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April 20, 2017 4:03 PM, EDT

E-mail Marketing:Still the Most Effective Sales, Recruiting Tool for Trucking Firms

This story appears in the April 17 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

While some trucking firms may be guilty of chasing the latest digital marketing craze, good old e-mail marketing still is the app to beat when it comes to connecting with customers. Indeed, a 2016 study released by marketing consulting firm Clutch found that e-mail still has the highest return on investment of any marketing channel.

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Among the companies surveyed, 83% said they were using e-mail newsletters to make new sales. And more than 70% were using stand-alone e-mails and follow-up e-mails to nurture nibbles of interest from customers.

Campaign Monitor, an e-mail marketing firm, released a similar study last year. It found businesses can look forward to a $38 return for every dollar they invest in e-mail marketing.

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Adestra, an e-mail marketing service provider and consultancy, confirmed the trend again in a study conducted with Econsultancy. Those researchers found that 73% of more than 1,100 marketers interviewed said e-mail was their No. 1 channel in terms of ROI.

Trucking companies also see the persistent value of e-mail as a marketing tool.

“E-mail marketing is great for staying top of mind with customers and prospects,” said Karen Hazan, director of marketing at Canada Cartage. “It helps us deliver information on the latest industry trends and transportation topics, and I do consider it an important piece of the marketing mix.”

Beyond connecting with shipper customers, trucking companies use e-mail to reach another crucial audience — prospective drivers.

Truckload carrier Celadon Group Inc. uses e-mail marketing as one way to stay in contact with drivers, even those who are not actively looking to change companies, said Joe Weigel, the fleet’s director of marketing and communications.

“Given the dynamics of the driver universe, the constant churn would suggest that, at some point in the future, many if not most drivers will be looking to make a change,” he said. “E-mail provides a way for us to stay connected to both drivers who are currently content with their current employer as well as those who may be ‘passively’ looking to make a change.”

Katie George Hooser, vice president of marketing at IMC Cos., an intermodal transportation provider, said e-mail marketing is “affordable and effective for driver retention and recruiting.”

“It’s a way for us to communicate positive messaging to our fleet. We want our drivers to understand we are working for their success at the corporate level,” she said. “We also work to feature our own drivers in our e-mail marketing efforts so that they can share their experience with fellow drivers.

“We want our drivers across the country to know we appreciate them, that we recognize their expertise and that our corporate team is working to make their day easier. That has value.”

One of the primary driving forces behind e-mail’s potency is its utter indispensability. Despite all the buzz about social media, 58% of internet users say the first thing they check on their computerized device each morning is e-mail, according to a study by Exact Target.

“Here’s the truth: When you have someone’s e-mail, you’re allowed to communicate with them when you want, how you want,” said Derek Halpern, owner of Social Triggers, an online marketing consultancy.

Halpern said he conducted his own informal test recently, pitting e-mail against Twitter. He sent out a post on Twitter with a link he wanted prospective customers to click on. Then he sent out the same post and link via e-mail.

The result: 50 of his Twitter followers clicked on the link, while 1,200 of his e-mail subscribers clicked on the same link.

“Yes, my e-mail list might be twice as large as my social media following, but it generated about 24 times more clicks,” Halpern said. “That’s the power of e-mail.”

Also contributing to e-mail’s rock star marketing status has been all the work IT departments have been doing to block spam from getting to company inboxes.

Overall, those safeguards have significantly decreased the amount of spam that businesses get compared with just a few years ago.

Consequently, e-mail open rates are looking healthy. On average, 17.6% of e-mails now are being opened by recipients, according to IBM’s 2016 e-mail marketing metrics benchmark study.

Of course, getting e-mail marketing right for your trucking business involves more than simply knowing it works. Here are the 10 most popular best practices for e-mail marketing, based on insights from the Econsultancy/Adestra survey:

Engage in basic segmentation: 78% of companies said they’re doing basic segmentation with their e-mail marketing. Essentially, that means they’re creating slightly different versions of the same e-mail marketing message to cater to different segments of a company’s customer base.

Optimize for mobile: 64% of companies said they’re ensuring their e-mails are optimized for mobile. In practice, this translates into using single column e-mail designs that allow for easier resizing, using responsive design that automatically resizes an e-mail based on screen size and eliminating content in mobile e-mails that is ordinarily displayed on full-size computer screens.

“About 35% of our website views are on a mobile device,” IMC’s Hooser said. “It’s imperative that we make a positive impression with our e-mail marketing. If our e-mails aren’t easy to read or formatted well, they’ll be discarded.”

Casey Edwinson, digital marketing manager at Roadrunner Transportation Systems, agreed. “You cannot run an e-mail marketing campaign — or any online campaign, for that matter, today — without having your messaging optimized for mobile devices,” he said. “The ability for us to optimize our online messaging for mobile, whether it’s online video, digital banners or e-mails, is paramount.”

Clean your list regularly: 54% of companies surveyed said their e-mail marketing success also hinged on ensuring they purged their mailing list regularly of addresses that were bouncing back as no longer valid. They also are quickly removing e-mail addresses from the list when customers request it.

Encourage sharing of your e-mail on social networks: 47% of customers surveyed said they got more mileage from their marketing e-mails after asking their customers to share those e-mails on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media networks.

• Use your transaction e-mails for marketing: 43% of companies said they had a standard practice of inserting marketing messages into transaction e-mails. In practice, trucking firms might pitch another job or offer when confirming a deal by e-mail.

• Include video content: 42% of companies said adding video content to their e-mail was critical to the potency of those marketing messages. Given that YouTube, the online video sharing service, is the second most popular site on the web, the move sounds like a no-brainer for truckers, who easily could post a video about their fleet or latest technology investments.

Do remarketing: 41% of companies surveyed said they regularly use e-mails to remarket to customers. Web visitors who fail to confirm their new subscription to your e-newsletter, for example, might be prodded again by e-mail to confirm that sign-up.

Personalize your e-mail: 37% of companies surveyed said personalization of e-mails also was key to their marketing success. Information such as the recipient’s birthday and acknowledgment of previous goods and services purchased indicate the company truly knew who it was e-mailing when it put together the message.

“We identify where the prospect is in the sales [or] decision-making cycle, create a message that is specific to where they are in that cycle and automate the process using e-mail,” said Scott Ray, vice president of capacity development at Landstar Transportation Logistics. “This creates touch points with prospects that a single individual at the company can manage as part of his or her daily workload.”

Overall, Ray added, “Personalization of e-mails improves our open rates by 50% when compared to more general e-mails.”

Use e-mails for lead nurturing: 35% of companies said that when they received a nibble on an offer by e-mail, they regularly followed up with e-mails to try and close the deal.

Combine e-mail with multichannel triggers: 31% of companies said when contact was made by e-mail, they followed up by reaching out to the customer via other channels, including Facebook, Twitter, telephone and old-fashioned snail mail.

“We use e-mails, social posts and website content concurrently,” said David Roush, president of KSM Transport Advisors.

“All of our digital marketing efforts are designed to support our [search-engine optimization] strategy and leverage multiple channels to deliver our content with the goal of driving visitors to our website,” he said. “E-mail marketing is an important part of this process as it allows us to get our content in front of an audience curated by us that is likely to find the content interesting and helpful. It’s still one of the most effective marketing channels because e-mail subscribers specifically opt-in to receive information.”

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Voice: (646) 233-4089. E-mail: joe@joedysart.com. Web: www.joedysart.com.