Email marketing sometimes gets a bad reputation, and has strong associations with spam. Some people think it’s boring. It’s not as sexy as SnapChat, it’s less pretty than Pinterest, and is much less immediate than Twitter.
It’s often accused of being a dying art, while social media and blogging have both recently been pegged as the darlings of marketing.
While all of these channels are undoubtedly crucial to marketing your business, email is still going strong. It is 40x more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook or Twitter.
Email is a direct form of contact with your customer in their personal inbox and is a powerful tool for generating leads.
Here are 12 actionable steps you can take to ensure that your email marketing is top-notch.
1. View your customers as people, not data
The email market is becoming increasingly crowded, and this means that the nature of email marketing has changed. Unread emails are 300% higher than they were 4 years ago.
The biggest challenge is standing out from the crowd, and avoiding the graveyard of the ‘promotions’ tab in Gmail or equivalent.
I worked in email marketing for three years and can safely say that the trends are still moving towards personalization and increased focus on data insights.
This means viewing your customers as individual people rather than numbers in your data list. You should be sending them thoughtful, curated content designed to build a relationship.
2. Choose the right email marketing software
You should really be using proper email software for your email marketing campaigns. You certainly shouldn’t be sending mass emails from your Outlook account.
At my job, we used Pure360 email marketing software, but there are lots of good options out there, depending on your needs as a small business.
The advantage of using enterprise software is that you will usually have an account manager who helps you improve your campaigns in the long-term.
You will also have access to the analytics from your emails, and a proper database for your contacts that complies with data regulations.
3. Build your email list with good, clean data
The most important part of email marketing is having a good clean data list. If you have the right data, you can work from there.
You need to spend time building your email marketing list and acquiring data in various ways appropriate to your business. Once you acquire someone onto your list, you need to start contacting them as soon as possible so they become familiar with your brand.
Ideally, if they are filling in a sign up form on your website or something similar, you want to send them an automated email welcoming them to your list.
Find out as much as you can about your customers. For example, when they sign up to your list, include a field asking them to specify where they live so you can avoid sending them emails that are irrelevant to their region.
Or, present them with options of different products that they’re interested in, again so you can tailor your campaigns to their interests.
Remember to remove dead emails regularly from your list, which can include company email addresses that people are no longer using, for example.
4. Invest in your email design
Your email must be responsive to all screen sizes and device types to fit usability standards. Remember, more than 50% of emails are opened on mobile devices, which have comparatively small screen sizes.
This means investing in the proper software to format your emails, or even hiring a professional email marketer to code your emails. Most email marketing software should provide you with responsive templates that are easily customizable.
Keep the design clean and use buttons to highlight the call-to-action. Follow modern web design trends to ensure your email is easy to read, such as make use of white space and avoid the long wall of text. Highlight important words and sentences in bold.
The boat is out on whether images are necessary or not. I’ve seen great success with emails that are simply text-only, but the best idea is to experiment with different formats to see what works best with your customers.
5. Follow usability guidelines
You should really be following design and accessibility rules to ensure that all recipients can view your email, regardless of physical disabilities (within reason).
Try not to overlay important text over images as this breaks usability guidelines for those people using screen reader technology. This means that if a visually impaired person is using technology to read text aloud on their computer, it won’t pick up on text that is not hard coded into the email.
For this same reason, always provide an ‘alt text’ for every image you include to ensure that visually impaired people are able to view this instead of the image.
6. Make your copy as readable as possible
People barely read on the internet, and email especially is not a place where people want to read long walls of texts. Consider that 79% of your customers will be scanning web content.
Your copy should be short and sweet, but not so much that people think you are being rude to them. The best copy eliminates all unnecessary words and gets right to the point, while at the same time remaining readable and friendly.
You’ll follow your company tone of voice in your email marketing, as you will in all your communications with your customers. This creates a consistency in your brand that customers become familiar with. Your marketing becomes all the more powerful.
Include a clear call-to-action with every email that you send so customers understand exactly what you’re asking them to do. Use punchy verbs to stimulate action, such as ‘Grab your free booklet’, or ‘Head to the article’.
7. Comply with data protection laws for your emails
All email marketing campaigns have to abide by certain rules. This includes having a way for people in your data list to unsubscribe. There should be a way to view a HTML only version of your email. It should only be sent to people who have opted in.
You have to follow data protection rules by properly looking after the data of your customers to ensure their privacy. You need to research and become aware of the rules that apply to your industry, which will also vary by country.
MailChimp provides some easy-to-understand compliance guidelines for email data lists.
8. Choose the most impactful subject lines
This is where you entice your customers to open your emails. These days, it’s even acceptable to use emojis in your subject line, as long as you don’t go over the top.
Stay away from generic subject lines such as ‘January newsletter’, which provide very little impetus to open your email. Being specific and immediate is best. What is the benefit that your customers will derive from opening your email? How can you persuade them that opening this specific email will be worth their time?
Stay away from gimmicks and try not to overuse the word ‘free’ (sure to be picked up by spam filters).
You can experiment with personalizing your subject lines by including the recipient’s name.
Use more exciting words than just ‘great’ or ‘brilliant’ – try different words such as ‘awesome’ or ‘kick ass’.
9. Give more than you ask for with your email campaigns
Whatever you do, avoid asking for things as soon as someone signs up as that’s the fastest way to get an unsubscribe.
Always remember why your audience signed up to your mailing list (I hope they opted in!) and give more than you ask for. Subscribers will be driven away if you continually ask them to buy your products and services, rather than providing value for them in some way.
Of course, the point of an email campaign is often to generate revenue, but they must be interspersed with other campaigns that do not ask for anything. If you provide your customers with an offer, make sure the deal is genuinely compelling, rather than your standard 5% off.
You can offer advice, tips and insights for your customers within your industry. For example, if you are a helpdesk software company, you can send customers emails about informative webinars you’re hosting. People will also welcome subsidized tickets to industry events.
When the time comes for the hard sell, people will be much more engaged with your company and willing to invest in your products.
10. Track opens and click-throughs in your emails
You should be including tracking code in all of your email marketing campaigns. If you are using email marketing software such as InfusionSoft or Pure360, it should offer this capability. Talk to your software vendor if you’re not sure.
By tracking the opens and click throughs of all your campaigns, you are able to gather valuable data about your customers and their behavior.
If someone has not opened an email for a long time, you can include them in a re-engagement campaign to reawaken their interest in your brand. Or, you can ask them if they want to unsubscribe.
11. Conduct A/B testing
The surest way to improve your email marketing activities is by conducting A/B testing. This means sending the same email to different segments with only one aspect changed. Your email marketing software should provide the capabilities to perform A/B testing easily.
For example, you can send identical emails to two list segments, each composed of 50% of your customers, but change the subject line. This way, you can find out which subject line is more effective by analysing the number of opens each email gets.
Or, you can test which of two images generates more click-throughs using the same method. The possibilities are relatively endless, but the point is to find out what motivates your customers to take action and replicate this for each new campaign.
12. Be intelligent with your sending times
You should be able to reschedule your email to send to people who did not open it the first time. This will help improve open rates as you reach more of your customers than you would if you only sent it once. Remember to leave it at least 24 hours, to give people a chance to discover your email.
Don’t feel bad about doing this because many people genuinely will not see your email the first time round. You can resend the email with a different subject line to generate more interest.
You should also send your emails at a time of day when people are likely to be paying attention to their inbox, such as just before the working day, during lunch time or just after the end of the day. Remember to account for different time zones when scheduling your emails.
That’s a lot to take in for creating email marketing campaigns, but over time you will become more confident.
The key is getting to know your customers and treating them as real people rather than simply email addresses. Imagine how you would feel if someone only spoke to you just to ask for something.
You want to build a relationship with your customers over time and then market your products to them sensitively and intelligently.
Use your email marketing to build your brand and signpost them to your new content, which is relevant and engaging.
Offer truly helpful and beneficial deals to your customers to make them feel special and that it’s worth being on your email marketing list.
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