To some people, email marketing is all bad, brought about by the irritating and irresponsible activities of “spammers”. However, dismissing email marketing can be a big mistake as it remains an enormously powerful medium. It’s just important that the law is obeyed and that common sense prevails. This section is designed to achieve great business results while working within those constraints.
Email marketing can be used in three main ways. The first is “cold contact” where an email list is bought and an attempt made to rustle up new business. The second is where prospects have provided their email address to you, typically to receive a newsletter. The final opportunity is where the prospects have previously bought from you – so you already have some form of relationship. Although there are common principles across each of these cases, each requires separate consideration. For instance, identifying your company as the sender makes sense when they have bought before, but may be a disadvantage if they haven’t.
Across all email types, there are three challenges. The first is to get your emails delivered, the second is to get them opened and the third is to achieve a business result. Each needs to be considered in turn.
Obey the rules
Don’t communicate with people who haven’t given permission. Always provide a free opt out in all your communication. You and your sub-contractors e.g. shipping companies are allowed to communicate with customers in order to fulfill your contract to deliver and you do not need permission for that.
Email addresses are a valuable asset, whether bought in, acquired for a newsletter, or obtained from people who have bought from your store. As a result, you should carefully plan how you will use them, as it is incredibly easy to destroy their potential. It’s important that you plan any campaign properly, and not have a series of poorly thought through and ill timed communications. At all times you must keep recipients engaged with your content.
Build an email list
Provide a prominent and simple sign-up to a mailing list on every page – but only if you will actually make use of the information. Email addresses enable newsletters to be sent, which can then be used to move on by capturing more details. Ask customers to check a box to agree to receive offers and information. It’s best to say you won’t pass the details to third parties as you are likely to increase the sign up rate.
Buy in a list
For cold prospecting, it is possible to source external lists, and there are now many companies selling such lists. They must obviously consist of opted in email addresses. Not all lists are the same and measures of quality include the bounce rate (the percentage of emails that are undelivered). Ultimately however, it’s the responsiveness of the list to your proposition that matters. A small list that products a 1% response is worth much more than a large list responding at 0.01%.
Get your email delivered
Use a third party specialist else you may get your server or domain black-listed. If you use your normal site or ecommerce service for sending email then ask the following questions: does your supplier screen their customers to make sure they are not spamming as you will get tarred with the same brush if you are on the same sever; does your supplier have good working relationships with other ISPs; what procedures do they have to resolve delivery problems?
Make sure that they obey the Sender Policy Framework (SPF). Remember that sending emails to invalid addresses will cause ISPs to flag you as a spammer – then none of their customers will hear from you again. If a domain that previously was good at receiving your email suddenly shows many email addresses as non-existent, then suspect you have been black-listed. However, note that 100% success suggest your emails are being discarded. Get in touch with the technical contacts at the domain to find out what is happening. Get the recipients who have not received your email shot to complain if possible. Slow down the email sending speed. Perform a deliverability audit – is the stuff actually getting through?
Avoid spam filters
Even after an email has arrived to a valid address, it can still be regarded as spam by the individual’s own email application. The rules on spam filtering are constantly changing as the spammers try to avoid the rules and the suppliers try to catch them. For instance, putting “free” in the subject line or body of the email is a fair bet for getting filtered out. One good technique is to send some emails to friends, particularly if you haven’t emailed that particular email address before, and see what gets filtered and what gets through. This is also good for checking what the email looks like.
Get your email opened – the subject line
Make the subject line of interest by using personalisation whenever possible, for instance considering putting the target’s name in the subject line as this has been reported as producing up to a 10% better response. Use relevant, snappy subject lines. Using money off special offers in emails is good, but avoid putting them in the subject line else the email will look like spam.
Get your email opened – the day of week and time of day
Perhaps surprisingly, the day of the week and time of day has a material impact of the probability that your email is opened. This is probably because when a person opens their inbox and finds a big backlog of emails, they are more likely to delete emails without opening them. So get your message into inboxes at the optimum time – experiment to find out when that is for your market. Experience suggests that this will vary by country.
Get your email content right
Once you email is delivered and opened, you have a second or two to catch the reader. Fantastic creative absolutely does not guarantee success. For instance there’s an issue around images versus text – remember that images are usually initially suppressed with a red cross. The initial pane is likely to be one third the size of the web page – so take this into account. Don’t require any scrolling to the right, scrolling down is OK. Most people look at the top of screen first, so you must hook them on the first part – this is where a logo may or may not be a good idea. A logo may be the only thing the recipient looks at. Certain moods can be engendered by the use of certain colours and fonts so again test them to see what works best.
Sending either emails or a newsletter too frequently is counter-productive. If the perception you leave is that you are only interested in force-feeding more product, you will train your customers and prospects to ignore you, delete your emails, opt out or place you on a spam list. I myself experienced this from one store that sent me special offers every week after I bought. It was very irritating and I have never shopped there again.
Think about what you would like to receive and work hard to send what is relevant. The recipient’s time is precious, so they must feel that they get more value from reading your communication than the time it costs them. Remember that if you put out an unsophisticated strong sales message this may destroy the implicit contract you have with the recipients and lead to more requests to unsubscribe. If you highlight something on your web site (always a good idea) then the recipient must be able to click through directly to the relevant page. Newsletters should keep to a common format just like newspapers do with TV times in a particular place – it makes you more familiar and hence more likely to be read. Track clicks on links if you can, that way you can measure the success or otherwise of campaigns.
Learn from the big guys
Subscribe to receive emails yourself and analyze incoming marketing emails in the light of the advice here. You will be able to glean best practice and see developing trends, effectively benefiting from the research and gurus employed by the big boys.
Try to go viral
The rise of social networking has opened up new possibilities with email marketing. It’s good practice to encourage people to forward emails to a friend or even add the contents of the email to their social network. These can be accomplished with links in the email.
Monitor bounce rate
Emails that can’t be delivered are said to be “bounced” when you get notification that they have not been delivered. The bounce rate is a good measure of the quality of your email list.
Make it easy to read
There are many email clients used to read emails. Check that your email is readable in as many as you can. The message here is that while a little work will reap major reward, the more environments you check, the more response that you will get. Make sure that your email can easily be read on the current crop of email readers and in the display sizes that are most prevalent. This changes regularly as new trends emerge, so is worth inquiring about this regularly. At the time of writing, it’s worth considering how your email will display on a PC, Mac, Netbook, Mobile and on the free email services such as Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail. Also consider varying from HTML to text to see what impact that this has.
Be diligent in maintaining our list
Make sure that you remove email addresses that unsubscribe and that produce bounced emails. Be totally diligent about this. Collect more information over time from your customers and prospects, using a newsletter.
Always have an objective
From each communication you should have one objective with an associated clear call to action. You need to make this absolutely clear and ideally it will be “above the fold” so people can readily see it. In some cases, this will be to get a purchase there and then. In other cases, you will simply want to move the prospect along the sales funnel. Any segmenting your email list you should aim to have the correct objective for the correct segment.
Trial and error is needed to see what works with your prospects. One merchant reported that their most successful email campaign resulted from two lines of plain text while one longer email with images resulted in no orders at all.