Email’s Alive, But You’re Doing It Wrong

October 21, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

I’m a little behind on my blog reading. With SMX East, BlogWorld and other commitments landing side-by-side the past few weeks, I’m just getting back into the swing of things. One thing that caught my eye in the catch up was a post from the ever-brilliant Neil Patel about 7 Lessons Learned From Monetizing Quick Sprout. I have a huge amount of respect and awe for Neil so I was pretty surprised when I heard him declare that email marketing doesn’t work. While I think Neil’s a rock star, I’m going to disagree on this one. Email marketing isn’t dead, but it does need to be woo’d for top results.

If you want proof that email marketing isn’t dead you can read the Epsilon Global Consumer Email Study that found that 87 percent of Americans said they use email as their primary tool for online personal communication. Or maybe check out our BlogWorld coverage from 2009 where Darren Rowse revealed his newsletter sees TWICE the number of conversions than his very well-trafficked blog.

The problem isn’t email; the problem is how marketers use email.

If you read the comments of Neil’s post you’ll see him concede that it’s possible he didn’t see a benefit from email marketing because he “did it wrong” and didn’t build his list before he launched his membership program. I think a lot of people who try to get into email marketing inevitably ‘do it wrong’ or simply don’t give it enough time to succeed. To help fix that, here are some ways I think business owners can help themselves do email marketing right.

Understand your customers’ wants/needs

Email marketing can work for a lot of different industry and business types, but it has to be built around your audience and what they want. For me, I respond to “huggy” emails like the newsletter Chris Brogan sends out to his audience. I like feeling that personal connection and take to emails that make me part of the brand. However, that approach isn’t going to work for everyone [not everyone has the emotional problems I do]. It could be that your audience subscribes for advanced content, for discounts, to create connections, or to overall feel smarter. Ask your customers what they want…and then take it with a grain of salt. Instead, create some test emails and see which content users best respond to and what gets the most clicks. Like Neil states in his post, actions speak louder than words.

Know when people read. Like, really know.

It’s fairly accepted that your niche has a preferred day/time of day when they like to ignore work and read their email. As a marketer, you want to learn what that day/time is for your audience. Marketing is, after all, delivering the right message at the right time. If you’re a restaurant or a business that makes the bulk of its money on the weekend, then you’ll probably fare better sending later in the week than on a Tuesday morning. But maybe not. To find out, experiment and watch your stats to see how people interact with your content. Watch open rates, clicks, visits to your site, etc.

Encourage social sharing

I’ve spoken with a lot of business owners who say they’ve decided to can their email marketing campaigns in favor of things like Twitter, blogs and Facebook strategies. Social sites, they say, are the future and where their customers are hanging out. First, remember that it’s mostly the geeks who are taking to these social sites. Regular People still really, really like email, so don’t totally discount it. Second, why not tie social elements into your email marketing to make it even stronger?

GetResponse put together the Email Marketing and Social Media Integration Report that examined 500,000,000 messages sent by more than 19,000 users to compare the click through rates of messages with links to social networks and ones without them. What they found was that messages with social calls had a 30 percent higher clickthrough rate. Even more, they found clickthrough rates increased AGAIN with the number of social media icons included. For example, results showed that messages with only one icon returned an average 8.70 percent CTR, while messages with 3 or more social sharing icons generated more than 28 percent higher CTR than messages with one icon, and 55 percent higher CTR than messages with no social sharing icons at all.  Dude!

[Also read eMarketer’s timely post today about email vs social media’s effectiveness.]

Create a killer email list

We’ll be digging deeper into this in an upcoming Outspoken Media post, but your email newsletter will live or die on the list you create. If you’re buying lists, you’re already dead. So stop. Instead, do it organically and reach out the people who would see value from the content you offer. To help kick start your list you’ll want to:

  • Give current customers incentive to join. What will this new interaction with your company give them that they can’t get from your Web site?
  • Attract new customers with free content, increased brand access, discounts, a larger voice, etc.
  • Make it easy for others to sign up at check out, from your home page, on your blog, on your Facebook page, etc.
  • Promote the newsletter at every brand touch point.

Once you have your list, you want to segment your customers by putting them in buckets to help you send the right message to the right person. Persona marketing works and email is a great place to leverage it.

Stop shooting yourself in the foot

For email to work, you really need to understand your audience and their habits. You want to soak up every valuable statistic you can in order to better target your message and make it work for your audience. For example, many email programs will allow you to see what email client the recipient of your message is using. That lets you know if you should be designing your email specifically for a preview pane or if someone will have to physically open your message to view it. If you’re dealing with a preview pane, then you can move your call to action above the fold so that recipients have immediate access to the most important piece of content. If most of your customers are reading your email in a third-party client, then you’ll also want to stay away from large header images since most programs will block them by default. The more you can learn about your audience’s reading habits, the more you can tailor your email to them and stop shooting yourself in the foot.

Realize when you’re spamming…and then stop it

Stop me when this sounds familiar – you attend a conference or an event related to your industry. While you’re there, you network with people and hand out some business cards. Over the next few weeks you start receiving newsletters from the companies of the people you spoke with. Yup. Those bastards lifted your email address off your business card and added you, without your permission, to their email list. This is spam. It’s not even borderline spam. The same Epilson email study mentioned above found that 73 percent of Americans defined spam has “Any email I receive that I did not ask for or subscribe to”. THAT is how your audience defines spam. Also, remember that people don’t forget. Last year, 32 percent of US consumers surveyed said they stopped doing business with one or more companies due to poor email marketing practices. Just something to snack on.

Those are just a few ways I think marketers could improve their email marketing efforts to help them see a better return. Because, despite what some may say in blog posts, email marketing DOES work but you have to spend some time creating your list, segmenting your customers and crafting your message. Otherwise, yeah, you’re doing it wrong

Internet Marketing Conferences
Internet Marketing Conferences

How to Start and Grow a User Generated Content Community

on Nov 10 by Lisa Barone

So I’m doing something a bit different this time around. Instead of going into one of the main sessions, I…


Taking the Yahoo Approach To Happier Users

on May 20 by Lisa Barone

I’m slammed today so I’ll make this quick. If you want happier users, take the new Yahoo approach* and focus…

Internet Marketing Conferences
Internet Marketing Conferences

Keynote – The State of The Search Union

on Mar 4 by Lisa Barone

Good morning, everyone! It’s the final day here at SMX so everyone’s running around just a tad slower than they…

^Back to Top