20/04/11

By Rob Smith — Digital Director of Blueleaf

Email marketing has long been a favourite tool amongst marketers for its cost effective nature and also it's hard to beat return on investment. How is it possible therefore that there is so much poor email marketing that passes to my deleted items each day?

It's because people think the tool is the answer. The mere fact that they are sending emails means they are doing it and succeeding. Nothing could be further from the truth. In a world where we are bombarded day after day with messaging from all corners - email, phone, SMS, Facebook and much more, your solitary email has to fight really hard to have a chance of standing out from the ever growing crowd.

The three words you need to remember to help you stand out are: segmentation, personalisation and testing. Any decent email marketing allows you to deliver on all three.

Segmentation

This is the ‘who’ of email marketing. Who are you sending your message to? Don't say 'all of my database' - it's the wrong answer. Just think for a second. Out of your few thousand people, are they really all meant to get the same message? Do they have the same characteristics, buying patterns or personalities? No they do not, far from it.

As a result we need to segment our list into smaller chunks of like-minded individuals. If you have a better-targeted (although smaller) list of people, then you can tailor your message to that audience so much better. If the message is more tailored, people are more receptive to it.

For instance, I am, as you would expect, pretty tech savvy and (probably) a bit geeky. Our creative director (as you would expect) is much less geeky than me, and a bit more on the fluffy side of things. If you’re a recruitment agency that recruits for all roles in agency life, you wouldn’t send the same message to both of us (if you have any sense) because what you’re selling should be completely different. To me it might be ‘the most talented techies that are expert problem solvers using the latest web development methods’, but to Chris it should be ‘discover the goldmine of ideas in our talented designers and creatives who can bring something different to your style.’

You might be sitting there saying this is obvious, and it is. However, there are a stack of companies that don’t do this at all. At least 3 times a week some ‘throw it at the wall and see if it will stick’ recruitment agency sends me a load of IT contractors who set up hardware, provide IT support and the like. We will never need these people, so why do they waste their time? It’s because they are not even segmenting on the types of companies they are sending to. If anything, I now have a very dark view of these companies because they treat me and their communications with me with such disrespect.

Here’s some possibilities on what you could segment on:
Type of company
Type of person / job title (business owners are different to employed managers for instance)
What they last bought from you
Age
Gender

There’s a lot more, however the more specific your segmentation is to your business — the better your messaging will get.

Here’s the bottom line on segmentation — it’s more work. A lot more work to do it consistently and properly. But it’s worth it when you realise how much more conversion you’ll achieve because your response rate is so much higher.


Personalisation

Personalisation has been around for many years now. And for many years it has been abused, implemented terribly and not taken far enough.

Ever received an email saying ‘Dear valued customer’? Seriously, if you want me to feel valued, then remembering my name would be a better start that treating me as one of all the others!

Imagine you’re in a crowded room and there’s lots of conversations going on of which you’re engaged in one. What happens when your name crops up in a different conversation? You hear it. We love our own names and being addressed using them. Make sure you use this in email marketing. A good subject title uses the recipient’s name. For instance ‘Rob, are you missing out on the latest in social marketing?’ will get my attention. Or ‘Rob, you’re losing money right now’. Simple, address the recipient with their name and a question or evocative statement.

Great personalisation goes behind that first name drop though. It’s about constant tailoring of your already well targeted message. Use any information you have about the recipient that can add to the message you’re sending.

‘Rob, I’m writing to you today because I know, even though you have been with us for 5 years, there’s more that we can help you with right now’ — doesn’t that sound great? Doesn’t it feel personal? It’s not difficult to know when someone became your customer and insert that into your email marketing.

‘Rob, when you last brought your S2000 in for a service, we forgot to mention something that could help you’. Surely as a car dealership you know what make of car I drive? Of course you do — so use it!

Hopefully just through a few examples you can see how much better personalisation could be — stop just using a name and a generic message, use the little grey cells we were all born with to construct a message that feels highly personal.

Of course personalisation, like segmentation, is more work, but it makes for better, more successful email marketing. Here’s the crux of both of these areas — not many people are being very effective with these methods yet, even though they are so simple. Bring your company ahead of the rest with just a little bit more work.

Testing

Finally, the most obvious of all. Test your messaging. Which messages get a better open rate and/or click through rate? Which ones have landed you with more sales? Which result in a lower unsubscribe rate? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you need to start looking, pronto. Every single email marketing campaign you send should bring you closer to achieving a better return.

Split test an email. Assign one subject line to one, and a different subject line to the other. Send the same content in both. Which subject line pulled a better response? Was it: ‘Rob, you could save 20% on your accounting bills’ or was it ‘Rob, you could be wasting thousands of £s this year’. You can then learn what motivates your recipients. If it’s the second one, then more of your recipients are pain motivated as opposed to the first line, which is pleasure orientated.

Each time you send a campaign, decide on something you will test. The subject line, the email content, the website landing page, the image in the email, anything. Some tests will show a big difference, some will show no difference at all. The point is, you will always learn something you can use in a future campaign. Use that knowledge to write better messages.

Conclusion

In the end, successful email marketing is the art of recognising that good marketing of any kind comes down to well targeted, engaging messages. The only way to target properly is to segment. A great way to engage is to personalise, and the only way you know whether you can get more targeted and more engaging is by testing.

Stop thinking of email as the silver bullet and start thinking of it as what it is: a cheap delivery mechanism. The content is the key to any delivery mechanism producing response.