[This article was originally published in our Synergy2015 event magazine in March 2015.]
Email is dead! Long live email!
Wherever you look for digital marketing advice you’ll see blogs and articles and opinions telling you email is dead. These opinions are mostly spewed forth by people head down in social media, unprepared to look up and see the facts – email is nowhere near pining for the fjords. It’s true that the landscape of digital communication is changing, yet email remains one of the most effective devices in your digital marketing communication toolbox, and will be for a long while to come.
A 2013 study into email statistics (Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017. Radicati, 2013) reports the total number of worldwide email accounts is expected to increase from nearly 3.9 billion in 2013 to over 4.9 billion in 2017. Furthermore, business email accounts in 2013 accounted for 929 million mailboxes, a figure that’s expected to grow five per cent over four years reaching around 1.1 billion in 2017. And while we’re on massive statistics, the majority of emails sent in 2013 were for business, totalling over 100 billion emails sent and received per day, a staggering number that’s expected to increase to 132 billion by 2017.
Though there is an anticipated decline in consumer emails from 2013 to 2017, on the evidence for business emails it’s fair to say email is thriving, not dying.
For professional services industries like architecture, engineering and construction design (AEC), email is without doubt one of the most important, accurate and cost effective channels at your disposal.
Here are seven keys to planning and executing a good email marketing strategy.
When someone subscribes to your email list, they have given explicit permission for you to send emails to their inbox. It is absolutely critical that you respect this in several ways.
Respect the effort – your subscribers asked to be kept informed, so send them something meaningful. This is even more important when you consider that email lists will, in general, degrade in quality and accuracy within around three months (and subscribers will have forgotten they even subscribed by then).
Respect their attention – don’t switch your audience off. Send useful content that adds value to their day. Bombarding subscribers with sales messages will turn your subscribers off. If you’re not sure what content balance to create, work on a basic 80:20 rule, where 80 per cent is original, value-add content and 20 per cent is brand/company messages. And remember, quality beats quantity every time!
Respect your subscribers’ integrity – never, ever sell your list to a third party.
It’s important to understand what spam really is — it’s sending “unsolicited commercial electronic messages”. If someone did not specifically subscribe to your list, or give you consent to send an EDM, you are spamming them. Even things like enquiries recorded at a trade show or event do not constitute permission if you don’t inform the person or have them specifically opt-in to your communication.
Avoid bought lists. They’re not worth the money and you’ll ultimately thin your earned email list down with unqualified, uninterested people who probably don’t even know they agreed to third party emails.
An effective EDM system will allow the sender to get useful data on subscriber activity. Good EDM systems don’t cost a lot, can usually be priced per send, or by list size, and are built to limit your ability to break the law. Two leading systems worth looking at are MailChimp (we use this at Total Synergy) and Campaign Monitor (an Australian company).
Data you get in a good EDM system includes open rate, click response, unsubscribe, unique opens/clicks, bounces, which email system subscribers use and more. You can usually also see which individuals clicked a particular story. If they clicked the same story more than once, that person might be a lead (if it’s a prospect list). It’s also important to analyse your content to see which of it was more popular so you can focus on delivering more of what your subscribers want in the next send.
As with all digital marketing data, there can be numerous influencing factors like the quality of the mailing list, subscriber demographics, the type of industry you’re in, along with things like time of day, day of the week and various social factors.
General guidelines for good performance from an e-newsletter are 30 to 40 per cent open rate (greater than 40 per cent is excellent); generally, an average click-through rate is around four to five per cent, though you should be able to get upwards of eight per cent clicks if your content is effective and you have a quality list.
Mobile is far and away the place where most emails are read nowadays. According to one email analysis company (Litmus), in 2011 only eight per cent of emails were opened on mobile devices, compared to 58 per cent on desktop and 34 per cent using webmail. In 2014 these numbers have shifted dramatically. Mobile now holds 48 per cent, web mail is 30 per cent, and desktop email has dropped to only 22 percent.
What this means is your email delivery must work well on a mobile device. More importantly, so must all of your content. If your content looks terrible in a mobile context, people will not read it and will not come back the next time you send them something. This means you need a mobile responsive website or blog, or a mobile optimised site where your content is posted, or some other format for displaying and sharing your content that suits a mobile audience. (If you’re reading this, you may now realise you’re not reading it on a mobile responsive website… We’re working that!)
The proliferation of mobile devices, and the effect they have on content creation and consumption, is a critical conversation (for another article), suffice to say it’s very important you take this into account. Good email marketing systems will have this kind of capability, you just have to test and refine the outcome before you go for a live send.
If someone has taken the time to sign-up to your newsletter, they probably like your brand, enjoyed your website, had a good interaction with your company at an event, or engaged in some other valuable experience. You are on your way to earning this consumer’s trust. Don’t blow it! (See ‘respect’ above.)
How? Send them good, quality content. This is an ironclad opportunity to speak directly to your target audience (they gave you permission, remember) and too many newsletters blow it by being solely focused on company or sales messages.
If you really know your subscribers you’ll hopefully have an idea of what kind of content they want. In the AEC industry this will need to be tailored to either a business or consumer audience, but if you’re an authority in an area (and let’s face it, designers generally have strong opinions about what they do and why) share that knowledge or opinion in a way that underpins the trust you’re earning, strengthens your authority and adds value to your subscriber’s day.
An interior designer might consider content around lifestyle, ‘how-to’ articles, tips and tricks; a structural engineer in residential building might offer advice on pitfalls in home renovations. There are many angles to approach the content, just sit down and get creative. You can even look at what your competitors do to get inspiration from a concept that works (though don’t copy).
The beauty of using a good email system is that you’ll see what people respond to, and what they don’t – you can learn and improve as you go.
Good email systems offer a range of email templates you can use. If you already have a nicely designed website (and you should have that sorted long before you do any of this stuff!) then it’s worth investing a little in getting a some specific graphics developed for your template, ensuring it fits with your corporate brand style guide and, if your email system doesn’t provide flexible template building capability, look into custom templates designed and built in HTML (you’ll need developer support for this from someone who understands how HTML emails get broken by inboxes – especially Outlook – not someone who just ‘knows html’).
An email that arrives in your inbox that looks good, is easy to skim through, doesn’t have flaws in its appearance (which can be caused by how different email systems display HTML), and actually works, pays dividends in converting click-throughs. Don’t forget, it has to look great and read well on mobile devices!
A key benefit of content you create for a newsletter is that it can be repurposed for multiple channels.
An EDM is primarily a delivery mechanism for your content, designed to encourage click-through to your website or blog. The content can be as simple as blog articles, event announcements, new project news, all of which will be on your website. This content can be shared on social media. Perhaps some of the stories are based on client experiences or interviews which can be used when targeting new clients or customers.
Good quality content will add value to your business by being valuable to your audience. It will help position your business or practice as one that is engaged in its community – a trusted source of information. If you can build that kind of trust your business will thrive.
So the next time anyone says email has gone the way of the eponymous Norwegian Blue, have a think about the opportunity it provides to communicate in a highly targeted way, with explicit permission. That’s got to be worth nailing down.