B-to-B Insights: Entering the Inbox
We hear how email is becoming obsolete and social networking is morphing into the medium of choice for online communication. But in the B-to-B community, it hasn't happened yet. Consider the following statistics:
• Seventy-one percent of B-to-B marketers use email marketing—"How U.S. Marketers Use Email, 2011," Forrester Research;
• B-to-B marketers (who responded to the survey) believe that email delivers the strongest ROI for acquisition and retention (at 32 percent and 51 percent, respectively), compared to direct mail, search engine optimization telemarketing and other channels—"Media Usage Forecast 2011," Target Marketing magazine; and
• Email is the method of commercial communication preferred by 74 percent of all online adults—"View From the Digital Inbox 2011," Merkle.
So, what are some of the best practices in B-to-B email marketing today?
To begin, instead of renting lists and sending your emails to cold prospects, get people to opt-in to your e-list. Then concentrate on email marketing to your house file.
Emails to house file lists generate two to three times the clickthrough rates (CTR) or higher than outside lists. And emailing to your own e-list eliminates list rental charges of $100 to $250 or more per thousand names.
How do you build your own opt-in e-list? The most popular method is offering a free subscription to an online newsletter. You also can offer a free webinar or special report. To get the free offer, the prospect must submit an email address and name, thus opting into your e-list.
How often should you email your subscriber list? The biggest worry among marketers is offending people on the e-list by emailing them too frequently. But consultant Amy Africa says the biggest mistake marketers make is not emailing their lists enough.
Here's a method of determining the optimal email frequency for your e-list: Measure the opt-out rate, which is the percentage of subscribers who unsubscribe after an email is distributed to the list. If your list has 10,000 names and your opt-out rate is half a percent, you will lose 50 subscribers for every email you send out. As a rule of thumb, your opt-out rate should be 0.1 percent or less.
To increase email frequency, add one more email to your weekly or monthly schedule. Then keep a close eye on your opt-out rate. If it stays the same, you can safely increase your email frequency to the new level. If it spikes, cut back to the old frequency.
One reason for opt-outs other than frequency is the quality of your emails. When you send useful content, your subscribers will thank you by remaining loyal subscribers and opening, reading, and responding to your emails. On the other hand, if all you send are sales pitches, they will unsubscribe—and even those who don't will stop opening and reading.
A good rule of thumb is that at least 50 percent of your email messages should be content. If the ratio of content to sales falls below 50 percent, your opt-out rate will increase and your open rates will decrease.
Finessing Email Copy
What about the content and copy of your email messages? Here are a few tips: Begin with an engaging headline or lead-in sentence. You need to get a terrific benefit right up front.
For instance, Orleans Coffee Exchange provides coffee by mail. They sent an email to past customers who once subscribed to their coffee service but had dropped off the list. The headline: "You Still Drink Coffee, Right?" It struck a chord because, of course, in almost every instance, the recipient still drank coffee. The open rate was 52.3 percent and the click-through rate was 34.6 percent. Dozens of old accounts were reactivated.
- In the first paragraph, deliver a mini-version of your complete message. Readers should know who you are, what you are selling, and why they should be interested.
- Within the first couple of paragraphs, state the offer and provide a link to a landing page or another immediate response mechanism.
- After the first paragraph, present expanded copy covering features, benefits, proof and other relevant information.
- The offer and response mechanism should be repeated in the close of the email. But they should almost always appear at the very beginning, too.
- Take it easy on the ALL CAPS. Words in all caps give the impression you are shouting.
- Use wide margins. Limit yourself to about 60 characters width per line.
- The tone should be helpful, friendly, informative and educa- tional—not promotional or hard-sell. Information is gold on the Internet.
- Be concise. Readers are quickly sorting through a bunch of messages and aren't disposed to stick with you for a long time.
- Regardless of length, get the important points across quickly.
An effective way to organize your email copy is to use the motivating sequence, a formula for persuasive writing that works in all media. The motivating sequence is 1) get attention, 2) state the problem your prospect has, 3) position your product as the solution to that problem, 4) offer proof that your product is indeed a superior solution, and 5) ask for action.
Keep in mind you don't need to fit all of your product copy and sales points within the email itself. So what is the ideal length for an email? In most instances, shorter is better than longer. If you have a lot of information to communicate, place most of it on a landing page and link to this page in your email.
As stated earlier, have a link at the beginning of your email, one at the close, and preferably one or more in the body. Testing shows that the more links there are in your email, the higher the clickthrough rate.
One of the biggest influences on open rates and clickthrough rates is the subject line. Split tests of subject lines have shown clickthrough rate differences of 25 percent to 50 percent and in some cases higher. Keep subject lines short. Craig Stouffer, general manager of B-to-B email marketing solutions provider PinPointe, says that subject lines 40 to 50 characters in length significantly outperform subject lines of 70 to 80 characters.
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter who has written copy for more than 100 clients including IBM, AT&T, Praxair, Intuit, Forbes, and Ingersoll-Rand. McGraw-Hill calls Bob “America’s top copywriter” and he is the author of 90 books, including “The Copywriter's Handbook.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.