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Ten common email marketing gaps and errors

By Tim Watson 30 May, 2013
Email communications strategy

How well do you manage your email marketing?

I recently completed the 2013 update to the 80 page Smart Insights ‘Seven Steps to Success’ Guide on Email Marketing. As part of updating the guide I was looking to highlight best practices for email marketing. Thinking through the mistakes or omission that are often made in email programmes is one way to define the best practices, so I thought it would be helpful to pick out ten of the common gaps and errors. I have focused particularly on strategic issues that are less commonly talked about, but nevertheless I encounter fairly often in my consulting work and are most important to the success of the programme.

  • Mistake 1. Not setting long-term Email-specific goals. Measure long-term engagement using hurdle rates or open reach. This measures customers not campaigns and considers the engagement across the whole of the database rather than just customers in just a particular campaign. The difference sounds slight but the implications and approach to strategy that results are considerable.
  • Mistake 2. Not investing in list growth. Everyone wants to grow their list but often aren’t clear on the value of an email address. This makes it really hard to invest in growing the list and ultimately only nearly free methods can be used. This limits list growth.
  • Mistake 3. Failing to track email signup sources. When multiple sign up sources are used, even if that’s processes on your website, signup sources aren’t often tracked. Tracking signup sources allows the best sources to be identified and improved or further invested. Lucky Voice found different sources yielded massively different number of email addresses.
  • Mistake 4. Not using all customer touchpoints for signup. You may touch the customer in more places than just a website. Have all touch points been reviewed and data capture integrated? What about social channels, blogs, Mobile Apps, DM and offline touch points using methods such as SMS-2-Subscribe, leaflets at physical POS.
  • Mistake 5. Lack of a clear email value proposition. If you aren’t clear what’s in it for the customer then customers won’t be clear either! What exactly are the subscriber benefits of signing up for your emails? Is it to save time, money, be entertaining, learn?
  • Mistake 6. Not investing time to setup triggered messaging. You may have a well-established enewsletter, but I find many companies fail to setup trigger based sense and respond emails. Triggering emails by behaviours such as signup, browsing, basket abandon, not logged on and so on can results in much more contextual emails. Behaviour can then be used in bulk campaigns too.
  • Mistake 7. Not Testing targeting. Testing is often considered in the context of copy and design. But, what about testing different methods of segmenting and targeting? Given segmentation drives big differences in campaign response rates it makes sense to try more than one approach.
  • Mistake 8. Frequency of send not optimised. How do you know if you’ve the right frequency of send? It’s very hard to know if you are sending too few or too many without testing frequency.
  • Mistake 9. Offer unclear up front. People don’t read email like a book, the big reveal needs to be at the start not the end. By all means after the big reveal back it up with evidence and justification to build the value of the offer, just don’t think you can’t reveal until the end.
  • Mistake 10. Lack of measurement beyond the click. Open rates do not map strongly to conversion rates and whilst click rates map more closely, measuring what you really want can’t be beaten. Integrate email tracking and web-analytics or use some other form of post click tracking.

It was hard to pick out just ten issues, there are a lot more strategic recommendations in the guide, so take a look at the contents to see what the guide covers.

If you're an active email marketer, what do you see as the common errors that should be avoided?

By Tim Watson

Tim Watson, from consultancy Zettasphere, is the Smart Insights expert commentator on email marketing. He is an independent email marketing consultant providing strategic guidance, to deliver improved campaign results. A member of the DMA Email Council and chair of the DMA Email Best Practice hub. He actively promotes email and frequently speaks on the subject and how to improve use of the channel. Connect with Tim via LinkedIn or Twitter.

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