Effective email campaigns must be part of your brand strategy

You’ve probably never heard of unsolicited bulk Email (UBE) or for that matter, unsolicited commercial email (UCE) but you have of course heard of junk mail or spam, the more common moniker.

The earliest known spam was a message sent in 1978 and the earliest known commercial spam message was sent in March 1994. This latter event coincided with the opening up of the Internet and the amount of spam has grown exponentially since then and the forecast is that seven trillion spam messages will be sent in 2011, making up about 85% of all emails sent worldwide.

This constant carpet bombing of consumer inboxes with irrelevant messages has had a detrimental effect on email marketing and now, with the advent of social media, our belief and trust in email is wavering. Nevertheless, email is still an effective tool in the communications of any brand strategy. It can be used as a marketing, sales, retention and CRM tool and response rates to personalized emails have been reported to be as high as 62% although 2-4% is the average. Still impressive.

But it is critical for marketers to ensure that their emails are relevant to the target market, well written and succinct enough to gain the attention of the reader in the roughly three seconds they have before the reader hits the delete/spam button.

It is also critically important to ensure before the campaign begins, that you know what the purpose of the campaign is and, most important of all, that your database is clean and up to date.

I am constantly stunned at the amount of shockingly written, poorly thought out and irrelevant emails that land in my inbox. I’m equally stunned at the amount of times I receive the same email from the same organization.

For instance this email, from an organization that recently spent RM15 million (US$5 million) on a ‘rebranding’ exercise, is exclusively for Mastercard owners yet I don’t have a mastercard!

Furthermore, the email is addressed to ‘undisclosed recipients’ and contains no cover message or other form of personalization. Finally, to the detriment of the brand, it has been sent to me an incredible six times in less than a month!

Takaful Malaysia which refurbished its 13 platinum branches and outdoor signs and billboards during the rebranding exercise should have also looked at its communications processes and systems, including qualification, lead and list management and other elements. As its stated aim is to ‘make the company more appealing to the younger age group, it should also review its creatives! But I digress!

What should Takaful Malaysia and other companies, who are thinking of carrying out email campaigns do to ensure those email campaigns create leads and prospects rather than brand antagonists?

Here are 10 recommendations that will help them and others get the most out of email:

1. Target your message
It’s critical that the subject line grabs the attention of the reader and encourages them to open the email. The best way to do this is to personalize the subject line. The Takaful Malaysia subject was the name of the product. Few people buy products. A better option would have been “Can I help you protect your family?”

2. Segment your target markets
Keep list sizes to a manageable amount. Don’t send gazillions of messages and then be unable to respond to them in an acceptable time frame (24 hours). Segmenting your targets will stop this happening.

3. Target messages
Keeping list sizes to a manageable level will allow you to develop multiple messages for multiple segments, critical to successful tracking. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

4. Use a Salutation
The whole point of the exercise is to get a response, not to make a sale. If you met someone at a convention, you wouldn’t start pitching to them the moment you are introduced and it is the same with an email campaign. Be contemporary, slightly informal and inviting. Start prospecting emails with a greeting and, depending on the product or service, the contact’s first or last name, such as “Dear Mr Smith” or “Hi Fatima.”

If you don’t have the first and last name, don’t send the email until you have the correct information. The majority of emails without a name will go straight to the trash folder.

5. Keep Your Email Short
Lay the content out so that it is easy to read and keep the first email short to ensure it is skimmed. You want the prospect to read the entire email but they won’t stick around for long so make it a fast, easy read.

Keep the email to three paragraphs of no more than three or four sentences. You can also close with a one-line sentence.

6. Track each segment within each campaign
One of the great advantages of email campaigns over traditional advertising campaigns is the ability to calculate an exact CROI (campaign return on investment).

But don’t limit your calculations to response and conversion rates. Depending on the goals of the campaign, track demographics, territories, consumer data, page visits, click-throughs, time spent on pages, and other elements. Use this information to influence future email campaigns with more efficient and effective content.

7. Have a hook
Business owners and C level executives are busier than ever. They don’t have time to waste so have an instant hook. We are in difficult economic times and businesses are looking to save money, especially small businesses so an obvious hook would be related to saving money for a business. Ensure content resonates with target markets.

8. Content is still king
Mention specific issues relevant to target segments. There is so much information available that it is easy to identify issues affecting segments. It may take a little more preparation but it will be worth it in the long term.

9. Don’t go overboard on design
I’ve received emails with video clips, multiple graphics, embedded links, audio and so on. These are all distracting and time consuming when opened on a mobile device at an airport. Keep it simple.

10. Email marketing should form part of a brand strategy
Many firms conduct email campaigns on a whim, without any real thought or planning. This is a bit like driving a Ferrari in first gear, the car does everything you want it to but is it getting the best out of the car?

Incorporate your email campaigns into your brand strategy. Identify your quiet periods and implement an email campaign to boost sales in that period.

Email is still the most effective way to reach a lot of new prospects quickly and inexpensively. Email campaigns also have impressive response rates.

But email campaigns, carried out in an amateur way, can have a negative effect on your brand. However, if you follow these email best practices, prospects will take notice and respond, increasing your sales and building your brand.

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