Want to Rock Your Email Marketing in 2017? Skip the Sexy Stuff and Master These 4 Fundamentals First

Which new and innovative marketing tactics are you planning to introduce in 2017? You have plenty of ideas to choose from, like augmented reality and Instagram photo contests, to name just a few.

But—despite the draw of these sometimes spectacularly popular ideas (like the craziness of Pokémon Go in 2016)—email is still the most preferred brand communication channel for pretty much everyone of every age, including Baby Boomers (73%), Generation X (71%), Millennials (62%) and Generation Z (65%). Yes, even Millennials prefer email. Forget the Millennial myth. Millennials do use email, and it’s their preferred way to hear from businesses like yours.

Email still matters

This is no small point I’m making here: No matter how many fancy schmancy ways retailers try to market to customers, those customers by and large still prefer email over other channels as the means by which they want to hear from those retailers. Sure they might have a blast tracking down a Pikachu or snapping a picture of their dog with a beer, but that’s not about your communications with them.

It’s easy to be distracted by the new and shiny when they go viral and they’re all over social media, but the facts are that email still matters for any marketer trying to increase revenue. So make sure your email program is constantly improving in 2017.

Master the fundamentals first

Be careful not to get sucked in by all the new, shiny, sexy, trendy stuff (cough cough beacons cough cough) while ignoring the fundamentals. Chasing the latest and greatest isn’t a bad thing. But it is an unnecessary thing if you haven’t mastered the basic building blocks of a strong email marketing program first.

So what should you really be focused on in 2017—before you start planning for a viral virtual marketing campaign or trying out some new technology that still has a low adoption rate? In my opinion, mindful of the fact that email still matters as much as it does, there are four fundamentals you should master before moving on to any other kind of digital marketing. Those four fundamentals are:

  1. Mobile
  2. Personalization
  3. Automation
  4. Testing

Fundamental 1: Mobile

Maybe you’re sick of hearing about mobile marketing by now. Maybe you’ve mastered it. Not all marketers have, however, and that’s going to work against those who haven’t. Although the numbers vary regarding the percentage of consumers checking email on a mobile device, those numbers are all high—and increasing.

What does it mean to master mobile? To deliver emails that render well, no matter the device they’re viewed on, and to offer landing pages that mobile friendly as well. If your email shows up on a smartphone and looks like crap, it will probably be deleted or at least ignored. And if your email looks good but a click-through leads to a clunky web experience, you’re probably going to lose that prospect at that point.

Lesson? Master mobile.

Fundamental 2: Personalization

If you don’t want to personalize your email marketing because you don’t think it’s worth the trouble, you’ve been outvoted: Consumers think it’s worth the trouble, and they expect it. According to a Mapp infographic,

  • 77% expect email marketing to be personalized based on information they’ve submitted about their profile;
  • 76% expect email marketing to be personalized based on past purchases;
  • and 62% expect email marketing to be personalized based on browsing behavior.

Privacy is no longer the concern it used to be because consumers are willing to give up some privacy in exchange for email marketing content that’s relevant and interesting to them.

You have multiple opportunities to gather data about customers. Do so, and use it. Segment your audiences. Personalize your content. Offer a preference center that lets your consumers have a say in the kind of emails they get and the frequency with which they get them.

Fundamental 3: Automation

Depending on your email service provider or inhouse solution, you’ll have varied options for automating your email, but you should take advantage of every one in order to reduce your workload and improve your efficiencies. Here are just a few ways you can use automation for better email marketing in 2017:

  • Send a welcome series to a new subscriber or customer.
  • Use triggered emails to send personalized emails based on a user’s behavior, such as a subscription, download or purchase.
  • Automate the personalizing of content.
  • Automate your email reporting.
  • Have a re-activation campaign in place that starts automatically after X months of inactivity.

If you’re not yet using automation and triggered emails, develop a strategy for doing so. Onboard new customers after a purchase or if you’re B2B marketer, develop a piece of content to offer that you can follow up with a drip campaign.

Fundamental 4: Testing

Although Jay Baer is talking about content marketing when he says it should be about “test, test, test not guess, guess, guess,” you can make the same argument for email marketing. Test always and test everything. Think beyond your subject lines to test everything that’s part of the three fundamentals described above. Test your mobile marketing.

Test for the kinds of personalization that perform better than others. Do you customers want personalized content? How about testing for frequency? Do you know your ideal cadence? Does it differ between one segment and the next, with one group wanting more emails and another wanting fewer? In one study, 41% of respondents said they prefer a weekly email and only 8% want a daily one. How will you know which your customers prefer if you don’t test?

You need to test in order to maximize gathering information for your personalization too. Just how much can you ask for on a signup page? Can you ask for gender, age and ZIP code? Or do people start dropping like flies when you add just one more field? Test and optimize those forms so you can optimize your personalization.

Test for the best ways to use automation. How many emails should you use in a triggered welcome series? Two, four, one? Test and find out.

There will always be something to test just as there will always be something to tempt you away from these fundamentals. And tempted you may be! As long as you have your mobile marketing, personalization, automation and testing rock solid, your email marketing will rock in 2017—and then you can go after the shiny new stuff and have a little fun!

10 Email Testing Pitfalls + 15 Pro Tips

Email Marketing Pitfalls

Email is a numbers game, and we have all kinds of numbers we can measure. But when it comes right down to what really matters, money is the most important metric. And the more of it you earn, the better your ROI, right? The challenge is, knowing how to make more of it. And that’s why we test.

However, testing is kind of like flossing your teeth. You know you should do it, but you oftentimes only do a poor job or skip it altogether…until your semi-annual trip to the dentist looms large on your calendar. Then you’re flossing daily, but you can’t really undo all the neglect from the days, weeks or months you skipped.

The takeaway here is that flossing should be a regular habit—and testing should too. And like flossing, testing should be done to maximize results. Unlike flossing, there isn’t one set way to test to get one predetermined result. We’ve performed thousands of tests in our 18 years in this business. We still don’t know what will work, because it all varies greatly depending user-base and company, and best practices are only temporary at best.

However, we have gleaned quite a list of testing do’s and don’ts over the years, and we present them here, both the common pitfalls to avoid and tips for better testing.

Above all, remember that testing only seems hard. It’s not.

10 common email testing pitfalls

Below are the mistakes we commonly see marketers making—marketers who are well intentioned and want to test, but who are also getting in their own way when they do so. We highly recommend you avoid these:

  1. Waiting for IT or others to help make the testing happen. This is the slow death of a successful promotional email.
  2. Doing multivariate testing rather than a simple A/B split test. Multivariate seems awesome but hard to decipher. Instead, use A/B split testing to find your diamond, and then perhaps multivariate testing to polish it.
  3. Using unequal data sets. Be they quantity or records and time periods.
  4. Focusing in inconsequential details, otherwise known as not seeing the forest for the trees. When marketers test for logos, footer text, and little things like that, they are losing the opportunity to test for what really matters, like offers.
  5. Testing the wrong thing. Like opens rather than conversions. Opens are easy but unreliable, even dangerous.
  6. Investing too many resources into a single test. This only leads to wasted time and effort, and time is critical in email.
  7. Testing too often.
  8. One-time vs. ongoing. Avoid the set-it-and-forget-it mentality. Create a culture of testing instead.
  9. Lack of segmentation: These are the marketers testing for the lowest common denominator. These tests won’t take you far.
  10. Not validating the results. Take into account difference times and regularly monitor gain.

15 Ways to Take Email Testing to the Next Level

These aren’t best practices, per se, rather ways to do testing better.

  1. Create a culture of testing: Be relentless. In this case, fast and steady wins the race.
  2. Be agile and streamline processes. Find ways to be fast and use fewer resources.
  3. Align goals with effort: What are your goals? Lifetime value? Quarterly revenue? Customer loyalty? Be clear on the goals of your program and be clear on the goals of individual emails and campaigns too.
  4. Start big: Test apples vs. oranges, not red apples vs. green apples. For example, test offers and subject lines before CTAs and body copy.
  5. Find your champion via A/B split testing.
  6. Then iterate your champion.
  7. Validate: Retest your champion twice annually.
  8. Focus on If those are unavailable, then the open-to-click ratio. If that’s not possible, look at opens and clicks.
  9. A/B test one element every X days. Then move to test next most important element.
  10. Name things appropriately, with the goal in mind, because it makes a difference in how you approach the testing and what you look for in results. For example, your Welcome email should perhaps be renamed your Upsell email.
  11. Test your “forgotten” pages, such as your thank you page, confirmation page, etc. If you’re not testing these, at least evaluate them.
  12. Optimize the post-click experience: This is the fastest way to boost ROI.
  13. Put some skin in the game: Use team incentives, like a Starbucks gift card.
  14. Invest 25%-50% of your production time into testing.
  15. Monitoring is critical, so do it. Organize and schedule reports. Use the tools available to you.

Testing doesn’t have to be rocket science, and really should be quite simple to do yet profitable too, when you make it a habit, and do it regularly and well.

Art by Justin M. Buoni // Just Justin Art

Words by Gerald Marshall // Email Industries