A lack of resources and expertise is frequently cited as a barrier for doing more with email, and this holds particularly true for smaller businesses, says Guy Hanson, Here are four top tips to ensure their email marketing campaigns are informed, deliverable and engaging.

Acquiring new customers is a key challenge for any small business owner, and email marketing is often the most direct way to reach consumers out of all channels in the marketing mix. Indeed, Gartner predicts that an estimated $500 billion in digital commerce revenue will be attributable to email marketing by the end of 2018.

A lack of resources and expertise is frequently cited as a barrier for doing more with email, and this holds particularly true for smaller businesses. A recent DMA Marketing Tracker report cited 70 percent of all respondents admitting that their level of email competence was no higher than Intermediate (including Basic and None). This figure will likely be even higher for small businesses. Often competing against larger companies, it is integral that they have the most effective email marketing strategy in place that enables them to achieve a lot with a little.

Here are four top tips to ensure their email marketing campaigns are informed, deliverable and engaging:

  • Be aware of your reputationOne of the biggest blocks to the inbox is a mailer’s reputation. It’s therefore important that small businesses are aware of how their emails are being perceived. One way of doing this is to look up their Sender Score, often regarded as an IP address credit score. Using similar data and formulas that top mailbox providers analyse when evaluating the trustworthiness of incoming mail, the score can give a good indication of email deliverability. Those with a higher score will have greater email deliverability, while those with poor reputations will find themselves—and their messages—shut out.
Understanding important reputation drivers like reducing complaints, sending to clean lists, implementing authentication, and maintaining engaged subscribers will also improve deliverability.
  • Use triggered emails
One of a small business’s biggest challenge is a lack of resources, so it’s important that they maximise opportunities with the use of triggered emails. These may take initial effort to set up, but they can then run by themselves. For example, there are birthday emails, anniversary emails, re-activation emails and abandonment emails, that can increase or rebuild engagement with the recipient. Using triggered emails not only reduces the challenge of constantly having to find new content, but they are highly responsive, generating average open/click rates that are 2-3 times higher than the average, and up to 10 times greater attributable revenue.
  • Leverage dynamic content
Individuals are plagued by marketing emails on a daily basis, so it’s important that businesses find clever ways to pique readers’ interest as soon as their email hits the inbox.

Larger businesses and enterprises can apply email segmentation, which involves splitting email lists into different groups based on similar characteristics to create more targeted campaigns, however smaller businesses often don’t have time to do this. Instead, they should use dynamic content, where images are automatically varied as a function of flags in the data – gender, for example. This achieves many of the benefits of segmentation without doing the hard work.

  • Test only when necessary
Every email program owner is exhorted to test, test, test – but that’s easier said than done if you are short of time. Many email platforms can now perform real-time tests that are integrated into the main broadcast. Two variants are set up, with a pre-defined metric defined as proof of success – for example, the email that has the highest open rate. Users can define the cut-off – the winner after 10 percent of the list has been sent, for example – and that variant is then selected for the remainder of the campaign.

There are also other ways businesses can replace the need for testing. There are tools for subject line otpimisation, sentiment optimisation, and the gathering of competitor intelligence that mean businesses can harness the knowledge and best practices of others, rather than figure it out for themselves all the time.

To maximise the potential of their email marketing programmes, small organisations must continually question and learn from experience and observation. This involves regularly checking that their emails are being delivered, personalising their communications at every opportunity, leveraging automatic, dynamic content when available, and taking advantage of tools that remove the time and budget constraints associated with email testing. Small businesses are faced with small head count, frugal finances, and a lack of time on their hands, however it’s essential that they take steps to ensure that any resources spent on email marketing campaigns are doing the job it’s supposed to do – retaining and attracting new business.

Guy Hanson, email council chair at the DMA and senior director professional services at Return Path

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