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A guide to more effective email marketing

September 2009

Why email marketing?

Email marketing is one of the most effective ways for an organization to communicate with its customer base. It is quick to deploy, offers immediate and measurable results, enables delivery of highly targeted and relevant messaging, and delivers a high return on investment.

According to the Direct Marketing Association, in 2009 the ROI for email marketing was $43.52 for every dollar spent. The ROI of all non-email-related online marketing was less than half of that figure. Other studies show that simply receiving email keeps brands top of mind, even if they are not opened.

The greatest advantage of email is that it allows your organization to create a dialogue with your intended audience. An effective relationship marketing program depends on the relationship that you establish with the customer. To build this relationship, it is essential to know who you are talking to.

What are the main elements of a successful program?

A good email campaign is an effective combination of technology, branding, and design. The important elements for maximal performance of an email marketing program are:

  • List building and maintenance
  • Creative
  • Segmentation and personalization
  • Testing
  • Reporting and analysis

Those are the basic pillars of properly managing your program. Good email marketing is a constant cycle of creating segmented mailings, sending them out, measuring performance, tweaking some variables, and starting over again. However, because email marketing is a big part of permission marketing, there is a fine line to walk to stay on your audience's good side.

How do we build up our mailing list?

The foundation of permission marketing is the opt-in, which is the indicator of your customers' trust. Here are the core elements of a trust-based approach:

  • Permission: It is essential that recipients have expressed an interest in receiving your email, so don't try to force subscriptions by pre-checking subscription boxes or buying lists.
  • Privacy: Take care when it comes to subscription management, issue resolution, third party availability, etc. Don't pass information to your affiliates unless given permission to do so.
  • Preferences: Provide options for message format, frequency, interests, unsubscribe, etc. - and only send emails according to those preferences.
  • Reputation: A trust-focused reputation increases the likelihood of recipients modifying their profiles or using unsubscribe links instead of clicking on "report spam".
  • Expectations: Outline what customers can expect through messaging in your subscription form, thank you page, confirmation email, ongoing emails, etc.
  • Compliance: Adhere to regulations regarding commercial email, for example, Canada?s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

How do we attract qualified subscribers?

  • Obtain permission with an optimized subscription form on every page of your Web site, with incentives like white papers or savings if needed.
  • Convey trust by clearly stating privacy/email policies.
  • Shopping cart form: Strongly promote an opt-in check box for customers to receive ongoing promotional emails, and use this opportunity to solicit additional information that may help you with targeting and segmentation.
  • Promotion and advertising: Utilize other strategies such as pay-per-click, search engine optimization, refer-a-friend, in-store promotions, media buys, newsletter sponsorships, direct mail, etc.
  • Focus on existing lists: Implement strategies and incentives to transform inactive subscribers into active ones.

The list is living and breathing!

The mailing list has to be actively managed to ensure delivery and minimize email churn. A high bounce rate from invalid addresses may cause an Internet service provider to block your emails. Secondly, even if you only have an average bounce rate of two percent each month, each year you may lose 25 percent of your subscribers due to address changes.

Manage your list by:

  • Ensuring your list contains typo-free and properly formatted addresses
  • Using one of the many techniques available to ensure addresses are kept up to date, as 30 percent of consumers change their email addresses annually
  • Monitoring those who frequently, occasionally, and never open your emails, and taking appropriate action

What can I do to ensure that as many people as possible receive and open my messages?

The first thing to address is whether your email is actually getting to your subscribers. Permission-based emails only reach consumer inboxes about 75 percent of the time, and 16 percent are directed straight to a junk or bulk folder according to Lyris. This is influenced by the fact that approximately 80 percent of all email in circulation is actually spam.

Ways to reduce email bounces include:

  • Compliance with anti-spam laws
  • Email change of address (ECOA) services
  • Double opt-in
  • Subscription and/or account management links in emails
  • Monitoring of blacklists
  • Understanding and monitoring of spam filters
  • Removal of "spam flag" addresses from your list
  • Respectful relationships with Internet service providers
  • Use of an exclusive DNS

Another simple and great idea that many marketers neglect is to ask for a secondary email address at subscription time in case the first one fails.

Getting more people to open your messages

  • Be relevant.
  • From line: Include your company name or brand, and choose a meaningful "from" address since customers may only see the email address.
  • Subject line: Use less than 50 characters, try to place your brand at the beginning, incorporate a specific benefit, or create a sense of urgency when appropriate.
  • Preview pane: Optimize the message heading to encourage people to read on.
  • Frequency: Respect subscribers' wishes; be appropriate and consistent.
  • Day of week: In general, Tuesday through Thursday are optimal days to send emails, but consider testing different distribution times on Saturday and Sunday if your offering is relevant to your subscribers' weekend lives.
  • Message size: Messages that weigh 20 to 79 KB appear to get opened more.

Segmenting your list

It pays to focus on getting a greater response out of your interested and motivated list members. While taking steps to build your list, put emphasis on the quality and the collection of demographic and preference information. This information will enable you to deliver more relevant, targeted, and personalized emails. Segmentation criteria can be based on preferences, gender, behaviour, and/or purchases.

Personalizing your emails

The greater number of personalization elements to an email, the higher the response rates. Simply inserting your recipients' name into the subject line or message can have a positive effect, but true personalization means delivering emails that are tailored to the specific profile and preferences of each recipient.

The importance of personalizing may be best illustrated by what can go wrong if you don't use it. For instance, a grocer that sends an email announcing a special on prime rib to subscribers who have stated in their profile that they are vegetarians. A good use of personalization for the same company would be to promote new cereals to subscribers who have said that they have children.

Creative: design considerations

  • Similar to Web pages, design and layout are critical to pulling your reader through the email and motivating them to take action.
  • Email has its own set of design rules to follow, including considerations for the preview pane, knowing that many don't see images by default, and having versions readable by other email browsers.
  • Limit your character size to 16 pixels high, and avoid using white-coloured text (even on a coloured background).

Copy: what are you trying to say?

Is your email copy clear and concise, with a strong call-to-action? Does it focus on benefits? Does it create a sense of urgency?

The goal of an email is to get a click, not to sell an item. Structure every word in a way that entices customers to click through to a custom landing page optimized for conversion. Also, relationship is the key to repeat sales. For instance, a letter style is much more effective at establishing relationships than ads or sales copy.

Quality checks

  • Does the HTML conform to W3C standards?
  • Are there any broken links?
  • Are promotional terms (special, reduction, free, super, etc.) overused?

Test, test, and test some more

  • Split your list segments into two random but equal groups (A/B splits) and test one new variable against an existing constant.
  • Try different offers, formats, types of "from" and "subject" lines, distribution days/times, use and style of graphics, copy style, amount of copy, and more.
  • Don't stop at open and click-through tracking. Use Web site action tracking to accurately understand what variables are driving the most desired actions.

How do I measure my results?

Web analytics play a big part in measuring the success of email campaigns, whether it's an elementary look at activity or a detailed study of campaign performance.

Depending on your objectives, some metrics that Web analytics can return include:

  • Open rate, click-through rate, click-to-open rate
  • Delivery rate, bounce rate
  • Subscriber retention, unsubscribe rate
  • Amount of spam complaints
  • Number of visits to specific Web pages
  • Number of orders, transactions, downloads or other actions
  • Conversion rate, total revenue, revenue tracking per email
  • ROI, average cost per email sent or delivered

My email program is consistently improving. What's next?

The future is looking bright for email as a medium that is low in cost, high in ROI, and allows for a highly relevant and measurable dialogue with customers.

Some interesting new directions for email marketing include:

  • Dynamic content: this technology enables you to send one auto-segmented email to your entire database so that each receives only pertinent information
  • Web-like functionality that is directly embedded into email, for example allowing customers to book a flight directly from an email
  • With the popularity of video and ever-increasing bandwidth, embedding video in email is becoming acceptable
  • Combining RSS and email

How Bell can help

Want to strengthen your brand, better communicate key messages, and maximize conversions? Our team of specialists can help with every step of your online marketing program, from strategy and design to reporting and analysis.

Want to learn more? Contact us, and a Bell representative will respond to you shortly.

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