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Email marketing

Build relationships with your customers - but don't spam

The Secret of Repeat Business

Want to know about customer acquisition first? Go here.

Email is a fantastic tool for retaining customers and encouraging repeat visits to your website. It is faster, cheaper and more interactive than its traditional counterpart - direct (printed) mail - and allows companies to reinforce and nurture their relationships with existing customers.

Using email campaigns and newsletters can be a great way to reach and communicate consistently with customers. Certainly, for Mike Jarman of food specialist Elizabeth Botham, email marketing is a crucial part of his commercial box of tricks.

"We ask every customer if they are happy to be put on our mailing list," he says. "But, it's important not to bombard them with emails; we send out just three or four a year, in the run up to Valentines Day, Easter, and so on." The personalised emails offer suggestions of appropriate foods for special occasions, and help to keep the company in customers' minds.

Expert Advice:

"Do not be overly ambitious," says usability guru, Jakob Nielsen of Useit.com. "It's better to have a short and simple newsletter that comes out on a regular basis than something that starts out fancy but then degrades because you don't have the time to keep up the publishing schedule. In fact, users' biggest complaint about eNewsletters is that they are published too frequently, so take it easy and make each issue a good one."

Email: What To Send

The possibilities for email marketing are legion. You can:

Run competitions

Flag-up special offers

Target messages to select groups of your customers

Announce new product developments

Send out an online magazine

It's also possible to send email messages in HTML format (the language used to make web pages). Advantages of doing this include the ability to add graphics and photos to mailings. However, some customers' email software may not be set up to view HTML, and even if it is, it may take a frustratingly long time to download on slower connections. So always let your customers choose between text and HTML.

According to Jarman, however you do your email marketing, a personal approach is key to success: "We get a phenomenal amount of repeat business; we treat all of our online customers just the same as if they walked into one of our shops. Adding a personal touch to online communications is not a waste of time; it delights the customer."

TIP: Harness the power of email to build customer relationships online. Create mailing lists of existing customers (ask them if they are happy to receive emails first and make it easy for them to sign up to your list), and send them personalised incentives to come back to your online store at regular intervals.

What next?

We've produced a number of printed How to... guides, showing you how to market more effectively and connect with your customers. You can download or order them free of charge from our download centre.

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