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Email gives marketers a great way to connect with current and potential customers and make one-on-one contact that drives revenue growth. However, email marketing is also a crowded field, and businesses must do their best to stand out and get their messages opened, read, and acted on.
From spam filters to list attrition, there are a number of obstacles that can get in the way of a campaign having a positive impact. Here are some of the most common mistakes that hurt marketers’ chances of success:
1. Focusing on sales, rather than useful content
One way to make sure email open rates stay low and recipients quickly unsubscribe is to constantly blast out nothing but sales-focused content. While recipients do want relevant information about your company’s products or services, few people volunteer their email address so they can be bombarded with sales pitches. Rather, they want and expect useful, interesting, engaging content.
Creating great content requires knowing your customers and their preferences and behaviors. Surveys are a good way to find out what kinds of content people are most interested in.
Another important tactic is to watch what recipients are doing. Keep track of what’s getting opens and clicks and offer more of that content. In addition, try new things and test how they perform so you can expand what kinds of content you are offering.
2. Failing to target the message
As marketers strive to understand their audience and what kinds of content they want, it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone in the recipient list will have the same needs. For some businesses, it might be best to segment the list into specific groups and target them accordingly.
One of the most important steps for marketers to take is to move away from thinking and talking about email campaigns as a “blast” to an anonymous audience. Email is a good way to connect with customers individually, so businesses should think of email as more of a one-on-one conversion tool.
To develop those segmented lists, one strategy could be to ask what people are most interested in reading when they opt in. Some companies also maintain separate lists based on which channel recipients used to sign up.
3. Getting caught in the spam filter
Just because someone signs up to receive your emails doesn’t mean they’ll ever actually get anything that you send. Many emails end up stuck in recipients’ spam filters because marketers don’t understand how those filters work.
And you can hope as much as you want that people will add you to their address book after they opt in to ensure the messages are delivered, but the fact is that most people don’t do that.
Today’s spam filters are complex and it’s easy to trigger them by accident. Marketers should pay particular attention to their subject lines. While all filters have their own algorithms and behave differently, here are some of the most common reasons subject lines get blocked, according to Charles Wallace, Director of Marketing for Frost & Sullivan’s Events Division:
- Using too many capital letters compared to lowercase letters
- Repeating too many capital letters in a row
- Including words with gaps in between letters (for example, “s*a*l*e”)
- Repeating letters and/or symbols
- Overusing special characters like $, #, %, ?, !, etc.
- Using a special character to start the subject line
- Using too many punctuation marks
- Including too many blank spaces, and
- Starting your subject line with a common spam word.
4. Not understanding the laws
In addition to running afoul of spam filters, many email marketers may be unintentionally violating the laws regarding commercial email communication. Regulations such as the CAN-SPAM Act regulate how those messages can be sent, and businesses that fail to comply can face financial penalties.
Here are some of the mistakes that lead to noncompliance, according to the FTC:
- Using false or misleading header information, including the “from” and “reply to” addresses
- Failing to honor opt-out requests promptly – the law says you have 10 days
- Making the opt-out process difficult or confusing – emails should include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how to stop receiving emails, and
- Failing to keep an eye on service providers – even when another company handles your emailing, your business will still be held accountable for violations.
5. Sending too often – or not often enough
Sending too many emails is one way to drive customers away and make them unsubscribe. And if companies send emails infrequently or only sporadically, recipients may forget they even signed up and the business likely won’t be getting enough numbers to get value from the email campaign.
How much is the right amount of email? That depends on a lot of factors, such as the audience and the content. A good rule of thumb: Email as frequently as you can while still offering real value to recipients.
Businesses can watch key metrics such as open, click, unsubscribe, and conversion rates to get an idea of whether or not their recipients think the emails are adding value. It may also be helpful to segment lists by engagement and send more frequently to recipients who are highly engaged.
6. Missing a call to action
Of course, getting the audience to open emails does little good if those recipients don’t actually do anything. Emails should always include some kind of next step, whether it’s making a purchase, downloading a white paper, joining a social media group, etc.
When presenting this call to action, it’s important to create urgency and focus on the value it adds for the recipient. For example, copy such as “Click here to download our email marketing best practices white paper” can be reworded to something like “Take your email marketing to the next level by reading our white paper.”
7. Making it hard for mobile users
One of the keys for great email marketing is that messages must be easy for recipients to read. That was hard enough before with the variety of email clients in use, but now emails are read on totally different devices.
A lot of people read email primarily on mobile devices, and that number is only going to grow. For those recipients, if emails are difficult to read on their device of choice, they simply won’t bother to look at them. That means businesses must optimize their emails for mobile and test on a variety of different devices.
8. Relying on images
While Gmail recently changed the way images are handled, most email clients still block images by default, and many users don’t change those settings. Therefore, marketers should make sure their emails don’t require images in order to make sense or be effective. For example, a call to action link shouldn’t just be an image – it should also be supported by text that all readers will see.
Relying on images is also becoming problematic as more email is being read on mobile devices. Images are harder than text to scale properly on smartphones and tablets, and images may appear too small for mobile readers to comprehend.
9. Neglecting to test and refine
Even if businesses get great results right off the bat, it’s likely that there’s still room to improve. That’s why marketers should always be using response data to tweak their approach and test new strategies.
Some of the elements businesses should test include:
- Subject lines
- Frequency of delivery
- Day and time of delivery, and
- Types of offers and calls to action.
10. Following others’ lead
Email marketing is a popular strategy, and that means people get a lot of emails in their inboxes and businesses must work hard to stand out. Therefore, one of the top email marketing mistakes a company can make is to sound and look like everybody else, says Gary Robbins of Frost & Sullivan’s Integrated Marketing Solutions practice.
For marketers to stand out, they need to lead, rather than follow. The strategy must go beyond doing what’s worked for other businesses or doing what’s worked for your organization in the past. It’s important to also come up with new ideas and test them to find better ways to connect with your audience and get meaningful responses.
About the Author:
Sam Narisi is the publications editor and lead writer for Frost & Sullivan’s Integrated Marketing Solutions practice, which helps companies through all stages of the customer buying cycle. For more marketing information and insight, visit Frost & Sullivan’s IMS Knowledge Center.