Effective email marketing – it’s not difficult, but a look at 14 days in the life of my inbox seems to suggest otherwise

By | 30 September, 2013

Image for email mrketing

As documented in a previous post, Social Media: if you do it, do it right, if an organisation is going to get involved in social media it needs to do it properly with a well thought out strategy and execution. As with all marketing and advertising, take a half-hearted approach and you may as well not bother at all, as you’re likely to do more harm to your brands than good.

Which brings me to email marketing. Working in marketing I’m probably a higher than average consumer of emails. I probably sign up for more newsletters than I should, but email still represents a good method of acquiring information and serves as an alert for relevant articles posted on sites that I may otherwise miss. It’s also likely that I opt-in to more emails from commercial organisations than is healthy, but the way I look at it, the delete button and email client’s bin symbol are there for a reason.

The upside of receiving a high number of emails every day is that I can give you the following examples of poor email marketing and communications from my last 14 days of activity.

“Dear <<subscriber_basic-first_name>>”.
Amazingly, over the past 14 days I’ve received three of these, or similar, from different organisations. The example given was received from a national media owner, and while I’m very aware of what ‘ subscriber_basic’ means, it’s never a good idea to tell your customer that they are a ‘basic’ anything. One of the others was from a recruitment consultant informing me of a job opportunity that ‘was a perfect fit for my skills and experience’. I am currently looking for a new role, and the body of the email was very well written. If it hadn’t have been for the salutation error I would have believed that this was a personal email directed on an individual basis, rather than one sent to everyone who fitted a database keyword search. These errors should have been picked up when the email was tested, if indeed it was tested. Which brings me to….

“Test” as a subject line
Received, ironically, from a B2B software organisation attempting to get me to purchase, or specify, their email marketing system. To be fair, it did lead me to open the email, so it may have been a really clever bit of email marketing, but I think that’s unlikely. Attention to detail is important in email marketing, although you’d hardly call the subject line a ‘detail’, being the second most important element of an email campaign after the data.

“….plenty of half-price Bank Holiday offers”

Excellent, but unfortunately these offers expired on the evening of Bank Holiday Monday, and I received the email the next day. I checked the website and the prices had gone back up, frustrating for anyone who actually wanted to take advantage of the offers. This could have been as a result of a mistake in setting the email client’s schedule, or just shoddy marketing. Whatever, it points to a lack of intelligent commitment to email marketing.

Great email, but….
Interestingly, one of the really good emails I received was from a conference organiser, inviting me to become a delegate at a forthcoming event. It had an excellent subject line to pull me in, a polite but professional salutation, and good body copy with a decent call to action. So I clicked on the link, to be presented with probably one of the worse booking systems I have ever seem. It was three clicks before I was presented with attendance options, and a resulting unbranded sales funnel which must have one of the highest bounce rates of any ecommerce site. As with all marketing, one particular element never really stands alone, you need to get every aspect right and ensure that everything links up strategically and tactically.

Back in the days of mass direct mail, at least three people checked ever piece for accuracy and style. If you were printing tens of thousands of items the cost of any error was high, especially if they actually made it into the postal system. The ease, and relatively low cost of email campaigns seems to have made marketers complacent and careless. All of the examples given above lead to an unsatisfactory customer experience, and a negative association with the brand or organisation concerned.

With email open rates decreasing – some B2B campaigns are in single figures – and more competition for prime inbox space, marketers need to go back to basics and organisations ensure that campaigns are properly resourced with the skills and knowledge required.

Just like social media, email marketing is a fantastic tool to have in the box, but done badly, can smear reputations and ultimately lose existing and potential customers.