How our Email Marketing Beats “Best in Class”

January 30, 2013

at sign dollar sign

“I loved your email!”

“Great email, thanks! ”

 – Quotes from our audience. What do yours say? 

Higher email conversion rates are “found money”, so why should you accept mediocre results from your email marketing?  At a time when email inboxes, while still hugely relevant, are increasingly locked down by users to ward off irrelevant content, the ability to get improved email results is a complex and coveted skillset – part brand journalism, part technology, part consigliere.  Our ability to repeatedly outperform marketplace benchmarks for our clients – and our own audience – underscores our expertise at leveraging that skillset.

Crushed It Again This Year; You Can, Too

In reviewing our portfolio of client sales and marketing campaigns related to events, new products, brand building, sales expansion, environmental and business development, we repeatedly find our results to be at or above “best in class” benchmarks as reported by Eloqua, a category-leading CRM software solution provider.

The free, downloadable presentation below offers a simple cheat sheet to help you monetize your email marketing, meet or beat “Best in Class” benchmarks, and turn your organization into a Fan Foundry.

Why your open rate may seem low

Like most email marketers, you are probably haunted by the question: what about the 3/4 of our list members who did not appear to “open” our emails?  Bear in mind, the vast majority of people preview email.  This doesn’t create a “hit” in the “Opens” bucket, but they still consume the first visible screen of your email.

Your results may vary from ours also based on what you measure.  The “Best in Class” numbers pictured in the presentation above represent a combination of all email list activity across many campaigns; naturally, “raving fan” lists far outperform other general interest lists and content.  Our Fan lists generally see an open rate north of 60%.

Note, too, that this article isolates email marketing from all other digital marketing we do (mobile, websites, etc.), which we measure separately.  For a sampling of some of the CRM, email marketing, Sales and marketing automation solutions we support for our clients, see this site’s right sidebar.

Dollars and Cents, Illustrated

Using the “Email click rate” data in the table on slide #2 above, you might reasonably assume that if you are among those “best in class” companies and attaining a 5% Click rate, and your annual click-through sales are $5M, then just by being our client last year you might instead have enjoyed our benchmark-beating 7.37% click-through (average) results, thereby attaining $7.37M in revenue.  Who couldn’t use that additional $2.7M?  In fairness, there are many success factors involved and your own results may vary. Here’s how.

This is How We Do It  – Year after Year (not a fluke!)

That answer to this headline is multi-faceted, but the key factors we found (see slide #4 above) were:

  • Benefits-oriented messaging (more on this below)
  • Data / list quality
  • Thoroughly leveraging marketing technology
  • Compelling content
  • Mobile-first formatting – fully half of all email opens are on mobile devices
  • Simple, “3-clicks to convert” navigation
  • Continuous refinement in all of the above areas

Benefits-oriented Messaging

Put simply, you give get.  Lead with a relevant offer, and follow up by exceeding expectations.  In practice, we found it even more effective to give, give, and – oh yes – give again, without expecting anything in return.  As one example, our success in producing the sales, marketing and digital media event series “North by North Shore” illustrates how treating even unknown remote prospects to a “friends and family” plan resulted in a tripling of the audience size and a corresponding lift in attendance.   To read more about that case, click here.

Obligatory Disclaimer

We report only aggregated results.  While our total activity reflects messaging in the hundreds of thousands, and the Eloqua study covers millions of messaging units, nonetheless we are encouraged by both the consistency of our year-over-year results and our painstaking methodology in capturing, measuring, reporting and verifying those results for our clients so that we can confidently report them here – and, incidentally, win some repeat business.

Learn More about the “How”

Subsequent blog posts (and some previous ones – see Related Articles below) will cover the other  “How We Did It” success factors in greater detail.   Use the “Keep in Touch” button (above, right) to get those updates.  Meanwhile, if you have a question, or would like to have us present our case to your organization, or to explore ways we might help you succeed, feel free to contact us.

Cheers,

Ed

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Mobile Email Formatting Tips

May 26, 2011

[ 2017 update: Can you believe it?  Most email marketers don’t bother to read the manual, and the results fail.  Here is a one page crash course on the highlights of any email marketing practice.  ~Ed ]

Over half of all internet Searches are now performed on smartphones.  Smartphones represent 1/2 of all mobile phones, and tablet sales overtook laptop and PC sales years ago.  Almost everyone with an email account reads it one-handed, on the go, for at least part of each day, and some days the only device available is the mobile phone or tablet.  For many decision makers, mobile email is the weapon of choice for staying in touch.  Remember, however, that many smartphone users do not automatically download images, and a subset of users still prefer to receive only text, not enhanced formatting.  The moral: design your email messages to suit all mobile readers if you want good results.   Here are a few considerations.  As usual, I’ve included some resource links at the end of this post.

1.  Header fields (Sender and Subject)

email on smartphone

On the small screen, it’s even more crucial to clearly identify yourself and your relationship/organization in the Sender and Subject field.    Many email preview screens only display header info.  Readers visually scan the first few lines of a message before deciding which messages are worth their time.  It’s the electronic equivalent of sorting your postal mail while standing at the wastebasket.  Ever done that?  Thought so.   Effective Sender and Subject information will vastly improve your open rate.

The Sender field should ideally have a human’s name in it and/or your business name, if you are a business.     Example:  “Jane Doe | XYZ Corp.”   The Subject field gets a succinct headline (<40 characters, ideally) front-loaded to convey the main benefits to the reader.  If you have more than one subject, consider sending a separate message for each, unless you can weave multiple subjects into a single theme to fit that brief 40-character Subject line.  According to Epsilon, who have tested millions of emails for the world’s largest companies, the top factor in improving email open rates is a short, sweet, “front-loaded” subject line – one that has been a/b tested.  Mary Meeker of KPCB states that audiences prefer content that makes them feel Connected, Excited, Curious, Interested and Productive.  Do as many of those as possible in your Sender and Subject lines.

What does “front-loaded” mean?

It means your subject line or sentence leads with an impact statement that clearly states the benefit to your dear reader, whose internal radio is perpetually tuned to WIFM (What’s In it For Me).  Here’s how to / not to:

  • NOT DO: “We are excited to announce that our….”  You just wasted 40 characters and risked being unopened, deleted or spam filtered.
  • DO: “<Member perk> from <your or your bizname>: (describe your member Perk here in 1 or 2 words)”.  Like a news editor, you want an eye-catching headline. This is your one shot at getting and keeping attention.  Work it.  Pro tip: avoid punctuation [!].

Avoid gimmicks.  Example: the “re:” gimmick spoof.  The “re:” tag indicates a forwarded message – NOT one originated by you.   Gaming the audience’s inbox in this way is actually a frequent scammer / phishing tactic.  You don’t want that reputation.  ‘nuf said.

2. Top of message body: Text, not Graphics

If you follow these following 3 rules, you’ll stay out of the weeds:  (1) don’t make me think; (2) don’t make me wait; (3) don’t make me work.   We’re not lazy, we’re busy.  Save time by not placing graphics in the upper left corner of your message body.   Use that valuable piece of real estate for an impactful text message.  Shrink that image height down to no more than the equivalent of 5 lines of text, so it’s easy to scroll past and keep the reading momentum high. Get to the point quickly.  Help your readers to begin benefiting right away.

Speaking of Graphics:  Users of devices set to text-only who have clicked your juicy headline don’t want to find a blank white box with a little red X in the upper left corner.  Interrupting  busy people’s “flow” or confusing them with guesswork will result in fewer opens, clicks and conversions, and more deletes and unsubscribes.  Best practice:  lead with text, minimize use of graphics, and shrink graphics to button size, thumbnail size, or narrow banner.   If your graphic is so large that no text is visible on-screen or – worse – your Call to Action is not visible in the first screen or two, move it up, and shrink it.  If your graphic is illegible when shrunk to small-screen size, design a new one that works.

3. Navigation and Conversion

Limit navigation complexity.  Use a left-aligned, single column format, not a multi-column newsletter format that awkwardly requires a one-handed user to fumble and shake the phone to switch from Portrait to Landscape view.  Opt for using screen-width-percentage tags rather than absolute pixel width, so your messages format on the fly to fit a myriad of device screens.  Height:  If possible, limit it to just minimal scrolling (max: one additional screen’s worth of content below the visible screen of content).

4. Data Capture

If you include a data capture form, avoid multiple required fields.  Just capture the bare minimum information to advance to the next level in your relationship with the reader.  Do you really need their mailing address if you already have their email address?  If the answer is still yes, then start by asking for just zip code for doing location-based business.  QR codes are great for this purpose; NFC (near-field communication) is just starting to show up in devices and points of sale.

5.  Call to Action (CTA) links

Support your main topic or offer with both buttons and text links.   Some people prefer to click buttons; others will click text links.  Satisfy both camps.  Be sure your link supports the Subject line of the message.   Clearly state any time-limited offers or timeliness of the message to inject urgency and help people prioritize and enjoy the benefits.  Make your action button large enough so it can be reached by the outstretched thumb of those one-handed gadget-slingers.

6. Buttons and Links: Size matters (Placement, too)

Spacing of buttons and links deserves consideration.  Buttons work great on smaller mobile touch screens because they can be larger than text and reduce fat-finger misfires.  Consider separating each text and button link by at least a line of text or equivalent blank space, to help fat fingers navigate effectively and avoid those annoying misfires that send us to an errant download.  Avoid that common error by not placing links in adjacent lines.  Misfires are annoying.  Rule of finger: skip a line of text / space between links and buttons.

Equally important:  send your recipients to mobile-optimized landing pages.   Mobile-optimized means everything mentioned in this article.  Optimizing your website for mobile may mean providing alternate navigation, especially if your main website menu is of the horizontal drop-down type – another frequent cause of fat-finger misfires.  Your mobile-friendly website menu should be of the “hamburger” variety (search:  “hamburger mobile menu”).

7. Alt text tags

Many email users set their devices to “images off” to improve download speeds.  If you decide to include a graphic image, note that every graphic element can be easily given a compelling, descriptive “Alt text”  label that will still appear in a text-only message in place of the graphic, to let readers know what they’ll receive if they decide to download a graphic version or select the “display images” option.   Moreover, HTML 5 will let those alt tag fields function as live links – without downloading the graphic element – which is great for busy people who don’t want to pay or wait for graphic images to load onscreen.  Use the <Alt text> tag to help people quickly decide when and what to click. Bonus: it improves SEO!

8. Visual text/graphics balance – the 80/20 rule rides again

At least 80% of your message should be text with text links, and no more than 20% clickable graphics.  This helps make certain your full message gets across quickly even if it’s the text-only or “images off” version, and it ensures fast, successful downloads for people who want the full visual message.  Even 4G mobile download speeds are generally slower than desktop device speeds.  A good acid test is to first compose your email as a text-only version, to be sure that your entire message and action links are visually appealing, tell the complete story, and generate a response.  Once you have tested the text-only  version, consider adding a graphic element or two that visually reinforce the main message and call to action.

9. Social Media Buttons:  Share or Snare?

If you have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other complementary accounts that might help readers get to know you better, include those link buttons.    If you opt for social “sharing” buttons, place them prominently alongside content your audience might wish to share.   Caution: while it’s magnanimous to provide social “share’ buttons so viewers can share your email with others, experience has shown that email readers generally would rather get more info themselves to facilitate a decision before they decide to share it.  With this in mind, it is actually more effective to have your social media buttons link to additional information to facilitate buying decisions.   Whichever route you choose, label it clearly. Your own circumstances may vary; it is best to A/B test the social sharing / snaring button to determine which has best effect for your audience.  Above all, don’t “mix” the buttons.  They should either be all “share” or all “snare”, to avoid user confusion.

10. Consider using cascading style sheets (CSS).

CSS can help detect and change the size of image and text to comfortably fit different sized device screens.

11.  Test!  Testing alone gets 82% more revenue!

Set up a Test list (internal users, including you), and scrutinize every aspect of your email before you hit the big Send button.  Don’t forget to just look at it in your inbox Listview, to be sure your Sender and Subject lines, and the first few lines of text, flow in an informative, non-redundant way. At Fan Foundry, we have discovered that our lifetime conversion rates exceed industry norms simply because we test our messages.   We have an 82% higher lifetime conversion rate across all client campaigns, based on comparison to performance reports from prominent email marketing software providers like Epsilon, Return Path, Lyris and MailChimp.  Does this mean that until email testing becomes more standard practice, you too can get 82% more revenue from your email marketing simply by testing?  Possibly;  try it! Here’s how.

Send a test email to your own mobile email reader – or as broad a variety of devices and email software as possible – to check for visual appeal and link performance.   Some of the more sophisticated marketing automation software products actually have this testing feature built-in.   Test a different subject line, a different graphic, a different CTA (Call to Action) button, etc.  Send each version to a subset of your target list.  Note the results.  Does one combination yield better conversion results?  After all the hard work you’ve done to create your gorgeous, compelling email outreach campaigns and acquire a faithful audience,  the few minutes spent testing gives your marketing ROI significant lift.   Wouldn’t you like to earn 1.82 times your ordinary revenue?  Well, then, test.  Conversely, if you ignore this step and send an error-laden email, don’t be surprised if people begin to ignore you and your results suffer.  Don’t be that person!  Make it count, grow your audience and build loyalty!

What has your experience been?  Any tips to share?  I’ll add them here and credit you.  Or you can discuss below, or just ask a question.



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