Published December 3, 2008 by Jeff Selin

With the holiday season here, email has been on my mind. And many folks just starting out ask about pitfalls to avoid for their email marketing and communications campaigns. So here we go: seven surefire ways you’ll be emailing directly to a trashcan or spam filter. These are common mistakes in email marketing. They are not the Seven Deadly Sins, in which case we’d have a laundry list of illegalities for spamming and phishing. In fact, we’ll cover that soon in another post. For now let’s just assume some basics, like legal and ethical standards for list procurement.

So maybe you’ve tried some email marketing tactics that didn’t work. Or maybe you’re doing a little preventative research before you launch a campaign. Today’s topic will help you sidestep the biggie, beginner’s blunders. As you’ll see, there’s plenty of overlap in these mistakes. They work together for success, but can also combine to equal certain doom for your campaign.

1. Wrong list.
The right audience is paramount. It seems quite obvious, but also presupposes knowledge of your target reader. If you have slowly developed your own list through a double opt in subscription on your Web site, congratulations. You should have this list issue pretty well dialed. It’s when you start renting lists that this becomes a major issue. You can use magazines’ list rentals and the information they provide on their audience as your barometer for all list procurement. Based on direct mail metrics, the list is said to account for 40% of your success rate. That’s pretty significant. If you’re out list shopping, be cautious, metrics driven, demand more information, and test the waters.

2. Irrelevant content.
Once you’re pretty sure you have the right audience, it makes sense that you need the right content. Relevancy takes into account content, creative, audience, timing. This doesn’t require higher calculus to figure out, but does support of lot of marketing strategy development. It is said to account for another 40% of your success rate. Readers will only respond to information that is important to them and engaging enough to consider. Of course, this is always easier said than it is to actually accomplish.

3. Poor creative execution.
Even with the correct list and great content, your message will be lost without reasonably professional creative development. This includes “from” and subject lines, graphic treatments, artwork, photos, logos, colors, fonts, formatting, as well as spelling, grammar, and the amount of information. Traditionally, creative is said to account for the last part of the 40-40-20 percent rule of your success rate, though I tend to believe it’s far more important, intricate and subtle. With all the sales drumming and information bombardment nowadays, how are you going to attract your audience? Is your email engaging? Is the offer and its layout intriguing? Do you offer a reason to learn more?

4. No call to action nor landing page.
Now that I’ve opened your email and I’m reading it because the artwork and offer are quite interesting, you need to give me a reason to click, a purpose to learn more, a sense of urgency to act, a hook to take the plunge. Any combination of: “call today,” “act now,” “learn more,” “sale ends Friday,” will usually do the trick, depending on your sales style and needs. Once I do click on the link, I want the landing page on your Web site to be just as relevant. It should continue with stellar content and creative to bring me closer to browsing, shopping, finalizing the sale, or sharing information.

5. Ill timed frequency and delivery.
Readers can only tolerate receiving so many marketing emails from you each month. It’s necessary to know where you must draw the line before you cross it. Readers who feel badgered will unsubscribe from your list. Be cautious and nurture your list. Make each email matter. And when you do hit the send button, do it on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, sometimes Thursdays. Statistics show these are the best times of the week. The good news here is that timing and frequency are completely flexible, testable, and easy to change. Start tracking when you send your emails and how often, then watch to see how these affect your success rate.

6. Dearth of strategy and campaign.

Successful email marketing requires forethought, planning and a budget to continue with a campaign. The same holds true for advertising in any medium. A single insertion ad in the local newspaper, for instance, is nearly a complete waste of money. However, an ongoing media buy in several local and regional publications along with radio, Web and outdoor is a powerful combination. The trick is to hit your audience with the right message more than once, without violating email frequency expectations. For example, if you have a yearly event, you can email pre-show to elicit excitement, during the show with news, and post-show with pictures and commentary. To do it well requires some thoughts around a campaign that ties into the event.

7. Opaque to transparency.
The work necessary to appear transparent is part and parcel in the email marketing gig, especially for a list that you rent. Your audience needs to trust that you’re not hiding online viruses or worse. Interestingly, the same elements that can help alleviate these concerns are also helpful for improving click through rates. Here’s another area where writing superior “from” and subject lines becomes essential to your success. It’s also helpful to include a signature with contact information and make it super simple to manage subscription accounts and to unsubscribe.

Seven common mistakes.

We’ll file this under basic, though these bad habits are still rampant among the expert class. Surely there are more, such as harboring the wrong expectations or using home email systems for bulk mail delivery. But these seven will suffice for now. It’s enough to keep any email marketer busy for some time. Good luck! And please let us know how it goes.

Jeff Selin is Interspire’s user education manager
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