I love e-mail marketing. I love it because it’s universally understood and suited for normal people–people like your mom, your neighbor Jane down the street, and your customers who still haven’t signed away their life and privacy for a Facebook account (yet). E-mail marketing gives small business owners an intimate way to reach the “everyone else” of their market. And that’s where its power it lives.
But not all e-mail marketing is created equal. You know this because you, too, have an inbox. You see what arrives there. You can feel the difference between the e-mails you rush to open and the ones that cause you to angrily hit the delete key. If you’re a small business owner trying to tweak your e-mail marketing campaign, where you should start? What’s most important to readers?
Here are six e-mail marketing best practices to help you get started.
1. Be personal: If you’re using your e-mail newsletter as another way to shout at your customers or tout your Web site, you’re missing out. The power of e-mail marketing comes from its intimacy. Because you’re reaching someone in their inbox, they’ve already put you on a trusted pedestal. People will give their Twitter account to anyone, but they only share their e-mail with people they know won’t abuse it. So take the opportunity to forge a more personal relationship. Talk to your readers like they’re friends getting special access. Let them in on deals before the rest of the public. Use e-mail to tell your company’s story and create a special connection. Use a friendlier tone than perhaps you use on your Web site. Make e-mails special.
2. Know when to send it: You want to send your e-mail newsletter when people are most likely to be around to read it. Every industry will have slightly different data on when is the best time to send, so you need to experiment to see what works best for you. You probably know not to send your newsletter out at 6 p.m. on a Friday, but should you send it on Monday afternoon or Wednesday morning? Which will get you more clickthroughs and more readers? What does your competition do? The only way to know for sure is to test. Once you know which day of the week/time of day is best suited for your industry, be consistent about it. Make sure people know when to expect your newsletter so they’re waiting for it to hit their inbox.
3. Master the subject line: Your subject line will determine the fate of your newsletter. If you can set up a compelling promise, customers will click through to read it. If you don’t, they won’t. To attract readers to click, stay away from spammy words, clichés and over-promising, and learn to write succinct, snappy and engaging messages. I’d recommend testing different tones, lengths and calls to action to help you find out what your audience best responds to. You should also read marketing blogs like Copyblogger, Problogger and IttyBiz to help you find your brand voice.
4. Remember the preview pane: How many of your customers will be viewing your e-mail marketing via an e-mail application like Outlook or Thunderbird? That’s something you want to consider when designing. By optimizing your e-mail newsletter to be properly viewed in a preview pane, you increase your chances that readers see the most important part of your message. Designing for the preview pane may mean removing large images from the header, moving up your call to action so it’s visible even before the clickthrough, or placing your key points higher in the message. If customers like what they see, they’ll clickthrough and keep reading. But you have to get them there. I’d also recommend sending yourself a test version to see how things will appear when viewed in a preview pane. Don’t assume they look OK. Know.
5. Track everything: You want to monitor absolutely everything that is going on inside your e-mail campaign. Look at delivery rates, open rates, links clicks, conversions, customer service calls, etc. If there’s an option to track it, do it. The more you know about what’s not working, the more you can tweak your e-mail marketing so that it does. You can also use this information to segment your e-mails in the future to help you use persona marketing to reach specific customer types. This is where e-mail really starts to get powerful. The right message, to the right person, at the right time will give you the trifecta of effectiveness. I was pretty impressed to see that nearly 70 percent of marketers segment their e-mail lists regularly.
6. Don’t spam. Ever: There’s no greater way to lose a customer’s trust than to spam him or her. Make sure you’ve read up on the CAN-SPAM act and that your e-mail marketing techniques fall squarely inside of its regulations.
Those are some e-mail marketing best practices that I try to live by. Do you have others that work for you and your audience?