Perhaps some of you remember the old-days; you know when you picked up a pen and a piece of paper to write a letter to someone. Not type. Not email. Not text. But actually wrote a letter. It seems as if this is a practice that has become a distant memory for most people. But I remember that excitement of going to the mailbox and getting a letter from a friend or relative to tell me all the new and exciting things they had going on in their lives.
Today most of us are overwhelmed with messages. Thanks to email and cell phones, sometimes getting correspondence is more of a nuisance than a welcomed form of communication. It is estimated that over 2 million emails are sent everyday and that of those 72% are SPAM and/or contain a virus. That means that the majority of information in our inboxes is comprised of stuff we don’t want.
On the flip side, if you are a business owner you see email campaigns as an affordable solution to communicate with your customers. But it can also leave a lot of questions: How do you know if they are effective? Are you sending the right message? Are they professional? How many are being marked SPAM? How many are actually being read?
Let’s start off with what you are sending out. Here is a big list of big “NO’s” in sending email campaigns:
**1. Do not send an email campaign to several recipients and list those recipients in the ‘to’ or ‘cc’ line.** It is just BAD etiquette. Again we are all receiving way too much SPAM and no one wants their email address passed around so that it can be used by someone else they don’t know.
**2. Do not send an email to an address you have informally gotten from someone.** SPAM is becoming serious business legally and you can get yourself into hot water by sending unwanted emails to someone. You can send email campaigns to people if they fit the following criteria:
a. They have given you their email address and consented to receiving email communications (in writing) whether at an event or on your website.
b. You have done business with the recipient in the past two years and they have given you their email address for communication.
c. The person has given you a business card for the purpose, and with the understanding, that communication would occur.
**3. Do not use fake or inaccurate information.** By being misleading with your company name, email address, or heading you are violating the law (CAN-SPAM Act*) and are risking the reputation of your business.
**4. Don’t ignore people who opt-out of your email list.** Process requests in less than a week to avoid campaigns from your email address as being reported as SPAM.
**5. Do not send an email campaign as an attachment.** There is nothing more annoying than getting a file attached to an email, which is in a file format that my software doesn’t support and/or is large and takes hours to download.
**6. Do not disguise your sales pitch as a newsletter.** Taking up your reader’s valuable time with all your products and services and the great deal you can offer them is not providing ‘news’. I’m not saying you can’t send sale or product information, but don’t say you are sending out a newsletter when you really are not.
Making an email campaign successful can seem easy, but is really quite challenging. Here are some tips on how to get your email opened and have it be well-received:
**1. Your subject line is your first introduction – make it a good one.** When you meet someone, your first sentence isn’t a long story or filled with bold letters. Neither should your subject line. Be concise, keeping it to about 40 to 60 characters (less than half of a Tweet, if you will) and avoid using bold statements and capital letters. SALE, ACT NOW, LIMITED TIME and/or OFFER can all send up red flags along with percents and exclamation points. Just like a lot of what I tell you marketing should be, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Also, don’t be repetitive. Let me say it again in a different way… If you are sending out multiple campaigns with the same subject matter, create subject lines that are similar but not the same, while avoiding the word ‘reminder’ (a subject line red-flag). If someone thinks they are getting the same email again, they are more likely to not open it.
**2. Be brief.** It’s a newsletter, not a novel. I HATE long-winded newsletters. So do your readers. We may be able to sit mindlessly surfing the Internet for hours, but the communication we are looking at should be short and sweet. If you need to elaborate on content, then take the opportunity to update your website with the information (something you should be doing anyway… hint, hint…) and link to your site from the newsletter. Which leads me to…
**3. Create, what I call, your ‘Online Circle of Life.’** It starts on your website – it looks professional and you are always updating it with great content (I dream that this stuff happens…); then you create a campaign that combines great and useful information that links to your website; the newsletter also links to your social media; your social media links to your website; and all of these communications can create a conversation between you and your market which is expanded when they ‘Forward to a Friend’ or ‘Suggest someone becomes a Fan of yours’ or ‘Share This’ on their own with Digg, Twitter, Linked In, Facebook, etc… Regardless it’s all connected and all creating communication that should (when done right) create opportunity for you.
**4. Focus on what your audience/market wants to hear – not what you want to say.** You may think it’s great that you went to a conference and got an award or that you went to a seminar with company big-wigs, but your consumers don’t care about that. It can be a nice sidebar item or comment on your website News page, but what your readers really want to know is what matters to them and affects their life. Information about plants, fish, watering restrictions, care, maintenance, and items that will enhance their outdoor living space are things they can, and are much more likely to, pay attention to.
**5. Develop professional looking campaigns.** Try to keep them consistent with your branding initiatives. The more professional the communication, the more likely it will be well received. Additionally, as it is part of your ‘Circle of Life,’ it should all carry the same message of who you are and the work you do. (The exception to the rule: If your website looks unprofessional, it should always be a priority to fix that first and have it as the basis for your online communications.)
**6. Track your success.** While there are lots of companies out there that offer campaign services, cost should not be the biggest factor. Look at what they can do for you to help you create the most effective campaigns possible. You should be able to track your campaign’s success, be able to look at your statistics across several campaigns, and be able to see who has opened your campaign – including how many times and at what times. Looking at these trends will help you decide when to send out future campaigns, what is being looked at, and who is paying attention.
**7. List management and opt-in/opt-out services are also services to look for.** You should be able to link your email sign-ups to a service that allows you to manage your mailing list. When someone signs up, you should use a double opt-in, which means that they are sent an email confirming that they want to receive email from you. Every campaign absolutely must have an opt-out option so that if they do not want to receive email from you, they can be taken off the list. A good service should provide this automatically. Along with list management, it is good to define your lists so that you can target your campaigns to specific audiences. For example, existing clients will be more interested in care and maintenance products, services, and helpful hints while potential customers want information that will help them learn about what you do and the benefits associated with working with you.
**8. Test your campaign.** Whatever service you use should give you the option (most likely for a fee) to test how your campaign reads and performs in different email readers, on different browsers, and whether it gets through certain SPAM filters. This will help improve the way you develop your campaigns and reach a larger audience. Also, be aware that when campaigns are opened on different platforms, not all of your content may perform the same or even be visible.
**9. Include links.** Links are good in that they help create a call to action and can be used an extra way to see if people are engaged in the content you provide them. Make sure that if you are including any links in your campaign, that you have checked to make sure the address is correct and works properly.
**10. Always include your company information.** Your business name, website address, email address, physical address, and phone number. This will help keep you from being flagged by SPAM filters and add credibility to your campaigns.
To determine how successful you are with your campaigns, just look at your numbers. Average open rates for our industry are between 25% and 35%. My clients are often above 40%, which is above the average across the board in any industry. To calculate your average open rate, divide your opens by the amount sent minus bounces (emails that were not delivered). Additionally consider the fact that some of your recipients may not open the campaign, but will view a preview of it or have an email reader that does not support html and/or they may only read a text version, which also does not get recorded as an “open.” Do not be discouraged if your numbers are around 30% – that is average. Frustration may mount, however, as your list grows and your open rate goes down. This is normal too. The larger the list, the more likely it is that your open rate will decrease.
While keeping your communications from being put into a SPAM folder is important, the most important thing is really getting out good information that is useful and welcome. Maybe even recreating that old-days feel of going to the mailbox with anticipation for communication they want to get.
*For email campaigns designed and dedicated to the Green Industry, visit:* http://sendgreenmail.com
*For more information on the CAN-SPAM act, please go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website:* http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/ecommerce/bus61.shtm