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The Stark Truth about Email Marketing: Exiled Englishman Mark Brownlow Reveals All


If you follow email marketing trends, tips and industry experts, you should know Mark Brownlow from Email Marketing Reports. He’s a freelance business writer and lecturer and one of the brightest email marketing experts ever. The author of the blog with an interesting title “No man is an iland” because of his willingness to share his knowledge on email marketing.

In this interview he’s sharing with us (not only the Mailigen team but also you, marketer!) tips to improve your campaign results. What you should (and shouldn’t) do and how to do it better.

Q: At the end of the last year, we heard a lot of predictions and trends for the next year. Which 2012 predictions in email marketing trends are already included in marketing plans and bringing results?

A: Trends typically take a lot longer to make it from prediction lists into practical reality. For example, every year for the last 5+ years was supposed to be the year that mobile marketing came of age.

In email there’s also a lot of talk about the impact of mobile, but most organizations have yet to really grasp that particular nettle.

The stronger awareness of the value of trigger-based email is slowly turning into concrete campaigns, as a complement to typical “broadcast” newsletters or promotional emails.

Triggers can vary from a simple welcome message (triggered by a new sign-up) through to highly-customized cart abandonment emails (triggered when someone doesn’t complete an online purchase).

Even at their simplest, these are pulling in impressive numbers in terms of opens, clicks and conversions… and the other great advantage is they run on autopilot once you’ve set them up.

Q: Could you get into the role of oracle and predict some email marketing trends for 2013?

A: First, I think a lot of marketers with maybe limited time or resources need not be too worried by the trends and developments the industry highlights or predicts.

As long as you’re delivering value to subscribers, there will still be a place for solid, simple email marketing campaigns.

Having said that we’ll continue to see gradual evolution towards a healthy mix of broadcast email and trigger-based or behavioral email.

In terms of clever technologies, I suspect we’ll also have even more emails where the images displayed reflect the reading environment. So a different image will show up depending on the time of day, location, time since the email was sent etc.

Email and social will become integrated, but in a more sophisticated way. We’ll start to really think through whether we can use both to each other’s advantage and, if so, then how.

If I decide I want subscribers to also visit my Facebook page, then I need to do more than just add a “Visit me on Facebook” image to my email’s footer. That’s all still new territory and I’m sure we’ll see some innovative marketing there.

My gut – which nobody should rely on – also says smartphones and tablets will start to really dominate.

I’m not sure we’ll need dedicated “mobile emails” as such, but we will need email that displays well and is easy to interact with on a mobile device (which is not the same thing).

More important will be how we all adjust (or if we even need to adjust) to the subsequent changes to how people handle email – where and when they do so. Again, new territory.

Q: Where do you read your emails and when?

A: I work from home, so check my emails on a desktop PC using Thunderbird and Gmail. I fire up both at the start of the working day (after breakfast, not before), and leave them on, checking each sporadically throughout the day.

Recently I’ve been fairly strict about blocking out email-free hours to help focus on other tasks. The PC gets shutdown most evenings and I resist the temptation to check email “just one more time” before bed.

I also have a smartphone for monitoring email when I’m out and about. This illustrates one of the challenges with understanding where people see your email. A message to one of my email addresses can end up:

  • Viewed on Thunderbird on a PC
  • Viewed on Gmail on a PC
  • Viewed on Gmail on a smartphone (using the browser)
  • All of the above

Q: What are your biggest motivators for signing up for newsletters?

A: The first is simply if I’m a big fan of the sender’s brand or organization. There are very few that fall into this category, but if you do it’s a great new, because I’ll keep paying attention even if your emails aren’t always the best.

As email marketers, we often forget how that wider relationship impacts how people feel about and respond to our emails.

The second is when I can get something via email that’s not available elsewhere. There has to be some kind of unique value.

O: Approx. how many newsletters have you subscribed for and what catches your eye when you look through your inbox?

A: I’ve subscribed to dozens of newsletters, but probably only a handful gets regular inbox attention. Most are filed away automatically for occasional review.

If the company sold the sign-up well (making benefits clear) and then delivers content or offers that benefit me, then inbox attention comes simply when I recognize the from name.

Otherwise you’re left with the subject line.

Like a lot of people, I need to know whether it’s going to be worth my while to look more closely at the email. I’m very partial to clear subject lines that have a touch of style or humor about them, too.

Quirky, teaser subjects rarely work with me because I’m a grumpy cynic who’s been online too long. And standard subject lines like “weekly update” or “January newsletter” also struggle to excite me.

Q: When you open the email, what is the first thing you notice or the first thing you look for?

A: The first thing I look for is an answer to my reason for opening the email in the first place.

If it was expecting some specific piece of information, then where is it?

If I opened based on the from line only, can I get an immediate overview of the content and/or find my way quickly to the core offer(s) or information.

So I need uncluttered, clear headlines, design elements or highlighting that guide the eye through the email, and short paragraphs.

If I was granted three wishes, once I’d dealt with global peace and prosperity, I’d wish that people would use shorter paragraphs. There’s little more off-putting than reading chunky blocks of 10-line paragraphs on a screen.

Q: What’s the best email marketing tip you can give to a beginner or company who has not yet used email marketing as part of their strategy?

A: Focus on delivering value to your subscribers.

Email is an exchange: you get access to the inbox – a private and prized bit of online real estate – but in return you’re expected to provide some kind of value to the subscribers.

Equally, value doesn’t have to be super offers or really useful content, though they are a strong option! Value also comes from convenience, service, entertainment, personality, a feeling of belonging etc.

Q: The best tip you can give to a self-called professional having tried everything and knowing everything?

A: Don’t take anything for granted.

I’ve learned the hard way that what was right and good for you and your subscribers six months ago might not be right and good today or in six months’ time.

So repeat tests and be aware of changes (like the growth of mobile email) that might require fresh action. And try testing things that are seemingly innocuous or irrelevant (like using “+” instead of “and” in the subject line). Test results never cease to surprise me, even after almost 14 years in the business.

Q: In Your opinion what is the most common mistake email marketers make again and again despite endless tips?

A: Not selling the sign-up.

So much discussion, energy and resources go into the actual campaigns and yet many sign-up forms and fields seem designed to put people off actually using them.

So they might be tucked away out of sight or fail to communicate why you should opt-in.

Also, not optimizing the banal parts of an email program: like welcome messages and sign-up confirmation pages.

Surveys of major retailers, for example, still find a good percentage that don’t use welcome messages, even though we know how effective they can be at lifting results across the whole lifetime of the subscriber.

Q: Things/ideas/strategies that always work in email marketing?

A: That’s a big list, but perhaps one of the less talked about factors is putting more thought into the words you use. Which means subject lines, editorial copy, headlines, link text, call to action, everything.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but the right words are also worth a thousand pictures.

And testing, as I mentioned earlier. Even little changes can have surprising impacts on end results.

Q: For those doubters who haven’t started yet – why is email marketing worth it?

A: In any survey of what marketers think is the most effective or best performing online channel, email marketing is invariably listed right up at the top alongside search engine optimization.

The ROI is fantastic, largely because it doesn’t require huge investment to get a program started. It’s hard to do really well but not hard to do well enough.

It’s very effective at driving sales and other responses both in the short-and long-term. Either directly, through a click and subsequent action at a landing page, or by influencing subscriber behavior, loyalty, awareness, etc.

That also makes it great for supporting success in other marketing channels, such as in-store or social networks.

It’s measurable and there are an ever-growing number of tools and tactics that let you use data to better target messages and improve results even more.

Finally, surveys show people broadly prefer to get commercial messages online via email. Pretty much everyone has an email address and an email list is an asset you have complete control over.

Sounds pretty good really!

Sounds good?

Mark, your answers sound more than good! Especially about upcoming trends and mistakes to avoid. Thank you very much for your input and sharing experience with Mailigen and our readers!

Marketers, we hope now you’ve got many new ideas to put in motion and strive for better email results. We’ll continue to exchange opinion with the world’s greatest email marketing experts. This time it was Mark Brownlow* Who will be the next? Follow our blog and social media posts to find it out. If you have your prefered email marketing guru whose tips and tricks you’d like to hear, please let us know.

* Mark Brownlow is the founder and editor of Email Marketing Reports, and writes “No man is an iland”, one of the world’s top marketing blogs. He also lectures part-time in scientific communication.

The Stark Truth about Email Marketing: Exiled Englishman Mark Brownlow Reveals All
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