Email Marketing: Updating an Old Standard for Today’s Consumer

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The Almighty Subject Line

Which one element of your email is likely to make or break your campaign? Think about your own email inbox and how you engage with-and decide to open-the messages you receive each day. The thing that likely influences your actions is the subject line, and there is more than just anecdotal evidence to support this.

"We ran a survey a few years ago that found 47% of consumers make a decision to open an email based on the subject line," says Harriott. "[Subject lines are] the window into your entire campaign, so you have to make sure you dress them up."

Subject lines need to be short, Harriott says. He recommends limiting them to 30 characters or fewer. In addition, he states, "Framing them in the form of a question also works well, as it generates curiosity." Time-specific offers can benefit from clearly conveying urgency in the subject line, he says. A good starting point when crafting a compelling subject line is to think about the purpose of your email, advises Harriott. "Keep the overall campaign goal in the back of your mind when crafting the subject line. Figure out what you want the reader to do when they open your email, and craft the subject line from there."

Privacy, Security, and Consumer Concerns

No discussion of email marketing would be complete without consideration of the ever-present consumer concerns of security and privacy. "Email marketers should take a hard look at their data quality and opt-in procedures," says Susina. "ISPs and companies receiving email are becoming more aggressive at penalizing such actions as sending email to a department employee," he says. Laws such as Canada's anti-spam legislation (CASL) continue to make it critical for marketers to ensure they're only connecting with those who have opted to receive promotional communications. "If your database hasn't been purged of dead email addresses, you could be at risk of spam or abuse complaints," warns Susina.

Additional Email Marketing Best Practices

What other strategies can today's online marketers employ to boost the effectiveness of their email marketing efforts? Based on its analysis of more than 2.1 million emails, Constant Contact offers the following tips:

  • Content needs to be concise. The best results (based on click-through rates) came from emails with three images or fewer and about 20 lines of text.
  • Make sure your call to action is clearly displayed above the fold or where readers don't have to scroll down to find it.
  • Consider adding clickable buttons (such as, Buy Now!) that are more eye-catching and easier to press on a touchscreen device.
  • Because images are inherently engaging, make sure yours are clickable.
  • Test and tweak different layouts to see what works best for you-no two subscriber bases are the same.

And, adds McAtee, while adoption rates have been slow (primarily due to cost and issues with messages rendering properly on all email devices), marketers should stay on top of options available through adaptive content-content rendered differently based on device and location, etc. This, in addition to the use of video within emails, is becoming more widely used, McAtee says. "Most of our clients are seeing a positive ROI when using these tactics at the appropriate times."

Email, says Treiber, "is a hugely underutilized marketing tactic" that can be leveraged to engage consumers in many ways. But he adds, "The full potential of this format can't be realized by blasting a promotion to an entire list and only personalizing the message with the subscriber's first name. Fortunately, we're beginning to see more marketers who are exploring ways to use email marketing with campaigns and programs that better utilize data to engage with customers."

For marketers, technology is a significant driver of innovation and opportunity. Despite the influence of technology, savvy marketers understand that effective marketing is, as always, predicated on a solid understanding of the target audience and their needs. Meeting those needs effectively-and consistently-is what drives results, whether through email or any myriad other opportunities that exist to make meaningful connections in the 21st century.   

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