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Marketing Magic: Top E-mail Marketing Mistakes

February 28, 2011
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In Proverbs we are told that the wise learn from the mistakes of others. Mistakes are powerful lesson builders. And nowhere is this more evident than in e-mail marketing.

E-mail marketing inherently brings mistakes. That’s because it’s free and everyone who can push “send” can use it. Usually, the more difficult or expensive your marketing media is, the greater the research and testing you put behind it.

The barrage of pointless e-mails, listing lengthy, unfathomable benefits, or worse - the spamming of America - has caused readership to plummet. Yet the wise have certainly learned from the mistakes of others, and have tested multiple e-mail methods to maximize results. The following nine mistakes are some of the most commonly committed sins of e-mail marketing. This is your chance to avoid the pitfalls and learn how to maximize your return on e-mail marketing.

1. The “From” line: How many e-mails do you send with your company in the “From” area, thinking, “Hey, they know me and my company, so this is a good, trustworthy source”? Wrong. One of the primary strengths of e-mail is being personal, so making the “From” box appear personal is the same as the reasoning behind blind or shielded direct mail envelopes. Personal e-mails get read first; many company ones are trashed instantly. Get in that first group.

2. Consistent contact: Often a company will send an e-mail from the salesperson, then from the customer service representative, then from accounting, then from the technician to confirm an appointment. Bad idea. This is a win for the marketers who always promote branding, but we knew this anyway. It is better to have a consistent e-mail address, such as one of the following: a.) a consistent spokesperson communicating in the “From” line by name, b.) a consistent description like “customerservice@yourdomain.com”, or c.) a creative contact like “TheDreamTeam@yourdomain.com.”

3. Subject line branding: Have you been told by the “experts” that putting your company name in the subject line is a good branding idea? Wrong. The silly branders have lost this battle, which makes me somewhat giddy. Findings from a research team at Marketing Sherpa, the online think tank for marketing heavy hitters, proved that this single mistake sends response rates tumbling. So, quit slamming them with your company name if you want your e-mails to be read.

4. Subject line headlines: This is another shot in the branding versus direct response marketers’ mini-war. The impact of your subject line cannot be overestimated. Consider your subject line as the headline for the e-mail. If you’re sending salesy stuff like “Check this out” or “We have some great deals,” then you can consider yourself deleted. Fact: the highest paid group of all marketers are direct response copywriters. Within that group are the elite headline writers whose fees can be in the thousands per hour. Yes, per hour. Their trade has ballooned because they can write e-mail subject lines that get opened.

For years I have been saving the e-mails I get with the best subject lines.

To create the best subject lines: Pique readers’ curiosity with unfinished sentences, entertainment, in- trigue, questions, and controversy. These types of subject lines consistently outpull the corporate ego schlock everyone else is sending.

5 Subject line brevity: This week I received an e-mail with a subject line that said “Come By Our Booth to See the New .” Really un- smart. Due to the various e-mail providers’ pane previews, most people can’t even see more than about 30 characters. Keep subject lines under 40 characters.

6. Formatting: We all get e-mails in two basic forms:  HTML (graphics and formatting) and plain text (plain and legible). But which is better? The answer is a hybrid: Send in HTML but with very plain graphics. Why? Testing has shown that high graphics (although nice to see) slowed e-mails, reduced opens, and appeared as blanks more often. And though plain text formatting gets read more often, it does not have the response stats of HTML formatting. Thus, the hybrid model combines the two styles. (If you send in MIME format, your e-mails will be sent in both formats, but you’re still cautioned against high graphic e-mails.)

7. Links: Lazy marketers or unaware contractors often send links that are more than one line long, causing the text to slip to the next line, rendering it unopenable except by cutting and pasting. This is a response killer. Avoid link-wrapping and long tracking links. Better yet, name your links alluringly for more clicks.

8. Prefixes: Lots of e-mail senders think it’s old-fashioned to include the http:// prefix because you don’t need it. Hogwash. Include the http because larger providers won’t present your link as live without the URL. Give the full prefix or expect a far lower open rate.

9. Readership: Many business owners felt that cheap or free e-mail meant they were getting smarter in their corporate communications. So many swapped out product announcements, home show appearances, and newsletters from hard mail or traditional paid media to e-mail. According to a four-year study by Marketing Sherpa, two things resulted from this, both bad.

First, when the e-mail was long, it was summarily discarded. E-mail is to be short or linked to a longer subject like we do in our Sales&Marketing Insider ezine.

Second, since e-mail is known to be cheap and fast, customers saw company information delivered this way as cheap, thus deletable. (How warm and fuzzy do you feel when you get an e-birthday card versus a mailed one? Just checking.)

Research proves that mailed material versus e-mailed gets higher open rates, better branding, better imaging, and most importantly - higher response rates. According to Marketing Sherpa, postal mail got between four and 22 times more response from the same company, for the same product, to the same list. That’s a pretty good test.

Hudson Ink recommends sending short, content-rich e-mails to your broad “free” list. These e-mails should link to a longer article or more detailed product information. Then supplement your e-mail communication to your “paid” list (customers) with real mail. This way, you’re communicating both ways to the higher value list members. Bottom line: Do not forgo offline marketing unless you want to reduce your image and response.

We have seen response rates actually increase over the past two years with traditional “real” mail.

So if you’re going to use e-mail - and you should - use it well.

Publication date: 02/28/2011

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