How are you managing your email list? Are you falling short of reaching the people in your database who’d be happy to hear from you? Are you overreaching by regularly sending emails to every contact on your list – regardless of whether or not they asked for them, or worse, even know who you are? Chances are your email marketing efforts fall into one of these two archetypes. And if it does, you’re likely leaving money on the table.
In a report by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the DMA estimated that email marketing efforts deliver a $40 return for every $1 spent.
The DMA also reported that email has the highest conversion rate of any marketing-message related activity at 66% when compared to other mediums such as social and direct mail. This means that if you’re not putting enough time and energy into your email marketing, you’re losing out.
However, you can’t just send out a few emails here and there, or, alternatively, throw a bucket of spam on your entire email list indiscriminately. You can’t just do it, you need to do it right.
So, what do you do? To maximize the effectiveness of, and return on, your email marketing efforts, you need to create the right balance. I’ll explain what I mean by that in a bit (and no, it’s about a lot more than just frequency or any one principle), but before we do that, we need to identify what a lack of balance looks like on both sides and the problems with each approach.
Two Approaches to Email List Management
Marketers’ email marketing efforts tend to fall into one of two groups when it comes to their email marketing and list management tendencies:
- The Passive Email Marketer
- And the Aggressive Email Marketer
These approaches represent opposite ends of the spectrum with regards to email marketing behaviors. Neither is completely wrong nor completely right, but while they do both get something right their faults often overshadow and negate any good they’re doing.
The passive email marketer underestimates the power of email.
They tend to be consensual, collaborating with their subscribers in an honest way…when they actually get around to sending an email. And don’t bother asking them about their email marketing strategy- they don’t have one.
Then there’s the aggressive email marketer.
They’re on the opposite end of the email marketing spectrum. They understand the power of email and work vigorously to take advantage of the incredible opportunity. However, their aggressive approach tends to land them in all kinds of trouble.
Let’s take a look at the problems with each approach so we can design a better, more effective email marketing strategy.
2 Critical Mistakes of the Passive Email Marketer
According to a study done by ExactTarget, 77% of users prefer email over social media for permission-based promotional messages.
People want to receive emails from you, even more than updates on their favorite social network. That’s saying something, something no good marketer should ignore.
What makes the passive email marketer behave this way when the data says they should do otherwise?
The problem with the passive email marketer ultimately comes down to a lack of knowledge with regards to the effectiveness of email marketing and the resulting absence of an email marketing strategy because email marketing has been deemed unimportant.
A closer look at companies using the passive email marketing approach tends to reveal two specific problems that reduce the effectiveness of their email marketing activities:
1. They Don’t Ask for the Subscription before beginning their email marketing efforts
Assuming lead generation is an important part of your marketing strategy, you’re likely to have a minimum of 3 types of forms on your website. These can include:
- A lead generation offer such as a whitepaper, case study, guide, or webinar
- A newsletter subscription form
- A contact form
And that’s the bare minimum. A high performing site will have many more, including multiple offers and several different contact form variations depending on the purpose.
A huge missed opportunity for the passive email marketer is that they never think to ask for the subscription on non-subscription forms such as contact forms, download forms, event forms, or account creation pages.
“So what?”, you say? Well, the thing is, what you end up with is a huge portion of your email list having not actually subscribed to receive any kind of regular email content from you. Then, when they finally do receive an email from you, due to the fact that they weren’t expecting it, they’re very likely to mark it as spam or simply never open it.
Moreover, if you’re just placing a few opt-in forms on your site and always using the same old opt-in, your conversion rates likely pale in comparison to what they could be. With a healthy amount of testing, you can find the best combination of copy and design that optimizes your conversion rates and helps you get more subscribers with the same amount of traffic.
Also, when someone is subscribing, give them all the information they need to feel comfortable such as how often they’ll receive emails from you, how easy it is to change frequency, that they can unsubscribe, as well as letting them know that you’ll never share their data.
- Do I ask for a subscription at every touchpoint or am I wasting opportunities to build an ongoing relationship?
- Do I make compelling offers or do I turn off visitors with a bland description and lack of defined value?
- Am I regularly testing and improving my offers and opt-in forms?
2. They Don’t Segment Properly (If at All)
Another common mistake is incomplete, or an altogether lack of, segmentation. This results in too few contacts receiving your regular email campaigns or those contacts receiving content that isn’t a perfect fit for them.
Let’s say you have a newsletter and you segment your newsletter subscriber list into four subcategories based on two fields:
Country: Canada or United States
Sales Channel Type: Wholesale or Retail
Are you confident every contact in your database has these fields set with consistent values?
Email list subscription segments
If you have multiple segments for your campaigns, contacts missing required database fields will not fall into your required segments.
When you send your campaigns using these segments, it’s critically important to remember that any contact with blank fields for country or sales channel won’t match any of your filters and will miss out on receiving your email messages.
It’s OK if this is intentional, such as when the email isn’t a fit for a subscriber based on their segment or tags. If you indiscriminately mail your list you could not only land in a lot of trouble because of higher spam submissions, those subscribers will slowly start to drop off because they’re not receiving relevant offers that interest them.
However, the worst thing you can do is put work into writing an email or an email sequence and not have your message delivered because of gaps in segmentation criteria. The worst converting email is the one your subscriber never received.
Beware of Gaps in Offline Email Collection
Keep in mind that a common cause of the above problems can be the collection of emails outside your website.
When you collect names at events, trade shows, or anywhere else outside of your website, do you ask if those people would like to subscribe to your newsletter or get some other kind of email content from you?
And when you record those names, do you make sure to set all your required segmentation fields?
(Remember: you don’t necessarily need to ask for the segmentation data. If it’s a trade-only event for American companies you can automatically set country=USA and sales channel=distributor without asking.)
On top of that, when you import these contacts, does the person responsible set the subscription fields, the country field, and sales channel field every single time?
Make sure to ask yourself, “When was the last time we audited our database and our importing processes?”
2 Critical Mistakes of the Aggressive Email Marketer
While problems with the passive approach are easy to point out, problems with the aggressive email marketing approach are less obvious. After all, the aggressive email marketer is sending emails regularly, and that’s what matters, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy. There’s more to an effective email marketing strategy than just sending out regular emails. There’s also the quality of the emails and the selected recipients.
Specifically, that refers to your rating with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), your open and click-through rates, the rate at which those campaigns generate actions such as contact requests or purchases, and whether the recipients wanted or expected to receive the messages.
The big problem with the aggressive email marketer’s methods is that they often result in frustrated, angry contacts who are annoyed by their brand. These contacts either tune out, unsubscribe, or report them as spam. This can lead to several negative consequences.
Like with the passive email marketer, there are two critical mistakes aggressive email marketers tend to make that greatly hinder their email marketing efforts. They are:
1. They Send Without Consent (Whether Intentionally or Not)
It’s extremely important that you have your subscriber’s permission to send them emails. Otherwise, your email marketing efforts have gone to waste.
You might think buying an email list is smart, that you can just subscribe all the emails you have from that trade show you attended, or that you should just send your newsletter to all those people that filled out your contact form even though you didn’t ask for permission. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is, you not only need to generate your own subscribers, when you do, you need to get their consent to send them email content on a regular basis.
What happens if you don’t?
Due to the way that ISPs operate, your emails will begin to land in spam boxes more and more often. And, if your emails are tagged as spam at a high enough rate, your entire email campaign will be labeled as a spam email by the ISP. Sound bad? Yeah, it is. Really bad.
ISPs look at who you’re emailing, how often, the number of abuse complaints from those recipients, and whether those emails are opened or clicked on to determine your deliverability rating. All of these factors determine your reputation with your ISP and affect whether your emails are delivered to your subscribers’ inboxes.
In fact, if your email isn’t arriving at its destination, roughly 83% of the time it’s due to poor reputation with ISPs. This means that the aggressive email marketer’s efforts are essentially being wasted.
This alone should be compelling enough information to make the aggressive email marketer act more intentionally. However, we’re not done.
2. They Never Clean Their List
This is especially true for larger lists, where subscribers have been receiving content for more than six months.
As time passes, a portion of your subscribers will naturally become inactive. This doesn’t mean your email marketing efforts have failed.While it can be difficult to come to grips with the idea of not regularly sending out to your entire list, the reality is that sending out to your entire list without first qualifying which subscribers are active and inactive, and adjusting their subscriptions as a result, can negatively affect not only your deliverability rates with ISPs but also your email open rate analytics.
Here is a simple 4-step strategy for cleaning your list:
Segment by Engagement Level: Segment your list based on those who haven’t opened a single email for at least the past 6-12 months depending on your frequency (for 6-month segmentation you should be sending at least one weekly email). This is your “inactive” segment.
Send an Offer: For this “inactive” segment, you want to offer something compelling that will “revive” them and get them to start opening your emails regularly again. This can be a special offer like a new opt-in, a portion of a paid product for free, a free trial, or a contest.
Send a Make-Up Email: Finally, after 2-3 attempts at making offers to re-engage, consider sending a final email letting your contacts know you won’t be sending them any more emails (or simply greatly reducing frequency) unless they express interest. Simply ask them if they’d like to keep receiving the email or unsubscribe. An email such as this can have high open and response rates, especially if you deploy some humor throughout the headline and email content itself.
Clean Your List: By now, anyone that hasn’t responded isn’t worth emailing anymore and should be considered an unsubscribe (but more dangerous, if you make the mistake of continuing to email them, because disengaged subscribers are more likely to report your email as spam). So, the next step is to unsubscribe those subscribers from that particular subscription.
You may wonder why we don’t recommend you delete or unsubscribe these contacts altogether. The reality is, the customer journey is different for everyone.
That contact may come back a year or longer down the line and become engaged with your brand again. Or, they may subscribe to a different subscription. But if you delete that contact now, you’ll lose all their history, have no idea that they’re a returning contact, and have no record of their original source. You’ll need to repeat your email marketing efforts to get back that subsciber.
What matters is that you’re not emailing that inactive subscriber any longer (at least based on their subscriptions), not that they’re on your list. If your list is properly segmented, as we’ll talk more about in a minute, you can maintain your list quality while retaining that subscriber’s history in your database.
Enter the Collaborative Marketer
So far, we’ve covered the passive email marketer- who suffers from a lack of effective lead generation and segmentation methods- and the aggressive email marketer with their spam-risking and indiscriminate approach.
It should be obvious by now that neither is the optimal approach and that somewhere in between lies the perfect email marketing and list management strategy. This is a sort of “Goldilocks zone”. It’s a place where each of the most effective aspects of the passive and aggressive email marketer comes together to create the optimal strategy.
The collaborative marketer is intentional. They’re keenly aware of their actions and results and are purposeful in the way they market their brand through email. They take full advantage of every tool at hand, from lead generation tools and tactics to segmentation and tagging functionality, interacting with their subscribers in the spirit of collaboration and value.
The savvy collaborative email marketer executes a strategy that is “just right”, reflecting both wisdom from experience and knowledge of the current internet marketing landscape. However, it’s about more than just the perfect mix of the passive and aggressive marketers. The collaborative email marketer fundamentally approaches marketing from a different point of view.
As opposed to the typical approach adopted by both the passive and aggressive marketers of, “present information to achieve a reaction, which leads to a result” (me, me, me), the collaborative marketer’s approach is, “listen, communicate, listen, communicate” (them+us), continually refining the offer and the line of communication in the interest of collaboration and honest service.
Ultimately, the collaborative marketer listens. It’s about having a conversation with your subscribers with the intention of better understanding them.
It’s this conversation, and the understanding that is born from it, that allows for such strong relationships to be built which are critical to long-term business success, and the collaborative marketer knows this.
4 Tips from the Collaborative Email Marketer
Below are 4 tips from the collaborative email marketer to improve their email marketing efforts. The collaborative email marketer is the remedy to the critical mistakes of both the passive and aggressive email marketers, and in that, offers a solution to each of those critical errors.
Here are their recommendations:
1. Maximize Ways to Engage Your Visitors in Conversation
The collaborative email marketer creates and executes a lead generation and overall email marketing strategy that takes into consideration all points of contact with leads and how they’ll go through your funnel.
- Web forms for each of your offer types such as subscription (newsletter), webinars or events, digital downloads, physical offers (request a brochure) and contact requests such as pricing, contact us, request a quote, request a demo, or free trial.
- Landing pages for the promotion / merchandising of your offers from specific campaigns such as a link from an email, a Google Adwords campaign, a banner ad, a remarketing ad, or links within an online article.
- Transactional emails for confirming a request for contact, for delivering a link to a downloadable document, or supplying webinar login details.
- Nurture emails for following up with subscribers and prospects in their critical first days and weeks to educate, inform, build brand affinity, and to help move along their buyer’s journey.
- Broadcast emails for your regular subscriptions, announcements, news, or event invitations.
As a result, the value of each subsequent touchpoint is maximized, as is the return on your email marketing efforts.
This is critical because every step of the way that subscriber is opting in to remain on their “customer journey” with you. If there’s a leak at any point in your email marketing- a point which lacks the same effort and well-thought-out strategy as the rest- you’re losing business.
The point is to be intentional and purposeful every step of the way. Always remember the conversation you’re having with that subscriber.
2. Improve that Conversation by Crafting Custom-Tailored Email Marketing Efforts Through Segmentation
The collaborative marketer uses segmentation to create a highly personalized and more valuable email experience for each subscriber.
Segmentation, in part, is the result of listening. By listening to the conversation with that subscriber or customer, the collaborative marketer is able to iterate based on the feedback they receive to create an experience more in-line with what they want and need.
When a subscriber receives an email, it’s a highly relevant offer that not only leads to a higher open and click-through rate for that email, but higher open and click-through rates for future emails as well. This leads to higher ISP ratings, increased revenue, and a long-term business model that nurtures happy subscribers and customers.
Remember, it’s about more than just gathering subscribers and emailing them. It’s also about how you manage your list, which should be done intentionally from start to finish.
3. Offer a Collaborative Subscriber Relationship Every Step of the Way
It’s important to remember that any email marketing efforts should very much be a collaborative process.
Think about it: You wouldn’t be sending the emails you do if no one was opening them. And don’t forget the most important part: you’d have no subscribers to email in the first place if no one opted in.
It’s important to remember that the collaborative aspect of email marketing occurs not only when a subscriber agrees to receive email from you, but also when they open, click, or comment on one of those emails.
It’s because of this that the collaborative email marketer listens to his or her subscribers and communicates clearly. Relevant content is delivered, and when something new is offered, consent is requested for that new set of content (or a way to easily opt-out of receiving the content is offered).
The experienced collaborative marketer understands an important ingredient to long-term business success is honesty and transparency and this influences his or her entire email marketing strategy.
4. Perform Regular List Cleaning to Maintain a High-Quality Conversation
The savvy email marketer understands that relevancy is a two-way street. People’s needs and wants change over time, and sometimes, an active subscriber becomes inactive (and vice-a-versa, even) and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The collaborative marketer makes list cleaning and quality checks a regular part of his or her email marketing activities to not only ensure his company’s analytics aren’t being skewed by large numbers of inactive subscribers to particular subscriptions, but also so that their deliverability rates stay high.
To accomplish that, stick to this simple 4-step cleaning process:
- Segment by engagement levels
- Send relevant offers
- Send a “Make-Up” email
- Adjust inactive contact subscriptions to optimize list quality
Email Marketing and List Management is an Ongoing Project
It’s rare for businesses to have their email marketing and list management practices running perfectly. The collaborative email marketer is something to work towards, an ideal, but even that will always be work-in-progress and evolve over time.
It’s worth the time and effort to think it through and avoid these common pitfalls:
- Under-mailing contacts that would otherwise want to hear from you
- Under-valuing your online real estate and losing out on additional subscribers
- Over-mailing and turning off potential customers with inappropriate messages (potentially even breaking anti-spam laws)
- And neglecting your list quality, thereby skewing your analytics and hurting your deliverability
Use the example of the collaborative email marketer to craft your own effective email marketing and list management strategy and improve not only your ability to send relevant, consensual emails that people open and click on, but maximize your revenue from email marketing efforts as well.