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Tips for Improving E-mail Marketing Performance

  |  May 28, 2008   |  Comments

How to manage the e-mail publishing empire in your company.

You may not think of yourself as a publisher. But if you're involved in sending out e-mail marketing for your company, you've got the makings of a mini-publishing empire on your hands.

In most companies, e-mail marketing is proliferating at a rate that's far outstripping the staff resources dedicated to it.

B2B (define) companies that don't consider themselves in the publishing business are generating a huge amount of content in the form of event and Webcast campaigns, e-newsletters, surveys, lead-generation e-mail, and e-catalog promotions.

And often, there's just a small e-mail marketing department dedicated to handling it all. Overworked and underbudgeted, this group is often tasked with formatting content provided by outside departments into a usable e-newsletter template and blasting it out the door.

They may review open rates and CTRs (define) after the fact, but they rarely have time to strategize how to improve these rates in advance -- when it can make a difference.

Having consulted at a number of companies where this is the case, I have a number of questions and recommendations that you might want to consider if you're planning a midyear review of your e-mail marketing performance.

Are You Reaching Your Ideal Customers?

If you're just looking at your open rates across the board, you might be missing something pretty fundamental. It could be that you're getting a lot of interest, but not from the decision-makers who have the budget, authority, and need for your products.

Match your sales team's top prospect list to the list of people who open your e-mail to see if you're getting through to the right folks.

If not, you must rethink your e-mail strategy. You may need to test a segmented publication to reach this desirable group of decision makers. Or if your best prospects are C-level executives, you may need to concede that an e-mail-only approach isn't the best way to reach them -- and instead create a multichannel campaign that includes high-quality direct mail, dimensional packages, and telemarketing.

By focusing on your ideal customer, you may find that you can streamline or curtail e-mail communications to prospects on your list who are less desirable or unlikely to buy.

Are You Reaching Your Ideal Customers on Their Preferred Communication Device?

If you send out dense multi-article e-newsletters to sales executives who are out of the office all day and only read e-mail on their BlackBerrys, your communication strategy is out of date and out of sync.

It's time to strip down your content from a too-much-information format to a need-to-know format that your audience can read on the go.

While formatting e-mail for the BlackBerry is a relatively new challenge and there aren't too many best practices available yet, you can:

  • Ask new e-mail subscribers how they want to receive your messages when they sign up. Usually most e-mail preference centers offer the choice of text or HTML. However, one e-mail service provider told me that 95 percent of people sign up for HTML. So I would drop the text option and replace it with a handheld or BlackBerry option.

  • Offer a "View by handheld" link at the top of your e-mail.

  • On your mobile version:

    • Strip out your banner, but be sure to create a text-letterhead with your company's name.

    • Put your call-to-action link up top.

    • Top-line your information in just a few sentences.

    • Front-load your subject line so that it says everything in the first 15 characters (the length of the BlackBerry screen.

    Are You Helping Your Reader Self-Identify the E-mail They Need to Read?

    If you bombard your prospects and customers with look-alike e-mail messages with vague subject lines, how will they know which messages to open?

    Categorize your messages according to your readers' needs and your objectives. For example, your sender lines could be categorized in the following way:

    • XYZ Co. Webcast

    • XYZ Co. Event

    • XYZ Co. Survey

    Or you could alert readers to the type of communication they're receiving at the beginning of the subject line, then follow up with an intriguing teaser that entices them to open your e-mail:

    • [Webcast] Recession-Proof Your Marketing

    • [Event] Marketing in Uncertain Times

    • [Survey] Share Your Insights for Special Report

    • [E-Newsletter Name] Top CMOs Reveal What's Working Now

    In the same way, the e-mail messages should be categorized by using different formats. For example, e-newsletters shouldn't use your company's traditional banner. They should have their own mastheads with the publication name, a subtitle describing the value to the reader, and the issue number and date. And Webcasts invitations should look distinctly different from live event invitations.

    Are Your E-Mail Messages Taking Too Long to Write? Are They Missing the Point?

    There aren't a lot of writers trained in the fine points of e-mail writing. As a result, most companies aren't achieving their objectives in terms of sales generated.

    To make things easier, create fill-in-the-blank templates for the main types of e-mail communication you send out. Areas to include in your template:

    • Subject lines: Specify the optimal number of words or characters, and provide a few of examples of subject-line approaches that tend to work well.

    • Alt-text tags and photo captions: Require that each image (including your company banner) include an alt-text tag in the image itself, as well as an intriguing caption.

    • Preview pane: Require that the e-mail's whole message be summed up in one or two sentences at the top of the e-mail, so that it shows through the preview pane.

    • Call to action: Specify where the call-to-action message should go (near the top) and how often it should be repeated in the message.

    • Sidebars, Johnson boxes, and hotboxes: Create a template to break up information into bite-sized chunks that all appear in the initial screen.

    Finally, guide your writers to where their creativity really counts, including:

    • The subject line: If it isn't good, no one will open the e-newsletter.

    • Your event or Webcast name: It better be compelling, or no one will attend.

    • Your headlines and lead-in sentences: If you don't catch readers in the first few seconds of opening your e-mail, you'll lose them as they hit delete and scroll away to view the rest of their inbox.

    Follow these guidelines, and you'll soon be thinking like a publisher by creating e-mail content that your audience really wants to read, and streamlining or discontinuing e-mail efforts that aren't making the mark.

    What techniques are you using to manage e-mail proliferation, strategize communications, and get that e-mail out the door quickly? Let Karen know.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karen Gedney

Karen Gedney, an award-winning creative director and copywriter, shared her insights as a ClickZ Experts contributor from 2000 through 2009. She was known for her successful track record of achieving high e-mail response rates for Fortune 1000 companies and leading organizations. She died Nov. 16, 2010.

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