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How Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Can Build and Keep Their Mailing List

First-timers, find the email marketing strategy that works for you

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 08 May 2017

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PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Congratulations! You’ve taken your idea, ran with it, and leapt into the entrepreneurial unknown. Now all you have to do is make sure there are customers using your product. Sounds easy? Not really--but if there is one strategy you should consider, it’s email marketing.

While it’s relatively easy to implement, it can be quite a challenge to get people to even open the email. As Kelvin Leow, co-founder of the Nuren Group, puts it: “there is a thin line between engagement vs. spam.” Adds Eugene Tan, co-founder of Malaysian start-up CARPUT, “If your content is weak, you may well be "spammy" and provide no value to your newsletter subscribers. It's really a double edged sword.” But don’t let this put you off, email marketing is still a good way to keep in touch with your users, and nurture that relationship.

“Email marketing is a cheap and very effective way of bringing your brand to "top of mind" - only if you have the right content to put out,” says Tan from CARPUT. Emi Goto, senior marketing advocate of Supplycart also agrees.

Risyiana Muthia, chief storyteller and communications manager at Balinese co-working space Hubud, says “it's a great way to connect with your community, and it's a good way to inform your audience about the latest happenings around your business.”

 

Build that mailing list first

While it’s not easy to build a comprehensive mailing list, there are a lot of strategies start-ups can employ. For Malaysian B2B office supply online platform Supplycart, Goto says they only send newsletters to customers once they’ve signed up for their service.

For the Nuren Group, a content and commerce platform for women with a presence in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, Leow shares how, when they were just starting out, they tried everything to build their user base: “Organic, paid, social media, referral, event, online and offline partnership. Because we are in the wedding business, we even go all the way to penetrate into couple’s actual wedding day to solicit leads and sign-ups. And because Asian wedding receptions are fairly large and attended by many friends and families who are getting married too, it turns out to be among our top 3 most effective user acquisition channels in terms of conversion.”

If your business exists solely online, offering incentives to join the mailing list helps get sign-ups, as Muthia shares: “Our mailing list grows significantly when we offer people incentives to join the mailing list. We created a free E-book: the Moving to Ubud Guide and the Going Location Independent Guide, it provides information and insights for people who want to move to Bali, or who would like to start their location-independent career.”

 

Determine the frequency and the content

Getting users is one thing; it’s another to keep them. “While you can send big documents through email, most email traffic consists of short messages conducted in the context of a back-and-forth conversation. Email is a conversation, not a one-way distribution,” writes Geoffrey James in this Inc.com article.

It’s then all the more important to make sure users feel like you’re talking directly to them. “It is always good to remember what your customers want to receive based on their interests. Also, it is great to personalize as much as you can,” says Goto.

But you need to know your customers first, as this will also determine the frequency of the emails and the content. Since Supplycart caters to professionals, Goto shares that they send out their newsletters not more than once a week to avoid being spam-like.

For CARPUT, a Malaysian start-up app that assists during car breakdowns, Tan says, “We send email letters out monthly and we usually include automotive/car educational information and promotions/discounts. Usually, its mostly a wrap up/most engaged content on our social media calendar for the month after we tested it on the social media platforms and understanding what our users want to consume.”

At Hubud, a co-working space in Bali, Muthia shares they have around 10,000 email subscribers. But though these members use, or used, the same space, they don’t have the same needs: “We understand that we need to make our content relevant, which is why we ended up creating different lists for different interest groups. Many of our subscribers used to be Hubud members and they still want to hear news and stay connected with the community, but they might not be interested in joining our regular events because they're not in Bali anymore. So we tried to manage the information and keep things balanced.”

 

Is email marketing for you?

Content email marketing might not be for everyone. Tan shares that they have found more success with automated email marketing. “For example, a user purchases a car battery from us and we compare that with the average lifespan of that car with our data sets. We then make an automation that reminds the user that their car battery is on its last legs and to offer them a discount for them to return and to avoid a car breakdown. That seems to be very effective for us,” says Tan.

It’s all about knowing what makes sense for you in the context of your business.

Sometimes, email marketing might not be the best strategy. Says Daniel Khong, head of marketing at TheLorry, a Malaysia-based truck, van, and 4x4 booking platform, sending out frequent newsletters doesn’t make sense for the nature of their business and doesn’t justify the cost of availing of services like MailChimp.

“Many of our B2C customers are first time customers. When they do return for a second transaction, it is at least 6 months down the road…If someone moves today and we send newsletters in the following 26 weeks, customers aren’t going to budge because they simply do not need our service during this period,” says Khong

 “What we focus on instead, is being everywhere they go the moment they express interest in our services (remarketing). We find that this is a better solution to strengthen market sentiment towards our brand.”

So should you implement email marketing? As Leow mentions, there is “no right formula.” Find your demographics, get to know them, then test, modify, rinse, and repeat.