What separates high-performing email marketers from the pack?

Email marketing continues to hail as one of the most important and effective channels, yet countless organisations (big and small) still miss its full potential, writes Guy Hanson. There’s a huge and often costly variance in the results marketers achieve using email.

Guy Hanson 150 BWWhile average inbox placement rates for Australia sit at a healthy 89%, Validity analysed a group of best-in-class senders (considered by subscribers to do email ‘really well’) and found there’s still ample room for improvement. At an average placement rate of 97%, Australia’s top senders place an additional 80,000 emails for every one million they send. What’s more, they achieve read rates a third higher than the global average, and only a quarter of the complaints.

Fortunately, the tactics that separate a good email marketing program from an excellent one can be quite simple. It’s all about looking at email through the eyes of customers and understanding how they define great emails. Best-in-class senders know this and craft emails that are clear and concise, provide relevant offers and carry subject lines that are both informative and punchy — ultimately what discerning subscribers want from emails. 

Given the cost of email is relatively low compared to other channels and its potential returns are high, implementing a strong email strategy is a must for marketers. In fact, a recent report by Validity on ‘The State of Email Marketing’ showed there is a correlation between improved email marketing effectiveness and growth in annual revenue. 

Here are some simple tactics that can help separate your email marketing program from the rest of the pack:

Establish trust

Email marketing programs that set expectations around what subscribers will receive and the value they’ll benefit from immediately establish greater trust than those that don’t. Qantas is a great case study for establishing trust – upon signing up for the Qantas Red program, subscribers are prompted to amend their email preferences to best suit them, are thanked for signing up and presented with an overview of the program’s benefits. Validity’s research shows that when companies establish trust, 90% of subscribers will provide a primary email address. 

Create a strong value proposition

Around half of consumers are categorised as ‘data pragmatists’, meaning they will provide valuable personal data (including primary email addresses) if they can be convinced there is a fair exchange in terms of the value they will receive in return. According to a report by the Data and Marketing Association in the UK, the average subscriber lifetime value is approximately $701, but keep in mind that value to subscribers needn’t always be expressed in saving terms such as discounts and free delivery, it can be provided in alternative ways such as value statements and ‘how to’ articles. 

Maintain your subscriber list

While it’s one of the more mundane aspects of email marketing, failing to maintain your subscriber list brings down open rates. To keep your subscriber list in good order, ensure you’re consistently honouring opt out requests, adding new emails and removing bounced addresses.

Know your subscribers

Failing to learn your subscribers’ preferences can greatly hinder your email marketing efforts. Knowing subscriber attributes, such as when they engage with their emails, how long they spend doing so, and which device they use will allow you to tailor your communications to suit their needs and achieve higher read and conversion rates.

Offer choices

Email subscribers want a choice in the type of content they’re sent and companies that offer this are shown to achieve better results. When Flight Centre introduced a new preference centre for its subscribers, in three months read rates improved by one sixth, filtering rates were down by a third and complaint rates decreased by one eighth.

Optimise subject lines

Forty seven percent of email recipients open emails based on the subject line, according to Invesp. Time-pressured subscribers appreciate clear and descriptive subject lines that quickly help them decide if the email contains content that will be useful to them. Yet despite the importance of nailing this aspect, it’s often the last part of the communication to be crafted in a last-minute rush. Don’t make this costly mistake.

Look at previous campaigns and see which words, phrases and questions resulted in the highest open rates and leverage these in future communications. Also, maximise the valuable pre-header text, using it as a second subject line.

Familiarise yourself with the competition

Be sure to look at what your competitors are doing – monitoring competitor email activity complements your own testing program. Whether you do this as a subscriber or by using third-party technology, you can ensure your marketing content is equally – if not more – engaging to achieve better performance metrics.

Make friends with Gmail

Almost since it launched, Gmail was regarded as something of a thorn in the side of email marketers – it placed a premium on positive engagement, and deliverability was tough as a result. More recently though, Gmail has been providing marketers with tools to make their emails more effective, including adding annotations in the Promotions tab and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) which enables functionality such as dynamic content, carousels and interactive questionnaires.

Gmail presented at a recent Email Innovations Summit in London and showed examples of senders who had seen upward of 60% uplifts in clicks and conversions since adoption. In Australia, Gmail now accounts for almost 40% of a typical email list, and senders would be wise to harness its capabilities to drive increased engagement.

Make revenue an objective

You’d be surprised to learn how many email marketing programs lack real objectives, but like any good marketing campaign, email needs direction to succeed. Companies with high email open rates are more likely to include revenue generation as an objective, according to Validity’s report. By setting increased revenue or sales as an objective and measuring success against this, marketers can objectively evaluate a campaign and adjust it as required to benefit their business’ bottom-line. 

When you’re caught up in the day-to-day management of email marketing, it’s often hard to see the forest through the trees. But taking a moment to step back and view your email program through the eyes of your subscribers is what sets the best-in-class programs apart from the rest. Learning from their tactics and applying them to your own programs will start to build the differentiators that put you on track to achieving best-in-class status.

Guy Hanson is an email marketing expert and Validity spokesperson.

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