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Email marketing is still one of the most effective marketing tools available to businesses today. Yet, it is often the least understood when it comes to making every email the most impactful and effective possible.

Every business knows that the rules of engagement are always changing. And that technology keeps getting better such that more and more emails are being routed to the spam, junk or trash folders.

Email marketers continuously look for the “silver bullet” to get around spam filters and have their email delivered right into the mailbox of the intended recipient. As great as this effort is, the battle is really at the point of the “open”—getting the recipient to open and engage with your content.

In assisting clients in their email marketing over the past 25 years, here is what we’ve found are common mistakes. Yet if they’re overcome can lead to a much higher success rate.

Consider these as you plan your next email marketing push and see if your delivery, open and response rates increase.

1. Bad Strategy. Statistics show that most email campaigns start with an idea that immediately gets put into creative, then launched. Then everyone wonders why the delivery, open and response rates are bad. Every good product and service starts with an idea that is turned into a validated strategy which drives activities that lead to superior results. Don’t forget the strategy and planning stages when you’re thinking of your next email campaign.

2. Outdated Database. Time causes “rust” and decay to every email marketing database. People move to new jobs and companies, people retire, businesses come and go and email addresses change. More often than not, poor email marketing results start with a poor database. Make sure that your email database is current (updated contacts and email addresses), clean (no missing information and duplicates removed), fully integrated with your customer management (or CRM) database and compliant (people that have actually opted-in to marketing from you).

3. Poor Subject Lines. This is tricky. You want to be exciting and engaging so you increase open rates. Yet there are thousands of “trigger words” that automatically route your email to the spam folder. You want to explain the offer and reason why to open and consider your email. Yet you end up creating confusing and unclear communication. Avoid cliche phrases. Avoid trigger words (you can find lists on the web). Be clear, short and very intriguing (perhaps mysterious). Never do anything with ALL CAPS. And, try to sound like you’re going to do something for the recipient instead of asking them to do something for you. Statistics indicate that personalization (see number 8, below) in subject lines increases open rates by over 25%.

4. Generic Sender. OK, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of a flood of bounced email marketing feedback. And we want to route any inbound inquiries into a process. So, too many times email is sent from a generic info@ or support@ or feedback@ email addresses. Wrong, wrong, wrong. People want to engage with people. Get rid of the generic addresses and create addresses that “look and feel” like it’s coming from an actual person. It’s not hard to do.

5. Crazy or Bad Design. Marketers like to be creative. Yet a little creativity can go a long way (too far?) in email marketing. Take a look at the user experience in detail. How many messages or offers are we trying to convey? Do the colors create a distraction? Where are the buttons and are they easy to find? What may seem really creative and engaging to your creative team can easily fall flat with your prospect or customer. Design for them, not you.

6. Platform Misfires. Don’t assume that your email recipient will be at their desktop or laptop when the see your email. In fact, over 60% of recipients will be seeing your email on their mobile device. If you create your content for larger form factors it may not look good on smaller mobile platforms.

Many email clients strip off images, requiring the recipient to “download” or “load” images upon open. This means that your email may look really weird in the preview pane if the images aren’t there. Make sure there are background colors and standard text alternatives for where you’ve inserted graphics so that if the graphic isn’t there the email still looks good and engaging.

Don’t assume everyone is in an HTML world. Numerous platforms and email clients can be configured by the user to present and open in plain-text only. If your email is designed only for an HTML world, you’ll miss out on getting through to the plain-text audience that is on your list.

7. You’re Irrelevant. Every recipient determines whether or not to open an email based on their perception of relevance. Relevance is based on their context, circumstance, environment, need, want or preference—generally in that moment. If this is the case why would a business send a “generic” email that doesn’t at one lever or another connect with the individual (see the next one). Seek to connect with relevancy.

8. Impersonal. Personalization and “customer experience” are the order of the day. Generic, one-size-fits-all approaches may seem easy, but lead to very poor results. Personalization of the message, offer and call to action increases take-up rates by 40%. Connect with the recipient where they are and make it personal.

9. No Call to Action. It always surprises us how many businesses see email marketing as a way to “pass on information.” They don’t ask the recipient to do anything. Or, if there is a call to action, it’s weak, ambiguous or not compelling. You have the recipient’s attention for a second or two. Don’t make the recipient look for the call to action or to try and figure out what it is. Make sure all calls-to-action are up front and center, easy to understand and very compelling (relevant and personal).

10. No Integration. Email marketing never stands alone. When you send your email out, cross-post to your social media platforms. Most likely your recipients are already seeing you in social media and when they get your email will recall seeing the content elsewhere and increase their likelihood of opening your email.

11. Sending Platform. Nothing says “amateur” and nothing routes email to spam faster than sending your email from online email marketing companies. If at all possible have your own email server, tied to your domain, and see your delivery rates soar. If you can’t afford that, then at least step up your email marketing subscription level and get rid of the “Constant Contact” or “MailChimp” logo and subscriber information at the bottom of your email. Make sure your domain DNS settings are correctly set to avoid automated junk/spam routing due to improper authentication.

12. Lumpiness. Companies forget that email marketing, like general marketing, is an exercise in consistency and repetition. They treat email marketing like a spigot, turning it on and off, having a “lumpy” presence in their recipients life. Consider regular, routine email communication so that your audience is accustomed to seeing you in their inbox. Forget about the externally induced fear that you’ll “overcommunicate and they’ll get tired and opt out.” This will only happen if your irrelevant, impersonal and uninteresting to your recipient.

13. Missing Interactive Content. This is important in today’s online world. People seek to interact with the content they receive. Interaction can be in the form of video, gaming or other response method. If you’re not seriously considering and integrating interactive content, you should.

14. No Measurement for Improvement. Email marketing is not a “one and done” or a “set and forget” activity. Every email must be measured for delivery, open, click and respond rates. Messages should be tested through A/B methods. Lists must be measured for delivery, open and response rates. In each area, measurement should lead to greater targeting, messaging accuracy and overall improved effectiveness. You can’t improve what you don’t measure.

Just because you’ve had a bad run, or poor results of an email or two, don’t discontinue email marketing. People still receive, open and respond to email in increasing rates. Use that to your advantage, but be smart about it.

The Afterburner Group has been helping design, target, message and send effective email campaigns for companies in the technology, energy, services, manufacturing and non-profit industries for over 25 years.

If you think that your marketing could do better and bring more opportunity, fill out the contact form below and we’ll let you know what that might look like and how you’d benefit.

Better email marketing.

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