- 03/07/2014


E-Mail Marketing: The Unsung Hero of Customer Acquisition

E-mail marketing is generally viewed as an afterthought – people think they need to spend what free time they have on online advertising and promoting themselves over social media. But the fact remains that e-mail marketing is the number one channel for most businesses.

Our final interview in our three-part growth hacking series deals with e-mail optimization, the unsung hero. This interview will cover e-mail marketing best practices, tips to optimize your campaigns, ways to boost open rates.

Can you give a little background on e-mail marketing as an acquisition channel?

E-mails are the number one way to build relationships with your customers, with prospective users, and the best forum to communicate with them. The more you can speak to those people on a one to one basis, the more personal you can be with them and the better your results will be.

With any marketing e-mail, you want to increase engagement and establish a relationship with your list. A big piece of being successful is being customer-centric and really stepping into your customers’ shoes. If you’re creating an e-mail to get something out of them, your efforts will perpetually be hampered because you’ll be asking for too many call to actions and you’re going to be too “pitchy”. Your e-mails will also most likely be marked as spam and people will unsubscribe. Focus on delivering value to your list. It’s one of the best investments you can make as a business.

What are some e-mail vendors you recommend?

There’s a ton of great vendors out there like MailChimp, ConstantContact, and Aweber. But if you want to do more segment-specific behaviorally triggered e-mails, vendors like Marketo and Hubspot are probably your best bet. Another program I work with a lot that purely does these triggered e-mails is Vero.

How important is your mailing list to your overall e-mail marketing efforts?

The money isn’t in your list. Your e-mail list, your subscribers, your customers, this collection of e-mails you have in a database really has no inherent value. If you were to give me your list of however many thousands of people, and I were to e-mail all your subscribers, it wouldn’t work because nobody knows who I am. The money is in your relationship with your list, and that’s what you really want to seek to cultivate. If you have a good relationship with a high quality list that has disposable income that’s interested in your product you will go gangbusters. But if you spam them or you burn that relationship in someway, it’s hard to recover.

“The money isn’t in your list. Your e-mail list, your subscribers, your customers, this collection of e-mails you have in a database really has no inherent value.”

One thing to keep in mind: People think that if you send too many e-mails then you’re going to hurt your relationship with your subscribers, but only really happens if you’re being extremely “pitchy”. If you’re asking for them to give you something every time you e-mail them, it’s going to seem very spammy. The more value you give them, the more frequently you can e-mail them and engagement will actually go up. I’ve seen many examples where people have gone from e-mailing once every three days to once a day and their click-throughs and opens have skyrocketed.

There’s a couple myths to e-mail marketing. One, which I just talked about, is frequency. If I e-mail my list too frequently then they will leave. This is totally not true. The other thing I hear is that unsubscribes are a bad thing. Again, not the case at all. You want the people who aren’t interested in your product to unsubscribe sooner rather than later. If they’re not going to be engaged through e-mail, let them go. Another myth is that all your e-mails must be pretty and rich and HTML based.

So HTML e-mails don’t perform better than plain text?

Not necessarily. It varies a lot depending on what industry you’re in. If you’re Gilt Groupe you want to be sending HTML e-mails and maybe the occasional plain text one. But if you’re a SaaS company, a mixture is usually right on.

Another important thing to think about is the sender name. Ideally, you should have some e-mails from the founder or the face of the company as well as some e-mails from the company itself. If you have a product release coming out, that e-mail can come from the product team. The last one I really like is if you have a sales team, then sending out personalized looking e-mails from the account owner can be really powerful because you want to start building relationships.

What about subject lines?

Subject lines are the number one parameter that affects open rates. One of the age old tricks with e-mail marketing is to send out an e-mail to a portion of your list and then send out the same e-mail with a different subject line five days later to those recipients who never opened it the first time. Subject lines are something you should testing very frequently. Sixty-nine percent of all e-mails are considered spam. Ways to avoid being marked as spam is to make sure you have a good relationship with your list, ensure you’re sending people things they’ll get value out of, and avoid anything that comes off as cheesy or sleazy, or anything that implies getting rich quick. Words like money, free, cheap, special, on sale, etc. can trigger spam filters.

Do you think it’s important to create personas for your customers?

Absolutely. A marketing manager is going to consume content that’s much more tactical in nature than a CMO. They also tend to be much more focused on learning and interested in reading more tactical how-tos than a CMO who tends to be more interested in research. It’s wise to think about things that way.

People tend to go crazy about their personas but at the end of the day you really only need a primary persona and a secondary persona. The primary persona is generally your buyer and your secondary persona is somebody who supports that buyer or someone who might become a buyer later on. It can be wise to think of the different triggers you can use to sort people into different buckets. Write a bio for each persona, use a stock photo of a person you think encapsulates the persona you created, then give them a name and put them on your wall somewhere. Any content you develop, any e-mail marketing you do, remember you’re speaking to these people. At the end of the day you want to keep this stuff simple.

If you have anymore questions for Peter, leave a comment below!