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Email has found itself in a precarious situation. While it’s still everywhere — and not going anywhere — its users have no shortage of legitimate complaints. Chief among them: email marketing — which fills inboxes all day, every day — is basically synonymous with spam.
It’s not targeted and not helpful. It’s insincere, and attempts at personalization are trite. It’s difficult to read on mobile devices. Because of its comparatively long career in the marketing world, it gets dumped into the “boring, but necessary, I guess” category.
While this may sound like bad news to email marketers, there’s no better time to leverage the power of email marketing. It’s never been easier to set yourself apart.
Few expectations, many opportunities
Consumers expect the worst from email, but you can take advantage of those low expectations. Embrace the unique ability of email to deliver a tailored, personal, and relevant experience directly to your consumers.
While many consider email to be easy and cheap, it’s important to avoid chucking all of your content into an email marketing tool and “blasting” your customer list in attempt to reach the coveted-but-unrealistic magic number of 4300% ROI. Treating it as a “guaranteed” form of marketing is a mistake you’ll regret.
But smart marketers see the following advantages in email:
- Authenticity: Every email sent to a customer that is valuable, useful, and relevant is an opportunity to change his or her opinion of email in general and of your brand.
- Direct communication: Email’s primary purpose is to serve as a communication medium, not necessarily a marketing medium. It was meant for personal, direct messages. As a marketer, you may press send and deliver thousands of emails, but your recipient receives just one. Think about your recipient as being one person — not just a mass of people or a customer segment — and consumers will continue to prefer email to other touchpoints.
- Measurable performance: Email has a relatively short tail. After sending one, it’s generally been read, ignored, or deleted within a few days — a week at most. But it’s so incredibly measurable, even beyond opens and clicks, that you can measure other impacts email has on customer behavior, from website traffic to conversions, all in real time.
Making the most of a tried-and-true method
Understanding the usefulness of email is one thing, but crafting campaigns and capitalizing on the technology is another. If you’re looking to maximize your marketing efforts, internalize the following tips.
Create a list — with permission
You have the opportunity to set expectations regarding frequency, preferences, content, and other factors in your email program. Think about ways you can truly be relevant to your recipient, and consider how you can communicate your message so that it not only benefits your company, but it also benefits the person receiving it.
Whatever you do, don’t buy lists. Use permission opt-in marketing practices. Permission cannot be bought, so don’t buy or rent email addresses. Build an organic list.
Focus on a strong subject line
Consumers expect the worst from email, but you can take advantage of those low expectations
While it seems counterintuitive, spend most of your time on the smallest piece of the text: the subject line. The inbox is the gate the subscriber must pass through to read and engage with the rest of the email — and it’s an opportunity for marketers to make a big difference in open and click rates.
Optimize preview text
Optimizing preview text is one of the most effective ways to increase open rates. Every inbox shows the sender’s name and subject line for an email, but many also display some preview text.
Preview text can do more than just capture your subscribers’ attention and get them to open your emails; it can also convince them to scroll and click specific articles mentioned in the text. Preview text is unique to email and can sometimes be up to twice as long as subject lines.
Don’t stop optimization in the inbox
After your customer has decided an email is good enough to warrant an open, blocked images or a wall of unreadable text may greet her. Blocked images affect 43 percent of emails, so testing multiple platforms is essential. Additionally, emails on high-resolution “retina” devices may show fuzzy images if they’re not saved in high resolution.
Include a good balance of text and images, compelling copy to grab your reader’s attention, and a great call to action to get readers to click.
Include a text version
Emails are more technically complex than most other types of marketing, so you’ll have to get your hands dirty to make sure it’s readable across all devices. Send your emails in multi-part MIME, which bundles the HTML (the pretty part with graphics and links) version of your email with a plain text version for screen readers, Apple Watch users, and people who prefer simpler versions to read.
Email marketing has stood the test of tech time as a reliable and trusted method of communication. While it has been abused by some marketers, opportunities in the email space are still at marketers’ fingertips. If you’re willing to put in the time and energy, email marketing can be the most useful tool in your entire marketing tool kit.
Feature image: Ron Reiring via Flickr