The following is the summary of our interview with Justin Premick of AWeber, an email marketing software company.

1. What role does email marketing play in creating or supporting a brand?
A common belief about email marketing is it’s purely a direct response medium. And while it’s true that email is a highly trackable marketing medium with an excellent return on investment, its value extends beyond conversions generated directly from emails.

Email’s true value lies in the permission that people on your brand’s email list have given you to talk to them. Sure, sometimes that’s going to involve you sending coupons, sale notifications and other promotional emails, but it doesn’t always have to be that. Email can:

  • Thank customers for their orders.
  • Teach them how to use the products they’ve purchased.
  • Highlight lesser-known features and benefits of your products.
  • Ask for feedback on your products, customer support or other parts of your business.
  • Share success stories of other customers.

All of these emails are opportunities for your customers and prospects to form or reinforce their impression of your brand. Well-executed emails, even those that aren’t selling something, can improve your brand’s image, while poorly done emails can hurt it.

2. A lot of brands are experimenting heavily with social media. Does email still matter if brands are reaching customers via social?
Social media has indeed become a popular marketing tool. No wonder, given the low cost and potential to reach large groups of customers and prospects.

However, to suggest that the rise of social means there’s no need for email in your marketing mix would be foolish.

For that to be the case, not only would more consumers (or about as many) use social as do email, they’d have to want to use it to communicate with brands, and they’d need to be equally or more responsive to communications with brands.

The data simply doesn’t suggest those things have come to pass:

  • In 2010, CrossView reported that only 9% of US in-store shoppers prefer to get promotions on social media sites.
  • In Chadwick Bailey’s 2010 “Social Sharing Research Report,” 86% of internet users in the USA claim they’ve used email to share content. The number that did the same via Facebook? Just 49%.
  • In a 2010 study, AWeber found that the most common benefit (reported by 33.71% of respondents) that businesses realized by integrating email marketing and social media efforts was increasing their email subscriber base.
  • In the same AWeber study, email marketing was reported as having a greater, more easily measured and more quickly realized ROI than social media.
  • In Merkle’s 2011 “View From the Digital Inbox” study, it was found that social media users are more likely (42%) than non-social media users (26%) to check email at least 4 times per day. Even the people who are using social are using email… and they’re using it even more than the rest of consumers!

(Source on above studies: EmailStatCenter.com)

The picture that emerges appears to be this: while social is hot right now, by and large consumers aren’t currently using it to replace email, either for personal or marketing communications. So if your brand abandons its email marketing program in favor of social, it’s going to suffer.

Of course, that doesn’t mean don’t do social. Just don’t do it at the expense of email.

3. What should I keep in mind as I start sending a newsletter?
The most important thing to ask yourself is, why would someone want to get your email newsletter?

To adapt the tree-falls-in-a-forest question, if you send a newsletter but nobody reads it, is it making an impact on your bottom line? (Not likely.)

It’s not enough to say “OK, let’s send a newsletter” and then put any old content in it and send it out. You need to ask yourself a hard question: who is going to care about this email, really? If the answer’s “nobody,” well… why is that, and what can you put into your emails that they will care about?

Once you’ve figured out what’s important to your customers and prospects, you’ll know what to put in your first few newsletters. From there, you can look at opens, clicks, traffic, blog comments, “likes” and other metrics to figure out what kind of content really resonates with your readers.

4. How often should I send my newsletter?
Most companies suffer from a lack of content, not a glut of it, so my answer is usually “as often as you have something to say that your readers will find valuable.” Typically, if this doesn’t happen at least once a month, you have a serious content problem that needs to be addressed.

If, on the other hand, your company suffers from the welcome problem of having too much content, I favor the approach of sending once every few weeks, then slowly increasing frequency until it appears (based on all the previously mentioned response rates, plus spam complaints and unsubscribes) that you’re emailing too often. Once you find that point, dial back the frequency slightly and go with that, continuing to monitor your stats to see whether spreading the messages out further is appropriate.

5. What does AWeber do to help companies with their email newsletters?
At AWeber, we help over 100,000 businesses deliver email newsletters to their customers and prospects.

We’ve developed our tool based on customer feedback over the last 13 years, and while our customers all use it a bit differently, some of the things they use the most are:

  • Automatic sharing of your newsletter on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Using the RSS to email tool to generate newsletters based on blog posts.
  • Scheduling of newsletters for immediate or delayed sending.
  • Option to send newsletters to all subscribers or just a given segment.
  • Detailed email analytics showing how well the newsletters performed.