I have to wonder. Is there a direct marketer alive who does not visibly cringe at the mention of “spam”? Once merely Hormel Foods Corporation’s celebrated luncheon meat, the term now causes a knee-jerk reaction in users: hand momentarily hovering over the delete key / icon before rapidly dispatching messages to the great bit-bucket in the sky. Cue the Monty Python Vikings singing in the background.
Yes, John, but “Email campaigns are still one of highest ROI channels out there; second only to SEO!” That may be true, but take a look at the Q2 2013 E-mail Trends and Benchmarks Report. Open rates, the highest they have ever been since 2006. Yay! But what about click-throughs? Sadly, the lowest they have been since 2006. Should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
To my mind, as a realist, open rates are often touted as a success factor but are a bit of a “red herring”. As long as you are doing a good job creating your email campaigns, and not abusing the trusted channel you have, users who value your relationship will usually consider your messages. So, absolutely, measure open rates to determine if interest in communications is waxing or waning, but… is a high open-rate an effective indicator of campaign success? I hope we all agree, “No!”
Campaign success involves moving users towards conversion. Click-throughs are better than opens. Registrations / logins are better than clicks. Actual conversions are better than logins. If you cannot convince me to, at a minimum, take the simple action of clicking then the offer was not compelling enough, not clear enough, or both. Let’s assume you get 100% open rates, but 0% click-throughs. Would that be a success? I didn’t think so. Higher numbers are sexier than lower numbers, so it is tempting to focus on open rates, but if you want to affect your bottom line you have to bump those smaller numbers… moving your ROI yardsticks over time.
So how do you improve the user impression of your campaigns, increasing your chances of conversion? We have previously blogged on advanced techniques that can optimize campaigns, increase engagement and improve offer timeliness (e.g. Campaign Modeling and Real-time Offers). However, many simple concepts exist that can improve campaign effectiveness:
Personalization – Offers should be personalized to the user. By ensuring that offers are relevant, tied to a user’s historical behaviors, it is more likely that the user will be willing to consider and perform the action. The key for improved ROI is in recommending incremental behaviors, rather than a user’s “business as usual”.
Professional – Emails have come a long way from the days of plain old ASCII text. A designer can ensure that your communications are creative yet professional, with a high signal to noise ratio. Don’t add glitz for glitz’s sake. Ensure your copy is clear, concise, and compelling. Give your users the ability to unsubscribe. Make sure you adhere to legislation, such as CAN-SPAM.
Call To Action – Complementing the professionalism of your offer, it is critical that your emails include a clear “call to action”. If the user cannot, at a glance, figure out what is expected of them their inclination will be to delete the offer and ignore future communications.
Industry Standards – Admit it, you look at the “industry averages” to determine how your email campaigns stack-up. The thing is you are really not directly competing against others. You are competing with yourself and your past performance. Use the averages to set your goals, but aim to improve your numbers. Any improvement in the number of users that action your offers should have a positive impact on your ROI.
Targeted – In an effort to get traction companies often start with a naive plan to “open the fire hose”, sending emails to users in the hopes that “something will stick”. With apologies to Martha Stewart, “It’s a bad thing!” You will annoy your customer base, and gain a reputation of spamming. Even basic segmentation will result in more focused and measurable campaigns.
Embrace Social Channels – There is reason that social channels have become a hot topic. Users are spending more and more time on social sites where they interact with their friends. A user, who might not blink an eye at a communication directly from you, may very well be open to it if the recommendation comes from a friend. So integrate those social sharing capabilities.
Know What You Don’t Know – Ensure that you are measuring the effectiveness of your campaigns. Bounce rates, open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates. Each metric tells a different story. If you can’t interpret the data, knowing the actual costs and return for your campaigns, you will forever be just chasing artificial numbers. Measurement will allow you to see the real impact to your customer perception and your bottom line.
Try, Try Again – Finally, keep in mind that a single campaign does not stand alone. Think of your campaigns through the lens of evolutionary biology. Try different “mutations” and let natural selection and survival of the fittest ensure success over the long haul.
Email campaigns are an integral part of the day-to-day “conversation” you have with your customers, and like any conversation should be governed by common sense and social conventions. Stay in touch, present options of interest, and then follow up on opportunities. Treat your users, and their time, with respect and they will reciprocate with respect (and business) for you.