Back to Basics - Building Your Email List

By: Bryan St. Amant


In email marketing, there's nothing more basic than your email list.  Sure, there are many powerful techniques you can use to optimize results once you get going.  But you need a list to get started with email marketing, and after you get going no other factor will influence your success more than the quality and size of list you're working with. 

That's why this month's wine marketing tip is: Back to Basics -- Building Your Email List.

Whether you're building a list from scratch or reevaluating your current email list, it helps to ask three questions:  What data are we collecting (and why)?  How do we position the list to our customers?  And what are we doing to collect more names?

The type of data you collect -- and the underlying structure of your list -- is usually determined by what you plan to do with it.  If you just want to send a newsletter, all you really need is an email address.  If you want to add personalization, ask for a name.  To target by location, ask for a state or postal code.  If you really want to see response rates soar, you'll want to structure your list to keep track of individual customer preferences.

The more data you collect, the more options you'll have for effective marketing downstream.  But ask for too much, and prospects won't complete your forms.  The secret is collecting just the data you need, and making it clear to your customers how they'll benefit from supplying it.

This is where positioning comes in.  You may be focused on building a list, but from your customers' standpoint you're offering a service in exchange for their information. So when customers sign up for your list, make sure you let them know the value they'll be receiving. 

Now's your chance to be creative.  Will customers get advanced notice about new releases of their favorite wines?  Will they receive personal recommendations from your tasting room staff? Will you invite them to winery events?  Will they get discounts or special offers?  Whatever you decide, let your customers know the benefits they'll enjoy when they sign up for your list.

And while you're at it, think about exactly what you're asking your customers to do.  Are they adding their name to a mailing list, subscribing to personalized winery updates, or joining your "Virtual Tasting Club"?  The choice is yours, but the more effectively you position your email service with customers and prospects, the more successful you'll be growing your list. 

So now what?  You've structured your email list for success and you've positioned it for maximum appeal.  The question we hear most often is how to get more names?  Depending on your circumstances -- and budget -- you probably have several options available.

If you have a traditional (i.e. snail mail) list, this is a great place to start.  After all, these people are already interested in hearing from you.  Using the positioning you crafted earlier, you can begin using space in your traditional mailings to offer your new (or newly improved) email service. 

Want to accelerate the process and have some money to spend?  Then send a standalone mailing to your house list encouraging existing prospects to try your new email service.  Over time and with persistence, you may be able to convert 30% to 50% of your traditional names to email. 

As you're converting your old lists, you should also begin offering your new email service as part your standard marketing process.  It can be as simple as adding an email line to the sign-up forms you already use in your tasting room or your website. (Speaking of websites, you are linking from all your web pages to your email sign-up form, aren't you?)

But what about other customer touchpoints?  Have you thought of placing a computer kiosk in your tasting room to encourage customer sign-up, or can you use your POS to help capture email information during the purchase process?  Do you bring email sign-up forms to your private tastings and winemaker events?  Have you thought of including an email offer on your order confirmation form or printing your web address on your product labels? 

Depending on how aggressive you want to be, you can come up with even more customer touchpoints that you can leverage to build your email list with little or no added expense.

The final option for growing your list is to start prospecting for new names.  Most of these techniques will cost you real money.  But buying search engine keywords (imagine a search on "merlot" returning your link first), sponsoring a well-read wine newsletter, or wine blog are all potential winning strategies.  The key is to negotiate small tests before committing your whole budget.  That way you'll only spend serious money on the techniques that work best for you.

Of course, there's one great way to meet new prospects without spending a dime.  Just ask your current customers to introduce you to their friends!  If you haven't tried it already, you'll be amazed at how many customers will forward your email to their friends if you just ask them to.  By incorporating a simple "Tell-a-Friend" component into to your mailings, you could be growing your list every time you mail -- with no additional expense required.