Finding the Right Recipe: The Do’s and Don’ts of Email Marketing

Reading time: 9 min

When we hear the term ‘email marketing’ many of us instantly think of spam. Just like it’s edible namesake, email spam conjures images of bland, prepackaged, low-budget junk. As new social channels like Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram change the way brands deliver fresh content and interact with their audiences, many marketers are allocating more time to social media and neglecting the email form.

However, as Adweek recently argued, email is far from dead. In fact, email marketing is evolving to embrace many of the trends that marketers predicted would be its downfall. Instead of eliminating email from the content marketing toolkit, brands just need to dust it off and refresh their approach. If marketers stop using email campaigns to broadcast information, and start using it as a form of personalized real-time engagement, they can harness the power of this “data-driven, customer-focused” form.

How do you integrate email marketing into your content plan without becoming just another piece of SPAM in your audience’s inbox? We’ve compiled the most important ‘do’s and don’ts’ so you can create the best email marketing recipe for your content marketing strategy.

The Do’s: The Best Ingredients For Fresh Email Marketing Content

Tip #1: Get the Green Light

In both the US and Canada, legislation has been put in place to prevent businesses from spamming inboxes with marketing emails. Gaining permission to access an inbox isn’t just necessary to avoid trouble with the law, but is also essential to building positive relationships with your recipients. Kissmetrics recommends having “a clear purpose when asking for an address.” Be upfront about how often you will email, and what your user can expect from your messages (a newsletter, free giveaways, discounts, advanced access to goods/events). Your audience will appreciate transparency and are more likely to grant you access to their inbox if you are clear and straightforward with your objectives.

Tip #2: Make Subscribing Worth It

“People who subscribe to your email list are so into you that they’ve given you permission to their inboxes,” observes MailChimp. This popular email marketing service provider recommends honouring loyal viewers by letting them be the first to know about new products and sales, or by giving them access to special events and exclusive giveaways. Emails can pile up quickly, and if your content isn’t useful, it’s only a click away from the trash can. Make sure that your content is always fresh and carefully curated!

Tip #3: Personalize

“Most brand activity in social still tends to be more like broadcast ads aimed at as many fans as possible,” observes AdWeek. Email, however, is actually a great way to build customer profiles and cater personalized content to your audience. In this ‘new age’ of email, brands need to stop sending out large email blasts and start concentrating on using the form to make emails specific to each viewer’s habits and preferences. Once you start talking to the the individual instead of the crowd, you can begin crafting and nurturing relationships – an essential component in the modern sales cycle.

According to AdWeek, “email holds more keys to personalized marketing [than other social media channels], especially since an email address can be linked to a myriad of other data, like shopping preferences.” With the right tech, this medium can be an incredibly valuable tool (and time-saver) for marketers looking to customize content, develop customer profiles, and better understand their audience.

Some email platforms even allow marketers to integrate their email system with the CRM to seamlessly transfer data and build customer profiles. Keeping all this data organized will help marketing departments position future email campaigns and better understand when a viewer becomes a potential lead.

Tip #4: Experiment With Timing

Sometimes the best recipes have the fewest ingredients. When too many flavours are competing in a dish it can be overwhelming instead of delicious. The same ‘less is more’ logic applies to email marketing.

In email marketing timing is everything. If you’re ramping up for an event, well-timed emails can help boost registration and create excitement around the event. However, it’s important to stick to the expectations you set when gaining permission to email your viewers. Try not to overwhelm your audience with information, offers, or reminder emails devoid of fresh content. Instead, take a more reserved approach and experiment with the timing of each email until you strike the right balance with your audience.

Tip #5: Create A Strong Call To Action

MOZ suggests creating and integrating a clear call to action in each email. This will not only be more compelling for your audience, but will also help you avoid today’s sophisticated Spam filters.

Instead of using the phrase “Click Here” to direct readers to your landing page MOZ recommends trying a more specific phrases such as “start referring your friends” or “shop more styles.” Though you may have to test several phrases to determine what generates the most click-throughs for your content, the end result will be much more compelling and generate higher volumes of traffic to your landing pages.

You can also ensure that your emails don’t head straight to the spam box by getting whitelisted. According to MailChimp, the best way to achieve whitelist status is to include a small request to be added to a subscriber’s address book on both subscription and thank you pages. This will help prevent welcome messages from being blocked by spam filters.

The Don’ts: How To Avoid Spoiling Your Audience’s Appetite

Now that you’ve got the ingredients for a great email marketing campaign it’s time for a few reminders on what not to do when putting together an email campaign.

Tip #1: Do. Not. Spam.

This cannot be stressed enough. Timing is everything, and if you’re emails start to become too frequent or intrusive, they’re only one click away from the junk folder. Spam is such a pervasive problem that both the US and Canada have passed anti-spam legislation to keep inboxes lean and clean.

Canada’s anti-spam legislation (CASL) came into effect in 2014 to protect Canadians from unsolicited commercial electronic messages and the “unauthorized alteration of transmission data, the installation of computer programs without consent, false or misleading electronic representations (including websites), the unauthorized collection of electronic addresses and the collection of personal information.” In the US, the CAN-SPAM act sets the guidelines for commercial email and provides similar protection for American citizens. The takeaway is that spamming is serious business and can land you a hefty fine.

Fortunately many email accounts have built-in spam filters that catch emails with specific trigger words like fast cash, no cost, meet singles, click here, lose weight, congratulations, guaranteed, great offer, don’t hesitate, limited time, offer expires, or apply now. Familiarize yourself with these terms so your carefully crafted emails don’t end up in the junk folder.

Tip #2: Do Not Forget the 3 Requirements

In Canada, a commercial electronic message (CEM) must comply with 3 requirements; senders must obtain consent, provide identification information, and give recipients an unsubscribe mechanism. Make sure your emails are adhering to all 3 requirements, especially the unsubscribe button. Even if an individual decides to abstain from receiving regular emails, creating a painless unsubscribe process can help preserve a positive reputation with the consumer.

Tip #3: Do Not Create Deceptive Subject Lines

It’s important not to abuse your audience’s trust. If they’ve taken the time to open your email, your content must reflect the subject line and add real value. Content marketing depends on building strong relationships with your consumers, so don’t make false promises or exaggerate your subject lines. Instead, spend some time crafting a compelling call to action or work in some puns. Give it the same attention you would give any Tweet or blog title.

The Web Is A Marketplace and You Need Fresh Content

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of email marketing, it’s time to see who’s doing it best. We’ve gathered our favourite examples of brands that are getting creative with their email marketing. If you’re just getting started or need to revamp an old email strategy, these cutting edge brands will provide some inspiration:

Personalization: Sephora

Sephora’s email campaign targets customers by putting their recent purchases in an online ‘Beauty Bag.’ The message begins with a header displaying the total number of points accumulated, subtly reminding the reader of the value of customer loyalty. The email doesn’t pressure the customer to make purchases, but instead demonstrates how it can make life a little easier when shopping online in the future. Need a mascara refill? There’s no need to sift through pages of mascaras to find the right one because Sephora has already saved it to your Beauty Bag. The email provides personalized information, keeps things convenient, and doesn’t pressure the customer. It’s also a great way for the company to gather information on your purchasing habits, build a customer profile, and anticipate future purchases.

Functionality: Warby Parker

I first became a fan of Warby Parker when I discovered their incredible blog (it’s an excellent example of content marketing done well). So I wasn’t too surprised when I discovered that the prescription glasses retailer also had a solid email campaign. Their strategy is to simply remind previous customers when their prescription is about to expire. The email provides useful and personalized content in the form of a gentle reminder, and also includes a list of optometrists where customers can renew their prescription. Like Sephora, the email doesn’t pressure the audience to make a purchase from Warby Parker – it simply makes life easier. This type of content marketing creates a positive association with the brand and gives readers a reason to subscribe.

Form: Fjällräven

I actually look forward to my weekly email from Fjällräven. Featuring minimal text and absolutely stunning photography, Fjällräven nails it with the form. Their announcements (new products, sales, etc) don’t feel intrusive because I genuinely enjoy getting beautiful photography delivered straight to my inbox (this is another reason why I am a huge fan of their Instagram). The brand’s Labor Day Sale email doesn’t even feature an image of their products, but rather a breathtaking photo of a Nordic town at sunset. I don’t feel pressured to purchase anything, only grateful for the image. This positive user experience means I won’t be unsubscribing anytime soon.

Information: Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon is “a writer who draws” and the author of several New York Times bestselling books including Steal Like An Artist, Show Your Work, and Newspaper Blackout. Kleon keeps his readers engaged with a weekly email newsletter that is content marketing in its purest form. Each newsletter is a curated list of links from around the web, one of which is usually directly or peripherally related to his own work and publications. By placing his self-promotion in a list of expertly curated links that will appeal to his audience, Kleon’s email newsletters become a treat instead of a weekly reminder to buy his books. The newsletter strikes the perfect balance between updating fans about his upcoming publications while also providing the audience with inspiration from around the web.

Now that you’re equipped with some guidelines and a little inspiration, it’s time to start crafting your own email campaign (or take your existing one to the next level). As John Bonini of Litmus reminds us, “Email is only as dead as your strategy.”

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