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In today's world of overcrowded inboxes and spam filters, many business owners often wonder if email marketing is still worth the time and money. Regardless of your industry, the right strategy and content can make the difference between mail being trashed or transformed into a living, breathing customer. 

I recently sat down with Brian Sutter and discussed how companies can use email marketing as a driver of revenue. Brian is the Director of Marketing at Wasp Barcode Technologies and has over 10 years of experience in driving growth, developing strong marketing strategies, and managing multi-million dollar budgets. He has been published in The Washington Post, Fast Company, and Entrepreneur Magazine. Here's what Brian had to say during our interview:

1) So is email marketing really dead?

Email was never dead. As a marketing technique it's always generated more ROI than almost anything else. It was declared dead awhile back because social media exploded and everybody thought that was going to be the new thing.

But now even the major social media experts talk as much about building an email list as they talk about getting Facebook likes. And in our survey for the 2015 State of Small Business report, 46% of small businesses said they use email marketing as a top marketing tactic.

There are also several studies--Adobe published another one a few weeks ago--that people actually prefer to receive commercial messages via email more than any other channelThe Adobe study also found 63% of consumers still prefer to get marketing offers via email.

2) Most small businesses don't have many email subscribers when they start. What's a good way to start building a subscriber list fast?

The easiest way is to start collecting email addresses on your own site. You want toadd an opt-in box--the form where people can directly enter their email address--to the top and bottom of every page on your site. Typically, that means adding the opt-in form to the top of the skinny "navigation" column, and again in the footer area.

Consider offering an eBook, whitepaper, or some sort of incentive in exchange for your customer's email addresses. Building your list will absolutely pay off in the long term.

3) What about pop-ups? I've read they work, but they're really annoying sometimes.

They work beautifully, and they don't have to be annoying. I saw a case study not too long ago where a website owner saw a 1000% increase in sign-ups with a pop-up.

The trick is to delay them so they don't show in the first minute someone is on your site. Then don't show them too often--most pop-ups have a setting where you canshow them only, say, every 7 days. That way your website visitors aren't gettingbombarded with them. That is annoying.

4) Do we really have to build an email list at all? I've seen ads offering 5,000 emailaddress for about $100.

You can do that, but I really don't recommend it. Purchased lists tend to get awful results--results so bad you'll wish you had just been patient and built a list. Bought lists also get high spam complaints, which can affect the deliverability rates for your entire list. Not to mention that it's impossible to tell where and how these email addresses were collected originally, which could place you in violation of email marketing laws like CanSPAM.

5) What about confirming new subscribers? Is it really necessary to ask people twice if they want your emails?

That's an issue of quality versus quantity. Asking people to click a link in a confirmation is typically called using "double opt-in" or "confirmed opt-in". There have been a bunch of studies--particularly one from MailChimp--that show double opt-in creates a significantly more responsive list long-term.

Double opt-in will cost you about 20% of your subscribers up front, but thatMailChimp study found double opt-in lists tend to get double the open and click-through rates. Long-term, it's by far the better way to go.

6) What kinds of content should small, local businesses be adding to their email newsletters?

If you've got a blog, every new blog post is great content for your subscribers. It's okay to include articles and content from other sources, too--that's called "content curation" and it can be a good way to beef up an email newsletter without spending time creating new content. Just give people credit for their work, of course.

Other good content would be customer testimonialsAnd photographs of customers in your store. You could also do employee profiles and it's okay to republish some of your social media updates in your emails, too.

7) Is it okay to add videos to email messages?

That's a great question, and yes, I'd love to see more small businesses using video.

But in emails, it's dicey. Depending on what software program a subscriber views their emails in, that video may or may not show. Videos also tend to make email file sizes larger than we'd like--we aim for about 50 kb or less.

There's a super-simple, totally effective work-around though. Just make an image that looks like a video--with the arrow within a circle icon. Link that image to a landing page where the video automatically plays.

8) How often should businesses be sending emails to their subscribers?

Any less than once a month and people tend to forget who you are. That creates more unsubscribes and just generally poor results. I like weekly emails, but that can be a strain for some small businesses. Sending every two weeks seems to be a happy medium.

9) What about mobile? How do you make your emails look good on mobile devices?

This is extremely important. More emails get opened on mobile devices now than on desktop or laptop computers. Fortunately it's pretty easy to make emails mobile friendly. You can use what's called a "responsive design", or just a "mobile-friendly" design. Pretty much every email service provider has templates that work well on mobile devices. Just start with one of those and adapt it to your content. Additionally, there are a variety of resources that sell mobile friendly templates, if your provider doesn't have a free one that you like.

10) Any good ways to reduce unsubscribes?

Be useful! Besides that, you might want to give people a way to control how often they hear from you. And just give them a reason to keep reading your emails. Sending email subscribers something special--that non-subscribers don't get--every so often helps. That might be a coupon, or it could be some really great content. Completely eliminating unsubscribes (and bounces) is impossible, but if you provide continuous value, the subscribers that matter will stick around.

Now it's your turn. How does your company effectively connect via email? What content gets the best engagement from your subscribers? Tell us in the comments section below!

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