10 Tips to Ensure Your Emails Resonate in the Inbox

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by Len Shneyder
An email marketer should have one goal in mind: capturing readers’ attention so they respond to the email’s call to action. Many companies, however, instead send out massive amounts of impersonal, irrelevant emails that come across as spam and don’t engage recipients.

All too often, marketers cast a wide net and simply hope their customers will bite. That approach is not only annoying but also time-consuming, expensive, and potentially harmful to the brand.

Personalization and relevance need to be at the core of every outbound message if it’s to succeed in today’s email-saturated world.

With that in mind, I’ve highlighted 10 tips for companies that want to improve customer engagement with their email marketing campaigns.

1. Have a mobile strategy that helps you collect email addresses

Dedicated mobile apps are a great email collection point. Mobile-first businesses such as Touch of Modern and One Kings Lane compel users to register using an email address or social login to access the app. That does two things: It increases your awareness of a new customer, and it gives you, the marketer, another channel to reach that customer.

2. Offer incentives

Let’s face it, something for nothing is hardly reason to opt in to a newsletter. Provide incentive for opt-ins at the point of collection, whether by offering a unique discount or other clearly defined and tangible benefit; start the relationship off right and demonstrate your company’s value from the very beginning.

3. Confirm and then double-confirm your email opt-ins

I know this is old hat, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to ensure the names you’re adding to the list are confirmed opt-ins. Although the result may be a leaner list, those that do make it onto the list are bound to be more engaged, as they were more involved in joining. Decreasing unengaged subscribers early on ensures the long-term viability of our email marketing efforts.

4. Make sure your communications are to the point

Resist the temptation to pack everything under the sun into a single email. More than half of emails are read on a mobile device, so it’s crucial that offers be succinct and to the point. Emails shouldn’t overflow with primary, secondary, and tertiary calls to action. Know your audience, define an offer, and limit your desire to sell them everything!

5. Establish a user-driven cadence

Don’t hide your email preference center or assume a new subscriber will want to hear from you once a day, every day. Offer new subscribers the option of daily, bi-weekly, or end-of-week summaries. The frequency is up to you, but use your best judgment. Ask yourself how often would you want to receive an email—especially if you have yet to make a purchase.

6. Use data

Use every piece of data you have, regardless of what you’re selling. Don’t treat customers like nameless, faceless nobodies. Even if it means asking them a few questions at the point of sign-up to better optimize promotions and offers, then do so. It’s not about having the biggest, baddest list in the land; it’s about creating engagement between your brand and customers.

The only way to engage is to personalize every interaction based on measurable, and measured, behaviors. Take, for instance, promoting via mobile and the capturing of email addresses: A fundamental question is whether to email or to “push” notifications. The answer should be based on context, user preferences, and previously measured behaviors.

7. Give people options

Don’t assume that shoppers who bought items in stores won’t turn around and buy them online as well. Whatever you decide your call to action is, make sure that your coupons and discounts can be redeemed in-store as well as online so that consumers have as many options as possible.

By some estimates, 6% of back-to-school shopping in 2013 happened online. In 2014 it was 28%. Don’t expect that your customers will shop at your property only in the way you direct them. It’s better to let them dictate the terms of engagement.

8. Automate processes to ensure quick cycles

Automate as many of your processes as possible—abandoned shopping carts, new product alerts, frequent shopper discounts… All of those email campaigns can be and should be automated. Automation ensures quick campaign execution and regular communication, and it allows you to focus on more ad hoc testing and experimentation to find the right mix to surprise and delight your audience.

9. Make sure your automated processes are flawlessly working

Email is much more than promotional—from password resets to purchase confirmations and shipping notifications, automated transactional email fills every corner of most major retail sites. Make sure that these automated emails are actually working and arrive in a reasonable amount of time. Password resets shouldn’t take hours to reach a user who can’t login into his or her account; the inevitable result of a slow email is they will look elsewhere.

10. Test and keep testing

Embrace testing and experimentation in everything you do. Email delivery times, days, and promotional windows should all be tested.

If you routinely send your email on Tuesdays, how do you know that Wednesday isn’t a better day? Did you test it or just assume it was the day to send out the 20% promotion because your competition does the same thing?

Differentiate based on empirical results and not assumed best-practices. Don’t be afraid to write your own playbook.