Saturday, July 12, 2008

Effective email marketing: Doing it right

Saturday is my day to go through the piles of email in my Gmail inbox from the week. I’m glad I did because it made me reflect on some of the best practices of email campaigns. To explain the importance of email marketing, please watch this video from Britney Spears:

(So poignant. Yeah, I couldn't stand to listen to it either...) On with the list of email best practices:

Recipients opt in
I really love email marketing, but for the future, it’s only going to be effective with house-list customers who are already familiar with and trusting of the brand. Purchased lists, unless they’re remarkably high quality leads, run the risk of not only being automatically filtered to spam if the email client is unfamiliar with the sender, but also being passed over and deleted by the recipient who sees it as an irrelevant message.

Key takeaway: Use email for relationship building, not acquisition. Don’t misconstrue ‘cheap’ for ‘effective’ as a driver of overall campaign value.

Test and learn
Campaigns represent opportunities to learn from your customers and solicit valuable data-based information. In addition to the substantial link and segmentation tracking that you’ll no doubt build into the campaign, why not throw in some differentiated layout or subject line testing for good measure! Copy testing is also useful, especially when you can learn whether your email recipients like punchy, ‘header-style’ copy or longer, ‘body-style’. Don’t forget to add another layer of testing and try landing page optimization with an A/B split of the inbound links from the email.
Key takeaway: Emails must always be refreshed and improved (optimized!) to make sure you stay relevant with your customers. Through testing, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.

Offers and giveaways
Response to consumer emails is enhanced by the offer of a special feature or free giveaway. Try a contest or promotion to launch a new product and remember to use this as another opportunity to collect consumer data. Analyze their responses. I like to think of these giveaways as the sizzle to an email. Remember to mention the free giveaway in the subject line – it will draw the greatest possible open rate of any subject line. Incentives work, use them.
Key takeaway: People like free stuff. Give it to them. Email is a perfect way to tell your customers that they are the select few to receive a special offer.

Content optimization
You’ll learn through testing and customer segmentation what content works for what groups of people, however you can’t go wrong by providing lots of information in an easy to digest form. Lists work well, as do quick specs. Ultimately however, your customers will tell you through their clicks what they find attractive and what your client has in the email as filler.
Key takeaway: Short and sweet. Focus the email on communicating information honestly and compellingly. Email is not a good medium in which to be coy or deceptive. You’ll be burned for it.

Channel integration
Email marketing satisfies one component of your overall CRM strategy. Since you’ll likely be using email in combination with other channels (e.g. direct mail, web, in-store, telephone, SMS), make sure that as far as your communication strategy goes, the left hand knows what the right is doing. A little vague I know, let me explain: you know how Aeroplan will send you an email with your updated account balance? Great. How about when American Eagle uses email to notify you of an upcoming online sale at their website? Super.
Key takeaway: Email marketing does not exist in a vacuum. It is an effective component of your overall marketing communication strategy. Effective emails have a high degree of verisimilitude to the consumer’s other experiences with the brand and their account.

So go ahead and call bullshit on all those Nostradamian gurus who question the effectiveness of email as a marketing medium and predict its demise as customers become more selective with their brands. The sophistication of email deployment technology now means that emails are modular and are unique to each recipient. A campaign can have a massive number of permutations depending on the desired segmentation, content inclusion, and testing. When done right, email is a highly cost-effective marketing channel that is perhaps the most poised of any communications media to convey relevance to the customer.

...btw, these were all Britney Spears' thoughts on email, not mine.

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