Digital MarketingEmail MarketingThe four common mistakes holding back your email success

The four common mistakes holding back your email success

It's time to move past ineffective practices that keep your email program from achieving your goals.

30-second summary:

  • Email innovation is everywhere, from technology and how we use it, to the wider practices of effective email marketing. Marketers who reject it likely aren’t seeing the results they would like.
  • Staying up to date with email means more than just adopting the latest technology. Teams need to prioritize an objective-driven strategy over tactics to avoid wasting time and money and alienating customers.
  • Using data and technology allows you to target audiences, select the right content, manage frequency, and send messages at the right time reflecting customer behavior.
  • When we can identify the things that hold us back from success, we can clear the decks for greater email success.
  • This is the second installment in a four-part email marketing series delivered by expert Kath Pay.

Kath PayHas there ever been a more exciting time to be an email marketer? After 24 years in the business, I believe we are living in the best of email times.

I’m passionate about email’s prospects for three reasons:

  • We know so much more about how to run an effective email program.
  • We have amazing technology that lets us do things today that email pioneers could never imagine.
  • Every time a new message channel debuts as the ultimate email-killer (think RSS, social media, SMS, video), email instead absorbs it into the digital marketing mix and finds a way to use it, so everybody benefits.

I wish I could say my cheerful outlook is shared among most email marketers. One glance at my inbox shows me too many brands are still emailing like it’s 1999. They cling to what worked in the past, such as buying lists and valuing a quick sale over a long-term customer relationship.

The old email methods don’t work anymore

As an email marketer, you are rewarded when you help your company grow and prosper in ways other revenue channels cannot. But the “same-old, same-old” style of email marketing won’t get you there.

The old way: Get addresses at any cost and push out promotions, the more the better.

The new way: Invest time and money to build personalized relationships that encourage customers to choose your brand time after time.

Consumer expectations have changed, as have the ways they access and use email. As email marketers, we need to keep up with and even get out ahead of our customers to stay relevant and valued in their world.

What’s holding us back?

I often find struggling clients and students suffer from at least one of these fatal flaws:

  1. A burned-out email list

Common email mistake 1: A burned out email listEmail fatigue was one of the first consequences of sending too many brand-centric campaigns.

In particular, there were too many campaigns that didn’t recognize what the customer wanted or how those promotions would suit the customer’s preferences or match their behavior.

A fatigued list also leads to diminishing returns. Although some customers unsubscribe from unwanted emails, most just go inactive. Depending on how old your email list is, how your predecessors treated it in the past, and what kinds of emails you send, your subscribers could be ignoring your emails or have changed addresses without telling you.

Your emails pile up like junk mail on the doorstep of an empty house. The result: Less activity, fewer conversions, and less money to support the channel.

  1. Outdated customer insights

Common email mistake 2: Outdated customer insightsThat tired list does not generate enough useful data for you to discover what’s going on with your customers.

Regular, systematic testing can help you figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it.

But if you’re not testing—and I know many of you don’t test much beyond the subject line—you’re relying on insights from years ago that most likely no longer apply. That can lead you to make bad decisions.

  1. Using bad email ‘best practices’

Common email mistake 3: Using bad email 'best practices'The email community debates long and hard over best practices, what they are and how to use them. Without rigorous testing, you don’t know whether a generally accepted practice will work for your brand or should be avoided because it is archaic, self-serving, untested, or based on conventional wisdom instead of proof. Here are four examples:

‘Everybody does it.’

This is something that no one ever tested to see if it works the majority of the time. Maybe you’ve heard this one: “Send fewer emails to get better “. Or you send at least one campaign every day, whether you have a reason to or not, just because you see other brands doing it. Either approach might work for some programs, but not necessarily for yours unless you test it first.

The self-serving practice

A classic example is “Delete your inactive subscribers to maintain list quality,” which ESPs often advise.

This is a simple approach to a complex problem. Yes, your open and click rates might go up, but the lift is basic math. You haven’t addressed the reasons why those subscribers stopped engaging.

Is your content irrelevant? Do you send more emails than they expected? Are you appealing to those who are interested in buying? Or are you optimizing your emails based on a vanity metric such as open rate?

It’s a delicate balance between optimizing for opens and optimizing for conversions.

Plus, you could lose revenue if you cut seemingly inactive subscribers who do buy from you in a store or on your website simply because they saw your email in their inboxes and actioned it outside the inbox. If your data platforms don’t connect their purchases to their email addresses, you could be deleting active customers.

The “logical” best practice

This looks good on the surface but doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Take, ‘get your emails into the Primary tab on Gmail.’ Customers might prefer seeing your emails in the Promotions tab. Gmail could be giving you the tools you need to get seen.

The archaic best practice

This practice worked once upon a time. But it didn’t keep up when times changed. Think practices such as, ‘use short subject lines to get high open rates.’ But the open rate doesn’t measure campaign success unless that’s all you wanted people to do with your email. Plus, Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature and other masking features have made the open an even less reliable metric.

  1. Valuing tactics over email strategy

Common email mistake 4: Valuing tactics over email strategyI could write an entire column on why marketing, without an overarching strategy to guide and hold the tactics together, is bound to fail. (In fact, I will cover this in-depth in a future post!)

The short answer is this: Leading with tactics is like going on vacation without a roadmap.

You might have a great car, but if you don’t know how to get where you want to go, you’ll drive around aimlessly, wasting time and energy. You could even end up hopelessly lost!

In email marketing, your destination is your objective. It might be, For example, a 20% increase in annual revenue from email. Your roadmap is your email strategy, which lays out which tactics to use. Like a segmentation plan, it should tell you which lifecycle programs to use. It should provide direction for your creative content and message format.

This practically guarantees you’ll choose the tactics that will help you carry out the strategy to reach your goal and not drop you on a dead-end street in the middle of nowhere.

The (painful) road ahead starts now

To reach all the potential of a successful email marketing program, we need to identify the things that hold us back. It can be a painful process. You might need to bring in an outside party to see past the practices that have become business as usual. And it won’t happen overnight.

Use my thoughts here as a starting point.

What’s holding you back from success with your email program? What is your greatest impediment to success?

In my next post, I’ll share my ideas for the strategies and tactics you should consider adopting so you can begin to move your email program in the right direction.

Kath Pay is CEO of Holistic Email Marketing, winner of the ANA/EEC’s Thought Leader of the Year 2021 Award, and the author of the award-winning Amazon #1 best-seller “Holistic Email Marketing: A practical philosophy to revolutionize your business and delight your customers.

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