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From the Desk of Dino Baskovic

Email marketing is dead? Not so fast

A lot of people tell me that email marketing has gone the way of the dodo bird. When I ask, “How so?” I often hear anecdotal evidence (“Well, this one analyst said…”), personal opinion (“Nobody reads their email anymore!”) or exaggeration (“It’s all spam!”). None of those responses is a real answer. So when I press, “What does the data tell you?” and the response is, “Well, all these articles I’ve read…” I always interrupt: “No, what does your data tell you?”

Crickets.

If you can proudly claim, “Hey, pal, people love my email campaigns!” and you have the numbers to back it, then groovy. As for the rest of you, fear not. While there are perfectly valid reasons to pare back or wind down your email marketing efforts, I advise you spend the time to look at what you’re already doing with email, tighten your process and find the real value. It all comes back to audience, message and delivery, and it starts with the data.

Metrics

Say you use one of the more popular email marketing solutions such as Constant Contact, MailChip or Campaign Monitor, or an enterprise-level CRM suite. Honestly now, when is the last time you sat down and pored over the numbers? Do you know your open rates, let alone understand what is acceptable for your industry? What about soft versus hard bounces, assuming you know the difference? Even if you comprehend the jargon and the math, are you regularly reviewing reports and fine-tuning your email campaigns based on these statistics?

Whether you are marketing to a mass consumer audience or publishing a grassroots e-newsletter, you must dive deep into your dashboards and evaluate the effectiveness of your campaigns, with each push and compared against each other over time.

Audience

I hinted above that your open rates can vary depending on whether you are a restaurant group, municipal agency or major manufacturer. Even with a pre-determined “distro” (e.g., frequent diners, city residents, company employees), you should re-examine the demographics and psychographics of your readership at least one a year, if not quarterly. Remember that your recipients are, in fact, people and they can change in number and need.

Combined with regular metrics, you can really begin to make smarter decisions with how you reach your audience. One way is to break down large distribution lists into smaller, defined sets and send tailored emails to them. Not only will this make marketing message more relevant to recipients, it will likely increase click rates and, better yet, return engagement.

Delivery

For some time, people have been able to choose between text-only and graphic (HTML, RTF) versions when they subscribe to your email marketing. If you haven’t already done so, you should consider a mobile-friendly version, as well. Some email campaign software lets you do this, but if the option is not available to you, then consider creating an alternate template that looks good on a smartphone and other small screens as it would with a desktop or laptop.

If you hire out your email marketing, ask your agency if they provide recipients with a way to view a web version of your emails. Not only does this serve as a back up in case things don’t load properly in the email, but archiving your email marketing on the web can have positive impact on your SEO efforts. Furthermore, you can send a “light” version of your emails with teaser text and thumbnail graphics that load faster and offer quicker reads, then link back to the full version of your e-newsletter, etc. online, even directly to your website or social media channels.

How often you send, as well as to how many, counts. Are you sending weekly when monthly makes more sense, or vice versa? And do you have 5,000 recipients when an average of five only ever engage? Again, this gets back to metrics, but you can really begin to make some strategic decisions here, too. If you believe or are unsure whether mindshare has shifted to social media, then you may need to recalibrate your campaign tactics. Whether you reach your audience in their inbox, social network or both, keep your reach measured and memorable.

Content

Nobody wants to read boring, meaningless email. I believe the “keep it simple” principle applies to email marketing the most. You almost want to think of emails as tweets, just with considerably more characters. Take what people have been telling you about their overloaded inboxes to heart: You want “quick bursts” of extremely valuable (to them, not you) information that is so well-written, that people look forward to reading them and sharing with friends and colleagues. If you don’t have a clear call to action, then make it clear. Nobody is going to click an embedded link because you wrote, “Click here.” Compelling copy blended with a nimble, appealing design wins the day, and this goes for more than email marketing. Your value proposition and campaign messages should not only be clear and concise, it should be visibly integrated throughout your broader marketing efforts.

All this, of course, takes time and talent. People tend to get a bit bogged down in debates over its perceived usefulness and longevity, but email remains a catalyst to commerce and communication. How useful and long email marketing can be effective hinges on the value of the message, not the medium. By comprehending your campaign metrics, respecting your audience’s email habits, mastering delivery methods and creating valuable content, people will invite you into their inbox for years to come.