As a direct and digital marketing strategist, I frequently get asked questions about the relationship between direct mail and email best practices. Questions about email creative and frequency pop-up, particularly due to email’s low cost to send.
How much email is too much? That answer varies by business and product, and there’s no one good answer. Because email is so inexpensive to send, the temptation is always there for marketers to squeeze in more emails to a marketing calendar, knowing that each email will likely drive some sales. It’s a vicious cycle – when marketers “blast” an email to everyone on their list several times a week, email opens and click-throughs inevitably start to decline. To make up for lost revenue, marketers increase the frequency further. It’s a destructive addiction and a poor long-term strategy. Way before someone clicks on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of an email, they have likely mentally, if not physically, “unsubscribed” from the brand. When I see repeated emails from the same brand appear in my inbox, I just delete them without even opening.
How do you avoid this situation on the email side? Follow three proven steps:
Apply Direct Mail Best Practices to Your Email
This means developing and applying predictive analytics that tell you who is likely to respond for a specific product or service, and then only contacting those most likely to respond. Leverage customer past behavior, so you predict when they are likely to purchase next.
In addition to leveraging analytics, you can gain insight into appropriate email frequency via frequency testing. This means setting up equivalent populations to receive differing amounts of email over the course of weeks or months. This way, you can see where having too many contacts negatively impacts results. Even without testing, I can tell you sending email three times a week to the same people is too much.
Some of you may say, “Why bother decreasing email volume using analytics when it costs us only a fraction of a penny to send each email?” The answer is that with every non-targeted email, you are training customers to ignore your brand. This results in disregarding long-term benefits for short-term gain.
Test Your Email
Along with frequency, other direct mail best practices apply to email, as well. One is the importance of testing. Although it’s easiest to send the same email creative to everyone, it’s a long-term mistake to do this. The list of things you can and should test in email is endless. For example, you should be testing creative calls-to-action, content placement, product imagery, various layouts and offers, and alternate landing pages.
For the subject line—email’s equivalent to the direct mail envelope—you can test personalization, long vs. short copy, tone, intrigue, questions, use of numbers vs. percentages, etc. You can also test email send timing to find the best time of day and day of week to send. Even choosing different types of testing (A/B or multivariate, for example) can be applied to gain useful data about how consumers interact with your email. Nowadays, testing software enables you to test email and gain valid results in days.
Bring Creative into Your Email
Lastly, is the email creative itself. Like direct mail, it should contain an offer supported by benefits. There should be multiple calls-to-action (CTA), especially displayed above the screen “fold.” The more scrolling you force recipients to do, the lower the response. Unlike direct mail, copy must be kept to a minimum and focus on the CTA, getting the click-through to the website.
If sending as part of an integrated email and direct mail campaign, the creative look and feel should be identical across the two mediums. Even better, the email and direct mail landing pages should match the campaign creative. This “message matching” helps mitigate the inevitable decline that occurs with every click you ask recipients to make.
Email should not be a replacement for direct mail. A strong email open rate is around 30%, often coming from the same people opening over and over. Compare this to direct mail, where the open rate is over 70%. Your best approach is pairing these two marketing channels for maximum multichannel reach.
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