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It's time to hit the reset button on email marketing. This guide will get you started now if you're ready to reformulate and breathe new life into your email strategy.
Can we all agree that email is still relevant? Yes? Great! Skip the next paragraph. No? Fine...here's a short paragraph for the doubters.
You might be thinking, “Shouldn’t I be focused on newer technology?” While email has been around for awhile, it’s not dead and it's going anywhere. Email is still a major staple in the way we communicate and run our daily lives. That doesn’t mean that we as marketers don’t have to stay on top of our game. It’s becoming increasingly more difficult to cut through the noise to reach our audiences, but email still proves itself to be a strong communication channel. It’s one of the only way to get in front of your customers directly.
Where do I start? While email marketing is a strong channel, keep in mind that it should be a component of a larger picture. An email marketing program is more likely to fail if it’s disjointed from the rest of your digital marketing strategy. So, how do we blend email marketing in? Start with the very first tep in marketing: Knowing your audience.
Identify and Create Buyer Personas
A buyer persona is a made-up character that represents your customers and audience. This is composed of demographic information and identifiers that begin to breathe life in faceless email addresses in a database. This information can come from sales records and market research. Round them out by including goals and challenges to align your messaging of how you help. These goals and challenges will help define your content later.
If you haven't completed this exercise, take time to do this step first before you go further.
Understanding Your Email Marketing Goals
Now that we have our Buyer Personas and we know how we're segmenting our audience, it’s time to figure out how email marketing fits into the big picture.
What are your company goals?
If you don’t know company goals, it's time to find out. This will be crucial in setting your email marketing goals as all marketing efforts should be aiding you in achieving those goals. If not, then what’s the purpose? An example of this would be a company goal of increasing the number of new customers in the 3rd quarter by 4%. This is a specific, measurable goal for a company who wants to grow slowly and get the attention of new customers.
Next, establish specific email marketing goals. Once you understand your company’s goals, you’re able to establish your email marketing goals. These goals should be specific, measurable, and clearly defined -- remember SMART goals?
- Build awareness.
- Sell some stuff.
- Build our email list.
- Send out information.
- Garner 45 new leads per month.
- Increase click-thru rates (CTR) by 10% in the 4th quarter.
- Nurture leads through the middle of the funnel sales process.
If you’re having a difficult time understanding how to establish your goals, take a look at the problems you’re currently having. Are you having a lead quality problem? Then maybe you need to look at lead nurturing via email marketing. Are you having a lead generation problem? Then maybe you need to tailor your efforts around tapping into your database to share and grow. Generally, by examining the problems you’re facing, you can create a goal to address the issue.
Selecting the Right Software
Email Service Providers vs. Marketing Software: When making the selection often the first thing to decide is should you use an Email Service Provider (ESP) or a Marketing Software? What’s the difference? An ESP is a platform that just allows you to send marketing emails. Examples are MailChimp, ExactTarget and Constant Contact. A marketing software is more of an all-in-one option that generally includes some content management like blogging, landing pages and social media in addition to the capability to send emails. Examples are HubSpot, Pardot and Marketo.
Cost: Some of the ESPs have a free or minimal payment option, but keep in mind you get what you pay for. Remember that some free options are really great up to a certain point and then you’ll need to factor in an additional cost in order to take your email marketing to the next level. Some services charge by the email send and others charge by the size of the database. The important thing to remember is that you’ll need to account for this additional cost.
Free Trials: ESPs and marketing software all work a little bit differently. Free trials will help you dive in and get a hands-on look at the software. In this step of the selection process, you’ll want to include anyone that will be creating or sending emails to get their input. Some software requires more HTML knowledge than others and you’ll want to make sure to choose a service that complements your team’s skill set.
Developing High-Quality Email Lists
The quality of your email database is an important factor in the success of email marketing. Often, success is measured by the number of email addresses in the database. This causes some best practices and standards to be overlooked and compromised in the interest of adding as many email addresses as possible. Let’s look at ways to structure the opt-in process.
Single Opt-In: In the single opt-in setup, the user simply enters his or her email address into a simple form on your website. That’s it. It’s the most basic way to gain subscribers.
- Pro: Simple set up on the admin side.
- Con: The first time the user hears from you is a marketing email. They might not even remember filling out the form on your website. This could result in a less engaged set of users in your database.
Double Opt-In: User enters email address and is directed to their inbox to confirm the subscription by clicking a link.
- Pro: The extra step forces the user to confirm that they want to receive the emails. By clicking this link and taking the energy to receive email communications from your company, it’s generally a good sign that they want to be engaged with your brand via email.
- Con: If the user isn’t paying attention or doesn’t take the second action, then they will not be eligible to receive emails. Your database might be grow at a slower rate, but the percent of engaged users might increase since they have to make the effort to receive the emails.
Ways to Grow Your Email List
You see an opportunity to purchase an email list, and you start to consider it. You feel that pressure to grow your list and hit your goals quick. The idea of your message being sent to thousands of people in one fell swoop ... so temptingly easy.
But, think carefully. Don't sell your pure marketer's soul just to grow your list!
Maybe it's not that dramatic, but there are definitely costs to growing your list in less than ethical ways. Remember: growth for growth's sake is a bad idea anyway. Read this post for a list of best practices, do's and don'ts, and creative ideas. Here are a few ideas for growing your email list right now:
- Offer great content that people want and need, and require an email address to download.
- Host webcasts and events! Capture emails from the registrations.
- Point of sale check out.
- Check out on e-commerce site.
- Share with a friend (use your current audience to spread the word).
- Trade shows and conferences.
- Encourage sign-ups at speaking events and presentations.
- Pop-up or "Lead In" on your website.
Maintaining High Quality Email Lists
The integrity of your email lists does impact your overall marketing. Keeping your email lists clean will improve deliverability. Here are a few tips to help you maintain these high quality lists.
Subscription centers: A subscription center is a link that’s at the bottom of every email that allows your user to update their subscription preferences. So instead of just unsubscribing, they can opt to receive only certain types of emails that might be more applicable. These options should be built in to your ESP or Marketing Software.
Remove inactive email addresses: We use HubSpot to maintain email lists using different criteria, such as 'No Activity for 12 Months' or 'Hasn't Opened an Email in 6 Months'. This allows us to send friendly inquiries, and if the addressee is uninterested, we can remove them from the list.
Email deliverability: Email deliverability is making sure your emails reach your audience’s inbox. The following are some items that affect deliverability.
- Spam traps: email addresses that only exist to catch illegitimate emails and to catch poor email practices.
- Blacklisting: Blacklisting is when the server that is sending your emails has been flagged as relaying spam. This will cause the email servers of your recipients to block any emails sent by your servers.
- Bounces: There are two types of bounces. Hard bounces are when the address is permanently undeliverable. This is typically due to a bad email address. Soft bounces are when an email gets to the server, but never gets to the recipient’s inbox. This is typically due to an inbox being full.
- Engagement matters: Engagement data is analyzed by major ISPs to track spam. Keeping an eye on your engagement, if that’s not already one of your goals, is a good idea.
This goes back to our conversation about buyer personas. If you've set up your database and digital marketing system correctly, you can automate much of this. As users fill out forms on your website and opt-in, your system should be flagging them and putting them into different buckets or buyer personas, and automatically segmenting into lists. That takes a lot of foundational admin work on the marketing software side, but trust me, it is worth it and you don't have to be a tech genius to do it.
But back to segmentation: Are you sending to a giant list? Stop. Start segmenting based on your users preferences and behavior. Your ESP/Marketing Software is probably already helping you by tracking this information. Time to make good use of it.
Email marketers estimate 30% of email revenue derives from targeting to speciﬁc segments. — DMA’s National Client Email Report, 2013
You can segment in a variety of ways:
- Job Title
- Company or Industry
- Web page they've visited
- Purchased something in the last month
- Shopping cart abandonment
- Social media interaction
- Downloaded a resource
Creating Quality Content
Of course, we can't really have a marketing conversation without bringing up content. We don’t want to get caught up in the technical aspects only to forget about the content we want our audience to engage with.
Create emails that your audience wants to read. This may sound so obvious, but it needs repeating. Newsletters, company news, sales pitches ... these are still the kinds of content folks automatically think of when they start talking about sending an "email blast!"
The delete button is clearly available to all users. So we want to make sure that we’re creating emails that they want to read. In the marketing world, many of us are used to controlling the message that we put out there, but now the tables have turned. Consumers have an abundance of choice, unlimited access thanks to the internet, and very limited time. Go back to your Buyer Personas. What do they care about?
Rethink the newsletter: Trends come and go. Newsletters were all the rage, then they were so out of fashion, and now...newsletters are back in. But they must be done right. Old school newsletters were in displayed in a super-designy template with lots of images and "read more" links to the website. The trend I'm seeing in newsletters now is long form, plain text or enhanced use of typography, fewer images, ONE main message or idea, and the whole piece is contained in the email. More links to resources and related content may be contained as a list of links at the end of the email. Newsletters are still relevant, but just make sure you're providing a ton of value; make it streamlined and don't make people jump through hoops to get the content.
Create a community people want to be a part of: People don’t care about boring emails and sales pitches. They care about being part of something really great. Create an emotionally connected environment via email and you’ll build loyalty and trust with your audience.
"Remember that the best campaigns aren’t about you or what you want subscribers to do. They’re about your subscribers and what they want." – Matt Blumberg, Chairman & CEO of Return Path
Anatomy of a Well-Structured Email
On to the fun stuff – creating the email!
Subject line: This is your first impression so make it count! Educate, ask a question, announce something exciting, offer a solution, or lead with a current event (newsjacking). Here are some examples:
- Revamp your old email marketing routine with this new guide!
- Are your email open rates tanking? Try this tip.
- Breaking: Facebook algorithm will affect your company page.
- New release today: Software enhancements are ready!
Sender: Chances are you’re probably sending your emails from a general brand name, right? Switch it up and send the email from a person in your organization. Seeing the “From” name as an actual person builds trust in the brand.
Personalization: This is a great tactic to shut out the idea that you’re speaking to a giant group with a single email. Make your audience feel as if you’re speaking directly to them. Continue to build trust with them by making the communication feel exclusive.
Body copy: Keep the body copy short and sweet. In a world full of hundreds of emails a day and bullet points, you just don’t have a ton of time to get your message across. Be brief and urge your audience to take the next step, whatever that may be, without any additional distractions.
Images: Depending on your email style, you may want to do a plain text email or something a little more visual. Don't add too many images to your email, but if you do have one, make it count.
Call-to-action (CTA): All emails should have a call to action or a next step for your audience to take. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Social Sharing: Social sharing links invites your audience to share the content via their social profiles, thus expanding the reach.
CAN-SPAM: You can read all of the details about the federal law here. All ESP/Marketing Softwares automatically add this component. Reach out to your account rep if you’re confused or have any questions.
Creative genius example #1:
This example comes from Death to The Stock Photo. I received this email the other day and it kind of blew me away. I loved everything about it!
Example #2, from the Healthcare industry:
Email marketing for healthcare generally revolves around services. MedExpress sent me an email that is basically about a service offering - they want me to come in and get a flu shot. But, the way they've crafted the email shows they understand that the message has to go beyond selling: it's about making an emotional connection, offering a solution to a problem I might not even be thinking about, and giving me ways to solve the problem easily. They do it with positive messaging, too. Note they don't select an image of someone with a needle, or a red-eyed sneezy sick person. They also tie in the message with the season through imagery, so it feels fresh. It has many of the components of a great email, and it has proven effective because I have not opted out of their email list yet (although I still haven't gotten my flu shot!).
Once you have your content squared away, it's time to test and optimize.
When is the best time to send? This is easily the number one question we get about email marketing. There’s all kinds of conflicting data out there, but there’s no audience that’s the exact same. Test it out! Try out different days and times and compare the data. You might find that your open and click-thru rates on Monday morning are significantly higher than on Wednesday afternoon, or you might find not much difference at all.
Mobile: Since the majority of email is being consumed via mobile devices, it’s extremely important that your emails function properly on mobile and that your email template is responsive.
A/B Testing: With A/B testing, you send one email to a segment of the audience with one variation and a second variation to another segment of the audience, then you check the data. Which variation performed better? A/B testing should be your best friend. This data will make your email marketing program much stronger. Knowledge is power and the only way to gain the knowledge is to give it a try. Things to A/B test:
- Subject line
- Images vs. plain text
- Lots of copy vs. shorter copy
- Links vs. buttons
Still think email marketing isn't the life of the party? I can assure you that it's certainly not dead and it is constantly evolving. It’s important to keep testing and trying new things even if they might be out of the norm. It’s the only way that we as marketers will know what works and what doesn’t.
Now that you’ve got your plan and your get-started steps, it’s time to take email marketing by storm.