Because it can be targeted, customized and tracked, "Email marketing is arguably one of the most effective digital marketing channels." At least that's what Kara Trivunovic, strategic services vp for enterprise email provider BlueHornet, writes in a June 24 MediaPost emailInsider post.
Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. It all depends on how you define effectiveness.
"According to a 2014 study by McKinsey & Company," says web designer and developer Bonnie Grassie-Hughes, "email marketing is nearly 40 times as effective as Facebook and Twitter for gaining new customers."
But according to Gallup research released just this week, that's not saying much. "Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be," Gallup reported, noting that 62 percent of 18,000 adult social media users surveyed said that Facebook, Twitter and other social sites had no influence whatever on their purchase decisions.
Another way to evaluate email marketing's effectiveness is by results. But what kind of results?
If you're talking response, a 2012 Direct Marketing Association report says that "[f]or email, the average response -- measured by taking the click-through rate and multiplying the conversion per click -- is 0.12%." That's pretty bad. But the very same DMA report says email's return on investment was $28.50 for each dollar spent. So if you're going by ROI, that's pretty good.
But one thing no one questions – not Trivunovic, not Grassie-Hughes, not even this writer – is that email marketing would be a damn sight more effective if businesses that use it didn't keep making bonehead mistakes like these:
Mistake #1: Not blasting often enough
It's natural to fear that bombarding prospects with too many emails will make them tune out or delete your emails, or even unsubscribe. But, as Trivunonvic points out, "there have been studies that show the majority of consumers receive, on average, less than six branded email messages per day."
The operative word here is "branded." Send out too few, and there's a real chance that your email will get lost among the dozens, if not hundreds, of unbranded ones from Nigerian princes, the FBI Director, Dr. Oz's miracle drug, Ellen DeGeneres'santi-aging face cream, and lucrative employment offers purportedly from Google, Facebook and eBay. To say nothing of perfectly legitimate emails from co-workers, vendors and customers. With traditional media, where there's a far smaller volume of distractions, advertisers have long known the importance of frequent, often repeated ad messages, just so the audience will start noticing one of them. Maybe the same principle should apply, just a bit, to email marketing as well.
And besides, you can always check your engagement analytics to see if your emails are starting to wear out their welcome.
Mistake #2: Testing on too small a sample
The smaller the sample, the less accurately it will predict the audience's response as a whole, Trivunovic notes. So it's important to make your sample large enough to be projectable.
If you own your own list, as opposed to paying a list broker over and over to use the same list for each mailing, you could go a step further. Once you've developed the email itself, it costs you as much to send it to your whole list as to just one person. Given the likelihood that you'll be emailing too infrequently anyhow (see above), the worst downside is that nobody will notice an ineffective one. The upside is that you'll get more notice, more response, more sales – and know how well it works on the first try. Either way, your results will be 100% accurate, ±0 percent.
Mistake #3: Inordinate fear of text links
Every since the late 19th Century, when someone discovered that laying out a direct-response print ad with a coupon in the corner (requiring only two cuts) instead of dead center (requiring three), the advertising industry has known that the quicker, simpler and easier you make your response mechanism, the higher your response rate will be.
With emails, text links to relevant content on your website, a blank or form email to your address, or both is the quickest, simplest, easiest response mechanism imaginable. "[W]here your site offers something useful, add a link to it," Grassie-Hughes advises. "It’s OK to link to the same web page more than once if the email refers to it in different places. In fact, research shows that the more links in an email, the higher your click-through rate."
Multiple text links also have a very nice unexpected side effect: By virtue of being in a different color, underscored or both, they can highlight key words in your sales message, telegraphing it quickly to skimmers.
Mistake #4: Hiding your identity
It's one thing for all those spammers, scammers and phishers (see Mistake #1 above) to conceal their true identities. But your business isn't one of them. It's strictly legit. Moreover, it's a legitimate business that the people on your list know and trust enough to have opted into receiving emails from.
So don't be afraid to use your real email address with your business' real domain name in the from line. The subject line, too, Grassie-Hughes advises. This "not only lets the recipient know the email is legitimate, it also increases your open rate and builds brand recognition."
That being said, your subject line should be more than something like, "News from [company name]." Your prospects and customers – even your best ones – aren't languishing all day, just waiting breathlessly to hear what your brand wants to tell them.
Mistake #5: Using Subject lines as sledgehammers
Perhaps fearful that most recipients won't get past the Subject line, some emailers work hard to put their sell! sell! sell! there. Which achieves just the opposite effect, for several reasons.
One is that many of those very hard-sell words may get your whole email caught in the spam filter, where it will never reach your audience's eyes.
Another is that normal people resent being hit over the head with a blatant sales pitch.
So use your subject line to tell recipients what's in the message, and, more specificslly, what's in the message and/or the product for them.
Mistake #6: Overrelying on images
In good print and television advertising, the right visual image can often answer the headline and complete the sales message in a powerful way. In email marketing, it can get blocked, so that the receiver never sees it.
So while it's good to use images, it can be risky to use them for any important part of the communication. Your headline and copy need to work on their own. Once they do, both Constant Contact and MailChimp will let you include text-only versions of the email. They'll also let you include alternate text describing what your image would have shown had the recipient been able to see it. This feature is generally useless, except for your logo, which reads as an image; there you can use your company name and slogan. When you upload images, you can do this with the "alt" feature on MailChimp or Constant Contact's "description" feature. For other email services, check the FAQs.
Mistake #6: Using templates as is
MailChimp, Constant Contact, many email list brokers and emailing services give you handy-dandy, easy-to-use templates. There's only one problem with them: Virtually all have a big, rectangular box at the top where they tell you to put your logo.
This works against your email's effectiveness, not for it.
At best, it's redundant, since you'll have read about Mistake #4 above and put your brand name in the subject line,so your audience will already know whom the email's from.
More likely, your big logo at the top will fall victim to the Dreaded Image Blocker. (See Mistake #5 above.)
And if it doesn't, it will impose a big visual roadblock between your audience and the message you want them to get. It screams, "This email's all about me! Me! ME!" when what prospects really want to know is what's in it for them.
Mistake #7: Slavishly following "best" practices
"If all you strive to do is what everyone else is doing," warns Trivunovic, "then follow the best practices put out there." That's because everyone else out there will be following them too. And when that happens, it works like camouflage on your email blasts, helping them blend into the background.
Yes, it's important that your emails embody the right strategy, emphasize the right product features and reach out to potential customers with meaningful benefits. But none of that will move the needle if your audience never sees the message. They'll never see your message if it blends into the crowd. Which is what following best practices is sure to make it do.
Young & Rubicam's Brand Asset Valuator Database tracking has shown that "with rare exceptions, brand Differentiation correlates amazingly strongly to Irresistibility. How different a brand appears to consumers is more important than how much they know about it." Best practices, AKA conventional wisdom, is the enemy of brand differentiation, and therefore of email marketing effectiveness.
Mistake #8: Ignoring your reports
One of the beauties of email marketing is that you know, next day if not sooner, who opened your email, when, which links they went to most often, and all kinds of other useful stuff. They'll even tell you how well you're doing, in terms of open rates, compared to your category's norms.
Use your reports, and you'll know whether or not your emails are working and why.
Don't, and it's just a time- and money-consuming guessing game.