Bredin Report: 6 Ways to Improve Your Email Marketing to SMBs

In a recent Bredin Fastcast, our CEO Stu Richards chatted with Jay Schwedelson about ways to use email to attract and engage small and midsized businesses (SMBs). Schwedelson is president and CEO of Outcome Media and founder of

Schwedelson shared his insights on the best practices for writing subject lines, email testing, calls to action and more.

STU RICHARDS: Our research shows that utilization of email by SMBs is really high at the awareness and research stages of the buying cycle. Is that what you see?

JAY SCHWEDELSON: Yes. Email works since SMBs are busy and email provides an easy way for them to find important information. Also, email is the only channel where you own the interaction. I love social media, and I post a lot of content. But social media is really rented space. If I post something on LinkedIn, only a fraction of my followers see it, because I’m at the mercy of the algorithms. With email, you can decide what and when you’re going to send something to your entire database, and that’s what makes email so powerful.

RICHARDS: Having a good email list is essential. What is a good way to build your list?

SCHWEDELSON: Marketers should always be collecting data. You should have pop-ups on your website offering something of value, such as a checklist. This can be created easily using content you already have and can be super intriguing to visitors. Sure, some people think pop-ups are annoying, but it won’t make them leave your site. They’ll hit the “X,” close the pop-up, and go on to your site. But, some will fill out the form, and you can capture that data and get their permission to engage with them. It’s so critical.

RICHARDS: How much information should you ask for on a registration form?

SCHWEDELSON: As little as possible, because for every additional field you ask them to fill out, you will lose about 8% of potential registrants. In the SMB world, title isn’t as important. Focus on email address, company name and geography — you can get the rest later.

RICHARDS: What are some best practices for subject lines?

SCHWEDELSON: So often, marketers come up with great creative, get it approved by legal — and then the subject line is an afterthought. That’s so backwards, because if someone doesn’t open your email, who cares? There are small things you can do that will radically increase your open rate. Everything important should be at the start of your subject line. A number at the start and capitalizing the first word of your subject line will increase your open rate.

Brackets will also grab people’s attention — for example, if you’re promoting a webinar, bracket something like [Save Your Seat]. The other thing you can do is tell the person who they are – for example, “Just for small business owners.” That will get them to open the message, because they know it is for someone like them. The same goes for using their company’s name.

RICHARDS: Are you a believer in A/B testing?

SCHWEDELSON: Absolutely. If you are not testing something every time you mail, you’re missing an opportunity. Of course, if you have under 5,000 names in your database and you try to A/B test, it’s hard, because that’s about the threshold that will be somewhat statistically relevant. You might get a 2% to 4% clickthrough rate — and if you only have two groups of 2,500, you might have outliers that take you down the wrong path. If your list is under 5,000 names, I wouldn’t do traditional A/B testing, but I would test different elements each time I mail.

For example, test subject lines. While the popular wisdom is that shorter is better, we find that super long ones can do very well – they make you stand out. Conversely, ones with less than 20 characters also do well, because they too stand out. Your preheader — the grey line under the subject line — is also important real estate.

RICHARDS: What’s a good length for body copy?

SCHWEDELSON: Think about your audience. Your ability to be verbose with prospects is limited, but you can be more verbose with your customers, who already care about what you have to say. In a paragraph to prospects, if you have more than 75 words, performance goes off a cliff. Break out shorter text with bullets and fewer words. Copy needs to be digestible. When you feel your copy is tight enough, go back the next day and trim it down even more.

RICHARDS: Are there any other elements of email creative marketers should consider?

SCHWEDELSON: Think about every link in your message and whether it helps encourage readers to take the action you want. According to the Worldata Content Research Summary Q4 2022, about 17% of all clicks in your email are your logo — and most logos link to a homepage, rather than to the offer landing page. You may have social sharing links — they get about 6-7% of your clicks — but who cares, because you want people to go to your offer. And, CTA buttons are hugely valuable. Use them to underline the benefit of what you are offering. Don’t say “register” or “download” — say “save my seat” or “get my free guide.” Also, don’t give people anything else to do or click on the landing page other than the action you want. All of this will help performance.

Need data to shape email messaging and offers to your SMB target? Bredin can keep you up to date on evolving SMB needs and challenges through quick-turn, actionable market research. We can also help you develop high-value content and social posts to boost SMB awareness, brand perception, leads, conversion and revenue.

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About Bredin

Bredin was founded in 1991 by America's foremost small business expert, author and syndicated columnist Alice Bredin. From its beginning, Bredin was designed to be a breed apart: 50% research consultancy, 50% creative agency, 100% focused on SMB. Based in Somerville, Mass., Bredin helps Fortune 500 companies understand, reach and retain SMB customers through timely, targeted research and award-winning marketing programs.