Tips for Effective Email Marketing
Successful email marketing campaigns efficiently communicate with their target audiences and effectively generate desired responses. Consider the case of online merchants. The best internet transaction processing application alone won't make them successful. They must still be able to generate sales. The analogy holds for email marketing, as well. Highly efficient email campaigns won't be successful unless they also generate clicks.
This document has been developed to provide JPD Associates customers and web site visitors with a brief overview of the principles of effective email marketing and practical advice on how to enhance the effectiveness of their email campaigns.
Email Marketing is just Direct Marketing - or Is It?
Email may just be the most powerful tool available to today's marketers. It is push not pull, and the only push capability we have, at that. It can deliver highly personalized messages to carefully selected target audiences at a fraction of the cost of other media, and provide readily measurable results.
As for those results, today email is outperforming the competition by a wide margin:
Direct mail - expected response rates from purchased lists remain in the 1 - 2% range.
Telemarketing - outbound campaigns suffer from increasing difficulty in reaching target audiences. Most cost-effective call centers are inbound and integrated with other online programs.
Web Banner ads - the average click-through rate (CTR) has dropped below 1%.
Email - house lists routinely produce responses in the 10 - 20% range and are generating responses as high as 40%, while high-quality rented opt-in lists are producing responses that average around 5%.
Like direct mail, email marketing uses databases to generate lists and send messages directly to people selected from those databases. Due to their many similarities, one would think that the well-proven principles of direct mail direct marketing would be readily transferable to email. Some are, but many techniques that are routinely accepted in direct mail campaigns can be disastrous to an email campaign.
Direct marketers rate the relative importance of three components of their outbound campaigns:
the List - the Offer - the Creative. For direct mail, these factors are weighted about 40% - 40% - 20%. It's almost the same for e-mail, but one could argue that Creative's increasing importance makes the new calculus around 40% - 35% - 25%. The right rates are probably still undecided.
Still, let's use direct mail as a benchmark to discuss what works and what doesn't work in email marketing.
When we talk about your List, we are referring to your Target Audience(s):
how you identify them.
how you determine their wants and needs.
how you obtain their contact information.
how you use their contact information.
Doing the "List thing" right remains the most important determinant in whether your e-mail campaign will or won't be effective. The identification of the target audience, selection of sources for building the List and the manner in which the List is used will demonstrate to recipients of any resulting messages whether the sender is or is not a net-savvy marketer.
Your email marketing campaigns will be addressed to Lists built from your House List supplemented, perhaps, by Lists rented from list brokers. Let's look at both.
All marketers know that their House List is golden. It contains information about customers, both current and past, leads, prospects and suspects (as well as, channel partners, vendors, investors and even employees). A House List that contains email addresses is further distinguished by one important factor. By supplying their email addresses, these people have given you permission, either explicit or implicit, to contact them by email. That is why effective email marketing is referred to as permission marketing. As long as you do not abuse those permissions or otherwise violate the accepted rules of netiquette, you will be on your way to effective eMarketing and generating those high response rates.
Here are a few tips for building and maintaining your House List:
Always Be Building - wherever a first time visitor to any online program is likely to show up, ask for an email address. This means that you should put an email address entry block on your home page and all other pages that receive high levels of traffic on you Web site(s). Do that for any off line forms as well. Mine for that gold!
Don't Ask for Too Much - recognize that when you ask for an email address, your relationship has not yet been built. Don't be intrusive; look at it long-term. As you build your relationships, you will get plenty of opportunities to add data to a contact file. This means that if you need information to qualify and fulfill an offer, ask for what you need at that time. Long, detailed response forms invite opt-outs and not opt-ins.
Observe Proper Opt-out Protocol - by formatting every email according to proper netiquette with an unsubscribe statement and/or link. Always include them. (See later tip about Opt-out).
Be Very Careful About Sharing Your House List - if you are approached to sell your house list to a list broker or another email marketer. Think carefully about this. Right now email is the only way you can use the Internet to push your message to your target audience and pull them back to your Web site. Don't abuse the permissions you have been given.
Be Very Careful Using Lists Others Share With You - because people on these lists may not have agreed to receive commercial e-mail from strangers. You may be in an alliance or acquire a company with their own house list. To avoid potential headaches, your first email should introduce yourself, explain how you got the email addresses you are using and provide opt-out options up front.
While this section may be more relevant for B2C email marketers, there may be circumstances when any eMarketer will consider using a purchased list for an e-mail campaign. List brokers who sell direct mail lists send their customers the lists they will use. In most cases, email list brokers don't release their lists. After you select the lists you want to use from the brokers' inventory, you will be sending your creative to them to deliver. Since the broker will be in control throughout the program, you should be aware of some special implications.
Verify the Opt-In - to protect your own reputation. If the people on those lists haven't given their expressed consent to receive commercial email from strangers, you don't want any part of those lists. Have the list broker send you verification of the opt-in status of the people in their database.
Visit List Source Web Sites - to see if there seems to be a good fit. List brokers let you search through various audience criteria to select your lists. They should also tell you where those lists come from. Visit those Web sites to see if there seems to be a good fit. Surprisingly enough, you will get a good feel for likely response rates from such a visit.
Ask for Email Addresses - to migrate recipients to your House List. Put a couple of links to an email sign-up form on every email that goes to a rented list with words like "Please confirm your email address with this link so we can be sure to send you the information you want." Mine for that gold!
A well-validated principle of Web marketing is:
People will come to your Web site for interesting and useful information, and they will return for New interesting and useful information. This principle is complimented by another well-known rule for effective direct marketing:
You can't get a response without an offer. These rules should be your guide for developing your offer.
An eNewsletter is a Great Offer - because it gives you an opportunity to build a relationship with repeated contacts. You can use your newsletter to provide new interesting and useful information to your target audience as well as pull them to such information on your Web site. However, a commitment to a newsletter is a commitment that must be kept. Don't be late, but don't be irritating (See later tip about Email Fatigue).
A Web Seminar is a Great Offer - because it gives you a chance to move leads through your sales cycle. The power of the Web gives your contacts the time and space to self-qualify and move through your sales cycle at their own pace.
A Web Special is a Great Offer - because it pulls your target audience to your Web site where its one-to-many advantages can accrue for you. You can make your target audience feel special with the personalization features it offers. You can implement loyalty programs to generate the positive ROIs that come from repeat business.
Pointers to Resources on Your Web Site are Great Offers - that will justify their expense. If you have migrated many elements in your marketing mix to the Web, a good way to insure that they are utilized is to provide links to them in you email messages. It is possible that your target audience does not know that these resources are available online.
An Announcement About Anything New is a Great Offer - because it allows you to continue building the relationship.
In direct mail, creative includes everything associated with building and delivering the offer from the size of the envelope to the format of the message copy. The time-tested rule for formatting direct mail copy is
AIDA, which stands for: get Attention, generate Interest, build Desire and call for Action. Let's take a look at these rules as they apply to email marketing and a few others that will make your campaigns more effective.
Get Attention - by using the Subject block. This is what your target audience will look at to determine whether to open your message or delete it out of hand. Use this valuable space to turn-on your contacts.
Generate Interest - with a creative Offer positioned early in the message. Remember that the objective of your offer should be to generate a click to a Web Response Form, so structure it appropriately.
Build Desire - by explaining some of the features and benefits of your offering. This is a good time to emphasize that while long copy works well for direct mail, the opposite is true for email. Keep messages short. Less is more!
Call for Action - early and often. Just like the rules for voting in some places, do it early and do it often with hyperlinks. Place links to your response form throughout your message, and don't wait for the final paragraph you would with direct mail.
And a few more
Test - Test - Test - by using the capabilities of the medium. Send different messages to different target segments. You will probably know the results within 24 hours of launch. People either respond to e-mail quickly or not at all. Test your Call For Action link placements with a different URL for each response link. Don't be surprised to see that the first links are the ones with the highest click-throughs. Testing can be effective for even small-volume campaigns.
Watch Out for Email Fatigue - the reasons that email campaigns get such high response rates is that e-mails get to their target audiences and are opened, the first ones anyway. If your list starts to associate your email with uninteresting or unimportant messages, they just won't open them, and, if they do, it may well be to find your opt-out link. Avoid the temptation to over communicate.
Use HTML Email - whenever possible. HTML email continues to produce higher click-through rates than text-based email when it is sent to people who can receive it. It's a good idea to have an HTML opt-in button wherever you have a link on a Web page that asks for email addresses. However, you can lose all its benefits and more if your recipients can't display it when they receive it. Look to your eMarketing campaign manager to determine appropriate formats for your lists.
Pay Attention to Format - with your text email. Recipients will be reading your email with different clients and on different desktops. Apply the rules that good Web developers use by going to the lowest common denominator when formatting your messages. Since the wrong Word Wrap really can have an adverse effect on response rates, play it safe by only using 24 characters in your Subject lines and using 64 characters and a hard return in your body text.
Use Internal Banners on Your Web Site - to draw walk-in traffic to your programs. If you have created a great lead generation program, don't hide it from visitors to your Web site. Create a Web Banner linked to the program's response form to capture additional prospects. Put the banner on your high traffic Web pages. Studies show high click-through rates for internal banners.
Be Careful about Using the word Free - in your Subject line. Without qualifying information, this word may send a red flag that will be a turn-off to your B2B contacts. They don't have time for Get Rich Quick! emails. However, an offer of some kind of useful and interesting information For Free is still what will probably be generating your responses.
Less is More - when it comes to copy in text email. Just to reemphasize this rule: Don't make your copy more than a couple of screen views long. Use spaces to separate information summaries and early hyperlinks to reach your Web response form.
Keep Qualifying - with every touch point. While it is ill advised to ask for too much, seemingly intrusive information with your first Web response form, every succeeding email or response form will give you an opportunity to obtain the information you will need to provide increasingly personalized communications.
Look long term - when setting your objectives. If ecommerce is your objective, your cost of acquiring a new customer might not be returned with a single sale. You need repeat business for a positive ROI. That is why your first steps should have the objective of getting permission and obtaining email addresses. Then use the personalization capabilities of the medium to build a relationship and build loyalty and the sales will flow.
Placement of Opt-out Information - is an important decision. Every message should have an "unsubscribe" option. However, that said, how you construct it and where you put it are relevant to the effectiveness of you campaigns. While you have to offer it, this is an offer that you don't want to be accepted. The default rule is put "how to" instructions at the end of the message with an unsubscribe email address or link. However, if you are using a new list or confirming an opt-in contact, it's better to make this offer early in the message. Give consideration to using a selective opt-out Web form. You can then let your contacts unsubscribe to the current program, but stay enrolled for others.
There is no doubt that email offers marketers the most powerful and cost-effective tool that is available for reaching their target audiences, generating leads, qualifying prospects, moving them through the sales cycle and then retaining their loyalty. Marketing Automation provides marketers the most efficient means available to employ email in their marketing mix. It automates the process of targeting market segments by many criteria and providing tailored messages to multiple segments and realizes the one-to-many efficiencies that are possible with email marketing.
However, even the most efficient email campaigns will not achieve their objectives if no one clicks on the response links. Moreover, while online relationships take a long time to build, they can be irreparably damaged in one ill-advised campaign. By employing the best practices for effective email marketing outlined in this paper, marketers can deliver email campaigns that are both efficient and effective.
Note to Readers:
JPD Associates has an array of services that can help you enhance the effectiveness of your email marketing campaigns. These range from a comprehensive Internet Marketing Strategic Assessment to help developing and implementing effective internet marketing strategies and eMarketing programs. To get started, contact us today.