Practical Email Marketing – August 2011

For the last five years I have been involved as co-tutor for the Practical Email Marketing Course put on by the Marketing Association and the University of Auckland Shortcourses department. It’s always a fun two days. Fitting it all in is always a challenge. Amanda and I start the day with a proposed agenda packed full of content and what is really just a guide to how long each session should take.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t take us long to get out of control and by our first coffee break we are always behind. How much behind depends on the amount and type of questions we get asked. This month’s session was no different. Most in the group were already email marketing and had come eager to find an edge in their market. So from the first 15 minutes onwards we were both peppered with a myriad of really smart questions.

As luck would have it we managed to cover all the content. And, based on the workshop presentations we had to judge, the large bulk of what was covered was quickly applied by each group. So what were some of the “edge sharpening” points for those who read this newsletter to also use in their email marketing?

Well here’s five. These comprise just a smidgen of the content covered in the full two-day course. (Contact the Marketing Association for a schedule to get the whole serving by joining us next time.)

Two factors that work in partnership – increasing message relevance and growing production difficulty.

“So what’s the one part of email marketing that has the greatest effect on the success of the campaign?” I asked the group at the start of day two when reviewing what we had covered during day one.

“Relevance” was the reply – followed by the clarifying statement “Being as relevant as you can”.

This is correct – email marketing that is relevant gets opened, gets clicked and gets results. The only issue is that achieving this comes at a cost – the most relevant campaigns are usually the hardest to build and take the longest to implement.

For example, say you are a men’s clothing retailer with a 10,000 customer email marketing list and within this you have three very different segments of buyers based on their spending amounts and product choices. The ideal option would be to run three alternative promotions with different creatives and offer types – each ideally matched to its customer segment. That’s the most relevant option. However, what happens in the majority of cases is that one offer is cast across the whole list. Frequently, the easy option is taken because it saves time, costs less and is easier to manage. But what some people fail to realise is that all this time-saving work at the campaign build end translates into more work later on.

Less relevant campaigns result in reduced conversion rates and therefore additional marketing is required to ensure future sales targets are met. Sorry, there are no short cuts to producing highly relevant email campaigns – they take hard work.

There is a fixed and limited amount of subscriber attention you have to work with.

Everyone would love their subscribers to pore over their email newsletters, having them read every word, click on every link and generally devour it with the same level of care that was taken preparing it. Well sorry – this just ain’t going to happen.

Firstly, people will skim over your copy, picking out the bits that capture their eye and convince them to read more. I always imagine them having a ticking stopwatch counting down while this is happening. For some that could be 5 seconds, others may spare you 15 seconds – but it’s not going to be minutes.

Design and create your campaigns with this in mind so your subscribers can read the main parts of your messages with or without the images turned on. Forcing them to take the time to open the images to replace red crosses with something of meaning just burns through valuable message-reading attention.

Make it easy to do the easy tasks.

One of the group commented on something that I thought was interesting. She had recently changed jobs so during her last few days of work she had to go through and update her email address in the newsletters she was subscribed to.

Some made this relatively straightforward task easy to achieve, others made it a nightmare – so hard in fact that, rather than change her details, she chose to unsubscribe and be done with them. Moving jobs is not an uncommon action, so how hard do you make updating an email address for your subscribers? Is there an “Update Your Details” link at the top of your message that takes people to a form where they can quickly advise you of the change?

Capitalise on those messages that are more expected than others.

There are very few email newsletters I expect to receive on a certain day at a certain time. The vast majority arrive with a surprise – some welcome, others not so. Nevertheless, there is one email campaign that every subscriber does expect to receive – the “welcome campaign”.

These are messages sent to you as a direct result of you subscribing. Perhaps you opted in by completing a form or by checking a box during the order process. Whatever the action, what you usually expect next is a response of sorts just so you know something did actually happen after you clicked “submit”.

It doesn’t have to be wordy to put you at ease. Just a short “Thanks for registering“ could be enough to reassure you that everything ended up in the right spot. Now, the smart email marketers will capitalise on this heightened attention and will not squander this with a short message. Oh no, they would supply a steady series of well written email messages that not only welcome the person onto the list but also introduce them “around” the website they have subscribed to and the places where the most juicy bits of content are found.

Behaviour-based email sequences or “triggers” like these welcome messages can produce some amazing uplifts in open and click-through rates when compared with normal campaigns. If you are on any North American email lists you would have recently experienced a definite increase in these types of messages coming your way. Yes, they take a bit longer to develop and deploy – but like my earlier note on improving your relevance being something that comes with increased workload – all this extra effort has some subsequent rewards.

Extract your email traffic from your normal direct and referring domain website traffic.

Knowing how big any email marketing rewards will be depends on your ability to identify and measure the effectiveness of all this extra website traffic. So where does your email traffic show up in your web analytics reports?

For those who don’t properly “tag” their links it can either be found in the “direct traffic” or “referring domains” area. Both of these contain lots of other bits of traffic, which really makes it impossible to isolate which visits are from your last email campaign.

Fortunately, Google has a tool that makes it relatively easy to fix this and edit all your website links contained in your email messages so that when they are clicked they are tracked and shown as separate campaigns in your reports. Visit to find out more.

Yes, it takes some extra time to add the extra parts to each link but once it is done you have a reliable way to see how much better or poorer your email traffic is when compared with the other streams of traffic that your website gets.

It should be better – conversion rates on their own should be at least 1.5 or 2 times better. Otherwise, your email messaging is doing a very poor job of “warming up” your prospects.

So there you have it. Just five simple points that could be worth reviewing with your own email marketing during the months ahead. When used properly it can be a powerful part of any online marketing strategy.

Good luck.