Email marketing can either work wonders or flounder. And simply put, brands that stand out in crowded inboxes grab their audiences by doing things differently.
Research by the Radicati Group has shown that by 2016, there will be over 4.3 billion email accounts in the world. And a Yesmail Email Marketing Compass report reported that subscriptions to email content have grown by 9 percent year over year in the past five years. Despite this growth, the rate of overall emails opened has dropped 3 percent.
Even though these statistics are giving marketers mixed messages, email marketing is far from dead. There are simply more variables to consider when trying to reach your audience. For example, the majority of consumers still prefer email for permission-based marketing communications, as opposed to social media or text messaging. And more importantly, the average ROI for email marketing is higher than search engine marketing and display advertising.
With that in mind, there’s little doubt email should remain a high priority for content marketers. But there’s still one big question: How do you get your content to stand out in increasingly crowded inboxes?
Humanize your marketing with personalization
Applying some common courtesy to your messages can go a long way. Thanks to Gmail’s filtering system, which separates promotional emails from primary inboxes, marketers need to do more than simply copy and click send. By addressing users individually and referencing previous behaviors and actions, your brand will see an increase in open and transaction rates. Personalized emails have been reported to multiply transaction rates (up to 6x!) when executed skillfully.
Let’s look at an example: Amazon has used customer data to create an incredibly targeted email marketing program. The company does not randomly select products to advertise. It uses the user data from searches, clicks, and purchases to recommend related products via email.
Of course, it’s all not about data-based targeting. The voice of your brand and the content you provide consumers matters too. For starters, make sure your email is well-written and engaging. And past that, be sure you’re providing readers with informative and entertaining stories, not just business pitches. In the long run, doing so will help you build long-term relationships with readers.
Don’t sell, tell a story
A great narrative is a crucial ingredient to outstanding content. Emails are no longer just transactional reminders and calls to action. There’s nothing wrong with conducting business through email, it’s just that the person sitting at a desk during a coffee break probably would prefer not to be approached in a hey-click-here-to-buy-some-shirts kind of way. It’s irritating.
Just as email marketing should be personalized, it should also be creative. People are naturally drawn to stories. Stories can be compelling, lighthearted, visual, inspiring, and memorable. More often than not, a good story can stick in a potential customer’s mind. Brands that apply storytelling to their email marketing will be able to acquire and retain more customers. As author and VaynerMedia founder Gary Vaynerchuk said, “Storytelling is by far the most underrated skill in business.”
Not every email needs to be measured in sales. Sometimes brand loyalty can be of equal value. For example, Betty Crocker occasionally emails subscribers recipe tips related to their product, poll results, and an “Ask Betty” feature that encourages organic engagement.
Similarly, with a great touch of personalization, Eloqua strengthened their relationship with the reader by customizing the hero image in their email to reflect the name of the reader’s company.
Simplify Your Call to Action
If you’re promoting a sale, event, or limited-time offering, keep the email copy short and sweet. Readers don’t want to search for a link at the bottom of the page. They want instant gratification, or they’ll move on to the next thing. And for large retail companies thinking of running multiple sales simultaneously, this can lead to a cluttered call to action that confuses consumers.
More links and buttons do not equal more clicks. To demonstrate this, Whirlpool conducted a case study and discovered when a brand reduced the call to action from four buttons to one button in their email, they received a 42 percent increase in engagement.
Consistent UX Between Web and Email
Generally, people subscribe to email newsletters because they’ve enjoyed your original product, platform, and content. With that being the case, it is important to keep the user experience seamless between email, website, and social media.
Pinterest has done this extremely well. The image-based website sends digest emails regularly to their users with a layout design identical to the one on the website.
Create a Membership Club
Once you have a sizable mailing list, you can keep in touch with your contacts through a membership club. With this new communication channel, your brand would have a reason to constantly keep in touch with members. Users can also congregate and connect with each other.
There are many examples in the entertainment industry of successful membership clubs. For example, Grammy-nominated musician Ryan Leslie connects with his fans directly through his #Renegades membership club and offers a store and exclusive content that’s only accessible to members who pay a small fee. Leslie uses this direct connection to thank fans for their patronage and give early previews to his content.
Pearl Jam also has a membership club and charges annual membership fees. Members get priority ticketing, monthly newsletters, and annual vinyl singles.
Although many brands have attempted to from a loyalty perspective (e.g., Coca-Cola with their now-retired iCoke rewards program), creating a community that involves other members would also help you stand out in the inbox.
Coca-Cola is now working with white-label social platform Backplane to create the 1886 Club, a group for Coca-Cola collectors. American Express built their now-famous OPEN Forum. And Bomgar built a community for their insiders to enhance customer education.
Your brand should find a way to reward consumers who have shown interest and loyalty by subscribing. To see an increase in engagement, personalize emails, tell interesting stories, leave clear calls to action, use images, and keep the design consistent. Also, try to introduce some exclusivity into your email marketing strategy. Inboxes will continue to be crowded, but there are ways for you to get the clicks you need for steady growth.
Which brands send the best emails? Let us know by tweeting @Contently.