Mark as Read? | DMA

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Mark as Read?

All too often, email campaigns fail to inspire. They stick to templates, they ‘make do’ with design and content. They don’t do what great emails should, which is drive results, enhance your reputation and act as a fitting companion to your brand. So how do you create emails that stick around long enough to make their point – and do the job you need of them?

You know from personal experience that there are emails you mark as junk or delete as soon as they appear. Yet there are others that capture your attention.

The difference between the two isn’t a simple matter of one company doing X while the other does Y. In reality, the reason we open some emails and not others depends on a carefully constructed combination of message, relevancy, creativity and technical execution.

Boil all those elements down, and the difference is simple: the emails we are most likely to open are the ones where the sender has taken the time and effort to ensure that what they send us matters.

That’s what separates the offer you click on from the one you don’t. It’s what makes you read on. It’s what drives results.

Sounds simple, but there are barriers to overcome before your emails are ready to do their job. Unless you have the right data, the insight to use it effectively, the creativity to engage and the budget to make it happen, your emails can’t deliver.

Give your emails a reason to be

Every email campaign should have purpose, and that purpose tends to fall broadly into the following categories:

Engagement: Most typically in the form of newsletters, the purpose of these emails is for your customers to spend time consuming content that forms part of a rich customer journey. Here, brand reinforcement comes wedded to material that is genuinely engaging.

If your content can elicit the sort of conversation that begins: “I was reading something earlier today that said…” it’s done its job.

Direct response vs puristic brand engagement: Correct offers + correct timing + correct frequency - that’s what works. Emails don’t have to be transactional. Asking customers to download an app, complete a survey or tell you their birthday can be even more effective.

Functional/service led: Know when your customer interacts with you, then acknowledge or thank them for doing so with creative, engaging purchase receipts, delivery details or event reminders. Emails built on servicing your customers’ needs and providing information they want are emails that get read.

Surprise and delight: It’s the small things that count. Offer something free, unexpected, or exclusive - and make your customer feel loved.

Information or Insight?

Measuring what you do is one thing. But how do you know you’re measuring the right things? And where are you taking your data from?

Data is about more than your marketing database (although that’s a good place to start). Use research, white papers, customer feedback and anecdotal evidence - from the shop floor to social media – to inform your decision making.

Then look again at your measures of campaign success, redefine your goals and match your data and KPIs to the results and actions you really want to drive.

Effectively this means tailoring what you measure to what you do. For eCommerce businesses, for example, the defining metric is online sales. Businesses with loyalty cards, on the other hand, will look at the influence of email marketing on in-store revenue, tracked via the card at point of sale.

Put your emails to the test

As a general rule of thumb, if you can improve email metrics (primarily open and click through rates) you are likely to improve the performance of your campaigns. There are plenty of ways to help nudge those figures upwards, including:

A/B Testing

“When is the best day to send an email asking customers to download my app?”
“Which subject line works best?”
“If I include more details around the delivery process upfront are customers less likely to drop off the purchase funnel?”

There’s no stock answer to questions like these, so find out what works using A/B testing. Half your audience receives one version of your email; the other half gets the same email with one element changed. Whichever performs best against your KPI wins and you take what you’ve learned forward. Remember that A/B testing applies not only to the contents of an email, but to its design too.

Responsive design
You already know mobile-friendly is a must. Therefore, ensure your clickable areas are an end-of-the-thumb apart – especially when using Call to Action buttons – so reading and responding to your email via mobile is easy.

Structure and layout
Place your most important call to action button as high up in the email as possible so readers don’t have to scroll to find it. Focus on a few key messages and clearly separate them in the design. And be concise. If you can’t tell your story or get your message across succinctly then introduce the topic in the email and link to the main article on a landing page.

Subject lines
Keep them succinct. Avoid typing in capitals, £ signs, exclamation marks, and words such as “free” to stay clear of spam filters. And front-load your messages, so the most important words appear at the beginning. Then test and test again to find the subject lines that drive most clicks.

Everyone, everywhere

Email clients (such as Yahoo, Gmail and Outlook) are notoriously difficult to satisfy, stripping out anything they don’t like in your email, then adding their own styling.

And that’s before you get to the multitude of operating systems and devices your readers could be using, all of which have an effect on the way your content renders out.

The solution lies in investing in testing for each email client, and creating device neutral content and design – so the emails you send can be viewed by everyone, everywhere.

Ditch the template
Creating a succession of emails and newsletters takes time and money. So it’s tempting to ask for a standard template that makes creating each campaign simpler and cheaper. But there’s a problem with this thinking: it places your speed and convenience ahead of the needs of the customer. And unless the customer is the driver for your email design, it won’t maximise its results.

So rather than opting for a stock template and ‘one size fits all content’, use your data to personalise the information your target segments receive. Because when you provide customers with information they want to see - as opposed to content you want to send – skimming becomes reading, and your emails start delivering.

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