Consider these two scenarios:
You stop by a coffee shop on the way to work. The barista smiles, says good morning, and asks you what you would like. You order your coffee, and he asks if you would like a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich to go with it. He doesn’t know you’re a vegetarian, but that’s ok. You pay for your coffee, and go on your way.
You stop by a coffee shop on the way to work. The barista smiles and greets you by name – in fact, he’s already started making your order. And since you’re a regular, he offers you a free scone from a new bakery that they just started working with. You thank him, pay for your coffee, and go on your way.
The first scenario isn’t a negative one: You paid what you expected, got what you ordered… everything went off without a hitch. But though the fundamentals of the purchase are the same, the second experience feels so much better. You’re much more likely to keep coming back to that shop for your daily coffee fix, right?
The same holds true for your email marketing. The brand that creates the best experience will almost always win the inbox, and this guide will help you do just that. Here are 6 keys to create an unparalleled experience for your subscribers and have your best year of email marketing ever.
This is a total no-brainer, right? There’s nothing worse than working long and hard on an email campaign only to discover it never even made it to your recipient’s inbox.
So what is spam, and how can you avoid sending it? As frustrating as spam filters can be, it’s important to remember that Internet Service Providers – think Gmail, Outlook, etc. – aren’t out to get you. They’re trying to create a great user experience by giving people the emails they expect, where they expect them. Remember that you’re building a relationship with each subscriber, treat them with respect, and you'll naturally improve your email deliverability as a result.
It all starts with permission. When you have a permission-based relationship, people expect you to communicate with them via email. Getting permission establishes trust, brand recognition, and value that goes beyond simple transactional communication. To put it bluntly, buying email lists might seem like a quick fix, but it won’t work in the long run.
“Before you even think about gathering or acting on data, you need to establish the right relationship with everyone on your list – get permission to market to them.”
Along with getting permission, setting the right expectations from the outset goes a long way. Your first interactions with a new subscriber will set the tone for everything else you do down the road. During the signup process, provide clear information about what they can expect in terms of email frequency, what kind of content you’ll send, how you’ll protect and use their data, and the identity of the sender (the “from” name if it’s something other than your brand name). This will create trust and boost engagement from the start.
Once you set expectations, it’s important to follow through on them. While your definition of spam might be one thing (Viagra promotions or offers from foreign princes), your recipients’ definition of spam is another. For instance, Gmail has stated that there’s a higher probability that someone will click the spam button if your brand’s email is in their “Inbox” tab rather than their “Promotions” tab. Don’t fight the tabs by trying to dupe ISPs into placing your promotional message where it doesn’t belong.
The moral of the story here? Your recipients won’t hesitate to flag any promotional message that doesn’t meet their expectations or align with their interests, even if they DID invite you into their inbox. So pay attention to their interests and send accordingly. Plus, consistently sending relevant, engaging content will likely lead to solid open rates and an equally solid sender reputation.
Now that you’re confident your emails will land in the inbox, let’s talk about the backbone of any successful email marketing program: your list of subscribers. It’s your most valuable marketing asset because it’s quite literally your core audience – the people you’re trying to reach and ultimately convert.
And this is a pretty sobering fact:
The average email list churns by about 30% every year.
That means almost a third of your audience will unsubscribe on an annual basis. Pretty scary, right? That’s why a smart list building strategy is crucial to your success.
We’re not talking about placing a static opt-in form on the footer of your website. Look for opportunities to build your email list wherever you interact with your target audience: your website, social channels, events, brick-and-mortar locations (if you have them), etc. It’s all fair game as long as you’re offering something valuable for joining your list and delivering on that promise.
Another important thing to remember about your signup form? Don’t ask for too much information right away.
Every field you add to your signup form will cause the conversion rate to drop by 25%.
You can always ask for more over time once people are more familiar with your brand. Plus, if you’re paying close attention to your email metrics, you can discover exactly what types of content your subscribers open and click, so you can gather data that way and tailor their experience accordingly.
And while growth is crucial, it’s even more important to keep your list clean and healthy (aka, full of the right subscribers). That means using legitimate list growth methods – again, do not buy or rent email lists – and providing lead magnets that will entice the right type of subscribers to sign up for your emails. Remember, a healthy email list is about about quality, not just quantity.
“Go narrow, not broad: The more tightly you define yourself, the easier it is for YOUR people to find you.”
We’ve all heard the buzzwords and phrases. Data is king. Big data. Put your data work. Data-backed [insert noun]. As marketers, we get it. We know that customer data is a really big deal and critical to our success. But the fact of the matter is that many of us are so awash in data, we don’t know what to do with all of it or even where to start.
It’s time to look beyond spreadsheets, charts, and graphs, and focus on what that data represents: your audience’s behavior. It’s their likes, dislikes, and activities. And when you humanize your data and view it through that lens, it becomes much easier to identify what’s truly important to your organization.
In the email world, we tend to obsess over opens and clicks. And rightfully so – they’re the most obvious indicators of whether or not an email was successful. But take it a step further and look at whatever the end goal of that particular email is.
Only 12% of marketers say that their email marketing is fully integrated with their other systems.
For example, of the people who opened your email, what percentage took advantage of the sale or downloaded the guide you offered? Of the people who downloaded the guide, how many signed up for your service? There’s a lot more you can learn about your audience (and your marketing) when you start scratching below the surface. That way, you can tie your efforts to real business results and understand how your marketing is contributing to the success of the organization.
But you can’t do that if your marketing and your data live in silos. When your data is integrated (think email + your CRM, email + Google Analytics, or email + your online shopping cart), you get a more complete picture of subscriber activity, and your marketing challenges will become easier to solve over time.
Once you’ve identified the metrics that matter and set up a way to track them, it’s time to start testing.
So what are some things you can test? Subject lines are the most obvious place to begin. Writing a great subject line is one of the most difficult tasks in email marketing. After all, there’s nothing more frustrating than creating an email that you just know is a winner, then watching it get tanked by a bad subject line that no one opened. So test out different subject lines with a small portion of your audience and send the winner to the rest of your list.
But don’t stop with the subject line. You can test virtually every part of your email from send times to copy to images to CTA placement. The important thing is that you only test one thing at a time, so you can be 100% sure that’s the variable that impacted the results.
“Map your customer journey. Then remove the barriers that prevent customers from hitting those goals.”
When you’re testing and letting data lead the way, what you’re actually doing is listening to your audience. Every send becomes a chance to learn more about them, which is a beautiful thing when you’re trying to move fast and maximize your results.
And what’s the point of collecting all that data? So you can make every subscriber’s experience feel like the coffee shop described in the introduction.
When someone joins your list, they’re inviting you into their inbox. That’s a personal space, and you should treat it with the respect it deserves. You owe it to your subscribers to be responsible and deliver the best possible experience, making a one-to-many email communication truly feel one-to-one. Because if you don’t, they won’t stick around.
Receiving too many emails is the #1 reason people unsubscribe.
If your email strategy is to blast everything to everyone on your list every time you send...well, it might actually work at first. Email is an effective channel, even when it’s done poorly. But today’s consumers are smart. They’ll quickly realize that most of what you’re sending isn’t relevant to their interests. So even if you aren’t actually sending that often, it will feel like you’re sending too much because it has nothing to do with them. You’ll become one of those senders that they reflexively delete until they get tired of doing that and ultimately unsubscribe, or even worse, mark you as spam.
This is where personalization comes in. For some, personalization is simply including a first name in a subject line. But for savvier marketers, it extends all the way through the content of their mailing. Are you personalizing images, copy, the type of content you’re sending? It’s important to define exactly what you’re talking about when discussing personalization with your team because the results can be staggering.
Personalization works because you’re putting the focus of your message right where it should be – on the subscriber, not on your brand. You’re taking the data you’ve collected (those preferences and behaviors) and using it to anticipate what content your subscriber would like to receive from you. Everything from product or content recommendations to abandoned cart emails to event follow-ups are examples of personalized messages that you can send based on the data at your disposal.
But don’t overdo it. Just because you have the ability to personalize based on multiple data points doesn’t mean you should. If there isn’t a legit reason to personalize, then it comes across as condescending or annoying at best and downright creepy at worst. Not exactly the brand impression you’re going for.
“There's a part of the diagram that has the customer's needs, and there's a part of the diagram that has your business' needs. When they meet in the middle, that's when the magic happens.”
So trust your own instincts and employ personalization responsibly. When done well, it should make your subscribers feel like you’re paying attention and genuinely care about delivering great customer service. But if it’s something that would give you the heebie jeebies if it landed in your own inbox, don’t hit send.
If you want to have your best email marketing year ever, then you have to focus on one of your greatest untapped resources: your existing customers. In other words, you’ll have to spend more time marketing to your current customer base and delivering them the best experience than trying to acquire brand new customers who may or may not have ever heard of you. This is a simple case of making the most of your time and resources.
The probability of selling to a new prospect is somewhere between 5 and 20 percent. The probability of selling to an existing customer? 60-70%
A lot of marketers have this flipped, devoting a TON of time and energy to get their brand name out there and encouraging first-time purchases, while existing customers are sort of an afterthought. But there’s nothing more powerful than word of mouth, and your customers can be your best advocates.
“Take a moment to focus, provide value, and be generous to your most engaged audience, and they’ll return the favor.”
A key part of maximizing engagement for your customers is making sure that you’re using a mobile-optimized email design. We’re practically addicted to our phones, so mobile optimization is no longer a “would be nice to have” thing. It’s an absolute must if you want to get in the game.
People are busy, so they’re quickly checking their email while waiting in line at that coffee shop or if they get to a meeting a couple minutes early. They won’t mess around trying to navigate a broken design or read tiny type. They’ll send that email you worked so hard on to the trash and move on, so please make sure you’re starting with a mobile-optimized email template.
Also, don’t be afraid to mix up your content to keep your subscribers on their toes. Send a blog post one week, followed by an invitation, followed by an infographic, followed by a video. Variety keeps things fresh and keeps subscribers engaged. In fact, linking out to a video from your email is a surefire way to not only boost engagement, but also ROI.
Something that’s critical if you want to be successful with video and email is to pick the right screengrab. Don’t just slap a play button on any old image and expect people to click. Choose an image from your video that’s enticing, teases your content, or simply shows people having a good time, and your subscribers will want to click through.
Including a video thumbnail in your email can lift your ROI by as much as 280%.
Including a GIF in your design is another great way to lift your click rates and freshen up your content. They add some movement to what’s traditionally been a static medium in email, so even though it seems like everyone’s using them now, they still grab your attention.
Ok, let’s pause for a second. All of this list building, personalizing, and engaging sounds like a lot of work, right? It would take an email army to do that for every subscriber.
That’s where automation comes in. It helps you do great email marketing at scale.
Automation can seem a little intimidating at first. We’re all afraid that we might screw something up if we put our trust into a “robot.” But if you apply the same careful thought and strategy to automation as you would with any other tool (and don’t just set it and forget it), you’ll see some pretty great results and be thankful for the extra time you’ll save.
Businesses that use marketing automation experience as much as a 451% increase in qualified leads.
So if you’re just getting started with automation, it’s time to test the waters with a welcome series. Welcome emails are some of the most important emails you can ever send, because a subscriber will never be more interested and engaged than the moment they join your list.
Your welcome series should accomplish most of the following:
Check all of those off the list, and you’ll be well on your way to establishing a healthy subscriber relationship.
“Great marketing is when you distill your message to what's essential and serve it to the right people at the right time.”
On the other end of the spectrum, if a long-time subscriber hasn’t opened one of your emails in a while, then use that inactivity to trigger an automated re-engagement or win-back email. A study by Return Path found that 45% of recipients who received win-back emails read subsequent messages and came back into the fold. And worst case scenario, you’ll be able to clean up your email list by removing those who don’t engage. It’s really a win-win.
But in between saying hello with a welcome series and potentially saying goodbye with a re-engagement one, there are all sorts of opportunities to automate. Birthdays, purchases, opens and clicks – any subscriber behavior that you’re tracking – can potentially be used as a trigger for an automated message that lands at the perfect moment.
Marketers are competitive people by nature. We all want to outperform our competition, and automation is one way you can do it.