As a small business owner, you must keep your customers' perception of your company in mind. One way to quickly degrade that perception is by foisting an annoying email marketing campaign upon their inboxes. If you're looking to start spreading your company's message, follow these four email marketing best practices to make sure you don't alienate any potential customers by being a nuisance.
1. Don't flood your customers' inboxes.
When considering the ways your email marketing campaign can become annoying in a flash, the easiest one to understand is the possibility that you may inundate a subscriber with your messages. Billions of emails are sent each day, with many going unanswered and unopened. If you send too many messages in quick succession, or too many emails that don't really do anything for the recipient, you will likely bore your target audience and may even lose them completely.
According to Neal Taparia, founder of Solitaired, it's the very nature of promotional email that puts your email marketing strategy at a disadvantage if you message your customers too often. At the heart of the discussion, then, is that you have to "be a friend, not a salesman" – especially when starting out.
"Too many emails clearly want you to go to the business's website and transact," Taparia said. "They have one purpose: to ultimately get into your wallet. Instead, you need to send email in a tone that you'd send to a friend. Treat your customers and talk to them as if you've known them for a long time. Give them value and advice like a friend would. This will develop trust, and over time, they will consider buying your product."
You can ensure your emails don't get too frequent by setting up a release schedule. Most email marketing campaign solutions allow you to set how often a new email will be released. If you don't set a reasonable number of email messages to go out in your campaign, its recipients will likely grow weary of your message and will ultimately ignore it wholesale.
"We don't usually send more than one of each a week, unless it is a large holiday where there is competition for our customers' inboxes," said Jennifer Neylon, SEO strategist at My Supplement Store. "We also make sure that customers don't accidentally receive multiple copies of similarly targeted emails by excluding certain email lists and segments while scheduling emails."
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2. Make your email marketing strategy appealing.
Whether through targeted prose that gets your point across in an economic manner, flashy graphics that draw the eye to the information you're looking to share, or a combination of the two, your emails need to grab subscribers' attention. Failing that, your email content could go from a piece of digital marketing to just another message in someone's spam folder.
One simple way you can do that is by making the email subject line more interesting. Since it's the first thing people will see when interacting with your email marketing effort, it should make sense and not feel too much like clickbait. Failing to craft a good email subject line – according to Polly Kay, senior marketing manager at English Blinds – is akin to faceplanting right as the race starts.
"There's a fine line between incentivizing the opening of an email with a teaser and seeing your email and any subsequent offerings channeled immediately to the junk folder, as it comes across as clickbait,” Kay said. "A subject line that is misleading, vague or weak won't incentivize opening, and any subject that doesn't make it clear what is inside and why your prospect should care is pointless – and annoying."
You should also be working to entice your target audience once they've opened your email. While it may be easy to hit them with a flashy email design and a call-to-action (CTA) button, it may be best to keep things relatively simple in the body of your message. If you don't have the graphical capabilities to make your email pop without being over the top, then send a text-only email. In fact, text-only emails should be your go-to method of communication.
Since most people will immediately recognize your message as an advertisement, Reese Spykerman, CEO of Design by Reese, says you should make your email more interesting. Branding messages written in your own hand, explaining your passion for the company as a small business owner, or sharing stories from your customers about your product can go a long way.
"No one wants to read an ad," Spykerman said. "Emails that look like ads immediately trigger a mental shutdown in the person reading it and either go into trash or are ignored. Good emails are like successful dating: You need to woo the reader, care about them as a human, and spend as much time giving value to them as you do try to sell something."
3. Personalize your emails, but don't be too personal.
We all enjoy reading personal correspondences. As such, it may be tempting to make your email campaign sound more like a direct message than an advertisement. If you're aiming to go that route, you may want to consider your tone, since failing to hit your mark can make you sound fake and stilted.
This is particularly apparent during recent months, where so many advertisements directly mention the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people's lives. Nick Farnborough, co-founder of Clavis Social, said it's become too easy for business owners to reference the historical events we're all experiencing as a way to hook readers.
"'I hope you are well in these difficult times' has been sent to me about 1,000 times since COVID began," he said. "It has been the most annoying opener and shows no signs of slowing down. There is no replacement for offering value first, and that is by actually caring and getting to know the people you are reaching out to."
That concept of providing value is important in making sure your email campaign doesn't annoy its recipients. If your message doesn't offer something your readers don't already have or promise to make things better for them in some way, then there's little incentive for people to keep opening your messages. Things get even worse if your tone eventually comes off as forceful.
"I think that it's important for every email to provide value to each recipient so that it's less likely to be considered annoying," said Michael Anderson, marketing specialist at GeoJango Maps. "Additionally, the verbiage can usually be framed in a certain way to avoid sounding too pushy."
Rather than asking people to buy your product, Anderson said, you can explain its benefits before offering a discount code for anyone who wants to make a purchase. "Ideally, you want the user to think that they came to the decision to purchase something from the business as opposed to the other way around."
Linda Formichelli, founder and creative director of Hero's Journey Content, suggests just forgetting about personalization in your emails altogether if you don't think you can get the tone right, since "no personalization is better than overdone personalization."
"When you try too hard, it just highlights the fact that you are not personally addressing the prospect," she said. "People know when they're getting a marketing email, so just be straight with them."
4. Make sure your email lists are clean.
A big aspect of email marketing campaigns is the email list you use. Whether you pay for one generated by a third party or create your own email address database, it's important that your data remain clean, consistent and segmented.
Failing to maintain your email list can wreak havoc on your campaign. Send your message to too many old or inactive emails and it effectively becomes a shout in the void. Propose a deal to the wrong people and they will quickly unsubscribe from your mailing list, diminishing your prospects.
"One of the main reasons why people don't even open your emails, let alone bother to click on your links, is the fact that the offer is not made for them," said Jane Kovalkova, chief marketing officer at Chanty. "If you market to everyone, you're targeting no one."
One major way you can ensure your message gets to the right people is segmentation. Email list segmentation splits your contacts into groups based on predetermined conditions – for example, your "welcome" email goes to new subscribers, while your discount promotion on items for older customers only goes to your elderly subscribers. This can go a long way to increase your responses.
"Segmenting your list can also help increase your email open rate, which improves your deliverability," said Jeff Moriarty, marketing manager at Moriarty's Gem Art. "When sending emails to subscribers, you should be looking at the engagement they had on your website, if they purchased, what they purchased, the last time they purchased, etc. And you don't have to do this manually. Email platforms such as Klaviyo track this information for you so you can easily create workflows to segment your email lists effectively."
Once you've collected and segmented your list, don't sit on it waiting for the right opportunity. A strong email marketer understands the power of drip campaigns. The sooner you hit your segmented mailing list at a measured rhythm, the better response you'll get.
"For some reason, many business owners don't send out any campaigns at all or even segment their lists," said Malte Scholz, CEO and co-founder of Airfocus. "Then a time comes up when they want to sell something and they send a sudden email blast out of nowhere, and they wonder why the campaign flopped. If people subscribe and then they get the first email from you asking to buy something six months later, that just won't work. Send an email every now and then, and make sure that every new subscriber gets a welcome email first. You wouldn't ask someone you're interested in to marry you on the first date, would you?"