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Before proceeding with reading this post, just take a look at your email inbox. How many emails can you find there, promoting some product or a service? How many of them are actually relevant for you?

I’m sure if you are an average Sri Lankan who uses emails regularly, you will find a couple of dozens of Viagra promotions, another dozen of emails promoting Replica watches and quite a few from local email marketing agencies promoting one or more of their clients.

However, how many emails are there actually you opted in to receive? For sure, that is the least number of promotional emails you will see in your inbox.

I’m trying to get at the problem we are facing in using email as an effective marketing tool. Just as in any other form of media, there are “spoilers” who ruin the effectiveness of email marketing with their shortsighted activities on the cyberspace. Just having a technical understanding of ‘how to send a bulk email to 100,000 email addresses’ will not make you an eMail marketer, or give you the due qualification to start an email marketing agency. Sending out the email is just a one component of email marketing, but before getting there, you have to consider a lot more things to make your email marketing efforts effectiveness.

Email Marketing Defined

I define email marketing as “using email as a medium of communication to convey interactive messages to a highly relevant target audience who are willing to receive such messages from us”. Once I put forward this definition, I categorically label anything else as “Spam”.

My definition of eMail marketing contains three important basics you have to follow when carrying out email marketing.

  1. Relevant target audience
  2. Permission
  3. Interactive content

Relevant Audience

First you have to pick your target audience right. This is called prospect targeting. There are many strategies and tactics you can use when finding the right prospects to receive your email marketing. One commonly used tactic is to make your website visitors to sign-up for your mailing list. Someone visits your website, because they are interested in the content you publish on your website. That is an indication of relevancy of what you sell (product, service or idea) to the person who is about to sign up for your email list. You can directly promote your mailing list and give a voluntary sign up option on the website. Or else, you can give some ‘relevant bait’ like a free ebook, to encourage visitor to sign up for your mailing list. We use direct sign up method on www.petadivisor.org for signing up people for our ‘Pet Advisor Monthly – Pet Care Newsletter”. With this signup option, we make sure that people who receive our emails are actually pet owners and animal lovers.

Another method for making the audience relevant is by sponsoring related concepts. For example, a company in the travel industry can sponsor a “Travel Quiz” on a third party website, to collect prospects. There are prospect-targeting specialists who are specialized in conducting such contests, to collect prospective customers to your mailing list.

Permission

This is the least respected attribute of good email marketing practices. Getting the permission of the receiver is very important for increasing the effectiveness of your email marketing. Anyone who does not respect ‘permission’ are in reality, spamming the receivers even though they will find hundred and one excuses to justify their rudeness.

Permission consists of three elements.

  1. Opt in
  2. Double opt in
  3. Freedom to opt out

Out of these three elements, ‘double opt in’ is not a must have feature. However, ‘opt in’ and ‘freedom to opt out’ are two most essential elements in getting the receivers permission.

‘Opt in’ refers to making the receiver actively giving their consent to receive emails from us. This can happen with a sign up process as described in the “Pet Advisor Newsletter”, or by asking the customer to tick “I like to receive emails from you” option, at the check out stage of an eCommerce transaction. In whatever the way you are “opting in” the customer; they got to know that they are going to receive promotional emails from you in the future.

Double opt in works for confirming the customers’ decision to receive emails from you. This works in a way as verifying the validity of the email as well. Customer is expected to click on a ‘verification email’ sent to the email address he/she used for opting in. This is a highly effective thing to do, make your mailing list free of hard bouncing emails.

After a customer opts in to your mailing list, they should have the freedom of opting out from the list anytime they want. This is a legal requirement in many countries there are separate laws to govern email and direct marketing. If you don’t give a working opt out link in your emails, there’s a huge possibility that spam detectors will trigger and your mail will be marked as spam.

Can I Spam?

However, most email markets do away with the “opt in” part very easily, and stick only to the “opt out” option, and justify this with the excuse ‘law doesn’t made it mandatory to send emails only to opt in customers, and it specifically mention having an opt-out option is enough’.

If you look at this justification, you should be able to violation of the basic principles of marketing. Marketing keeps customer always in the forefront, and advocates not doing anything, which makes the customers unhappy. However, if someone advocates you to send unsolicited emails, just because the law does not specifically prohibit you doing so; be wary about such advices. Because, even though the law allows you to ‘spam’ people, in the long run that will kill your brand. Sticking to do the right things always will help you achieve success in the long run, rather than hitting short cuts for quick success.

Elements of a Successful Email Campaign

Subject Line

Objective of your subject line is to compel the user to open the mail. The subject line of your email should be short, and contain specific keywords appealing to the customers. Make it longer, you will lose the chance of opening it. Research say, having the reciever’s first name and/or ‘You’ in the subject line improves the open rate of an email. This is psychology, as most of us are quickly responding to anything addressed to our first name, or anything that specifically delivered to ‘me’. (Is this the reason why some Sinhala language radio DJs overusing the word “Oya” in their shows?)

Message Body

Get to the main point quickly. It is not the job of your receivers to read the flowery language in your email. So cut any unnecessary build up stories and get to the main point as soon as possible. Include call to actions in the mail body, to make it interactive. If you refer to any web page or a website, never forget to add the hyperlinks. It is annoying to cut and paste URLs from email.

Reply Path

Avoid do-not-reply@yourdomain.com email address to send emails. Make sure each and every email marketing message you send out carries a working reply path, which will be checked by a human being.

Choosing Your Email Marketing Agency

According to my knowledge, there is no single email marketing agency based in Sri Lanka, who practice the industry best practices. If apply industry standards, all the email marketing agencies in Sri Lanka are spammers. They use unethical tactics to collect emails (like forward chain emails promising free stuff) and their lists contain loads of unsolicited email addresses.

I recommend, you to build your own mailing list and use a web based solution like MailChimp or Awebar. This is bit costly compared to the easier route of going through one of the email marketing agencies, but if you apply the damage you are making to your brand by associating your brand with such spammers; you are much more better off in spending that money.

Summary

This is just a basic introduction for email marketing, which cannot be fully explained in a short article like this. If you are interested in learning more about email marketing best practices, you are always welcome to contact me via Twitter (@Amisampath) or by visiting my website at www.amisampath.com