Email best practices: How to avoid striking out

In baseball, it’s three strikes and you’re out. But at least you get to begin every at bat with a fresh 0-0 count. With email marketing, each campaign begins with an 0-2 count and the marketer must dig themselves out of the deficit. 

Why, you ask?

Strike 1: Our customers are already receiving a high volume of emails each day.

Strike 2: Our customers are low on time.

So, what can you do to protect the plate and avoid the dreaded third strike call? 

Develop a strategy

Before you begin your next email marketing campaign, make sure you have a clear strategy and you and your team are aligned with the approach. Often times, revenue triggers can send teams into execution mode before they’ve thought through the right strategy. If necessary, take a time out and make a trip to the mound to ensure your team is aligned.

Simplify your message

Each email throughout your campaign cycle should have one goal, accompanied by one message. Mixed signals don’t work in baseball games and they won’t work here either. Don’t confuse your customers by offering too much detail. Focus on the one action you’re hoping they take (e.g. Buy now, Download the guide, Subscribe, etc.)

A recent offer “Hurry, the 40% off sale ends tomorrow” was pretty clear for me. There were no other calls to action in the email that would take my attention off of the matter at hand — saving 40% on a brand that rarely goes on sale. My only dilemma was to determine what to buy (and quickly). 

Timing is everything (the same is true in baseball)

Think about your target audience and when they are most likely to 
read your emails. In some cases, you may want to avoid sending emails on weekends, holidays, and evenings. In others, those may be the perfect times (retail for example). If you aren’t sure, talk to people such as customers, friends, and family. Find out what emails they are reading on a regular basis and why. Are they existing customers or new subscribers? You’ll also learn more through your data tracking mechanisms.

I received this baseball camp email because I’m an existing customer who hadn’t yet signed up for the upcoming event. Not only was this email a great reminder for me, but it also included a special offer— bonus!

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Test, measure, and iterate

Before you kick off your campaign, make sure metrics are a key part of your strategy. Data is everywhere — and can surely be overwhelming.

One of my former colleagues (a metrics expert) had a great way of helping my team and I nail down what we want to test. She used to say, “We can measure anything and everything under the sun, but it’s too much information. You need to determine what elements are critical and focus on those.” 

You won’t have all the answers in the beginning, but make sure to start with a solid baseline and iterate with each campaign. Instead of trying to hit a homerun, aim for a base hit in the beginning. Over time, you’ll learn more about your customers and eventually hit one out of the park.

Here are some suggested items to track, evaluate, and iterate on with each campaign:

  • Click-through rate: The ratio of users who click on specific links relative to the total number of people who view an email or web page.

  • Conversion rate: The number of conversions divided by the total number of users who have opened your email.

  • Bounce rate: After clicking a link in your email, this number represents the percentage of customers who leave after visiting one web page.

  • Unsubscribe rate: Why do they unsubscribe? Make sure you provide options for customers to choose why they are unsubscribing. Common reasons are: Content isn’t relevant, they didn’t sign up to receive emails from you, or they are receiving too many.

  • Email sharing/forwarding rate: This is an important metric to help grow your base and validate if your content is intriguing.

  • List growth rate: This metric will tell you how fast your subscriber list is growing.

  • Overall ROI: Return on investment in dollars can be understood by using basic math: Total sales minus dollars spent. However, it’s not always that simple — especially in the beginning of your journey.

    Measure the effectiveness of your campaigns by tracking all of the above data points and revisit the goals you set forth in the beginning. For instance, perhaps growing your subscriber base was a goal or reducing your bounce rate. Did you achieve these objectives?

Personalization and segmentation

Use personalization techniques to connect and build trust with your audience. There are a few ways to accomplish this. One simple way is to include the person’s name in your email:

“Hello Jessica. You’re invited…”

Message relevance is another critical tactic. It’s important to know where your customers are in the adoption funnel and develop segmented content accordingly – and this may mean several variations of email content for the same campaign. 

In this example from Intuit, I am an existing customer who will be attending an upcoming event. This email is relevant and helpful to me and will ultimately save me time at the event.

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Make it scannable – and mobile friendly 

Think about the appropriate use case for your campaign and which templates make sense. With the majority of emails being read on mobile devices, your template (and of course the content) should be simple, scannable and mobile friendly. Your metrics will provide powerful data to help guide you through your campaigns and make necessary iterations. 

Grow your subscriber list

If you want to increase your subscriber base, first and foremost — you’ll need produce compelling content consistently. Content can range from anything that is informative or educational to special limited-time offers.

Take advantage of the tools your email tool provides. For instance, 
“share with a friend,” is a standard capability that should be employed with every campaign. Offer incentives to your current customers that will encourage sharing and thus grow your subscriber base.

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I recently subscribed to a web site that provides valuable information on a weekly basis and shared it with three colleagues who I believe will benefit from it. The subject line was perfect and read “An invitation from a friend.” You can experience the same result if you produce quality information in a consistent manner. 

The legal stuff

Like in baseball (and any sport), there are rules. Understanding and adhering to legal requirements is a necessary element of email marketing. There are some major changes underway in the Europe, Canada, and the United States that will impact your business. Starting January 1, 2020, explicit permission from customer in these countries will be required prior to emailing them. 

Aim for a base hit

Our customers are looking for truth, authenticity, and simplicity. Marketing fluff and extraneous copy are sure ways to strike out and lose your audience. Aim for one base hit at a time through meaningful interactions with your subscribers. With this approach, your hits will eventually turn into home runs.

Resources

General compliance information: CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business.

Europe, Canada, and the United States:

California: