There are many different possibilities for software and hardware companies when it comes to formulating a marketing mix. I’ve written previously about some of my favorites. One method that can be a big winner–if done well–can also be a big loser if done poorly. I’m referring to email marketing. If you want to be successful at email marketing you need to do it very well, as a result of mountain of SPAM and the general bursting of everyone’s email inbox these days.
Why Email Marketing?
Email marketing can be very productive for a company, because unlike some other forms of active/outbound online marketing (ex: PPC advertising, Banner Ads), you can usually target you audience very effectively. This is especially true if you are using an in-house list; by definition these are prospects that have some reason to have an interest in your products. In B2B marketing, there are quite a number of niche lists available for rental use in a targeted campaign. In B2C they aren’t quite as many overall, but there may be a number of lists available for a particular category. The question is whether you should use rental lists at all – more on that later.
Like all other forms of online marketing, another benefit to email marketing is the ability to measure results with great accuracy, granularity and speed. Lastly, you can make a very big impact quite quickly, unlike some other online methods which may fit more into the “steady as you go” category.
So if “doing it right” is so important, just what are the important things to concentrate on to achieve success in email marketing? Let’s take a look at some of the most important elements:
First and foremost, your email must be relevant to the people who are receiving it. This is the great problem with the email marketing universe today, especially when considering the Spammers. Scatter-shot emails to every name that you can get your hands on not only won’t raise your sales; it will ruin your online reputation and prevent you from effectively marketing online in the future. It’s been said by others that the difference between SPAM and legitimate commercial email is RELEVANCY. I firmly believe this. If your offer resonates with the list that you send it to, you will receive relatively few complaints–regardless of where the list came from.
After relevancy, the next most important thing is the list. Absolutely do send your message to a list of folks that you have good reason to believe will be interested in what you have to offer. This is called target marketing; it is good practice across ALL marketing media. In email marketing–IT’S ESSENTIAL. An argument among many digital marketers whether email marketing should only be to an opt-in, in-house list on at one extreme or if offers to rental lists can be effective at the other end of the opinion spectrum. In my opinion, every situation is different although these days I lean against using rented lists because I haven’t found them effective recently. But regardless, NEVER break the rule of relevancy.
Next comes the offer; often this is the most critical item that you have a lot of control over. You need to remember that in email marketing you are “going to the people”. They aren’t coming to you like the do in content/inbound marketing–where they are actively looking for your product or service. As a result, your offer needs to be very aggressive to get their interest and to compel them to act in the manner you desire. I always say that in direct marketing you want to make your very best offer. In email direct marketing make them an offer that is so aggressive, it actually makes you wince a bit!
The above categories of list and offer are the most critical to success in any direct marketing medium. If you don’t get them right, nothing else will matter much. However, it’s still very important to properly execute your relevant offer to the proper list. Even if you’ve got these key elements formulated properly, poor creative execution can still lead to failure. And poor creative execution doesn’t always mean “under-produced”. For example, in some cases it’s best to make the email look like an email–not a web page. This is always something that is best to test as I discuss below. People’s expectations in an email message are very different from visiting a website (and attention spans are short enough in web-viewing!).
Prospects are overwhelmed in their email boxes– so for many audiences it makes sense to keep your message simple, direct and relatively short. Feel free to include some attractive, eye-catching graphics. But remember, this is direct marketing–not an art project. Some research suggests that email graphics has no effect whatsoever on response rates. It’s primarily about the copy-writing. Make your copy compelling and get to the point very quickly–there isn’t much time before the “delete” or “Spam” key gets punched.
The legal aspects of marketing via email are important and quite a bit more restrictive, relative to any other form of direct marketing. So make sure you are aware of the laws which apply to your message–they vary from country to country. In the US, for example, the CAN-SPAM act requires an honest subject line, “remove request” instruction and a listing of the sender’s physical address–among other things. In some cases there are also state laws that apply. In Europe and other countries, the requirements can be far more restrictive, sometimes going so far as to require “opt-in” permission before any message can be sent. So be sure to research the local laws and comply with them at all times. To do otherwise risks ruining your online reputation–or worse.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of this particular direct marketing method. The advent of enormous amounts of SPAM has created many barriers to delivering even the most welcomed messages to email in-boxes. This was necessary, of course, for the preservation of the ability to use email at all. But deliverability is a very challenging, every changing scenario that has morphed into a marketing specialty of its own. There are many good places on the Web to assist you in getting your email delivered to your prospects. Return Path and Habeas are two of the more well known new companies that specialize in this area. I have used a free tool called SpamCheck to great effect over the last year, in screening my messages for deliverability problems. There are tons of great turnkey email marketing services out there including MailChimp, Vertical Response, Bronto Software, iContact, Constant Contact, AWeber and many more. EmailReach is another company that has some deliverability great tools. They aren’t free, but they do offer a 24 hour free trial for their service.
Continuous Measurement & Testing
The last thing I want to mention, which should be part and parcel to any successful email program, is measurement and testing. Since email is an online medium, it’s easy and cheap (or free) to measure your results. Frankly, implementing any form of direct marketing without measurement is dumb. Online direct marketing without measurement is criminally dumb. There is just no excuse for it other than laziness. Direct email marketing works best when it isn’t considered a “single-shot” campaign. Each drop should be part of an overall campaign aimed at continuous improvement. Multiple elements of your message should be tested and measured with each drop. If you do this, you WILL improve your results as you go–and greatly increase your odds of ending up with a highly successful and repeatable marketing method to help drive your company’s growth.
That’s my review of the nuts and bolts of good email marketing. Let’s hear from some of the other experts out there on your own best email practices. Post a comment so we can discuss this important marketing method in depth.
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