What's right (and wrong) with your email marketing strategy?

All articles | Marketing
Published Sep 20, 2018 | Written by Keith Errington

whats-right-and-wrong-with-your-email-marketing-strategyRecently Adobe published their 2018 Consumer Email Survey based on research by Advanis. Whilst this was US-based research, we know that historically there are many similarities between the US and UK markets.

The survey contains a number of fascinating insights, including the astonishing fact that 28% of respondents check their work email whilst in the bathroom! Not sure how relevant that is to any campaign you might think of running, but it's an interesting insight nonetheless.

More importantly for email marketing, 85% of respondents say they use a smartphone to regularly check mail (a figure which is on the rise) as against the 69% who regularly check emails on a desktop or laptop device (a figure which is reducing.)

Another stat that has seen an increase is the number of people who check email on their smartwatch – currently 5% – with this group mainly comprised of young men aged 18-24.

The survey reveals also provides some fascinating insights about our attitudes towards email. The main emotion when opening work-related emails, for example, is "indifference", with only 17% saying they feel "excitement."

Combine this with the 14% who feel "anxiety" and then add on the 8% who feel "dread or guilt", and clearly opening emails is not everyone’s favourite pastime!

So how can we use this new information to help us craft better and more effective email campaigns that our recipients will want to open, read and respond to?

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at what the latest research can teach us about what customers say they love (and loathe) about email marketing.

Isn't email marketing dead anyway?

First, we have to ask whether people are bored of email marketing. Have they given up on it altogether?

The good news is that, although it's declining, email is still the preferred method of contact by brands and it’s still two and a half times more popular than its nearest competitor, direct mail. It’s also seven times more popular than social media, text messages or phone calls.

The number one complaint

I’ve been involved in marketing for many years, and one thing has remained absolutely constant. When customers are asked: “What is the number one, most annoying thing about receiving marketing emails?” the answer is always: “Getting emailed too often.”

It seems, despite its constant appearance at the top of the “most annoying” list, marketers still haven’t learnt to time their emails appropriately.

So take a minute, right now, and look at your campaign timing. Ask yourself, is it too ambitious? And remember it’s better to send fewer emails than it is for your recipients to react by unsubscribing.

Getting the writing right

The second “most annoying” thing about email marketing has also stayed fairly constant.

In the past, it’s been that emails are inappropriate in tone. In this latest survey, second on the list of gripes is emails that are “too wordy” or “poorly written.”

This suggests two things; tone of voice and professionalism.

Tone of voice is immensely important – not just to avoid being wordy with the wrong audience, but to ensure you’re addressing your audience in terms, and in a language, that they understand and relate to.

On top of that, it needs to be a tone of voice that fits your company, product or service, and that implies authority and competence.

The quality of your writing must be professional too. It needs to be spell-checked, fact-checked and grammatically correct. And all the usual detail connected with an email – links, images, legal text, etc - must be present and error-free.

The importance of good, clean data

Third in the ‘most annoying’ list is: “An offer that makes it clear that the marketer’s data about me is wrong.”

The prevalence of this choice is relatively new, but I would guess that its appearance near the top of the list is due to the enormous amounts of data being collected and fed into marketing programmes.

A related complaint is: “An email urging me to buy a product or service I've already purchased.” From these last two points, we can probably draw the reasonable conclusion that much of that data being collected is either incorrect or wrongly used.

The research also highlights the frustrations email recipients feel about personalisation. And what’s interesting is that they are more concerned about it not being relevant than about it being too personal:

  • Recommending items that do not match your interests? - 33%
  • Including offers that have already expired? - 22%
  • Misspelling your name? - 17%
  • Sending an offer not appropriate to the season or your location? - 15%
  • Sending you promotions for things you've already purchased? - 14%

With the exception of getting someone’s name wrong – which is a pretty basic error – the rest are about being relevant, timely and useful. This comes back again to the use of data that is either incomplete or simply wrong. So always make sure your data is correct and relevant.

One of the big dangers of collecting and using vast amounts of user data is that it only takes a few errors to make it not only useless but potentially damaging as well.

Be rigorous in your collection, filtering, cleaning and use of your data. And if you are not sure of its veracity, then don’t use it. You will do more damage by using flaky data than you will ever possibly gain.

Has personalisation gone too far?

Personalisation has become a bit of an imperative lately, with a strong trend to try and build it in more and more.

However, the survey shows a worrying corollary – the more you personalise, the more you run the danger of coming across as creepy.

So getting that balance right between friendly and personal or intrusive and "big-brother-like" is crucial.

Only 9% complained that there was “Too little or no personalization” while 16% complained of “Too much personalization, where it is creepy”, which strongly suggests that marketing campaigns may be pushing things too far.

My advice? Assess your campaign mechanics and err on the side of caution when it comes to personalisation.

Another top pick in the “most annoying” list is “Emails without video or images” and “Poor Design” – showing the importance of layout, imagery, type and other visual elements to the success of an email campaign.

The next is a shocking piece of feedback for any marketing professional – “Emails that don't include a buy button to facilitate purchase.” Why on earth would this be missing? When you have a customer who wants to buy but can’t, that’s a major sales opportunity lost right there!

More on mobile

Given that a huge majority of users read emails on their smartphone, it’s worth looking at the particular things recipients hate about reading emails on their mobile devices.

Here the survey asked the respondents what was the “Most annoying thing when reading email from a brand on a smartphone?”

Top of the list was having to scroll down too much to read the entire email, suggesting that short and sweet emails are preferred.

Next was "Waiting for images to load, or downloading an image to see it." This one is tricky as many email clients don’t download images by default anyway, so users would have to click to download images. It does suggest, however, that the email needs to make sense even without images, and that any images you do use should load quickly.

"Too much text" was next on the list. I’d argue that this is probably more about great swathes of text, rather than too much per se. If you break up your text, and if it is interesting to read then you can get away with a lot more words than if you just present them as endless paragraphs of dull copy.

You might be surprised to find "Font size is too small" as another complaint, but it is a problem amongst all forms of communication.

Designers and content producers who are 30 or younger, or who have perfect eyesight, may well be completely unaware of this issue as a factor. They’re also generally working on desktop computers in great lighting conditions.

So it’s almost inevitable that they produce content that is in too small a font for the average recipient when reading it on a smartphone or in highly variable lighting conditions.

It’s not restricted to email design either: web designers, print designers, packaging designers – all are guilty of typography that requires perfect eyesight to work.

Similarly, "The layout is not optimised for mobile" is another complaint - and it's one that really has no excuse. In this day and age, if your email campaigns are not optimised for mobile then you really shouldn’t be in the email marketing business.

Interestingly, "Lack of video" was cited by 5% of respondents as the most annoying thing when reading email from a brand on a smartphone, suggesting that there is an appetite for video content that content producers should not ignore.

Five powerful principles

It seems apt to finish this article with an insightful list from the research that provides some very strong pointers for email marketers: "If you could change one thing about the emails you get from brands what would it be?"

  • Make them less about promotion and more about providing me information - 39%
  • Content that's better personalized to my interests - 27%
  • Ability to make a purchase without leaving an email - 12%
  • More engaging content like embedded videos and images - 9%
  • Incorporate more content from actual product/service users - 9%

These five principles are possibly the most important on which to base your email marketing campaigns.

Get them right and you will not only produce content that less likely to end up in the trash or spam folder - you’ll have successful campaigns that result in happy customers.

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Published by Keith Errington September 20, 2018
Keith Errington