Using email for marketing is considered old school by some and high-tech by others, but one thing is certain: it works. The median average ROI of email is 124 percent, according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in 2017.
Email marketing is growing in use and spending. According to The State of B2B Email Marketing Report, 77 percent of B2B marketers claim they’re using email marketing to drive visits to their websites and ultimately sales. That represents significant spending, which experts say will grow from $2.07 billion in 2014 to $3.07 billion in 2019 (Statista).
Marketing with email offers many advantages. It can be highly targeted and personalized, and it’s more effective and cost-effective than other tactics. Depending on which study you read, every dollar invested in email marketing garners from $38 to $44 in revenue.
What Email Marketing Can Do
A quick internet search will yield a number of email marketing platforms and marketing automation platforms. What’s the difference? The lines are blurring as entry-level platforms continue to add features and capabilities. Email marketing novices may want to start with an entry-level platform like Constant Contact or MailChimp, then upgrade to a plan with more capabilities or subscribe to a new, more robust marketing automation tool.
But what’s more important than the platform you choose is how you use it.
You may have heard the terms “inbound” and “outbound” applied to marketing. Outbound marketing usually refers to more traditional methods such as print and broadcast advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, banner advertising, and even emails sent to a broad audience to sell a product or service. Outbound marketing is usually one-way communication that seeks out customers.
Inbound marketing draws attention to your products, services, company, or brand by providing helpful content to people who have requested to hear from you. People find you because you’ve earned their interest by entertaining or educating them. Blogging, social media content, eBooks, white papers, guides, and templates are all forms of inbound marketing.
Debate continues about which is best. The answer is probably both. Smart marketers are using outbound strategies to drive inbound traffic. For example, an outbound email may contain a link to a landing page, blog post, case study, social media post, or other content. When the recipient follows this link and signs up for a newsletter or future emails (called opting in), that’s inbound marketing.
The right marketing automation platform can manage all of this activity, tracking respondents’ behavior and interaction with this content. Many platforms can also manage leads to automatically send follow-up emails based on the recipient’s actions or digital profile. Real-time analytics can track engagement and assign scores to leads based on your criteria. This makes it easier to create campaigns that change based on an individual lead’s actions. As a result, emails can be more personal and relevant to customers, making them more likely to respond.
Don’t Send that First Email Yet
Most platforms provide a wealth of tutorials, help menus, articles, and tips to walk you through the process of creating and optimizing your email marketing campaigns. Further,
most have customer support staff dedicated to helping you succeed. But before sending that first email, consider these best practices.
- Think strategically. Set a goal and focus on a single result or outcome with a specific target audience. For example, if the goal is to drive prospects to your website, give readers a strong reason to click a link. If the objective is getting target audience members to download a white paper or guide, make it easy for them.
- Make it personal. Perhaps email’s biggest benefit is personalization. According to Experian, emails with personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened. More than half (52 percent) of consumers are likely to choose another brand if a company doesn’t personalize its content, says Salesforce. Yet only 11 percent of email marketers personalize their subject lines, and only about 26 percent personalize their email bodies, claims GetReponse. That’s a lot of numbers, but what matters is the take-home: personalization significantly increases open rates.
- Use an intriguing subject line. Make people want to open the email, but not with mysterious wording like “An offer you can’t refuse.” Rather, be brief and descriptive. To follow are some tips for writing effective subject lines:
– Keep it short – 50 or fewer characters or six to 10 words.
– Avoid all caps or multiple exclamation points; it looks like spam.
– Avoid trigger words like free, help, assistance, and donate.
– Highlight a benefit that resonates with recipients.
– Ask a question that demands a “yes” answer.
– Create a sense of urgency without sounding desperate.
– In the “from” line, use a person’s name instead of a company name.
- Make the connection immediately. In the subject line, hint at the email’s content and then follow up in the first sentence, so readers know what to expect. If they’re interested, they’ll keep reading. If not, it doesn’t matter. Regardless, you’ve delivered the message.
- Time it appropriately. CoSchedule reviewed 14 different research studies and found that Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Wednesdays are the best days to send emails, in that order. The best times are 10 a.m., 8 p.m., 2 p.m., and 6 a.m. Using the chart below as a starting point, experiment with different days and times to see what works best for you.
- Get to the point. Microsoft Canada Advertising surveyed 2,000 people about their use of mobile technology, websites, and online games and found the average attention span to be eight seconds. Readers make decisions quickly about what interests them, so emails must capture attention quickly.
- Write like you speak. Be conversational and clear. Don’t be too promotional; write as if you’re talking to a friend. But don’t be overly friendly or you may
alienate them. Include a call to action, but don’t demand an immediate response.
- Think mobile. According to the Litmus State of Email Report, 54 percent of all emails are opened on a mobile device. So use a responsive platform – one that adjusts the message to accommodate screen size. Further, links should go to mobile-friendly webpages, and the pages should load quickly.
- Test, modify, and repeat. For example, consider running A/B (or split) tests to compare the effectiveness of different subject lines, messages, offers, promotions, or calls to action. Beyond answering a one-off question, A/B testing can improve your email marketing in the long run as you continue to learn what works.
- Let them say goodbye. Every email should give the recipient the option to unsubscribe or receive emails less frequently.
This is a quick overview of email marketing and best practices. Succeeding with email marketing requires attention to all aspects of campaign planning, execution, and analysis. Marketers must also understand strategy, content, design, testing, metrics, and even the legal aspects of the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which sets the rules for commercial email. See the article on page 34 for more details on the CAN-SPAM Act.
The more you research and practice email marketing, the more you’ll find there is to know. That’s why you need to start with a marketing goal and strategy. It’s not a question of what you can do with email marketing; it’s a question of what you should do.
Katrina Olson is a marketing consultant, trainer, writer, and principal of Katrina Olson Marketing + Training. Reach her at email@example.com.