Email marketing: Under the skin of open rates

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Red C, Manchester based marketing agency, take an insightful look at email marketing opening rates in this easy to digest whitepaper entitled 'Under the skin of open rates'. Strategy Director, Steve White, looks at how the subject header, the 'From' name, the preview panel and the day and time of send can all influence the number of email recipients who open an email and suggests ways in which to maximise this through easy to implement tactics and testing.

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<ul><li> 1. January 2013Under the skinof open rates</li></ul><p> 2. ContentsPublished: January 2013 // Written by: Steve White (Strategy Director)About this documentExecutive summary1. Outside influences1.1 The customer relationship1.2 Customer circumstances2. The importance of the From name3.The importance of the subject header3.1 Length3.2Content3.2.1Personalisation3.2.2Urgency3.2.3 Be contextually relevant3.2.4 Dont stretch the truth3.2.5Symbols4. The preview panel5. Day and time of send6. Testing and results7. Conclusion7. Further reading and useful links 3. (1) RefsCopyIntro paragraphTitleAbout this documentI have worked at Red C Marketing for approaching a decade and have managed emailprogrammes for a whole host of different clients from a number of differing sectorsincluding home shopping, travel, retail, insurance and leisure.This document is intended to outline the process that I would advise when working to establishyour optimum opening rate in what is an increasingly difficult email marketing landscape.About the authorSteve White (Strategy Director) 4. 76My inbox is becoming increasingly busy, increasingly noisy and I simply dont have the time toopen and digest every single email I receive. I have messages relating to work, emails from friendsand family and of course, emails from retailers and businesses (not all of which Ive opted into, Imay add). Marketing focused messages are always going to have to work harder than messagesfrom bosses, clients or loved ones, so email marketers need to do all they can to ensure that theygive their emails the best possible opportunity of being seen and opened.Executive summaryThe factors that influence whethersomeone opens or chooses not toopen an email are vast and can oftenbe quite complicated. Some factorsare even outside of the influence ofthe marketing department. Forexample, the relationship you havewith that email recipient and theircircumstances will both have a majorimpact on whether they open youremail or even consider opening it.However, the good news is there areseveral factors that can be influencedand managed by email marketers, justlike you and I.There are many factors that influencewhether someone chooses to open or notopen an email, some of which cant beinfluenced by email marketers or by a singleemail message.1. Outside influences1.1 The customer relationshipSome email recipients will open and engagewith your emails each and every time yousend one, simply because theyre engagedwith your brand and email programme.However, at the same time there will beemail recipients who are non-engagedand itll take a great deal of persuasion toconvince them to open or engage with theemail, no matter what the content or keymessage happens to be.One factor that is going to influence youropening rate, arguably more than any other,is the relationship your brand has with thatemail recipient.The From name, the subject header, thepreview panel and when you send theemail can all greatly influence whatpercentage of your base actuallyinteract with your email marketingmessage. Given the influence thesefactors can potentially have over thesuccess of your communication, theyeach need to be given a great deal ofrespect and focus in terms of how theyare managed.The key challenge of anyemail marketer is establishing how eachof these variables can work together inthe most effective and efficient manner,in order to achieve the mostadvantageous results. Its only when youdetermine this formula that you can becontent that youre achieving youroptimum opening rates.EngagedNonengagedLivePre-occupiedMisseditContentUrgencyContext-uallyrelevantTime andday ofsendPersonal-isationLengthDecisionto openemailPreviewpanelFromnameOutside influencesManageable influencesHolidayLapsedProspectRelationshipCustomercircumstanceSubjectheaderNot inmarket 5. 98(1) RefsCopyIntro paragraphTitle981.2 Customer circumstancesIts a sad state of affairs that no matter how much testing andrefinement you build into your email programme there are alwaysgoing to be reasons that are out of your control that could lead toyour well crafted email not being opened.For example, we have no control whether an email recipient happensto be on holiday when your email message arrives in that inbox.Although that person obviously has the opportunity to engagewith that email message on their return, how many of us adopt arelatively ruthless filtering system when were faced with abulging inbox?In a similar vein just think about all those disturbances or events thathave the potential to sidetrack you from sifting through your emailinbox.A knock on the front door, a telephone call, Little Jimmy askingWhats for tea? or screaming the house down after falling over andgrazing a knee. If any of those scenarios were to happen you couldhave lost your opportunity of an open!Another key reason as to why an email recipient might not open anemail is if theyre simply not in the mindset to buy or respond. It isof course possible to influence that customer into opening with apersuasive subject header but there will be times when that emailrecipient simply wont open no matter what you do. For example,if your email recipient has just suffered a financial setback such asa faulty washing machine or an unexpected bill has just hit themthen the content of your email message will have little bearing as towhether they open or not!Although it would be extremely difficult to eradicate these outsideinfluences entirely they could be nullified a little by distributingemails to your email recipients on days and times when historicallytheyre most likely to open and engage (See 5.)Once youve accepted that there are always going to be reasons whyan email recipient might not open or even consider opening an emailmessage you can concentrate solely on influencing those factorsthat you can manipulate, test and control.One area that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to manage is customer circumstance.There are hundreds and thousands of different reasons why someone might not open anemail and most of them cant be influenced by an email marketer.Like the subject header, the From name needs to be prominent andhave instant stand out.There are differing views as to the best way ofachieving this objective, influenced by both the type of message andthe email recipient.For an email list of engaged customers consistency is certainlyadvisable as it would be nonsensical to experiment with the Fromname when youre generating positive engagement levels. I wouldadvise that you stick with whatever From name has becomerecognisable to your loyal and responsive customers.Why change itand risk your email not being recognised in your customers inbox?However, we have seen drastically improved opening rates when wehave experimented with the From name for large scale mailings thatconsist of both customers and prospects. For example, for a financialservices client we conducted several tests regarding the From nameas we wanted to establish what the impact would be if we were tointroduce a persons name.We conducted the test on our monthlyincentive driven newsletter over the course of several months and theresults were remarkable.By simply adding a forename to the company name i.e. forename@companyname.co.uk, we witnessed an uplift in opening rate of 41%and a 31% increase in click throughs.However, although I have experienced some positive results by makingthe From name more personable I certainly would steer away fromdepartmentalising From names, as they have a tendency to look likespam. Ive been amazed in recent weeks as to how many reputablebusinesses are using generic From names such as sales@companyname.com or deals@companyname.com. However, these arenot the worst offenders, some businesses even use email addresses thatare not only unrecognisable but are also incredibly unfriendly. In thepast Ive seen noreply@companyname.com and donotemail@companyname.com, which Im sure serves the purpose of notgenerating reply emails but I doubt this generates any warmthtowards the message, or indeed the brand.The changing landscape of email marketing has led to the From name being anincreasingly important factor when it comes to open rates. Email recipients aremore time precious than ever, scanning emails quickly on their mobile device orracing through overflowing inboxes on their desktops or laptops.Also, with thegrowing number of people using mobile devices to interact with their emails, theFrom name is increasingly influential given that subject headers can be cut downto just 8 or 10 characters on some devices.2. The importance of the From name 6. 1110(1) RefsCopyIntro paragraphTitle11103.1 LengthThere are two reasons for this. Firstly, it is close to a universal rulethat simple messages which can easily be digested are the best wayto take advantage of increasingly short consumer attention spans.The other reason is more of a technical one, email domains oftenlimit the number of subject line characters that are displayed in theinbox. AOL, for example, only allow 38 characters before they arecut or shortened.The character limits AOL: 38 Hotmail: about 45 for their initial line (using word wrap) Yahoo!: 47 Gmail: 130 Outlook: 255 charactersThe growing reliance on mobile devices affects this trend too as theirsmaller screens display even fewer characters.So imagine, youre a swimwear specialist and youre announcing asale on a new line of bikinis.You certainly have a few options withyour subject header.You could, for example, be highly detailed andignore character length:Colourful new beach bikinis are now available in a variety ofshapes and styles, and are fifty percent off for a limited time only!Although descriptive, it does suffer from several fatal flaws. Just lookbelow how these subject headers would show up in the followingplatforms:AOL: Colourful new beach bikinis are nowHotmail: Colourful new beach bikinis are now availableYahoo: Colourful new beach bikinis are now available iHowever, the subject headers biggest flaw is not that its a little toolong for some platforms, its major problem is the subject headerhasnt recognised the character issue, as it isnt using those allimportant first characters as effectively as it could be.Historically, the view has always been the shorter the better with the consensus beingthat a subject header should be no longer than 50 characters.So this is my turn, Im going to announce to the world what makes theperfect subject header. Is it the length? It might be. Is it the content?Almost certainly. Is it the use of personalisation? Well, possibly.Each of these factors are important and each of these factors will havean influence on your opening rate, and Ill detail why shortly. However,theyre not the most important thing you require when youredeveloping a strategy for the perfect subject header.The mostimportant thing youll need is time.You have to give yourself time totest, test and test again.What might work in one industry might notnecessarily work for another.The latest white paper from your wellrespected email service provider might very well give you some greatpointers, but I guarantee you that each of their recommendations willnot necessarily work for your database.You need to invest in time and it is only at this point that you cancomfortably say you are on the way to the perfect subject header.However, as indicated there are several factors that will certainlyinfluence the success of your subject headers and each of them shouldbe tested.There are thousands upon thousands of blog articles, white papers and discussiondocuments that have been written on the subject of crafting the perfect subjectheader. I think this is a clear indication as to the complex nature of this task. Everymarketer worth their salt has a view and everyone has an opinion.3. The importance of the subject header 7. 1312(1) RefsCopyIntro paragraphTitle1312Its absolutely crucial that you front-load your emails message withthe most compelling part of your proposition.For example, the most important element to this proposition is thatyoure offering your customers a whopping 50% off a range of bikinis,so surely this has to be at the forefront. So the subject header shouldbe something like this;Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All styles, all colours, all readyfor summer.This works so well, because even when AOL or Hotmail cuts the subjectheader the customer is fully aware of the sale and the timing of it:AOL: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All Hotmail: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All stylesYahoo!: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All style, Gmail: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All styles, all colours,all ready for summer.Thunderbird: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All styles, all colours,all ready for summer.Outlook: Today only: get 50% off bikinis! All styles, all colours,all ready for summer.With a limited amount of time to surf your AOL inbox, which emailwould YOU choose to open, if you happened to be in the market for abikini?Today only: get 50% off bikinis! AllorColourful new beach bikinis are nowIn 2008,Alchemy Worx analysed 646 subject lines across 205 millionmessages and across a number of different sectors.The results of thisresearch unearthed several interesting trends. Firstly, it supported theview that shorter subject lines work harder when it comes to openingrates. However, what was just as interesting was that longer subjectlines, despite poorer open rates, actually generated better click-throughrates when compared to the shorter subject line.If you think about this logically then the findings made by AlchemyWorx make complete sense. Shorter subject lines are indeed more likelyto be more ambiguous than longer subject lines and therefore shouldattract a greater volume of opens because of its relative intrigue.However, although you have the volume, are you attracting the rightopeners? Are you in fact eliminating those who may be in the marketfor your proposition by being so ambiguous? The research suggests thisis exactly the case.They discovered that more detailed and lengthiersubject lines generated better click-through rates, suggesting thatalthough they didnt necessarily generate volume, they did generatequality. By detailing the emails proposition in the subject header youare giving email recipients the opportunity of buying into theproposition at open stage, making the decision to click a lessconsidered step.3.1 Length (continued) 3.1 Length (continued) 8. 1514(1) RefsCopyIntro paragraphTitle1514Subject line 1.This weekend only at your local ABC store, special savingson televisions!Subject line 1.Special savings on televisions at your local ABC store thisweekend only!Without fully understanding the brand or the emails audience it wouldbe difficult to predict which of these subject lines would generate thebest opening and click through rate. However, it does illustrate thepoint that content and structure are more influential to the success ofa subject header than its...</p>

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