Your customers and clients are overloaded with e-mail every day. We asked experts for their tips and tricks for more effective e-mail marketing.
Tiffany Black, Inc.com
Spreading the gospel of good e-mail marketing is what Justin Premick, e-mail marketing expert and self-proclaimed e-mail evangelist, has been doing since 2004. Premick believes that permission e-mail marketing works, and as director of education marketing at AWeber Communications Inc. in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, he works primarily with small businesses. "You don't have to tell the Proctor & Gamble account manager that e-mail works, but you might have to convince the independent retailer, or the local coffee shop, or art store," Premik says.
E-mail can be used by your business to market to customers, alert them to new product offerings, and offer loyalty discounts or promotions. At the same time, your customers can use e-mail to troubleshoot any problems they have with your products or services, provide you feedback, and ask questions.
Due to its multitude of uses, e-mail marketing is part art and part science. It takes a combination of know-how and creativity to get customers and clients just to open your e-mail. We've talked to experts and nailed down some of the technical knowledge of what methods produce positive click-thru rates and even purchases. And, want to know what not to do? We've got that, too.
Do: Keep it short and simple. Don't: Waste too much time crafting the e-mail.
"The message needs to be clear and consistent from the subject line to the e-mail headline and skimmable body copy," says Tim Watson, operations director at smartFocus Digital with offices in England and the Netherlands, as well as Newton, Massachusetts, and Denver, Colorado. If you put too much information or try to offer the reader multiple sales or promotions, you could overwhelm them and lose them.
"Don't cram too many messages into a single e-mail or send large attachments that may clog subscribers' inboxes," advises Monica Roldan, Internet manager at Citigroup.
"Readers are brutal with deleting e-mail," Watson says. "They are looking for reasons to delete and you have seconds to stop that from happening."
Do: Qualify the e-mail addresses and information about the people and the organizations they represent. Don't: Carpet e-mail blast every address in your database.
The experts could not emphasize enough the importance of a targeted database with accurate information. "I live on the 5th floor of an apartment block. If I get an e-mail offering me a $50 discount off lawnmowers, it's spam," says Nigel Rayner, a marketing and advertising professional at NJR Consulting in Stockport, United Kingdom. "It's all down to accurate targeting and segmentation."
Do: Create value in your e-mailing. Don't: Attempt to sell with no utility for your subscribers.
It's easy to use your newsletters as a means of selling your products or services. It's harder to offer a value to your subscribers whether they make a purchase or not. "Give people a reason to subscribe and to remain subscribed," Premick says. "Understand it's not 'free' to people to be on your e-mail list; it costs their time and that is arguably the most valuable and irreplaceable resource people have."
Your goal should be to have a mix and balance of both and offer content that is useful and that the reader can't get anywhere else. You have to figure out ways to engage your subscribers. "E-mail one part of a three-part story and follow-up with the other parts in later e-mails," suggested Steve Cates, VP of multichannel marketing at Carrot-Top Industries in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. "Have polls or solicit open-ended questions and give them a place to respond."
Do: Allow users several ways to opt-out. Don't: Neglect preferences.
All the experts agreed that offering an opt-out option is essential to not annoy customers and clients, but also as a measure of protecting your brand. You don't want your company e-mails to be associated with being spammers. "Recognize and understand the importance of permission. It isn't taken, it's given," Premick says. "Subscribers will revoke permission, one way or another."
An e-mail preference center is a Web page you create for customers who sign up for your e-mail program. Here, you give them a chance to tell you what they want by letting them choose and manage the types of messages they receive from you. While preferences can create a little bit more work for you, they improve the experience for your customers by ensuring they only receive the kinds of e-mail from you that they want.
Do: Strategically promote your e-mail newsletters. Don't: Buy or rent e-mail lists.
It's not always about the size of your e-mail list, but the quality of your list that matters. You want customers or clients who are more likely to purchase your product or service. The way to get those people is to build your own list.
Encourage customers to sign up directly from your website, where they can quickly provide their information and choose exactly what kind of information they want to receive from you. Also, have sign-up sheets at your retail counter, conference, workshop, or presentation. "You can create a blog for your business, offer something of value such as a guide or e-book and provide it for free to anyone who opts in with his or her e-mail addresses," said Mike Matson, a freelance copywriter based near Tampa, Florida, who works on the blog Marketing InfoWrangler. "Get a list-management system such as aweber.com and provide regular e-mails to your list of prospects."
You want subscribers that want information about your company, product or service. "Don't buy or rent lists," says Dave Ewing, an e-mail expert at SpinnakerPro, which has offices in San Francisco and the United Kingdom. "I know they seem like an easy option, but they don't know you and don't want to hear from you." Ewing also explained how purchasing or renting e-mail lists can hurt your companies credibility. "If enough people on those lists hit the Junk/Spam button, they will damage your company's domain reputation. They're not worth it!"
Do: Use a third-party e-mail system. Don't: Try to manage your e-mail lists yourself.
The experts agreed that third-party e-mail companies are essential for managing your e-mail lists and maintaining the quality of the lists and the e-mails you send. They will help to verify the e-mail addresses and information about your subscribers. They also offer valuable information about bounce-backs, which opened and clicked on what, subscriptions and opt-outs, getting your company on white lists and checking your e-mail messages against spam filters.
Do: Include advertising in regular company e-mails. Don't: Miss a marketing opportunity.
Most companies ignore the most obvious way to advertise and promote the company – e-mails sent regularly by employees during the course of doing business. You can make every e-mail that an employee sends out a part of your marketing effort by including ads and embedded links. The e-mails are more targeted because they are between people that know each other or who are doing business with each other. There are several companies that provide these e-mail enhancement services for as little as $5 a month
Do: Sign-up for competitors e-mails similar to your own. Don't: Underestimate the competition.
"Competitive intelligence should be part of the process, as it may save you valuable time and resources," says Lee Traupel, CEO of Linked Media Group based in Penn Valley, California. The easiest and most cost effective way to do that is to sign up for your competitors' newsletters. You should keep track of what they are saying, how they are crafting their e-mails and implementing best practices in to your own e-mails.
Do: Include strong calls-to-action. Don't: Make it difficult for subscribers to get more information or act on it.
First you want your subscribers to open the e-mail but after they open it what they do next is the most important. "Using links in calls-to-action that take readers to custom landing pages with more information - and more calls-to action - can be very helpful," said Heidi Cool, owner of the Web design and strategy company HeidiCool.com. "They guide the reader forward – towards your goal – and make it easier to track your success." Sherrie Mersdorf, database marketing analyst at Cvent in McLean, Virginia, warns, "You don't want your calls-to-action to only be in pictures since many clients block images by default. Your message is likely to be deleted before it is even read."
Do: Test, test, and test again. Don't: Get complacent.
What works for one company may not work for another. Also, your clients' and customers' responses to your e-mails could change over time. You have to continue to test and make changes to your e-mail strategy to optimize success. Experts advise testing everything from the time of day you send e-mail, what days of the week they are sent, display in different e-mail clients to which subject lines you use. Gerry Black, a marketing consultant and writer and based in Toronto shares his method for testing e-mail subject lines and increasing open rates.
"Create your e-mail promotion and write out three subject lines. Take your best subject line and include it with your first e-mail. Let's say you e-mail 1,000 people and 150 open it. Delete those names off your "send" list and re-send the e-mail using a different subject line. Once your open results come back from the second e-mail, delete those names and do your third e-mail using your third subject line. You could triple the amount of people who open your e-mail by using this strategy."
Black did this with a client and he shared the actual results. The first e-mail was sent to 306 recipients of whom 84 people opened it. The second e-mail was sent to 222 recipients of whom 38 people opened it. The last e-mail was sent to the remainder of the e-mail list. Twenty people opened that. The same e-mail with different subject lines was sent to 306 people and was opened by 142 people for an open rate of 46 percent.
The caution in doing this is that you have to carefully time when you send the e-mails. You don't want all the e-mails to be sent on the same day as your customers and clients might notice your strategy.
Of course, some effective tactics vary from business to business.
"When it comes to e-mail, there are lots of dos and don'ts, although the No. 1 don't is don't take anyone else's word for what works and what doesn't," Premick says. "Test for yourself."