“I stink at marketing.”
Many a reseller and ISV has confessed that to me during our conversations about their business challenges. Most blame time and resource constraints for their marketing shortcomings, but there’s a tool that’s free and at your fingertips (literally) that can build your brand and increase your sales: email.
A Vantiv/Worldpay partner I was counseling on sales best practices recently asked me about the fundamentals of a quality customer/prospect marketing email, so I jotted down a few best practices I’ve learned through observation and years of old fashioned trial-and-error. Then I turned to another free resource – LinkedIn – and asked what others would suggest I add or change. The result of that effort is this list of 8 Email Marketing Building Blocks.
1. Know your audience
Effective marketing starts here. And so do marketing dumpster fires. If you don’t understand your audience and write in terms they understand and address topics they care about, nothing else matters. You could write an email worthy of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but if the topic isn’t germane to your target audience, your efforts will be wasted.
Avoid jargon and acronyms that will confuse your audience. You and your staff work with technology every day and know what TLS means, but the chef who owns your city’s top restaurant might think TLS is the Transitions Lifestyle System weight loss solution. You and I both know what POS stands for, but an email titled “We Want to Sell You a Total POS” will make the rest of the world snicker.
2. Be authentic; avoid marketing speak
I looked in my email junk folder just now, and the first line of the first email there was, “Will you set sail with us?” Would you ever start an email to a friend that way? Of course not! So why talk like a too-clever-for-your-own-good public relations robot in your marketing emails?
The language in your emails should be informal and conversational. When you read your message aloud, it should sound very similar to something a human being would say. For example, my latest email to Vantiv/Worldpay reseller and ISV partners concluded with this call-to-action:
- If you’d like to talk about accountability or any other topic in the POS channel, please email me back or call me anytime – I’m always happy to help our partners improve their businesses.”
Had I tossed this to an amateur marketing workshop, it could have turned into this monstrosity:
- Intrigued about utilizing the vital topic of accountability to help your business reach for the stars? Or is navigating the ever-changing, fast-paced retail tech industry keeping you awake at night? Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our expert trusted advisors!
The second statement is far more creative, but which one sounds more authentic to you?
3. Be personal
Even if your email is a mass blast to a large segment of your customers or prospects, there’s one important step you should take to increase engagement: include the recipient’s first name at the beginning of the email. To pull this off you’ll have to understand how a “mail merge” functions, but it’s worth it. I’ve seen response to emails double and sometimes triple the returns of generic, impersonal messages.
During my time at Business Solutions Magazine, our marketing department would send messages that always began “Hi [RECPIENT NAME]:” and sometimes concluded with my name and title. Close industry colleagues of mine would frequently reply to those messages believing the email came directly from me.
Editor’s Note #1/Confession: This is the building block I currently don’t execute to the fullest extent because I need to clean up my database (separate first names from last names). Only my first message to recipients of my marketing emails mentions the recipient’s name and includes a tailored personal message to them.
Editor’s Note #2/Rationalization: I have built my email distribution list one at a time and added new names only after I’ve had a personal engagement with that person (met at a show, attended my presentation, had a phone call, emailed me first, etc.), so my communication is personalized to that degree.
4. Compelling subject lines only
The subject line determines if your email will be read or deleted, so steer clear of Boringville, USA. That’s easier said than done, so let me share with you a tool that helps me consistently create (what I think are) compelling subject lines. It’s called the Content Idea Generator, and it’s really straightforward to use. Just enter your subject in the blank and press “enter” on your keyboard until you see a subject line you think your audience would find compelling.
That’s how I came up with the headline for this post. You will have to make some tweaks to what the computer spits out, but the Content Idea Generator does the heavy lifting for you. Here are some of the other compelling headlines it helped me produce:
- Build an Empire With These 8 Email Marketing Building Blocks
- How Email Marketing Building Blocks Could Help You Win
- These 8 Email Marketing Building Blocks Will Change Your Life
- Doing Email Marketing the Right Way
But, just like humans, not every computer-generated idea is a winner. I had to sort through these clunkers first:
- Why Holden Caulfield Thinks Email Marketing Building Blocks are Phony
- Why the World Would End Without Email Marketing Building Blocks
- How Email Marketing Building Blocks are Like a School Bully
5. Kill the stock photos; text-based emails are engaging
You might be tempted to dress up a marketing email with logos, banners, stock photos, clip art, and several links to web pages. Save yourself the time. Text-based emails with just a few links have proven to be just as if not more engaging than graphic-heavy emails. Why? See point 2 above about authenticity. You wouldn’t write an email to a friend that includes fancy graphics and an absurd number of links, so you don’t have to do that for your customers and prospects either.
6. Shorter is better
Cicero, the B.C.-era philosopher, didn’t know what an email was, but he was right when he said, “Brevity is a great charm of eloquence.” One of my LinkedIn connections suggested a subject line shouldn’t be more than three of four words and the message should be between 50-125 words. I wouldn’t recommend being that restrictive, but I accept the point that the vast majority of your audience won’t be inclined to read a lengthy email message.
I’d like to elaborate on this point, but shorter is better.
7. Timing is everything
Think of timing on two levels: (1) how often and (2) when you send your marketing emails. A LinkedIn connection shared a great guideline for how often: “Just enough to keep people engaged without becoming too spammy.” If you’re sending messages multiple times per week or even weekly, you better have some incredibly valuable information share. At the same time, if you send messages only monthly or every couple months, you’re not giving yourself enough opportunities to influence your audience. Personally, I send messages to my target audience typically twice a month, more often if there’s a timely event occurring (e.g. RetailNOW, publishing our four-part POS Channel KPI Study).
Regarding when to send emails, my experience is the best days are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. If you send a message Monday or Friday, the number of unread and auto-reply emails will spike significantly. Another LinkedIn connection recommended emails to be sent early morning (5:00 AM-6:00 AM) in your time zone. I wouldn’t be quite that prescriptive (in part because this violates you sending a “personal” message because nobody’s functioning that early in the morning), but I agree with the point of sending your message before the day’s fires need extinguished.
8. Test and measure
Two of my favorite business aphorisms are There’s no substitute for getting closer to a situation and If you can measure it, you can manage it. Test different tactics and topics, and then track how your emails perform. Email opens, opt-outs, and link clicks are the most valuable statistics to track.
Anecdotal evidence is helpful, too. Do customers voluntarily reference content you sent them? Do prospects reply with questions or comments? Don’t expect an avalanche of responses to your emails, but if you’re not hearing anything from your audience, you have room for improvement.
Email Marketing Scorecard
I’ve developed an Email Marketing Scorecard to help our reseller and ISV partners execute on these best practices. Follow this link to access a one-page PDF that will help you develop emails that will build your brand and increase your sales.