Delivering Intelligent Email

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Due to its low cost and easy execution, email has long been used as a tactical channel. But diminishing returns mean marketers can’t continue on this path. Irrelevant and untargeted email doesn’t enhance the customer experience and is potentially damaging to your brand. Everyone wants their email to increase web traffic, purchases, subscriptions or downloads and enhance brand equity but many realise they are fast becoming part of the unwanted inbox ‘noise’. Read this blog to learn how to ensure you avoid the pit-falls.

What can you do?

To create more intelligent email three areas need to be addressed:

  • Delivery – reaching the inbox and being readable
  • Relevance – messages targeted at audiences that want them
  • Creativity – keeping audiences engaged

Working in combination, this trio can make email a more strategic channel and the following guide examines all three, advising which steps to take so your email keeps delivering the right results.

Step 1: Maximise your deliverability

Your email reputation, list maintenance and email rendering are the interconnected drivers of deliverability. Using the correct permission strategy, good list hygiene and designing content carefully, all affect your success as an email marketer and call for efficient processes to ensure delivery. Spam complaints must be kept below 1% of outbound emails – if they exceed this level ISPs and other receiving email servers could block all your messages.

What you need to do to increase delivery:

Make sure your email is wanted

This may sound obvious and will improve results but your reputation is also protected as spam complaints will go down. Confirm and re-affirm the wishes of your audience – permission and relevance is the key to your customers, so provide options to change preferences in every email you send. An opt-in process which includes sending a confirmation email to new registrants, puts your audience through an extra validation step which increases their commitment. Conversely, make it really easy to opt-out by making the option prominent and linked to a precompleted confirmation page; don’t be tempted to put in extra steps or send ‘just one more email’. Also ask your audience to add you to their address book, this is invaluable in improving delivery to the inbox; if recipients want your email in the first place, they are more likely to do this unprompted.

Monitor each ISP’s deliverability rules

ISPs are continually evolving their rules around what constitutes good email practice and failure to comply could mean ending up on their blacklists. You need to make sure your processes let you actively monitor and manage your understanding of each individual ISP’s rules and execute campaigns in line with them.

Maintain list hygiene

Keeping lists clean in the dynamic email environment is an ongoing, relentless task. Failure to keep lists up-to-date not only reduces effectiveness of campaigns but also damages your reputation with ISPs. Hard bounce addresses need to be removed quickly, while soft bounces need to be monitored and removed if the address bounces repeatedly. In an ideal scenario this inbound information should be capable of automatically updating your lists, saving a significant amount of manual intervention.

Make sure your emails are readable

Many ISPs and email clients will present your emails differently and you need to bear this in mind at the design stage; you want content to be viewed in its intended format by everybody. Most ISP rendering issues are around the way they treat HTML – some will filter email into the spam folder if coding is poor, so make sure yours is validated against current industry standards such as W3C. A growing number of ISPs are also suppressing images and links by default. To allow for this, your rendering will need to make sure the recipient is still able to identify your brand and can see enough information to want to ‘turn images on’ and see the full email. This is another reason to ask recipients to add you to their address book which will often solve this problem. Also remember that use of preview panes is becoming the norm, so placement of content should reflect this.

Get guidance on standards

A recipient’s email experience demands that you comply with a variety of requirements, covering technical, legal, business and consumer trust challenges. You need to be aware of the latest deliverability standards and industry best practices, set-out by bodies and regulations such as the DMA’s Email Marketing Council, the British Code of Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the EC’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. These guidelines will help you not only create effective email but compliance also reflects well on your brand’s image.

Step 2: Increase relevance – apply more intelligent insights

The need to be highly relevant is not a major strategic insight. But email has the ability to deliver relevant communications more powerfully than any other medium. Relevance is driven by understanding your audience – and the m

To be more relevant you need to:

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Segment properly

Most email marketers use data such as open rate, click-through rates, actions completed or purchasing activity to select and segment their audience. But using data gathered only from email or online metrics provides a limited amount of knowledge and therefore weak segmentation. If you are going to be relevant you need to capture and take advantage of much wider sources of data, including consumers’ multi-channel activity from a customer database, behavioural, attitudinal and socio-economic profiles, plus web analytics and media source and research data, all of which should be used to create multiple segments. Email is, after all, a highly dynamic medium in which you can cheaply and easily send different messages to different groups.

So far the demand to perform proper segmentation for email has been low; the untargeted blast method still reaching enough interested customers to generate a return. But the more types of data you can use to inform segmentation, the more you can individualise the messages and increase relevance.

Create a unique picture of your customer

The only truly unique customer information available is about how they have interacted with you in the past – both off and online. If you can integrate this information via the right database and exploit it down to the individual consumer level with powerful analysis, you will achieve a level of differentiation which translates into better engagement.

Time it right

Timing issues and the challenge of frequency are overcome if you can email consumers when you know they are most receptive. A great deal of research is available outlining when consumers are most likely to open emails but it only deals in averages. Using knowledge of recipients at an individual level, however, allows you to schedule delivery times customers themselves are online and likely to be in ‘email mode’.

Applying individual-level insight also enables automatic trigger emails to generate impressive results. Trigger emails can make offers or suggest products to customers based on behaviour of ‘people like them’ not just ‘online shoppers like them.’ Activated by various actions or events, such as following a purchase with a related product offer, or sending an offer to someone who has abandoned their shopping cart, trigger emails allow brands to have a far more intelligent dialogue with customers.

Test, test and test again

Email is probably the easiest and fastest medium available for testing what works and what doesn’t. It also lets you look for unexpected segments or groups who are interested or disinterested in an offer, and use that to refine the targeting and segmentation strategy for the whole campaign. Sometimes you can find niche groups that react particularly well or poorly to an offer or treatment – email offers the chance to exploit these groups.

With the right email platform it is incredibly easy to send small test campaigns and establish which subject lines achieve the highest open rates, what time and day work best, which content generates the most response and the audience segments that generate the best ROI.

Measure everything

The email channel is a fantastic source of data which adds up to create the best possible measurement of campaign ROI. Email also lets you see how a prospect reacts to your message in a way impossible with traditional direct marketing approaches – this gives you an unprecedented ability to tailor your ongoing communications.

Feed the email response data back into your database so that offline campaigns, customer segments and models can be built using the responsive data. Being ‘joined-up’ is one of the key hings you can do to improve relevance and the email response data is a vital part of a customer picture and should be used across all channels.

Step 3: Get creative and keep audiences engaged

As outlined before, email has the ability to deliver highly relevant communications more powerfully than any other medium. Allowing creative to become more individual and engaging than ever before, delivering dynamic content becomes a reality. You need to remove any barriers to rich media delivery by having the right technology support your strategy – personalisation will only be limited by the amount and type of content available.

Make it personal

Where possible personalise your creative – in its simplest form address the communication by name. Use the segmentation described above so that you can use the media, imagery and copy that fit with the person you are talking to. You might choose to split out your creative by life-stage using a subtly different message for young singles, families or empty nesters for example. One group might prefer video, the other, straightforward text.

Remember it’s multi-media

Technology today allows email to take advantage of video and audio, as well as static content. For email clients which don’t support embedded video or audio, it is easy to link to landing pages that will run the content automatically.

Encourage interactivity

Interactivity is another great way to drive engagement and participation. Surveys, polls, games, downloads and coupons can drive a deeper connection with your audience to improve brand affinity and the chance of purchase.

Move beyond the email

Don’t think of the email as a standalone medium – it’s a simple task to link recipients to other digital assets, such as campaign landing pages, microsites, Facebook profiles etc. Look at email as a gateway to your brand rather than a single, isolated communication.

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