E-mail marketing experts from EmailLabs have compiled and published their top ten trends and tips for improving e-mail marketing results in 2006, also highlighting an increasing industry focus on greater message relevance by means on segmentation and personalisation.
According to the company's '10 Must Dos for 2006' discourse, e-mail marketers who want to improve their email marketing results in 2006 must first and foremost increase the relevance of their messages, primarily through greater and smarter use of personalisation and segmentation techniques.
Loren McDonald, vice president of marketing for EmailLabs, warned: "In 2006, those that don't align the right resources and technology to take their programmes to the next level will find their competitors leaving them behind in the inbox of their customers and subscribers."
The ten trends and tips
The company's top ten practical trends and advice are as follows:
- Be relevant - use personalisation and segmentation
The greatest capability of e-mail marketing technology - segmentation and personalisation - is likely the most under-utilised by most companies. Making emails as relevant as possible to each recipient is the most critical "must do" in 2006. Marketing e-mail messages are competing for attention with an increasing number of messages in the subscriber's inbox. Those that resonate most, through personalised subject lines, offers, articles, product showcases, and follow-up e-mails based on recipient activity, will be the clear winners. It is crucial that companies begin this process immediately, even if it is simply personalising the content of the subject line or sending modified emails to several different segments of their list. Once the process is started, they can then work toward the ideal of dynamic content and lifecycle-based messaging.
- Resolve or minimise deliverability and presentation issues
With a wealth of spam filtering systems and e-mail client software in the marketplace, there is a growing need to send pre-campaign test messages to discover any potential delivery problems before sending the actual message to real recipients, and also to monitor results after each message. This will help marketers identify ISP blocking, filtering and blacklisting problems. They should test their e-mail messages in different email clients (e.g. MS Office Outlook, MS Outlook Express, Lotus Notes, AOL, and even web clients such as Hotmail, Gmail and Yahoo!), as well as on different hardware platforms (i.e. PC and Macintosh). Problems can then by corrected before the live mailing. It is also wise to establish greater authenticity as an e-mail sender by publishing SPF authentication records in your mailing domain name's DNS records (see openspf.org for details).
- Don't forget blocked images and preview pane users
Marketers must now design their messages to render properly and be easily read (and acted upon) in a world of preview panes and blocked images. In 2006 both Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail are expected to add preview pane features to their web-based clients, adding to the already significant usage of preview panes by Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes users. E-mail message templates will need to be designed to deliver maximum information in the top 2 to 4 inches of screen space, and increase their creative use of HTML fonts and colours while relying less on the use of images that ISPs or recipients' email clients are probably blocking.
- Optimise the beginning of the e-mail relationship
- Get on the permission train
Marketers will also need to review permission practices across their web sites and at all customer contact points company-wide. Convert any opt-out address collection to opt-in (for example, don't pre-check permission boxes on subscription forms, mail-in offers, and so on). While this nicety is not actually required by the US CAN-SPAM Act or the European Union data protection guidelines, truly permission-based email is becoming the acknowledged best practice throughout the industry. Companies that send unsolicited e-mail risk enormous brand damage through negative word-of-mouth, as well as significant loss of customers and goodwill.
- Focus on metrics that matter
According to EmailLabs, marketers have been spending too much time worrying about process-oriented metrics (such as open and click-through rates), when they should instead focus more on the end goals (by tracking conversion rates, revenue per e-mail, whether specific desired actions were taken, and so on). Newsletter publishers will need to start drilling down and tracking which types of articles and formats motivate their subscribers to click through to read more, and then adjust both content and format accordingly. The open and click rates can then be used as indicators of trends (e.g. possible delivery and rendering issues) rather than as stand-alone measures of campaign success.
- Taking better care of long-term subscribers
EmailLabs estimates that 30% to 50% of a company's e-mail list may be inactive, meaning that subscribers have not opened or clicked on a link over a reasonable series of messages or time period. Marketers will begin to wake up these dormant subscribers by trying different subject lines, frequency of mailings, and new formats, sending them special offers or "best-of" newsletters, surveying them, and encouraging them to update their demographic, preference and personal interest profiles. These inactive subscribers also need to be carefully analysed to uncover potential trends such as how they opted in (e.g. a sweepstake offer, free white paper, or similar) and their demographic profiles. This can help to identify which kinds of subscriber acquisition processed are least productive.
- Maximise search with e-mail
Internet searching is now a dominant way of acquiring online customers and sales leads, so companies that don't integrate their e-mail programmes with their search engine efforts are potentially throwing away good marketing money. For example, try including an e-mail offer as a secondary objective on the landing page (each web page that's actively promoted through the search engine marketing campaign). Invite visitors to opt-in to a newsletter, download a white paper, or even try a product or service demonstration if they don't want to buy or take other desired actions. After this initial consumer buy-in, marketers can then use e-mail to build up trust, nurture a relationship, and gradually move subscribers along the sales cycle.
- Test, test, test and improve
Progress is fast in the field of e-mail marketing, and what worked for a competitor or worked for you six months ago might not work today. Marketers will need to test all the variables continuously, including format, design, copy style, calls to action, subject line approach, offers, personalisation, content types, product categories, and more. As a starting point for what seems like a daunting and ongoing task, begin with simple A/B split tests, and repeat each test a few times to verify results. Use small samples of your list, and always keep a control group that sees your original offers and techniques.
- Aligning resources with the e-mail marketing plan
Do you have an actual email marketing plan with specific goals, success metrics and action steps outlined? Because email marketing is still so new to many organisations, budget and resources for the channel are often not in line with the opportunity and potential ROI (return on investment). The key is to develop a plan that clearly demonstrates to management the value and ROI of a strategic e-mail marketing programme. Make sure the plan includes enough budget and resources to enable significant improvement in ROI through increased personalisation and segmentation, better deliverability, continuous testing, analysis, improvement, and use of advanced technologies.
For additional e-mail marketing ideas and tools, EmailLabs runs a respected e-mail newsletter (the Intevation Report) and an online resources centre for e-marketers - click here.