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Email marketing part 2 - David Mackley

David Mackley brings you part two of his series on email marketing

Email marketing can be an under-utilised tool by retailers. We work with hundreds of retailers and I only see a small percentage that really put it to good use. Those that do reap the rewards and see longer-term customer engagement as well as a direct impact on visitors and sales.

So what are the different types of email campaigns, how often should you run them and how do you do it well? This mini series of articles looks to answer these common questions.

In section one we covered the different types of email marketing including promotional emails, newsletter emails and transaction emails. In this section we look at how to write emails to increase customer engagement and how to test for success.

Engaging your customers
Engagement is about making a positive impact on your target audience. A highly engaged customer will do something relating to your marketing. This do something action may be simply opening and reading the email, which increases their relationship with the brand. Or it may be that they click through to your website and browse or even buy a product. The question here is how to increase engagement.

Here are some ideas around the different sections of the email:
Headline - There are so many different views on what makes the best headline. A good headline will get more people to open the email. One common recommendation is to use your email program to insert something personal about the customer, such as their name, then put in a short title.

The email company MailChimp did some analysis that suggested the headline is no longer than 50 characters. The subject should of course be something of interest to the reader. Where headings include general discount offers of say 20 per cent off a random product, open retakes can be very low (around 10 per cent). However, where the customer's name is included along with a non-sales subject like January Newsletter, open rates can be up to the 50 per cent mark. Keep the subject line simple, avoid very salesy, pushy or slimy wording. If it reads like a headline from Sunday paper ads, it's probably too salesy.
First few words - The first line of the email is a key part of the message. Why is the first line so important? Because more and more email programs (even on mobiles) include a preview of the message. It's like the sub-headline that promotes intrigue and provokes reader interest beyond what the subject can do.
Message body - Keep the email message short. People don't have the time (or the desire) to read every email that comes in to their inbox. They won't read paragraphs of text if they're only mildly interested in the content.
Call-to-action - The action should be one of the first things that draws the reader's attention. I have seen lots of emails from retailers without calls to action. Make sure you have nice bold areas for people to click on; more on this below.
Segmentation (again) - Marketo did analysis across hundreds of different emails and looked at customer engagement measured by a combination of clicks, opens, conversions, unsubscribes, program successes etc. The findings were very clear; small, segmented campaigns are much more engaging than large, untargeted ones. The data showed the better you segment your email marketing list, the better your engagement and ROI.

The importance of the call to action There are whole books written on best practise with call to action (CTA). An email should have several different CTAs. Any products you promote should have the image and some underlined text linking to the relevant page on your website. This should probably not be the homepage but the product or category page. In addition to product links you should have a hyperlink to your homepage so that the reader can find out more about you. If your contact page is not easily visible from your homepage, also link to a contact page from the email directly.

Your CTA should present a value proposition. It communicates what to expect after clicking. If possible, it indicates the value of doing so. For example:

* Shop now and save!
* Shop and receive double loyalty points today only.
* View the new range.

Where possible, the CTA should closely complement the words on the page that they land on. This reinforces the offer and builds trust. So, if you're saying 'view the new range', the website page should be headed up 'New Range'.

Designing the CTA
The way the CTA is presented has a profound impact on the click through rate. White space surrounding the CTA will help it stand out, particularly if it's a button. The change of a colour on a button can make a double digit difference to results. The CTA should be big enough to be noticed, but not so large it looks like a banner, which can weaken the image. Placement on the email can also be important. Often retailers put the CTA below the fold, which means the reader has to scroll down the page to see it. Consider placing one above the fold and measure the impact.

AB Testing
So if you're now thinking; "A colour change or placement of my buttons can have a big impact on results, but how do I know which to use?" AB Testing is the answer. Most good email systems allow AB Testing, and it's really simple.

If you're not sure if a button should be red or yellow then simply edit the original email and make the desired change, then select AB testing mode. The email system will send an equal number of messages out of each kind. You can then compare the results.

A great test is to measure the impact of different headings on open rates. Using two versions of the email, you may find one has double the open rates of another. Next time you send one use the best performing version and compare against another one. This simple technique ensures you are constantly refining and learning what's best practise for your business.

I hope these small tips help you succeed with emails. By creating a simple email marketing plan you can further improve success, for example have a monthly newsletter, one promotion every two weeks to segmented groups and then one or two transactional emails per month. By trying out some of the tips here you'll be doing that little bit extra to increase customer engagement and drive more revenue through 2014.

David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail -www.intelligentretail.co.uk - providers of multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or E: dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk.