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Ernesto Verdugo

Email Marketing Tip of the Day

learningSo in a terrifying moment of weakness I found myself saying: “It would be nice to get 3000 Twitter followers by the end of the year” Oh dear. Why 3000? Why by the end of the year? Why focus on THAT metric? Why, Mark, why? I’m only human. The seductive appeal of using a random number of followers, likes, +1?s or subscribers as your measure of success is a tricky one to resist. But the mistake led me to ask whether I’ve learned anything over the past 13+ years of online and email marketing. Cue a brief period of panic…followed by a longer period of reflection. Here’s what popped out: six approaches and principles that have stood the test of time.

1. Understand the true meaning of value

Well, it didn’t take me long to come up with the principle of “delivering value” as an email must. You have to give to get: give value and it comes back in return…as opens, clicks, conversions, loyalty, word of mouth etc. But there are three traps we commonly fall into. Avoid one-way value It’s important to ask how different email approaches, content and offers might address business needs. But the result depends on the recipients reacting the right way. And their reaction depends on how these different email approaches, content and offers contribute to their needs. So the real question to ask is how email can help our subscribers, and in doing so help us. Don’t over-estimate value We’re all (probably) passionate about our products and services. Readers usually aren’t quite so excited. Our enthusiasm can blind us to the true value of what we offer through email, leading to unrealistic expectations of response and sending email to people who maybe shouldn’t be getting it. Don’t misunderstand value So what is “value” anyway? Yep, for a lot of people it’s discounts, coupons, savings, free shipping, or a bonus lollipop if you register by Friday. But it’s also helpful information, feeling appreciated, feeling understood, a story, entertainment, humor, a sense of community or just a simple reminder that the sender is still open for business… I’m not a psychologist, but the potential value you might deliver via an email message covers a lot more than “20% off your next purchase”.

2. Be willing to tweak and change

Once something works at least reasonably well, we’re reluctant to change anything. The fear of making things worse often overwhelms the prospect of making things better. This inertia is combatted by testing: you can make changes without “exposing yourself” to the whole email list. If it makes things better, great. If it doesn’t, no harm done. Equally, it helps to understand that most readers aren’t evaluating your emails with the intensity of a marketing blogger. When you change the colour of the “shop now” button to blue, readers are unlikely to storm your headquarters in protest. (Unless they’re Liverpool fans.) Each new email is an opportunity to test a tweak, and each tweak can have surprisingly positive impacts:
  • Subject line tests that double open rates over time
  • Changes in link wording that produce over 50% more clicks
  • From line tests that pull over 20% more clicks
  • Link format tests (button vs text) that increase clicks 67%
The flipside is that sustainable, long-term improvement needs more fundamental or innovative change to email design, tactics and strategy. Morgan Stewart once wrote:
“If the best idea your creative and/or testing team can come up with for improving your creative is to test the color of your links, then fire them.”

3. Respect the basics

Much of the media and event talk around email marketing focuses on the new and cool: tactics that can be difficult (or expensive) to implement for many (most) marketers. We don’t all have customer databases that can easily integrate with 87 different types of trigger email. We can’t all serve thousands of list segments with on-the-fly customization. Nor do we have to. Fact is, professional basic email marketing is still a winner. If you set expectations correctly at sign-up, then your subscribers should have enough in common so that “one size” of email can still “fit all”. Of course advanced tactics will improve results. But don’t focus on what’s next before ensuring you have the basics covered. Forget the thought leaders and experts for a moment and dig into the FAQs and introductory articles that lay out some of the email marketing basics. For example:
  • A recent survey found that 60% of top UK retailers don’t send welcome messages to new subscribers. There’s an easy win for a start.
  • When you ask people to sign-up for emails, do you give them a compelling reason to do so? If not, why should they?
  • Are you using the cheap, but effective, design preview tools to make sure what you send is what people actually see in their inboxes?

4. Be unique

Valuable content and offers, permission, creative design, relevancy, timing, personalization, customization etc. are important factors that can take your email marketing amplifier all the way up to 10. What takes it up to 11? What makes your emails irreplaceable? What makes them immune to the vagaries of delivery demands, soporific subscribers and the claws of the competition? What do people get from your emails that they can’t get from anyone else’s? Uniqueness can come through what you send: the unique nature of your content or offers. Or you can achieve it through how you say and present it (voice, style, creativity and personality). Personality, in particular, turns words and pictures into communication. It helps avoid the natural drift to mediocrity. And it compensates for offers or content that can’t compete so well in their own right.

5. Use common sense

There’s a lot of great information out there on email marketing, but a moment’s thought tells us it can’t all be true all the time. For example:
  • Those producing information are all “biased by their biases”…by overt and subconscious agendas, by beliefs, by personal experience.
  • There are many issues in email marketing that are by no means clear cut.
Much advice also needs adapting in the light of personal and organizational circumstances: business goals, target market, industry sector, etc. Making sense of information can be a challenge, but you can go a long way with common sense and a healthy dose of critical thinking. For example, everyone preaches that you should avoid sending emails that are essentially one big image. How’s your work-of-art going to look when the image is blocked (the default setting for many email software clients and webmail services)? And spam filters don’t like them much, too. That’s the official line, anyway. So why are they used by, for example, large multinational fashion retailers with decades of email marketing experience behind them? Because it works for them: some offers work better with the visual impact of a large image. Learn to distinguish between best practices and safe practices that can be broken in the right circumstances.

6. Dig deeper into the numbers

Perhaps the most tedious and underestimated marketing skill is analytical. The online marketing world is drowning in data and driven by data. But data without wisdom is just stamp collecting. Don’t take things at face value and don’t assume your preferred explanation is the right one. Some examples:
  • The last campaign got the highest open rate ever. Hey, our subject line was a winner! (Or maybe you just solved a deliverability problem that was seeing half your emails dumped in spam folders. Or one of a dozen other factors.)
  • Most people who open email on a mobile device are using iPhones. Hey, our audience is full of Apple fans! (Or maybe it’s because the iPhone displays images by default – including the tracking image that records an open – while Android devices block them. Android smartphones actually have three times the global market share of the iPhone.)
OK…anything you’d add to the list?
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