At its core, Email Marketing is a tool for customer relationship management (CRM).
Its Purpose: To build virtual relationships with existing and potential customers.
Its Benefit: Maximize the retention and value of these customers, which should ultimately lead to greater profitability.
What is Email Marketing?
Simply put, Email Marketing is a form of direct marketing which utilities electronic means to deliver commercial messages to an audience. It is one of the oldest and yet still one of the most powerful of all eMarketing tactics. The power comes from the fact that it is:
o extremely cost effective and has a low cost per contact
o highly targeted
o completely measurable
Email Marketing's main strength is that it takes advantage of a customer's most prolific touch point with the Internet... their in-box.
Although spam mail has done a great deal to discredit the Email Marketing industry, the benefits are still apparent and substantiated by the fact that in February, 2006, a JupiterResearch report concluded that spending on Email Marketing will rise from $885 million in 2005 to $1.1 billion in 2010.
Email Marketing - A Step By Step Guide
A successful email campaign requires careful attention - from planning to execution and evaluation of the campaign. There are certain best practices and steps to follow which will ensure the success of an email campaign:
Step 1 - Strategic Planning
The first part of any email campaign should involve planning around the goals you will need to achieve.
There are roughly 2 types of commercial emails you can send:
o Promotional emails are more direct and are geared at enticing the user to take action through purchase or sign up
o Retention based emails usually take the form of a newsletter and may include promotional messages but ultimately should contain information of value to create a long term relationship with the reader
A successful email campaign is most likely to be the one geared at retaining and creating a long term relationship with the reader.
Step 2 - List Building and Management
Running a successful email campaign requires that your business has a genuine opt-in database. This means that you need to have the user's permission to communicate with them or you risk having your mail regarded as spam or unsolicited (bulk) email.
Emails regarded as spam can have dire consequences for your organization as not only will your reputation be in jeopardy, but legal action may be pursued in many parts of the world.
An effective, best practice Email Marketing campaign requires an in-house list cultivated over time. This list should contain people who are prospects, customers or potential evangelists of your business, who have explicitly given their permission to hear from you. You can use the website, subscription campaigns as well as the newsletter itself (e.g. send to a friend function) to build lists. An equally important feature is the unsubscribe function. A reader needs to know how they can easily opt-out of your email communication should they need to.
Step 3 - Creative Execution
Email content that your readers will value is vital to ensuring the success of an Email Marketing campaign. Valuable content is informative and progressive and should address the problems and needs of readers. Its all about what they want to hear more than what you want to say to them. The reader determines what value your content provides, not the publisher.
Step 4 - Design
The design of a mailer is sometimes an area that has the least amount of thought put into it. This is usually due to the lack of understanding some designers have of usability. The common problems are the:
o length of the email
o disorganized structure of information
o readability of text
Interactive emails are best constructed with lightweight HTML capability allowing the email to open quickly in order to grab the user's attention before he/she moves on. The structure must allow people to scan and navigate the email without too much complication. The length of paragraphs, emphasis through bolding and colors as well as sectioning information with bullets and borders all contribute to a well structured email.
Any good designer will test their email on a variety of current, most used email clients. (E.g. Outlook, Thunderbird, Lotus Notes, Eudora etc). This process is called platform testing and ensures that the email will display correctly in as many email clients as possible. Sometimes it is not possible to ensure exact consistency on every email client; however the variations can be minimized through following best international practice and staying abreast of new developments in email clients.
Step 5 - Newsletter Components
Within every newsletter, there are a number of components that will aid the reader to orientate and better accept and react to your newsletter over time. Consistency is key in some areas while others can be refreshed although remaining within the style and tone of the communication. The most prevalent components are as follows:
o Subject Lines are essential! They aid the reader in identifying the newsletter and enticing them to open it. It is important to avoid promotional words like "free", "win" and "buy now" due to these being flagged as potential spam by email spam filters. Using the name and edition of the newsletter in the subject line aids in maintaining consistency and also helps readers filter them from their inbox.
o "To"," from" and "reply" fields are also opportunities to build the relationship through creating a perception of familiarity. In other words, the reader needs to perceive that the newsletter is somewhat unique for them and sent personally by the publisher. Using a personalized company email address for the "reply" field creates familiarity and builds trust with the reader. The "from" address should also include the organization's name. A meaningless "from" address which the reader cannot identify only serves to confuse the origin of the newsletter.
o Personalization should be standard practice with emails. However, some companies still start the newsletter with a greeting like "Dear Valued Guest". This can be acceptable as a default greeting; however, using their first name or surname can create a perception of a more personal email. This can be taken further if the customers give you a preference regarding the content they like the most. The text and images in the email can be tailored to match preferences and interests upon delivery.
Step 6 - Deployment
Any good email marketer should be able to ensure an excellent delivery rate. A challenge for email marketers today is getting past the various spam filters on the path to the readers inbox. It is worthwhile to check emails against various spam filters, like Spamassasin, to ensure your legitimate message is not mistakenly picked up by one of them.
Delivering emails at correct and consistent times also contributes to the reader fostering a relationship with your organization. A good offline example of this relationship is the daily newspaper delivery which arrives at your door at the same time every day, week or month.
Step 7 - Tracking and Reporting
It is crucial to determine the success of your email campaign on the short and long term basis. For this you will need an email tracking system which produces statistics in a user friendly manner. It is important that these statistics are used in a way which improves and refines the email campaign to boost your goals and return on investment (ROI). The following measurable contribute to your understanding of the performance of email campaigns:
o Subscriber Growth vs. Decline - Tracking the growth or shrinkage of your database can help you analyze what is or what is not working in a newsletter. A significant or consistent loss in subscribers is a key indication that you are not meeting the needs of your subscribers. A high pass on rate indicates that your list values the content enough to constantly share with others. Splitting the list and testing 2 versions of the newsletter can help determine the cause of high unsubscribe rates. The size of the list however, is not as important as the quality thereof as a high percentage response from your existing newsletter recipients carries more impact than subscriber growth which may still yield low response rates.
o Click Through Rates and Conversion - This measures the effectiveness of your email via the links placed therein. When a reader clicks through to a webpage, these can be easily measured as a percentage against number of delivered, opened or sent emails. By analyzing these statistics, the email marketer will be able to tell which content or promotion was the most enticing for the reader. Measuring the click through and conversion rates will ensure that you are able to track differences and trends the same way over time in order to improve the newsletter content and its impact.
o Feedback and Interaction Handling - The feedback from readers is probably the best way to gauge what impression your newsletter is making on them. If you are receiving regular positive feedback, chances are that many of your readers are impressed with the style and content of the newsletter. Evaluating what they are saying about you in other areas on the Internet will also help you get a better picture of the reputation of your brand online.
o Split testing - This is one of the most important parts of an Email Marketing Campaign! Split testing across a host of factors like open rates across different subject lines, different days of the week and times of the day, different copy styles and email length, for example, will enable you to see what is working best for your campaign. In short there is no alternative to putting a lot of time and energy into testing and fine tuning your email marketing strategy - your open rates will improve and the results are well worth it!
Well there you have it; we now know email marketing is controllable and measurable: making it one of the best means to ensure a return on your investment, by acquiring new customers and new sales.