Beyond Newsletters: 5 Tips To Help You Completely Re-Think Email Marketing
Despite the rise of other marketing channels like mobile and social media, email is still going strong -- if you're doing it well.
How many of you breathed a sigh of relief when you saw this headline in the New York Times: “For Email Newsletters, a Death Greatly Exaggerated”?
I’ve heard more than a few marketers say that email is dead, vanquished by the increase in social media usage, SMS and even absurd experiments like Yo. “Email just isn’t relevant anymore,” they say.
The Times article explained how email newsletters have come to be one of the most trusted sources of curated news and information. Their “resurgence” is driven by the sheer volume of social media.
So email isn’t dead. Or maybe it is. No, it’s alive.
Who knows? The reality is that it’s just not that simple.
The State Of The Newsletter
Email newsletters are a form of content curation, and a few trusted sources have helped keep them relevant over the years. It’s not as sexy as social media or mobile apps, but good ol’ email marketing keeps chugging away.
A Global Executives Study by Quartz Insights found that “60% of executives read an email newsletter as one of their first three news sources they check daily.” Furthermore, 56% of executives cite email newsletters as one of their top sources of industry-specific news — the highest of any source. That’s impressive, and it bodes well for B2B companies who are invested in content marketing and have established their brand in the inbox.
For the rest of us, it’s a different story.
Let me ask you: Is your company’s newsletter as good as the Quartz, Alexis Madrigal, Brain Pickings or New York Times newsletters? The answer is almost undoubtedly “no,” because you aren’t a news organization dedicated to researching, analyzing and sourcing content for a regular newsletter.
It’s much more likely that your newsletter is sporadic and covers your Labor Day hours and asks people to “Like” you on Facebook. If you aren’t dedicated to newsletters, it doesn’t work.
The reason that some people (rightfully) say email is dead is because so few businesses are doing it right.
So, to recap:
Good email = Alive
Bad email = Dead
But this post isn’t just about newsletters (there is plenty of information out there on the topic), it’s about re-thinking how you approach email. Here are six ideas to get you going, with examples from companies that are finding new ways to use email to grow their business.
1. Send Your Own Emails!
The greatest travesty of email marketing is that your customers’ favorite emails are about you but not really from you. Transactional emails — like receipts, invoices, webinar confirmations, double opt-ins, etc. — are almost always sent via a third party app.
These third party apps take a burden off your shoulders, and the emails they send accomplish very functional goals. For example, when someone registers for your webinar, you don’t need to manually send them a confirmation – GoToWebinar does it for you.
Or is it?
The problem is that when third parties send emails on your behalf, they include their own branding and links. What’s really interesting is that people love transactional emails. Often, they need them (to get the link to the webinar or see who followed them on Twitter). This creates an interesting problem: People love your emails but you aren’t the one sending them!
There are, of course, some very good solutions.
How To Take Control Of Your Transactional Email
- Audit Your Emails. Create a list of anyone and everyone who could be sending your customers emails on your behalf.
- Customize Where You Can. Many services give you limited control of the emails they send on your behalf. At the very least, add a logo, customize the colors and put your best copywriter on the job.
- Conquer Where You Must. It’s actually not that hard to send your own transactional emails. It’s just a matter of using an email provider that allows you to track events and trigger emails. In the case of GoToWebinar, building your own landing page with a tool like Unbounce, then using Zapier to add the leads to the GoToWebinar database as well as your own just about solves the problem. Additionally, any service with an API makes it easy to add leads to your database and trigger emails.
This is low-hanging fruit. You should be in total control of any and all messaging people get about your company in their inbox. Once you do that, here are some suggestions to improve what are traditionally very boring emails.
How To Spice Up Your Transactional Emails
- Add Value But Don’t Promote. The reason that people like transactional emails so much is that they know they aren’t being sold something. Context is built-in. Promotional emails get fewer clicks and less engagement because marketers are often begging for attention with flashy subject lines and Columbus Day coupons. Try to find ways to add value to your transactional emails without annoying people. For example, if you are sending a webinar confirmation email, consider including links to past webinars. It’s useful information for someone who has already expressed interest, and it drives traffic to your site.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Be Beautiful. Why is every email receipt ever sent not mobile responsive? Transactional emails usually look awful and don’t play nice with mobile. Spend a little time making them look good. A minimalistic design is probably the best approach since you need to avoid looking promotional, but use the opportunity to further establish your brand.
- Go For The Growth Hack. Let’s say you run an e-commerce business that does 10,000 sales per year. That means you send 10,000 email receipts each year. If every one of those emails included a call-to-action to refer a friend in exchange for additional value (a discount, coupon, t-shirt, swag, etc.) and five percent of customers take you up on it, you have 500 new customers.
Transactional emails are a major untapped source of business for nearly everyone. Check out The Complete Guide to Transactional Email for way more information and 30 examples of great emails.
2. Build Email Into Your Product
This isn’t for every company, but it supports the theme of this post: Think big.
Some Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses are actually building email functionality right into their applications. Here are a few examples.
This is one of my favorite uses of transactional email. Every time someone comments on my blog, I get a notification from Disqus. It makes me super happy when someone leaves a comment, so I’m eager to check it out.
Take a closer look at this email. You can actually moderate the comment simply by replying with “Delete,” “Approve,” or “Spam.” I can use Disqus without ever leaving my inbox. It doesn’t drive users to the app like SaaS businesses often try to do, but it improves the user experience by making it dead simple to moderate comments.
Square, the mobile payment service, has added email payments to their Square Cash program. This makes it really easy to pay money to a friend. All you do is send them an email, cc email@example.com and put the amount in the subject line. You’ll be asked to enter your debit or credit card number the first time but after that, it’s as simple as sending an email.
Buffer, the darling of the startup world these days, has also built some cool functionality into their emails. Users add content to the social media queue, and when that queue is empty, Buffer sends an email containing suggestions to add more content.
If users like the suggestions, they simply click “Add to Buffer.” This opens a window with a pre-populated post. This makes it very easy to add new content to your social channels, and users can take direct action right from their inbox.
It’s this type of innovative thinking that makes email useful and functional.
3. Get Personal
Transparency is in these days. The Buffer Open blog, where the company provides detailed information about employee salaries and revenue, is a core focus of the Buffer marketing team. Groove founder Alex Turnbull is documenting his company’s growth to $100k monthly revenue. Even Moz has joined the party by publishing content like the 2013 Year in Review.
People love this content because it’s personal. It’s real. There is no sales pitch. They want to compare their own businesses to Buffer, Groove and Moz.
You might not be ready to share your revenue goals with your email list but there are smaller steps you can take to get more personal.
- Send emails from a real email address and monitor it for replies. In fact, encourage people to reply
- Personalize emails with the recipient name and sign them with a person’s name (not the company name)
- Tell a personal story and explain what you learned from it
- Talk about failure. It’s something we can all relate to
- Don’t be afraid to send plain text emails. It forces you to focus your energy on the quality of the content rather than the design
4. Create A Narrative & Stick To It
Groove has mastered this concept. The Groove blog, as we mentioned, is documenting the company’s growth to $100k monthly revenue.
Each post is another chapter in the company’s growth and readers really look forward to getting the next installment. It’s like a reality television show about startups presented in a blog format, delivered by email. Cool, right?
Alex’s email are great because he addresses the recipient like human beings. It sounds simple but so many people lose the human touch when they are blasting bulk emails about Presidents’ Day sales.
Here’s a recent email from Alex:
I just wanted to give you a heads up that our latest post, about some of our A/B testing fails, is now live. The post pulls back the curtain on some of our less-than-successful A/B tests to put the “big wins” in perspective.
As a subscriber, you’re getting this link about an hour before the post goes live on our blog’s homepage. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. And if you dig it, please share it with anyone who you think might find it useful.
Thanks again, and if there’s anything I can help you with, feel free to respond to this email; I read and respond to every message.
This narrative has an end — when Groove reaches their revenue goal — and readers are curious to see the story unfolds. What will Groove do after? Who knows, but they have our attention.
5. Run A/B Tests That Actually Matter
Don’t cop out on A/B testing.
Comparing the open rates on two subject lines won’t tell you all that much about your list. If you are going to run an A/B test, do something that will provide meaningful data about your users.
Understanding which type of subject lines get opened is helpful but largely irrelevant in the greater scheme of your marketing. What you really need to understand is what makes you users tick.
What makes the happy? What makes them angry? What motives them to take action? What do they ignore?
Testing for emotion isn’t hard if you’ve already embraced transparency and are treating your recipients like humans. We don’t recommend taking emotional testing as far as Facebook but you can learn a lot by sending emails that target the same call to action with different emotional queues.
For example, if you are have a blog post you are promoting, you could take several different emotional approaches when you email your subscribers.
- Ask for help. Help us spread the word about this important topic
- Make a value proposition. Can you believe this is free?
- Start a revolution. Join us in our mission to change the world
- Create urgency. Do this before it’s too late
- Build community. We did this for you
Whichever approach you take, be direct, clear and concise. Worry about the color of your buttons after you understand more about the emotional queues that motivate people respond to your calls to action.
I hope this post has opened your eyes to some new possibilities. Email isn’t dead, it’s just changing. Come along for the ride!