June 15, 2013

Purpose in Email Marketing

I am actually working on writing a guide to email design and best practices called Modern HTML Email. You can learn more here.

There are a lot of different ideas about the true purpose of email marketing. For most, the purpose of an email marketing campaign aligns perfectly with their marketing goals. All emails serve to drive sales or eyeballs on a page. But what if we reconsider the purpose of email marketing? Is there some higher goal that we can aspire to?

I believe there is.

While it’s pragmatic to always keep in mind the need to drive sales - there is a potentially better way to do it with email marketing than straight advertising in your campaigns. I’m not arguing against including ads in campaigns, but what I am arguing for is seeing the purpose of email marketing as building a relationship with your audience.

The best way to build a relationship with your audience is by valuing their time and attention more than your own or your marketing goals. You should always keep in mind that they are so interested in you that they actively reached out to hear more from you by signing up for your list. You should work your ass off to reward them for that. Always strive to provide them with something of value in every email you send - whether it’s a link to an interesting article, a special deal on your latest download, or a killer discount at your brick-and-mortar.

A good example of this done well is pretty much any email from Nathan Barry - app maker and author of some cool books. Whenever you sign up for one of his lists, he gives you something in return - usually a sample chapter from a book or a few tips related to whatever topic that list best addresses. In nearly every email he sends, there is something of value for the recipient - showing that he values your time. While most emails still push some sort of sell, it is always in a way that feels friendly and personal.

What are some ways that you can show subscribers that you value their time? Here are a few ideas:

  • Personalize your messages - Most email service providers make this trivial to implement with hooks to add a subscriber’s name to the message. I think you should go one step further and reference where the relationship stems from in the email. A gentle reminder up front of why the are getting that email or where they signed up helps avoid confusion on their end and keeps the experience fresh in their mind.

  • Don’t hit them with an ad right away - While it’s understood that email marketing is just that - marketing - keep the ad for later in the email if possible. For something like an agency or individual sending out campaigns, why not let them know about some cool news that might interest them before mentioning your products. Something like this won’t always be an option, but it’s cool when you can swing it.

  • Give them something in the email - This is the big one and the best way to show subscribers that you value their time just as much as your own agenda. Point them to a helpful article you know they won’t want to miss, give away a sample chapter to your new book, or a coupon code for your service. People love free and exclusive stuff, so anything you can give like that will only help your long-term marketing goals.

  • Ask for feedback - Why not use some of your email campaigns to solicit some feedback from your subscribers? Most people love sharing their opinions - and with it being easier than ever to set up quick surveys online - it’s not a bad idea to try to get those opinions.Asking for feedback truly shows that you value your subscribers’ opinions and helps build that all-important relationship, all while allowing you to improve your product.

I’m sure you can think of more ways to augment the purpose of your email marketing beyond just selling stuff. And while I know that not all campaigns and companies can get away with ideas like this, any campaign focused on strengthening your relationship with subscribers is a campaign well-spent. I think that once the purpose of your email campaign is redefined in the terms of building a relationship with someone then you will start to see your long-term marketing goals not only met, but exceeded.

More importantly, you will find that your subscribers can’t wait to hear from you.