After you create great, educational content, make sure your customers can find and engage with that content by building a strong list and promoting your newsletter on social media.

We’ve heard that “content is king.” That’s only half right. If no one is reading, clicking or listening, what good is content?

The real king of digital marketing is a quality list. This is your most valuable marketing asset. It’s the fuel for your promotions.

A quality list doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, persistence and consistency. Here’s how to get one:

Cater to customer interests

How many customers does your garden center have per year? Now, what percent of people in your sales area are not only customers, but interested enough to want to hear about your products and events? Perhaps 1 percent or 5 percent?

Now, what percent of people in your sales area have questions about gardening that you can answer? Questions that will drive them to open your emails, learn about your garden center for the first time, and either sign up, check you out, or remember your name? I’m guessing it’s a much higher percentage than the first group of customers mentioned above.

Bottom line, if your emails are about your garden center, the only ones who will want to see them are engaged customers. If they answer common, perennial gardening questions, you’ll break outside the barriers of your customer base and find people who don’t know your business, but will be glad you introduced them to it.

The power of content is to take your messaging beyond your garden center to reach an audience based on interest.


How to sign them up

The best way to build a quality list is the kind that drives owners crazy: slowly and consistently. Here are some strategies:


Ask them at checkout, or have someone circulating with a clipboard or iPad. If you have a loyalty card to tie in, all the better. Canadians: you don’t need double opt-in if they sign up in store; the fact that they’re customers is implied consent. Just be sure to have documentation.

On your website: Create a strong call-to-action for sign ups across your site. “Strong” means branded and not a generic “sign up for our email.” Tell them what they’ll get, how often they’ll get it, and give it an intriguing twist. For example, if you’re an urban garden center with a niche in terrariums and workshops, you might say, “Weekly inspiration for your urban jungle.” If you’re a rural tree nursery, you might want to use, “Learn to care for your yard in less time with our biweekly emails.” It takes time; a sign-up rate of 3 percent is considered strong.

On social media: A post that reads “sign up now” on Facebook will get you nowhere. The feeds are saturated with similar messages. The best way to drive sign ups from new customer segments is paid, targeted boosting on Facebook. Create quality blogs or other content, boost them to the people who’ll be interested, and drive that traffic back to your website and encourage email sign-ups.

Pitfalls to avoid

A high-quality email address is one from someone who gives you permission to, and expects you to, deliver them emails at regular, measured time intervals. Combine that with an interest in the content you’re talking about, and you’re on your way to a new customer.

If someone isn’t signing up wanting to hear from you, they aren’t worth signing up. Yes, I’m talking about all those get-a-list-quick schemes like winning a prize at a trade show or an online contest. A thousand will sign-up, you’ll pop the champagne, and most of them will bounce like rubber balls with the first email. Don’t buy lists. Ever.

What to expect

If you’re just starting out in email marketing, and/or if you’re working with a small, in-house generated list, expect a very high open rate. You’re talking to your hardcore base, so it’s common for 40 percent or more of people to read your emails.

The bad news is that you’re preaching to the choir. Lists of loyal customers are effective at reminding people about your sales and events, but it’s not challenging you to bring in new customer segments.

As you grow, you’ll start to see a lower open rate as you reach out to fair-weather customers and those only interested in your content. This is when your content planning becomes critical. You’ll need to know what questions they want you to answer in order to stay engaged.

Rob is co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouse, an independent garden center based in Alberta, Canada, and founder of Craft Marketing, a lean digital agency specializing in content marketing for independent businesses.