Sunday, May 27, 2007

E-mail Marketing 101: Mistakes to Avoid

A number of folks I know have started to get into e-mail marketing for their own businesses, some with better results than others. Those who get the zen kitchen's newsletter know that, while it's not the only thing I do to promote the studio, I'm a big fan of e-mail marketing; it's an easy, cheap and effective way of keeping in touch with a growing base of people who care about your business so that, when they do eventually need your services, you'll be top of mind.

If done right, and e-mail newsletter provides value to the reader in a way that doesn't intrude on their time, and helps them get to know you much quicker than the traditional "cold calls, several coffee meetings and occasional e-mails to each of 50 people I'm trying to court right now" route. If done badly, however, you can lose readers, get lost in SPAM filters, or what's worse, completely embarrass yourself. Here are a couple of quick mistakes to avoid when crafting your e-zine.

Mistake #1: a nondescript subject line, or none at all.
Your subject line should give the reader a clue of what's inside; on my newsletter, for example, I usually give a 2-word description of the blog entries I'm featuring along with the name of the recipe and a case study name, if I'm doing a case study that much. Whatever you do, don't ignore the subject line; it's a sure-fire ticket into most SPAM filters, and you risk readers getting annoyed or deleting your e-mail without reading.

Mistake #2: using Outlook or a personal e-mail program to send mass messages.
There are so many problems inherent with doing this it's almost too long to list. For one, many programs set limits on how many addresses you can send to; it's not too bad for 10-12 people, but at 50 names and up you're risking e-mails getting lost in transit. Additionally, programs like Outlook and Lotus Notes often don't have intuitive ways to hide the e-mail addresses of recipients; if you aren't savvy, this automatically creates the potential for readers to not only request OFF your list, but to be really aggressively mad at you. People are very protective of their privacy; respect that and they'll respect you.

For my newsletter, I use Constant Contact; not only are they local to me (an acquaintance of mine in Saugus, MA works for them, in fact), but they have reasonable prices, easy-to-modify templates, and they take care of all the list-management stuff for me, make sure the e-mail gets to the recipients, and they send each e-mail individually, which means that there's no list of addresses floating around. Plus they have really cool tracking features that help you figure out how successful your e-mail campaign was - last month's newsletter, in fact, seemed to be the most successful yet, as I had launched the new tzk website and changed the format of the newsletter to something shorter. I've also heard wonderful things about Emma (which, for those of you who are designers yourselves, offers a really cool "Emma Agency" feature I just found out about for sending campaigns for your clients - something I'll definitely have to look into).

Mistake #3: Having a FROM field that isn't a real person.
People want to open e-mails from people they know. Having a FROM field that reads "Sell your house NOW" is, frankly an instant ticket to the SPAM folder. You have two options that work well for the FROM name: one, which I personally use, is name and phone number (this makes it really easy for clients to recognize who it's from and reminds them to call me to chat about their project); the other, which also works well, is [business] newsletter. You can also do the name of the newsletter, which works especially well if you have different kinds of newsletters to send.

Mistake #4: stressing out about folks who unsubscribe.
When I had my first two unsubscribes on the zen kitchen newsletter, I'll admit I was a bit bummed. Did I do something wrong? Did I offend someone? Nowadays, I'm much more relaxed about it; the list has grown from about 118 folks in March of last year to 272 at today's count; and of that total, about 40-50% actually open the e-mails when I send them (which is pretty darn good for e-mail marketing, from what I've heard), and maybe one or two unsubscribe each month.

Unsubscribes, honestly, are a fact of e-mail marketing; while it's important to keep an eye on who takes themselves off the list to make sure they aren't someone you REALLY want to be marketing to (that's a sure sign you need to fix up the newsletter), most of the folks who unsubscribe are either really busy and need to pare down some of the things they subscribe to (as I do periodically) or they're people that aren't really in your target anyway. Don't worry so much about it. Rule of thumb: if you get more than about 1% of your list taking themselves off after a series of mailings, it's time to revamp the newsletter.

Mistake #5: no call to action.
This is a biggie - after all, this is a MARKETING piece, remember? Your newsletter really shouldn't be too sales-y (unless, of course, you're having a sale!), but it should have some easily-located info that helps the reader figure out a) what you do, b) why they should work with you, and c) how they can get the process started. And it should be brief; on my newsletter, the call to action is a total of two sentences at the end of the intro, along with a brief "about the zen kitchen" blurb that repeats the call to action at the bottom. That seems to work very well for me.

Mistake #6: making it a pain to get off the list.
I see this a lot with big corporate newsletters and with nightclub/discussion list newsletters, and it annoys the heck out of me: it's these lists that require you to either a) log into an "account" to get off the list, or b) CONFIRM your unsubscription by clicking a link in another e-mail. If someone wants off the list, let them off. Don't send them more e-mail asking them if they're SURE they want off; just let them off. You'll make a lot more friends that way.

Mistake #7: buying a list, or putting folks on your list who haven't agreed to be on there.
It's very tempting to take the "spray and pray" approach to e-mail marketing by purchasing a list of 600 strangers and sending them all your newsletter (and I'm sure they're dying to read it; really). But the reality is that doing things that way will upset more people than it's worth; not to mention that it puts you at risk for excessive SPAM reports, which will put you out of commission faster than you can click "unsubscribe." The same goes with adding the folks from all those business cards you collected at that BNI meeting you attended; if you haven't chatted with them for more than a minute, and you haven't specifically asked them if they'd like to be added to your list, don't bother.

Now, this doesn't mean you should just throw away all those business cards you got at the networking event you attended. Take a look at them and see if they're folks you want to keep in touch with; if they are, send them a quick e-mail thanking them for giving you their business card, introduce your business a bit and invite them to join the newsletter list. You'd be surprised how many people are happy to sign up.

There's certainly more to e-mail marketing than just these mistakes; my buddy Neil Tortorella has a good primer for getting started with the e-mail THANG. And if you have any questions about how you can improve your e-mail marketing, feel free to drop me a line sometime.


Blaise said...

Thanks for these great recommendations. I've noticed that a lot of campaigns are making it easier to unsubscribe, Constant Contact's SafeUnsubscribe comes to mind in my experience. How comforting when its good business practice NOT to harass people!

Greg Peters said...

Hi, Dani

Great post. I've been advising my clients to use regular e-zines, newsletters and blog posting for some time now as a means to expand and maintain their existing relationships. The nice thing is, with this regular, low-level contact, the less-frequent, individualized email or phone call has that much more power.

One other benefit I've found is that you can use the regular newsletter or e-zine as a means to expand the useful content on your website. I've often found that the website is the easy part. It's filling it with quality content which can be a real challenge.

So, what is your opinion of using services such as What recommendations would you have for those who feel that they don't have a talent for writing?

Thanks for the list of warnings. I'm going to take a closer look at my own e-zine to see how well it stacks up!

Dani Nordin said...

@ Blaise,

I heart Constant Contact in a major way. The interface gets really annoying on a Mac, but it's a great service to use; and what I love most is that by using it, I'm supporting a local business! (they're about 20 miles from me).

Dani Nordin said...

@ Greg,

Thanks for your comments. It took me a while to get in a groove with my e-zine, but I've loved it in terms of keeping connected with the scads of people I meet on a daily/weekly basis, and in terms of being able to connect with folks from an authentic place while still effectively marketing myself.

Another great thing about it is that it completely motivates me to keep up on the blog, something which is NOT easy when I'm busy (and i've been slammed lately!), and between this blog and the recipe blog, I can get the newsletter out and looking great in half an hour!