Exploring the evolution of email marketing tactics, here are three best practices that marketers can implement to stand out in increasingly discerning inboxes.
Among the many B2B marketing tactics that companies have at their disposal, e-mail is one of the most useful. Valued for being more personal than pay per click and banner advertisements, and relatively inexpensive compared to other outbound approaches, e-mail is simple but effective.
However, to be a successful B2B marketing tactic, you’ve got to do it right. That means following best practices around the content and design of your e-mails, as well as ensuring that they are optimized for a variety of platforms.
OpenView’s report, “E-mail Marketing Tactics: Do Your Messages Measure Up?” examines the best practices of some of today’s leading B2B technology companies, including:
- Grovo, an online video education and training platform
- Delivery.com, a company that helps customers place online delivery orders from their favorite restaurants and stores
- Statusboard, a project management tool
- Eloqua, a marketing automation company
In addition to looking at how these companies use e-mail as one of their B2B marketing tactics, the report explains how to optimize e-mails by tracking and acting on the right performance metrics.
Contrary to what some marketing experts suggest, e-mail is not a dying medium. In fact, the question is not whether B2B marketers should be engaging their customers through e-mail messages, but rather if they are doing enough to ensure their messages are being read, not deleted.
Read on to find out more, or feel free to download the full report. You’ll also want to check out our recent study on “The Most Creative B2B Marketing Tactics Online.”
Email Marketing Tactics: Do You Messages Measure Up?
Table of Contents
Exploring the evolution of e-mail marketing tactics, here are three best practices that marketers can implement to stand out in increasingly discerning inboxes.
When Ray Tomlinson sent the first official e-mail message between two computers in 1971, it is unlikely that the computer engineer could have truly grasped the impact that his action would eventually have on the digital world. Today, there are nearly 3.4 billion active e-mail accounts worldwide, a number that is projected to grow to 4.3 billion by 2016 according to The Radicati Group.
Simply put, e-mail has quickened the way that people communicate. Similarly, e-mail marketing has had an enormous influence on the way that businesses engage their customers and prospects.
Although novel tactics like social media marketing and search engine optimization generate more buzz among B2B marketers, statistically speaking, e-mail marketing remains one of the most effective online marketing techniques. It also tends to be more personal than tactics like pay-per-click and banner advertisements, and remains relatively inexpensive compared to other outbound approaches.
Of course, to execute a successful e-mail marketing campaign, there are several core areas to optimize. As this OpenView Labs report will show, the best e-mail marketers create messages that stand out in their content, design, and platform optimization.
This report is the first of a four-part series that will focus in depth on specific online B2B marketing tactics.
Similar to this report, the others in the series will present and analyze examples of B2B companies that are successfully implementing online marketing tactics in the space of interactive content, crowd-sourcing, and location-based events.
The series comes on the heels of another OpenView report, “Above and B2B-eyond: A Look at the Creative Marketing Tactics Leading B2B Technology Companies Are Using Online,” which provides a high-level overview of 10 of the most creative marketing tactics used by leading B2B technology companies. This new series of reports applies a similar research methodology to the one outlined in that publication.
Capturing Attention with Compelling Content
As technology has leveled the e-mail marketing playing field — making it virtually effortless for marketers to create, send, and measure e-mail marketing campaigns — companies have had to work a lot harder to ensure that their messages stand out among the barrage of e-mails their prospects receive every day.
One of the seemingly most obvious, and yet under-appreciated, tactics to improve the odds that your subscribers will read your messages is to develop deliberate, pertinent content. In fact, making a concerted effort to craft brief, targeted subject lines can increase e-mail conversions by 85 percent.
Grovo, an online video education and training platform, is a good example of a company that grasps the impact of e-mail content. For example, one of Grovo’s recent e-mails begins with a broad question about security, which it quickly ties into LinkedIn’s June 2012 password security breach. The subject focus is particularly thoughtful because of its timeliness and relevance to a broad audience. Since a large percentage of Grovo’s e-mail targets are likely to be LinkedIn users, the immediacy of the security breach is compelling. Grovo’s e-mail content also guides readers to an embedded video, encouraging further engagement.
Throughout the e-mail, Grovo remains disciplined and maintains its content focus, talking only about LinkedIn’s security breach. Even the company’s plug for its own blog and its “contact us” link — two points at which the message could easily deviate from the overarching theme of the e-mail — find ways to incorporate the overarching “security” theme. The supplementary video recommendations also play into that theme.
OF NOTE: While body copy is critical when it comes to content, don’t forget to spend time crafting a subject line that is concise, timely, informative, and compelling. According to e-mail marketing company MailChimp, it is best to limit subject lines to fewer than 50 characters and avoid buzzwords like “free,” which tend to send red flags to readers and spam filters.
“The goal of any good e-mail marketing campaign is to be timely, relevant, and helpful. Obviously, the content you include in your e-mails is primarily what determines whether or not you meet those goals. The more compelling your content, the greater your chances are that your audience will open your e-mails and follow the calls to action that they set out.”
Jeff Fernandez, Cofounder & CEO, Grovo Learning, Inc.
Delivering Your Message Through Design
As is true in most of the digital world, the success or failure of e-mail marketing campaigns depends heavily on design. Generally speaking, great e-mail designs employ a clean, easy-to-navigate template with an eye-catching color scheme and a distinctive font. Design must also take things like visual flow into consideration to ensure that the various content items in the e-mail work together to accomplish an overarching goal.
Simply put, disjointed e-mail campaigns that lack a consistent visual language are generally less effective. The key is to design a template that uniquely addresses your audience’s interests and allows them to quickly absorb your message.
Delivery.com, a company that helps customers place online delivery orders from their favorite restaurants and stores, achieves all of the above with its visually engaging “Welcome Back” e-mail.
Targeted to customers who have recently returned to Delivery.com, the e-mail uses a creative corkboard layout and handwriting font that likely resonates with customers who view running errands as an annoying chore. The e-mail formatting is consistent — from the Post-It note to-do list to the Delivery.com logo on a Polaroid — and the company’s call-to-action is obvious and compelling. The end result is an e-mail that clearly conveys Delivery.com’s ability to effortlessly manage a bothersome activity for its customers using its software.
“Compelling visualization in e-mail is the most effective way for marketers to communicate messaging and calls to action to their customer bases. Equally, critical is the relevance of the content of the e-mail, which should be tailored based on customer segment.”
Neeraj Sharma, Vice President, Marketing, Delivery.com
Statusboard, a project management tool, presents another example of solid design with its “We’re moving!” e-mail. When the company transferred its operations to Amazon’s servers, it sent an e-mail to inform its customer base and proactively ward off any potential frustration that the resulting down time could create.
Laid out to look like a piece of snail mail, the e-mail features a descriptive graphic and headline to capture readers’ attention while concisely communicating the e-mail’s intent. By combining the company’s logo with Amazon’s and an image of a server in the header, Statusboard spurs its tech-savvy customers’ interest. Readers are then drawn to the bright red text in the next section of the letter, which succinctly informs them of the most important details of the upcoming change in servers.
Taken altogether, the e-mail embodies several repeatable best practices by complementing the company’s website (using similar color schemes and fonts) and utilizing a unique layout to organize content in a simple method that pulls readers through the important details of the message.
OF NOTE: While experimenting with different colors or layouts is an acceptable e-mail marketing design strategy, it is critical to design an e-mail format that readers will associate with your brand. While it may be tempting to create a template with numerous elements and graphics in an effort to stand out, avoid overcrowding it with unnecessary content and design elements.
Optimizing Your Messages for Mobile Platforms
According to recent data from e-mail testing and analytics company Litmus, e-mail open rates on mobile devices increased by 80 percent from October 2011 to April 2012, and have doubled since June 2011. Litmus also revealed that open rates are now higher on mobile devices (36 percent), than desktop (33 percent) or webmail (31 percent) clients, statistics that speak to mobile e-mail’s emergence and staying power.
As a result, marketers need to think about how to optimize their messages for mobile platforms. Achieving that means considering multiple factors, including e-mail layout and content placement. Marketing automation company Eloqua exemplifies that with its welcome e-mail.
Eloqua smartly divides its template into two columns. Both can be viewed when the e-mail is opened on a desktop computer while just the left column — which contains the most important content — is initially visible on mobile devices. Additionally, the e-mail header is divided to ensure that the message makes sense in both desktop and mobile formats.
Eloqua’s buttons are spaced out enough so that they are easy to click on smaller smartphone screens, an often overlooked detail that can have a huge impact on continuing interaction. Lastly, the call-to-action is stylized and perfectly placed. It looks centered and natural on desktop computers, while being immediately viewable on mobile devices.
The most important takeaway for mobile platform optimization is ensuring that the headers, footers, and calls to action are mobile ready as well. This involves optimally placing calls to action and accurately sizing headers and footers so that they make sense on both single and multi-column displays.
OF NOTE: According to a July 2012 study by Gartner, 81 percent of tablet users read e-mail on their mobile or tablet devices. Yet, tablet e-mail optimization is not a widely utilized e-mail marketing best practice. As a result, creating e-mail template designs specifically for tablet devices — incorporating things like bigger graphics, embedded video, or even games — could create a significant opportunity for B2B marketers looking for new ways to interact with their customers.
Optimize by Tracking and Acting on the Right Performance Metrics
While perhaps not the most hyped tactic, e-mail marketing remains a highly effective B2B marketing practice. Like any marketing tactic, however, marketers cannot haphazardly execute e-mail marketing and hope to be successful.
For marketers to see a significant return on their e-mail marketing investment, they must spend time developing messages with relevant, targeted, and compelling content and design that immediately catches their customers’ attention and translates well to mobile devices. Pairing these practices with a robust, well thought out e-mail analytics program yields the greatest opportunity for success.
Key e-mail campaign metrics to monitor include the open rate, click through rate, and the distribution of platforms that the e-mails are opened on. The open rate speaks to the quality of the e-mail content: low rates indicate that the content is out-of-date and static. Similarly, the click through rate can provide insights into the design of an e-mail. If the click through rates of the links and buttons at the bottom of an e-mail are poor, the design can likely be improved to pull readers through the content until they reach the bottom.
Lastly, understanding which platform your recipients read your e-mails on can point to which platform your company should cater to. Although e-mail campaign measurements can be much more complex, monitoring these metrics provide useful insights into which aspect of your e-mails need the most improvement.
Contrary to what some marketing experts might suggest, e-mail is not a dying medium. The issue is not whether B2B marketers should be engaging their customers through e-mail messages, but rather if they are doing enough to ensure their messages are read instead of being immediately sorted into an e-mail trash bin.