Email marketing is dead. Or maybe it isn’t dead, just on life support. On the other hand, it could be alive and living it up in Maui. It all depends on whom you ask.

Actually, the real answer is all the above. Email marketing, as practiced since the days when Netscape was hot, is most certainly dead. The days of purchasing an email list and blasting its addresses with your latest sales pitch are gone. The echoes of shotgun marketing strategies are rapidly fading away in favor of technology-driven, highly targeted, highly effective email campaigns.

Through integration with social media, mobile devices, and intelligent email automation programs, email marketing is reinventing itself into a mature and responsible version of its former self—Version 2.0, you might say. And with 2015 stats reflecting and ROI of 43,000%, email marketing is, more than ever, a great way to invest a portion of your marketing dollars.

What’s Not Hot

Email marketing can dramatically increase your bottom line, but only if you do it right. It is not enough to get recipients to open your emails, you must get them to respond to them if you are to make sales. With 122,500,453,020 emails being sent out every hour, competition for email clicks is fiercer than ever. The first step in breaking through the crowd and getting your emails read begins with staying out of jail.

Violating the “CAN SPAM Act”

By now, you may have heard of U.S. Code 15 U.S.C. § 7704(a) of 2003, also known as the CAN SPAM Act.

Essentially, the legislation, signed into law by President George W. Bush and enforced by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, sets legal guidelines regarding how email may be used for commercial purposes. In a nutshell, the law requires the following minimum requirements for each email a commercial enterprise sends out:

  • Don’t use false or misleading header information.
  • Don’t use deceptive subject lines
  • Identify the message as an ad.
  • Tell recipients where you’re located.
  • Tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you.
  • Honor opt-out requests promptly. Monitor what others are doing on your behalf.

Full details are available on the FTC website, and compliance is not voluntary. The FTC actively investigates complaints and, should you be in violation, you can be fined up to $16,000 for EACH email sent in violation. Further, some violators have received suspended sentences and even active prison terms for their violations.

Purchased Email Lists

Once upon a time, there were two kinds of email lists:

  1. Lists purchased from reputable vendors and which worked, and
  2. lists purchased from scammers and which did not work.

Today, there are also two kinds of email lists:

  1. Lists purchased from anybody and which won’t work, and
  2. lists you compile and which may work.

According to data from MailChimp, the open rates plummet and complaint rates soar when sending emails from purchased lists. For example, if you base your entire email marketing campaign on a purchased email list, the open rate will be around 2.5% and a complaint rate of nearly 0.3%. That is not a good ROI strategy for any form of marketing. Oh, and using a purchased list is, according to many law experts, illegal. Use of any list in which those listed did not opt-in, rather than having an opportunity to opt-out, is a violation of the CAN SPAM Act.

The only legal way to use a third-party email list is to rent one. That is, a third-party vendor sends your email to opt-in lists that have compiled for this purpose. Since you do not receive the list, only emails from recipients who choose to respond, you aren’t technically buying the list, but renting it. In certain cases, renting a list may be a valid option, but not so for marketing your business.

Poorly Crafted Content

Your email campaign will never attract customers if your emails don’t shine. Poorly written content does nothing to make people want to do business with you. Although spelling errors and grammatical mistakes are never acceptable, your emails need to do more than qualify for a good grade in English class. They must capture the reader’s attention almost immediately and hold it long enough to make a persuasive call to action.

Do you want the recipient to visit your website, call you, or click on an included link? Then, you must give them a compelling reason to do so. That means you have to interest them, make them trust you, and convince them that it is worth their time to respond—all within a few seconds. Not every company has someone on staff who has the unique skills needed to write effective email copy. If your company does not employ such a person, outsourcing your email content, or the entire campaign, could mean the difference between making money and losing money.

Regardless of who writes your copy, have one or two good proof-readers critique it before hitting the send button. Not only can errors make you look unprofessional, they can, potentially, lead to legal issues.

Spammy Subject Lines or Content

If one thing has gotten better with time, it’s the lowly spam filter. While far from perfect, all major email service providers have greatly improved their email spam filters. That’s good news for recipients, bad news for businesses trying to get email promos into inboxes rather than junk email folders. The algorithms providers use to identify spam are closely held secrets, and for obvious reason. If spammer knew all the rules used to block their messages, they would simply create spam that would circumvent those rules. However, you can improve your chances of getting past spam filters by not making your emails look like spam.

While this is only a partial list, adding the following words and phrases in your subject line or body of the message is a fantastic way to ensure your emails never land in an inbox: get paid, easy terms, exclusive offer, free quote, lowest price, money-saving, mortgage rates, risk-free, and sale, to name a few.

Finally, iPhone cuts off subject lines at 32 characters, so be sure you don’t exceed this.

What is Hot

Yes, email marketing has changed. And for the better. Consider the following stats:

  • In 2015, 73% of marketers said email marketing was core to their business.
  • The open rate for Welcome emails is an astounding 50%.
  • Email Marketing drives 25.1% of orders on Black Friday.

Clearly, when done right, email marketing can be a significant part of an overall marketing plan. Although graduate programs could be (and probably are) developed around email marketing strategies, a few simple techniques can help even the smallest company turn email into a revenue-generating asset.

Using Email to Tap Into Your Existing Customer Base

No one will be more willing to open emails from you than existing customers will. As mentioned above, with a 50% open rate on Welcome emails, it is clear that customers want to hear from businesses with whom they have business—only not too often and not in a way that wastes their time.

Well-timed emails welcoming new customers, and offering coupons or meaningful discounts to existing customers will generate customer loyalty like nothing else. Timing is important. Get that Welcome email on its way immediately (as in automated response) following a new registration or new purchase. Customers like to know when coupons or discounts will be available, so weekly or monthly specials work best.

Popup Boxes

Conscientious marketers have a love-hate relationship with popup boxes. Few things took the shine of the Internet experience of the 80s and 90s like popup ads. As testament to the severity of the problem, and of complaints, every major browser eventually included options for blocking popups. For a period, they were all but gone. But in an effort to capture the most valuable piece of data from website visitors—their email addresses, site owners have dusted off the popup box and using it as a means for soliciting visitors’ emails. Many owners who would never use a popup for anything else see the value of getting an email address before the visitor leaves the site, even at the risk of angering a few visitors who will simply leave at the first site of a popup.

The popup box can be used to collect visitor emails, and still be something less than totally annoying. While some developers and marketing experts advocate using lightboxes, obscuring the rest of the page until the visitor either enters their address or closes the box is an interruption that will drive some away. One solution is to delay the appearance of the popup box until the visitor has had ample time to read about half of the page. By then, you have shown them the respect to not flash them as soon as they walk in the door, and you have allowed them time to decide that, perhaps, they do want to receive emails from you.
Love’m or hate’m, popup boxes result in a 100% to 300% in opt-ins, compared to not using one.

Integrate Email with Website and Social Media (Include Blog)

One advantage email marketing offers, today, that was unavailable until fairly recently is the ability to have your customers market for you. By utilizing social media in all its forms, including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google, blogs, and so on, you can multiply your email marketing efforts.

A good marketing plan helps you to get your message before others. A great marketing plan motivates others to help spread the word for you. By inviting recipients of your marketing emails to share those emails, you can multiply your marketing efforts. According to Constant Contact, adding social media sharing buttons to your email template increases the click-through rate by 158%.

Of course, no one will click a share button within your email template just because you ask them to. You must include something of value within the email, such as link to an interesting post on your social media page or to a video. People love videos, and if you can add short video content to the mix, you will increase your click-through rate substantially. Of course, if the videos are about exciting new things you are offering your customers, so much the better.

Then there are contests. People love contests. In fact, some people are addicted to them. Prize or no, the chance to claim victory at the cost of others has a very strong appeal. Adding simple contests to your social media pages—and requiring an email in order to play— is a great way to capture emails, while enticing your new customers to keep coming back. For this strategy to work, your contests must be updated frequently (daily is best), and must offer both challenge and reward. Of course, flashing “WINNER!” is all the reward most will need to keep coming back. After all, who doesn’t want to be told they are a winner?

Using teasers within your emails can lead visitors to your website, where you probably want them to land. Teasers are short, exciting messages that hint of a something interesting just a click away. If you want to capture customers rather than driving them away, you must make the click worth it. Whether you want to talk about a new product or service, or offer a discount for new customers, make it something that the customer will want to share.

Getting Into Address Books

One of the best ways to get a pass from spam filters is to have your email address added to the address book of your customers, old and new alike. Different coding tricks have been tried, but with the variety of email service providers out there, there is no way to sneak your address into every recipient’s address book, and doing so would be bad juju even if you could. The solution is to include an invitation in a prominent position within your email, asking the recipient to please add you to their address book. A surprising percentage of people will add your address, if they feel there is even a chance they will want to do business with you. Not surprisingly, failing to ask results in a much lower inclusion rate.

Need an Expert?

Email marketing can be a hit or miss proposition. By following the guidelines we have presented, you greatly increase your changes of building a successful email marketing campaign. However, a failed campaign cannot only result in a low ROI, it can cause irreparable damage to your company’s reputation. The best solution for many organizations is to outsource their email marketing campaigns.

KDG offers complete email marketing and marketing automation solutions for nonprofits, higher education, and small and medium sized businesses. Our team of professionals will design a campaign that accomplishes your marketing objectives, without exposing you to the risks of DIY strategies. Our marketing experts will create your content, design your message layout, email your target list, and analyze the results. Why not contact us today?