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Ten common email marketing mistakes

Although email is still the most widely used form of digital marketing in Australia, many small businesses fall into common traps when using it to reach their customers. Here are ten mistakes to avoid when formulating an email marketing campaign.

1. Boring or misleading subject line

Before a recipient opens the email, the subject line is the only point of contact between your business and them. It needs to be compelling. Jennifer Lancaster, a Brisbane-based copywriter, encourages businesses to put some imagination into how the subject line is phrased.

“Avoid writing dull subject lines, like “March newsletter” and thus lessening the open rates,” she says. “A subject line is like an envelope teaser or an ad headline.”

Each subject line needs to promise that the reader will gain something by opening the email. The value proposition needs to be blatantly obvious, and you need to communicate it in as few characters as possible.

“It needs to be well thought out to ensure the email delivers a high open-rate,” says Sabir Samtani, director of Reborn.

If you’re not sure how to make a subject line compelling, try A/B testing. Select a small sample of your subscriber base and send them an email with a significant variation on the subject line. Then, compare the open rates of both to see if one approach works better than the other.

“Nowadays, most of the email marketing tools have AB testing and it’s a key feature that only sophisticated marketers use and others ignore,” says Samtani. “It can make a huge difference to the end result and the success of a campaign.”

2. Who’s this from?

Showing whom the email is from has a significant impact on whether or not it’s opened. Make sure that recipients know that the email has come from your business and that your email client hasn’t auto-filled the ‘From’ field as this could make your missive look like spam. Also, make sure that each successive email has the same sender details, in order to build familiarity with your updates.

3. It’s more than a sales pitch

While the basic purpose of every campaign is to increase sales, it’s unlikely that your subscribers share the same compulsion when reading your email. This is why it’s a mistake to confuse your business priorities with the recipient’s desires and interests.

“One of the most common mistakes businesses make with their email marketing, is failing to remain focused on their subscribers,” says Matthew Johnson, EDM specialist at Vision 6. “Too often we see businesses deliver emails that they want to send, instead of emails that their subscribers want to receive. Even the most intriguing subject line and appealing creativity will generate mediocre results if the email does not speak to the heart of what subscribers want. It’s the old adage of ‘what’s in it for me?’ If an email recipient does not see immediate value in reading an email, they’ll simply ignore it.”

4. Size doesn’t matter

Simon O’Day, director of Responsys Australia claims that many email marketers think that the size of a campaign’s database is the most important thing.

“Too many times marketers and senior managers believe the size of the database is the most important thing,” he says. “The level of engagement, your ability to understand the people’s preferences and behaviors, and the breadth of information in the database are far more important. A database of 2 million people of which 10% are active is far less impressive than a database of half a million with 75% active.”

5. Too much information

It’s important that you resist the temptation to put too much information in the body of the email itself. Remember, the immediate outcome you’re looking for is for the recipient to follow through on a call to action. If they are intrigued by your subject line, only to find all of the information they were after in the email, then you’ve wasted the opportunity to increase site traffic or qualified phone leads.

6. No call to action

The key is for the email content to elaborate on the promise of the subject line, but to continue to withhold the desirable information in the body copy. This is where a call to action (CTA) comes into play. A CTA consists of a brief imperative sentence that encourages recipients to pursue the value proposition of the email, either by clicking through to a landing page on your site, picking up the phone, or visiting a store. Along with the subject line, the CTA is the most crucial functional aspect of any email.

“A lot of companies make the mistake of not having clear call-to-action in their emails,” says Reborn’s Samtani. “Email Marketing is a cost-effective sales driver and so it’s important for the business to ensure that there is a clear call-to-action in each email, whether it is a driver into the store, an e-commerce site or to further relevant content on their website.”

7. Over the top design

As with web design, it’s best not to get too carried away with the design of an email. Not only can it be extremely time-consuming, but it can also act as a barrier between the reader and your business.

“Avoid getting carried away with animation or other visual elements that may be of interest to the marketer but do not support the brand image, make the navigation to the key message difficult, or obscure the value proposition,” advises Craig Topp, channel development and distribution manager at Web Force Five.

Design flourishes can also inhibit email loading times and formatting for mobile reading, warns Simon Hampson, managing partner of GOSH! Digital.

“With the increase in smartphone usage and people checking email on the move, this is a major issue. Are your images optimized? Can your text be viewed on smartphones like the iPhone or Blackberry?

To avoid design issues, stick to the templates provided by your chosen email marketing service.

8. No segmentation

It’s a big mistake to send the same email to everyone on your list. Each recipient will have different interests and concerns that can be gleaned from your last interaction with them, as well as from how they responded to past marketing campaigns. Take note of how their interests are reflected in your past associations with them, segment your database according to interests, and then craft emails that cater specifically to each group. People are much more receptive to information that has been tailored to them.

9. Implied consent/explicit consent

Don’t break the law. In Australia, recipients have to have supplied their email addresses along with either express or implied consent for you to be legally allowed to send them marketing information. Express consent entails that they have filled in their email address or ticked a box for the explicit purpose of receiving more information. Implied consent is when you have received their email address by some other means with the expectation of some further form of email contact, be it marketing or otherwise. If possible, make sure your entire database was gleaned by express consent, as these recipients will be more receptive to your marketing.

10. No analytics

If you don’t know how well your email campaigns are performing, you have no way of knowing whether or not your strategies are effective. Make sure that you have access to a good quality email analytics package so that you can find out which aspects of your campaign are working, and which need revision.

“Failure to test different components of their email marketing in order to learn what works and doesn’t work,” says Vision 6’s Johnson. “One of the benefits of email marketing is its ability to track and measure performance in a timely fashion. You can (and should) test just about everything in your emails, including the subject lines, imagery, call to action, send times, layout, and so on. Testing can be as simple as an A/B split test where you create two versions of the same email with only a single difference between them. Then send each version to half of your database and compare the performance of each to see which worked best. It’s the best way to learn what your subscribers respond to and it’s something that email marketers should do with all of their emails.”

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