Following warnings throughout the Noughties that spam was destroying email, network filters and junk folders have evolved to the point where unwanted electronic mail rarely reaches its intended recipients. Unsolicited commercial email still comprises 50 per cent of the world’s outbox content, but the vast majority won’t reach its targets.
This poses a problem for any business planning to launch an email marketing campaign. How can you ensure your message reaches the maximum number of recipients, with key points explained quickly enough to capture your audience’s attention? After all, with 270 billion emails being sent every day, marketing campaigns have to cut through a lot of clutter and noise.
The Steps for Successful Email Marketing
Today’s inboxes are protected by increasingly sophisticated algorithmic filters that compare incoming messages against databases of words and attributes associated with spam. Creating legitimate and successful email marketing campaigns involves a number of crucial steps:
- The title and body copy should avoid trigger words like “free”, which are commonly associated with junk mail. Equally, exclude capital letters, exclamation marks or pound/dollar signs in the message subject line.
- Distribute messages to recipients individually or in small groups, rather than BCCing hundreds of people in a batch. Keep distribution numbers in double figures for each outgoing message, but be aware that some domestic ISPs may reject emails sent to more than ten people.
- Recipients will mark messages as spam if they’re being bombarded with unsolicited material, or didn’t sign up in the first place. This may damage your ability to distribute mail in future. Only contact people who’ve agreed to receive marketing communications, and include a prominent “unsubscribe” link in every email.
One approach guaranteed to fail involves using third-party mailing lists. These are usually crammed with dead addresses, and the same list might have been bought by numerous other firms before yours. Recipients will be sick of receiving unsolicited junk, and they probably won’t even be demographically relevant to your business, unless you’re happy to target absolutely everyone. Few firms will ever succeed with this widespread approach, though.
Advertising Your Products and Services
Having done your best to avoid junk folders and spam filters, turn your attention towards conveying a compelling sales message to an audience that probably wasn’t looking to purchase products or services as your email arrived in their inbox. While promotional emails have their place, companies also distribute relational and transactional messages. The former might include a newsletter or blog, while the latter could involve stock updates and confirmations of any changes to account details.
Email marketing campaigns can be run for a number of reasons, such as:
- To advertise or extol the virtues of products and services (promotional)
- To encourage lapsed customers to re-engage (promotional)
- To welcome new customers or signatories to mailing lists (transactional)
- To provide information about a new YouTube channel or blog (relational).
The nature of a particular message will depend on its target audience. An email advertising clearance stock is obviously promotional, and should be sent to new and existing customers alike. A welcome-back discount for someone who hasn’t purchased so far this year is a transactional email, and has to be carefully targeted using database analysis. These campaigns will be far smaller by volume, yet typically yield higher response rates.
Always try to target decision-makers and key personnel, rather than including “info@” or “hello@” email accounts in your distribution list. For instance, there’s no point extolling the virtues of high-end computer software to a junior programmer. The head of IT or the head of accounts will be among the only people with sufficient authority and budgetary control to sign off on major expenditures. The chances of less senior staff approaching them to sell your business on the basis of an unsolicited email are slim.
Capture Your Audience within Seconds
Think about the last few emails you’ve read, and how many seconds you spent digesting their contents. Today’s time-poor audiences need to get the gist of a campaign within seconds – they don’t have time for journalistic tricks like dropped intros or lengthy human interest stories. An email’s headline and introductory sentences should clearly lay out what’s being proposed – a discount, a new solution, etc.
Recent data suggests two thirds of emails in America are read on the move, and figures for the UK are likely to be similar. Consequently, every email has to be designed primarily around mobile devices. Achieve this through single-column message bodies, with bold headings and short paragraphs broken up by graphics or photographs. Because mobile screens display far less content than monitors, there’s relatively little scope to rely on subheadings capturing attention. Messages need to be obvious, even within a preview pane.
Email Subject Line Decides All
Almost half of emails are opened on the basis of the subject line alone. An ineffective title will easily be overlooked, particularly in an inbox full of other unread messages. Try to avoid puns or jokes in favour of a concise summary of why people should read on. Words like “upgrade”, “free delivery” and “new” have been proven to increase open rates, while appreciative terms including “wonderful” and “thank you” can be effective in the right context. Marketing agencies also recommend conveying a sense of mystery, through words like “introducing” or “celebrate”.
Here are some proven techniques for maximising click-throughs with a strong subject line:
- Incorporate each recipient’s first name, which is personal and suggests exclusivity
- Inject a sense of urgency – “you’re missing out” or “for one weekend only”
- Add a sense of intrigue – “a surprise gift” or “we’ve got a secret”
- Promise to resolve a pain point, such as increasing efficiency or lowering costs
- Promote an event, like a weekend sale or time-limited discount vouchers
- Encourage checkout, such as a note that the prices of items in a basket have dropped.
Content Email Marketing Is The New Way
It’s a measure of the challenges involved in email marketing that we’re only now turning to the content itself. This is where many marketers instinctively want to start their focus, yet even tightly-scripted and compelling editorial will be lost if the above steps aren’t adhered to. Once again, brevity is pivotal in maximising engagement; people faced with a long slab of text will simply give up on first sight and move away. Instead, keep the written elements of an email brief. Disperse text with different fonts and subheadings, using photos or illustrations and breakout boxes beside/below the main body copy.
Warmth and personality are crucial attributes at this stage, so avoid corporate clichés in favour of personal anecdotes or descriptions of how and why a particular problem is being solved. Emails don’t have to convey an argument in their entirety – they should link through to a website. Create a dedicated landing page for email-based marketing campaigns, to track click-through rates and monitor how audiences migrate around the site once they’ve landed.
As the key drivers of web traffic, links have to be prominent within the body of a message, but other elements need to stand out as well. Fonts must be clearly legible on any device, even a smartphone screen. Some email accounts are set to disable images, so use alt tags rather than embedding content into a photograph that might not display. This can still convey certain messages, and people may allow images to display once they trust the content.
Email Campaign Platforms
This industry has been transformed by the advent of marketing platforms like MailChimp and GetResponse. These powerful tools handle the design and layout of emails once you’ve assembled your content. Pre-designed templates can be customised, while some software providers offer strategic advice and design consulting services as well. The modest costs involved are far outweighed by greater professionalism, from automated responses and reliable unsubscribe services through to detailed analytics and third-party software integration.
Some email campaign platforms can preview a message, predicting the likelihood of it being identified as spam with a score or percentage. This is invaluable when refining mailshots prior to distribution, optimising its chances of success. Do bear in mind that rankings are only advisory, and they may not take into account recent changes in spam filter settings or ISP policies.
Increase Email Opening Rates
Once your emails are prepared and your distribution list has been finalised, these insider tips will help to maximise open rates for marketing emails:
- Send a draft message to yourself before it’s publicly distributed, and view it from a customer’s perspective. Is your call to action prominent enough? Does everything display properly? It’s impossible to amend this retrospectively, so do it pre-emptively.
- Monday is the busiest day for email volumes, yet also the most effective in terms of messages being read. Try to distribute a campaign over the weekend, so it’s waiting to be seen on Monday morning. Wednesday and Friday perform worst for open rates.
- The optimum read rate is achieved by emails with short subject lines, so aim for 50 characters. Emojis can increase open rates, but they’re not really suitable for professional audiences.
Finally, ensure whichever email distribution service you’re using records analytical data about open, click-through and unsubscribe rates. Useful lessons can be learned for the next campaign, since even a successful email distribution will only have a temporary impact on sales and enquiry levels.