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7 Magnificent Email Marketing Best Practices for End-of-Year Reflection

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by: Darryl Bolduc (@darrylbolduc)
23 December 2015

Something must be happening in the email universe, because in the last month I’ve been asked three times for a list of email best practices. Perhaps it’s just a case of holiday reflection as marketers start thinking about what they can do better in the New Year. Whatever the case, I honestly can’t remember the last time I was asked such a general email question.

Our digital marketing space has been evolving so much in the past five years that such a basic question makes me wonder if there’s a bigger shift happening in marketing operations teams – perhaps an influx of new blood. In any event, it’s wonderful to be asked, and even better to pass along information that hopefully helps marketers improve their efforts and meet there objectives. Here’s my list of email marketing best practices to keep in mind heading into the New Year.

1) Build and maintain a healthy subscriber base.

Often paraphrased as “Acquisition” or “Growth,” building a subscriber base doesn’t stop with collecting email addresses anywhere and everywhere you can. Marketers must be cognizant of list fatigue, engage subscribers early and be aware that maintenance includes taking out the trash — in other words, cleansing old addresses that never reply. Bottom line: Don’t let the need to grow your reach overshadow the idea of maintaining a healthy subscriber base.

2) Respect permission and collect preferences.

Following proper opt-in processes and getting explicit permission to email contacts gives you the flexibility to increase frequency, especially if you collect preferences via implicit behaviors and explicit forms. If you’re being aggressive with how often you email contacts, a best practice is to offer customers an option to opt down and receive less emails, which also forces you to think about what content might be most important within a given time frame.

3) Balance cadence with relevancy and expectations.

One question I often get is “How many emails should I send?” The answer is a good balance of as many as your brand can handle:

  • Something expected, such as a newsletter, that’s sent at the same time each month or week
  • Something timely, triggered and relevant to what your customers are doing right then and there, such as window-shopping or looking for help
  • Something sequenced, helpful and customized, such as a post-purchase, get-to-know us series

Use dynamic content to make the above messages even stronger, and you have a best-in-class email program.

4) Move from batch-and-blast to more automation.

Gaining operational efficiency through automation and organization so you can do more is a no-brainer. If this one applies to you, then, the question is often, “How do I automate?” not why. Here are two approaches for increasing your use of automation:

  • Systematically build segments in your database and schedule sends to these segments
  • Import the key data from other systems that you need to build out automated programs, create your decision points, and allow your digital marketing database to do the work

Either is a best practice and can make a world of difference when you’re trying to do more with less.

5) Create engaging omni-channel digital experiences.

This is easier said than done, right? But it’s also the part that makes you a great marketer. If the website, in-store coupon, mobile app or social property you link the customer to isn’t complementing your communication, or relevant to the individual, should you exclude the customer from the mass mailing? Making these tough calls is critical to designing great experiences. Each word, image and related asset should be designed to deliver. The customer will recognize it and reward you in return.

6) Apply data and insights across channels.

Why not use some of your email strategies in other channels? If your segmentation efforts and behavior-driven logic are working in the email channel, what’s stopping you from applying the approach to other areas where your customers are engaging, such as your website or mobile app? The technology is available, and your customers expect it.

7) Continuously test and learn.

Another no-brainer, right? Nonetheless, in the rush to move to the next action item, it’s often overlooked. Here are a few tips for achieving your testing objectives:

  • Making testing part of your DNA is a best practice, so look to establish a system that will enable you to make it a habit
  • To that end, set a schedule around your marketing calendar to sprinkle in a subject line test, a call-to-action evaluation or a dynamic upsell module multivariate test
  • Review reporting for more than opens and clicks – look at conversions, total revenue driven and other metrics that reflect how email is impacting overall marketing goals 

Whether you’re just curious about email best practices or in the market to make your organization a best-in-class digital marketing group, hopefully this list has been helpful. By holding your brand to high standards in each of these categories, you’ll be on the path to success.

Related Resources:

1) Ebook: “2015 Email Marketing Metrics Benchmark Study

2) Blog: “5 Days of Deals: Marketing Takeaways from Black Friday and Cyber Monday 2015

3) Tip Sheet: “Transactional Emails: 10 Tips for Driving Value and Engagement


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