10 Tips for Inspiring Email Love and Long-Lasting Subscriber Devotion

With heart-shaped candy boxes and oversized teddy bears taking over store shelves just as soon as the holiday decorations came down, an abundance of pink and red baked goods on display, a constant stream of jewelry and flower advertising flashing across multiple screens, and free trials for online dating sites reaching a fever pitch, there’s no denying that Cupid has his arrow poised to strike the wallets (if not the hearts) of consumers this Valentine’s Day.

If this is a crucial holiday for your email program’s performance, then you’ll likely be focused on the metrics that directly impact the bottom line. However it’s worth taking a brief step back to consider the bigger picture. It’s not the picture in the frame surrounded by the paper doily; it’s the one in the silver frame with the cursive engraving. Ultimately, love has staying power while lust is ephemeral, and when it comes to love and email, best practices for achieving results (i.e., long-term commitment) are surprisingly similar. With love (and commerce) overwhelmingly in the air in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, what better time to think about what you’re doing to inspire devotion and loyalty from your email subscribers? I now pronounce these 10 tips:

1. Be there for them: What’s the email equivalent of showing up and being present in a relationship? Getting delivered to the inbox of course. There’s no excuse for not measuring inbox placement and getting a handle on the causes of poor delivery, whether they’re complaints, poor list hygiene, or low engagement.

2. Be reliable (but not predictable): When subscribers are familiar with your email creative, activity becomes second-nature because they know what to expect without having to search for it. This means using a templatized design format for each type of message that you’re sending, with variations for copy and creative changes, and deviation for special occasions. It also means using a consistent and branded from address that can accept replies, a footer with useful links, testing a variety of subject lines, and featuring consistently placed website navigation links. Keep in mind that even the best email creative can become stale. If you find that your response rates are decreasing and you’re not experiencing any other related issues, consider a template refresh.

3. Make them feel safe: This quote from the movie Moulin Rouge says it all: “Without trust, there can be no love.” For email marketers this means protecting subscribers from fraud like phishing and spoofing attacks. Their detrimental impact can’t be overstated: If subscribers download malware or have their personal or financial data compromised because of a message that looked like it came from you, they will not only stop engaging with your email, but will likely cease activity with your brand in other channels. Once bitten, twice shy.

4. Don’t turn them off: Sending a barrage of generic, one-dimensional offers is just as unattractive as having bad breath. “Gray mail” that looks and acts like spam is a guaranteed way to ensure subscribers ignore you, delete your messages without reading them, unsubscribe, and complain about you. Similar turn-offs include pre-checked boxes or automatically signing up buyers, adding subscribers to your other brands’ lists without permission, not removing complainers, a broken unsubscribe process (or one that isn’t compliant with CAN-SPAM), and sending clickers to your home page instead of a customized landing page.

5. Show your best self: This is about accentuating your assets with your creative design and making sure that the purpose of your message can be quickly understood with images turned off (still the default for many mailbox providers). Keep in mind that Gmail is now automatically enabling images, so make sure they’re working hard to drive an action, and use valuable real estate in the preview pane to display calls-to-action. Just as important as how you show up is where you show up. With 51 percent of opens taking place on mobile devices during the 2013 holiday season, optimizing your messaging for mobile viewing is critical.

6. Keep your promises: This tip ties directly back to building trust in your brand. Make sure that you’re setting clear expectations during the sign-up process about the content and frequency of your messaging and provide information about the policies you have in place to safeguard and make use of subscribers’ personal data. Then, do exactly what you said.

7. Know how you measure up to the competition: Possessiveness can be toxic to any relationship, but a degree of jealousy is actually beneficial when it comes to your email subscribers. Your campaigns are among many competing for mindshare, so it’s important to know how you compare. This is less about creating performance anxiety and more about understanding what you can optimize to stand out from the competition. Benchmarking performance against your top competitors is a good starting point, however the most interesting insights come from analysis of your most active customers: What are other brands are they engaging with? What inspires them to read? What do they ignore?

8. Anticipate their needs: Show that you’re paying attention and that you care about making your brand’s products and services a relevant part of your subscribers’ lives. Do that and it’ll be pretty difficult for them not to fall — and stay — in love with you. Start by using your email subscriber and customer data to target your content and offers. Leverage the data you have to enhance the relationship going forward. Campaigns like reminders to reorder, inventory updates, and abandoned shopping carts should also be balanced with content that provides useful information on topics your subscribers care most about.

9. Leave them wanting more: Smothering puts out fires, it doesn’t feed them. When it comes to email (and love), displaying clingy behaviour can lead to decreased interest. What signals the inevitable end of brand’s relationship with its email subscribers? Over-mailing. Respect the subscriber experience by offering a choice of frequency through a preference center, options to pause email or opt-down (instead of out), decreasing frequency to less engaged subscribers, and tracking the saturation point for your various subscriber segments. Successful relationships are never one-sided.

10. Don’t act like a stalker: Inevitably, not all of your subscribers will remain in love with your email. Accepting it and working to address it is a far better plan than denying it’s happening. Create a plan for winning back unresponsive subscribers. Confront waning interest, but move on and remove them from your list when it’s time to let them go. There’s no point creating resentment that could prevent them from interacting with your brand in other channels.

Image via Shutterstock.

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