Originally maligned as invasive and offensive, email is now the leading interactive marketing technique. Why has it become so popular? Why will billions of promotional email messages be sent out this month? Three reasons:
– The precipitous drop-off in effectiveness of banner ads forced interactive marketers to try more email campaigns.
– Managed correctly, email marketing works. The business press (and to some degree the mainstream media) have reported email successes, driving awareness and popularity of the tactic among marketers.
– Consumers now accept email marketing as part of their online experience. They may not like it, and may often receive ridiculous, unsolicited “spam” offers for Bulgarian pornography or some such thing, but enough email offers provide real value that most consumers have abandoned the “all email marketing is evil” philosophy.
Unfortunately, however, these may be the halcyon days of email marketing. A pinnacle we may never reach again because as the number of companies doing email marketing increases, so does the number of companies doing BAD email marketing. And bad email marketing will fan the smoldering embers of consumer email discontent, creating a brush fire that will threaten to destroy the whole industry for marketers smart and not-so-smart alike.
So, this article is as much for my benefit as it is yours. Professional interactive marketing firms don’t want companies blithely hitting “send” and firing out thousands upon thousands of poorly executed email messages. It’s bad for business. Yours and mine.
Seriously, email marketing is a powerful tool. If you’re not ready to do it right, you probably should hold off. A misbegotten email blast can infuriate your customers and prospects in seconds.
Here then, are the five rules for safely using the awesome power of email marketing. Please wear approved safety goggles at all times….
1. Think Retention, Not Just Acquisition
On average, email promotions are three to five times more effective when they are sent to your existing customers, rather than prospects? Why? Your current customers already know you and your products. They have already committed to you psychologically and financially. In most cases, the best use of email marketing is to increase loyalty and repeat purchases from your current customers.
2. Be Realistic
Regardless of what you’ve read or heard, email marketing is not likely to transform your business. Be realistic about your expectations for your email efforts. If you are sending an email of value (coupon, special offer, etc.) to a loyal group of current customers, 5-10% of the recipients might click through the email to your Web site. If you are sending a promotional message to a purchased list of theoretically receptive consumers (based on demograhics, etc.), you should expect results in the 1-3% range.
Email marketing is good. Sometimes very good. But it’s not magic beans.
3. Think Frequency
One of the keys to successful email marketing is developing a relationship with a customer or prospective customer over the course of several messages. Before you send out an email offer to thousands of people, create a multiple message campaign strategy that uses this first email as a beginning – not an end. Consider what you’ll send to people who respond to your first message. What, if anything, will you send to people who don’t respond? What will comprise your next promotion?
4. Test Whatever You Can
The speed and digital nature of email makes it extremely easy to test and optimize for success. If you’re not testing your email approach before blasting it out to a large list, you’re fighting with one hand tied behind your back. Here are just some of the aspects of a campaign that can be tested.
– Recipient Demographics
– Subject Line
– From Line
– Body Copy
– Day of Week Delivered
– Hour of Day Delivered
Make sure to track results of each test cell independently (using separate URLs, usually). If you determine via your test that a particular Subject line works better than others, it’s a snap to change it. Try that with your next direct mail piece or TV ad.
5. Measure Conversion, not just Clicks
Most companies measure their email efforts (and other interactive marketing) based on response rates. These numbers are often called click through rates because they represent the percentage of recipients who “clicked through” the email promotion to get to the company’s Web site. The trouble is, using click through as the sole measure of success is like determining the viability of your store based on how many people look at your window display. Click through measures your ability to lead a horse to water, but making it drink is where you make money. In addition to click through, always measure conversion (the number or percentage of people who actually bought something, entered your contest, etc.). You may be surprised that your lists or test parameters that generate high click through don’t necessarily provide equally high conversion – and vice versa.
History repeats itself. Email should continue to be an effective tactic for at least another 18-24 months. After that, the amount of email promotions – whether good or bad – will probably become too numerous, triggering a consumer backlash. At that point, response rates will fall dramatically (just like with banner ads), and we’ll be right back here writing a column on the five rules for effective cell phone advertising or instant messenger promotions or telepathic marketing. After all, something’s always the next big thing.