Thursday, 1 July 2010

Email 101: Getting the basics right

Last month I was at an Ask the Experts conference organised by postal advice and management company Onepost. One topic that came up in most of the sessions was email and how to get the most from your email marketing efforts.

One delegate said that for his first foray into email marketing he used a rented email list and failed to generate a single response from it. The delegate insisted that the list was clean, legal and that the named contacts on it were the most relevant to his business. But I was baffled; what concerned me was that the whole campaign was based on the rented list when, as he's been in business for almost 20 years, he should have had a list of his own existing and prospective customers. Where was his housefile; why didn’t he know anything about his customers; was the copy all wrong; was the timing out of whack?

It was almost enough to put him off email for life. What he needed was Email 101, some back-to-basics advice on email marketing. As the day went on, I realised he wasn’t the only one. Several of the delegates were new to the sector and were keen to learn the tricks of the trade. To help them—and others in their position—get the most from email, below are some tips gleaned from the day and some suggested further reading from the Catalogue e-business archive.

1. Build your own list
Supplementing a mailing with rented names is standard practice in catalogue marketing and it can work in email too. However, a catalogue business should be building its own email list of current customers instead of relying on a rented file.
If you’re just moving into ecommerce after trading via bricks-and-mortar stores, for example, start capturing customer details in-store. If you mail a print catalogue, send a postcard or flyer asking for customers’ email addresses, you can even incentivise this by giving email subscribers 10 percent off their next order. To further grow your list, you can ask customers to send you their friends' details too. M and M Direct does this by including a Freepost postcard within its catalogue. If you trade online, make your email sign-up box clearly visible and be mindful not to ask for too much information at sign-up as this may put people off. Once you have a list of people you know are interested in what you’ve got to say, your emails are more like to elicit a response.
For more info see How to bolster your email list.

2. Subject line
At the conference, Dan Croxen-John of Applied Web Analytics advised email marketers—novices and experts—to test all aspects of an email campaign. Among the elements he suggested looking at were subject lines and personalisation—such as including a first-name salutation vs last name vs no name in the subject line.
There is still some debate about whether the word Free in the subject line will get you flagged as a spammer. It’s probably best to avoid it if you are new to email marketing and have not yet established a good reputation.
For more about testing subject lines and what else you should measure take a look at Five tips for better email testing.

3. Maximise your deliverability
Working with a good email service provider (ESP) is more likely to get your email whitelisted (the opposite of blacklisted) and past the spam filters. You can also improve your chances of being added to recipients’ whitelists by having a recognisable “From” field—this is usually your company name or the brand your customers will know you by.
To find out about improving deliverability see Ten tips for improved email deliverability.

4. Timing
According to speaker Mike Broomfield from digital marketing firm Intellegentia, getting the timing of your email right can reap great rewards. For business-to-business marketers, Broomfield suggests 11am on a weekday is a good time as most workers will have cleared their morning emails and attended their early meetings. For consumers, a lunchtime offer can work—Wallis recently sent me an email promising free delivery if I ordered between noon and 3pm on a specified day. You may also have noticed as a consumer that you’re being sent more emails at the end of the month and that “pay-day offers” are becoming much more prevalent. But get the timing wrong, and your efforts will be wasted. As always, the best advice from the experts is to test different timings and see which works best.
Here are Six common email marketing mistakes--and how to fix them

5. Content
None of the above tips will do much good if your copy and offers aren’t up to scratch. Think carefully about what you want your emails to say, and craft them with your customers in mind. Do you know what they want from you? Again, the experts recommend testing offers and copy before sending the email to the entire list.
You might also want to consider your image-to-copy ratio. Consider whether you have enough images, or too many. Do the images distract from the message? What does the email look like when images are disabled in a recipient’s inbox?
For more advice on design see Seven tips for improving your email design.--MT

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