When we talk about “the evolution of email” part of what we’re referring to is the technology and how we as marketers use it. Industry-side evolutions in the past year or two include the linking of email and social, marketing automation, triggered messages and data integration. But I believe most of email’s evolution is centered around subscriber behavior. Much of the direction email marketing takes is guided by what our subscribers want (or don’t). Keeping up with the most recent technology is not as important as meeting our subscribers’ expectations.
As your subscribers’ expectations have evolved over the past couple of years, has your email marketing kept stride? Here are some of the things they would like you to do differently, if you aren’t already:
1. Provide more subscription options.
One size does not fit all in email subscriptions. Increasingly your subscribers want to receive narrower channels of content from you. Replace your “all subscribers” list with separate lists dedicated to the different types of content you distribute: conference marketing, newsletters, industry or company news, etc. If you already do that, look for ways to make your lists narrower still. For example, segment your conference marketing by area of functional responsibility or seniority, or launch newsletters for each strategically important segment of your subscriber base.
2. Provide no subscription options.
Instead of using a preference center to let subscribers select the content channels they’d like to receive, many brands are relying on internal data instead to pair subscribers with the most relevant content for them. The prerequisite for this approach of course is to have enough data about subscribers that you can steer the best content to them without them requesting it, giving brands that integrate a CRM or AMS system with email a distinct advantage. The upside to the approach is that it allows the marketer to send and even develop content based on observing subscribers instead of asking them. Henry Ford famously said that if he asked his first customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse. The marketer knows better than subscribers what content does or possibly could exist. Moving to a data-driven subscription model allows for innovation and flexibility, and removes the burden of choice from your subscribers.
3. Target content more precisely.
Both #1 and #2 above contribute towards the same objective of targeting content more precisely. Even if you pursue neither of those however, it is an objective worth pursuing in other ways. Your subscribers are receiving more emails from more brands than ever, while at the same time trying to manage communications in increasingly pervasive social and mobile channels. For your content to stick it needs to be more relevant, almost as though it was created expressly for each individual subscriber. Try going narrower with your content and aiming to be very relevant to a smaller percentage of your subscribers, instead of being sort of interesting to everyone. You may find you are able to break through with people who had been ignoring you, and may also discover that the subscribers you engaged with broader content are as connected as ever.
4. Make messages mobile-ready.
Mobile opens have already surpassed desktop clients like Outlook and web-based services like Gmail, and are poised to reach 50% of total email opens by the end of the year. While it is true that many subscribers who see a message on mobile will also find it later on their PC, it is also true that subscribers will act on a mobile message if it is optimized for that platform. Not only should it render well, but if you know a quarter or even half your audience is going to open the message first on a smartphone, that knowledge should influence your subject line and copy length (both of which need to be especially tight), your landing pages, and even your call-to-action. For now, consumers will ignore messages that are not mobile-ready; soon they will start ignoring the brands that send them.
5. Include a functioning reply-to email.
If you want your subscribers to interact with your emails, what is more natural than simply allowing them to reply in the same way they do to the messages from real people that continue to command their attention? Subscribers may not want to have a conversation with you or to be your friend, but they may have questions based on the message you have sent. Facilitating and even inviting a reply – instead of sending them to an online form or some other channel – will go a long way towards letting them know you are as attentive to them as you would like them to be to you.
6. Make unsubscribing easy.
Sting said, “If you love somebody, set them free.” What I think he meant is that if you love keeping your delivery rates high, set the people who don’t love you free. An unsubscribe link that is hidden or buried, or that opens a page with an extra step or a final plea to stay connected, complicates the unsubscribe process. Often, when faced with these extra steps the easiest thing for a subscriber to do is simply mark your message as spam. So that’s what they do, even if they know they opted in and the message is technically not an unsolicited message. Spam complaints are the most heavily weighted factor on deliverability. Making it easy for a subscriber to leave will help you reach more of those who want to stay.