Justin Premick, Director of Education Marketing at AWeber

We had the opportunity to talk to Justin Premick, Director of Education Marketing at AWeber, who was happy to share his insight on email marketing for small businesses with you, our readers. Enjoy!

1.  Would you tell us a few words about yourself? How long have you been involved in the email marketing field?

I’ve been with AWeber since 2004. I started in customer support and learned about email marketing through direct contact with our customers as well as by reading and studying it at every opportunity.

In 2006 we had a need to expand our marketing efforts, and I took a lead role in starting our blog, webinars, videos and several other mediums we use to talk to customers.

As our team and customer base grow - we currently have over 100,000 customers, or about 25 times as many as we did back in 2004 - I continue to look for new ways for us to reach small businesses in need of email marketing software.

2.  Please present AWeber to our readers and explain how this service can help them better communicate via email with their customers and prospects.

AWeber provides web-based email marketing software that makes it easy for your business to build a list of prospects and customers, delivers useful information about your products to them and brings them back to your site to buy.

Our customers typically build their lists by placing signup forms on their websites (our point-and-click Web Form Generator makes this a piece of cake). Once people sign up to your list, you can then create and send email newsletters to them.

Plus, with our autoresponders you can schedule a series of messages to be delivered to each new person who signs up, helping them learn about your business and automating a lot of the sales follow up that you’d normally have to do by hand. That way, you never forget to follow up with a potential customer and don’t leave sales on the table.

3.  What differentiates AWeber from the other email marketing firms and what keeps you ahead of the competition?

During my time at AWeber, I’ve seen a wide range of compliments about the service from our customers... but I think it comes down to three key areas:

1.  Innovation.

AWeber has innovated from the get-go. We were founded in 1998 based on a need to automate the sales follow up process (using what we call autoresponders today). That didn’t exist before us, and to be honest just about every company that has tried to copy it since hasn’t gotten it quite right.

Since then, we’ve continued to listen to what customers were saying as well as see where email marketing is headed, and respond proactively. We were one of the first companies to offer RSS to email to automatically create a newsletter from your blog, a point-and-click Web Form Generator with signup form templates, a way to automatically share your email newsletters on Twitter and Facebook, and countless other email marketing tools.

2.  Education

We don’t just want customers to use our service - we want you to succeed with it. That’s why at AWeber, we don’t have a sales team, nor do we spend a lot of money on advertising.

We pour our marketing budget into educating businesses about how they can use email marketing effectively to increase sales and profits. Our Education Marketing Team focuses on teaching email marketing via our blog, webinars, videos and other resources provided free not only to customers, but anyone who might benefit from them.

3.  Support

Another thing that separates AWeber not only from other email marketing services, but I think from most companies in general, is how important we believe it is to support our customers. Education is part of this, but you’ll really see how we stand out when you contact us with a question.

Our Customer Solutions Team is made up of smart, passionate people who have a need to help others. They’re all located right in our office outside of Philadelphia, and they deliver outstanding support by phone, email and instant message. If you happen to read over some of the testimonials on our site, you’ll notice that a lot of them talk about the fantastic support we give customers.

4.  What do you consider progressive or unique about AWeber’s services?

I think what makes us unique is our focus on making sure customers succeed. I know I mentioned this before, but the effort we put into supporting and educating businesses about email marketing is, from what I’ve seen, a really rare thing.

5.  How has the email marketing industry evolved over the years and where do you see it in 5 years from now?

Email marketing is funny in that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The tools continue to improve - our email analytics tools, for example, tell you way more now about how your emails are performing than they did in say, 2007 - and at the same time, stories of marketers doing really impressive and unique things with their email campaigns make the rounds online. Read any email industry publication and there’s a lot of talk of dynamic content, sophisticated segmentation of your list to deliver super-relevant emails, and creative use of email alongside social media. It’s all very rosy-sounding stuff for email marketers.

But at the same time, too many businesses still aren’t getting the basics of good email marketing right, and until that changes, it’s tough to say that “the industry” has evolved much. The email marketing industry is only as good as businesses make their individual campaigns.

What I hope happens in the next 5 years is that the email marketing industry does evolve, and for that to be a reality, two things need to happen:

1.  Businesses that aren’t yet using email to create profitable customer relationships need to start doing so, and doing so well; and

2.  Businesses that have email marketing campaigns, but are cutting corners on fundamentals like welcoming new customers, creating truly valuable content and delivering it to the people who most want it, need to improve those campaigns.

If those things happen, then I see email marketing getting really interesting in the next 5 years.

6.  Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, has really changed how we communicate. How has this shift affected your business?

Well, we didn’t have a Facebook account back when I started at AWeber - and Twitter didn’t even exist then. How things have changed since then (and quickly, too)!

What’s been interesting for me about the rise of social media is the expectation of two-way communication. When you mention a company in a tweet, or post on their Facebook wall, there’s an expectation that you will respond, and in a timely fashion.

That idea relates closely to one of the email marketing basics that many businesses don’t get right: the reply (or ”from”) address on their emails. When you send an email to your friends, they can see that it’s from you, and when they reply, they’re confident that their answer will reach you.

It should be the same between your business and your email subscribers. People expect to be able to communicate with businesses - to have their praise, criticisms and other feedback heard - and social media has only made that expectation more common. So we send our email campaigns from an address at AWeber that is checked by our Customer Solutions Team, and they reply promptly to customers who email us in response to our email campaigns.

Of course, we recognize that there are people out there who don’t want to email you - they prefer to interact via social media. We’re active on a couple networks, notably Twitter and Facebook, answering customer questions and sharing content.

7.  Are email lists typically larger or smaller than social media followings, such as Facebook fans, or Twitter followers? Do you think that the same people comprise the both groups?

There is certainly some overlap between the typical business’ social media following and email subscriber base.

How much there is will vary from business to business, depending on a lot of factors, such as what kind of audience the business caters to, whether the business is active via social media, how aggressively the business grows its email list, and how much difference is there between what the business does via social and via email.

I don’t know whether most businesses have larger social followings or email lists, though I can say that at AWeber we have many more email subscribers than we do people following us via Twitter and Facebook.

8.  Why should an online business use email marketing?

Email helps you talk to the people who are most interested in your business (it’s the original permission marketing medium), and do so in a way that’s relevant and targeted to various groups of people within your subscriber base.

It’s easy to overlook, but hard to overstate, how valuable that last point is. Most marketing and advertising is one-to-many, but email, done right, is one-to-one: you’re delivering me messages that I want from you and that address my specific wants and needs. Someone else on your email list whose interest in your products differs from mine? They don’t have to get the same emails I do. That’s not something you get from billboards, radio, TV... not even Facebook and Twitter. Email stands out for its ability to get the right message in front of the right people at the right time.

Plus, not only does email drive short-term sales for your business, it can build profitable customer relationships for the long haul. You can use it to increase lifetime customer value by selling related products, and you can use it to encourage referrals, bringing you new prospects and customers via your subscribers’ word of mouth.

9.  Would you agree with the statement that email is the most cost-effective marketing tool for promoting products or services, and why?

Absolutely: email is not only cost-efficient, but also trackable. So you can implement campaigns without breaking the bank, then look and see just how effective those campaigns were by looking at conversions, clicks and other data.

10.  What’s the most important component of an email marketing campaign?

The most important component of an email marketing campaign is the value proposition.

It’s easy to get caught up in the potential of email to drive business, and not stop to think about what it means to create an email marketing campaign that realizes that potential.

Before you start using email to grow your business, ask yourself: how are you not only going to get someone to join your email list, but make that person want to stay subscribed to it, reading your emails and clicking on the links in them?

It’s important to remember that even though it doesn’t cost subscribers any money to be on your email list, it’s not free, either. Being on your list and getting emails from you costs time and attention that could have been spent elsewhere. If what you’re delivering in your emails isn’t worth more to subscribers than that time and attention, you’ll find subscribers checking out (either by unsubscribing or by marking your emails as spam) and you won’t get the full results that you could from your email marketing.

Make sure you know what the value of your emails is, not only for your business, but also for your subscribers.

11.  Can you share some best practices that our readers should be following? And are there email practices that our readers should avoid?

There are a number of mistakes that I see new email marketers (and even some more seasoned ones) making. Here are three, and what you should be doing instead:

  • Mistake #1: buying a list of email addresses. This is a bad idea for a long list of reasons, but just to pick one of them, consider that the addresses on that list don’t belong to people who have asked to hear from your business. They’re not going to respond like someone who has come to you and expressed interest in what you have to offer.

You’re far better off working to build your list subscriber by subscriber, on your website and in person. Aggressively look for places and ways to build your list, but make sure you’re only adding someone after they’ve asked you to do so.

  • Mistake #2: sending from a “do not reply” email address. In an age of social media, people want to talk to businesses, not just hear from them. It might seem convenient to not accept replies to your marketing emails, but when you shut people out from replying, you come off as stiff and unfriendly.

Instead, set your “from” email address to a real address at your company domain (not a free domain like Gmail or Yahoo) that you or your team will check regularly.

  • Mistake #3: not making it clear to subscribers what the point of your email is. It’s easy to get caught up in designing and testing your emails, and forget to consider what’s going to go through recipients’ minds when they receive the email. “What’s this all about? Why are you sending me this? What am I supposed to do with this information?”

People are busy. Respect their time and attention by clearly indicating why they should read your email (use a clear, compelling subject line) and what they should do after reading it (make your call to action conspicuous, and point out how subscribers will benefit from taking action).