As we’ve pointed out in several posts recently, email marketing is still an extremely important way for brands to engage with their customers.

Furthermore, the proliferation of smartphones and increased popularity mobile email has opened up new opportunities for marketers.

But while creating an effective email campaign can appear to be a complicated challenge there are some basic rules brands can follow to give their marketing messages the best chance of getting into inboxes and actually being read.

Experian Cheetahmail has published a new report that focuses on three key elements: data integrity, relevance and reputation.

Here are seven of the recommendations:

1. Make sure you have clean, accurate customer data

Your email campaign is only as effective as the data it’s built on, and while you can’t force consumers to give genuine data you can take steps to audit and validate your database.

Yet it appears that a lot of companies aren’t doing this – a recent Experian survey found that more than 90% of companies suspected that up to 25% of their data is inaccurate.

The report suggests that brands should cleanse their database for duplicates and gone aways, and consider enhancing it with additional data sources that give greater insight into their customers.

2. Don’t send unsolicited emails

Even if you know an email address is accurate, the email is doomed to failure if the recipient hasn’t first given permission for the contact.

Unsolicited emails are generally seen as spam and could turn potential customers off your brand, therefore it’s important to know where your data came from.

“If you worked with a third party, for example, perform some due diligence to understand where and how they obtained the email addresses, and if they properly disclosed to the subscriber how these email addresses would be used.”

3. Monitor customer action over time

Another method of maintaining a healthy database is to record and analyse activity levels across the lifecycle.

You can then look at how customers are responding to offers, whether they have stopped clicking on links, and what products they tend to be interested in.

This information can help to refine your email campaigns and target engagement.

4. Start a dialogue

Delivering relevant content is a tricky task, but the rewards are obvious.

Data from Experian Hitwise shows that email users open an average of just five emails per inbox visit, but there are 500m email-driven website visits every month.

To give your emails a better chance of avoiding the recycle bin the report recommends creating a dialogue with consumers which will give a better understanding of what customers want to see in their inbox.

By listening to customers you can gather more data which in turn helps you to deliver more relevant and timely marketing email messages.

5. Welcome new customers

One of the best ways of ensuring your content meets the customer’s needs is through a welcome programme.

It can lay out the benefits of subscription and also ask questions about the type of content customers want to receive and the preferred frequency.

This initial phase of engagement is a critical time to set the tone for all future contacts, with welcome emails showing 63% higher open rates and 105% higher unique click through rates than other forms of email.

6. Understand how reputation works

ISPs determine inbox placement based on the reputation of the sender, so to make sure your emails don’t go straight into the spam folder you need to make sure you have a good rep.

It can depend on a variety of factors, including complaint rates, unknown user rates and spam trap hits.

Marketers can protect their reputation – and deliverability – by deploying all methods of authentication, signing up to feedback loops and enlisting in certification programmes. 

This must be combined with richer customer understanding, as more ISPs are looking at engagement metrics that go beyond opens, clicks and conversions.

This makes it even more important to give your customers relevant content as if your emails don’t get any clicks then your reputation may take a hit.

7. Opt-out and down

Making it easy for customers to opt-out is integral for protecting your reputation with ISPs.

If recipients can’t work out how to opt-out they will likely mark the email as spam to avoid receiving any more messages from you, which will damage your reputation and impact the deliverability of future campaigns.

But there are also ways to lessen the risk of complete disengagement.

Offer the option to ‘opt-down’ rather than opting-out all together by allowing customers to reduce the frequency of emails, opt-out of some communications but into other ones or further refine their preferences so they get more relevant content.