“Direct mail has begun spiraling into what we believe is a precipitous decline from which it will never fully recover”
According to a new study from Borrell Associates, direct mail will decline 39% in the next five years, with many marketers opting for email as a cheaper, more sustainable, alternative. I don’t think this means that print is dead in terms of response rates…but it does mean that the competition for your users attention in their inbox is going to increase immensely. The more email your users are getting hit with, the harder you’re going to have to work to make your messages stand out.
How does your email program stack up? If you can answer yes to any of the following questions, it’s time to step up your game:
- Are you sending your mass emails in-house, without using an external service provide?
- Are you relying solely on email newsletters or mass messages with little-to-no segmentation or customization?
- Do you continue to send email after email without taking a moment to analyze your core email metrics?
If you’re one of the guilty, don’t feel too badly. You have lots of company. Here are some some simple things you can do to make your emails more competitive in the competition for your users attention.
Outsource, Outsource, Outsource!
It never ceases to amaze me how many institutions still continue to insist on sending their own email in-house. There are many things that colleges are capable of executing well in-house. Email deliverability is not one of them. You can have the most well-written, well-designed, most perfect emails in existence…but if they aren’t making it to inboxes, it’s all for not. And if you’re sending in-house, I guarantee that you are probably (minimally) blocked from delivering messages to Yahoo email addresses.
Outsourcing is not only cheap, but also gives you access to better features, additional data, and information about industry best practices from your provider. Most importantly, your deliverability problems will be on the shoulders of your provider. My favorite email service provider is Fire Engine RED, but there are tons of others out there to choose from if they aren’t quite your style.
Make It Personal
Email newsletters have their place, but they should not be the focal point of your email marketing program. Instead, focus your energy on a strong segmentation strategy. The general rule of thumb is that if you cannot segment your message into at least two groups, you should probably think twice about sending it. Segmentation only works if its based on things that your users care about. Don’t be afraid to experiment and test to find out what works best.
Segmentation will naturally lead way to customizing your messages. Customization should be seamless. Think about the fields that will add value to your message, while not taking your user’s attention away from fulfilling the primary call-to-action.
Use Your Data
Your metrics are the keys to the kingdom. They tell you what’s working and what’s not. Take the time to really analyze your numbers, and approach them with an open mind. Accept that the awesome strategy you came up with may not have pulled as well as you thought it would, or that the subject line you hated may have been perfect for the audience.
Although I look at a wide variety of metrics, the two key ones for me are click-to-open and conversion. Your click-to-open rate compares the number of people who click on a link in your email to the number of people who opened the message, and is a much more accurate indicator of the success of the overall message thank the click through rate. Your conversion rate measure the percent of people who actually completed your call-to-action (i.e. filled out an online application, or made an online gift). Each of these rates is going to require a bit of extra effort on your part - click-to-open is not a metric that is normally included on standard email service provider reports, so that’s probably a calculation you’re going to have to make on your own. Tracking conversion rate will probably require an extra tool, such as Google Analytics, but it certainly can (and should!) be done.
When All Else Fails, Make It VALUABLE
If you do nothing else, make sure you ask yourself what value you are providing for your users. Are you just pushing out information that is valuable to you? Or are you really taking their wants and needs into consideration? If you aren’t giving your users things they care about, then no amount of outsourcing, segmentation or data analysis will be able to help you.