Email marketing feature image

When it comes to email marketing, I don’t just unsubscribe; I mark as read, delete, block, the whole nine yards. I’m that person who creates a dozen requests to “filter messages like these” in Gmail. Needless to say, the only thing I hate more than unsolicited emails is unsolicited direct mail. But that’s a story for another post…

My aversion to email was one I’d had my entire career — and then I inherited a company’s entire marketing department. (TL;DR: I was hired to lead product management, but they had a marketing management void, and I was the temporary fix that stuck.) And wouldn’t you know it: 92% of their marketing efforts were email-centric. Oh, boy!

1. Cheaper Email Products Don’t Actually Save You

The first thing I learned in this experience is the importance of choosing the right tools. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

In an effort to save this startup what felt like a sizable chunk of change, I took a pass on the well-known email marketing and automation platforms. We did do our competitor research; however, nothing but hands-on experience could have prepared my team for the frustrations of an unintuitive, unreliable tool. The software was buggy, and the support was nonexistent.

All email marketing platforms are not created equal — even if the product comparison sites might suggest the possibility. Thankfully, a colleague suggested the month-to-month payment plan “in case we hate it in 60 days” — which we did — so we were safely set up with a more reputable provider about six months into this adventure.

I’ve used MailChimp, and I’ve used HubSpot, among other competitors. I’d recommend MailChimp for the ease of design and customization; it’s a very user-friendly platform. HubSpot is my personal favorite, although it has an admittedly steeper learning curve. It was HubSpot’s automation customization and advanced workflow capabilities that won me over.

HubSpot interface screenshot

MailChimp is awesome for beginners. I love HubSpot for the more advanced automation tools.

Bottom line: Don’t skimp on the service that brings your customers to your virtual or physical doorstep. Or, if you’re as frugal and stubborn as I am, at least skimp using a minimum-commitment plan. You won’t regret it! If you are on the fence about MailChimp versus HubSpot, I recommend this read.

2. Don’t Just Write Content to Write Content

This rule should apply to any marketing medium. Don’t post blogs just to say you have a blog; don’t send mailers just because you always have; and don’t schedule email campaigns for the sake of email campaigns.

People open emails because they believe the contents will hold something valuable. And that value depends on the audience, which is why segmented lists are so important.

  • Make it personal. Use variables, such as “First Name” or “Account,” throughout your content, including subject line. But don’t forget to include default values in case you have a contact with missing or blank values for one or more of your variables.
  • Make it irresistable to open. This can begin or end with an enticing subject line.
  • Make it worth reading to the end. The importance of a clean, eye-catching design and equally clean, clear editorial can’t be understated here.
  • Make it actionable. You can’t do this without a Call-To-Action (CTA). Make it clear, compelling, and easy to complete.

If you’re filling your email templates with buzzwords and impersonal copy, you’ve just written an invitation to all of your contacts: Please unsubscribe from all future emails from me, and have a nice, generic day.

As an email recipient, I always thought “personalized” emails were anything but that. To me, they read like a template, and I could immediately tell the contents weren’t written by someone who knew me. However, I should know by now that my way of thinking doesn’t necessarily match the larger population’s consensus. Just because I find variable emails to be stale and robotic doesn’t mean everybody else feels the same. And the data shows the opposite: Using first names in a subject line can increase open rates by 30%.

3. Make The Value-Add Obvious and Attractive

It’s never about the writer, always about the reader, so make them an offer they cannot refuse. And there’s no better time to communicate that offer than in the subject line…

  • [First_Name], it’s not too late to get 60% off!
  • Uh oh, we have to cancel your account… (last day to log in)
  • Hey, birthday star, have a free [Gift], on us!
  • Congrats! You can now earn DOUBLE points today only!
  • [Company_Name] Invites You to a Wellness Workshop: This Thursday at 4PM
  • These styles were hand-picked for you, [First_Name]. How’d we do?

The sample subject lines above each contain an angle. There’s curiosity, urgency, relevancy, value, and emotion (read: the CURVE theory). In some cases, the value is financial; other times, it may be an opportunity for personal or professional advancement.

This was the single most overlooked rule of thumb when I inherited this marketing division of the aforementioned company. The team was churning out content, but it served no purpose to the targeted readers. The subject lines were promotional to the point of not having a point; and the Call-to-Action was always the same: LOG INTO YOUR ACCOUNT NOW… for no reason. Doesn’t that sound tempting? (Nope!)

Changing our strategy to one that drafted purposeful emails made all the difference. We slowed content creation, and we took the time to craft “personalized” offers that would excite our audiences with each campaign. And the numbers spoke for themselves…

Stats on email personalization in marketing

Whatever the sell, make it worth it. But make it real. Nobody likes to be tricked into opening an email any more than they want to have their time wasted by a boring email.

You Don’t Have to Love Email to Make It Work For You

After years of skillfully avoiding campaign managers, contact lists, cross-browser testing, and finicky subject lines, I was suddenly in charge of creating and optimizing all of it. So, ready or not, I had to embrace the world of email marketing. Fast-forward to now: I’m not upset about it. I learned a lot, laughed at my mistakes, and look forward to sharing more tips and tricks for making the most of email — even if you’re an anti-email person!