I have written this article based on the personal experience that I have had using email campaigns to generate sales. I sent my first small email campaign in early 2001 and I now send more than 100,000 targeted emails every month. I am sharing my experiences in the hope that they may help you, whether you are just looking at starting your first email campaign or if you are a seasoned emailer, one thing is for sure, we will never stop learning! In this article, I only touch on some subjects that deserve much more detail, such as email design and analysis of results. In future months, I will be writing further articles which will look at these important individual aspects in more detail.
Sending an email to your customer is cheap, of this there is no doubt. There is however a hidden cost, not that of the time taken to prepare and send the email, nor the fee charged by the email software company or the agency that you use – I am talking about the cost of being rejected by your customer or prospect. The feeling of rejection is no less painful when it is done by clicking on an unsubscribe button, than it is when it is done to you on the telephone or face to face. But it so much easier for your customer to click on an unsubscribe button and once done, that customer or prospect may be lost to you forever.
Coming from a predominantly telemarketing background, I know that the first 10 seconds of an outbound sales call are the most important 10 seconds of the whole call – giving you the opportunity (or not) to connect with your customer, have the undivided attention of your customer and the trust of your customer – in simple terms, it is being invited into your customer’s home to talk with them. The equivalent in email marketing for me, is the subject line of your email.
Getting your email opened Every day, like you I am sure, I receive dozens of spurious, often spam emails, from companies offering me the opportunity to increase the size of vital parts of my body, to companies offering me the opportunity to increase the size of my bottom line. As with most things in our lives, the 80-20 rule applies to email marketing. I run down the list of subject lines in my inbox and I discard at least 80% without even clicking to open them. The trick – and the point of this article, is to always get your email into the 20% that are opened. In no particular order, here are my “eight steps to successful email marketing”
1. Your “sent from” address
This is what the recipient of your email will see as the “sent from” address in their email inbox. It is vital that you use this, with the subject line, to inspire confidence and connection with your customer.
For instance, if your customer knows you personally, make sure that you put your name in this field, if they are more likely to know and respect your brand, then put this in the field. If neither are the case, then ensure that you use something that is non-confrontational. To compare this method of communication with telemarketing, this is, I suggest, the equivalent to the CLI presentation (your phone number) that appears on your customer’s telephone at home when you ring, so as an extreme example, don’t use email@example.com, as your customer will already have a perception of what is going to be in the email before they delete it!
2. Your customer / prospect database
I will split this step into two distinct areas – existing customers and “other”, which in simple terms is anyone who is not an existing customer.
Existing Customers – ensure that you have the correct marketing rights to be able to send your customers an email. I am not going to cover this aspect now, as it would require a complete article of its own, but if you are in any doubt, drop Victoria or Michelle a line and they’ll be happy to give you sensible advice on what you can and can’t do. Ensure that you consider future contact with your customers whenever you interact with them and check with them that your contact details are up to date. Whenever you take a customer’s email address, if they enter it themselves on-line, always ask them to key it in again to confirm it and if you take it verbally, always read it back to confirm spelling – just like a telephone number, one digit wrong and it is useless! In your email, you must give your customers the option to unsubscribe from future emails. Ensure that you make it clear that this is only unsubscribing them from receiving future emails (do not even mention phone or mail or any other method of communication that you might use).
Compliance – Please, please, please be mindful of where you obtain your email address data from. From bitter personal experience, using legitimately rented email addresses can be fraught with danger. It is very important that you minimise the risk of your emails being marked as “spam” by internet companies, so you must ensure that your spam reports are kept to a minimum. A spam report is where an internet provider has received a complaint from a recipient that you have sent them an email without having the right to do so (there are much more accurate, defined and probably legal definitions of this term than I have used, but this is sufficient for the purposes of this article ). And, as you’ll see in the TVA September data compliance update, the rules are getting even tougher.
3. Your reason for sending the email in the first place
Are you looking to generate sales directly from your email, are you looking to “tease” your customer into visiting your website, visiting your event, telephoning you? Are you looking to inform your customer, keep in contact with them or reactivate them?
Don’t underestimate the damage an ill thought-out email can do to your company. I once saw a company, with all good intentions, send an e-newsletter to their customers as they felt they did not communicate with them during their life time as a customer. The net result of the very well written e-newsletter was that they lost more than 25% of their existing customers overnight ! Their recipients had forgotten that they had the service and given the reminder and ease of contact – they cancelled it. So beware of good intentions! Identify clearly in your own mind, what you want to achieve with your email and, if your goal is measurable by results, set yourself targets to achieve.
4. HTML or not HTML
As you will have surmised by now, I am no techie! In my world, the difference between HTML and text emails is that HTML looks far more professional – however, I prefer not to use HTML myself. I have always been an advocate of “the personal touch”. If I receive a letter or an email from someone, I like to think that it is just for me, that nobody else has received it. In a strange way, it makes me feel as though the person, or entity, who sent it to me, did so because they care. With a professionally designed HTML email, I feel that it is more akin to a glossy leaflet – something sent to the masses, rather than just me. I have used both and I cannot give you decisive statistics that back up my theory, just my feelings.
5. Make sure your email opens quickly
Not wishing to over use the telemarketing comparison, but, if there is no one at the end of the line when I pick up the phone, it doesn’t take me long to put the phone down. I do the same with emails that don’t open quickly. So, my recommendation is “keep it simple”.
If there are pictures in the email, you should ensure that there is also sufficient text for the recipient to get the message without having to download the pictures. From both anecdotal feedback and survey responses from customers, there are many recipients who either do not, or will not click on the “download pictures” button because of the security warning message that is usually linked to it. I understand that there are ways around having to download the pictures, but I do not understand the technology. Where I have tested this method, I have found that the time it takes to open such an email is greater and depending on the speed of your internet connection, sometimes much longer.
Another consideration whilst looking at the layout of an email, is the fact that more and more people are using their smart phones to read their emails whilst on the go. When writing an email, always consider how it will appear on a mobile phone and whether or not the “call to action” processes will work if the email is read on a mobile phone. In practice they will probably work better!
6. Analysing the results
Being a typical sales person, analysing results for me is about how many sales did we get from how many emails? But of course there is much more to analyse than just this. Depending on your method of deployment of your emails, whether you use an agency or do them yourselves and then which system you use, you will receive varying levels of management information.
The system that we use gives valuable, clear and simple information, including how many emails bounced, how many were reported as spam, how many were opened, how many click-throughs were generated overall from the email and a break down of how many click-throughs for each link.
In addition, I am able to export the email addresses who clicked on a specific link so that I can send them another email relating specifically to their journey from the original email. For instance, if I included a link to an information page about an upcoming event, I could use the email addresses of those people who viewed the page to then send them another email, offering them a special ticket price. I have become something of a geek, comparing how a link for a product on the left hand side of an email compares on click-throughs to a link for exactly the same product on the right hand side of the same email – and the differences can be quite staggering. And don’t ever assume that if the link worked better on the right for database segment A, that it will also work better on the right for segment B – that would be too easy! Test, test, test and use the management information to analyse and refine.
7. The email marketing software / agency
This is very much down to personal choice. There are plenty of agencies, both UK and offshore, who will promise the earth. Some, I am sure will deliver the earth, but others won’t. If you decide to use an agency, I recommend that you remember you are handing them the crown jewels of your company, your customers. I am not brave enough to let them go, so we manage our own emails using an online email service provider.
Again there are many available on the internet and most offer a free trial period so that you can try before you buy. The company that I have been using for the last five years are based in America, but I have total control over the emails using my on-line dashboard.
I am confident that my data is secure because of the initial due diligence that I did when selecting them and at the same time, I grilled them on their attitude to marketing rights on data. They are very strict and will (and have) terminate clients who abuse the use of email data. This is re-assuring if you are serious about running email campaigns as they are less likely to be affected by ISP’s who regard them as “spammers” and reject their emails.
8. The subject line
I have saved the most important part of the email campaign to the end. The subject line – probably the first and in many cases the only line that a recipient will read. It does not matter a jot how good the content of your email is – how amazing the offer is or how informative the information is – if the recipient doesn’t open it, they will never know.
I have tested so many different subject lines in so many emails that I’ve lost count. I find it fascinating just how much one word can affect the open rate and the spam report rate. Although every bone in my body tells me it is wrong, I still find for instance that if I use the word “Free” in the subject line, it increases the open rate and does not increase the spam report rate.
Don’t make the subject line too wordy and not too short. Test different subject lines and analyse the results carefully. Take care when using references to subjects that your recipients may be sensitive about. For instance, when I sent an email with a major brand name in the subject line, our spam reports increased because too many of the recipients found the brand offensive.
email marketing is ridiculed by many who say that industry average open rates are reducing, click-throughs are reducing and sales are reducing. Poppycock! Whatever our favoured method of marketing, we all have to work harder to win new customers and keep existing customers in this climate. We have maintained our email open rates and they are well above the industry average and I am delighted to say that we still generate good levels of sales from our emails – with exceptionally low acquisition costs.
I wish you luck with your campaigns, and if you have any views, thoughts or want to share your own email marketing experiences, please comment below and let’s get the discussion going.
A true entrepreneur, Steve Bennett started his first business when he was 16 years old. At 21, he formed a joint venture with the UK’s largest TV rental company launching the first mail order video company in the UK. Steve started his career in finance and banking, working with companies such as GUS, British Credit Trust, and Financial Telemarketing Services. He has a proven track record of providing businesses with effective sales and marketing support – both online and offline. In addition, he is a director and shareholder of a number of companies ranging from telemarketing to digital printing and graphics to dogs to tea. He is an associate consultant with Tuffill Verner Associates.
You can contact Steve by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 07908 705188.
© Steve Bennett, September 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Steve Bennett, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.