Despite the rise of social media and spam, email marketing is still one of the most effective ways to connect with prospects and nurture them into becoming customers.
According to recent research, 91% of consumers check their email every day and 66% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of email marketing.
Moreover, email marketing generates significant returns on investment (ROI). The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) recently estimated that email marketing has a ROI of $38 for every $1 spent.
As a tour operator, if you are not already using email marketing as part of your overall marketing strategy, you are definitely leaving money on the table.
In this article we look at how you can setup an effective email marketing system to generate more leads and sales.
This article is ideal for readers who already do some basic email marketing and have used automated email services like MailChimp. We cover topics like opt-in email marketing, email list building and segmentation, as well as automation and analytics.
Building an Email List
Successful email marketing is an integral part of a travel operator’s sales funnel.
Getting lots of visitors to your site is great, but if you are not capturing their details then you are missing a big opportunity to remarket your brand and tour offers, and ultimately nurture visitors down the sales funnel.
The best email marketers understand this and relentlessly focus their effort on building their list of visitors, leads and customers to remarket to.
Email Marketing Software
Email marketing begins with the software you use to store contact data, build an email list and undertake email activity.
There are many email marketing software services available for small businesses.
If you have yet to choose a software tool for your email marketing, then the comparison table below is useful. Please note: this is not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the main email software brands.
As a small travel operator, the key features to look for in an email marketing software is the ability to segment lists and automate email sequences. All the software choices below include these features.
Once you have chosen an email marketing software, the next step to building a list is the creation of lead-magnet opt-in forms to collect the contact details of visitors, leads and customers.
Lead-Magnet Opt-In Forms
Nowadays, opt-in forms, like a newsletter sign-up form or a customer enquiry form, often come built in with the email marketing software one uses and can be easily integrated or embedded on a website.
Our suggested reading below covers the process of building and integrating opt-in forms on some of the major software platforms, but for the purposes of this article the important point to make is that effective email marketing always begins with permission from the user.
Email marketing is a permission-based form of marketing.
Buying lists or scraping contact details from the web is not a winning strategy.
Without permission from a user (i.e. a clear opt-in), any emails you send are technically spam. This won’t serve your business well and your email marketing efforts will fail.
There are many ways you can get permission, but the best way is to use a lead magnet.
A lead magnet consists of a free offer that you give away to a visitor on your website in exchange for their email address. This could be a free offer, access to a valuable newsletter, a short email course or early access to tour offer discounts, to name a few.
For example, look how this travel operator uses its Trip Notes as a valuable feature to capture a visitor’s email and get their opt-in.
Or look at how this travel operator uses a pop-up email form to offer a free guide in exchange for an email.
The best opt-in lead magnets include the following components:
- Enticing headline that really explains the benefit or value of the thing you have on offer.
- A short, helpful description of the offer to let the visitor know what they can expect.
- Great visuals or imagery to bring the offer to life or draw attention to the offer. For example, if you are offering a free guide, then a picture of the guide cover is a great idea.
- A simple form with not too many fields, ideally just Name and Email. The longer the form the more friction there is in the sign up process.
- A strong Call To Action (CTA) button that has a bold color and an action-oriented statement. For example, “Sign me up” or “Send me the eBook”.
Whichever way you decide to build your lead magnet, make sure your opt-in forms focus on the valuable specifics of what a user gets in return for their email.
There are many places that one can embed a lead-magnet opt-in form. Some of the most popular places include: floating header bars, exit-intent pop-ups, booking or inquiry pages, within blog pages and in sidebar features.
Here’s a travel marketplace, Bookmundi, offering an opt-in in their footer for visitors to get exclusive deals.
The key thing to think about when embedding a lead magnet opt-in is: whom are you targeting, where did they come from, and what are they interested in.
For example, if you are using Facebook Advertising or Google PPC Advertising to drive traffic to a specific tour then you should think about what you could offer this audience as a lead magnet to capture their contact details.
Lastly, make sure that you integrate email subscription opt-ins as part of your purchasing process. As discussed in our Reviews and Repeat Business article, remarketing to customers is one of the fastest ways to grow your travel business.
If you aren’t already using an email marketing software, evaluate the main options using the table above and sign up for a trial.
Think about all the places on your website where you currently collect customer data. Do your forms include opt-ins for email marketing?
Can you think of other ways to build your email list? How about a discount offer pop-up, engaging newsletter offer or guide download?
Email List Segmentation
Many email marketing newbies begin building their email list without thinking about email segmentation. This is a big mistake.
Segmentation is the process of categorizing your email list by specific attributes, so that you can send more personalized and targeted emails to your subscribers.
Proper segmentation allows a marketer to get laser focused on sending emails to subscribers, who would actually be interested in the email. Segmentation increases open rates, click-through rates and conversions, whilst decreasing unsubscribes.
Most email software has the functionality to ‘tag’ subscribers by attributes and segment them into categories.
For example, here is a screenshot of MailChimp’s segmentation options. As you can see, it allows a user to segment their list by engagement, customer behavior and demographics.
At the most basic level, you should always capture how a user got onto your email list.
- Did they sign-up to your newsletter? They are a newsletter subscriber
- Did they complete your enquiry form? They are an active lead
- Did they download a lead-magnet guide on Tour XYZ? They are an active lead interested in Tour XYZ
- Did they complete your booking form? They are a new customer
As you can imagine, there are so many ways you can slice and dice your email list, but to get you started here are some ideas:
- New subscribers – e.g. users, who have just signed up to your list. You could send these users a Welcome email and add them to your General Newsletter list.
- Lead magnet – e.g. users, who have signed up using a lead magnet, like a free eBook. Along with sending them the eBook you could follow up with offers or helpful advice related to the topic of the lead magnet they opted-in for.
- Preferences or interest – e.g. users, who have expressed a preference or interest in a certain tour. You can send emails based on one of these preferences.
- Customers – e.g. users who have bought from you in the past. You could send emails with special offers and discounts for customer loyalty.
- Subscriber activity – e.g. users who have high open rates vs. those who are inactive. You could send special offers to the latter group to reward their engagement, and reminders to the inactive group to try re-engage with them.
- Demographics – e.g. users from a certain location, of a certain age or gender. Emails can be refined and targeted for different types of demographic data.
The possibilities are truly endless with segmentation, but the point is to establish at least a few key segmentation groups in order to get more scientific with your email marketing.
Take a minute to think about your current database of subscribers. Are they properly segmented by their specific attributes? How can you better segment your list?
As an email list begins to grow, it can very quickly get unwieldy to manage. This is where automation comes in.
Automation is possibly the greatest gift for an email marketer as it does all the heavy lifting, making your campaigns work 24/7 and turning visitors into prospects and prospects into customers without you lifting a finger.
Automation begins with designing a sequence of emails in an autoresponder.
Autoresponders consist of campaigns that have a sequence of emails that are automatically sent to a specific segment of subscribers when a certain event, action or behavior occurs.
For example, an autoresponder sequence could be triggered when a subscriber joins your newsletter, downloads a lead-magnet guide or makes an enquiry.
An autoresponder always consists of a clear goal, a trigger, a sequence map and emails.
Let’s look at each in turn.
The goal of an autoresponder sequence defines the objective you are trying to achieve. There are many different autoresponder goals that one could choose, but the most common are:
- A sequence to welcome new subscribers. This is your chance to wow new subscribers with some valuable and engaging information. Let your subscribers know what to expect going forward and if you plan to send a series of emails, let them know the frequency of these emails.
- A sequence that follows a lead magnet. If you have a lead-magnet opt-in on your website, like a free country brochure or eBook download, then this sequence follows through on the delivery of the lead magnet promise.
- A sequence that puts the sales process on autopilot. If you have a straightforward sales process and get lots of leads, you can use an autoresponder to start the sales process to qualify leads and move them down your sales funnel.
Once you are clear on the campaign goal, the next thing to consider is the trigger that starts an autoresponder.
Defining the trigger for an autoresponder is important, as you don’t want any old subscriber being emailed inadvertently.
The actions, behaviors, interests or specific attributes of a subscriber usually define triggers.
For example, a new subscriber may be tagged as ‘new’ and put into a Welcome autoresponder sequence; a customer could be tagged as ‘purchased’, or ‘enquired’, and so on.
A sequence map sets out how long an autoresponder runs and the timing between emails. A sequence can also have other features, like adding a tag or notifying a sales member, when a subscriber takes a certain action.
In terms of timing, research from MailChimp shows that weekdays have higher open rates than weekends. And the best time to deliver an email for highest open rates is around 10am in the recipient’s own time.
Some autoresponders have advanced features that allow you to send different emails based on the attributes or behaviors of the subscriber.
The key with sequence mapping is to think about the value you can add at each stage of the sequence so as to nurture a subscriber down your sales funnel.
Finally, you can design the greatest autoresponder in the world, but if your email copy sucks, then you will get poor open rates and click-through rates, as well as lots of unsubscribes.
We dealt with great copywriting in our article on Content Marketing, but in summary, the things to focus on for your autoresponder emails are:
- Value: Are your emails valuable and useful? Too many email marketers focus on trying to sell instead of trying to add value to their subscribers. Think about your subscribers needs, wants and struggles. What valuable emails can you produce to help them? As a rule of thumb, 80% of your email content should focus on adding value and only 20% on selling.
- Personalization: Emails that look too generic don’t deliver great results. Wherever possible you should be looking to personalize your emails. And this doesn’t just mean adding a first name into the email. Think about what you know about your subscriber and personalize based on that information. For example, if you have location data for a subscriber you could use this to make your email more personalized.
- Subject lines: Most people receive 100s of emails a day. To stand out from the crowd you need a great subject for your emails. Good subject lines provoke an emotional response. They usually entice curiosity – “I wonder what this email is about?” Numbers, personalization and humor all work well in subject lines.
Using a piece of paper, think about the different autoresponders you could create for the different segments of your list. What triggers would you use to get subscribers into each of these autoresponders?
Now think about the sequence of emails for each autoresponder. How long will each campaign run for? How many emails will you send and at what interval? What value can you inject into each email to nurture a subscriber down your sales funnel and achieve your campaign goal?
Email marketing should be an integral part of any tour operator’s marketing plan. Despite the rise of social media, emails are still the dominant communication channel for consumers.
Effective email marketing is all about building a well segmented list of subscribers and then delivering consistent value through email autoresponders to engage and nurture leads to customers, and customers to repeat business.
Most email marketing software offers all the features one needs to setup effective email campaigns for very little investment. If you haven’t started taking full advantage of email marketing in your travel business, now is the time.
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