Ah, email. The cockroach of marketing tools.
Facebook couldn’t kill it. Mobile couldn’t best it. Even with all the shiny new marketing gimmicks out there (I’m looking at you, Snapchat), email still remains a marketing powerhouse. But companies need better email marketing tips to take advantage of this powerful channel.
Overzealous marketers have infested users’ inboxes with irrelevant content. On any given day, dozens of emails scuttle across my screen with spammy subject lines, gimmicky emojis, and all-caps content. I delete and I archive, but I know a hundred more are still waiting in the woodwork. Bad email marketing is why services like Unroll.me have become the Raid of the Internet. Turn off a user with an annoying subject line, and she’ll squash you like a bug.
Marketers can overcome their tendency to annoy instead of enlighten. To avoid bugging their audience, here are five critical email marketing tips to follow:
1. Quit Over-Personalizing
Personalization is a big email marketing trend. Marketers want to give users content they want to see, so in theory, the more personalized an email can be, the better. But could too much personalization be backfiring against marketers?
The problem is personalization overuse. If a lot of companies use first names in email subject lines, for example, what was once eye-catching becomes spam-like. Once a trend hits a tipping point, the novel becomes noise.
There’s also the creep factor: Use too many personalized details, and consumers will freak out about their privacy.
Personalization isn’t bad in and of itself; in fact, as we’ll see, it’s actually quite useful. The problem is when marketers assume that more personalization equals more effectiveness. Strategically deployed personalization is fine, but make it smart.
2. Don’t Send Everyone the Same Email
I just finished telling you that too much personalization can backfire. It turns out too little personalization isn’t good either.
A study from GetResponse found that almost half of email marketers (42 percent) send the exact same email to everyone on their list. According to the report, only 4 percent use behavior and survey data to help personalize and target emails.
For a completely homogenous audience, a zero-personalization approach might work. But even if your company markets to a narrow demographic niche—let’s say professional underwater basket weavers between the ages of 40 and 45—you can still uncover differences that merit email segmentation. Maybe some of your basket weavers swear by bamboo; others refuse to use anything but sweetgrass. To complicate matters, the bamboo lovers buy supplies every month and the sweetgrass weavers only buy once a year. By crafting emails pertinent to each group, marketers can deliver more valuable content.
The key is knowing when to pull back on the personalization reins. Used as a gimmick, personalization will land companies on the Unroll.me chopping block. On the other hand, personalization used to create value will keep consumers interested.
3. Test It
A surprising number of marketers don’t bother testing emails to see what clicks with consumers. Phrasee found that only about half of marketers test subject lines on emails. Moreover, a quarter of respondents never test subject lines.
The lack of testing is pretty crazy, given that subject lines are the first things consumers see to entice them to open an email. Maybe marketers assume their subject lines are just that good, or maybe they think they don’t matter much. Or, maybe marketers don’t have the time or knowledge to test multiple options.
But without testing, marketers are leaving clicks on the table. The headlines or subject lines that resonate most with consumers may surprise you—that’s why you test. BuzzFeed crafted several different headlines earlier this year to talk about the awesome snow forts people were building, NPR reported. The headline “33 Ways To Build A Snow Fort You’ll Want To Move Into” beat out the second option “33 Ways To Build The Best Snow Fort Ever” by 2-to-1, a difference that ultimately impacts thousands of clicks, readers, and eventually, dollars.
In the scenario above, would you have come up with the winning headline? If not, your clickability radar may be off. Similarly, going with your gut on subject lines, content, even email layout, isn’t foolproof.
Say it with me: Test, don’t guess.
4. Use Behavioral Triggers
Behavior-based emails rely on user cues as the email trigger. For example, leaving a bunch of items in your online shopping cart might trigger a reminder email from a retailer.
This form of personalized marketing represents another tactic not consistently utilized by marketers. Just 20 percent of marketers currently email users based on their Web behavior, according to an Econsultancy and Adestra report. Those behaviors include subscribing to a website, abandoning a cart, or not visiting as frequently.
Employing behavioral triggers can dramatically impact the bottom line. In fact, every cart abandonment email yields $8.21 in value, SaleCycle found. Like other email tactics, avoiding overuse is key. Don’t bombard users with multiple abandoned cart emails when one is sufficient. Don’t creep the user out by using highly personal data to trigger emails. Keep it useful.
5. Think Variety
A report from TrackMaven found that email marketing has stagnated, with marketers using the same tactics over and over again. TrackMaven examined thousands of sent emails and found that most are clustered around the same time of day and day of the week, and most are even around the same length.
While companies may find sweet spots for emailing, it’s worth noting that too much of one thing can get tedious for users. Marketers might try more variety—and pique user interest—by switching things up. A weekend email or a subject line with a question mark might prove just as effective as a Thursday morning email with an exclamation mark. Unless marketers test out different approaches, they’ll never know.
I’m hopeful that more companies, big and small, will get better at deploying the types of tactics. I’m like a lot of email users in that I want to get occasional updates from my preferred brands. But, with so many things competing for my attention and the emails seemingly increasing in frequency (without a corresponding bump in relevance), I’m more inclined to view brand emails as annoying pests that require regular unsubscribe purges. Unless brands get better at the email dance, I’m afraid more brands will join the unsubscribe email graveyard. At some point, even the cockroach of the Internet might find itself extinct.