Email marketing – do you survive or thrive?

11 minute read

What’s the difference between surviving as an email marketer and truly thriving? Here are 6 key areas where it’s relatively easy to move your performance from email marketing survivor… to thriver.


1. Permission

Survive: A robust permission based opt-in strategy is an essential starting point for any sort of email marketing. Don’t go any further without this in place. If you’re collecting data from other aspects of your customer relationship you’ll need to make sure you’ve covered the legal implications and, whatever the origin of your data make sure your unsubscribe process is in place, visible and functional.

Thrive: Add a verification loop to your subscription process to create a squeaky clean double opt-in process. Active sell your subscription and permission credentials. Let people know what data you are collecting and how you will respect their information. Sell the benefit – why is it important (to them) and set the expectation – how often will you be in contact and with what sort of information. And, if the time comes to unsubscribe, create a multi-level preference so people can choose which of your communications they might still like to receive.

2. Data

Survive: All you really need to run an email campaign is your subscriber’s email address. However you’re going to want to add at least a little personalisation to you campaigns so collecting some basic profiling information like first name and last name is a useful addition. If you are in the B2B sector then company name is also valuable – with a bit of online research you can gain a lot of additional insight from this. But remember, collect only what you need – now, you’ll be able to go back and gather more information as your relationship develops.

Thrive: Successful email marketing is highly data driven. Once you’ve gathered the basics start thinking about what other data is valuable to you – what do you need, how will it help you better understand your customers’ needs and how can you use it to improve your future campaigns? Collecting usable ‘insights’ is the first step in creating precision targeted campaigns. Your data insights will help you build a profile of your subscribers’ current situation, future needs and preferences and using this information intelligently will allow you to move towards more timely and compelling content. One more thing. Look beyond your email marketing to all the places within your business where data is collected and used. Integrating these applications together means your data is always up to date and ready to be mined for value.

3. Design

Survive: These days you should assume that a significant proportion of your audience will be reading and interacting with your campaigns on a mobile device (a smartphone or a tablet). To ensure a mobile friendly experience for your audience you’ll need to use a responsive email design process – it’s no longer an option – it’s a survival essential. You’ll either need to get to grips with CSS HTML programming or (much better) simply use a responsive email editor or pre-built responsive template and it will automatically optimise your layout and content for you.

Thrive: Creating a mobile responsive design is a great start but to gain full advantage you’ll need to design your campaign strategy and content from the ground up with a mobile audience in mind. Remember, you’ve got a small viewing area and a very short attention span to work with, so it’s important to have a clear message, get straight to the point and remove any distractions which detract from your goal. Although responsive design will optimise your content for the small screen, think how your message will be read and adopt a single column approach to telling your story. A clear call to action with a large interaction area is also good and, if you’re directing people through to your website, make sure that’s nicely responsive too.

4. Content

Survive: With literally billions of emails competing for attention you’ll need to stand out. Survival basics include having a concise and compelling message and a clear call to action. It might seem obvious but have something interesting to say and an interesting way of saying it. Also talk to your audience as individuals – email is essentially a 1-1 communication – and always apply the ‘so what?’ test. Ultimately your audience is not interested in you, they’re interested in them, so make it clear what benefit you’re providing – to them as an individual.

Thrive: Shhhh! There’s a secret to email marketing success and it’s called relevance. Relevance drives campaign opens and engagement and delivering timely, individually tailored content is the key. Start simply. Adding simple personalisation like first name sets the ball rolling. You can also drop in other profile information that you’ve collected, adding to the value to each individual. Think about segmenting your subscribers based on known characteristics – location and gender are good examples, and creating specific campaigns with targeted content for their group interests. True thrivers go a step further. Dynamic content allows you to create a generic campaign which automatically adapts to individual preferences. There are lots of examples but think along the lines of automatically promoting the spicy tofu with noodles to your vegetarian diners, along with a birthday offer and free taxi pick up to their local restaurant.

5. Automation

Survive: You can do everything manually but as your audience grows you’ll need to think about automation if you want to scale out your capability. The essential place to start is a ‘welcome’ email. As soon as a new subscriber is added to your audience respond straight away with a timely and compelling campaign – individually triggered using a 1-1 marketing automation rule. Welcome emails typically have high engagement rates so it’s an ideal time to kick start your relationship. Think about value – you can offer exclusive content or an introductory discount. Also think about additional data that you might want to collect and ask your subscriber to white-list your ‘from-name’.

Thrive: Start simply, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to marketing automation. Automatically triggered campaigns are perfect for things like birthday and other date triggered campaigns and event invitation and follow up sequences. If you’re involved in eCommerce, automation is the technology behind the timed messages which encourage the recovery of abandoned online shopping baskets. You can also turn your automation rules inside to create internal alerts to interest and engagement with your campaigns. You’ll need to design appropriate rules and have a robust data collection strategy but without automation you’ll struggle to thrive.

6. Analysis

Survive: Strange but true, many email marketers never analyse their campaign results. Survival is all about continual improvement and analysing your campaigns is the best way to gain the intelligence you’ll need. Even looking at simple, standard metrics like delivery, opens and clicks can give you valuable insight into whether and what areas of your campaigns are being most effective. Two other areas to consider are your delivery (or you non-delivery, i.e. bounce) and unsubscribe rates. Understanding both will help you understand where things are going well or not so.

Thrive: One of the best things about email marketing is the wealth of information that is available – both at the campaign and individual levels. To thrive you’ll need to go beyond the basic metrics. Click and unsubscribes specifically in relation to opens (rather than relative to delivery) give the next level of understanding as to the relative performance of your campaigns and if you want to understand real ROI it’s easy to add goal-based objectives like content downloads or online purchases. Ultimately you can use behavioural targeting techniques (like Audience Insights) to track details of your subscribers’ online activity, allowing you to gain a deep understanding of their interests and preferences. And of course you’ll need to use your analysis intelligence to review and improve your next campaign – for thrivers it’s not a linear process, it’s a continuous improvement cycle.