By Karen Geier
The number-one question I get from fellow marketers and business owners is “Which Social Network Should I Be On?” While the answer is a long and multifaceted one, I often respond, “What are you doing about e-mail?”
E-mail campaigns are still a top source of conversion and, if done right, can be excellent for referral traffic. You can also segment your lists, and by using third-party tools, you can eventually build profiles of your list members so you’re sending the right messages at the right times to the right people (for instance: not sending baby clothes advertisements to someone who isn’t in the market for them).
A lot of businesses overlook e-mail, but it clearly works for many companies. A recent report from MarketingProfs indicates that 2013 is trending to have 5% more e-mail volume, and large companies spend a lot of money managing this channel.
How do you get started with e-mail marketing?
The first thing you need to know is that e-mail marketing is “opt-in” in the same way that followers on Twitter “opt-in” to hear your updates, BUT e-mail is bound by a set of laws you must not break, lest you be branded a spammer, and no company will run your campaigns.
Once you’ve read up on the details of the CAN-SPAM Act, you’re ready to start building your list. Many people ask, “If I need permission from everyone, but I have e-mail addresses from another place, can I use that list to start building my marketing list?” The answer, to the letter of the law, is no. If you have been conversing via e-mail with customers to date, and you have their e-mail addresses, I would suggest you change your e-mail signature to indicate you’re now building your list. After your closing, insert a section that says “Keep in touch with [your brand]. Sign up here for promotions, news and more!” and link this to the form where you will be collecting e-mail addresses. Many email providers also have widgets and digital options for e-mail capture from your social networks. If this is important to you, make sure you research providers that include this service.
You can also go low-tech when collecting addresses in the future. Simple paper sign-up sheets, which disclose that you are collecting e-mails for newsletters and promotions, work very well for events and on-site promotional visits.
Choosing an e-mail provider and creating a form to collect addresses
There are thousands of e-mail providers out there from freemium (free for a certain number of subscribers, then you pay a fee as your list grows) to robust, vendor-managed solutions costing thousands of dollars a month. When starting out, you should look for an e-mail provider that offers:
- Easy-to-build forms for capturing information
- Analytics, including open, share (including social share) rates, unsubscribes, and spam reports, click tracking, and basic “user agent” reporting (which email tool you used to view your email, and which device).
- Easy testing protocols: You will want to A/B test everything from subject lines to design and content.
- List segmentation: If your product line segments (e.g., along gender lines, age, marital or children status), your list should segment accordingly.
- An easy-to-learn interface. Every service is different. Two I recommend are Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor. These are easy to navigate and won’t let you get stuck somewhere.
There may be other features you’ll need to take advantage of in the future, so the most important thing to look for is the ability to easily export your list to another provider should the need arise. Do not sign up with a company whereby you must “request” to export your list. It’s YOUR data.
Once you’ve chosen a provider, you’ll need to build a basic capture form, which will be used to build your list. You can ask for as much information as you think customers will give you, but be aware that the more fields in your form, the fewer sign-ups you will receive.
General E-mail Guidelines
The biggest questions about email campaigns are always about when you should send them (day and time), the frequency by which you should send them (you should start with no more than once a week), and what you should put into them. There are some basic guidelines, but every company is different, and you WILL need to test and optimise as you go along. The only constant is that shorter e-mails convert better. Try to keep your body copy to less than 300 words.
Building Your First E-mail
The most important thing to remember when writing your e-mails is that content is king, and for most of your audience, time is short. Do not use your e-mail to brag or hard sell your audience. As with all content, you need to offer value to your audience, so facts, tips, tricks, hacks, interesting stories, even related stories to your vertical are all good choices for short, sharable content.
When you begin crafting e-mails, you need to know you’re never going to get a perfect email the first time out. You will need to test every time you send one. The three most important things to test are Subject Line, Layout, and Content. Here’s how to test them effectively.
Start by choosing just one email to test. If you have too many variables, your experiment will not yield tangible results.
Subject Line Testing
This is the best test of any copywriter’s skill: how to tell the same story multiple ways in the fewest number of letters. Your goal is to summarise and tantalize: Summarise the interior contents of your e-mail, but tantalize recipients to make sure they open the e-mail. Find a fresh or provocative way to express what’s going on in the body of the email. Take your favourite two options, and send one each to one half of your list. The one with the most opens will tell you what your audience is more likely to respond to.
Next, you will need to test your content. This can be as simple as having 2 different kinds of promotions, and seeing which one converts more. You could also make your content modular: choose 4 things you want to cover, and only insert 3 in each e-mail. You will be able to tell which content resonated with your audience the best with click tracking. For every piece of content in your e-mail, make sure you link to something (whether it’s your website, Facebook page, or an external source) so you get deeper engagement.
This may seem like the hardest test to perform, but you could always test 2 templates created by your e-mail providers. Another option is to take your content modules and place them in different positions in each e-mail. You will be able to use your click tracking to tell you which module was the most successful.
Once you’ve tested what your audience wants to read, you can begin testing how often, and at what time. Each time you send out an e-mail, test it on a different day. You will eventually find the best day to send. (Start by using competitor’s e-mails to inform which day to start testing with.) You can then begin testing time of day (again, take a look at newsletters you always open and see what time those arrive to inform which times to test).
To continue expanding your reach, you might want to consider a refer-a-friend program that you can easily execute through e-mail by asking your audience to share your e-mail campaign (with a corresponding coupon code) with friends (though, remember: if you ask them to add friends’ e-mails to your form, you can’t market to those new names unless they opt-in (confirm their e-mail address).
You can also begin to poll or survey your audience from within your e-mails. Testing interaction can directly benefit you (make sure you ask questions your business can benefit from: which promotions your customers want, which products they like best, etc.).
Email is still a multi-million dollar sales channel for some of the largest companies in the world. As long as you are aware of the laws that govern this channel and you are continually optimising content, you can build a thriving list of warm leads for your company. These people will refer you to their friends, expanding your reach for you while you can focus your efforts on optimising your content.
E-mail is not a dumping ground for content, nor is it a place to brag about how wonderful your company is or a place to force-sell your newest product. E-mail should be about your company checking in and furthering your relationship with your customers.