6 keys to communicating effectively & efficiently
by Neil Brown
July 19, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, email is still one of the most effective marketing channels. Why? Because email can reach individual decision-makers at a relatively low cost in comparison to many other marketing channels. Email can be measured easily and can drive lead generation. In fact, email is growing steadily. A recent McKinsey study (mckinsey.com) found email to be 40 times more effective than Facebook and Twitter combined; however, it must be executed correctly to achieve these results. This is no small matter, as there are many variables to reaching optimum email excellence. The following checklist identifies the key variables that determine email effectiveness and success.

1. Start with the Email List

The quality of an email list most often refers to its deliverability or conversion rates. Lists with a high percentage of undeliverable emails, or hard bounces (returned to sender), can often be blocked as spam or even blacklisted. Therefore, list quality is often a reference to how recent the emails were opted-in or procured. Old lists will have a high percentage of expired emails, which results in hard bounces. Fortunately, most email service providers (ESPs) and customer relationship management platforms (CRMs) automatically remove hard bounces. In addition, there are a variety of tools that can verify email deliverability.

List building should be an ongoing effort, with opt-ins or requested emails being the foundation. Other sources for list prospects include customers, employees, trade-show attendees, list brokers and more. While the United States is lenient about email, Europe and Canada are not. In May 2018, the European Union began enforcing The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which regulates the collection and processing of personal information of individuals, especially in regard to websites and email lists. For vendors, customers and employees, collect only data that you need and will use. Overcollection of information, especially personally-identifying data, might get you into trouble later. Care must be taken when building a list and allowing recipients to unsubscribe to emails. With average open rates of 10 to 20 percent, lists should be as large as possible to ensure engagement.

2. Improve Open Rates Using Subject Lines

Your email subject line is the determining factor for open rates. In fact, 47 percent of email recipients say the subject line determines whether or not they will open it (hubspot.com). There are many tips and techniques to ensure subject lines are optimized for maximum open rates. The following is a list of tips for subject lines.

  • Keep subject lines brief—preferably, less than 15 characters. Subject lines should never be more than 25 characters.
  • Use words and phrases that convey a sense of urgency, such as “Today,” “Special Offer” or “Open Now.”
  • Avoid words and phrases that are spam flags, such as “Get Rich Quick” and “Multilevel Marketing.”
  • Avoid writing in all caps and using special characters.
  • Personalize the subject line with the recipient or company name.
  • Test and optimize your potential subject lines. Use a free tool like the one offered at subjectlines.com.

3. Drive Engagement through Email Design

Once the recipient opens the email, it is up to the design to drive engagement. Design includes copy, images and calls to action (CTAs). Broadly, designs can be single topic or multitopic. An example of a single-topic email is a webcast announcement with a description, bullet points and a registration link. An example of a multitopic email design is a newsletter, with a couple of different topics covered in one to two sentences and a “read more” link. In addition, there might be an event registration, hyperlinked social media icons, a cover of a brochure and/or a hyperlinked e-book.

The key to effective email design is short copy, with clear CTAs that can be measured using metrics. One of the great things about email is that designs and CTAs can be tested and optimized. How? Often called A/B tests, two email design variations are mailed to smaller lists, with click-through rates (CTRs) measured. The higher CTR is then used for the balance of the list.

4. Use an Email Platform

There are many platform options, but which one is best? The most basic is an email service provider (ESP). Examples include Constant Contact and MailChimp. An ESP is most often the entry-level email system for small lists. Most ESPs have a relatively inexpensive monthly fee and offer delivery optimization, metrics dashboards and auto-removal of hard bounces. Customer relationship management software (CRM) is a more robust system, with complete email functionality and more advanced features like integration with e-commerce and other systems. Some examples include Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics.

Marketing automation software or systems (MAS) may be similar to CRM but have other marketing features like website and blog management or advanced metrics and dashboards. Examples include Marketo and Hubspot. Of course, software can be more expensive than a basic email service, but it might be required for larger enterprises. Selection of an email distribution system, therefore, is based on list size, functionality required and cost. The above options optimize for effective deliverability, reducing the possibility of spam blocking and being blacklisted—options not available through personal email.

5. Understand Email Metrics

All of the aforementioned ESP, CRM and MAS platforms have easy-to-use dashboards with metrics that are measured for each email campaign. Consider the following key email metrics and what they mean to your email marketing operations.

  • Open rate—The percentage of recipients that open an email; 10 to 20 percent is average.
  • Click-through rate (CTR)—The percentage of recipients clicking links within an email. CTRs vary by industry, but in general, 10 percent and above is positive.
  • Bounce rate—The percentage of emails that have been sent back to the sender, as the recipient email address was invalid or presently not working. Hard bounces are bad email addresses and should be removed. Soft bounces are most often out-of-office notifications or the result of temporary server issues.
  • Unsubscribe rate—The percentage of the list that unsubscribes through the link at the bottom of each email, which allows visitors to unsubscribe or modify/update their information.

6. Pay Attention & Learn to Adapt

Email is not perfect. Because average open rates are 10 to 20 percent, 80 to 90 percent of your intended audience will not see the email. Overcome this issue by building larger lists and optimizing subject lines to improve open rates. Additionally, remember that under GDPR, there are stringent laws and steep fines for emails that are not opt-in or requested by the recipient. As such, make sure to stay on top of your email list and base your recipients on direct requests and opt-ins.

Email continues to remain a major marketing element. It takes effort in multiple areas to run a successful email campaign, and a large, verified email list is the foundation. An optimized subject line drives opens, and a simple email design with strong offers or CTAs drives engagement. With email, measurement of key metrics, testing and optimization is possible. Of course, email drives website traffic, among other benefits, including ease of use and the mobility of the medium, cutting across age and gender boundaries with its broad use and popularity.