In our recent Email Marketing Industry Census 2015, we discovered that email marketing is still a very popular strategy for brands globally.
One reason for this is that email marketing offers great return on investment (ROI).
Two-thirds (66%) of marketers felt that their email marketing ROI was better than average, and less than one in ten (7%) of those surveyed felt it was ‘poor’.
The same group also felt very positive about email marketing’s future. The vast majority (78%) disagreed with the statement ‘Email marketing will be redundant in five years’ and only 9% agreed.
So as email marketing is maintaining its popularity, it’s useful to review the state of the art occasionally for some best practices.
And though it’s interesting just to see what everyone else is doing, it’s also good to use these best practices to review your own email marketing and see if it is up to scratch.
So, for your review and reflection, here are three things which Asia-Pacific email marketing leaders do regularly, each with a relevant case study.
1. They come up with a strategy first, then tactics
When thinking about all the things that you can do with email, it’s easy to focus on the tactics. Tactics, after all, are where you provide value to the customer and get metrics to report upwards.
And there are plenty of guides to help you with tactics. You can find dozens of blog posts telling you how to write a better subject line or about the optimal time to send emails.
But without a good strategy, it’s hard to know which tactics to use.
And once your campaign is finished, it’s much harder to analyse the effectiveness without referring to the original strategy.
OK, but what is an email marketing strategy?
There are many types of marketing strategies, but for email marketing one of the best is the segmenting, targeting, and positioning (or STP) approach.
For a full explanation of STP, there are excellent resources available (here’s one), but here is a short description of how STP relates to email marketing.
There are three steps to this approach:
- Segment: Divide your email list into exhaustive and mutually exclusive segments.
- Target: Decide which of your offers is most appropriate for each segment.
- Position: Then plan to communicate the value your offer provides to the targeted segment.
How you execute on the strategy, the tactics, should be geared towards capturing the information you need to segment and delivering your offer to the intended target.
It’s fairly simple, but too often marketing departments lose sight of their original strategy and execute tactics without knowing why they are doing it.
Thai Airways: Strategy in practice
A good example of a company that had a clear strategic vision ahead of a tactical email marketing campaign is Thai Airways.
In order to re-activate its Australian customer base, Thai Airways sent an email to its Australian customers about a contest to win a free trip.
To enter the contest, though, participants had to tell Thai Airways when they were available to travel.
But instead of just using this data for the contest, Thai airways then segmented its customer base using the customers’ preferred travel dates.
Then, it sent targeted emails to each segment with an offer positioned to appeal to each customer’s personal travel time frame.
In short, Thai Airways
- Segmented its customers by travel date preference.
- Targeted those customers with a travel offer relevant to their preferences.
- Positioned the fare using a personalized email highlighting the offer and the travel dates.
The results were great. Through using STP Thai Airways was able to increase the average open rate of its emails to 40%, well above the Australian industry standard of 16 to 24%.
But more interesting than the results is how the team at Thai Airways:
- Thought about what product they wanted to position (time-sensitive travel deals),
- Worked out how to get the data they needed to segment their email list,
- And executed using a personalized email.
Thai Airways truly executed a strategy-driven, tactical campaign.
2. They use customer behaviour to trigger emails
Brands gather customer data in other ways besides surveys though, too. Many companies are now using customer behaviour in order to better segment and target their customer base.
For example, many businesses now send emails to customers who have ‘abandoned’ an online shopping cart on their site.
Our email survey indicated that nearly two in five (37%) used this tactic in 2015, nearly twice as many who did so in 2013 (20%).
But there are other behaviors which can used to trigger an email to improve customer experience.
Zuji’s behavioural approach
Zuji, an Asian online travel site, sends emails which are triggered by browsing behaviour on its website.
That is, when someone registered at Zuji clicks on a link or conducts a flight search, Zuji records the behavior and associates it with the person’s email.
Then, should Zuji’s algorithm determine that the customer needs more information or perhaps a special offer, Zuji’s email systems sends a personalized message.
According to a recent case study, using behavioural emails resulted in a 50-fold improvement on revenue per thousand emails.
But more than just increasing revenue, personalized emails are also a great way of improving the customer experience.
Getting relevant, personalized information when you’re in the research stage is almost always welcomed by customers.
And it’s not surprising that doing so led to more sales for Zuji.
3. They keep their email list clean
And finally, in order for these programs to work continuously, top brands put a lot of effort into keeping their mailing list clean.
One big part of maintaining a clean email list is monitoring the bounces when you send a campaign.
Just in case you weren’t aware, every email campaign should have a ‘bounce report’ which tells you why an email couldn’t be delivered to one of your customers.
Sometimes, things happen out of your control. The customer may have closed their account or moved jobs. Or the company may have gone out of business and the domain is now invalid.
But quite often you can fix the problem. The bounce may have been caused by a misspelling or the addition of an invalid character, such as a space.
If you monitor your bounce report regularly, you can fix these manually and ‘rescue’ the email address quickly.
But more serious problems can be identified from the bounce report, as well.
Your domain may have been, unknowingly, blacklisted by a major email provider such as Hotmail or Gmail. This means that your emails will either be delivered to spam folders for people who use those services, or not at all.
Estée Lauder: Improving deliverability
Estée Lauder in Malaysia had a big problem. Its emails had a bounce rate of 14.1% on average and ran as high as 21.6%. This meant that, at times, Estée Lauder was not able to deliver email to one in five people on its list!
To improve deliverability, Estée Lauder implemented new email software (CheetahMail) and went to work on reducing bounces.
First, the system validated its existing list and then deployed a bounce management scheme which removed emails which frequently bounced.
But another problem it addressed was deliverability. This involved working with a high-quality email service provider (ESP) who had good relationships with major email providers and making sure that all of their anti-spam policies were being followed.
Then, the emails it sent were far more likely to be delivered to recipients in their inbox, and not as spam.
The results were that Estée Lauder reduced its email bounce rate from over 10% to under 1%.
Now, it is easy see this and think you don’t have a problem with a bounces. Most companies already have bounce rates under 1%.
But maintaining focus on deliverability is still important as every email which bounces is a lost opportunity for better ROI.
In fact, cleaning your email list is probably one of the most underrated and effective email marketing tactics for improving ROI.
It’s also a great place for to start looking for issues if you feel like your email campaigns aren’t working as well as they used to.
Brands that do email marketing well tend to have strategies before tactics, use multiple data sources when targeting emails, and use many tactics to keep their email list clean.
If you could only do one of these, though, conducting strategic analysis of your email list before executing tactics is probably the most important.
You can try all the tricks to improve open and click rates through A/B testing subject lines and body copy, but a good strategy is a much better way to spend your scarce time and resources.
This means segmenting your list into meaningful groups, coming up with offers specifically for the segment, and then positioning it in a way which appeals to them.
Doing so is the shortest path to improving email marketing ROI and boosting your email marketing program up with the best in the industry.