Among so many new communication channels, email might seem a bit old fashioned. The first emails were sent in 1971; the first email from space came 20 years later; and the movie “You’ve Got Mail” is 17 years old. Compared to Facebook which is about 11 years old, Instagram which is only 5 years old and the nascent live-streaming app Meerkat which is less than a year old, email is the great-grandfather of online communication.
No wonder there are some people who have claimed email is dead, or at least sounded its death knell.
However, according to a 2015 survey by Marketing Sherpa, 70% of respondents indicted they prefer companies communicate with them via email, while less than 20% chose social media, text messages or phone calls as a preference. Not only was email preferred overall, email was also the most popular channel across all demographics surveyed, regardless of age group.
Combined with the surge in content marketing, inbound marketing and marketing automation, email has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that it is a critical marketing tool to communicate with and nurture leads as well as to retain and educate customers.
However, with the noise, incredible volume of spam and more advanced email filters, creating messages that reach a recipient’s inbox – and are read – is becoming more difficult. Successful email marketing strategies must be carefully planned, executed and measured.
At its most basic, an email marketing strategy considers your target audience and their preferences and their needs and attempts to persuade recipients to take action to help you achieve your overall marketing and business goals.
Your audience and their needs
There are a number of reasons why you might want to reach out to a lead or to a customer based on their persona, their position in the buying journey or their behaviors and actions. For example, a visitor to your website submits a form on a landing page to download your most recent e-book. You could send an automated email thanking the visitor and providing a link to the online e-book as well as a complementary offer for another piece of content. Or, you might want to send an email to announce a new offer or promotion which is of interest to a particular group or segment of your list based on their previous interactions and purchases.
When creating emails and email programs keep this in mind:
- Who are you sending to?
- Why are you emailing (what value are you providing to the recipient)?
- What do you want the recipient to do (make it specific)?
- When do they need to receive the email?
- Where do you want them to go (as a result of what you want them to do)?
Drip or timed emails are a series of messages sent or “dripped” in a specific order and at a specific interval. These drip campaigns are often used to nurture leads, build relationships and even improve customer retention and foster repeat sales. Each drip campaign should have a goal. For example, your email could convert a lead to a customer, reconvert a lead to gather insights about the lead, or reconvert a customer.
Once you have established the goal, the emails should be constructed to guide the recipient toward the goal, building on each previous message. The emails should be short and provide enough information to help the recipient take action. Drip emails should not be sent to your entire database. Rather they should be sent to segments of your list and tailored to the specific needs and wants of members of the segment.
Transactional emails are less about marketing and convincing a user to take an action and more about providing a favorable experience to the user. Transactional emails are sent to an individual as a result of an action. Some common transactional emails are order confirmations, payment receipts, shipping notices or password reminders. The messages are personal and general at the same time, meaning they contain very user-specific information but the format and support language is not tailored for specific contact segments. These emails play an important role in establishing trust and giving users peace of mind.
Newsletter and subscription emails are sent to individuals who opt-in to receive periodic updates about your business, industry news, blog articles or other published content. These emails might be sent weekly, monthly or quarterly, depending on your bandwidth and the subscriber’s preferences.
Newsletters can be used to increase brand awareness with the recipient through regular communications as well as spread brand awareness via sharing. Newsletters may include multiple articles, each with their own pathway for the reader to pursue. Be thoughtful of the pathways you create, where they lead, and what you want the reader to do once they get there.
Offer and promotional emails occur on a less regular basis. These emails aim to get the recipients to take an action and further convert or purchase on a subsequent offer. These emails should be used sparingly since they are often seen as spammy; in Gmail they could even end up on the “promotional” tab of the user’s inbox. Additionally, the emails should be sent to segmented or targeted lists of contacts likely to be interested in the offer, based on what you know of them, what actions they’ve taken on your website, or what they’ve purchased in the past. There should be a real value in the offer that is clearly explained and supported by well defined benefits. Don’t try to mislead your readers with bogus offers – they’re smarter than you think and they’re not above using the unsubscribe button!
Re-engagement emails are used to wake up or nudge subscribers or contacts who are still interested in your company but who haven’t taken an action recently. They may have missed your recent messages, subscribed to a one-time offer, lost interest in your emails or maybe they intend to unsubscribe but simply have not yet.
If the subscribers are inactive due to either of the latter three reasons, your re-engagement email will give them an opportunity to unsubscribe before marking your subsequent emails as spam, which can hurt your reputation as a sender. Identify inactive users and segment them based on time inactive. You can even segment further based on persona or other criteria to create more targeted emails and improve campaign success. You can also use these emails to gather feedback or entice users to update email preferences without unsubscribing entirely.
Welcome emails and other auto responders are, like transactional emails, sent when a user takes a particular action.
The welcome email sets the tone for future communications and is your first opportunity to start building brand awareness, trust and engagement. This email welcomes subscribers or users and outlines what recipients can expect from your company in the future.
Autoresponder emails are usually sent after a form submission. These emails might simply let the user know their request was received. Or, they can deliver on an offer, providing a download link or attachment. These emails also provide you an opportunity to present a secondary offer and reconvert your user, allowing you to gain additional insights about their position in the buying journey or their interests.
People have been sending emails for more than 40 years, and yet businesses still struggle to get it right. Don’t bomb your contacts database with information of little value, sent at the wrong time relevant to their decision making process, and with unclear or actionable requests. Your contact database is a valuable resource; don’t give people good reasons to unsubscribe.
To avoid common email marketing mistakes, your strategy should consider timing, audience, message and goals. Careful planning, execution and analysis is necessary to ensure your emails are delivered, opened and acted upon.