5 Foundational Elements of a Successful Email Program
Just like your home, your email program needs a solid foundation to succeed. Without a sturdy base of concrete, brick or stone, your whole house can crumble. For marketers, this foundation relies on the implementation of fundamental best practices, from opt-in to unsubscribe.
While email marketing has come a long way over the years, moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach to segmented and customized emails largely based on subscriber data, it’s important to have the basic foundational elements in place. Here are five key things you can do to help ensure long term success.
1. Create a Clear and Optimized Process for Acquisition and Onboarding
The average email subscriber receives hundreds of marketing messages a month, so it’s more important than ever for brands to make a positive first impression. One of the best ways to achieve this is by creating a clear and engaging sign up and onboarding program, which can turn new subscribers into loyal customers.
Make sure your acquisition forms are straightforward and explicit, by clearly stating that the subscriber is opting in to receive messages from your brand. Use this as an opportunity to set clear expectations for the types of emails and offers the new subscriber can expect to receive as part of your email program — and how often.
Studies have shown that subscribers are most receptive to your marketing messages within the first 30 days after opting in to your program. So the emails you send during this time play a critical role. Use this to your advantage by sending a series of curated onboarding emails aimed at educating the new subscriber about your brand, providing alluring incentives, and collecting more information that can be used to personalize future messages.
2. Follow Proper Segmentation and List Hygiene Rules
Although it may seem like a good idea to send every campaign to your entire email list, the truth is this can cause long term damage to your sender reputation and deliverability. Today’s mailbox providers have become stricter with their filtering decisions, measuring engagement through the lens of inbox activity. As such, it’s important to ensure you are focusing on mailing only your active subscribers (those most likely to engage with your messages) and suppressing the rest. While most marketers have some type of inactivity rule in place, we often see these rules broken — especially once the holiday rush begins.
As a general rule of thumb, send mail to the most engaged portion of your list — ideally anyone who has opened or clicked an email in the past four to six months — and ditch the old, inactive names by removing them from your file. Additionally, it’s good practice to break your list into specific segments based on date of last open (i.e., opened in the past month, two months, six months etc.), and then start by mailing to the most active segment. This “front load” approach is known to help with inbox placement and allows you to create reporting for each specific segment, so you’ll know if and when engagement starts to lag.
3. Keep Your Messages Relevant and Personal
It comes as no surprise that a highly targeted and relevant email program is the key to subscriber engagement. As email has evolved over the years, subscribers have come to expect personalized communications tailored to their specific needs. Collecting and using subscriber data, including preference information and purchase/browse behavior is the best way to bring personalization to your emails.
From triggered product recommendation emails and birthday messages to personalized content based on location or gender, there are many ways to customize each phase of the subscriber lifecycle. Even if your subscriber data is limited, content based on weather, holidays, or current events can be an easy and creative way to bring a sense of relevancy to your messages.
4. Optimize Your Creative Design
Upon opening your email, subscribers will decide within a matter of seconds whether they’re going to engage with your message or ignore it. So an optimized email template — one that is visually appealing, skimmable, and easily actionable — can make all the difference in getting subscribers to take action.
Give your subscribers as many opportunities as possible to engage with your message by using multiple calls to action throughout the email — and keep your call to action verbiage short, compelling, and actionable. You can also test interactive content such animated gifs, countdown timers, and polls or videos as an additional way to engage subscribers.
With mobile viewership on the rise, it’s also important to remember that email templates should be responsive or take a mobile first approach. This includes placing your call to action in the upper portion of the message, and using concise copy and clear headlines to quickly convey the point.
5. Implement a Clearly Defined Email Program Testing Strategy
While we all know the importance of testing, it often falls to the bottom of our to do list as other urgent matters come up. However, testing is one of the most effective ways to optimize your program and increase ROI, so it should be a central part of your overall email strategy.
To stay on track, commit to doing just a few tests each month. Start simple, testing things such as subject lines, timing, or call to action verbiage and placement. Next move on to more advanced tests, looking at things like send frequency and message cadence.
Be patient with your testing results — you may need to run the same tests a few times to get any useful insights. Also, be sure you use a statistically significant sample size, aiming for a 95 percent confidence level with a two percent margin of error. While individual tests may not always uncover clear observations right away, insights gained from a continual and consistent testing plan can lead to long term program success.
With mid-year quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to take a step back, assess your email program, and ensure these five foundational elements are in place for continued growth and success. The 2018 holiday season will be here before you know it!
Alexandra Braunstein has been helping world class brands grow and optimize their email marketing strategies and initiatives for over a decade. As an email strategist for Return Path, Alexandra uses her passion for analytical and creative thinking to help marketers refine their email programs, resulting in more emails getting delivered to the inbox, improved subscriber engagement, and increased ROI.