Three Approaches to E-Mail Best Practices

If you’re on the service or strategy side of email marketing, you most likely cringe every time a client or colleague nonchalantly asks for some standard email best practices. You just don’t know what she’s looking for. At these times, you must take a different approach that will help flush out the real needs.

Many people don’t realize the definition of email best practices has become so broad over the years that it can pretty much cover anything: technical elements, such as suggested pixel width; creative ideas, such as where to place the logo; delivery elements, such as the optimum frequency to send messages; and even reporting, such as the average open rate for your industry. A request for best practice documentation often causes confusion.

How do you cut through the confusion? I’ve found a few approaches that can work: a diagnostic checklist, an email translator, and a case study repository.

Approach 1: Diagnostic Checklist

These five questions can often help define the real need for the email best practices:

  • What will you use the best practices for (design, to give to a client, strategy etc.)?

  • What’s the goal of the message you’re currently working on (retention, acquisition, education)?
  • How will campaign success be defined?
  • What industry and audience is the message going to?
  • How qualified is the list you’re sending to?

Once this information is identified, you’re much better prepared to turn over the most relevant best practices.

But what happens if diagnosing the need for best practices isn’t enough?

Approach 2: E-Mail Translator

Often, simply answering a few questions about an upcoming email campaign isn’t enough to ensure the documentation shared with the client, production team, or account team adds value. In these cases, I’ve found the following email translator to be helpful:

What the Requestor Says What It Means to an E-Mail Marketing Expert Your Response
Do you have best practices on email creative? “My design team doesn’t work with email much and wants to know what layouts and offers to use to drive the highest response.” Remind the requester about the need to design text versions and review competitors’ work.
Can you give me general email best practices? This person is new to email marketing and needs to understand the eight key elements of an email program. Find 15 minutes to walk this person through all of the elements of a good email campaign, even if he doesn’t think he needs it.
What are the industry average response rates for email? Oh no! This person will take numbers that don’t reflect an apples-to-apples comparison and use them to forecast or analyze results. Find out specifically what the requester is looking for and take the time to translate the industry info you find into “client-speak.” For example, an industry report shows house-file open rates, but the client’s internal database has two levels of opt-in permission. Report the industry data as being reflective of only one permission level.
What is the best time of day to send an email? The requester is trying to increase responses and thinks changing the time of day someone presses the “send” button may actually produce significant results. Persistently ask questions to determine the need for this answer, then provide the right strategic guidance.
The email isn’t meeting our forecast results, so we want to change the creative. Do you have any guidelines on what to do? Stop the presses! Has anyone looked at the list quality, offer quality, historical responsiveness, or competitive landscape yet? It may not be your creative. Walk the requester through every step of his current campaign process to ensure that “tired” creative is really the main problem.

Approach 3: Case Study Repository

When other approaches don’t fulfill the requestor’s needs, sharing a series of top-line case studies can often open up the conversation to a point where key concerns and questions rise to the surface. Often, people can relate to the goal they’re trying to reach first, such as drove 50 percent increase in acquisitions, reduced attrition by 15 percent, and increased ROI (define) by 150 percent. This end result opens up the dialogue to establish the best approach to getting there.

The Other Side of the Fence

But what do you do if you’re making the request? Keep these recommendations in mind:

  • Try to break a request into the most miniscule details, such as “I need best practices on logo placement for my CPG [consumer packaged goods” client.”

  • Research lists and messaging frequency before you ask questions.
  • Don’t accept a checklist as an answer.
  • Don’t rely on industry-reported results as a measurement of your campaign forecast or analysis.
  • Work with the email marketing team to continually share new findings with you.
  • Don’t assume a best practice from three months ago is still valid. The changing email landscape generates a need for fairly flexible standards.

Learning how to perfect your email effort, or assisting someone else in doing so, isn’t easy but it is doable. Starting with your eyes wide open and asking more detailed questions can often make the difference.

Want more email marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our email columns, organized by topic.

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