Playing it safe: 5 tips for successful email campaigns

24 Jun

Today, I received an email. It went something like this:

“Hi Colin, How are you? We hope you’re great! Isn’t this weather nice? Check out our courier services – we offer the best rates for all your last minute needs.”

Well, I thought, how friendly and informative. There are just two problems. Firstly, I’m a marketer and writer; unless I decide to set up a print, publish and distribution service from my flat, I can’t see I’ll ever need the services of a courier. The second minor oversight is that my name isn’t Colin.

Why do companies do this? Why do they insist on invading my privacy, and invading it badly? Being marketed to has become a cultural norm: people expect it. But they also expect it to be done well. In short: they don’t want to be sold something they don’t need, they want to be sold something they didn’t know they needed.

While some organisations have it nailed, many companies out there still misunderstand the concept of social media and are using it in all the wrong ways. Others have misinterpreted it even further, by assuming that the informality brought by social media gives them inexplicit permission to be over familiar with their audience. While fine in the context of social media, this assumed familiarity has started creeping into areas of digital marketing where it is doesn’t belong. One of these is email marketing, and today’s top tips post is focused on those who have got it all wrong… not in my Twitter feed, but all over my inbox.

1. Give people something for free

Sending a campaign to inform somebody of a new product or service is all well and good, but why should they care? Have a little sympathy with your audience… they’re being sold to on the television, via their apps, on the way to work, AT work… whatever you’re promoting, make it worth their while. To a certain extent it depends on what you’re marketing, but a pretty universal rule of thumb is that if people get something for nothing, they will remember you. Whether it’s a voucher or a giveaway; something as simple as a demo of your new product, or even a link to a great case study or website; so long as it’s good enough value for the time they took to click through, you will stick in their mind.

2. Don’t personalise campaigns with first names

Of course, whatever content you’re sending it should be personalised to the audiences’ interests, but including somebody’s name on email is not a substitute for appropriately targeting the content. People aren’t stupid; they can smell a mail shot a mile off, and personalising it with their name only draws attention to the fact that the sender is trying to hide that they have sent this to an entire database of contacts.

As my earlier example demonstrates, personalising an email campaign can also backfire. Your contact database no doubt includes some distribution lists. This means that although the name of your contact was correct at the time of entry, and their job may still exist, the person receiving the emails may have moved on. And that’s when you risk turning your ‘Norman’ into another opt-out. Remember: the less you personalise an email, the less that can go wrong with it.

3. Ensure the tone matches your brand

If you’re adamant that you want to personalise your campaign with the recipient’s name, of course that’s up to you. Nonetheless, I would suggest only doing so if ‘casual’ matches your brand and tone of voice. Opening with somebody’s name immediately informalises your message; so don’t then make the mistake I’ve seen countless companies make, and follow it with corporate spiel. Once again, this looks generic, lazy, and stands out in all the wrong ways. Even the most informal of brands (such as innocent drinks) never personalise their campaigns. But they are well targeted and well written, so when I receive a mail from innocent, I don’t mind that it isn’t addressed directly to me.

Finally, if your campaign tone is informal, does this accurately reflect your brand? This is a very common mistake. If you have a corporate tone of voice, keep your campaign’s tone corporate. I see a lot of campaigns, well written by an enthusiastic marketing executive… however, when I click through to their website, it’s a different story. Yes, you need to grab attention, but not at the expense of giving your audience a consistent experience.

4. Target the right people

This sound obvious, but make sure your content is relevant to the audience you’re writing for. A friend of mine recently told me that the marketing department for the company she used to work for sent every email campaigns to the entire database. Your content may be perfectly relevant and interesting, but if the copy in front of it aims to capture too broad an audience, it will not just dilute it but make it irrelevant. And that means opt-outs.  Instead, take some time to write different copy for different audiences, and to send out different emails. It will take longer, but it will pay. And in case you’re worreid, this isn’t just speculation ; I’ve consistently seen much better click through rates on targeted campaigns and far greater numbers of opt-outs in untargeted ones.

5. Send from the company, not an individual

If you’re an individual, send your campaign from you. If you’re a company, send it from the company. Unless your CEO is Mark Zuckerberg or someone equally notable, nobody cares that your CEO has personally endorsed this message. In fact, it could hurt you as it risks coming across as arrogant. As such, avoid signing off from an individual at all costs. Sometimes I receive emails from a CEO, a Marketing Director, or worse yet; a Business Development Manager. Everybody knows this is code for ‘salesman’, and if you work in Marketing, you’ll probably be wondering why somebody in sales is sending marketing campaigns in the first place.

Essentially, sending from an individual has the same effect as sending to one. You’re trying to say: ‘This message is from us to you’. Unfortunately, what it’s really saying is: ‘We can’t get our marketing right; you probably shouldn’t work with us.’ This may sound harsh, but it’s true. It’s also the reason why good marketing departments don’t deserve the bad reputation brought upon them by people who think they know better… marketing is not about your ego but your audience. Your only job is to stay one step ahead of them so that you can continue keeping them happy.

And finally…

I will end on a perhaps controversial note by saying that you should avoid personalising your email campaigns altogether. Instead of faffing about with mail merges and custom fields, concentrate on targeting your content to your audience. If you can show the reader that you’ve understood their needs enough to get the tone, offering and layout right, then really you’ve done your job, right? It doesn’t get much more personal than that.

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One Response to “Playing it safe: 5 tips for successful email campaigns”

  1. Cate Michaud July 22, 2013 at 12:31 am #

    Reblogged this on Marketing Cate and commented:
    I can relate to this as a consumer and a communications professional. Check out these tips on how to make your email campaign successful.

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