Terry Wise – Email Marketing: The Unsung Hero of E-commerce

If you’ve ever shopped with me, you know my email address. If you don’t know my email address, let me reacquaint you: terrywise@gmail.com I’ve been getting email for as long as I’ve been designing websites and buying online stores, and I’ve saved all of them. What I don’t save are the emails I get from marketers trying to sell me stuff I don’t need (and, in some cases, stuff I do need but don’t want). To save you and me from this never-ending deluge of emails, I’m going to tell you about a little-known email marketing hero who changed the way we all look at email marketing and influenced the way I work — and, I think, you should care about as well.

Terry Wise’s Ingenious Plan To Keep Email Honest

Nowadays, when someone emails me to ask for my email address, the first thing I do is chuckle. After all, everyone has my email address these days, right? Well, sort of. If you go to http://www.zoomerang.com, you’ll see that I’ve kept my email address private, for the most part. That’s because I appreciate the value of email, and I want to keep it sacrosanct from marketers trying to peddle me stuff I don’t want. (No, I’m not going to give you my email address. Ever.)

If you visit http://www.terrywise.com, you’ll see my email marketing story in the form of a beautifully crafted letter, which is what prompted me to share my story with you.

How I Got Started In Email Marketing (And How You Can Too)

It all began with a simple online store I designed and built in 1994. I wasn’t really doing anything complicated with it; all I wanted was for people to be able to discover my store through a search engine, and for them to visit and purchase what they discovered. This was before every merchant/store owner had a web page, and when everyone did, it was sort of like Pandora before they were all owned by Google. (If you’ve never heard of Pandora, it’s basically an online music store that doesn’t hold any of the same preconceived notions other big music companies do. For example, they don’t have a ban on certain kinds of music or songs, so you can listen to exactly what you want when you want, and it doesn’t cost anything to try out new music. If you like what you hear, you can buy it. Simple enough.)

To get this store off the ground, I needed to find a way to attract customers. Since I wasn’t exactly sure what they wanted, I decided to experiment with an online survey to see what kinds of products people were looking for. I tried to keep the survey short and sweet, and I only asked about what I could provide, since I didn’t know what kinds of products people wanted until they responded to the survey. At the end of the day, I found that people wanted things that they couldn’t get in their area, so I began to search for ways to get those products to them. (If you’re curious, you can take the survey yourself at http://www.surveymonkey.com.)

After running the survey, I emailed the results to myself, and then did some research on what I’d discovered. From there, it was easy enough for me to find an unsaturated market — products that needed to be filled in somehow, somewhere — and I began to build my database of customers (which, at the time, was still just me).

The next step was to begin marketing and selling those products. Back then, there were no gurus or experts standing in the shadows ready to give you all the answers — every bit of knowledge you needed to know you could find on your own, if you had the patience to look for it. So, I did what any ambitious entrepreneur would do: I read every single blog post, white paper, and how-to article I could find on email marketing, online marketing, and sales, and then I implemented what I learned.

The Results: A 70% Increase In Open & Click-Through Rates

In my case, I decided to try an experiment and pitch my list of customers about a series of online workshops and training sessions I’d put on for e-commerce entrepreneurs. (In case you’re wondering, pitching is when you go above and beyond to get a customer to purchase a product or service. It can be as simple as offering to reschedule the order you’re on, or it can be as complex as creating an entire sales funnel from A to B to C to close.)

I pitched the workshops to my customers, and what I learned was that some of them didn’t even know what email marketing was, while others were hesitant to use it — despite the fact that the majority of my customers were using it to send me email. The reason they were hesitant? They didn’t know what would happen if they gave out their email address to strangers. (Side note: I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t want to help someone else, and in almost all cases, it’s because they don’t know how good someone else might be able to help them. It’s all about finding the right person at the right time with the right words.) So, I reassured them that my goal was to help them find the right words, and, in some cases, to find the right person. (Finding the right person with the right words is known as “Getting to Know You Better.”)

In my experiment, I analyzed my results and saw an increase of about 70% in open rates — which means people were more willing to engage with my email, and more inclined to click on my link. This was a significant jump, but not totally unexpected, considering what I’d learned and implemented.

The Biggest Difference Between Traditional And Digital Marketing

If you look at most people’s daily habits, you’ll see that they’re not a very digital-native species. We’re using the internet way more than we were just a few years ago, but we still use physical newspapers and magazines to learn about what’s going on in the world. (If you don’t have a newspaper or magazine subscription, you can still get the latest news by going to http://www.newserve.com or https://www.google.com/newspapers.)

The biggest difference between digital marketing and traditional marketing is that with digital marketing, you are interacting with customers on a personal level — which can be both good and bad. The benefit of a personal interaction is that you get to know what your customers want and need. The downside is that they can be very demanding, and you might not always be able to satisfy them. (Also, being able to analyze customer behavior is a great way to discover what they want and need — without being personal about it. So, while you’re gaining knowledge, you’re also keeping your customers satisfied without having to worry about whether or not you’re able to help them.)

You see, when you’re marketing a business, you don’t always have the time or inclination to get to know your customers on a personal level. You have to keep your ear to the ground and your eyes open for any opportunities that might lead to a sale. That’s the real essence of marketing: finding the right people (often times, those people are already in your database), presenting them with an offer they can’t refuse, and then following up with another offer a few days later— or, at the very least, a friendly reminder about the existence of your business.

Marketing To The Masses: The Rise Of Personal Branding

Even though my customers didn’t know much about email marketing, they were quite familiar with social media and the concept of personal branding.

Being able to establish a personal brand means you have the opportunity to define yourself and your expertise, all while representing a business or organization you’re affiliated with. (You can read all about personal branding on http://www.entrepreneur.com/articles/15787.)

This is huge. If you think about it, we’ve been conditioned to think about marketing in terms of pitching to the masses. What I’m suggesting, however, is that if you’re able to establish yourself as an expert in your field, you can begin to market to a smaller audience — people who might be interested in what you have to say, based on your unique expertise.

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