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Winning email marketing tactics for SMBs in China

The biggest business challenges for China’s small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are to explore new potential customers and retain existing customers. According to a China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) report on the usage of online marketing among China SMBs for 2010, obviously data from 2009, most SMBs in the country have turned to a wide variety of online marketing channels. Over 42 percent of SMBs have used online marketing channels to launch promotions, boost sales, and plan to use more emerging marketing solutions such as search engine, websites, and email marketing.

However, due to lack of experience, SMBs are struggling and will probably rush to develop a series of new marketing channels with little effectiveness on their efforts. A number of Chinese small businesses try to tackle too many online marketing channels at once without a comprehensive assessment of their time and resources.

Frankly, not all online marketing channels fit the specific needs and nature of medium-sized business or bring satisfactory results. It is a long learning process for SMB marketers to understand how to fully utilise different channels for different target audiences and measure effectiveness of specific online marketing tactics.

Another study from iResearch China revealed in the first quarter of 2009, there was a surge in number of SMB owners that used instant messaging software to communicate with each other. In March 2009, the users reached over 200 million, including 70.9 million (1/4 of total web users in China) using Taobao Ali Wang Wang communication tool. SMB marketers have invested a great sum of money to maintain these third-party platforms of Taobao mall and Ali Wang Wang. Although China’s largest B2C online retail platform Taobao doesn’t charge individual users transaction fees, advertisement fees are charged accordingly for the 3.6 million Taobao stores.

To build a fully-owned media platform that could better control your customer database, enhance cost efficiency and build longer-term relationships with existing potential customers and the ability to communicate directly with prospects and customers who are willing to engage with the brand through long-term relationships is invaluable.

SMBs tend to perceive email marketing as a user-friendly and cost-effective tool ahead of other channels. The usage of email is more popular among SMBs than social media, mobile marketing, direct mail, and print advertising, according to a Pitney Bowes survey in the United States published by eMarketer.

According to another survey, “Marketing to SMBs in 2011″, from Bredin Business Information, website, email, and search marketing were rated the most effective channels to find new customers by SMBs.

Apart from customer acquisition, many SMBs and customers prefer email as their primary and most direct contact method with each other regarding news update, promotions, sales, and new product launches. To save resources, SMBs could strategically use automated email marketing solutions, known as lifecycle email marketing. Depending on the needs and nature of business, marketers could plan a series of corresponding email campaigns that deploy messages upon recurring and real-time triggered actions.

As SMB marketers, you have to dig out the core value in customer database and design personalised marketing campaigns. More importantly, you should identify the behaviour and preference of active, loyal, normal, and inactive customers.

The majority of SMBs leverage email marketing for welcome programs to engage customers at the right time and provide them welcome greetings. More commonly, marketers use it to maintain customer communication and increase engagement in post-purchase campaigns, seasonal greetings, sales promotions, and birthday campaigns.

You can continue post-sales revenue generation and increase customer satisfaction and retention with cross-sell and upsell programs, event countdown program, forward-to-friends campaigns, and in-stock notifications toward active customers.

However, marketers seldom think of any constructive solutions to win back inactive customers. In fact, they can strategically come up with different win-back campaigns by offering price-drop alerts, targeted event countdown program, and membership renewal reminders.

1. General campaigns
• Post-purchase program including product reviews, customer service survey with incentive
• Seasonal greetings and sales promotions
• Birthday campaigns
• Targeted website action program for those customer browsing specific items, visits which pages

2. Campaigns toward active and loyal customers
• Cross-sell and upsell programs
• Event countdown programs
• Forward to friends
• In-stock notifications

3. Campaigns toward inactive customers
• Price-drop alerts
• Event countdown programs
• Membership renewal reminders
• Win-back campaigns

Last but not the least, you must have a database sliced and diced to come up with the right clusters of customers to gain satisfactory performance and achieve more cross-sell and up-sell from targeted and personalised email campaigns. Maintaining a healthy balance of automated customer communication and ensuring a smooth dialogue between SMBs and customers should be key.