Jumpstarting Your E-Mail Program

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The e-mail box is where business gets done and where over 64 percent of people start their days online, reports Exact Target in their SUBSCRIBERS, FANS & FOLLOWERS research, released in June, 2010. E-mail is a fast, cheap, and effective way to reach audiences.

Although usage may differ, email marketing benefits companies of every size and in every industry, says Stephanie Miller, vice president for Global Market Development, Return Path. “With the advancements in technology and services, any company can start an email program by growing an active, permission-based file and using professional templates.” However, matching the type of communication to the recipients preferred channel is not quite as simple. In some industries, email is the perfect channel for all communication. Others require mixing email with mobile marketing to achieve the best results. Yet others use e-mail to support telemarketing or social media efforts. This mixed use of e-mail is exactly what makes it such an effective marketing tool. By offering promotional, triggered, transactional and documentary communications, e-mail provides the flexibility of a Swiss army knife, explains Jeffrey K. Rohrs, vice president of marketing, Exact Target.

Thinking Outside the Inbox
Going forward, dynamic, data-driven messaging that delivers personalized content will replace the simple, one-size-fits-all newsletters. “In my experience, simple segmentation can boost campaign results by at least 150 percent,” says Miller. According to the Email Marketing Industry Census 2010, marketers are planning to adopt strategies such as advanced segmentation, personalization and behavioral targeting. Thoughtful, subscriber-centric content and a contact strategy lead to higher sales and revenue, greater short-term and long-term response and value, stronger subscriber satisfaction and improved word-of-mouth.

In addition, understanding and exploiting the business’ physical environment can result in organic list growth and a better understanding of the target audience. The pretzel chain Auntie Anne’s, notes Rohr, encourages e-mail subscription throughout the entire dining experience: a placard at the register, a call-to-action on a napkin, even a call to action on a food wrapper. Since most consumers have text messaging capabilities, the point of purchase [POP] invites people to join the Pretzel Perks program by submitting their email address via text. It’s a simple and successful method to gain e-mail subscribers through a supplementary channel. While not all businesses have Auntie Anne’s footprint, all businesses do have one — whether a store, website or sales force – to amplify the opt-in and generate organic list growth. Businesses that think strategically (and logically) about their customer base and how they are most likely to interact with e-mail messaging will gain a significant advantage over those simply blasting stock messages to the same audience. Furthermore, the e-mail opt-in process must make sense and be accessible to those consumers.

Choosing an Appropriate Provider
Selecting an e-mail service provider [ESP] from hundreds of available options can be a daunting task, as most providers tout excellent delivery and stellar services while charging varying rates for presumably comparable services. “Since the vendors make their money on either volume or services, be very clear about the terms of service offered,” advises Miller. Carefully review your requirements against the provider’s services. For example:

Does the provider offer an image library? If so, what are the file size limitations?
Is usage of a public photo sharing service optional for storing images or is a private library hosted by the provider necessary?
Does the ESP provide web form capabilities? Do your forms need to integrate with Paypal or another shopping cart service?
Do the drop-down fields offer unlimited choices or is there a cap?
If web-email integration is a requirement, does the provider offer full API support?

The answers to many of these questions will be important for companies using large image files, collection tools or registration forms that need to integrate with the website.

Program objectives and understanding how the ESP’s solutions map to your business needs should drive the selection process, states Rohr. For example: Will your program evolve beyond the basic email newsletter need to include triggered and transactional messaging? Are you sending on behalf of, or empowering a distributed sales force? To personalize and create more meaningful content, seek providers that integrate with analytics, CRM, purchasing systems and other data sources to help build relationships as well as develop models to predict outcomes. Ask about the provider’s product roadmap and how social media fits into their vision. Rohr also suggests that larger enterprises compare vendors using Forrester’s Wave report. Finally, cautions Miller, be sure to full vet any partners by checking sender reputation at www.senderscore.org or www.dnsstuff.com and confirm the ESP is absent from any blacklists.

Experts agree that sender reputation is a reflection of how the MSPs [Mail Service Providers] such as Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail view you which, in turn, is a reflection of how your subscribers respond to your messaging. Fail to make it relevant, and your sender reputation (and deliverability) will suffer accordingly. Understand the factors that go into being blocked: complaints, infrastructure, list hygiene and content. Non-segmented and incessant mailings result in churn, subscriber fatigue, missed results, higher complaints, lower inbox placement and slumped lifetime value [LTV]. Be sure you know your actual inbox placement rate. If your deliverability or sender reputation suffers, consult the ESP’s deliverability experts.

When starting an email program, staffing typically poses a challenge as email is usually an afterthought. Therefore, the role of “Email Marketing Manager” is relegated as a stepping stone rather than a destination career. Since the medium is about relationships, the role requires a passionate, knowledgeable professional who sends helpful, interesting, and relevant information that meets the receivers’ needs. If you find that person, hold on to them!  They can turn your bland, robotic email program into something that engages customers while boosting ROI, concludes Rohr.

Deliverability Killers:

  1. Irrelevant, untargeted or non-segmented messages.
  2. Not getting permission or having unclear permission from a recipient.
  3. Adding data from a bad source or partner
  4. Hiding the unsubscribe button.
  5. Frequency (too high or too low).
  6. High bounce rate / unknown user rate (invalid e-mail addresses).
  7. Continuing to e-mail non-responsive records (e.g.: no opens or clicks in 180 days).
  8. Cross-promoting other brands to the same list of recipients.
  9. Sending third-party ads to a newsletter list without expressed permission.
  10. A flagged IP address with a bad sender reputation.
  11. Technical issues, such as server down time, overinflated deliverability rates or a lack of bandwidth to return bounced messages.*

Avoid email append at all costs, continues Rohr. It’s a one-way ticket to a deliverability nightmare where a few spam complaints will tank deliverability. Miller also includes other practices to avoid:

  1. Never buy a list.
  2. Always follow the law(s), as e-mail is a regulated marketing practice.
  3. Never add people to your file without their express permission; including people who purchase or download a whitepaper.
    Get consent and be fully transparent.
  4. Always honor unsubscribe requests immediately.
  5. Never send uninteresting or irrelevant messages. If you have no new material, either skip the message entirely, re-run content that was a “hit” previously or get a guest columnist.
  6. Never use all images. To get past the spam filters, combine text with images and make sure the call to action is clear when images are turned off.
  7. Before calling the postmaster at a MSP to remove a block, fix the problem first.

Finally, testing is mandatory. First, test to ensure the email renders properly across various platforms, browsers, MSPs and mobile devices and to confirm the message gets through the spam filters. To accommodate for environments which default to “images off,” e-mails must also employ descriptive text and alt-tags. Then, test performance with every send to improve subject lines, copy and design elements.

Download the PDF: Jumpstarting Your E-Mail Program

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