Social and Shareable: Email Lessons from Jackson Coffee Company

Jackson Coffee Company, a coffee shop in Jackson, MI, has won “Best of Jackson” four years in a row without ever asking their customers to vote for them. And they beat out national chains like Starbucks and McCafe.

How do they do it? Effective email marketing mixed with a strategic social media presence helps Jackson Coffee build a strong following of loyal customers.

We spoke with Robert Ernst – graphic designer and social media manager – to get the scoop on how email and social media has benefited the business and see what advice he had for other local businesses trying to grow their lists and lift their sales.

Give Customers What They Want

Jackson Coffee Company maintains an impressive number of email lists – one for their main newsletter and 12 separate lists for their birthday club. I asked Robert why he didn’t just segment the main list for the birthday club.

He answered that not everyone who comes into one of their store locations is interested in receiving the monthly coupons that Jackson Coffee’s main newsletter offers. Many only want the annual coupon on their birthdays. Keeping separate lists – as opposed to segmenting – makes it easy to mail those customers at the frequency they prefer.

Robert’s advice for other small businesses is to be mindful of what subscribers want. Not everyone is interested in frequent newsletters. Ask your customers for their preferences and honor those preferences for a successful email campaign with lower spam complaints.

Managing a Social Media Strategy

As Social Media Manager for Jackson Coffee, Robert has established a rich online presence for the business. Customers can connect with Jackson Coffee on Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, Google+ and their recently opened Pinterest account.

Sound like too much for one person to manage? Robert has some tips for establishing your online presence without taking too much time out of your day:

  • Get more hands on deck. Robert enlists other employees to update Jackson Coffee’s social sites. Ask other people on your team to pitch in with your social media updates so you can focus on other areas of your business.
  • Automate updates when you can. One of the reasons that Robert loves Facebook so much is because of all the apps that can connect to your page. Many of these apps allow Robert to update Jackson Coffee’s other social profiles with the new Facebook status. Linking profiles like this helps to save time.
  • Use networks that make sense for your business. Jackson Coffee Co has a Foursquare page with coupons for every check in. But he wouldn’t recommend the social check-in service for all small businesses. Foursquare is most effective when you have some kind of discount or coupon to offer for checkins. Before you sign up your business for another social media site, make sure its features make sense for your target audience.
  • Be prepared. Facebook makes frequent changes to its service, most recently with its introduction of Timeline for fan pages. Robert encourages that “when Facebook makes a change, remember the three A’s: Accept, Adapt and Act.” When Jackson Coffee heard about the Timeline changes, they acted quickly to adapt their page around the updates. Make sure you have your own plan in place to adapt when the function of your network changes.

Although Jackson Coffee connects with customers on a number of social networks, one does stand out from the rest, especially for businesses dipping their feet into social media for the first time. Robert says that out of all the sites they’re on, “Facebook has been the most prolific.”

While plenty of niche sites have value for small businesses, Robert believes that Facebook has the most to offer. He appreciates the ease of posting a variety of media – from photos to videos to contests to simple status updates. Facebook has the flexibility he needs for Jackson Coffee’s marketing, and also has a wide and diverse user base to connect with.

So if you’re just starting out and don’t know which network your business should join, get on Facebook first.

Email is Still The Most Valuable

Where does email fit into the mix for Jackson Coffee? When asked how valuable email is to his business, Robert replied emphatically, “It’s been insanely valuable! I don’t even know how to describe how valuable it’s been.”

Jackson Coffee’s email campaign is an extension of their customer service and shows how getting invited into your customers’ inboxes can build a sense of loyalty. For the last four years, Robert has sent out a link for customers to vote for the Best of Jackson, but doesn’t explicitly ask subscribers to vote for them. And for the last four years, Jackson Coffee has won for best coffee shop. That’s some customer loyalty right there!

Robert credits much of his campaign’s success to the shareable nature of email. Emailing monthly coupons helps business grow by word of mouth: many of Jackson Coffee’s customers share email coupons with their friends, who bring more business into the store and sign up for their own monthly coupons. Encouraging coupon sharing might seem bad for business, but it’s resulted in even more loyal customers for Jackson Coffee.

Finally, Robert says to stay positive when communicating with your customers through email and social networks. “Email newsletters and social media should focus only on the positive aspects of your business. Any complaints should be taken seriously, and responded to with expediency. Negatives can be acknowledged, but should be paired with sharing with your customers a promise for change, and a plan of how to make the change.”

How does your own campaign drive business? Share your marketing strategies below!