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Is email marketing dead?

Posted by Jenna Guy on Oct 4, 2018 9:00:00 AM
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Email marketing best practices

With so many new tools to connect with and engage customers at our disposal, it can be easy to undervalue the trusty ol’ email. Even though it’s not the newest technology on the block, email is still one of the most valuable channels for marketers. With great power, though, comes great responsibility. In this post we’ll look at the value of effective email marketing, what makes a good email and common mistake to avoid.

The Robots Are Alright

Considering that email has only been around since the 1960s, it’s technically not old, but technology changes quickly. While email is still a popular method of mass communication, it’s by no means the only one. Many businesses put a premium on social media, developing comprehensive social media strategies, allocating impressive budgets for social media advertising and hiring dedicated social media resources. But social media isn’t even the latest and greatest method of communicating with audiences en masse; that title belongs to the chatbot, the newest technology taking the martech world by storm.

eBay ShopBotSource: Junior via Medium

If you’re not familiar with chatbots, they are computer programs that use artificial intelligence to conduct basic conversations via text or voice. Many chatbots run on SMS or messaging applications like Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Slack and more. You’ve likely encountered the popup boxes on the bottom right corner of your computer screen when you land on a company’s site, in-app bots or used a virtual assistant like Slackbot.

Source: Muse

Marketers are being increasingly encouraged to go where our customers are and communicate in ways they prefer. We’re expected to be flexible, be able to pivot and to stay up-to-date on the latest trends. Sometimes that means distinguishing between fads and proven methods and determining if tools like chatbots make sense for our company.

Chatbots and social media are excellent avenues to expand our communication channels and connect with our audience, but I don’t think email marketing will be eclipsed by either any time soon. The following stats show just how ubiquitous email is: 

  • Active email accounts are expected to hit 5.6 billion by 2019 (Source)
  • 86% of business professionals prefer to use email when communicating for business purposes (Source)
  • 81% of SMBs still rely on email as their primary customer acquisition channel (Source)

If anything, new ways of communicating will complement and augment existing email marketing tools and strategies. This is why you should still be invested in email and continually look for ways to optimize your email strategy and maximize the ROI of your email marketing.

Good Marketing Emails

What makes a good marketing email? The short answer is that there’s no silver bullet when it comes to email marketing. It all depends on your audience, and everyone has different tastes and preferences. When you start comparing quality emails, though, some trends start to emerge. Here are some examples of emails that our Marketing team likes receiving:

Elise, Global Marketing Manager

Subject: Issue #74: How Hickies Welcomes New Customers

Mailchimp, What's in Store

Why I like it: Even though we don’t use Mailchimp, their “What’s in Store” newsletter is a great way to learn marketing tips, tricks and advice from a variety of entrepreneurs and businesses. The stories are great and the blogs they link to in their emails are just as fantastic. We work in a niche B2B space, but taking cues from creative startups and unique enterprises helps me approach tasks like onboarding, customer engagement and strategic planning from a different perspective.

Jenna, Content Specialist

Subject: Apple’s hiring spree, in praise of the computer virus, beer as art

Ceros Originals

Why I like it: As a Content Specialist, I spend all day writing, editing and designing. I love stories, and Ceros, a software provider specializing in interactive content creation, knows how to appeal to their audience. Ceros Originals are dynamic, original stories that combine timely news and the best their platform has to offer in terms of features and functionality. It’s a great way to showcase their product and provide subscribers with interesting content. They always have click-worthy subject lines and amazing visuals as well.

Even though the subject matter is vastly different, these high-performing emails have a few things in common. They both have interesting subject lines, the brand personality is very clear in the tone and voice of the copy, there are no obvious mistakes or errors, and the emails are geared towards our interests.

Bad Marketing Emails

There’s a dark side to email marketing that you want to avoid, and that is the bad, spammy email. Consider how many emails you get in a day from colleagues, salespeople, publications and more. The easiest way to quickly sort through your inbox is to delete emails that look like spam. Salesy subject line? Delete. Rife with spelling mistakes? Delete. Broken links? Delete. Images that don’t load? Delete.

To reduce the chances of your emails being sent straight to the junk folder, here are some things to avoid:

  • Clickbait in your subject line. You may be inclined to use catchy or provocative subject lines, but tread carefully. There’s a fine line between compelling and clickbait. Let your personality show, but don’t put contacts off before they even open the email.
  • No message preview. Many email clients provide a line or two of preview text under the subject line. You only have so many words in your subject line, so preview text is crucial marketing real estate. Use this extra space as another opportunity to communicate value (why should they open the email?).
  • Sending from a generic email addresses. In a world where we expect a degree of personalization from all service providers, sending an email from a generic admin or noreply email address can hurt your email performance. Consider sending emails from an actual email address instead.
  • Spelling mistakes. Spelling mistakes are easy to avoid by carefully reviewing your copy. Having a colleague review it will help catch things you may have missed. Something as small as a minor spelling mistake in your subject line can make your emails seem unprofessional and negatively impact your brand.
  • Too sales-oriented. Inbound and content marketing is all about helping prospects move through the buyer’s journey. Avoid sending marketing emails that focus more on the product than the customer. If you’re sharing useful, engaging content that helps them with their purchasing decision, there will be a time for product-focused communications later.
  • Too many calls to action. It’s easy to use email as an opportunity to ply contacts with links and CTAs, but resist the urge to do too much in a single email. An effective CTA should be clear and concise; your contacts should understand the purpose of the email and know what they’re supposed to do (e.g. fill out a form).
  • Email is too long. People spend a lot of their day skimming, reading, sorting, prioritizing, writing and responding to emails. Sending lengthy marketing emails is the surest way to end up in the junk or deleted folder. Be conscious of your recipients’ time when writing your copy.
  • Personalization mistakes. If you’re using personalization tokens, be sure to test your emails beforehand to ensure they render correctly. Nothing is more embarrassing than opening with “Hi %FIRST.NAME%” in an email that went to 10,000 people.
  • Plaintext emails. While image can add to emails, they aren’t always necessary. If you’re sending an onboarding email, for example, you want it to be a quick, plain note coming from a member of your team, in which case plaintext is perfect. It all depends on why you’re sending the email and who you’re sending it to.
  • Not optimized for mobile. A significant number of mobile users regularly look at emails on their phone. To ensure you aren’t missing out on this segment of your contact database, your emails should be optimized for mobile.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and it’s important to note that there are always exceptions to the rule. The above best practices are a good starting point, but remember to test, test and test some more. There are always improvements you can make to increase your open and click rates.

Automation and Personalization

For busy marketers contending with limited resources, automated workflows are a significant opportunity. Marketing automation platforms like HubSpot and Pardot allow marketers to use forms and lead intelligence to craft smart, targeted emails that cut through spam in people’s inboxes and deliver they information they want.

A recent study by Mailchimp of their system revealed some not-so-surprising facts about segmenting your emails: segmented email campaigns had a higher open rate (14.32%) and a higher click-through rate (100.95%) than non-segmented campaigns (Source). All this is to say, if you want better open and click rates, you need to narrow your focus and send messages that matter to your contacts.

As a marketer, I love anything that helps me do my job better and helps my customers, and proper segmentation is at the top of that list (no pun intended). There are several ways you can segment your contact database, including buyer persona, buyer’s journey stage, location, actions and more. Relevant campaigns produce better results, improving the ROI of your email marketing and providing a more positive user experience for your prospects and customers.

For more insights on today’s digital marketing landscape (and how to compete), download our free Digital Marketing Field Guide. In it you’ll get worksheets that help you craft your value proposition, buyer personas and more.

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Topics: Marketing, Digital