By John Hayes

It might seem a little counter-intuitive for a guy who pays his mortgage and feeds his kids with a wage earned from an email marketing company to appear so negative about a medium which most experts agree is the most cost effective and therefore profitable marketing tool available to marketers today.

But it is a fact — most email marketing campaigns don’t work.

The biggest problem however, is that many email marketers just don’t realise that their campaigns are failing. The reason for this is simple. It is because, when compared to other (more expensive) marketing tactics such as Pay Per Click advertising and Search Engine Optimisation, the efforts of good old email appear to be so darn successful.

So perhaps I should rephrase my opening statement — most email marketing campaigns don’t work as well as they should do.

In my experience the number one reason why email open, click-through and conversion rates are so low for many campaigns is because the marketer hasn’t taken the time to get to know his or her audience. No matter how well-crafted and beautifully designed your emails are, if they don’t resonate with their audience, they won’t perform. Send just two or three emails like this and the chances are you’ll never get an unimpressed recipient to open another email from you again.

Segment and personalize

Successful email marketers understand that for a campaign to be successful it should not just shout at the recipient, it should engage them, as if in conversation. They must first welcome the message, understand that it is relevant to them and then interact. This interaction could be via a social network such as facebook or twitter, a link to a product review or testimonial, a competition or voucher code, and of course via a direct link to buy a product or service.

To do this, marketers must first know their list intimately.

When collecting data it is important to mine as much information as possible. This will of course vary depending on what line of business you are in but a good starting point would be:

1. Email Address

2. First name

3. Last name

4. Sex

5. Date of birth

6. Product category interest

7. Geographic location (i.e. Country)

By collecting the above seven data points you will have already enabled yourself to generate highly personalised campaigns which will ensure your subscribers remain engaged with your emails throughout their lifespan. This increased personalisation (relevancy) will also allow you to increase the volume of emails you send, increasing visits to your website and encouraging more frequent purchases or interactions.

But what if you already have a substantial list of email contacts but very little detail other than the fact they once bought something from you or subscribed to one of your newsletters?

It’s simple — use email to engage with your subscribers and ask them what they are interested in. For example a fashion retailer might ask its subscribers if they are interested in Ladies, Gents or Kids clothing and offer links to the relevant categories enabling them to answer with a simple click. Perhaps you can sweeten the pot by offering a prize draw for those who contribute.

Most email marketing tools will allow you to match an email address to clicks and this makes segmentation very easy.

Once you have segmented your list, only send emails that are relevant to these subscribers. It may also be possible to drill down even further — for example the same fashion retailer might ask people interested in ladies fashion if they like shoes, bags or evening wear.

For those subscribers who don’t tell you their interests, you should continue to deliver less frequent, general email messages but always give them the option to highlight their preferred interest.

The result

A well segmented list should mean you are sending highly targeted campaigns throughout the month, as opposed to a general monthly newsletter to your entire database.

Try not to worry too much about frequency. If an email is both relevant and targeted it will be welcomed by the recipient. If it is not relevant and targeted — do the right thing and don’t send it.

By doing this you should expect to see open rates and click-through rates increase and revenues rise accordingly. Only then will you be able to say with confidence that your email marketing campaigns work.

About The Author

John Hayes is the EMEA Business Development Executive for iContact. iContact recently launched a free edition of their email marketing software in the UK. For more information visit: http://www.icontact.com