Debunking Email Marketing Myths

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted April 10, 2014

Is everything you know about email marketing wrong?

When small business owners dip their toes into email advertising, they're often met with lists of do's and don'ts. Well-meaning experts offer guidance on such things as helping promotional emails avoid spam filters and how to spur recipients into action (hopefully not unsubscribing).

This guidance often results in negligible amounts of customer engagement despite following so-called industry best-practices, according to Seamas Egan, manager of revenue operations for email marketing specialist Campaigner. Just as technology has evolved—consider the transformative effect of smartphones and mobile (more on that later)—long-held beliefs on what constitutes a successful email campaign should change with the times.

Fighting Persistent Email Marketing Myths

One persistent myth, says Egan, is that marketers should avoid trigger words that cause filtering software to punt emails into recipients' spam folders. It seems like a sensible thing to do, but email providers and ISPs have moved on from simple filtering.

"The new MO is interaction, it's no longer about reputation," said Egan. If recipients are interacting positively with a company's emails—e.g., opening them, clicking on links and not unsubscribing—and the emails are distributed via reputable email service providers, they are likely to arrive in users' inboxes unscathed.

Small businesses shouldn't be afraid to get creative in their messaging, even if it requires using the dreaded "Viagra" in an email, jokes Egan. But don't overdo it, he warns. "Use creative words," he advises. "Speak in ways that you want to be spoken to."

Marketers are also stuck watching the clock, fearing that any deviation from the rigid schedule they imposed on themselves will cause them to shed subscribers. Give subscribers options, says Egan.

It's a happy medium between sending too much or too little. Fervent bargain hunters may not mind a once-a-day blast, but some customers may just want to check out the week's sales. Egan suggests that marketers dig into their analytics, suss out their users' interaction rates and develop targeted campaigns for both daily and weekly deal watchers.

Email Marketing: I'm Not Dead Yet

Worse, some businesses may pull back altogether, buying into the notion that "email marketing is dead." Sure, social media may be all the rage but email marketing can still hold its own. Egan describes email marketing as "the second-best return on investment" after pay-per-click (PPC) advertising like Google AdWords.

Finally, challenge assumptions, urges Egan. Experiment, test, evaluate and re-test. (Incidentally, his company is readying the release of an A/B testing component in the coming days meant to help customers fine tune their campaigns.)

To illustrate his point, Egan likes to tell the story of a friend who runs a Cadillac dealership.

As a brand, Cadillac skews toward the mature end of the age spectrum, a fact that led to assumptions about the devices that his customers use to read their emails. Egan's friend was readying a promotion for a list of 900 emails that contained a "massive JPEG," assuming that his mature customer base had yet to jump on the mobile bandwagon and were clinging instead to their PCs.

After some cajoling from Egan, the dealer used a responsive email template, which renders equally well on PCs, smartphones and tablets. The results were surprising. "Fifty-seven percent of his list opened it on a mobile," reports Egan.

More insights are available at Campaigner's email marketing myths infographic (PDF).

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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