Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What are "Best Practices" for Email Marketing?

You may send and receive 100 emails at work every day. You may forward jokes to friends. You might even keep in touch with your grandma or favorite aunt. Email is an important part of our lives.

And, in just 13 short years, email has evolved into a powerful direct marketing tool. According to eMarketer, 147 million people across the country use email almost every day.

Are you and your company doing a good job of reaching customers and prospects through email? We’ve assembled a list of 10 of the most useful and important “best practices” you can use to effectively send emails on behalf of your company.

1. Get permission.
Using permission-based marketing or opt-in email practices is mandatory. If you use a pre-checked box or other “passive” opt-in mechanism in your email sign-up process, it’s recommended that you change to unchecked boxes or another affirmative consent approach. In addition, review your unsubscribe process and make sure you are requiring as little information and as few clicks as possible to complete the process.

2. Set objectives for emails.
A mistake many email marketers make is to add too many things into a single email. Your emails should have focus and an objective. Are you wanting to cross-sell customers a new product? Do you have a special sale or price promotion for existing customers? You have a very short time to capture the reader’s attention and convince him to take action. Make sure it’s clear what you want him to do.

3. Ask for action.
Before writing begins on an email, decide on a call to action. What do you want the reader to do as a result of reading the email? Place on order on your Web site for a particular product or service? Call to talk to a representative about the offer? Get the offer in the email early on, possibly even as part of the subject line. And repeat it several times in the body of the email with links so that readers can take action.

4. Put the customer first.
You can use email marketing to prospect for new customers, cross-sell existing customers, build loyalty, confirm orders, offer support, announce new products or services, drive people to your Web site, or get valuable feedback. Whatever your goal, the email must be about the customer. Readers want to know immediately what is in it for them. So get to the point — and make sure you have one!

5. Give users control.
It’s important to build trust with customers and prospects during the email marketing process. While most consumers are savvy when it comes to using email, they still worry about spam, scams, and privacy violations. Put readers in control by using an opt-in process and build trust from the beginning.

6. Make the subject line count.
The subject line is one of the most important components of creating a successful email. Working in tandem with the “from” line, the content of the subject line helps determine if a recipient will open the email, delete it, file it, or mark it as junk.

Here are some tips for writing compelling subject lines:
• Keep it brief — six words or less is an ideal length.
• Intrigue readers.
• Be honest.
• Invoke action — tell readers what to do.
• Use personalization — include the recipient’s name.
• Use your company or brand name in the “from” line to clearly let recipients know who sent the email.

7. Write a powerful message.
From the moment someone opens your email, you have 3 or 4 seconds to sell. Here are some general tips for writing good email messages.

Be open and honest. Tell who you are and why you’re writing.
Get personal. Write like you would a personal letter.
Think “above the fold.” Make sure the important information shows.
Keep the paragraphs short. It makes the email content easier to read.
Make it quick. Keep the message simple and concise.
Ask for action. Give plenty of links so readers know what to do.

8. Create good design.
As with all direct marketing programs, the copy and graphics should work together as one unit. Each should reinforce and strengthen the other. If you’re using an HTML format, your graphics should be there for a reason.

9. Make it personal.
Personalization can add to the relevance of your message and build upon an existing relationship. It uses recipients’ own information to create a highly relevant message, which boosts the value of your email. You can incorporate the reader’s name, recent purchase history, other information about their interests and relationship with you.

10. Use many, many links.
According to a recent analysis by EmailLabs, increasing the number of hyperlinks in a message leads to increased open and click-through rates. The more links there are, the greater the chances that one or more will resonate with the recipient and motivate them to click through. If your goal is to funnel readers to your Web site or a special landing page, give them many access points. Put several link buttons sprinkled throughout the email message instead of just one.

Email marketing is an excellent way to build a personal, one-on-one relationship with customers and introduce prospects to your company. The question is: are you putting all of these best practices together to create a cohesive, effective email program?