How Thinking Like Your Customer Can Help Improve Your Email Marketing


Customers are bombarded with tons of email marketing messages each day but only respond to a dozen, at best. Here’s how to help make yours stand out.

Do you remember the classic Disney flick, Freaky Friday? It’s the one where a mother and daughter switch places for a day and gain a new perspective on each other’s lives. The premise isn’t exactly original, but it’s a great reminder about how important it is to see things from another person’s point of view. Take your customers, for example. On any given day, the average person receives 75 emails. And, depending on which expert you cite, customers are exposed to anywhere from 300 to 5,000 ads and brands each day, but only about a dozen of those messages will actually drive engagement. At the risk of overstating the obvious, those aren’t good odds. These email marketing suggestions may help improve your odds.

Less Marketing, Better Results

You may want to get started by pulling the old Freaky Friday switcheroo and putting yourself in your customer’s shoes. After all, they’re not the only ones being bombarded with all those email marketing messages every day. You get them too. This is why you know firsthand that the messages you actually pay attention to come from someone you know and are based on your particular interests and needs.

Right off the bat, this criterion for meaningful messages may eliminate a lot of marketing channels such as direct mail and advertising. Even if you took those off the table, there are a number of options available for attracting and engaging customers online, including social media, email, video and blogs. You’d think with all of these options—and the fact that we’re all spending more time online, with one-fifth of Americans surveyed in a 2015 Pew report saying they go online “almost constantly”—that attracting and engaging an audience would be easier. But it only adds up to customers being exposed to even more messages.

When it comes to marketing your small business, never before has less been more. Instead of going an inch deep and a mile wide using a variety of marketing tools, you may want to immerse yourself in the few channels that are going to get you in front of your customers and inspire them to engage with you. Those channels are email marketing and social media. Why? There are lots of reasons but here are the top three.

First, you want to be sure that your messages get in front of your customers. One of the best places to reach them is in their inbox—according to an Adobe Systems Inc. poll of 400 white-collar workers, those surveyed spent about six hours a day (that’s 30+ hours a week) checking email.

Second, email and social media marketing rely on customers opting in to hear your messages. Specifically, email is permission based, meaning you only add a customer to your contact list after you have their permission. On social media, customers choose to like or follow you. The permission dynamic ensures you’re engaging with an audience that wants to hear from you.

Instead of going an inch deep and a mile wide using a variety of marketing tools, you may want to immerse yourself in the few channels that are going to get you in front of your customers and inspire them to engage with you.

Third, email marketing and social media allow you to engage customers on a personal level. When you do this, you may be able to build stronger ties to them. You can create more tailored content and offers, which may inspire them to take action, like making a purchase or spreading the word about your business.

Now that you have the right marketing tools in place, you may want to narrow your efforts even more. Consider focusing on engaging those customers who are going to return or refer business. For email, this might mean culling your list. And on social media, you may want to choose the one or two networks where the majority of your customers are most active.

Remember, with so many messages coming at your customers every day, it’s easy for them to unsubscribe from your emails or stop following you on social media. To keep those lines of communication open, you have to engage them with content and offers that really speak to them as individuals.

Good Business Is Personal in Email Marketing

What makes a customer read and respond to one email over another? Personalization is one reason. And it starts with the very first thing that a customer sees in their inbox.

If your customer isn’t familiar with your name or the name of your business, it’s going to be a challenge to stand out in that sea of unread messages. Making sure that the email comes from the name they know may help your email stand out. The next part of the email or social media post that customers look at is the subject line. Effective subject lines use fewer than 50 characters, accurately describe the content that follows and inspire customers to open or click immediately.

Going a little deeper into subject lines, you may want to avoid generic ones such as “June newsletter” or “Monthly news from XYZ Company.” You may also want to avoid language that attracts spam filters. Some of the words and phrases that often get stuck in spam filters are “free” and “guaranteed,” along with “act now” and “call now.” Two other things to consider avoiding in subject lines is the use of symbols such as $$ and %, and, of course, ALL CAPS.

But enough about what may not work with subject lines. Here are some approaches that have been successful:

  • Asking a provocative question (e.g. “Struggling to find the perfect Mother’s Day gift?”)
  • Issuing a command (e.g. “Reserve your spot now for the summer kick-off”)
  • Using a teaser (e.g. “3 graduation gift ideas you haven’t thought of”)
  • Creating a sense of urgency (e.g. “Only 8 tickets left.”)
  • Making business announcements that reflect the benefit to customers (e.g. “We’re moving! Bigger space and more parking.”)

As you might have noticed in these examples, the use of numbers and lists can be very effective—here’s one more example to jumpstart your brainstorming: “5 yoga poses to tighten your tummy.”

Creating Content That Inspires Action

Congratulations, your catchy subject lines inspired your customers to open your email! You may want to consider how you’ll be able to provide great content to keep them interested. Not to worry—you don’t need to be a great writer to create great content. Again, writing your email and social media posts from the customer’s point of view and personalize whenever possible can be helpful.

You might be thinking that it’s impossible to create a personalized message for everybody on your contact list. You don’t have to. Consider that in email marketing, you’re only focusing on the 20 percent of your audience that are driving 80 percent of your business. You may want to take a closer look at that 20 percent and break them into subgroups based on location, interests, recent purchases and other logical groupings. From there, consider creating your content and tweaking it depending on who’s receiving it. It can be far more effective to personalize and engage your customers with content designed for clusters than to try to engage them all at once.

For example, imagine that you own a gym and your personal trainers are often asked which exercises are best for strengthening muscles. Instead of the gym sending out a one-size-fits-all email with muscle strengthening tips, they could use that frequently asked question as a jumping off point for personalized content. Their segmented emails could include little known strengthening tips for women over 40, men under 30 and teenage athletes. It could also feature an offer for a private personal training session. Notice in this example that the focus of the newsletter is on the content and less on the promotion. That’s because you may be able to drive more interest, business and repeat business with content that’s relevant, not widely known and personalized.

When you personalize your messages and get higher response rates, it’s easy to start thinking that one successful turn deserves another. And another. But too much outreach can be less impactful. A good rule of thumb is to email no more than once per week, though a monthly cadence may work well for many small businesses.

The Finishing Touches

Some other ways to make your messages memorable are to keep them brief and to use visuals. In an analysis of more than two million emails, those with three or fewer images, and approximately 20 lines of text, resulted in the highest click-through rates from email subscribers.

Also, you may want to anticipate having a mobile audience. Since more than half of all email is opened on a mobile device and three-quarters of your subscribers will delete an email if they can’t read it on their smartphones, you may want to make sure your content and images are easy to download and read.

Following these guidelines may help your messages become one of the lucky dozen that your customers respond to today.

John joined Constant Contact in 2013 and currently directs the company’s market strategy, defining and positioning product and service offerings, and setting a comprehensive go-to market approach across multiple channels. He also heads up the Constant Contact’s efforts to ensure the success of small business and nonprofit customers through targeted customer lifecycle marketing that spans education, loyalty and cross-sell programs.

Photo: iStock

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