If you’ve been keeping up with our coverage of this year’s FutureM Conference–you know we’ve been looking at things through a bit of a “smaller” lens than some other companies.

Not smaller in terms of insight or innovation, but smaller in terms of the type of businesses we have in mind when looking toward the future of marketing.

We can’t help it! We’re passionate about small businesses.

And, as you might have guessed, we’re also passionate about email marketing.

So, looking back at all of the great information that was shared at the conference this past week…

Here are 15 lessons about the future of email marketing small businesses can use to propel their business forward:

1. “It’s not about the mic.” Chris Brogan – President, Human Business Works

The reality is–whatever tool you use to communicate with your audience–it’s the way in which you use it that matters most.

Don’t think you need to be using every tool or network available.

You don’t. Focus on the tools that allow you to best engage current customers, connect with new ones, and build the type of relationships that can help grow your business.

2. “We need to strive to address the deeper needs of our customers.” Clark Kokich – Chairman, Razorfish

Small businesses need to continue to dive deeper into understanding the needs of their customers. Consumers are more informed than ever before and as a result, have begun to set higher standards for the content they receive from brands.

Nothing is more powerful for building loyalty than being able to help a customer overcome a challenge or achieve a goal. You should strive to do that with every email you send. 

3. “Offline interactions continue to be the biggest driver for referrals.” Dave Gilbertson – Vice President and General Manager, SaveLocal, Constant Contact

One of the biggest misconceptions about all of the stuff businesses are doing online (email, social, mobile, etc.) is that it has replaced offline interactions.

It’s just not true. Offline interactions are still a driving force behind the type of word-of-mouth that is essential to growing your business. And that’s why it’s so important to make sure those offline interactions don’t end when someone walks out the door.

Make it easy for customers to join your list by using an email signup sheet. Or consider using text-to-join or scan-to-join from Constant Contact–two tools that will simplify your signup process.

4. “If you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish, how can you ever measure success?” Corinne J. Munchbach – Analyst, Forrester Research

Far too many businesses overlook one of the most basic steps of planning email marketing: setting achievable goals.

Understanding what it is you’re actually trying to achieve from all the stuff you’re doing online, is the only way to drive real results for your business offline. When it comes to email marketing, higher open-rates and more clicks are great, but what are they actually doing for your business?

Define your goals and create content that helps lead your readers to the type of action that will allow you to achieve it. Don’t forget to make that action clear to your readers and to make it easy for them to take the next step.

5. “Humanize your marketing whenever you can.” Marty St. George – Senior Vice President, Marketing and Commercial Strategy, JetBlue Airways

With all this technology–it’s easy for people to forget that behind every email newsletter, Facebook post, or Instagram photo is a real business, and more importantly–a real person.

There is no business that’s more real than a small business, and more often than not–it’s the person that’s writing the content for an email newsletter (hey, that’s you!) that has to pay the bills each month.

Use photos and videos to showcase the “human side” of your business, and create content that connects your personal experiences to those of your customers.

6. “Arm your advocates with the highest level of knowledge.” Stacey Howe – Global Digital Marketing and Brand Management, New Balance

People who subscribe to your email contact list are among the most knowledgeable, loyal, and vocal members of your customer base. These are people who know your business, have requested to learn more, and want to be given the highest level of information possible.

Keep that in mind when creating your next email newsletter. What is it you want readers to be telling your friends and families? How can that word-of-mouth help you to achieve your next goal? How can you reward them for their loyalty.

Make sure you’re answering all of their questions and provide them with links to other online resources (website, blog, social media, etc.)

7. “Ground yourself in relationships. Make them your North Star.” Corinne J. Munchbach – Analyst, Forrester Research

Plain and simple–customer relationships will define the future of marketing, just as they have defined its past.

While email, social, and mobile have had a profound impact on the way brands grow their business; they do not define who you are and what your business represents. Instead, they present an opportunity to reground yourself and your brand in the relationships you have with customers, and use that to inform your marketing decision making.

8. “You can’t ask for something from your customers, unless you plan to act on it.” Stacey Howe – Global Digital Marketing and Brand Management, New Balance

Few things can ruin a good first impression like asking someone to join your mailing list, having them give you their contact information, and then … nothing.

People expect that if you’re asking them to join your list, or become a member of your social community that you’re actually going to engage with them on those platforms. Failing to follow through on those promises will set a low standard for future interactions and will likely make first-time customers weary of turning into repeat ones.

Don’t ask until you’re ready to act, and remember: never commit to something you’re not entirely sure you’ll be able to follow through with.

9. “It’s not the third screen or second screen­—it’s the first screen. It’s one of the few things we walk around with all day.” John Caron – Vice President of Marketing, Catalina

The influence of mobile is being felt across all marketing channels–whether it’s on social media, in your email newsletter, or on your website.

Your subscribers are no longer static when reading your email newsletter. They are on the go: at home, at work, and even at your place of business. As email marketers, we need to begin to rethink the type of content customers will be most likely to engage with on a smartphone or tablet screen that’s less than a quarter of the size of a typical monitor.

Expect mobile to have a profound impact on all your marketing efforts, here’s eight things you need to be aware of. 

10. “Customer’s don’t care about our products, they care about what products enable them to do.” Stacey Howe – Global Digital Marketing and Brand Management, New Balance

The first question any customer is going to ask when receiving an email from your business: “What’s in it for me?”

It’s something we all do–whether conscious of it or not–and it’s exactly the question you’ll have to answer when your email arrives in their inbox.

If all you’re offering in your email newsletter is information about what you’re trying to sell or promote, with no consideration for why its important to your readers–it’s likely you’ll be talking to a rather unresponsive crowd. Think of why people become customers in the first place. What is it your business can do for them that other businesses cannot?

Or as Marty St. George, Vice President of Marketing and Commerical Strategy for JetBlue put it, “If our competitors could slap their logo on it and no one could tell the difference–we’re not interested.”

11. “The strongest relationships are built upon shared beliefs.” Jeff Freedman – CEO, Small Army – FutureM

In addition to doing business with organizations we think can help us achieve our goals, most people do business with businesses in which they share a common interest or belief.

In fact, 71% of consumers would recommend a brand that supports a good cause over one that doesn’t, and 72% would switch brands to a different one if they supported a good cause.

Think of the causes you already support, and give your customers an opportunity to get involved.

12. “It’s not always about new customers. Engage with customers you already know and drive repeat business.” Gail Goodman – CEO, Constant Contact – FutureM

Don’t let the hunger for new customers distract you from the value of engaging with your current customers.

While new customers will be essential for growing your business, it’s those whom are already receiving your emails, engaging with you on Facebook, and visiting your place of business that will have the biggest impact on your bottom line.

Remember: customer experiences are what drive loyalty, which will drive repeat sales and word-of-mouth.

13. “We ignore 98% of the products when we walk into a grocery store.” John Caron – Vice President of Marketing, Catalina

One thing you need to remember about your customers is that, more often than not, they know what they want.

As consumers, we love to find new businesses and tap into the explorative side of our personalities–but we also have certain interests and tastes that guide our purchasing decisions.

That’s why it’s so important to ask customers what type of content they’re most interested in at the point of sign up. Use a customizable signup form that let’s users automatically segment into interest-specific lists and consider sending an online survey to see if those preferences are still relevant.

14. “Gamification doesn’t have to only be about playing. It can also be about getting people to the next level of performance.” Gail Goodman – CEO, Constant Contact – FutureM

Gamification is a concept that is having a growing influence in the world of marketing. At its most basic level, gamification means taking characteristics of gaming (competition, rewards, challenges, etc.) and applying them to an online strategy.

Gamifcation can and should have a role on that way that small businesses use the power of email marketing. This doesn’t mean every new email needs to provide a new challenge for readers to overcome–but it does mean that each newsletter should provide readers with a new opportunity to do something new, do something better, or do something they never thought possible.

Or as Stacey Howe said, “Nothing is more social than a successful experience.”

Create content that helps your readers achieve those positive experiences and celebrate their success each step of the way.

15. “Consumers today, expect to be rewarded for their loyalty.” Josh Grossman – Director of Marketing, SavingStar – FutureM

At the end of the day, those costumers who are so important to your business, expect and deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty.

That doesn’t mean you need to throw a party every time someone joins your list, but it does mean you should be providing exclusive offers to those who sign up. That offer could be something as simple as exclusive content (A secret recipe that’s just for our readers!), a local deal ($10 for $20 gift certificate), or a coupon (10% off your next purchase) that customers can redeem at your place of business.

Rewarding your readers for their loyalty–and I promise–they will reward you back.

The best way to predict the future is to create it

One of the last lessons of FutureM was a quote delivered on the last day of the event:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

I can’t think of a more relevant quote for those businesses learning, starting, or actively using email marketing to grow their business, than that.

Small businesses have gone through a lot of change over the last few years and have unquestionably come out on top. You have led the charge in email and on social, and will likely be central to defining the future of marketing.

All you need to do is go out and create it.

Did you miss any of our posts from FutureM 2012? Read them all here.