Matt Harris, co-founder and CEO of Sendwithus
Facebook’s latest algorithm tweak, limiting public posts in favour of personal content in the News Feed, has rattled publishers and brands alike, illustrating just how powerful social networks have become.
For savvy marketers, the news is a reminder that time and resources are better spent building their own networks, rather than relying on others, and ensuring they have multiple ways to reach customers directly. One critical component of direct communication is a robust email program. Marketers refocusing their efforts on email are discovering a blank canvas for experimentation and testing.
Set your email initiatives up for success this year by keeping the following strategies and trends in mind:
Interactive Content—2017 was the year marketers started to get creative with interactive content. They moved beyond simply embedding video to include image carousels, forms, and even emailable shopping carts. But the payoff on interactive content is far from guaranteed. The effort involved is also high, since you need developers to create interactive elements. To mitigate that cost, have your developers create reusable templates and/or reusable blocks of code so you aren’t dependent on them for every change you need to make. It’s also a good idea to focus your interactivity effort on high-value transactional emails. I’ve seen some exceptional examples of working shopping carts in interactive emails. These emails offer quick-buy upsells and add-ons. I’ve also seen some extremely low-friction abandoned cart emails with click-to-purchase CTAs.
Mobile-First Communications — Consumers today spend at least five hours a day on their phones. That’s why every email must be optimized for mobile. Missing text or weird formatting will send your customers straight to the ‘Delete’ button, costing you potential conversions. Establish a well-built, mobile optimized template using reusable components so you don’t have to go back to an engineer for every email. Be sure they use a clean, single-column layout, with appropriately-sized CTA buttons, and a suitable text-to-image ratio.
Global Privacy Comes to the Forefront — The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect in May. GDPR requires companies doing business in the EU, or online with EU citizens, to protect those citizens’ personal data and privacy. Businesses will need to protect cookie data with the same care as a customer’s address or birthdate. This means data security and privacy are no longer just IT’s problem. Marketers need to educate themselves on what data they are collecting, how they can use it, and how it must be protected.
To avoid running afoul of GDPR, you’ll need to institute tighter controls on email programs. Your customers will need to take a positive action to express consent, for both the data you are collecting and how you will use it.
Hyper-Personalization Continues — We’ve moved way past just using a customer’s name. Dynamic content, fueled by AI and machine learning, continues to evolve. This means knowing your customer well enough to put the right information and products in front of them at the right time. Marketers looking to better understand and segment their customers can use tools like quick quizzes at signup or ask users to self-identify interests and preferences as part of a double opt-in process.
By far the best way to stay ahead of user expectations is to use your customer’s behavioral data to send more contextualized emails. A boring email at the right time will always outperform a flashy email at the wrong time. To do this, your developers and data scientists need to create a manageable, secure pipeline linking behavioral data and email.
Ideally, this pipeline will allow marketers to write and run their own queries in real-time, on live data, helping them create timely, personalized content.
Double Opt-ins Reign Supreme — This is a hotly debated topic in email marketing. Should a marketer ask a new user to confirm their subscription to be added to a mailing list? Many look down on this approach, saying it’s hard enough to get a customer to give you their info once, let alone ask them to complete another step. But using a double opt-in is simply the right move, for both you and your customers. True, your email list might end up being quite a bit smaller, but it will consist of more invested customers and more qualified sales leads.
If you weren’t doing double opt-in before, do it now. 2018 will be the year of the unsubscribe. People are collectively realizing that they’re being bombarded by far too much online content and unsubscribing or flagging irrelevant email is a fast and easy way to turn down the noise. Double opt-ins ensure you have only interested, engaged, and invested customers on your list, preventing unsubscribes and spam reports, which will, in turn, protect your reputation. Not only that, using a double opt-in will help with regulatory compliance.
From a technical standpoint, a double opt-in requires a simple ‘click to confirm’ auto-response upon sign-up. But you could use the opportunity to collect more data points to further personalize the user experience. Consider adding an optional checklist on the confirmation landing page, to offer preferences for frequency, product categories, or content.
The common through-line here is that email is an invaluable tool for building customer relationships. There are countless ways to demonstrate your understanding of your customers’ needs – from personalizing communications, to double checking they really want to hear from you, to ensuring they can read your communications on the device of their choice. Bearing these factors in mind, you’ll have a solid foundation for an effective email program in 2018.