April 18, 2015

How Marketers Should Create Email Marketing Messages: Part 1

Email marketing isn’t new or as buzz-inducing as other marketing channels like social media, but it’s still a reliable and effective weapon in marketers’ arsenals.

Email marketing

A recent StrongMail survey found that 55.5 percent of business leaders plan on boosting their spend on email marketing in 2013. Meanwhile, ExactTarget notes that nearly 8 in 10 consumers say they prefer receiving permission-based marketing messages via email than via any other marketing channel, and that the medium boasts an ROI of $28.50, the highest of any marketing conduit.

For marketers who don’t have a robust email marketing program in place, or for those whose email campaigns are in need of a reboot as 2013 nears, we’ve amassed a treasure trove of advice and best practices straight from the experts. This is part one of a two-part look at the important principles and habits marketers should adhere to when creating their email marketing messages to generate leads and compel desired actions.

Lists and segmentation
“Not all customers or recipients are created equal,” says Paige Tintle, marketing manager at TheLadders. “Is this a long-term customer, a high-value purchaser, a female, an organic lead? Personalizing and delivering relevant messaging to that particular customer will pay off in the long run. In addition, having to think about what you’re sending, why you’re sending and to whom will keep unnecessary emails from ever being sent.”

Daryl Colwell, vice president of business development at MediaWhiz, echoes this advice. He says a credit card issuer, for example, should approach a list filled with fantasy football fans differently from a list filled with future brides. For the former list, the credit card issuer might want to send out a message offering a card with the recipient’s favorite NFL team logo on it; for the latter list, a message might offer cash back on housewares or miles/points for their honeymoon trip.

“The key to effective email marketing creative is determining the anatomy of the list and sending consumers the appropriate and most relevant message or offer,” Colwell says.

‘From’ lines
Before the all-important subject line (which will be addressed below), marketers shouldn’t neglect the “From” line of their email messages.

“If you’re a big brand or a highly relevant offer or product, make sure that’s illustrated in the ‘From’ line,” Colwell says.

Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations at Silverpop, adds that the “From” line of email marketing messages should instill trust and drive increased engagement and conversions.

So companies sending out email marketing communications might want to check their “From” line twice to ensure that the name there will be familiar to recipients. A sender name that is unfamiliar might result in quick deletions or worse.

Subject lines
Ah, yes – the all-important subject line. There’s been much written about email subject lines already, but that doesn’t mean marketers are exempt from ensuring that they’re writing the best subject lines possible.

“Is your subject-line approach one that is designed and optimized to maximize conversions and purchases, or is it designed just for high open rates, which often do not translate into higher conversion rates?” McDonald asks.

Tintle tells marketers that it’s OK to embrace their flirtatious side when crafting compelling subject lines. “A great subject line is a tease,” she says. “Tell them just enough to get their interest up so they click, but don’t give away everything — unless you are giving away everything with a massive discount or deal. Then you can include the offer, as it will be compelling enough to get them to open. Otherwise, you should flirt.”

She adds that since the subject line is the most important component of an email, it should be tested often.

“Make your subject line splashy by promoting a savings or unique proposition to the consumer,” Colwell says. However, the contents of the actual email message should be consistent with what’s promised or hinted at in the subject line. “Consumers will be quick to delete your message or unsubscribe to your offer or list if you’ve falsely advertised in the subject line,” he says.

For B2B email messages, Adestra recently found that subject lines with 90 or more characters yielded the highest open and click rates, while subject lines with 30 or fewer characters also yielded good response rates. It also found that “sale” was the best-performing promotional word in terms of open and click rates, while words like “half price” and “early bird” didn’t fare as well.

While longer subject lines might fare well in some contexts, the email message itself should be kept as brief as possible, according to Tintle. “Get your point across in the headline, if appropriate, or consider bolding the most important point if your email is in letter form. Also remember if everything is bolded or in large fonts, nothing is emphasized. People tend to scan emails for key information. Make it stand out.”

Stay on-brand
“A consistent brand is absolutely essential in email communication,” Tintle says. “I should be able to look at your email or read it and know that it’s from you. This, over time, builds up trust with the customer and adds preference to your communication. You want to establish in the customer’s mind that ‘Brand X sends me good emails,’ so when they see you in their inbox they recognize you and pay more attention.”

Only send emails when necessary
“The biggest mistake marketers make with email is thinking that it’s low-cost and easy to execute, so they send it often for any reason,” Tintle says. Marketers need to avoid this mindset and aim to make every email message worth the recipient’s time to open the email, read the message, absorb the content and act.

“All it takes is one crappy email to have a customer click ‘Unsubscribe’ and then you’ve lost that lead and potential sale forever,” she adds. “Never send an email because it is easy — send an email only when you absolutely, positively know your customer needs to or would want to know what you have to tell them.”

Single, series or triggered?
Marketers should also keep in mind what a particular email message’s place is in the overall scheme of things. Is it a one-off message or is it a part of a series of emails?

“Are you using individual behavior to trigger follow-on emails based on specific or lack of specific actions by recipients?” she asks.

According to a recent study from Epsilon and its Email Institute, triggered emails (which are deployed as a result of an action) in the third quarter accounted for 2.6 percent of total email volume, a 10.3 percent increases from the 2.3 percent those email accounted for in the third quarter of 2011. These emails also exhibited an average open rate of 47.7 percent in the third quarter, 75.1 percent better than business-as-usual emails.

Click here for part two of this series on the essential elements of all email marketing messages for generating leads and driving actions.

By Jason Hahn

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