Some of you may be aware that Tina Catling and Mark Davies (founders of outside the box) wrote a best selling book called "Think". Some of you may be aware that they have another book coming out later this year. The new book will be covering interactive marketing. They will capture all the techniques used in both online marketing and and direct marketing...and then comparing the two...making the very first interactive tool kit for practitioners.
This blog gives you a sneak preview of one of the first chapters in DRAFT form...yes that means it's not complete...so heres your chance to add to it!
Whats it all about?
Email is an ideal
medium for direct marketing and can and should be used to some extent by almost
all businesses. The advantages of email marketing are clear and substantial.
Email is increasingly widespread and is the most widely used application on the
internet. The costs of producing and distributing email are
considerably lower than is the case with traditional media, personalisation is
comparatively easy, and email has a faster production lead time and an
instantaneous response mechanism which facilitates impulsive responses. In
addition, measuring and testing the effectiveness of an email campaign is
quick and easy, allowing for improvements to be made to increase the
quantity and quality of respondents. For these reasons email marketing can be
very lucrative – the US Direct Marketing Association found that in 2007 businesses
spent roughly $500m on email campaigns which produced $23bn in sales – this
represents a return on investment of $48.56 for every dollar spent. However
there are many common mistakes in email marketing, and an unsophisticated
campaign will at best be ignored and at worst may alienate your customers and
damage your brand.
While there are of course many principles
that can be applied from traditional marketing methods to email you should be
aware that email is a distinct medium with its own particular set of rules. The
design of an email has to account for preview planes and download times –
factors that we don’t have to consider when designing a direct mail campaign.
Similarly we can’t just simply apply the principles of web design to email
marketing – making someone click a link on an email is very different from
trying to persuade someone to buy something once they have visited your
website, and it therefore involves different techniques. This chapter will
offer some simple advice to help you build an email list, create effective
emails, and to measure your results.
Capturing email addresses
first stage in creating an email marketing campaign is to compile a list of
email addresses, but this can often be a slow process. Fortunately there are
some simple and effective techniques you can use on your website and elsewhere
to help you to develop a permission-based email list with large numbers of high
quality contacts. Just remember that your customers are
likely to be receiving large numbers of emails every day and will be reluctant
to sign-up to yet another email list, and you should therefore explain clearly
the benefits of subscribing to the email and consider offering an immediate
incentive to encourage them to do so.
Using your website
o The advantage of text boxes is that they allow users to enter their
details without having to transfer through to a different page, this encourages
impulsive decisions to sign-up. Text boxes commonly comprise just a single box
asking for an email address, but you may want to include several different
boxes asking for additional information that will allow greater personalisation
of your emails.
o Buttons are pictorial representations of links that take users to a
separate sign-up form. Buttons can take many forms - and you may want to
experiment with some creative graphics - but often they will simply take the
form of a text-box in the sidebar, allowing users to access the link at any
time and on any page of you website. The advantage of buttons over text boxes
is that they can link to a more detailed form allowing you to capture more
o Text links are small sections of text linked to a separate form. Text
links allow you to offer a subscription option within the context of other
information. This is a useful tool for highlighting the benefits to the user of
signing up to the email list - while talking about any particular aspect of
your company you can highlight the fact that the user will have access to more
information/offers relating to that aspect by signing up to the email list, and
then include an appropriate text link.
o When your customers are making a transaction on your website you can
make it compulsory for them to provide an email address in order to complete
the purchase. In this case you should include a check box allowing them to
indicate whether they wish to be contacted by you in the future. It is best to
leave the box unchecked by default so as not to annoy people who have not
noticed the box with unwanted emails.
Other online opportunities:
your website will most likely be the main vehicle for capturing email
addresses, you should make use of any other contact you have with potential or
existing customers to encourage them to subscribe. Online advertising,
third-party websites, online directories, and your email signature can all be
used for sign-up links.
can use traditional marketing methods to help build your email list. You may
want to include the sign-up information on your business cards, on your direct
mail, and on any other print or broadcast advertising you are engaging in.
Never miss an opportunity to encourage people to subscribe.
The Sender’s Address
If your subscribers are going to open your
emails they have to recognise you and trust you, and for this reason the sender
name and address is very important. You should use a sender name that will be
easily recognisable to the subscriber and keep this sender name consistent. For
this reason it is usually best simply to use your brand name rather than the
name of any individuals. Of course this doesn’t prevent you from using the
names of people from your company within the email itself to add a personal touch.
The Subject and
Your subscribers are busy people, and they
receive lots of emails. If you want
them to open and read your emails you need to a subject line which manages to
be both informative and compelling. You should tell them what product or
service is being offered in the email and what benefits they will receive –
e.g. discounts or free gifts. Including the recipient’s name can be effective
in getting their attention, and you may also want to include a reference to
You should also
be aware that some email clients such as Gmail include a ‘snippet’ from the
beginning of the email next to the subject line. At the very least you should
ensure that the text in the snippet complements rather than detracts from the
content in the subject line.
Your subscribers want to digest the key
information in your email as quickly as possible, so your copy should be
simple, scanable, and to the point. Try writing out in full everything you want
to say in your email, and then shorten it as much as possible by removing any
superfluous or flowery language and by making use of lists and bullet points.
Remember you don’t have to use perfectly correct English and perfect grammar,
adopting an informal style for the sake of brevity does not necessarily make
your emails look any less professional though you should only adopt this approach
if it corresponds with your brand personality.
As part of this informal style you should consider
using creative alternatives to everyday email content. For example, rather than
starting an email with “Dear Thomas” you can use a more interesting
personalised greeting such as “Three cheers for Thomas!”, and instead of using
links saying “Read more” or “Visit our website” you can just as easily use a
less formal alternative such as “Check it out for yourself” or “Dive in”.
Less is more
As well as avoiding using too many words you
should also avoid using too many different messages in any one email. Each
email should have just one primary topic or objective, whether that is to sell
a particular product or just to say ‘Welcome’ to a new customer. It’s a common
mistake to try to do too many things at once but an email which is too
cluttered will likely be less successful than one with a simple and focused message.
If you do want to get across additional messages within the same email you must
ensure that the layout is simple to understand and that the different sections
of the email are clearly signposted and delineated.
More than just sales
Your emails can be about more than simply
promoting products and pushing your subscribers to make purchases, you can use
them to strengthen the relationship with your subscribers and to develop your
brand. Every now and then you may want
to send an email to your subscribers which is entirely designed for their
entertainment with no effort to sell them anything – try making it funny or
silly with jokes, cartoons, and videos. Making your emails unpredictable and
entertaining in this way can help create are more favourable view of your brand
and encourages subscribers to open your emails more often.
content can be used to great effect in your emails. Including testimonials and
ratings provided by visitors to your website can help to persuade your
subscribers of the quality of your product. This way it isn’t a salesman
telling them how good a product is but one of their peers, and this is always
going to be more convincing.
Another way of
utilising user-generated content in your emails is to create a dialogue with
your email subscribers: you could include a survey or quiz in every
e-newsletter you send out – this creates
a more interactive experience for the reader and provides you with valuable
information about your subscribers.
One possible technique
is to use deliberately cryptic email copy. You could have an email consisting
of one sentence or even just one word, or perhaps just some imagery or
graphics. If you make the content unusual and interesting then your subscribers
will want to see what you have to offer and many will click through to your
website to see what it is. This is however a risky strategy as many people will
not have time to read vague or ambiguous emails, and you may fail to grab the
attention of some of those people who would have been interested in your offer
if you had just explained clearly what it was.
Email Design and Layout
Your subscribers are unlikely to sit down and
carefully read through every bit of information on your email, instead they
will ‘scan’ for the key information and the layout of the email should help
them to do this as quickly and easily as possible. They should be able to
understand the core message of your email within seconds – i.e. what is being
offered, who is offering it, and how they can take the offer up.
It is crucial
that you avoid using large blocks of text in your emails and that you break up
your copy. You can use multiple headlines and bullet-points, as well as lines,
borders and boxes to divide the email into different sections. The most important components of your message
will usually be the details of the offer and the call-to-action, and you can
use ‘visual anchors’ to draw the reader’s eye to these and to any other
important information – you can give them a different typeface, size, or
colour, separate them completely from the other parts of the email, or use
images such as arrows or buttons to draw attention to them.
Pre-header text is, as you may have guessed,
text which goes above the header on an email. Most of the time the pre-header
text is used for a link allowing subscribers to view the email as a web page to
enable them to safely see any blocked images or graphics. There are however a
number of other functional items you can include in the pre-header text:
‘Forward to a Friend’ link
‘Edit Preferences’ link
‘Mobile Version’ link
A whitelist request (to add you to the recipient’s address book)
The header will usually include your company
logo, or at least some reference to your brand, as well as a navigation bar
linking to the different sections of your website. Any headers you use in your
emails should be similar in style if not exactly the same as the headers you
use on your website in order for your emails to be consistent with your brand
The footer of your email can be used for
additional links to different sections of your website, options to subscribe or
unsubscribe, and viral links (i.e. options to forward the email to a friend or
to share the email on a social network). You may also want to include a link to
Most subscribers are now blocking images in
their primary inbox by default. While this shouldn’t deter you from using images
altogether you need to be aware of the challenges that this poses. You need to
make sure that your emails are intelligible without the images by using a
mixture of text and images such that the text is sufficient to communicate the
message and enable the recipient to click through to your website, or you can
use ‘alt text’ to replace blocked images with copy. Alternatively you can just
provide links in your pre-header text to enable the recipient to choose to view
the images as a web page.
Videos can be effective in making emails more
entertaining, informative and distinctive. You can choose to embed videos in
the email itself or you can just link to videos in your website. If you choose
to embed videos you should remember that your subscribers usually spend only a
few seconds scanning your email and you should therefore present your videos in
a clearly recognisable video player format if you want them to get played.
You should also be aware that there may be
technological obstacles to viewing videos in email – while most of the email
clients that consumers will be using (Hotmail, Gmail etc) will be fine, many of
the email clients used by business such as Lotus Notes and Outlook are not
necessarily enabled for viewing videos. Videos are therefore less suitable for
business-to-business email marketing.
Your colour scheme should be consistent and
simple – too many different colours can make your email appear cluttered, less
attractive and more difficult to quickly scan. Ideally you should choose one
dominant colour and just one or two secondary colours. Make sure the colours
you use complement each other – navy blue text on a bright red background will
not be attractive or easy to read.
As we have already seen you need to ensure
your email can see the main details of your email pretty much instantaneously
and they will be unable to do this if they have to scroll down the page to find
important information. You should therefore try to include all of the crucial
elements of your email – your brand, the offer, and the call to action, and
anything else critical to your email – are located around the top. A normal
preview pane will be around 500 pixels wide and 350 pixels tall so you should
try to include all the important bits in this area, and particularly in the
top-left section as this is where your readers will look to first.
Most of the emails you send are likely to be
regular newsletters and notifications of special offers and new products.
However there are lots of other great opportunities to contact your subscribers
in order to strengthen your relationship and encourage them to make a purchase.
Here are a few suggestions:
Welcome emails can generate some of the highest
open rates and they can set the tone for your future emails and they can
therefore have a significant impact on the future success of your email
marketing campaigns. As well as thanking them for subscribing it’s usually a
good idea to use this opportunity to spell out in greater detail what your
subscribers can expect from your emails in the future as well as telling them a
more about your business. It can be a good idea to use welcome emails to
request that your subscribers ‘whitelist’ you in order to ensure that future
emails arrive in their inbox without images being blocked and without being
treated as spam.
Most of the time
when customers place items in their online shopping cart or basket they don’t
go on to complete the purchase. There could be any number of reasons for this,
for example they may have intended to go back and purchase the item later but
forgotten about it, or they may simply be using the shopping cart like a wish
list with no firm intention of completing the purchase. Whatever the reason
it’s a good idea to send them an email reminding them that they have items
waiting in their shopping cart. You can do this after a given period of time,
or you can do it when the stocks of the particular products in their cart are
running low and warn them that they should buy quickly before they sell out.
You could also think about including an incentive for the customer to go and
complete the purchase, though there is a danger that this would lead savvy
customers to deliberately abandon the shopping carts in order to receive the
Another opportunity for email contact is when
a customer reactivates their lapsed account. Simply sending them an email
thanking them for coming back and informing them of recent changes and new
products and services can be useful in strengthening the relationship with the
customer and increasing sales.
Once a visitor to your site has made a
purchase your aim is to make that person come back again and an effective way
of doing this is to send them a confirmation email which is highly personalised
and attractive, and which includes recommendations and special incentives to
encourage repeat purchases. You should however ensure that any promotional copy
is to the side or below the confirmation copy.
You could also send recent purchasers a
follow-up email asking them what they thought of their product. You could then
ask those who provide positive reviews to send referrals to friends.
If you track
which pages your subscribers are viewing you will be able to send personalised
emails based on the particular products or services that each individual
subscriber has viewed and informing them of any relevant special offers that
arise, as well as recommending similar products that might interest them. However
there is a danger that your customers might not like the fact that their
activity is being closely monitored so you need to be careful and sensitive in
how you use this information and try to get feedback on what your subscribers
think of these emails.
If a previous
customer has not been active for a certain amount of time (often linked to your
business cycle) try sending them a “We miss you!” email to persuade them
return. You can also provide an exclusive incentive to encourage them to come
Special Occasion Emails
anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, – there a lots of special occasions
that you can use as an excuse to contact your subscribers. At a given time
before the event send them an email reminder with relevant product suggestions
and incentives, and personalise the copy and imagery to the specific recipient.
If you can work
out the average consumption period for your products you can send your
customers an email at the time when they are likely to need to stock up on new
supplies – if your product usually needs replacing after three months, send
them an email after three months with incentives for a repeat purchase or
recommendations for alternative products.
But don’t get carried away
While it is good
to contact your subscribers regularly you don’t want to annoy them by pestering
them too often. It is very important that you get the overall frequency of your
emails right, otherwise you could find yourself with a lot of unsubscribe
requests. A potential problem in large organisations is that you end up with
different teams or departments wanting to email the same subscribers all at the
same time. One way of avoiding this is to assign someone with responsibility
for managing the frequency of emails who can decide which emails should get
priority and whether the different messages can be compiled into a smaller
number of emails.
There are a
number of different ways of measuring the success of your email campaigns in
order to help you identify which areas need to be improved. Some of the usual
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are listed below.
sent – emails bounced) /emails sent) x 100%
the proportion of emails that are being successfully delivered to your
subscribers’ inboxes. A low delivery rate could indicate that your emails are
being treated as spam, or that a large number of the email addresses on your
list are not valid.
opened /emails sent - emails bounced)) x 100%
is not as significant as it used to be as it has become more difficult to
calculate the open rate accurately. An email is registered as ‘opened’ when an
image is requested from the server, however many email clients are now blocking images by default so
many emails are incorrectly designated as unopened. Open rates are still worth
keeping an eye on - an unusually low open rate may suggest that you need to
make changes in the sender or subject lines or that your subscribers have not
been impressed by your previous emails.
clicked /emails sent - emails bounced)) x 100%
the number of people who click on a link in your email. Since the measurement
of open rates has become less reliable the click-through rate has become the
primary indicator of subscriber interest. If you have a high open rate but a
low click-through rate then this suggests you will need to improve the content
and/or design of your email.
resulting in a conversion /(emails sent - emails bounced)) x 100%
rate is the number of different emails that resulted in a ‘conversion’. A
conversion simply refers to a subscriber performing a desired action, so for an
online retailer a conversion would simply be a web site purchase. Other types
of businesses may have different definitions of a conversion such as a
membership registration or a software or media download. If you have a low
conversion rate despite having reasonable click-through rate then you may need
to improve your landing page.
requests /emails sent - emails bounced)) x 100%
This is the
number of subscribers who lost interest in you completely and decided to
unsubscribe. High unsubscribe rates are usually indicative of a problem either
with the content or the frequency of your emails.
forwarded /(emails sent - emails bounced)) x 100%
usually have some viral element in your emails, whether this is a request for
recipients to forward the email to a friend or to share it on a social network.
This is an effective way to add revenue to your campaign and to acquire new
subscribers. The viral rate measures the number of subscribers who choose to
share your email in this way.
Return on Investment (ROI)
generated from campaign /total cost of campaign) x 100%
The ROI of your
email marketing campaign is the most important measurement in determining the
extent to which it has been a an overall success. Your overriding goal in
business is to make money, and the greater the ROI the more money you are
making. If your other email marketing KPIs are all showing positive results but
your ROI is low this could be an indication that you are spending too much
money in the production of you email marketing campaigns.
Testing is quick, cheap and easy in email
marketing – this is one of its great strengths, yet it is surprising how often
testing is overlooked by organisations in their email marketing campaigns. You
can test pretty much anything – whether it’s a single element of your email
such as the subject line, or the whole thing. If your emails are doing well
you’re probably best off just making small changes and testing alternatives to
single elements such as the subject line, but if your campaign is seriously
underperforming you might want to consider testing a completely different
Subject lines are a great candidate for
testing. Try to make sure that whatever you use can be replicated in subsequent
emails, so try testing different ‘types’ of subject lines. For example, you can
test subject lines which focus on product benefits, price or offer end dates
and see which works best. You can also test almost any part of the content of
the email. From a design perspective you can test different lengths, layouts,
images, colour schemes and so on,
and you can also try different
incentives and product descriptions. It’s not only the content that needs
testing, you can also try sending your emails on different days, at different
times, and at different levels of frequency.
Email Service Providers (ESPs)
It is highly recommended that you invest
some money in a good Email Service Provider to help you tackle the
administrative, technological and creative challenges involved in an email
ESPs provide many invaluable services. Delivery
rates should increase as most ESPs are approved by ISPs as a legitimate email
delivery service and they usually offer easy methods to authenticate your email.
Most ESPs also provide clients with comprehensive tracking of their emails
which will help you to keep track of the key performance indicators highlighted
above, and you can use this information to help create a segmented list so that
you can target the individuals who would find your message most relevant to
them. ESPs will manage your subscribes and unsubscribes for you which will be a
big time saver especially if you have a large subscriber list. Also, ESPs will
usually offer HTML templates which you can adapt and use for your campaigns and
personalising your emails is made easy so that you can include the subscriber’s
name, past purchase history and other information directly into the message.