Your Email Campaign Is Broken. Observations From A Marketer And A Consumer.

Your Email Campaign Is Broken. Observations From A Marketer And A Consumer.
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With Mother’s Day approaching along with a plethora of other marketing-heavy holidays and events, my email inbox is getting bombarded by ads and offers from every business whose list I barely remember joining.

Since I’ve started my mission to unsubscribe from every paper catalog I never asked to receive (103 and counting…) I do try to stay on the email lists because you never know when a great deal on summer shorts, coconut oil or rooster-themed kitchen appliances will come through.

And though my initial impulse is to hit delete and move onto the 1,978 other emails in my box, I try to save many of those advertisements for reference and research.

I want you to stop and thank me for doing that because first of all, it’ll make me feel better about the clutter that’s accumulating there, but secondly and mostly because I’m about to help you improve your email campaigns by sharing my observations as both a marketing professional and a consumer.

Here are some thoughts, tips and “please don’ts” from my vantage point both in front of and behind your marketing campaigns.

Sending Too Many Emails Is A Great Way To Get People To Unsubscribe.

Ready to lose subscribers? Start sending emails constantly. I don’t know about you, but I get a lot of email. It could be business or personal, informational or advertising, or just plain spam, but it all requires attention, even if it’s only a moment to hit the delete button.

On a busy day I couldn’t care less about who’s offering what deal, it all goes in the trash so I can attend to the pressing matters at hand. And if you’re one of those retailers who fills my inbox and limited brain space with ads on a regularly overwhelming number of days, I guarantee I will unsubscribe no matter how much I like you.

So what’s “too many emails”? Good question, and subjective. One per week can be annoying if I’m particularly busy. Two per week and I start to automatically ignore you. Three or more and you’re pushing your luck. Every day and I start to hate you. More than one per day and you’re minus one subscriber. So for me, the threshold is one per week before things start to go downhill, but that may not be the case for someone else. It’s tough to say.

What you should be doing is checking your email stats and paying attention to your unsubscribe rate. When does it start to go up?

And if you’re giving people the opportunity to give you a reason for their departure (as you should be) then pay attention to their comments, because if you’re sending too many emails you will likely get comments that say as much.

Sending A Lot Of Emails Will Get You Ignored.

Ready to lose your customers’ interest? Before you lose subscribers, you may simply be losing your customers’ attention. As I mentioned, more than one email per week and I tend to ignore you. I may not actively remove you from my life, but I’ve already removed you from my consciousness, which is just as unhelpful for your sales and marketing.

Again, that threshold is different for different people but if you want to run a successful email campaign then you need to be mindful of the fact that you could be desensitizing people to your messages.

Somewhere between “I’m interested” and “I’m leaving” is no-man’s-land where you’ve trained me to ignore you because I’m just too busy to care.

Short of asking everyone on your list how many emails they want to receive from you (which, by the way, is not a terrible thing to do!) how can you know what’s happening in that dead zone? Once again you should be checking your email stats, and this time, pay attention to your open rate.

If you’re used to a 40% open rate and suddenly see it drop to 20% when you up the number of emails sent, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re overdoing it. There could be other reasons for a low open rate, but you can make some educated assessments based on the type of campaign you’re running and its frequency.

Offering Good Deals Can Backfire.

The same way that you can train someone to ignore you, you can train them to ignore your offers. Marketing instinct tells us that we must incentivize people to do business with us and common sense compels us to offer 10% off this or 20% off that. Sales, deals and offers are a great incentive but you must be careful of how you use them. Not every email needs to be a deal.

An incentive is only an incentive if it’s perceived to be one, and by offering the perpetual deal or sale-that’s-ending-soon, you’re inadvertently creating the perception that your emails (and perhaps products) are less valuable.

As a consumer, I subscribe to a particular vendor’s list because I regularly buy their products. But do you know what I don’t receive? Regular discounts. They send discount emails once every few weeks, or every few months. These are the emails I keep an eye out for, and when they come in I jump on them and stock up on what I want before the deal expires. This is great marketing, because my response rate to those emails is nearly 100%.

And I often buy more than I normally might because I know I’ve got something of value that may not come my way again for a while. I’ve even been known to buy their products at full price (gasp!) because I’ve already built a relationship with this vendor, I know I like their products and I can’t sit around forever waiting for that discount.

On the other hand, I subscribe to another vendor’s list, also because I buy their products, but this particular vendor sends me emails every week with a nearly identical subject line in each one, telling me that it’s the LAST DAY to get such-and-such a product at half-off.

Let’s ignore the fact that if you’re offering your products at half off you should seriously reconsider your pricing model, and get to the relevant point here, which is that today may be the last day of the sale, but I know there will be another last day next week, and the week after that, and after that, and after that… I ignore most of these emails and never buy anything at full price because this vendor has set the unfortunate expectation that I can ignore them until I really need something, at which point if I wait another week, I can get it half off.

Some of the best vendor emails I receive are the ones that simply let me know about a new or interesting product based on my past orders, preferences or just what’s new at that vendor this week. Shopping and browsing online can be an enjoyable end in itself, even if there’s no %-off deal attached.

People actually will buy your products at full price if you simply create a compelling bit of content that advertises the product’s features and benefits rather than its discount.

Spend some time creating that content and making people want your products because of their intrinsic value and not just their price tag.

Your Subject Line Can Kill You.

“How to write a good subject line” can be a whole post by itself. It’s part art, part psychology and part best practices. The important lesson is that your email isn’t ready to send once you’ve written it, dropped in the photography and created the HTML. In fact, all that’s the easy part compared to coming up with a subject line that will invite people to read your email.

You know that cute little cliché that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, the truth of marketing is that it’s all about getting people to judge your book by its cover – and in this case, to judge your email by its subject line.

Unless it’s interesting and compelling enough to get people to open and read your email, that single line of text can be enough to kill your whole campaign.

Bad subject lines are “sales-y”. Bad subject lines are spammy. Bad subject lines say things like “LAST DAY!” and “Offer ends soon!” and “My company’s same old newsletter”. Bad subject lines are in all caps and have too much punctuation, especially exclamation points!!!!!!!

Bad subject lines can even get your email caught in someone’s spam filter so there’s never a chance that they’ll see it, let alone have the opportunity to choose whether to ignore it. There’s a fine line to walk between catching someone’s interest and hitting them over the head with your message. It’s ok to offer sales, deals, free shipping and the like, but be careful to steer clear of anything that even hints of spam.

Good subject lines are a little harder to come by, but they set the expectation for what’s inside the email as opposed to immediately trying to sell what’s inside the email with aggressive language and deals.

A good subject line should be short and to the point because many email clients only display a limited number of characters, so it won’t help to put your best selling point at the end of a long sentence that someone will never see as they scan their inbox.

Spend some time thinking about creative ways to catch your customer’s attention, ask a compelling question or preview what’s in your email in a way that lets them know there is something interesting to see.

Here are a few words in subject lines that prompt an immediate delete from my inbox: “Help…” Busy. Delete. “Final…” Liar. Delete. “Don’t…” Ok. Delete. “Only…” Doubt it. Delete.

On the other hand, I tend to like emails that start with “Introducing…” Oooh, a new product? “Your…” My what? “Invitation…” Can I bring a guest?

Do your email campaign a favor and A/B test some subject lines, then check your open rates and see what works for you. A good subject line depends on your industry, audience and the purpose of your emails. So test, test and test again.

If you want to run a successful email campaign, you must create the perception that you want consumers to have of your business, set the expectations for your email and finally experiment with the timing, content and subject lines that hit the right note. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be marketing.

But with some planning and testing you can boost your open rates and sales and ultimately the success of your business.

Carol Lynn Rivera

Carol Lynn Rivera

I'm a business owner, content creator, podcaster and marketer. In 1999 I founded Rahvalor Interactive, a web and creative services production studio, with my husband and business partner Ralph. In 2011 we created Web.Search.Social, a consulting and marketing service line for small businesses. We also cohost the Web.Search.Social Podcast where we challenge the status quo of marketing and the Carbon Based Business Units podcast where we talk about the human side of being an entrepreneur. On any given day I wear the hat of project manager, consultant, social media manager and content marketer. My true passion is writing and in my spare time I'm busy planning my early retirement to Barcelona as a famous and wealthy novelist.
Carol Lynn Rivera
Carol Lynn Rivera