Ah, yes, the noble marketing email.
Watch carefully as it emerges from its natural habitat and begins its regular migration to the great unknown: your inbox.
While the more recently discovered genus, Modus Socialis, has sparked great interest from the wider marketing community, it’s important to note that the mighty, yet modest, email should not be overlooked.
In fact, when provided the right resources and environment, the marketing email not only thrives but is a force to be reckoned with.
In all seriousness, it’s very tempting to jump on the latest marketing bandwagon and test out the newest and most innovative ways to connect with customers. That is a workable method, and it definitely comes with its own risks and rewards. However, as one of the oldest and simplest messaging channels, email marketing very well might be the most effective strategy you can use.
“Every new channel wishes to be as successful as email, which is why so many have proclaimed themselves email-killers. […] But email marketing has only become more powerful and more relevant over the past two decades. […] Looking to free themselves from their dependence on paid Facebook and Google ads, smart brands will invest heavily in building their email marketing relationships and capabilities.” – Chad S. White, marketer
At the end of 2019, the average ROI from email marketing was $42 for every $1 spent.
That’s hardly something to turn a nose up at.
Email marketing is a bit of an art, though. While consumers do prefer engaging with brands via email, they’re also selective about the emails they choose to interact with – and very quick to mark irrelevant ones as spam.
But how do you know if your campaigns are truly effective? What are the magic words to get those all-important open rates and click-throughs? How do you prevent consumers from deciding to unsubscribe?
Let’s talk about that.
The original 1-to-1 channel
At Process Street, we’ve been revamping our email campaigns. We’ve slowly and quietly been tweaking the type of content we provide, and felt it was finally time to introduce our email subscribers to the change as well.
Through some trial, a decent amount of error, and a commitment to providing our base with the best content we can, we’ve learned a few key lessons.
Because we’re also very generous folk, I’m going to share these lessons with you, so you can maximize the potential of your email campaigns and increase that ROI.
Art doesn’t happen by accident
“Art doesn’t just happen by accident. It’s about pulling out new tricks and trying new things.” – Nicholas Meyer, writer and director
There is an art to any type of creation, and email marketing campaigns are no different. Email is absolutely an old school channel, but that doesn’t mean the way you use it has to be old school, too.
Interactivity is huge. Humans love to be involved. Think about the success of the daily Google Doodle, and how much chatter gets generated about their mini-games. Think about invitations to try or touch different products in stores. Consider how the interactivity of Netflix’s Bandersnatch – love it or hate it – became a massive talking point for both the film and gaming industries about future innovations. I’ll admit – I watched the film far too many times trying to ferret out all the potential narratives, and I wasn’t the only one.
91% of consumers prefer interactive content to static media, but even with the increase in popularity, email interactivity still hasn’t hit the mainstream yet. Even small developments like hover effects, incorporating GIFs, or utilizing Dark Mode can have a major impact on your subscribers’ experience.
The key point here is: your subscribers already want your content; if you deliver content that excites and intrigues them, their interaction with your brand is only going to increase.
I have data and I’m not afraid to use it
Unlike other messaging channels, email provides the unique advantage of being able to collect specific data about your subscribers. Not only can you measure overall campaign performance, but you can also study each subscriber’s behavior and preferences.
Social media gives you generic stats: number of new or lost followers, number of shares, vague information about location, and device used. Those details are useful, yes, but they don’t tell you anything specific about those followers – or how they feel about your brand. Are they already customers, or did they just like that one Tweet?
How a subscriber interacts with your email campaign lets you know how successful that message was in reaching them – and that information can be translated to your other content as well.
Did your key demographic respond particularly well to a certain phrasing? Did a recent topic result in more unsubscribes than normal? How can that insight transfer to the content on other channels?
Every time you send content out to your subscribers, you should be monitoring the data you get back. How many times is it being opened? Are they sharing it? Does it appeal to them? Does it result in conversions? Is the response one you expected, or did it surprise you?
Answering these questions will improve your email campaigns, increase your customer interaction, and, ultimately, increase your ROI.
People buy relationships, stories, and magic.
Stories are the backbone of every great marketing campaign.
Alright. I’m a writer. Of course I’m going to big up the role of storytelling in a successful campaign.
But think about it. I’m not wrong.
Grocery chain Sainsbury’s recently released a three-part Christmas ad centered around the stories of three families. They start off simply: a phone call. A father and a daughter, a mother and son, two brothers.
The conversations themselves are almost mundane, but throughout, home videos of past family Christmases are played, giving you a full history of each family and their traditions in less than a minute. While there was social media backlash over one of the three ads featuring a Black family, the majority got sucked in by the stories. Then they started sharing their own: embarrassing parents, silly traditions, childhood memories.
What stories are you offering in your email marketing? What stories are you telling about your brand and your products? What stories are you promising customers who purchase those products?
Email is a unique digital channel. Social media is quick and brief (and increasingly distrusted by consumers). Videos are compelling, but aren’t always effective if the message relies too heavily on audio. Email marketing is the perfect blend of all things: visual, interactive, accessible by everyone from anywhere, and as brief or packed-full as you want.
Just add compelling narrative and watch your conversions grow!
You gotta leave the silo sometime
“Becoming more customer-centric means taking a more holistic approach to marketing. We have to focus on the customer journey because if we focus on each marketing channel in isolation, that’s when we give the customer a disjointed journey.” – Kath Pay, marketer
Nearly 400 years ago, poet and scholar John Donne proclaimed no (hu)man was an island, but instead part of the whole. Over the centuries, many people have reiterated similar sentiments, and, the fact is, it’s no less true than it was for Donne.
Your marketing channels aren’t islands, either. Together they create a unified journey for your customers, and a unified identity for your brand. If your blog writers, social media managers, and email marketers are all putting out different messages, the result is going to be chaotic and confusing. Inevitably, your base will turn elsewhere.
Keep in mind that the modern consumer no longer interacts with a brand via a single channel. They can have your website open in one tab, your Twitter profile open in another, be chatting to a friend about your product on WhatsApp, and watching one of your videos on YouTube – all at the same time.
While email may be the foundation of your digital marketing strategy, you need to continuously integrate your other marketing teams and channels into the campaign so everyone is on the same page and your message remains consistent.
Grow your talent pool
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, it was perfectly feasible for a one- or two-person team to handle all of a brand’s email marketing.
But it’s the 21st century. Putting together a basic weekly newsletter, or working with only a handful of emails at a time is no longer enough to differentiate your brand from your competitors.
46% of brands in 2019 planned to increase their email team budget. As this channel continues to drive results, brands will need to send more and better emails, which means recruiting people who specialize in those areas.
In addition to the creative maestros designing your content, you need to bring tech whizzes who understand email channels, strategists to envision the future, and thought leaders who can integrate other channels and disciplines.
It’s an investment, for sure, but without it, your email marketing team is likely to get overwhelmed trying to keep up with competitors who are already making that investment in their campaigns – and your marketing strategy will fall flat with customers.
It’s all about choosing the right tool for the job – or in this case, the right brain for the project.
“As email teams prove their worth as effective marketers within the organization, it helps show the team as thought leaders and strategists for groups outside of marketing.” – Lauren Kremer, email marketer
Connect with the human, not the consumer
I completed two degrees at the same university, which was the norm for most of the student body then. From time to time, I reflect on the utter lack of communication between different departments’ email campaigns. For example, the time I received a tuition invoice and a request for an alumnus donation at the exact same moment.
It would’ve taken very little effort for the finance and alumni departments to communicate with each other about which alumni were still enrolled (and consequently paying large sums of money to the university already) and which had left for other pursuits (who might be more inclined to make donations).
In a completely unsurprising move, I immediately unsubscribed from all alumni emails.
In this day and age, most people know a form letter when we see one. Even if our name happens to be inserted at the beginning, we’ve all seen enough that we understand the rubric. As a result, personalization (or segmentation, as the kids are calling it these days) has become even more of a priority.
Customers want to know that they’re valued by your brand, and not just for the contents of their bank accounts. Loyalty is a valuable commodity, and it does not take much to lose it.
As I said, your subscribers are people who want your content. They want to know about your brand and your products. However, if you repeatedly send them news or information they find irrelevant, it won’t take long before they’re no longer your subscribers.
As messaging channels become more saturated with brands trying to make their mark, and consumers become savvier about both tech and advertising strategies, the one-size-fits-all model is becoming increasingly antiquated. With the increasing sophistication of dynamic content that allows you to personalize email marketing content based on any parameter specific to each user.
Companies that offer bespoke services – and bespoke content – are going to stick out from the crowd, gain their customers’ attention, and maintain those all-important relationships. Yes, you want to sell your product. You want to promote your brand. But you need to understand the person behind the purchase, and their relationship to your product and brand, to launch a successful campaign.
Use that data you collected on your subscribers’ preferences and behavior to make their experience as customized as possible.
“Only the companies and brands that create human connection are going to succeed. This is extremely true with email. You might get short term benefits from very promotional content, but honest, human, and personalized content creates a following for the long term.” – Henni Roini, marketer
Starting strong is good; finishing strong is epic
Email marketing is a process. The more you do it, the more you’ll refine it and improve it.
The principles of marketing never really change. The tools we use, the jargon we throw around, the ways we find to meet our customers – sure, those all grow and evolve in ways we can predict, and ways we absolutely can’t.
The underlying theme of every one of these tips is intentionality. Be intentional in your communication. Show purpose and design in your email marketing campaigns. Do something different. Experiment. Use the data from those experiments to create new strategies.
Above all, ensure your email marketing provides value for the customer. Don’t just send them the information you think they need to buy a product; give them the information they want so they will love the brand.