by Katy Ibsen, contributing writer
Email marketing is nothing revolutionary in the world of marketing; however, applying it to the world of plastic manufacturing is a somewhat recent development. Various plastic processors have introduced the marketing tool in the past few years to inform and educate suppliers, customers and their communities.
“Customers want to know that you are investing in new technology and capabilities, and often we all collectively assume that existing customers know us well simply because we currently do business with them,” said Mitch Nichols, vice president of sales and marketing at PTA Plastics, Oxford, Connecticut.
The reality is, customers do not. PTA Plastics is just one of many companies deploying new marketing strategies through email. Viking Plastics, Corry, Pennsylvania, and Team 1 Plastics, Albion, Michigan, also are using email marketing to reach new and existing audiences.
Strategy for email marketing varies from company to company, depending on desired outcomes.
To better communicate with customers, PTA launched its email marketing in October 2017 with the release of a new website. The goal was to drive existing customers to its website and obtain new email subscribers (potential customers) from inbound visits to the website. Once readers are on the website, they are exposed to more information, such as PTA’s new technology, case studies and white papers.
“For example, email prompts a customer to go to the website to download content, after which they would receive a follow-up email or the opportunity to download a case study,” said Nichols. “Then we would offer another piece of info.”
PTA develops its email content one of two ways; either from a customer comment about wanting to learn more, or an opportunity to create awareness and interest in the company. To answer a client’s question or request for more information, Nichols and his marketing coordinator develop ideas and rely on the experts within their company. Case studies are developed with details from team members in engineering, tool design, finance or IT.
“As an example,” said Nichols, “I co-authored a case study on validation with our lead NPI engineer. I provided her with an outline of what I was trying to communicate, and she provided technical details for the various protocols and why they are necessary. The case study was prompted by multiple customer meetings where the OEM commented that IQ/OQ/PQ was something they knew was a requirement but didn’t quite understand all it entailed.”
PTA also has seen the value in informing existing customers of the company’s ability and capacity. With two locations that build tooling in-house, customers may not know the full capacity of the company if they have only worked with one location, and email marketing was a means to combat this.
“When a large project becomes available, we often have to reinforce this with existing customers,” said Nichols. “Potential clients are not familiar with you, and email campaigns and other social media are vital to gaining mindshare. Our OEM customers are just like the average consumer. Today’s consumer visits a website five or more times before they make a purchase. You cannot replace face-to-face interaction, but providing meaningful email content has prompted requests for contact or RFQ’s.”
Team 1 Plastics maintains a three-part strategy for the company’s email marketing, which goes out roughly three times a year. Brenda Eubank, Team 1 marketing assistant, manages marketing for the company and has helped implement email communications.
The first step in the strategy is to have relevant content that speaks to the right client. “We don’t need 20 new customers every year. We would like to add a customer or two every year,” said Craig Carrel, Team 1 president. “We don’t look at email as an opportunity to mass communicate to try to get 100 new clients. We are trying to make sure that it’s more focused so when people hear from us, they can see right away whether we’re a fit for them, because we’re not going to be a fit for the vast majority of people looking for a molder.”
As with PTA, the second component of Team 1’s strategy is to keep customers updated. “As a company, we did a poor job of saying ‘Hey, we’ve got this new machine,’ or ‘We’ve got this new little thing we’re doing with technology.’ We would be in customer meetings and they’d say, ‘I didn’t know you did that,’” said Carrel. “A big part of our email campaign is making sure people know what we’re doing, what we’re working on and the new stuff coming out. We’re keeping our current customers up to date with this strategy even as we are reaching out to new customers.”
The final part of Team 1’s strategy is aimed at soliciting new employees. “I’ve been amazed when I talk to new team members how much they’ve researched our different marketing channels. They know about us before they start,” said Carrel. “I think that’s a huge advantage for a company like ours.”
Viking Plastics shares commonalities with both PTA and Team 1. Marketing Coordinator Shana Bailey uses a well-curated template to help manage her strategy for email marketing. Each email includes news, a section highlighting Viking’s capabilities or products, content relevant for engineers and often an employee highlight.
Bailey said the emails “always, always, always – every section – have a call to action to the website, whether it’s a ‘Read More’ or it’s clickable somewhere with hidden links.”
Keeping with a consistent format, Viking sends emails roughly every four to six weeks, allowing enough time for Bailey to develop new content and readers to absorb the existing content.
Because Team 1 uses its email marketing to share more about its company, it saw big success when using the tool to celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. Eubank noted that part of her approach is to summarize the previous year in the year’s first email, which allowed her to highlight the anniversary.
“Last year was our 30th anniversary, and we were doing a fundraiser for community projects, so we sent our emails last year in correspondence with that,” Eubank said. All three emails highlighted the opportunity to give back to community projects while honoring the company’s work within the industry. “The campaign was very successful. We raised almost $9,000.”
Another tactic that has seen a lot of success is videos. Viking has experienced positive outcomes since September 2017 by featuring a video within each email. According to Bailey, having the video mentioned in the subject line and located at the top of the email gets more opens and a greater click-through rate.
“I saw that our previous use of videos had done well. The past four emails all featured a video, and all of those had a good open rate,” she continued. “So, videos will definitely play a role in our future emails.”
In its March email, Viking highlighted a video tour of its Kentucky plant, illustrating that videos can provide technical information through staff or provide clients an opportunity to get an insider’s view of a company.
PTA has seen success in utilizing emails to promote upcoming events, such as a tradeshow, or new technology. Casting an even wider net, the company promotes a similar message as seen in email through social media channels.
“In conjunction with the emails, we leverage LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram to have consistent messaging,” said Nichols.
An example of this was a recent campaign PTA launched to promote a new automated line for product serialization. “We introduced this first at a tradeshow with a press release and a video,” Nichols continued. “We then followed up with an email announcement and a LinkedIn post. The number of views was significant and led to appointments with new customer targets.”
A targeted approach is vital to the success of any email campaign, but so is a healthy database of email addresses and a defined frequency for sending communications.
Team 1 has seen a strong response to its smaller (about 600) list and lower email frequency of three times a year. The company’s January email had a 30 percent open rate and, of that, a 27 percent click-through rate. “That’s one of the reasons we don’t send them all the time. If you get an email from a company every week, unless it’s something you’d be interested in, you’re not going to open it every time,” said Eubank.
PTA’s Nichols would agree that a marketer wants to avoid ending up in a spam or junk folder, which is why PTA reaches its list of 7,100 only four times a year with an informative email, adding more as needed for tradeshows.
“Our goal is to have new content quarterly, but it has to be relevant or provide value to the end customer. Too many emails and you risk ending up in the spam or junk folder,” said Nichols.
Outbound from in-house
All three companies deploy these email marketing efforts from in-house. Utilizing their small, but mighty marketing teams allows companies to have more of a hands-on approach while also minimizing resources needed for a third-party vendor.
While they are not outsourcing their marketing, all three do engage a form of cloud-based software equipped to manage the email template, database and campaigns.
“We leverage HubSpot for campaigns, which allows us to track the number of views and open rates. And, we also can track which emails have bounced or if the contact has opted out,” said Nichols.
HubSpot is used by PTA and Team 1. With both free and paid versions of the software, companies can test marketing strategies with a free version and upgrade as the efforts grow. Constant Contact is another popular software resource used among marketers for email management. Of course, the software is only as good as users make it, enabling the marketing professionals to create content and draft emails that will engage the recipient. Viking uses Constant Contact and outsourced the design and interactivity of the email template.
“We didn’t always use the same template, but to push brand recognition, we’ve been using the same exact template for more than a year,” said Bailey. “We continue the brand recognition on our website with all the same colors – even the buttons look the same as they do on our website.”
For content creation, Team 1 hosts an annual brainstorming session with about 10 to 15 internal stakeholders and members from various departments to jot down anything that comes to mind for marketing. On average, about 50 ideas are generated. “We prioritize which ones we want to do, and then other things come up – like news items, getting an award or the kinds of things that are more seasonal,” said Eubank. “Between the brainstorming session and the ones that just come up routinely, we are easily filling in the editorial calendar.”
PTA is precise in its approach, taking advice from what others have seen in successful email marketing. Nichols noted that keeping its content brief and to the point helps readers retain more information.
“The vast majority of people will read your email on their mobile devices first, rather than on a computer. So if the content is too long, they won’t have the patience to scroll through the message. With that in mind, I like to focus on ‘be brief, be bright, be gone,’” he said. “Capture their attention quickly and be respectful of their time. Sell value as quickly as you can.”
Overall, plastic processing companies are finding success in email marketing. Nichols summarized it best by saying, “the key is not to force a set schedule and not send content just for the sake of having a set campaign. It has to be important and relevant – otherwise, it is just noise.”