Email marketing is your chance to be human and helpful and develop long-lasting relationships with your contacts. Email marketing is now, more than ever, rooted in your organizations inbound marketing strategy. By focusing on data and segmentation, we can fuel our inbound strategy with email that syncs to your CRM and website pages.
In this article, we will learn to create relationships, how to maintain them overtime, and why email marketing is an important part of your organizations inbound marketing strategy. Understanding the concepts of email marketing will help you grow and provide value to your prospects and customers, and in-turn, provide value to your organization to help it grow!
Understanding Email Marketing
Email is highly versatile and can be effective in interacting with your leads and customers, but you need a strategy. An email marketing strategy will help you market your products or services and nurture relationships in a human and helpful way through the use of the email channel. Effective strategies have three key tools put in place that allow them to do just that: Segmentation, Personalization and Data-Driven Analysis. We’ll dive deeper into each of these further on in the post, but the basic gist of these principles are found below:
- Segmentation essentially means dividing your contacts into smaller groups based on similarities. You do this through creating “Buyer Personas” and positioning your contacts within the “Buyer’s Journey”.
- Personalization is all about connecting with your contacts through a contextualized, individual experience. It’s a start to include names and other identifying information they’ve given you, but it can go so much further through a tool called “Behavioral Email”.
- Analysis needs data. Your contacts are constantly changing the way they live and work, so you need to analyze your interactions to evolve alongside them. You should track specific metrics that are important to your email marketing goals, learn what those metrics indicate about your emails’ success, and apply what you’ve learned to optimize and improve your emails to increase the metrics you’re measuring.
The key to a good email marketing strategy is to have clearly defined goals. In other words, know why you’re engaging customers. Otherwise, your message won’t come across. Your inbound email marketing success relies on being human and helpful with every time you hit “send”. Michael Bloomberg has said, “Reaching the inbox isn’t your goal- engaging people is.”
Creating a Contact Management and Segmentation Strategy
Inbound marketing is all about the happy marriage between context and content. Your email strategy should work to achieve this balance through contact management and segmentation.
Contact management is a strategy that focuses on using software to easily store and source a contact’s information such as their name, contact history, email information and so on. A contact database will allow you to see the whole picture of every contact, organize your contacts in a meaningful way, and integrate your contacts’ information into other tools you use within your company. It’s important to realize that contact databases naturally decay every year by 22.5%. This means it’s important to keep updating contact information with insights gained through each interaction you have with them through different channels of communication. It will all help with segmentation and personalization.
Segmentation strategy deals with how your group your contacts. When you divide your contacts into smaller groups based on similarities, you can tailor your messages to be more relevant and engaging to them. This is where “Buyer Personas” and the “Buyer’s Journey” come into play.
Buyer Personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on real data and some selected educated speculation about demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. Simply put, they are umbrella identities that clusters of contacts should fall under (e.g. Marketer Margaret, Student Stephanie, West Coast Wesley, etc.). (Alliteration is not necessary, but it may help you remember your personas.)
The Buyer’s Journey is the active research process someone goes through leading up to a purchase. It consists of three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. Contacts just starting to work on solving a problem or reaching a goal will fall under the Awareness stage. Those looking at your products/services alongside other companies’ solutions will fall under the Consideration stage. The ones ready to select your or your competitor’s products/services will fall under the Decision stage.
Remember, the key is to send the right contacts the right message at the right time. Because of this, segmentation has an overwhelmingly positive impact on the engagement of your emails and your contacts. There are three best practices for a successful segmentation strategy: Have a clean and organized contact database, collect the right information, and understand the differences between explicit and implicit data.
When it comes to contact databases, the three key pieces of data to keep track of include the contact itself, its properties, and companies along with their properties. Keep these updated by keeping engaged with them. Whether they are an individual contact or an entire company, things change and you should know how changes may affect your interactions with them.
To collect the right information, simply think about what is important in achieving your goal. Likely you need information that will help you segment contacts in a helpful way. All of this data can be collected explicitly, meaning it was intentionally shared to you (such as through a form or posted publicly on social media); or implicitly, meaning it was gathered through user behavior (such as how they interact with you or metrics such as conversion rates).
Now that we’ve discussed segmentation in deeper terms, let’s move onto the second half of the equation – personalization.
Including names and other identifying information in an email is a start to personalization, but it can go so much further. Email is a channel that offers creativity, experimentation, and the ability to create a highly personalized experience in a timely fashion. “Behavioral Email” is a key tool in this effort. It is the practice of sending automated, targeted emails to your contacts based on the historical interactions they’ve had with your company across channels. Do you keep logs of your interactions with contacts across social media, conferences, phone calls, and so on in your contact database? These interactions will provide information which can help personalize emailed communication in ways an inserted first name can’t do.
Sending the Right Email
To reiterate, we’re facing the goal of sending the right contacts the right message at the right time. In other words, we are working to deliver the most contextual email we can with our email marketing strategy. To do this we need to know two things: Why we’re sending the message and it’s value to the recipient. Will our message help guide our contacts through the Buyer’s Journey, regardless of their position? Will our message accurately attract, engage or delight our leads and customers appropriately? This is where we attempt to connect content with context. Our contact database and segmentation strategy will come into play while writing the “right email”.
Once you have the right content going to the right contacts, you need to focus on timing. For email marketing, timing is everything. To help with this aspect of your interactions, you can use a strategy known as “Time Send Personalization”. This involves using the data you have on each of your contacts – such as when they open, click, and convert – and scheduling your emails to send to each contact when they are most likely to engage with your email. Everyone has more productive times of the day, week, month, or year. Figuring out when those times are for your contacts will prove incredibly useful to your email marketing strategy.
When sending the right email, you need to make sure you set expectations accurately, have an email layout that is conducive to what you want recipients to do upon opening, and ensure any personalization fits for the recipients. In regards to layout, AIDA should be followed. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Attention should be at the top of your email, while the information funnels down through interest and desire, ending at a call to action at the bottom.
A final note on sending the right email: It’s very important to note that sometimes the best time to send an email is never. While email is great for communication, it may not always fit. Context becomes the biggest factor here. Using the wrong channel to send certain information can backfire even if you nail down everything discussed above. Figuring out how to deliver conversational interaction on the right channel will help your company be human and helpful to your contacts.
Creating High-Performing Emails
High-performing emails will drive engagement with your contacts. They set the right goals you want or need and focus on optimizing specific parts of your email to drive contacts’ conversion towards your specific goal. This will, in turn, drive engagement with your contacts, guiding them along the journey of what’s called the “Inbound Methodology”. In other words high-performing emails will attract new leads, engage with them to help convert them into customers, and delight them from then on out.
The concept of a high-performing email changes with each company. What’s right for you, may not be right for someone else. The pathway to drafting high-performing emails starts with a goal. You need to have this in mind, or you won’t be able to drive the results you want.
Use the “Five Whys” to help work out your goal: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. While these will help figure out the goal of your email marketing strategy, it will also work with individual emails. A quick breakdown of these concepts can be found below:
- Who is the right person for your content and email send? Think about segmentation and consider which of your contacts are likely to engage!
- What are you trying to accomplish? Think about SMART goals. Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. This will help you find out if your contacts achieved the goal of your email.
- When will this content be most valuable to your contacts? When will your contacts be most likely to engage?
- Where will your email be opened? Nearly half of all emails are opened on a mobile device today.
- Why have you and your team decided to send an email? What value will recipients get from opening your email? How does this email fit in with your other conversations you have with contacts?
Once your goal is in place, you need to focus on the email’s layout. Subject lines and preview texts are the next things to focus on. Next, put together your email copy, or the content of the message. Then, add an image to help illustrate your goal or message. Finally, add a footer at the bottom. We will go into more detail in a later section, but knowing how each piece of your layout comes together will help you create a high-performing email supporting your goal and driving conversion. It should be noted that in this context, conversion means the completion of your desired action.
Your desired action will come in two forms: Opening and clicking. What drives contacts to open emails involves your email’s subject line, preview text, email sender name, and email sending address.
Clicking actions include everything from subscribing to a blog, signing up for an event, or downloading additional content. To drive clicks, you need to have effective email copy. Even with the best graphics and layout, if the copy is not up to par, the email may fail in its goal. To achieve effective copy, you need to write with clarity, purpose, and your goal in mind. This comes part in scannability – do the work for your readers. Tone also plays a strong role, as wording can change depending on who you send your email to. Personalization works alongside tone in this effort by making your copy relevant and engaging to your readers.
All of the concepts discussed above should lead your readers to a call to action (CTA) that will go hand-in-hand with your goal. To figure out your CTA, you need to know what exactly you want the reader to do, why they should do it, and how they will know to do it.
Every high-performing email needs a template, footer for CAN-SPAM compliance, and email images/design. Templates will help you create a clean, straight forward layout will help display value. CAN-SPAM law sets rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out penalties for violations. To be compliant with this law, you must have a footer that consists of your physical address and an unsubscribe link that is accessible at any time. Regarding images, graphics are great, but due to the differences in email clients, some images don’t always show up correctly. You should ask yourself if readers will understand the message and are guided to your CTA if the images do not appear.
Clearly a lot of thought and planning should go into your emails, therefore it may be a good idea to send a test email to yourself to ensure everything looks and functions the way you need it to.
Understanding Email Deliverability
Email Deliverability is the measure and understanding of how successful a sender is at getting their marketing email into people’s inboxes. This can be figured out through checking metrics like opens, clicks, and unsubscribes. By working on deliverability, you will build the trust needed to create long lasting relationships with your contacts.
Before hitting send, it’s important to collect consent, or verifiable permission, from your contacts. This will keep your email from becoming spam and will help build trust with your contacts. You can create contact lists determined by contacts’ sources, permissions they’ve given you, and their expectations of emailed communication. If you can’t verify the source of contacts, their permission to be contacted, and their expectations of emailed communication, then it is unlikely that you have their consent to email them. After consent is collected and verified, analyzing engagement contacts have had with your emails in the past will help determine further deliverability. It may be a smart move to discontinue emailed communication with contacts who have low open and click rates.
This segues into analyzing deliverability after an email is sent. There is positive engagement which includes open rates, click rates, conversion rates and replies. This will bump up deliverability to these clients. Then there is negative engagement, such as contacts who didn’t open or click, contacts who unsubscribed, and emails that were sent to spam folders.
Outlining the Design of your Marketing Emails
The best email designs are simple and attainable. They work to clearly communicate a message and create a consistent experience in cross-channel communication.
In a HubSpot survey, over 1,500 of their customers stated mobile responsiveness was the most important aspect of an email template. This makes sense, given almost half of all emails are read on mobile devices. There are email templates available that adjust the aesthetic of your email to fit various screen sizes from computer monitors to various mobile devices.
Let’s break down the key aspects of an email’s design and layout…
Subject lines are seen as the “door” to your email. Keeping mobile devices in mind, a good rule of thumb is to keep subject lines between 41-50 characters. Wording also plays a role here. Research words that don’t “sound human” and trigger spam filters (two freebies are “Free” and “Percent off”). Also remember to personalize if appropriate with a name or other contact property. Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative by testing different subject lines to see what engages audiences more or less.
Email addresses should be human and familiar. Do not use “no-reply” addresses, as they come off as automated or machine driven. Using a company name or the name of an employee dedicated to communications within your company as the first part of your email address.
Preview text is a snippet of copy pulled from the body of your message that typically appears below the sender’s name and subject line in subscribers’ inboxes.
Copy and images placed in your email’s body must be consistent and drive readers to the same goal. This goal should take the form of a CTA that will be found towards the bottom of the message. This guidance to the CTA will generally look like an inverted triangle. In doing this, we must return to a concept brought up earlier called AIDA. As a refresher, AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Attention will take up a fair amount of space in your email’s body. It will include your logo, possibly a graphic, anything that catches the reader’s attention while staying focused on the goal. The information within the message will fill the Interest and Desire sections of the triangle. In smaller font, describe what you want the reader to take value in, build their desire to want to engage more. Finally, at the bottom of it all, your CTA will likely be a clickable button or link to redirect users to a new page, download, or subscription that is in line with your goal. It’s best to have the CTA be eye catching, easily understood, and in a position in the email where it is clear what to do next.
Analyzing Marketing Emails
Analysis needs data. Your contacts are constantly changing the way they live and work. You need to analyze your interactions to evolve alongside them. You should track different metrics that are important to your email marketing goals. Then, learn what those metrics indicate about your emails’ success. Finally, apply what you’ve learned to optimize and improve your emails, leading to improved future metrics. While this all seems like a lot, there are software solutions to help you! An email service provider (ESP) is simply a company that offers email marketing solutions. A good ESP should be able to connect to a contact database and analyze email sends for insights into optimization.
There are three levels of analysis you can engage in: Individual email metrics, overall email channel metrics, and return on investment.
Remember, analysis helps you know what you need to know. When looking to find why certain individual emails are more successful over others you need to analyze post-send data – number of sends, emails successfully delivered, opens, the clickthrough rate, and any responses you received – to come to an answer. This will help improve your emails in the future, but also help your entire email marketing strategy.
When looking at your overall email channel metrics, you’ll want to compare your emails’ successes to those of other channels such as social media and in-person conversations with contacts. You can think of it as an aggregate of all your individual emails’ post-send metrics. You should review how many emails were opened on certain devices, how many emails were opened in the past month or year, how much decay your contact database has endured, etc.
Your return on investment (ROI) will report the financial return you receive from your emailing efforts. Are you creating and/or maintaining meaningful relationships with your contacts? You can find out by taking the amount of money earned through an email campaign and subtracting the cost of money invested. Divide the difference by the money invested, then multiply by 100. That will give you a percentage-based ROI that can be monitored and benchmarked against in the future.
An important thing to remember is that while benchmarking your success against that of your competitors, you are encouraged to build a system for internal comparison. Contrast your progress against your past experience for a gauge on your performance.
Testing Marketing Emails
While it is smart to test emails to see what options work better than others, it’s smart to have a specific purpose for your testing. You should work to have measurable tests. Look at specific aspects of your messages to see what works better than others. Maintaining relationships with your contacts, will require you to change the way you communicate with them. Changing the way you engage with your contacts over time will help you find out which options work better than others and also keep your contacts engaged. Using specific measurable tests and consistently communicating with contacts will build your email marketing strategy as a whole, while also building trust and engagement.
A/B Testing is a great tool that allows you to do this type of analysis. It is a method of comparing two versions of something against each other to determine which performs better. With A/B Testing, you can send two versions of the same email simultaneously two different groups of your contacts, then use post-send metrics to see how your audiences respond. To execute an A/B test, you need to do the following:
- Define the goal of your test. What element of your email do you want to test? For testing click rates, you can change the subject line, preview text, the number of emails you send to a segment, and so on. This gives you a control and a variable to compare against.
- Evaluate the segment of recipients you’re sending to. You can determine a conclusive sample size for each version of your email based on the number of contacts you wish to send to, a margin of error, and a confidence level. There are tools online that can help you with these metrics. HubSpot’s calculator uses a 95% or 99% confidence level.
- Design your test. Your test should go hand-in-hand with your goal. Your hypothesis should be testable while you work towards your goal.
- Review and start your test.
Developing Relationships with Lead Nurturing
Lead Nurturing means building relationships with your prospects with the goal of earning their business when they’re ready. This is done through a timely, efficient, and targeted approach to connecting with them. It can be achieved through Marketing Automation, or software that exists with the goal of automating your marketing actions. In this case, your contacts’ actions will trigger your own. For example, if a contact downloads a file on a specific subject your company is knowledgeable on, you can set up automation to send a follow up email directly to them with follow up information that builds upon the content of the downloaded file. Automation can send this email immediately, the next day, or whenever you feel it’s right. For an interesting tip, It has been found that an inbound lead is 21 times more likely to become qualified if contacted within 5 minutes verses 30 minutes.
In sending these types of emails, you are using a tool mentioned earlier in this article, “Behavioral Email”. To use it effectively, you need to keep track of how people interact with you. From there, you can determine actions a contact might take and ultimately start a conversation. You can keep information necessary to Behavioral Email in a database which will help adjust how you start your conversations.
In nurturing a lead, there are four main types of emails that you can send. The first are emails that establish trust. They create relevancy and value, conditioning your contacts to be more likely to open future messages. The second are emails that provide additional resources or downloads. These can educate your leads while giving you insight into which topics appeal to them. The third are emails with CTAs. These are more direct and to the point than their counterparts, as they work towards conversion. The fourth are break up emails. They make the message clear that contacts will not receive any more contact from you.
Did you notice the connection between Lead Nurturing and the Buyer’s Journey? People are already somewhere along the Journey when they become contacts. Your engagement with them is focused on guiding them through the stages to becoming a lead and ultimately a customer. The topics covered above can help create a strategy that will build trust with your contacts. From attraction to engagement to delight, you will form a valuable platform based on long lasting relationships with them. These relationships will drive growth!
The information in this article will allow you to take your first steps towards developing a strategy that will increase your engagement with contacts and ultimately your ROI. If your analysis shows things could be better, that’s alright! While it seems easy to start, it will take time to master. Every contact is different and they will fit into different personas and places within the Buyer’s Journey. Don’t be afraid to have a database and CRM strategy to help with your emails, because remember, segmentation is key. Start there and more forward into the unknown. Once you know your contacts and have begun engaging in lead nurturing, experiment! Versatility is one of the great strengths of email and it’s wise not to waste it.