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Email marketing 101

Email marketing has a dark past from which it is beginning to emerge – but why are online brands clinging to this decades old technique?

The main reason brands still invest in email marketing is that it works – offering one of the highest average ROIs available across industries. The second reason is that email marketing has come a long way from its less savoury past – in much the same way as all search marketing techniques.

What is email marketing?

It may seem like a question with an obvious answer – users of internet will be familiar with promotional emails, the majority of us will receive countless emails every day related to comparisons we’ve carried out on various lines of credit, insurance varieties or those from companies from which we have made purchases or enquiries. What may have passed people by however, is the changing language and variety of emails.

What began as a somewhat shady practice in the 90’s, selling various pharmaceuticals or offering discounts on products you had neither interest in nor knowledge of, has morphed into a far more intelligent, targeted and personal approach as brands began to realise how much access to an individual an email address provides, and further progressed toward a more ethical enterprise as email providers began implementing spam filters which required far greater quality from email marketing in order to retain that access.

Though many people still see email marketing as intrusive, the quality of the emails received have inarguably improved in the last two decades (especially as offers to improve or extend various things no longer make it past the spam filters). So, while it may seem apparent – if so much has changed, it must follow that the aims have also changed – and this is absolutely the case.

While its initial incarnation was unidirectional – a one way conversation with little differentiation between consumers – modern email marketing, when done well, is a nurturing process which learns from consumer interaction to increase personalisation and usefulness to consumers. With this has come email automation platforms such as HubSpot, Act-On and Mailchimp which only permit the sending of emails which conform to specific best practices (featuring opt out links, readable as text only etc.) and numerous articles on how to ensure that a brand’s daily/weekly/monthly email is a welcome sight in a consumer’s inbox.

The end result of battling consumer indifference, mail server spam filters and the various needs of brands has led to a present (and ever improving) form of email marketing. Brands have learned to value their access to consumer inboxes and are trying to ensure that they do not betray the trust inherent in email signups. With this improvement over time have come options for consumers as to frequency of contact and varieties of content as well as individualised nurturing tracks for consumers – so that the consumer’s behaviour directly affects the volume and variety of email they receive.

In fact, we are only at the beginning of the email renaissance. With mobile technology meaning that consumers are increasingly connected to their inbox at all times, the opportunities for building trust and relationships while maintaining email’s historically high ROI are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Best practice

There are a number of great resources available with basic hints and tips on email marketing with blogs helping consumers to increase click-through-rates and ROI (there’s a great eBook here from email automation platform Act-On), but what I want to look are the more fundamental aspects of undertaking an email marketing strategy.

1. Building your list

Your email is far more likely to be opened, clicked and able to convert if your target knows who you are, it is therefore important that you build your list organically. There are numerous ways to capture email addresses – pop ups, scroll downs, gates etcetera – but what should be recognised is that the best way to capture your consumer data is to offer something valuable in return.

That is not to say you should be offering financial incentives, just that you are asking for a valuable piece of personal information from a current or potential consumer and it makes sense to give something back. This can range from premium content, free eBooks, offers or discounts all the way up to a branded app, but the consumer should get something out of this initial interaction with your email strategy.

act-on form image

Image from Act-On guide to lead generation

2. Segment your audience

Your consumer base may not be interested in everything you have to offer, and the more they see emails that are irrelevant to their specific needs, the less likely they are to open your emails, meaning that the product or service you supply that they do need may not even be seen. In addition, the needs and wants of consumers as to the ideal frequency of contact – both of these factors can be dealt with both manually and through automation software.

By segmenting consumers initially by interest (this does not mean associated goods and services cannot form a subsidiary part of an email – just that the main content of the email should focus on their interests) and desired frequency of contact and then continuing to segment over the course of an email marketing campaign – by interaction and activity – you can build trust, relevance and click-through-rate early on.

segmentation image

Segmentation example from Act-On

3. Develop nurturing pathways

Though at an early point in developing an email marketing strategy, such pathways will be preliminary and subject to change, your brand should already have in place a path to purchase for organic and paid traffic, these can be adapted to initial email strategies to decide what content works best to separate consumers between various funnels and then nurture their progress toward conversion.

If this were considered, for example, as part of your paid marketing strategy after your initial interaction, what form of content would come next? To extend the metaphor a little – if you consider the email sign-up for a voucher code to be a click on a specific ‘sale’ based PPC ad but the customer does not convert your next step maybe a retargeting ad, reminding them of the offer for that specific offer or service – an email can do the exact same thing.

It is also important to rank or grade various interactions, developing (if needed) a lead score that will trigger a sales approach or trigger various communications from your brand.

Salesforce email nurturing campaign

Salesforce email nurturing campaign example

4. Maintain your lists regularly

This is a simple, but often forgotten aspect of email marketing. When filtering spam, one of the things email providers will consider is the open rate of your emails. By regularly removing long-standing inactive contacts, you can ensure your brand remains on the safe list as well as reducing the chances of consumers that are no longer interested in your goods or services reporting your email as spam.

It also has the benefit of maintaining the accuracy of your reporting, ensuring that the numbers are not skewed by inactive consumers.

5. Deliver value

No matter how many best practices you follow, or blogs with tips to develop CTR and ROI you adhere to, if you are not offering value to the consumer, your email marketing strategy will fail. There are very few reasons for a consumer to convert from, or even to open an email which offers them nothing they can’t get elsewhere.

Ensure that each email has the potential of adding something to the consumer’s experience – whether in the form of limited time offers, reminders, priority treatment, voucher codes or any of the many other ways possible.

To find out how Click Consult can help your brand with its email marketing strategy, why not contact us today! For other resources on the various aspects of search marketing, check out our other blogs and resources.

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