Social media and instant messaging might hog the digital marketing spotlight, but there’s no denying the solid reliability of email marketing. Reaching thousands of inboxes with targeted precision in a format that allows a large volume of information to be delivered in a single blast, email has formed the bedrock of countless campaigns for countless companies. And while its reputation has had its ups and downs, any brand would be hard-pressed to deny that email endures as the original online marketing king.
Yet even with all this time to learn good practices, mistakes are still being made, and it is all too regular an occurrence for someone to receive a marketing email and feel a wave of annoyance. Be it bizarre messaging, poor grammar or just constant bombardment from a single brand, bad email protocol is all too common. And when that annoyance strikes, the recipient’s mouse is going to hover straight over the “Unsubscribe” button.
So, before you hit send on that next email campaign, here are eight principles to make sure your emails shine, rather than ending up in the trash.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan
The first step to any successful email campaign is planning. The saying may go, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, but you’ll have close to the same failure rate if you fire blind.
You have four questions to answer before typing a word of copy.
To start, ask yourself “What is the purpose or objective of this email?” Define what real-world outcome it is meant to achieve.
Next, consider, “What message do I want to get across?” The identity of your brand and the information you impart is at stake, so make sure it stays focused on that message.
Thirdly, question, “Who am I speaking to?” For example, an overly casual tone may seem condescending in a business setting, while an overly formal tone might put off younger audiences.
Lastly, think “Are there any dates I should be aware of?” Keep track of significant holidays to target and capitalise on, but equally, consider whether the content of your proposed mail might negatively coincide with any significant days you plan on posting around.
2. Stay on brand
A brand depends on being recognisable, memorable, and distinct. Therefore it is essential that your emails be consistent with your brand, maintaining continuity of voice, visuals, and user experience from one mail to the next. So unless a massive rebranding has taken place, keep these content elements and the identity of your emails in check.
3. Write with feeling
Remember that you want your recipients to actually enjoy getting and reading what you send them. With that in mind, be conversational. This is not a glossy brochure slipped in their mailbox, you are writing these people an email. Speak to your audience like a human being.
However, be aware of overcomplicating things, and keep it tight; you’re writing an email, not War and Peace. Have clear and simple CTAs that users can react to. You may still be creative, reflecting the brand type’s approach, as in the case of lifestyle content that thrives on evocative imagery and using prose to paint a picture. Just don’t lose track of your end goal.
Quality (i.e. non-clickbait) subject lines that entice readers are also key, as they’ll determine whether anyone opens your email in the first place.
4. Know your audience
Your audience is more than just a single demographic group. While one email may be very relevant to one group of your customers, it may be far less relevant to another. Segment your audience deliveries accordingly.
What’s more, think about how each segment wants to be spoken to. A business customer is extremely different from a retail customer, and your tone should reflect that. But additionally, try and understand what activities differentiate your segments. A backpacker audience might not have a lot in common with someone looking to book a luxury stay. Be relevant to those wants.
5. Timing is everything
People have busy lives. If your mail arrives while the recipient has their head buried in a task, there’s a good chance they’ll swipe away the notification and forget about it.
The solution is to send during the less busy 'off' times when it’s more likely they’ll be free to open and read through what mails they get as they get them. As a starting point, the best times to send are 6 am, 10 am, 2 pm and 8 pm. But realise that your competitors may be following the exact same playbook. So test a few different times and see which works best for you.
There are exceptions of course, and you should consider your audience as well as your message and CTA. For instance, if you have an email to go out announcing a live webinar you plan on hosting which is relevant to the actual day-to-day work of your customers, consider sending it out during office hours.
6. Test everything, more than twice
You don’t really get a second chance with an email. Once it’s sent out, that’s it. And eventually, a mistake will happen.
To counter your human fallibility, create a checklist of all the things you need to test before deployment and run through it every time before hitting send. Every single time. No exceptions.
This checklist could include confirming that images load, grammar is correct, hyperlinks work, names are properly spelled, CTA buttons function, the template responds, and tagging is in place.
To really avoid mishaps, have multiple staff members review each email before you deploy. And don’t just eyeball it, use the checklist!
7. Don’t abuse your customers’ inboxes
Quality over quantity is everything. A customer has granted you the opportunity to stay connected with them by allowing your mails a place in their inbox. If you abuse this trust by bombarding them, this privilege will be revoked very quickly. This could mean being unsubscribed to or possibly even getting your domain blocked and reported. But if you’ve really annoyed users, don’t be surprised if your brand gets named and shamed on social media for being a spam merchant. This is bad.
Don’t be an annoyance, embrace moderation.
8. Measure your success
There’s no point to doing any of this if you aren’t keeping proper tabs on whether it's working. Choose metrics that matter to monitor. Specifically, ones that will help you judge the performance of your campaign in relation to the objectives you set out in your planning phase.
Metrics to consider and understand the significance of your emails might include the open rate, the clickthrough rate, and click-to-open rate.
Victoria Perera is a senior digital consultant at Archetype.