Why Your Email Marketing Program Doesn't Work

While it's one of the oldest forms of online marketing, (and by oldest, I mean over a decade old)... email marketing is far from dead. In fact, it is one of the most reliable, dependable and effective ways to communicate your message and build brand awareness.

I know, you don't believe me. But I swear I'm not making this up. Recent studies show that 91% of people are willing to get a daily message from a brand that they know via email. Yes, daily. Yes, 91%.

So why does your email marketing, ahem... suck?

The answer goes back to how you run your campaigns. And for most small businesses, it's usually a result of poor execution. Let me explain why.

In the decade-and-a-half that I've been running email marketing campaigns, not that much as changed. Sure, now we have much better tools and providers, and there is more noise and competition in the marketplace, but many of the basic tenets are the same.

  • Build a great list
  • Provide information/offers that are sought-after and relevant to that list
  • Be sure that your audience can follow up with you easily about your information and offers
  • Communicate regularly, so that they remember who they are hearing from

If you follow these basic rules, the same rules that have been around since email marketing began (because they were built on the foundation of successful traditional direct mail marketing), your program will prove effective.

Build a Great List

This is, by far, the greatest challenge. Whom should you add to your list? How do you add them? Should you use double opt-in? There are a lot of questions here (which I will tackle in a subsequent blog post, I promise), and at the end of the day, many small businesses end up scratching their heads unsure of where to start. The greatest problems I encounter are when businesses add everyone they have ever met to a general list, or they never add anyone new to their list.

Your campaign is only as good as your list. Your list needs to be built from people who want to receive your messages and are interested in what you have to say. This means pruning down your list to only the people who regularly open and read your messages, and adding new names regularly to help minimize the attrition rate. The process of list scrubbing is painful, at best. It's one of the things I get hired for the most, because most small businesses dread it more than any other marketing task. But just because it is awful doesn't mean you can avoid it. Like death and taxes, list scrubbing is a necessity you can't avoid (unless you don't care about your campaign results).

Provide Relevant Information and Offers

How many lists or segments do you have? Most small businesses have one main "general" list to whom all offers and promotions go out. This is one of the biggest reasons your emails see a poor response rate. Your offer needs to clear and targeted to the recipient. Not every person on your list cares about the same thing, even if you only sell one product. They came to you with different needs, questions, ideas and problems. Your message must respond to those differences so that it is relevent to your recipient.

Part of providing relevant offers comes from list segmentation, or grouping of list members by qualifying categories. Another part comes from using offers that you know are proven successes. Taking ideas, information and promotions that you have run offline, or in previous years, that have yielded a great response is your starting point.

Make It Easy to Follow Up

Do you send your emails from a "do-not-reply" email address? That very act tells your audience that you aren't interested in hearing from them, you only want to talk at them. Your list, your audience, your customers don't want to be sold to or talked at. They want to be heard. A simple thing like using a human name in the reply-to address lets them know you are listening.

Are you using clear calls to action with links that click through to your offer online? Sending an email to tell them to stop in your store is counter-intuitive. I'm online when I read your message, make it easy for me to act by giving me an online response option. And remember that a high percentage of emails are read on mobile devices... so include a phone number that can be clicked on for verbal follow up. Tell them what you want them to do, and make it easy for them to do it.

Communicate Regularly

If you are part of a small business, you are busy. Very busy if you are lucky. Remembering to send out the email every week, every other week or however often you do can be tough. Making time to find the right information, offers or content is another a challenge. But your list is only as good as the last successful send. If you don't make time for sending regular communications, you will fall off the radar screen of your audience and quickly become irrelevant. There is a lot more competition in the inbox today than when I first started email marketing. A customer or prospect may not open every email you send them, but they will certainly see your name in their inbox. When they need you, you will be there. But only if you keep sending email on a regular basis. Once a year, once a quarter... you become lost in the noise. You need to be there regularly, reliably so that when they are ready, you are there waiting for them.

So now what... ?

If you've been able to identify some of the reasons your email marketing isn't as successful as it should be, now is the time to correct those mistakes. Take the time, make a plan and act on it. If you are looking at this list and thinking "Wow, I do all this right and my email marketing still stinks.", then it might be time for a professional consult. Not every program can be fixed with these tactics, but the majority of them will see significant improvement if you can nail these four target areas of email marketing strategy. And please let me know how it works for you! I would love to hear if one or several of these strategies improved your email marketing program!