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The Email Experience

Posted on 12.16.2012

Despite the low cost and high return that email marketing provides businesses, even the savviest Web marketers struggle to find their way through email’s complicated digital maze and reach the rewards that lay beyond. From getting messages into the inbox (or out of the spam folder) to getting recipients to read, click and take other measurable action — today’s email experience deserves greater attention.

The problem today is that the obstacles within the email channel are continually increasing (and expanding) — from more stringent rules at the ISP level to changing consumer behaviors and preferences. Fortunately, there are as many answers and solutions emerging as there are existing opportunities.

End-Users & Email

Email recipients, the customers or clients (and prospects) that in great part drive the success of enterprises, still rely heavily on email and will likely continue to do so — despite frequent misuse or overuse by email marketers. In fact, consumers overwhelmingly prefer to receive marketing via email and, here’s the part that may surprise you, there’s no close second place.

ExactTarget’s 2012 Channel Preference Survey — the 14th report in the company’s Subscribers, Fans and Followers series — asked almost 1,500 U.S. online consumers (age 15 and up) about how they prefer to get permissionbased marketing messages. A stunning 77 percent indicated email, which is far more than all other channels in the survey. Social media, despite its hype, barely even makes an appearance, indicating that even as consumers Like and Follow brands on Facebook and Twitter, it’s definitely not how or where they want to be contacted. In fact, only 4 percent of respondents said Facebook is their preferred way to receive promotional messages and only 1 percent said Twitter (see sidebar image from ExactTarget).

Investing in Email

Email has worked in the past, it works now and it will work in the future. In fact, many marketing departments are fine-tuning their strategies to accommodate their email hungry users. The “2012 Marketing Trends” study from StrongMail found that 60 percent of respondents planned to increase their email marketing budgets this year. This is far from solely a North American trend. According to an e-marketing outlook for 2012, called “Gearing up for Growth” and conducted by Octane Marketing, as many as 35 percent of those interviewed in India wanted to increase their email marketing.

Email is the Answer

To accommodate marketers increasing interest in, and use of this channel, email marketing service providers (ESPs) are innovating at a feverish pace, adopting the most sophisticated technologies and integrating with third-party platforms that provide businesses with more meaningful insights and features. Yet despite all these useful technology developments in the past 24-36 months, marketing through this channel can still be difficult to master.

In this edition of Website Magazine, explore how focusing on mobile-email design, enhancing campaigns with software integrations and leveraging analytics provide a viable shortcut to navigate the email marketing experience maze.

A Mobile Mindset/h3> From the dinner table and the nightstand to cars and trains, our mobile devices are always within reach and can always be used to access email, text messages, social media networks and more. So, it’s not surprising that a study by ReturnPath shows that year-over-year (March 2011 – March 2012) email opens on mobile devices grew 82.4 percent and are on track to surpass both desktop and webmail email views.

This makes the inbox, literally, a moving target. To hit it, marketers must adjust their tactics, both in design and in content (see The Golden Rules sidebar), accordingly. “This is especially important today when we have to fight for every second of attention from our subscribers who probably read emails on the go,” said Magdalena Pietras, GetResponse’s online marketing manager. “If they can’t read them, it’s highly unlikely they will check back later when they’re at their computer.”

Companies like GetReponse, an email marketing service, have recognized the importance of mobile and have developed a number of functionalities to help their clients optimize their email marketing campaigns for mobile devices. Two prominent features are GetResponse’s Inbox Preview and Mobile Ready Templates feature.

“Inbox Preview helps our clients preview the designs of their emails in various email [channels] before they hit send,” said Pietras. “This means that our clients can now see what their newsletters will look like, not only on Web and desktop, but also on smartphones and tablets (iPhone, Android phones and iPad 2). With Inbox Preview, our customers can be sure that their emails display correctly and are readable [across channels].”

The company’s second feature, aforementioned, is its Mobile Ready Templates.

“Our customers can now use mobile-ready templates, so they can send fully optimized email campaigns quickly and without any need for mobile optimization training,” said Pietras. “They can make any template one-off and unique; adjust every photo and image to best expose its quality with the ultimate drag-and-drop editor and its limitless options.”

For those not using these features, consider design best practices that Website Magazine uses, as well. Our long-time senior designer, Jesse Erbach, helps our cause by thinking mobile first.

“Basically, when designing for mobile, keep everything percentile based, that way it resizes by screen size,” said Erbach. “Also, make sure you have a grid with columns that facilitate the design, meaning that you have to start your design small and then work out from there. It’s easier to start small, and the grid system allows you do that. Section off a particular piece of content and decide where it falls.”

Like in most design, a designer needs to determine where they want their user to go, but in mobile, the lack of screen real estate can make it difficult. Using appropriate colors and page structure can help, as can attention- grabbing call-to-action buttons.

“A call-to-action should always stand out, but on the mobile device it’s important to translate what the user is going to do in a limited space,” said Erbach. “You should explain what it is you want the user to do, but not in a way that takes up the viewable space on their device. One way is to use icons that explain the action, instead of using copy, that way they get to convey an idea in a small amount of space.” Mobile optimized emails also need to consider color and font use.

“Font size should be relative in your design,” said Erbach. “Meaning the font size is dependent on the screen size. As far as what relation to use, obviously you don’t want your users to strain, but there is no catch all for particular font size.”

Color usage must also be considered. When it comes to colors, most designers use color theory as a way of determining what a user might see, a way of color psychology. For example, many fast food chains pair red and yellow together, because this combination is said to stimulate hunger.

“Never use colors that are so strong that it’s going to blind a user,” said Erbach. “[Additionally,] certain color combos can destroy someone’s eye site like saturated blue on saturated red, but that’s not mobile specific.” Whether it's mobile or desktop, businesses want the most bang for its buck. Plenty of email service providers are turning to integrations to meet this demand.

Enhancing Email with Integrations

Email service providers give marketers and businesses a solid foundation that they can use to run their email campaigns, but simply using these services as a standalone product means they’re probably not being used to their full potential.

Even today, email is one of, if not the biggest drivers of traffic and conversions for the majority of Web businesses. The best way for marketers to capitalize on this is to integrate an email marketing service with the other products or applications they use to collect and manage data. Businesses should look at where they are getting data about customers from and how these customers are interacting with the company.

“The more of that data that can be put into an email marketing service, the more opportunities you have to trigger campaigns, use it to personalize information in campaigns or create whole new campaigns,” said Paul Turnbull, product marketing manager at Campaigner.

Thus, the most obvious place to start looking to integrate an email marketing service is with a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, which is a natural fit with email marketing services, as it can provide (presumably) up-to-date information about customers and leads. Once email and CRM data are combined, businesses can begin to deduce patterns in its customer base, such as significant geographic groups. Then, this information can be used to develop and create campaigns, segment more useful lists and improve targeting. In reality, email marketing is often the most cost-effective way to use CRM data.

“There would be a lot of advantages to synchronizing [your CRM] with an email marketing management platform,” said Turnbull, whose company, along with many others, integrates with Salesforce.com, one of the most popular CRMs available. “An email marketing product can even inherently get better deliverability sometimes when sent through a generic CRM or hosting solution. So, you benefit from the reputational gains, and you’re going to get the tracking stats back and see who is reading emails, which you wouldn’t get if you just started blasting it out manually.”

Of course, email marketing services can be integrated into a number of different solutions beyond just a company’s CRM tool. One popular method is for retailers to merge their email service with their e-commerce software, such as Magento, 3dcart, Volusion, Listrak, DemandWare and more. However, there are many other options for a variety of businesses, not just online retailers.

“Really, anything that can get you data,” Turnbull explains. “So, if you’re using survey sites or you have online forms that you’re capturing information from, those can either directly or indirectly feed into your email marketing product.”

This can include email deliverability services like Return Path, gamification and rewards platforms like Fanplayr, online form creators like Wufoo, payment processors like Amazon Payments and even content management systems like Drupal, Joomla and WordPress.

But since it is data that these Web professionals are after, they need to look no further than good old-fashioned analytics platforms. Tools like Google Analytics or Hubspot allow marketers to put tracking codes in their email campaign links to get an accurate idea of how many visits, conversions and sales their campaigns generate. These statistics can be accessed from the analytics dashboards or in the email service providers’ campaign reports, so that customers can see campaign results and check their return on investment (ROI) from within the email application. That is, as long as they know what to look for.

Email Analytics

The only way to measure the ROI of an email marketing campaign is to monitor performance down to the individual message level. Email analytics, as with any other channel, provide marketers with valuable insights into the successes and failures of their campaign creative or subscriber list (in addition to the sending mechanics of the optimal hour or day). This is why it is important to understand how each metric can be leveraged to better optimize everything from subject lines to sender lists.

For professionals who have recently started testing out the email marketing waters, there are a few metrics that they should undoubtedly be aware of — with the most important one being open rate. An email’s open rate measures the number of emails opened against the number of emails that were delivered. A high open rate is a good sign because it shows that a message was not only delivered to the intended recipients, but that the email’s subject line was also enticing enough to receive an open. That being said, marketers should keep in mind that an opened email doesn’t necessarily mean that the recipient engaged with the message. As such, open rates are really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of metrics that marketers should be paying attention to, according to Turnbull.

Actually, other metrics, such as click-through rates and conversion rates, can be a much better indicator of an email campaign’s success. While click-through rates measure the percentage of people that click on a link within a message, conversion rates track the percentage of people who complete a specific action that was requested from the sender, such as purchasing a product or downloading a whitepaper. These metrics are especially valuable when marketers set up A/B tests to see which message performs better. For example, a marketer could create two messages to test if a red call-to-action button garners more conversions than a blue button, or if a free shipping promotion drives more click-throughs than a 15 percent off coupon.

Once a marketer has a firm grasp on the most important email metrics (for a Master List of Email Metrics to Monitor, visit http://wsm.co/SS5hlK), they should take their campaigns a step further by segmenting their sender lists with RFM (recency, frequency and monetary value) metrics. RFM measures the recency of customers (when was the last time they made a purchase), the frequency of customers (how often they make purchases) and the monetary value of customers (how much they spend). Marketers can apply RFM metrics to their email campaigns in order to segment subscribers based on engagement and purchase history. By targeting customers based on this data, marketers can launch campaigns to reward customers that have a higher lifetime value with promotional or VIP messages, while also reaching out to inactive subscribers through re-engagement campaigns.

Regardless of the metric, marketers should make it a priority to analyze email data so that they can optimize their messages for better performance and inevitably a better ROI. And at the end of the day, email is still the king of marketing, and with every message comes a metric, a design, a survey — you name it — that can certainly be improved upon.

Enjoy the Email Experience

There are many dead ends that Web workers can reach in the email marketing maze. Fortunately, there are even a greater number of ground-breaking solutions to turn to. But to truly find success, marketers must actively participate in this channel by monitoring and reacting to trends, analytics and integrations.

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