Cotton. You’re probably wearing it right now.

But do you remember a time when cotton took a backseat to synthetic materials?

Irene Schmoller, founder of Cotton Clouds, has had a passion for cotton since 1979, when she started her Safford, Arizona, business.

During the company’s early years, the popularity of synthetic clothes made it nearly impossible to find cotton yarn supplies. “I sent out 200 form letters to suppliers and got five responses,” Irene recalls.

So, she decided she would supply the yarn herself – for her own weaving and to others who were having a similar struggle.

Cotton Clouds was using email marketing early on, but it wasn’t a cornerstone of Irene’s strategy.

But, after re-evaluating her email strategy, Irene rejuvenated her emails – and, in the process, won the nomination for the 2012 Arizona Small Business Success Awards.

Here are the five strategies she implemented:

1. Attend a seminar

Irene credits much of her success to regional development director Ron Cates. In fact, she values his advice so much that she invited him to attend the March 29 reception for the Business Success Awards in Phoenix.

“I’ve taken two seminars with Ron Cates and they really changed the way I thought about email,” Irene says. “Before turning to Constant Contact for email marketing, I couldn’t really customize my newsletters, so I could show the product, but not a lot of personality.”

In fact, after the Small Business Success Awards was hosted at the Eastern Arizona College SBDC, Ron Cates was invited to give a seminar at there, too.

2. Don’t say ‘Buy, buy buy!’

One of the most valuable things that Irene learned at the seminars was that you don’t want to use email to push a product in a customer’s face.

“I started focusing on building relationships and educating customers, instead,” Irene explains.

Each Cotton Clouds email is striking for that very reason: subscribers can find everything from the latest news and health tips to videos, photographs, and coupons. The sheer volume of content makes it likely that there’s something for everyone in each newsletter.

3. Educate

Education is an important part of the business model for Cotton Clouds. Irene often includes links to videos that teach customers how to better use her product.

After all, if they don’t know how to spin or weave, why would they buy?

“Videos are really popular,” Irene says. Sometimes, she will make one herself. “Other times, I’ll just find one YouTube that I think people will enjoy.”

She makes sure to track her click-through rates each time a newsletter is sent, because that can give her insight into what customers like the most – and what they may want to see less frequently.

4. Respect your audience’s different needs

A lot of small businesses and organizations may know their audience but do they respect them by not overloading their inboxes with emails?

Irene works hard to think about what her audience wants – especially because some customers want different things.

Her contact list is divided into six lists, from spinning to crocheting to weaving. That helps guarantee that, if a customer is only interested in some of Cotton Clouds’ supplies, they won’t be getting emails that are exclusively about something else.

5. Sync it all up

At first, Irene had trouble when she started her Facebook Page. So she decided to use Facebook Ads to help boost her fan base. In four months, she went from 500 to 5,000 fans.

Nowadays, the Cotton Clouds Facebook Page has over 5,000 “Likes.”

Part of the reason may be that fans can find more of the engaging content they have come to expect from the Cotton Clouds newsletters: photos, advice, and tips.

And Irene often posts those newsletters to the Facebook Page, too, which means that customers will never miss a beat.

Content is Gold

For a company like Cotton Clouds, there’s a lot of value in building a community. Irene has used both email marketing and social media to do just that.

Rather than selling her products with every email, she instead offers advice on how to use them, or shows off the uses for them herself. In each newsletter, she also includes a blog post about a new project that she or an employee is creating.

Engaging customers with all of that unique content has certainly paid off.

“Every time I send out an email, I get a sale in 15 minutes,” Irene says. “Overall, I get up to four times as many sales with these newsletters than I did with my old ones, and they’ve gone from about $50 per order to $100.”

Everyone has heard about the value of “content” in a world of email inboxes with exponential growth, but Cotton Clouds has the numbers to back it up: a simple shift in strategy quadrupled the company’s business.

What strategies do you use to promote education & sales in your emails? Let us know below!