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March 2021

Would you say we receive so many emails nowadays that email marketing is losing steam? Think again. Email remains a very powerful media to acquire new customers, and constitutes the primary channel to generate leads for 9 out of 10 marketers. Even in the era of social media, email is 40 times more likely to attract customers than popular platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, and is second only to organic search in terms of efficiency.

Little wonder then that marketing professionals have been dedicating tremendous efforts to boosting returns from email marketing. We no longer live in an age of blast or one-size-fits-all email campaigns: personalization, relevant content and accurate timing have become key to achieving an email campaign’s full potential. While the UK’s Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reported that email delivers 44-times returns on average, the bulk of the returns were generated by so-called segmented, targeted and triggered campaigns.

Did you know that most recipients will decide whether your email is worthy of their attention within a mere 3 seconds? In this article, we will explore various methodologies and suggestions that may help you increase your emails' open and conversion rates.

Segmentation is the foundation of modern email campaigns

Segmentation consists of breaking down targeted recipients into several groups, depending on relevant factors including type of customers, location, job title, personal interests or the date they signed up on your website. Instead of sending a single email to all your prospects and existing clients, companies using segmentation send emails that are tailored for these particular groups. Segmentation can be initially achieved by leveraging the customer data gathered at the time they sign up, and later refined by accumulating further behavioral data.

While it is a process available to most organizations, segmentation can have a significant impact. According to leading email marketing platform Mailchimp, segmented email campaigns have open rates and click rates that are respectively 14% and 63% higher than non-segmented campaigns.

Email personalization is the key to future success

According to a survey conducted by Adobe, personalization is seen by marketers as the most important capability for their organization to further develop in the near future. Not only can personalized emails drastically improve open and click rates, it can boost a customer’s long-term loyalty to a brand.

For many recipients, especially white collar workers for whom email is a professional tool, sifting through their inbox may seem like a chore, especially when the last time they logged in was hours or even days ago. An email that is not related to any pressing need is likely to be left unopened. In such circumstances, an email that is not even addressed to them personally faces even bleaker prospects. On the other hand, an email with a personalized subject line is 26% more likely to be opened.

Personalization goes far beyond addressing a recipient by his or her name. Personalized emails can be sent on a specific day of the week or at a specific time of the day when it is most likely to be read. Organizations can also send emails that are tailored to the recipient’s personal interests, gender, age, past purchases, or recent enquiries.

Marketing automation tools facilitate the move towards personalization

As businesses compete for their subscribers’ attention and seek to grow and leverage larger and larger amounts of personal and behavioral data, they increasingly rely on a range of sophisticated solutions to better analyze and enhance their email campaigns.

Marketing automation refers to tools and software that allows marketers to at least partially automate the mailing process. The use of such systems has exploded over the past 10 years and a recent study found that 75% of companies use at least one type of marketing automation tools.

Marketing automation is at its best when it makes full use of triggered emails, automated emails that are sent whenever a subscriber event takes place (the “trigger”). Subscriber events include signing up on your website, registering for services, purchasing a product, unregistering, or not having been logged on for a while. Triggered emails make customers feel appreciated and help build brand loyalty. It also allows organizations to emphasize with their customers’ needs and own timing, instead of aggressively pushing them for a sale. The investment appears profitable: Pardot advises that its users have increased revenues by 34% thanks to marketing automation.

Plain text vs HTML emails: still a controversy?

As opposed to the plain, traditional, text email, HTML emails allows marketers to send subscribers a message that is richly formatted, includes pictures, creative typography and vibrant colors, providing an experience similar to that of visiting a website. Intuitively, one would think that rich formatting is better than none. However, studies demonstrate that our behavior and preferences are contradictory. While two thirds of respondents said they would prefer to receive an HTML email rather than a plain text email, the reality is that the simpler the format and the less pictures displayed, the more likely an email will be read.

This does not mean that HTML emails should be shelved altogether and they definitely are the preferred form in a number of circumstances. It would be odd to receive plain text updates from Facebook or LinkedIn, or product suggestions from Amazon.

Your emails are likely to be first read on a smartphone

When writing your next email, you may want to keep in mind these stunning statistics: 46% of emails are first opened on mobile devices, while 35% of business professionals check their emails on their smartphones. Note also that if your email is relevant, it will be opened again on a desktop, hence any action you hope the subscriber will take may happen on either platform.

These facts have several implications, the most important being that most recipients will determine whether your email is important to them on a small screen, and on the go. Therefore, it is crucial that you get to the point within the first few lines. Another consequence is that your email must be mobile-friendly, and any rich HTML design must be responsive. Given the vast quantity of email clients, professional help may be required to provide a template that renders well on all devices.

Email etiquette is evolving

It is hard to properly define what nowadays constitutes good or acceptable email etiquette. The old-fashioned rules that an email shall start with “Dear”, be politely worded and close with “Best regards” or “Sincerely” appear to have taken a hit. It is not uncommon to see a vendor trying to solicit your business and starting his emails to you with “Hi there” and ending them with a “BR” followed by his/her initial(s).

Being less formal and more casual is no longer considered impolite. Rather, the tone and style of an email content should be viewed as reflecting the sender’s personality and the values that are appreciated in his/her line of business. While we expect a lawyer to communicate with his clients extremely formally and articulately, we would in the same way expect an event organizer to write with passion and in an engaging fashion.

Certainly, there are still dos and don’ts that apply to all of us and we invite you to refer to the many lists of recommendations that are available on the web, such as the one written by Becca Fieler of Thomson Reuters. Marketers are well advised to limit over-emphasis (exclamation marks, bold or underlined content), the use of humor (very subjective and hence very risky) and slang (including short-form expressions such as TTYL). They are also advised not to flood their subscribers with repeated messages: open rates are the highest when companies send two emails per month.

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What's next?

Your company may already be implementing several of these methods to improve the performance of its email campaigns. There may still be room to boost your returns further however, and hopefully this article will have given you a glimpse into the many possibilities that are still available.