Email Targeting Tips for Retailers to Break Through Inbox Clutter and Connect

davidasteinbergBy guest columnist David A. Steinberg, XL Marketing

The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time of celebration, family, reflection and a seemingly endless barrage of commercial emails.

If it seems like your inbox is stuffed with more “save 50 percent today” and “free shipping” messages than usual, you’re right. The four most popular days for major online retailers to email their subscribers are: Cyber Monday, Free Shipping Day (December 17, the last day for free standard shipping), Green Monday (the second Monday in December), and Thanksgiving Day. And retailers have increased their use of email by 120 percent over the past 5 years.

With more than 50 percent of all messages during this time period categorized as commercial emails, the question marketers must answer is: how does my brand break through and connect with the right segment of users to drive the desired action?

To break through a cluttered inbox, the key drivers are the From line and the Subject line.

Since the power of the From line is a function of the user’s connection to your brand (and since this is not something you can change with an email drop), I’ll focus on the importance of the Subject line.

In a recent study, researchers found that personalization – specifically, including the recipient’s first and last name in an email subject line – was the most successful tactic for consumers to open emails. Other successful tactics include:

  • implying time sensitivity (“Today only”) 
  • conveying exclusivity (ie.: “free shipping for our best customers”) 

On the other hand, words such as “cancelled” or words associated with charity had an adverse impact. Additionally, avoid the urge to be too cute. A clever subject line may make your copywriters happy, but a clear subject line gets 541 percent more clicks than a clever one. Make sure the message is one users can understand easily.

To connect with users, the content of the email is critical.

As with the Subject line, personalization plays a key factor. Consumers are overloaded and quick to trash anything that feels canned or generic, but making them feel special will typically result in clicks.

Amazon has been known to send emails containing products you last browsed on their site and Urban Outfitters will frequently send messages reminding consumers that they left something in their cart. Even if they didn’t want to buy these things, data collection allows these brands to find out what they like and spit that information back to them, making the message personal and therefore more intriguing. As with everything in the digital space, there’s a fine line between knowing a user’s tastes and being creepy. Test and learn your way to staying on the right side of that line.

Driving action via email has changed.

Over the past two years, there has been a seismic shift in the email ecosystem due to the rise of Mobile. Users open emails on mobile devices up to do 79 percent of the time, making the mobile conversion far more important than the desktop message. Responsive design and mobile-optimized email creative have gone from leading edge to table stakes over the course of 2013.

An email marketer’s job is still not complete after a consumer has clicked. The marketer must finally consider where the click will take the user – a landing page for the advertised product or service? Or is it a better experience for users to be driven to the brand’s homepage?

Mobile plays a big role here, as well.

One of the keys to a successful email campaign is making sure there are no dead ends. Consumers want the brand to do all the dirty work for them and deliver exactly what they want when they want it. Not only must the marketer deliver what was advertised with the click of a mouse, but that page must also be mobile-friendly. Nothing is more off-putting for a potential customer than making the advertised product difficult to find, especially on a site that makes it nearly impossible to navigate on a mobile device.

With the holiday season well underway, now is the time to implement targeted strategies when sending subscribers emails. Mass mailings are far too easy for consumers to ignore, so it is especially important to make sure marketing dollars are well spent by making sure your potential customers view them.

Utilize these tactics throughout the holiday season and into 2014 and you’ll drastically improve your chances of keeping your marketing messages out of consumer trash bins.

About our guest columnist: Prior to founding XL Marketing, David A. Steinberg founded InPhonic, with annual revenue in excess of $400 million. Steinberg also served as chairman and CEO of Sterling Cellular, a B2B and retail wireless communications provider, and Sterling Communications, a communications telemarketing company. Mr. Steinberg was named the Greater Washington Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year for communications in 2002. He currently sits on the Board of Directors of Faster Cures of the Milken Institute, the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, Cupcake Digital, and the Board of Trustees of Washington & Jefferson College and previously served on the Board of Directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Steinberg holds a B.S. from Washington & Jefferson College.

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