Q&A- The Big Email Marketing Questions Answered

I recently participated in a Marketo webinar on Key Email Trends European Marketers Need to Know (that really all marketers need to know). We left some time for questions, and we received plenty of interesting questions on email marketing—from basic to advanced. It was interesting to see how similar these questions were and the common themes that arose, despite the different topics we covered.

Because we couldn’t address all the questions in the session, I’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions in this blog. I’ve grouped them into the categories of evaluation, growing and profiling your list, segmentation and targeting, and email frequency:

Email Marketing Evaluation

Q: What responses should I be receiving for my emails?

A: Although most marketers measure their email success with open and click-through rates, a practical tip is to combine these measures to look at the click-to-open rate (CTOR%). This shows you how effective your creatives and offers are for different types of campaigns.

To evaluate your email marketing campaigns in a more realistic way and identify ways to improve them, I recommend breaking out your overall responses by:

  • Type of email: Categorize your responses by the types of emails you send. For example, personalized, event triggered emails tend to perform better than untargeted newsletters or 3rd party email advertising (sometimes known as a solus emails), which can make the average meaningless if you group them together.
  • Lifecycle stage: Emails sent to recipients who are in an earlier stage of the customer lifecycle, like welcome emails, usually work better than emails to long-term subscribers, so you need to break these out accordingly.
  • Segment: Your response will naturally vary by how it resonates with different audiences, so break out your response by the different audience types.
  • Subscriber type: Determine how your responses vary by the subscriber type, such as between Gmail, Live Mail, and iCloud addresses and company addresses. This can help you identify delivery or rendering issues between each type.

Evaluating your emails with these factors in mind will give you a much better idea of the engagement your email campaigns are getting and how you can optimize them (if your email provider supports it).

Q: Given the increasing number of email clients that download images automatically, how important are open rates as a metric now?

A: Email open rates have always been potentially misleading since some email clients may block or download images by default or some users will change their preferences to automatically download them. Today, Gmail and Apple Mail on iOS tend to download images by default, so this doesn’t necessarily suggest interest in your emails, but more so that a reader has clicked on the subject line.

However, I believe that open rates are still relevant for comparing email effectiveness between recent email sends. Comparing open and click rates helps you measure the different types of email sends (outlined in the previous answer) to reveal which perform the best. Ultimately, what really matters is whether the emails you send are helping you reach your goals. For some marketers, one of the best measures of effectiveness is sales value generated per 1000 emails sent.

How to Grow and Profile Your List

Q: What are the best ways to encourage opt-in?

A: I recommend brainstorming alternative techniques for capturing e-mail addresses. Map out all the opportunities available for capturing a buyer’s information between your different channels and audience segments (shown in the matrix below) and use this to generate new ideas. Take a look at what you and competitors are currently doing and then do a ‘gap analysis’ to select options you aren’t currently using.

Here are a few examples you could start with:

Lead Capture Matrix

Q: Should I be using pop-ups?

A: Pop-ups are increasingly being used in many industry sectors, particularly retail, publishing, and travel. This is because, when well-defined and tested, they will almost always give you significantly more new contacts in your database. We discussed this in depth in the webinar, when I described how well they have worked for Smart Insights, increasing the conversion of visitors to leads by 35% on a site where we already use a range of prompts to encourage subscription.

Q: What about the quality of the people from pop-ups?

A: If you use pop-ups to boost your subscriber numbers, it’s inevitable that there may be some decline in quality—but from my experience, they are still very worthwhile. To maintain the quality, it’s important to be able to profile visitors efficiently. Also, follow best practices to be sensitive to the user experience and don’t display a pop-up too quickly. You can address this by adding a time delay or detecting exit intent (e.g. when movement of the mouse to the navigation bar suggests users are about to leave the page).

Q: How much do I need to profile subscribers?

A: There’s a balance between asking for too much profile information and thus reducing the number of new contacts added to your database and not asking for enough. Identify two or three ‘killer question’ profile fields to ask subscribers that are most important for enabling your business to send more relevant emails. For example, at Smart Insights, we ask about the subscriber’s role, sector, and the number of people in the marketing team and then tailor our welcome emails based on the responses.

Q: How can I target better without asking too many questions?

A: A good rule of thumb for this is to ‘watch, don’t ask’ or ‘sense and respond.’ Instead of asking interruptive questions, monitor your recipients’ clicks to better profile them and understand their needs. Then, trigger follow-up communications accordingly. Some examples include:

  • Monitoring click-throughs to different types of content or offers within your emails.
  • Recording which content or offers are browsed on your website and then adding them to the individual’s profile.
  • Recording products or categories searched for and then following up with relevant information.

Over time, you should continue to add details about your buyers to gain a better picture of them by asking additional questions or tracking their behavior. For a B2B organization, I recommend defining a common customer profile (CCP), which includes all the data you could potentially collect in addition to the data you already have on a subscriber. I worked with one B2B organization that had three levels of profile and separate goals for each: level 1–basic contact information, level 2–position, market sector, and application and level 3–detailed information about standards and preferences.

Segmentation and Targeting

In the webinar, we looked at results from different research studies which revealed that detailed segmentation and targeting for email is still surprisingly rare. We also did a poll which showed that around 40% of the hundreds of marketers that attended the webinar didn’t target their audience. So, we received some interesting questions about how to get started.

Q: Where can I begin to improve email targeting?

A: Ideally, you want to start your targeting with a quick-win technique that is simple, but achieves the best results. Some options you could consider include:

  • Creating two (or more) alternative versions of your standard newsletter. For example, you could create different versions for larger or smaller businesses, staff in different sectors, or male or female subscribers.
  • Changing your welcome email content to be relevant for different audience segments.
  • Sending post-purchase emails to promote similar products or related products in different categories (cross-sell and upsell).

You can send these variations by creating distinct rules in your marketing automation or email system. This is a relatively quick win, and while it is efficient, it may not scale to multiple content types. This is where I recommend ‘dynamic content’ insertion (which I’ll cover next).

Q: How can I get started with dynamic content insertion?

A: With dynamic content insertion, you can add different content to a single section or block within your emails. For example, many emails have a ‘hero’ section at the top email, which often have the biggest impact because they are seen first. Dynamic content insertion will enable you to tailor images and text in this block to appeal to different audiences.

Once you roll this out, you can develop a dynamic content marketing model that gives better results. In the webinar, we looked at this personalized B2B email example in which a series of dynamic content blocks were displayed:

  • Hero block content varied based on lifecycle stage (new subscriber vs. engaged subscriber vs. lapsed subscriber)
  • Secondary block content tailored by product category interest
  • Tertiary block content varied by discounts and offers relevant for the audience

Frequency for Email Marketing

Take a look at this data gathered from UK email marketers that shows a huge variation in the number of emails they send every month.UK Marketers Email Frequency

Accordingly, if you send just one email a month to your subscribers, you might be under-mailing and missing out on opportunities. But, if you’re emailing your subscribers more than eight times a month, you’re probably sending too many emails and are in danger of being seen as a spammer. The next question will explore how to get the balance right.

Q: What is the best frequency to send emails?

A: This is one of those ‘it depends’ questions since email frequency depends on the industry, audience, and what you’re looking to achieve. In retail, it’s common to email more frequently to prompt sales—at least weekly; whereas, in many business sectors, this may be considered too much.

Here are three techniques you can use to determine the ideal frequency for your business:

  • Test varying frequencies for different groups. This method will only be practical for larger businesses since it’s far more involved than A/B testing a subject line. You can classify a control or ‘hold-out’ group which has the original frequency and then create different segments for varying frequencies. For one financial services company we worked with, we originally set the frequency to be monthly and then increased it to weekly and fortnightly. In this case, we found that the increased frequency resulted in more product sales without causing a big issue with engagement or unsubscribes.
  • Vary frequency by individuals depending on activity. One of the biggest challenges of email marketing is inactive subscribers. For many businesses, a large proportion of their subscribers haven’t engaged with their emails in the last six months or even a year. While some would argue that you should still regularly email these subscribers to stay top-of-mind and increase the potential of sale, I would argue against this since you could be identified as a spammer, negatively impacting your email deliverability. Instead, if an email subscriber becomes inactive, you can try to win them back to start regularly engaging with you again, and then add them to a different email group that you mail less frequently, but hopefully, with more impact!
  • Vary frequencies throughout time using automation. This is a more sophisticated approach where individual frequency is controlled by the rules in your prospect or nurturing campaign. The emails you send to your subscribers depends on where they are in the lifecycle (new or older subscriber) and their behavior as they interact with different products and offers across your channels. Using this approach, you can increase email frequency (and offer a personalized message) when a subscriber shows more intent or engagement with your product.

As you can see, we received a lot of great email marketing questions during the webinar. I hope these insights help you assess your current methods, try new approaches, and improve your email marketing. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments below!