When it comes to email marketing, the answer is almost always, “It depends.”
You ask: What’s a good open rate? What should I write on my opt-in form? What works best as an incentive?
And you hear: that depends on your industry, depends on your audience, depends on the role that your company plays.
But there are a few things that don’t “depend.” They’re core ideas that apply to every situation. Without them, you’re likely to flounder. With them, you pretty much can’t help but flourish.
Keep reading to discover them. Then if you want to explore them further, check out the article that inspired this post by Loren McDonald.
Know Your Goals
What, specifically, are you trying to accomplish with your business? And how, specifically, will your emails get you there?
If you can’t answer these questions clearly, it’s time to take five, grab a pen and do a little brainstorming.
And if you need a place to start planning your strategy, use this article as a map.
Measure By the Right Metrics
If you’re trying to develop a cult following in a radical, narrow niche, you wouldn’t focus on keeping your unsubscribe rate low. If you’re trying to spread a message and build a like-minded community, your sales rate is perhaps not as important as how many unique opens your messages get.
So take a look at all the ways you can measure what your emails are accomplishing. Which show your progress clearly and directly?
Yes, we write about this one a lot. Because if your subscribers don’t have a relationship with you, they won’t care what you have to say.
So design your emails to spark their interest. Then grow their trust.
And watch this video interview of lifestyle revolutionist Chris Guillebeau to find out how to use your emails to build a community.
Streamline Your Efforts
To get ahead, you’ll need to cast any clunky or broken processes overboard. So search them out. Can you replace them with methods that produce the same results faster? Better? At less cost?
But the real secret here is to never declare this task finished. Your target is “being better.” And every time you hit it, you’ll find a new distance to aim for.
Charting Your Course
Thinking about your campaign on this abstract level will shift your perspective. Instead of mindlessly traveling along your current course, you’ll know just where you are and where to step next.
How often do you take time as a marketer to think about the big picture? What questions do you ask yourself?
Read "4 Keys to Email Marketing Success"
A few months ago, we stumbled onto Nine Inch Nails’ creative campaign. We wanted to see what other bands were doing, so we signed up for their emails.
Well, they’re not doing much. Most of their messages are infrequent and uninspired. Worse, many bands haven’t sent anything at all.
Why is this? I’ve got some theories of my own. And then I want to hear what you have to say.
Pick Your Poison
Creating music takes passion. It takes energy. It takes creativity and focus. So it leaves independent musicians too drained to muster up much effort for promotions. Their emails are usually slapdash affairs:
Emails from bands with record labels are almost worse. They’re slick and impersonal, straight from the marketing department.
They’re “from” the musicians, but there’s no actual content written (or sometimes, even seen) by the artists. And each one is full of requests and demands, without giving anything back.
And the messages look something like this:
Both situations are understandable, but unfortunate. By reserving email for new albums and tours, bands miss out on its greatest marketing potential: building relationships with fans.
The solution, as far as I can tell?
Don’t Write the Message; Be the Message
Musicians aren’t PR reps (unless, by day, they actually are). They’re artists. They need to be who they are and do what they do.
So that’s what their emails should share – who they are, what they do. Things like:
- Raw material that their readers can later recognize in finished songs.
- Clues about upcoming projects, a la Panic at the Disco.
- A Q&A section that answers fan questions (the work of talking to one subscriber with the impact of speaking to them all).
- Potential titles for that new track, asking readers to vote for their favorite.
- Fun group photos, or even better, photos fans send in after shows (like The Glitch Mob asks their fans to do.
The struggles and triumphs of everyday music creation, shared through email. Not only does this approach make message writing easier, it shows the band is still going strong while they work on their next project.
And most importantly, it establishes a deep level of community with fans.
Do You Know Any Bands That Do This?
There are a few bands out there with more involved email campaigns. The Static Jacks‘ New Years greeting was handwritten in marker on notepaper, and for Christmas, Coldplay sent a video of a recent performance, plus a chance to win free T-shirts.
Perhaps you know of some others? If you do, tell us who they are and what they do.
And cast your vote: would bands do better to email about more than new albums or shows? Or is that all their fans really want to hear about?
Read "The State of Band Email Marketing"
What if you could get a consulting session with six of the top marketers of all time? Right now, for free?
We’d be excited, too! Unfortunately, they’re pretty busy people, and some of them are no longer with us. And it’s hard to get a medium on such short notice.
So we’re here to offer the next best thing: their words of wisdom, explained in terms of your email marketing.
These men are the towering giants of the marketing field, but giants don’t have frighten us. Instead, they can be something to look up to.
And sometimes, they can reach down with their advice and lend us a hand so we’re just a little closer to the top.
“Try and fail, but don’t fail to to try.”
These lessons demand hard work. The forming of new habits. The changing of a mindset. In return, they’ll change the way you market and the way your market responds.
What do you say? Are you up for the challenge?
Read "Sales Lessons from Great Copywriters"
Did your New Year’s resolution involve overhauling your email marketing campaign?
Maybe you resolved to get on the ball and send more often. Or maybe you suspect you’ve been overwhelming your readers, so you plan to send less.
Either way, you’ve got some decisions to make. Do you tell your readers to expect the change in frequency? If you do, where, when and how do you tell them?
Let’s take a look at how Threadless handled a recent frequency change. Would you do things the same way?
When Threadless increased their frequency from 2 emails per week to 3, they let subscribers know.
Better Off Alone?
There’s a lot going on in this message, with the swirling vortex and all. Many readers may have skipped right over that lovely yellow box. Should Threadless have announced the change in a separate email?
Pro: A statement that arrived solo would be sure to be seen. Plus, it would become the natural topic for the subject line, so subscribers could observe the addition even without opening the message.
Con: On the other hand, giving the announcement such serious real estate might annoy some readers. They signed up for these emails to see fun t-shirts, and they get a schedule announcement? Disapproval or even unsubscribes could result if the message doesn’t meet their expectations.
Knowledge Is Power…Too Much Power?
The box gave the facts about the extra emails, then gave readers the option to decline them. Should Threadless have forgone that second step?
Pro: With the veto power granted here, subscribers can control which messages they receive. (You can do this for your own subscribers, if you like.) This gives them a sense of ownership over their subscription, which may mean they’ll appreciate these emails more.
Con: But what if they choose to opt out of the extra emails? Will Threadless miss out on potential sales? And what if readers evaluate their preferences and decide, “Actually, I’ll just unsubscribe?”
Out? In? Which Way to Opt?
Notice that readers were invited to opt out of the extra emails, not into them. For general list subscription, that’s widely considered a bad practice. How about for frequency changes?
Pro: Subscribers who don’t open the message, see the box or change their preferences will start getting the extra emails, giving Threadless more opportunities to persuade them to buy.
Con: For those subscribers, the extra messages will appear seemingly without request or warning. If they notice, and if they mind, they may feel annoyed and unsubscribe.
How Do You Change Frequency?
Have you ever changed how often you send your marketing emails? Did you let subscribers know beforehand?
Did you offer them the option to choose which frequency they’d prefer, perhaps by switching lists?
How else could you handle the situation?
Read "Threadless’ Frequency Alert: Hot or Not?"
As our US-based users get ready for Thanksgiving, it’s easy to find yourself jumping to thoughts of the holiday while working on your campaigns.
So let’s have a little fun in the spirit of the season.
I was thinking recently about what I was thankful for, and when my mind turned to work, a question occurred to me:
What Should Email Marketers Be Thankful For?
A few things I came up with:
Not everyone has the cash to spend on radio, TV and print ads. (This is doubly true if you’re just starting a business, or taking a struggling one and rebuilding it.)
Email gives us a powerful, yet relatively inexpensive, means of marketing our products and services.
No other marketing channel lets us track our results as extensively and quickly as email does.
From open rates (which are still useful, even if they’re not perfect), to clickthroughs, to conversions, we can use email statistics to see what works, what doesn’t, and what we should do to increase the response to our campaigns.
Reputation and Relevancy Rule
Used to be, content filtering was a really big deal. And a lot of people were lured into the trap of obfuscating words like “F.R.EE” to try and get around those filters. (PS – if you’re still doing this, stop. Please. Learn why here.)
Nowadays, effective email marketing involves building a reputation for sending timely, relevant, useful information to subscribers. (Permission still matters, too, but it won’t save you if you’re sending junk.)
The moral here? Send subscribers what they want, when they want, and you don’t need to micro-manage your content to get your email delivered. That’s a lot to be thankful for.
You Don’t Have to Be an Artist to Create Good-Looking Campaigns
Still like hand-coding your messages? Go for it. I don’t envy you.
For the less design-inclined, HTML email templates make it easy to spice up your newsletters with a splash of color and imagery, helping to build your brand as subscribers associate your emails with your website.
That’s not to say hiring an email designer to create a custom design for you isn’t ever a good idea; it absolutely can be. But it’s not critical for every business, and it’s not always in the budget.
There’s No Shortage of Useful Advice
Point is, if there’s something you want to know about email marketing, you can rest assured that there are people out here willing and ready to help. All you have to do is ask.
So What Are You Thankful For?
How has email marketing helped you this year? Share your experiences on the blog!
Read "5 Reasons Email Marketers Should Give Thanks"
If you’ve ever sat in on one of our webinars, you know that we talk about referring your subscribers to content written by other experts – for example, by sharing and reacting to articles and blog posts written by others in your industry.
It’s a great way to create additional value for subscribers (by sharing great content that they might not have found on their own) and to show them that you’re at the leading edge of your industry – and know who else, is too.
Recently email marketing blogger (and Twitter buddy) Anna Billstrom tagged this blog in a post on what other email blogs she reads.
Today, I’d like to spread a little link love, and share some other email blogs that not only I, but others here at AWeber, follow to keep at the front of the email industry.
Check them out!
Our Favorite Email Marketing Blogs
Here are several of our team members’ favorite blogs:
CEO & Founder
Favorite blog: Copyblogger
“Honestly, I read so many email marketing blogs that after a while it seems most talk about the same things: permission, content, frequency, and relevance.
“All very important to the success of your email marketing, but I like to seek outside influences to get new ideas. One of my favorites is Brian Clark’s Copyblogger.”
A couple of Tom’s favorite posts at Copyblogger:
Director of Operations
Favorite blog: Word To The Wise
“Laura does a great job educating her readers about the ever changing world of email.
“The blog covers, in great depth, Email Marketing, Deliverability and ISP Relations.
“This is one of the few blogs that I read as soon as there is a new post made.
“I can’t say there is any one post that I like more than any other. Overall this blog stays really current with the email industry, consistently one of the first to report new trends or issues.”
Education Marketing Team
Favorite blog: The Retail Email Blog
“Think of Retail Email Blog as the Dow Jones Industrial Average of email marketing.
“Chad White tracks email from top online retailers and reports both objective trends and subjective judgments of good, bad, and purely interesting tactics.
“The focus is almost solely on promotional email, but there are frequently gems that any email marketer can learn from.”
A great recent post from the Retail Email Blog: Oopsy Hall of Fame: 2007 Inductees
Education Marketing Manager
Last, but hopefully not least, my own pick:
Favorite blog: No Man Is An Iland
“Mark Brownlow’s blog is m-e-a-t-y stuff.
“He hits on the basics (like Tom mentions above) but he stands out by challenging ‘common knowledge’ about running an effective email marketing campaign. He also regularly raises questions that help us all create better campaigns.
“Mark synthesizes the best posts from other email experts (many of whom are his readers) into posts that neatly summarize where email marketing is headed. And for those of us who like that sort of thing, he sprinkles in some email humor here and there, too.
“If I could only read one email blog, it’d be Mark’s.”
A couple examples of why I follow Mark:
Bonus Email Blog: Adventures in Email Marketing
A special thanks to Anna for tagging us and inspiring this post.
When posts on these blogs (and elsewhere) grab our attention, we often share them here – but if you want more email advice, give them a try too!
Read "What Email Marketing Blogs Do We Read?"
We know frequently asked questions should be addressed, and one of ours has had to do with who we’d recommend for any number of services besides email marketing
We’ve been hesitant to make all but a few recommendations because, frankly, there are a lot of options out there for services like web hosts, payment processors, and so on.
Well, after nearly a decade of trying and using several vendors ourselves and hearing plenty of reviews from our users and other email marketers, we’re ready to pull the trigger and share some carefully selected recommendations.
Email Is Our Full Time Job, But …
We know that even though email is an important piece to online business, it is not the only one.
We know this because just like you, we’re doing our best to be successful running the online portion of our business, which in our case is what our success entirely depends upon.
If you’re in the market for some other services, check out our newest Knowledge Base article of vendor recommendations:
What Kind of Recommendations Will I Find?
Here’s an example… We’ve been doing live seminars for over a year now. There are lots of services out there that offer webinar software, so before we chose the one we’ve stuck with, we did quite a bit of research and comparison of services including factors like limits on attendees and pricing.
On the other hand, although we haven’t personally used Dreamhost for web hosting — since our website and database servers are self-hosted at our secure co-location — we’ve heard a lot of great things about the value of their service in comparison with others covering factors like features, pricing, and reliability.
A Note on Affiliate Links
Although we’re using affiliate programs where they were easily located and enrolled in, we’ve also recommended plenty of services that don’t have them.
For any service you do find affiliate links for, you’ll also find a direct link to the product or company website. That’s so you know we haven’t biased our decisions for vendors toward those that offer an opportunity to earn a small reward for a referral.
Did we miss any? Email us your recommendations.
Read "Vendor Recommendations for Small Businesses"
The success of our email marketing campaigns does not rely entirely on the success of our email.
What I mean is, if the goal of our email is not only to drive traffic to our websites but ultimately to convert that traffic into sales, our websites need to do their jobs too.
Email tracking and analytics let us know how our emails are performing. In order to make sure our marketing campaigns are performing as we’d hope as a whole, we’ll also want to take a look at the web pages we send our subscribers to.
Make Sure Your Web Pages Work, Not Just the Links
Before we send our email messages, we should always test them. In doing so, one of the things we’re looking for is working links.
This entails clicking on each link in a message to make sure the correct web page opens properly in a browser. If they do, we tend to close the browser window and move on to the next step in our sending routines.
But wait! Here are 3 other things we should look for before we close out the window:
Dead ends are always bad when it comes to conversions. Do your emails’ landing pages clearly prioritize where what the subscriber should do once they click through and browse through the first page they see? Or, do they have to really think through what options there are for action?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with re-purposing content from our websites for email. But if our emails link to pages that don’t really provide anything new and valuable, our subscribers are more likely to close out the window than do anything else on the site..
OK, so this is something subscribers won’t actually see, but if you’ve read to the third tip in this article, you’re clearly interested in the performance of your web pages. The best way to get actionable insight is to install an analytics software on your website.
If you have one and have not yet integrated it with your email marketing campaign, take the small amount of time it takes and do so.
More In-Depth Tips on Landing Page Optimization
Our web pages are an integral part of our email campaigns, even though they’re found in the web browser and not the inbox. They’re something we shouldn’t forget while we’re working on our campaigns.
For more tips on optimizing them, check out some of the free resources over at Marketing Experiments Journal. On their site you’ll find archived reports and opportunities to sit in on live seminars with experts on the topic.
Read "3 Tips to Optimize Your Email Landing Pages"
You want to know things like how they heard about you, what competitors they were looking at, what questions they have for you, do they want you to contact them by phone (and what’s their phone number?).
So how do you learn more about your potential subscribers without driving them away?
Read on for ideas and a short video.
Survey Customers and Prospects
The key to getting subscribers to tell you all about themselves is to be patient.
Start by building a relationship with them, and then, once they’re comfortable enough with you to do so, prompt them to tell you more.
One of the most popular ways to do this is by emailing a survey to your subscribers.
But Don’t Surveys Cost Money to Create and Send?
Up until just recently, I would have said “It depends.”
Some survey providers like SurveyMonkey offer limited free accounts, but typically survey providers do charge for their services.
However, that all changed the other day, making it easy for you to survey your customers and prospects.
So what changed?
Email Your Customers Surveys Using Google Docs and AWeber
If you’re not familiar with Google Docs, it’s a free online suite of word processing and spreadsheet software.
It’s a useful tool just for having spreadsheets handy from anywhere. But here’s where it gets interesting for email marketers.
Less than a week ago, they announced that you can create forms in your Google spreadsheets.
All you have to do is create a spreadsheet, set up a form, and email the link to your subscribers through AWeber — they’ll go to the survey, fill it out and you’ll automatically compile their responses!
How to Send a Survey Through AWeber: Watch a Short Video
To show you just how easy this is to do, I’ve recorded a quick video where I create a survey in Google Docs and email it through AWeber:
RSS Subscribers: Click through to the blog to watch the video.
What Can You Email Surveys About?
Anything you want to know that can help you serve your customers and prospects (and market to them) better!
A couple ideas to get you started:
What Will YOU Survey Your Customers and Prospects About?
Share your ideas below!
Read "How to Survey Your Customers and Prospects"