Email marketing has mainly been a phenomenon of the 21st century, so it’s relatively new in the marketer’s armoury. And it also gained a bit of a bad name in recent times as it’s often confused with spam emails.
(As an aside, did you know the word ‘spam’ originated with a 1970’s Monty Python sketch about the infamous, yet still available processed meat, where the characters were singing the word ‘spam’ to drown out every conversation? Random.)
It’s true, though. One person's vital email is another person’s spam. They are linked. That’s why you have to think more deeply and carefully about email marketing than you might have thought initially.
Internet Live Stats estimate that around 3 million emails are sent a second worldwide, so standing out is very challenging.
Plus, with the introduction of GDPR (the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation) in recent times, personal data, including named email addresses, has come under more scrutiny than ever before. And, in my view, quite rightly too.
Yes, as a marketer, I initially thought that GDPR was a real hassle… but actually, it does force a business to think about data in a more considered way. It’s not just a bunch of names to exploit, but a tangible asset that can be invested in and used for a sustainable competitive advantage.
Anyway, back to email marketing. How do you make it work for you?
Reach and Richness
In the jargon, you need ‘reach’ and ‘richness’. You want to contact the people you want to and give them information that they want to know. In layman’s terms, that means a high-quality email database and a real understanding of the value you can offer your prospect or customer.
You also need to get people to read your email.
Research by Chadwick Martin Bailey said that “When respondents were asked what makes them open an email from a business or nonprofit, the organisation the email is from (64%) and the subject line (47%) were far more popular than other factors such as liking the offer (26%) or the first few lines of the body of the email (14%).
Not sure what email marketing best practice is? Me too… so I contacted Emma Wilberforce, a bit of an email guru in my part of the world, for some cracking advice. Here’s what she told me.
“You’re right, David. Emails aren’t going anywhere. I really believe that email can work for every sort of business. You can do some fascinating things with email when you start segmenting audiences and implementing automation, but here are some general things I know that deliver a successful email strategy for businesses.
One thing I see time and time again is a lack of consistency. For those who have worked with me, I always bang on about consistent, regular and relevant communication, but for good reasons. If you’re consistent with your emails, people come to expect them and when they expect them, they’re more likely to open them.
Consistency is the key to success, not just for emails, but for any communication in your business, whether that’s social media or blogs.
It’s also something that many companies struggle with because, you know, you get busy and things slip.
I find the best way to combat this is to plan. You don’t have to write your emails out word for word, but give yourself a 3 or 6-month outline of what you want to say. Then each month block out time in your diary to get your emails written. If you don’t have time, outsource it!
Know your audience – your reach!
There is a lot of information about the best subject lines to use or how to get people to open your emails but, when it comes down to it, people will open your emails if they know you. Think about it. You would generally open an email from a friend over a company you’ve never heard of, right? So, if you’ve built up a relationship with that person offline, or through other online channels, you have a much better chance of getting them to read your emails.
It’s about thinking about their journey. For someone new to your newsletter, chances are they’ve found you on social media, or their friend has recommended you or they’ve met you at an event. They’ve already had a chance to build up an impression of you. If they like what you’re doing, they’ll sign up to hear more. They’ve told you they want to hear from you!
The only people you should be emailing are your email subscribers. You can email customers, or past customers, ONCE because you have a legitimate interest in communicating with them. Saying that, always give them the option to opt-in, never just add them to your list.
Also, there are companies that will sell “GDPR-approved” data to you. I strongly advise against buying these. No matter how compliant they claim to be, I can almost guarantee you will get very low open rates and more unsubscribes than anything else. Building your list organically might take longer, but it’s by far the most ethical and responsible use of data. If you don’t agree, perhaps remind yourself of the GDPR regulations.
Coming back to your audience, the way to get good open rates is to make sure you have great content on other channels to attract subscribers in the first place. Once they sign up, it’s then up to you to continue to deliver the content they’re expecting.
And remember each subscriber may be on a different journey. This is why segmentation is crucial. Knowing where each subscriber is on their journey means you can deliver the right content at the right time - that’s where email automation comes in.
Think about what you say – your richness!
What you actually say to your subscribers has got to match with what they have seen and liked about you elsewhere. Again, step back and think about it. If you went to an insightful talk at a conference and then looked up the company to join their newsletter, you’d be looking to receive more of the same in their emails. Later, if they send out fortnightly salesy emails, you’d quickly unsubscribe.
Remember that your emails are an extension of your other communications. A lot of people think they can get away with a hard sell in their emails. An excellent way to test content is to ask yourself whether it would make an engaging social media post? If you wouldn’t be prepared to post it on social media, don’t put it in your emails!
Make your content relevant to your audience. Stop thinking about what you want to say and think about what your target audience wants to know. It can be helpful to do regular features or have a structure to your emails, so it’s easier to read, and your subscribers come to expect certain things from you.
I’ve seen email newsletters that do features like Word of the Month or Business of the Month. Frankly, I always look forward to reading them because they’re interesting.
Also, keep in mind your primary aim for your emails. Is it to inform… or entertain? How can you present information in a way that keeps people engaged? Think about the way the email is laid out. Even in free versions of email marketing platforms, you can create templates and use your brand colours to make it look good. Talk to a designer if you feel daunted creating a template.
Give subscribers options
Don’t assume that because people have signed up, they want to hear from you every week. Give them options to receive fortnightly or monthly updates, or if you have different parts of your business, break these down. It might be you do a monthly round-up email but have a fortnightly events update. Let them decide what they want to receive.
This approach also helps when it comes to unsubscribes because you can let them update their preferences rather than lose them altogether.
Equally, if you say you do a monthly update, then deliver it monthly. Keep it consistent.
Don’t overthink it
When you think about how to stand out, it’s like a lot of things in marketing, know your business values and stick to them. If you don’t know your business values, go and speak to a business coach.
Don’t try to be too smart and don’t obsess over subject lines, Write things that are useful, relevant or entertaining. Write in a way that represents your business. Be authentic; that’s how you stand out, by being you.
So, in summary…
○ build up content on other marketing channels as well as email.
Know your audience - reach
○ Deliver content that matches what your audience have seen elsewhere.
○ Only email people who have opted-in to your list.
Think about what you say - richness
○ Keep content relevant, useful or entertaining.
○ Consider features to add structure to regular emails.
○ Keep it on-brand.
Give subscriber options
○ Offer different subscriber options.
Don’t overthink it
○ Stick to your business values.
○ Subject lines, firstly, make sure you have one and that your recipient finds it useful, relevant
And if you get stuck, don’t have time or feel fed up with it all, outsource it to someone who loves email. That’s me!”
I agree with Emma. Often, when you dig deep into a topic, you find there is much more insight required than you initially thought. Not all email needs to end its life in a SPAM folder. It’s all about reach and richness. If you plan it, are consistent, have interesting things to say and offer real insights of value to your email subscribers, you’ll succeed. Besides, you’ll build an email database that’s an asset to your business, be 100% GDPR-compliant, and deliver messages that your prospects and customers want to hear. Now all you need to do now is get emailing!