How to choose the right email marketing platform

Choosing Email PlatformEmail is a critical element of any B2B marketing program because it enables you to communicate with your customers and prospects on a schedule that you control. In addition, if you grow your email list over time, it can become a strategic asset that can help you grow your business. And, don’t forget that costs per-person emailed actually decreases as your list gets larger. Like any marketing technology, email marketing platforms very widely in their features and usability. Here are some tips to select the right email marketing platform for your organization.

Step 1: Define your needs

First, create a spreadsheet that summarizes your team’s wish list of features and functionality. Next, rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 5, where five is essential and one is optional. Use this list to reach consensus with your team on its must-have features. Important features to look for include these:

Personalization. Personalized emails almost always perform better than those that are not. Look for email service providers that enable you to personalize subject lines as well as the body of the message.

A/B testing. You can never be sure what your audience will respond to. That’s why you need to run experiments with your emails. The concept behind A/B testing is simple: Create two variations of a headline, call-to-action button or other page element and send them to a sub-set of your list (e.g., 500 people each). Then, see which one performs best. Once you declare the winner, send that version to the rest of your list.

Performance tracking. To what extent can you track audience interaction with your emails? You not only need to track message open rates, but also click throughs for each of the links within each message.

Templates. How easy is it to set up templates within the email platform? Does the email platform vendor need to create the templates for you, and at what cost? You’ll want a lot of flexibility here, especially as you segment your list. Be sure you can customize templates with your organization’s branding requirements.

Deliverability. Before selecting an email platform, make sure you ask about these features, which can enhance the deliverability of your messages:

  • DNS, SKF and DKIM certifications help receiving mail servers verify the authenticity of your messages, which helps improve deliverability. Your email provider should be able to help you create these settings on your server.
  • Ask if the provider “seeds” client lists with email addresses, so it can verify the deliverability of each of them and can identify any problems before they become major issues.
  • Ask if your messages will be sent out from a shared IP or via a dedicated IP address. If it’s the former, you have little control over the reputation of that IP address. If another client is spamming its lists, your deliverability could suffer. With a dedicated IP address, you will be the only domain sending email over it, which improves your reputation and therefore your deliverability.

On boarding. What resources does the email platform provide to help you move your email lists over to their platform? Do they offer training or live support to help you solve common problems?

Support options. How quickly can you reach someone to help you solve a problem when it occurs? You should have the option of working with a human being when you run into big problems that need to be solved immediately, whether by phone or live online chat.

Step 2: Evaluate email platforms

Open your wish list of rated features and add columns to the right for each of the email platforms you are considering. Once again, rate each feature on a numerical scale based on the extent to which it supports the functionality you need.

Step 3: Trial use

Once you’ve identified one or two email platforms that appear to be a good fit, request a trial use. You need to determine how well each tool fits into your workflow before you make a final decision.

Step 4: Selection and implementation

Select the email platform that is the best fit for your company. Import your lists and set up your templates. Then, you’re ready to go. Good luck with your new email platform!

Rock your list – it’s your biggest asset

Rock Your List

Do you have a strategy for growing your email list and using it to communicate with your target audience on a consistent basis? If not, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Email isn’t a sexy topic, but it represents the backbone of nearly every successful content initiative and digital marketing success story you’ve ever heard about. There is no better tool for building your online community and communicating with them on a regular basis than email.

Why is email vital to your company?

Email amps up trust. When someone signs up for your email list, it’s a sign of trust and interest in your brand. They’re intrigued by the content they’ve seen so far, and they want to learn more about how you think and the solutions you offer. Even if they aren’t ready to buy immediately, they’re thinking about it.

You own this. Your email list is an asset that you own and control. In contrast, the owners of the social media channels you use tend to change their rules on a regular basis, as they explore various models for monetizing their audiences. If you don’t own the platform, you’re at the mercy of someone else. That’s a huge plus for email. You own that. Plus, this asset can be valued if you ever sell your company.

Repeat traffic. An enewsletter, published on a regular basis, keeps prospective customers returning to your website to engage with your content. It’s essential to educating and nurturing your target audience down the path to a sale or other desirable action.

Email enables you to communicate with your audience in a creative, personalized way that blog posts or tweets can’t. Considering that research shows that people buy based on emotions and then backfill with logic, then it’s essential that you include this tactic in your marketing mix.

How to jump-start your email list

Even if you have an anemic email list, it’s not too late to transform it into a powerful marketing tool. Here are some “bodybuilding” tips for your email list:

  • Deliver your best content to your audience. Always. Audience attention is a fickle thing. Make a commitment to deliver real value with them on a consistent basis, sharing information that is tailored to their needs. Make them feel COMPELLED to sign up for your enewsletter, just so they won’t miss your NEXT big insight!
  • Place an e-newsletter subscription form prominently on your website. Many companies treat this as an afterthought. It should actually occupy a key position on your website. Here are some recommended locations for it:
    • Above the fold, on the home page
    • Above the fold, In the right-hand column of content
    • Centered, between your website’s masthead and its primary content area. This is a can’t-miss location.
    • In a pop-up window. Many people don’t like pop-ups, but they work. Make sure you select one that plays well with mobile devices – otherwise, Google may penalize you.
    • Make sure it’s clear and easy to understand. Limit the number of fields – the more you ask for, the less likely they are to fill it out.
  • Provide them with a compelling reason WHY. Be very clear about what you’ll provide them in return for sharing their email address with you. What will your enewsletter contain that is unique and valuable? How often will you send it out? What will they miss if they don’t subscribe?
  • Exchange something of great value for their email address. Offer them an ebook, a checklist or other exclusive content. But remember: This is a two-step process. Just because they gave you their email address to get your latest content asset doesn’t automatically give you permission to email them on an ongoing basis. After you get them to sign up for your free goodies, make a separate ask for the newsletter subscription. Get permission – always!
  • Publish consistently. Just like your blog, your enewsletter needs to be published on a consistent schedule. Your readers will become conditioned to receive your communications at a set date or time of day, increasing engagement.

What’s your subscription strategy?

email subscription strategy

In today’s online world, there’s a real danger to “building your house on rented land.”

In other words, by publishing your content on platforms and channels you don’t own, you run the risk of them unexpectedly changing the rules and compromising its visibility.

Twitter. LinkedIn. Facebook. Medium. Apple Newsstand. These and other channels where you may be publishing and promoting your content have complete control it. They decide whether it lives or dies and the extent to which it is visible to the world. This problem has been well documented, so I won’t belabor it any further.

What’s important to note from a strategic standpoint is that you need to focus your content on platforms and channels that you DO own. Your website is the first and most obvious place to do that. But another one that marketers often overlook is one of the oldest, least sexy forms of online media: email.

An email subscription strategy is critical

In today’s uncertain environment, it’s critical that you have a healthy and growing email list, because it gives you the ability to communicate with your audience whenever YOU want.

Do you have a strategy in place to grow your subscriber list? If not, now’s the time to formulate one. Here are some things to keep in mind:

High visibility form: Your website should have a subscription form in a prominent location on the home page and other important pages of your website. Some people put this box in the right-hand column of each page, which is easy to do if your website is based on WordPress or another blogging platform. Others use a popover box, which appears on top of the content of your web pages, or a “welcome mat,” which loads above your web page content and commands attention (visitors can also click a button to scroll down to the page’s content).

Offer an exchange of value: Ideally, your content should be so compelling that visitors can’t wait to sign up for your newsletter. In the real world, however, readers usually need an incentive to sign up – an offer for a free white paper, special report or other valuable resource. Once they submit their email address, they will have access to a web page with they can download their freebie.

Be consistent: Create an editorial calendar and publish your newsletter on a regular basis. Consistency is key. It doesn’t matter if you publish once a week, once every two weeks or once a month. Establish a publishing schedule and stick to it.

Upsell them: At the end of blog posts, offer a free download of a relevant special report, worksheet or other resource. The link should lead the reader to a landing page where they can give you their email address in exchange for it.

Ungate some resources: Even though you’ll want to grow your list quickly, don’t “gate” every resource you offer to your website visitors. A combination of free and gated is best. Remember, you want to give your visitors a strong taste of your best thinking. This is a real opportunity to turn the tables: Instead of forcing a visitor to give up their email address in exchange for your special report, why not create a free, ungated resource that is so good that the reader will say to him- or herself, “I want to sign up for the newsletter so I can get access to more of this awesome thinking!”

Related article: Marketers: Why are your sales flatlining?

An Outlook Intervention


#OutlookInterventionWeekAre you still bound by the old ball and chain that is Microsoft Outlook? I have a love-hate relationship with it. As an email marketer the word “Outlook” makes me cringe because of the challenges it presents to HTML email rendering, yet I’ve been steeped in using it for business communication my entire professional career. When you become accustomed to something it’s hard to give up, which is why I wasn’t surprised to find out that I’m not alone!  I should point out that we switched our mail servers over to Google Apps for business months ago, but I’ve been using Google Apps Sync for Outlook.  Despite the strong encouragement of much smarter people, I most certainly do NOT want to give up Outlook. But with support and encouragement from fellow Data Dogger and Outlook junkie Zina Harrington – we’re going to give it a go!

Taking baby steps, all of next week Zina and I are ditching our beloved Outlook for our business correspondence to exclusively use the Gmail interface. There is a good video with some tips that will help ease the transition over on the TechRepublic blog like turning off conversation view and using labels and filters.  Are you still reading email from Google in Outlook?  Will you join Zina and I during our #OutlookInterventionWeek?


Join us by tweeting about it using the hashtag above, or let us know what grinds your gears about the Outlook/Gmail transition in the comments section below!

Mike

5 Email Pitfalls to Avoid

Many organizations spend thousands of dollars on a marketing budget to create and build a strong brand that speaks volumes to their consumer. Yet, when it comes to digital marketing many projects are done on the fly.

Social marketing requires you to always be on your toes. However, in a medium like email which reaches your audience on a one-to-one level,  you need to have your ducks in row.

Why squander your efforts by mismanaging your messages? Below you’ll find 5 pitfalls to avoid with email marketing.

Let’s chat in the comments. Do you have any additional suggestions?

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5 Email Pitfalls to Avoid

1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Using poorly chosen fonts in sizes too big, too small or in a wide variety of styles and colors doesn’t “spice up your message,” it only leads to literal headaches and eye strain for your reader.

Don’t make them work to read your message, present it cleanly and simply to ensure the highest readability. Avoid italics at all costs and remember that an underline immediately signals a link.

2. Too quick to care
Email may be a fast-paced medium, but it deserves the same amount of thought and effort you apply to any of your other marketing messages. An email note that has been quickly jotted down is apparent when it is opened by your reader. If the content is sparse, not written in an appealing manner, or seems to be misdirected, the reader will experience only frustration in having opened it. If you don’t have the time to write a decent email, why should they waste their time reading it?

3. Jeans at a Black-tie Dinner
Carry your branding throughout your email. If your readers expect an upscale and polished marketing message from you, they don’t want to open your email and find “Buy Now! Reserve Today! Supplies going fast!” It cheapens your brand and annoys your consumer.

4. Don’t play it again, Sam
In an effort to stay top-of-mind, your first reaction is email frequency. This can backfire drastically on you if you don’t actually have something new to say. Email consumers expect fresh messages and content. Repeating the same offer or details month after month will quickly reduce your open rate since consumers learn to expect the same-old, same-old from you.

5. Looks can kill
Web messages strongly rely on graphics to appeal to consumers. However, not everyone is blessed with a $10,000 photography budget. If you do not have access to a strong photography library, choose stock photos and clip art extremely carefully. If the quality of images does not match your other marketing efforts, again, your email will be that guest wearing jeans to a black-tie dinner.