s drive to find. Where I’m now, there are more hikers, bikers, and birders than cellphones, Blu-rays, and digital devices. But alas, I still need to purchase food, a book, camera accessories, apparel, or at the minimum, get the day’s news and find a dining spot to refuel. Here, my Spring Break Marketing challenge asks to discover, at this local level, does email marketing exist as an audience-building tool for the merchants that I chose to embrace? Are merchants hungry enough to join me in the Spring Break Marketing Games and then, who – if any – will survive the permission cut?

I visited several merchants, purchasing something at each but always with an eye toward inspecting their extra effort to capture my details to build their audience. Beyond the transaction, do they seek to acquire me as an engaged customer or perhaps a loyal customer? Do they attempt to persuade me to join their marketing list, loyalty program, mention their website, or suggest that I should “like” their Facebook page? Do they make me feel like a regular? (Note: For some age groups, this is also known simply as – knowing my name, as in everyone yelling, “Norm!”) Do they use me like a “friend” to further engage me and/or acquire others in their social sphere? With no judgment, these are all fine marketing tactics for the local merchant. However, it is key to capture customer/prospect/subscriber data to drive the digital future with milestone chapter goals that might be titled, “acquisition,” “engagement,” “retention,” and “loyalty.” With that, which tools are these local merchants using to meet these goals? With this in mind, now, let the Spring Break Marketing Games begin!

When asked, I tell the merchant that we are here for two weeks and are often here, (at least once a quarter) with thoughts of moving to this area full-time. (These are true statements.) While this “test” is not enough of a sample to recognize this endeavor as “market research,” my aim was to sample enough local merchants to see if they are focused on building a digital future for their business. As many of us know, email is the perfect cost-effective tool to advance the digital future goals for any merchant – local shop, big box retailer, or international brand. What follows are four local merchant stories from a larger sample that I continue to collect with every interaction.

Merchant 1: The local camera store with two locations. I asked for a product that they didn’t have in stock, but they called their other store to hold the merchandise for me. While that customer service was excellent, they have no idea who I am, as in no ability to identify me in a database or by face. As some of my readers might know from my personal Facebook page, photography is a serious hobby of mine. I like to take photos, particularly here. Although I was delighted by the service, this merchant missed out on an opportunity to win a loyal customer because they made no attempt to capture my personal details, despite us stating how often we are here.

Merchant 2: The grocery store. This merchant simply wowed me with its pleasant customer service as well as its ability to address, WIIFM (What’s in it for me?). The merchant sold the value of its loyalty program and presented me with a pen, paper, and card that I could scan on future visits. The value? I will get special savings in the form of email coupons. They get it and I am now richer for the savings they have plastered me with. Well played, grocer! Well played!

Merchant 3: A book and music store. For some of my younger readers, books are these bound pages made from paper requiring you to actually turn and touch them with your hands. For the music store, Google “record store” and you’ll see what still festers and lives here. It is so wonderful to see a local book and record/music store thrive. I asked them “How do you do it?” Well, they said, “We have a site URL printed on this bookmark, but that site is just a placeholder. We are on Facebook.” (I checked them there and the page needs much improvement.) So how do they retain people? On Monday, I asked for a book that wasn’t in stock. They said it would be available Thursday and they’d call me. Call me they did, but Thursday? Clearly they are not familiar with Amazon Prime. Making individual phone calls seems to be this merchant’s loyalty and acquisition operational mechanism. And while lovely, as a business mechanism, one-to-one phone calls do not scale well. Unfortunately, as much as I “like” these people, I’d have to say that they have not mechanized a digital strategy to fan the flames of acquisition to drive engagement and ultimately loyalty. I would imagine a well-designed email newsletter would be a nice remedy to address their captive audience that enjoys reading. They can and need to do better.

Merchant 4: An upscale wine shop. This is a fantastic place where they asked me about my tastes in wine when I walked in. Also, they were not afraid to immediately ask for my price range, an excellent sales tactic that we know as “asking for the sale.” I found a lovely Cab from Chile and they have a special price for me on this product. Based on the experience, I enthusiastically gave them my information. This on-the-spot personalization was as good as any follow on email as they immediately applied a $5 coupon. I can only hope that such a program with my preferences continues to drive me back to their store again. And it did. On the next visit I met a different sales person who was equally as nice. But while taking my order at the register without prompting or presenting a coupon, they found my information via my name and last four digits of the credit card and simply said, “Well, welcome back. Thank you for joining us again. Have you heard about our wine tasting dinners that we do at Moby’s?” This merchant clearly gets the notion of using tools, data, personalization, and email to drive a relationship further. Winner! Their website further embellishes the value they offer with deep dives of content about the different vineyards producing the wines they offer. I can also update my email preferences on their website. Clearly, this merchant is passionate about their products and business and uses data in such a way at the counter to drive sales and perfect the customer experience.

As a consumer, how about you? Personally, I go back to places where I feel welcome and am offered savings and feel known. Particularly, I demand to be known and expect something similar to a better experience when I share personal data with a merchant. Online or offline, I believe we all as consumers have that same litmus test.

As a marketer, are you using your tools? If you have an offline component to your business, are you ensuring that the front line is capturing customer details in order to advance your corporate profit and marketing goals?

Take the test yourself. Do your competitors do this? Is the application of your corporate growth goals consistent across every customer and prospect touch point? If you are a small business merchant, are you doing all you can to delight, acquire, retain, engage, and drive loyalty? If you are a big box retailer, how can you possibly ensure that your experience meets the quality and intimacy of what the small guy can offer?

At a minimum, ask for the individual’s name, then…email, address, and/or phone number. Or, pass the client a card to write it out themselves. When someone grasps that pen and begins to write, that represents a sure sign of engagement and perhaps some future brand/customer loyalty. As a marketer, if you continue to share value statements and provide consumers with reasons to come back again and again – they will. Be relevant!

Until next time,


Local image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on April 9, 2012.

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