Engaging SMBs with Email Newsletters

In this era of social and mobile media, it’s tempting to think that email newsletters have gone the way of AOL dial-up. They haven’t. In fact, email newsletters are one of SMBs’ most preferred ways to keep in touch with vendors like you – much more than social media. And email newsletters can play a surprisingly important role in building SMBs’ awareness of your offerings.

 

To help marketers better understand SMB perceptions of email newsletters – and as a result, improve engagement, cross-sell and revenue – we recently surveyed 312 U.S. SMB principals. The findings are instructive; there are some great learnings on how to get the most from your SMB email newsletter program (or why to start one).

 

Business concerns: Cash is King

SMBs rank “Finding new customers” their biggest business challenge, with 36% of respondents ranking it first or second. “Boosting profitability” (21%) is second, followed by “Managing costs” (17%), and “Having enough money to pay our bills” and “Staying in business” (tied at 16%). Revenue, profits and cash flow clearly remain pressing challenges, despite an overall positive growth outlook for 2016.

Topics: Tech rules

Despite the challenges of customer acquisition and cash flow, SMBs are most interested in learning about technology when they conduct research online. 37% go online often or very often to learn about technology, and 36% go online to research news about their industry. Sales and marketing (29%) is third; financial planning and management is fifth (at 25%, after operations, 26%). However, the topics that SMBs want from their vendors vary by category. For example, in an email newsletter from their bank, SMBs most want financial planning information. They look to you for expertise first and foremost in your brand domain, whether it is tech, finance, marketing, etc.

Email newsletters rate high

SMBs consistently rate email newsletters highly as a way to engage with their vendors. 25% rate email newsletters highly or very highly as a way to get business management tips and advice, ranking newsletters fifth out of the 19 different content formats we surveyed. Other Bredin research has found that SMBs rate email newsletters third out of 33 different information sources to learn about new products and services for their business. Although email newsletters may have less novelty than, say, setting lures in Pokémon Go, they are a proven, highly effective way to engage with SMBs.

SMBs most want an email newsletter from…

Their CPA and office supply companies, tied at 28% – followed by software companies (26%) and Internet access providers / website hosts and tech hardware companies (tied at 24%).

 

Interestingly, SMB subscription rates by industry correlate pretty closely with actual subscription rates. For example, 28% of respondents want an email newsletter from their CPA, and 29% actually get one. The biggest differences are among credit card companies, where 23% of respondents want an email newsletter but 34% actually get one (indicating a good job of market penetration on the part of credit card companies). Conversely, 20% of SMBs want an email newsletter from an office supply company, but only 17% get one, indicating an opportunity for that industry to grow circulation.

SMBs want both product information and advice

The plurality (33%) of SMBs prefer an equal mix of business management advice and product information in an email newsletter. They want to know how your offerings can help them achieve their business goals, so don’t be afraid to promote them. Just 11% want email newsletters with business management advice only.

How SMBs read email newsletters

In this age of mobile devices, the big screen still dominates. Fully 76% of SMBs receive and read email newsletters on a desktop or laptop computer. 8% receive them on a smartphone and read them on a desktop / laptop; 5% receive and read them on a smartphone.

 

That said, email newsletter reading habits vary widely. 34% of SMBs skim all email newsletters when they come in and read interesting ones in full later; 23% only skim them; and 18% read some in full when they come in and the rest in full later. 79% of SMBs are email-holics, checking email constantly and skimming or reading everything as it comes in. Sound familiar?

How SMBs promote themselves

SMBs rate word of mouth marketing / customer referrals at their own most cost-effective marketing tactic; 53% rate it effective or very effective. They also find events (32%), their website (30%), email offers (22%), Facebook (19%) and their own email newsletter (16%) to be the most cost-effective marketing tactics.

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About Stu Richards

Stu is responsible for setting Bredin strategy, as well as day-to-day management of company operations including marketing and business development, partnerships and alliances, product development, finance, operations and HR. A frequent speaker on marketing to SMBs, Stu has more than a decade of technology sales and brand marketing experience at IBM and Nabisco Brands. Stu holds an MBA from the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth College.