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Why Best Practices in E-Mail Don’t Exist

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By Jeanniey Mullen

RISMEDIA, Jan. 31, 2008-(eMarketing + Commerce)-The No. 1 question any e-mail marketing professional is asked is, “What is the industry benchmark for XXX?” Meaning: How do the results of my program compare to those of my competitor?”

The second most common question is, “What are the best practices for XXX?” This ranges from design to segmentation or even sending trends. A few years ago, best practices in the e-mail marketing industry were pretty common — and effective. With today’s fast-changing digital landscape, the majority of broad and general best practices in e-mail no longer exist.

Why? E-mail efforts today are used for a variety of very different reasons. Newsletters, event notices, e-nurturing, triggered messaging, sales, lead qualification surveys, relationship marketing, brand awareness and cross selling are just a few. The “job” of the e-mail changes drastically in each of these scenarios. In some cases, it is integrated with other media channels. In other cases, it is sent to someone who might not be familiar with your brand at all. And, sometimes, the e-mail might not even have a clickable call to action in it. This is good news and bad news.

That e-mail is a very flexible medium, reaching consumers and prospects at a variety of touch points along the customer journey, is fantastic. It shows the channel is maturing. This also means that many general best practices no longer are applicable. (How can a call to action be forced to be placed at the top if the e-mail is meant to tease readers by announcing a new product launch and asking them to watch their inbox?).

E-mail’s new set of best practices is defined through internal company benchmarking, financial impact analysis and a set of more “job specific” best-in-class rules. Defining probable success of your e-mail campaign relies on answers to questions during the strategic planning process. To get started in the new realm of thinking, take a look at these Top 10 questions. Your answers will help create internal best practices that will significantly affect campaign results.

Opt-in Environment

1. How simple is it to access your opt-in environment? (Is your subscription link buried on your website? Is it listed on every major landing page?)
2. How well does the opt-in process explain all of the types of communications available and establish relevance?
3. Is there a place where potential subscribers can see samples of or access live versions of prior e-mail content?
4. Is your registration process labor-intensive? (If e-mail is not one of the first four fields requested, you run the risk of losing up to 50% of interested parties.)

Creative and Content

5. Does your subject line state what the purpose of the e-mail is and what the offer is?
6. Is the copy format readable under all e-mail circumstances? (Does it show well on a mobile device or BlackBerry?)
7. Is the message visually optimized? (For example: Are images strategically placed to move the eye toward the call to action?)
8. Does the layout of the e-mail support the brand? And does it carry a consistent brand message throughout?

List and Usage

9. Do you have an established cadence that is clearly communicated to the readers? (A monthly newsletter or seasonal update.)
10. Do your programs have “triggers” built into them? Meaning, when people opt-in, do they receive welcome e-mails? When they download whitepapers, do they get a follow-up e-mail to verify receipt and take advantage of a cross-sell or up-sell opportunity?

Jeanniey Mullen is founder and executive chairwoman of the E-mail Experience Council and executive director and senior partner of Global E-mail Marketing and Digital Dialogue Services at New York-based OgilvyOne worldwide.

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