If getting some marketing initiatives off the ground is one of the many to-do’s on your list, consider email marketing. Why? Despite the buzz around online advertising and social media, the return on investment for email marketing has been proven again and again by marketers in a number of industries, including restaurant and small retail. In fact, email experienced a huge resurgence alongside the widespread adoption of smartphones. The first thing that sixty-two percent of us do in the morning is check our phone for missed calls, text and voice messages, and yes, you guessed it, emails. So if you want to try email marketing, where do you start? In this post, we’ll cover two of the basics: choosing an email marketing solution and building your list. In a follow-up post, we’ll cover the essentials of planning and developing your email communications.

Choose a solution
You’ll find a wide range of email tools available to help you get started with email marketing. Free tools are out there, and popular. Free is a good price - until you bump up against their limitations. For example, some free tools only let you have a certain number of subscribers in your list before you have to upgrade to a paid version.

Does the email tool you’re considering do these things?

  • Segment your contacts. Want to reach out to a specific neighborhood? Need to target only customers celebrating their birthday this month (provided you’ve asked them for their birthday month)? You’ll need a tool that lets you narrow your list.
  • Provide attractive, easy-to-use templates that look great on any device.
  • Give you an easy way to run test campaigns (‘A/B’ testing) and adjust for better impact.
  • Measure opens and click-throughs. Even better if the tool scores a recipient’s responses and aggregates this information, making it clear what actions you should take.
  • Easily import contacts, whether from another tool, a spreadsheet, or some other source. You shouldn’t have to re-enter existing contacts manually.
  • Coupons and special offers. Email tools created specifically for restaurant and small retail businesses will often offer features that make your job easier. One example is a coupon/discount tool that inserts a coupon or special offer into your email, and lets you track its redemption. This way, you can measure usage (even track usage per recipient) and effectiveness.
Build your list
If you’ve already collected some email addresses, you’re one step ahead. If they are in a spreadsheet or another system, you can start by importing them if your email marketing tool provides an import feature (see above).

When it comes to finding ways to collect new email addresses from your guests, get creative, ask your staff for ideas, and have fun. Some restaurants run contests, with prizes such as entry into a drawing to win a free lunch. Make it easy for patrons to enter via the guest check or your guest comment card. And be sure to have staff promote your email sign-up campaign. For that matter, consider running a contest among staff to see who can get the most email sign-ups. If people will give you their birthday month, you can send them birthday wishes, with an offer for a slice of birthday cake on the house. And let’s not overlook the obvious: Provide a way for patrons to sign up via your web site to receive emails. Some email marketing tools include an easy way to create a form and place it on your web site, so the email addresses you collect there get imported to your list.
Before you start collecting email addresses, have your ‘thank-you for signing up to receive emails’ email prepared and queued up so it’s ready to go out the moment you start receiving sign-ups.

Start with the end in mind
What do you want to accomplish with your emails? Your goals may change over time, and you may have more than one. But choose one to start with, and work up – and out – from there. Is your initial goal to drive foot traffic into your restaurant? To foster loyalty and repeat business? To encourage foot traffic during traditionally slow times of the day or year?  How about information designed to share and by doing so share your brand?

Each of these goals will require a different email campaign type. Increasing foot traffic may center on specials and coupons. Encouraging loyalty may involve campaigns related to your brand, such as announcing seasonal changes to your menu or introducing a new chef on your team.

With some thought and planning, you can have your email marketing up and running – and cross one more thing off your to-do list.

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