Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Despite years of hype claiming that email is dead, it remains a highly valuable resource for small business owners. In fact, according to a 2015 survey by Salesforce.com, 73 percent of marketers claim that email marketing is core to their business.
Yet, consumers are constantly bombarded by sales emails, creating the risk that yours will get lost in the shuffle. To stand out from the crowd, follow these five email marketing best practices for 2016.
1. Make a Plan
You might have heard that content is king, and that is at least as true as it has ever been. Fill all of your direct emails, newsletters, and other points of contact with customers and prospects with rich, helpful content that clearly conveys your message and brand. To keep your email marketing on point, create a content plan.
A content plan addresses seven main marketing factors: Who, What, Why, Where, How, How often, and How much. Determine who your avatar, or ideal customer, is, and articulate what your product or service can do to solve a problem or fulfill a need for that person. Then, use that information to decide how email marketing can best explain your message to your avatar.
Create a theme for each newsletter, and base your content on it. Send out newsletters on a predictable schedule, so that prospects and customers know when to expect them.
Set a recurring schedule for email contacts based on where each prospect is in the sales funnel. For example, you might send a “Thank You for Joining” email shortly after the prospect signs up, information about how your business is unique in the first week, and then email newsletters with educational articles, industry updates, and special offers one to four times per month after that.
Design a newsletter template that roughly lays out the number of pages, number of articles, and length of each piece, and stick to it for every edition. Create a theme for each newsletter, and base your content on it. Send out newsletters on a predictable schedule, so that prospects and customers know when to expect them.
2. Personalize Your Message
No one wants to feel like just another anonymous shopper, so personalize your message as much as possible. Dig deep to truly understand your avatar.
What is that person’s demographics, likes and dislikes, hopes and dreams? Is he an impulse buyer or a slow and methodical researcher? How much existing product knowledge does he have? What prevents people who fall into your target market from buying, and how can you overcome those obstacles?
Finding this information is not easy. Use a combination of tracking tools and customer surveys to learn as much as possible, and be patient. With time and effort, you will begin to understand more deeply who your avatar truly is, and how you can best meet his needs.
3. Optimize for Mobile
Today’s shoppers move seamlessly between computers, smartphones, and tablets, and they expect their shopping experience to go with them. Optimizing your email marketing campaign for mobile devices can greatly increase your open rate, click-through rate, and minimize unsubscribes.
Choose a sleek, simple layout that will translate well on a smaller screen. Avoid Adobe Flash components, complicated tables, and other mobile-unfriendly elements. For the ultimate in easy portability between devices, consider responsive design technology, which automatically optimizes for whatever device is in use.
4. Educate Your Readers
Pushy sales newsletters are likely to be ignored, and could even cause prospects and customers to dislike your brand. Instead, focus on educating your readers about your products and services. Information on getting the most out of a particular product, ideas for using it in a whole new way, or suggestions for upgrades and enhancements are helpful and user-friendly alternatives.
Also, think of more global topics that have meaning to your ideal customer. For example, if you sell high-end jogging strollers to young parents, consider an occasional piece on traveling with a baby, managing family holidays, or finding good childcare.
Be careful not to go so far outside your primary product or service that you dilute your brand or sound inauthentic, but occasionally touching on larger scale concerns can help build customer loyalty and trust.
5. Track Your Results
While analyzing your market, creating a plan, and providing educational content optimized for mobile devices will take you a long way, tracking is the only way to know what actually works. Other than sales figures, reader engagement is arguably the best metric for determining the success of your email marketing campaign.
Are prospects opening your emails? If so, are they clicking on the links to learn more? Do most unsubscribe after a certain number of emails? Do they forward your newsletter to friends or share articles on social media? Do they reply to your emails with questions or feedback?
If your emails are not producing the results you want, make changes to the content, layout, or frequency, and give them time to take effect.
If your emails are not producing the results you want, make changes to the content, layout, or frequency, and give them time to take effect. Adjusting all of those variables at once may improve results, but you would never know which changes actually caused those results. Instead, track and tweak as needed over a few months, and you will be able to fine-tune your email marketing for the best possible long-term performance.