Making the Grade: How to Best Engage with Every Email Contact

By EJ McGowan, General Manager of Campaigner

Every August stirs up the memory of summer vacation ending and back-to-school looming ahead. However, the upcoming season of homework, tests and grades doesn't only include students and teachers, but can apply to email marketers as well.

Every classroom has a mix of star students earning A's and B's, a middle of the road crew pulling in C's, and the laggards skating by with D's or even falling behind with F's.

It's the same story with every marketer's contact list, inevitably having a similar range of variation: highly engaged and active contacts, those who will occasionally show interest and click through an email and the unavoidable cluster of people who rarely even open an email message.

In order to help every email marketer fill their list with star students, here are a few key practices to engage with users of all levels of activity, from super active A+ contacts to completely inactive F-level contacts.


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Give Star Contacts Extra Credit

A+ contacts are those who marketers can count on to open their messages and engage with their brands across multiple mediums, and on a regular basis.

These are "star students" and likely make up 20 percent of a list while driving 80 percent of the revenue. Giving this group special attention will further deepen their loyalty and motivate them toward additional engagement with a brand. Email marketers should offer "extra credit" in the form of freebies, exclusive offers or promotional discounts for referrals. Further, brands should consider creating an exclusive "gold membership" group or another type of recognition to give these overachievers an elite status within the customer base.

The elite membership must have worthwhile perks such as advance notice on sales or access to one-of-a-kind products. This will indicate the brand is taking notice of their activity and truly values their relationship, ensuring longtime loyalty and increased profits.

Incentivize C's to Improve

Every teacher knows that C students are capable of improving their grades with just a little extra encouragement. Who are these mediocre users? They are the contacts who have purchased in the past or perhaps open emails from time to time, yet only occasionally engage with a brand. With this group, it is worth putting in the effort to coax them along while a brand has their attention.

Marketers need to take advantage of the interest they've shown and use it to push them toward becoming an active and highly engaged A+ contact. One way is to give them a taste of the benefits from elite membership and provide clear steps toward the type of engagement necessary to keep them there.

By offering a tier of perks within their grasp, such as a silver or bronze level of membership, this allows marketers to meet them at their current level of interest, encouraging them to increase their engagement and gain access to the top level of benefits reserved for only the most dedicated contacts.

Mix It Up to Get Failing Contacts Back on Track

Unlike highly engaged A-level users, who are already attentive to a brand's marketing efforts, contacts that get an "F" in engagement require a more creative approach.

The challenge is to figure out what will spark their interest, and the best place to start is the subject line. The email subject line is the first hurdle to overcome and the primary tool to leverage when faced with a completely disinterested contact.

Marketers should use A/B split testing to determine the best subject lines and content that will grab the attention of F-grade users.


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Since these contacts aren't engaged with a brand at all, enterprises should consider each email as a chance for a fresh start and an opportunity to make a lasting first impression. Marketers may find that F-grade users have slightly different responses to subject lines with higher open rates and some engagement, so this data can be used to segment a list further.

Once a brand has had some success with eye-catching subject lines, they have the opportunity to encourage failing contacts to interact and turn them into mid- and upper-level users.

Just like every student requires a different style of teacher, each type of user responds to different styles of subject lines. The only way to find out is by putting them to the test to determine what works best.

Any teacher would love to have a classroom full of self-motivated, A+ students; likewise, it's a marketer's dream to have an email list full of highly engaged and interactive contacts. By grading contacts according to their level of activity, brands can provide a targeted marketing approach that directly meets each of their needs. Though this may seem like an impossible task, with the right tailored tutoring and email marketing curriculum, marketers just might be able to boost their overall average - and not to mention, profits.