Poor old email can get forgotten about—sometimes, it seems like the tried-and-true medium gets lost in a sea of shiny tech, or swallowed up in the waves of social media. But email is far from dead. In fact, a creative approach to email marketing is still one of the most valuable strategies a brand can utilize.
That’s not to say these efforts might not need a little refreshing. One-size-fits-all messaging simply doesn’t have a place in email marketing best practices for 2019. Nor does call-to-action (CTA) stuffing to desperately make a sale.
When you find that perfect balance of promotion and outreach, the ROI potential of email marketing is huge. According to Salesforce, for every $1 you invest in these efforts, you stand to get an average of $38 in return. That’s pretty compelling—and may be why marketers aren’t rolling back on email.
According to a report by the Direct Marketing Association, 91 percent of marketers rate email as a key strategic channel, even more so than social media at 83 percent. Respondents said the primary objectives of email campaigns are sales (62 percent), engagement (50 percent), brand awareness (47 percent), and building loyalty (45 percent).
And therein lies the problem. Email has become increasingly used for sales pushes instead of supporting the all-important factors of engagement, awareness, and loyalty. We’re looking at you, drip-feed campaigns—the ones that send consumers down the nurture path without sparking genuine conversations or relaying important information. On top of that, email is competing for time, attention, and budget with flashier tools like the latest in AI and martech.
How much are you allocating to the email team? Not marketing automation technology, but the email team: the people who put together the content and the accompanying strategy for engaging your audience, who analyze the metrics and push for improvements?
Image attribution: Joe Yates on Unsplash
Email Is More Than a Sales Channel
Email marketing best practices for 2019 are focused on scaling efforts back. Think less broadcast, less pushy. It’s all about telling stories and building empathy, which is probably why social media platforms like Facebook are deprioritizing brands in newsfeeds. Through communities and groups, marketers have a chance to hook audiences while sending their messaging through a dedicated, standalone feed.
As social media algorithms continue to shift in favor of the experience over the transaction, marketers who utilize email as a sales-only channel could risk alienating their audiences.
Email is tailor-made for the human touch: Audiences must opt in to receive your emails, which means they actually want your brand to talk to them. You’re entering their personal space, not conducting business on a public platform. Email is the high-tech version of the humble letter—you can’t get much more personal than that.
So here’s my rallying cry to marketing leaders the world over: Yes, drip campaigns, nurture journeys, and marketing automation are essential to your operations, but that’s not all email can do for you. It’s time for a creative email marketing strategy that brings a human touch to the inbox.
Email Marketing vs. the Newsletter
There’s an important distinction to be made here. Email marketing arguably has two strands: the marketing and the email. The marketing is those aforementioned tactics and campaigns, such as the lead scoring, the deal of the day, and the sales. The email newsletter is an opportunity to speak to your customers and prospects in their space, on their terms. It’s an invitation into their homes for a cup of tea and a casual conversation.
This isn’t just a matter for B2C, either—a full 93 percent of B2B companies are using email as a content distribution channel, and more than three out of four use e-newsletters as part of their content marketing programs.
The e-newsletter is usually a roundup of new articles and opinions, a modular design and often automated to be taken directly from the website—no human involved. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Imagine the relationships you could build by initiating a conversation in an email: It’s a much wider potential net to cast than, say, a white paper, which is better-suited for later on in the sales funnel.
So let’s focus on the newsletter. Offer value, first and foremost. Your newsletter needs to be something people want to read and receive. It’s different from the sales emails and the nurture campaigns—those are there because someone interacted with your brand digitally at some point. The newsletter is a chance to showcase some personality, tell your brand story, and engage your audience beyond article clicks.
Make sure you promote your newsletter, too. Have a giant subscribe button on your website and wherever you post your content. Consider using an opt-in pop-up, since it can work wonders for conversions. Just as with other forms of content, if you build something of value with your newsletter, people will share it, and it will grow organically.
Personalization Does Not Equal Personal
According to the Nielsen Norman Group, 80 percent of people only scan emails. As a society, we’ve spun that into a need to use email to just highlight important messages and use clickbait subject lines to get attention. You know the type of e-newsletter—a big hero image, a couple punchy graphs, and finally a call to action that’s been recycled from last week. That might be imparting information, but is it really engaging your audience?
But what about personalization? Here’s the thing: Sticking someone’s name in the subject line, or using “Dear [FIRST NAME]” doesn’t equal a personal communication. It’s personalization, sure, but it’s not personal. Knowing someone’s name isn’t enough to bridge that gap.
One trick to getting more personal with your creative email marketing strategy is to segment your email list. Mailchimp data shows that segmented email marketing campaigns get 14 percent more email opens and 100 percent more clicks than non-segmented campaigns. A segmented email list gives you the opportunity to speak more personally to a smaller group of customers, helping to steer the tone and the content in a different, more nuanced direction that’s more relevant and more personal. Instead of crafting a message we hope works and praying that someone in those thousands of names clicks on a link, we can tailor the content to interests and needs.
Display Humanity and Grow Your List Organically
Marketing leader Ann Handley knows how successful personalization can be for newsletters. She revamped her email newsletter, Total Annarchy, last year and put the emphasis on the letter. She gets personal, she tells stories about what she’s been up to, and most of all, her writing is engaging. As she says on the sign-up page, she sends out a literal letter about things she’s doing or things she believes are worth sharing, alongside “some high-spirited shenanigans.” That’s what email marketing in 2019 is all about—a chance to show off your tone of voice, as well as your key messages.
In an interview with AWeber Communications, Handley said she believes newsletters are “the one enduring place that we have as marketers . . . the place where conversations are most intimate.”
“I think a lot of marketers are using newsletters as a distribution strategy,” Handley told The Content Standard. “But they shouldn’t be thought of as just a distribution strategy. It’s actually a way to connect one-on-one with people who matter most to you.
“When somebody gives you their email address, you should be treating that as something special because they’re inviting you into their world. It’s not an opportunity to talk more about ourselves. It’s an opportunity to learn more about them.”
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Engagement, not just distribution, is the aim. And understanding your customers better is the driver. Deliver spam and you’ll see your audience unsubscribe quicker than you can hit the send button, and clickbait will only earn you a bad reputation. Audiences today are more sophisticated than ever, and they’re not afraid to disengage from bad content.
Image attribution: Austin Distel on Unsplash
Develop a Creative Email Strategy Around Goals and Consistency of Quality
According to Salesforce, one of the best practices in email marketing for 2019—and one that should really be followed in all of your marketing efforts—is having a clear-cut plan in mind. Start off by:
- Setting your strategy, objectives, and customer-focused goals
- Determining your KPIs
- Reviewing your analytics
- Turning data into action
Getting the balance right in email efforts can be tricky, but by doing those things from the get-go, you’re more likely to have a laser-focused strategy that’ll give you the wiggle room to groom language as you go. In general, you’ll want to focus on a more conversational and personalized delivery approach, which starts with:
- Knowing your audience
- Being relevant
- Championing quality over quantity
- Being consistent
- Asking them what they want to hear
That last point is key. The email newsletter is a conversation: Think of it like a chatbot in slo-mo, but with less bot. Encourage your audience to reply and tell you what they think and what they want more of. Enter the conversation to learn about them and to make the time you spend together more valuable.
We all get so many emails today that subscriber fatigue is a reality. Additionally, people are more aware of the value of their personal data and, in turn, more wary of who they share it with.
Ditch the boring modules, the sales-led messaging, and just have a chat. Build a community through email, and you’ll do more for engagement and advocacy than a whole year’s worth of daily sales emails. Email is the only place where people, not algorithms, are in charge. In this age of flux in marketing, brands would be wise to seize this sure-thing opportunity to drive real connections and relationships with consumers.
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