Your Lifeline/E-Mail Marketing 101

Creating an e-mail marketing campaign is easy. But conducting an effective and sustainable e-mail marketing effort is actually quite difficult. Despite the meteoric rise in spam, e-mail remains a vital and cost-efficient direct marketing channel to reach your customers.

Done right, it has an unparalleled ability to engage customers, provide rich data and insights on their interests, and deliver an outstanding return on your investment. Done wrong, it can make them run screaming to the hills, alienating them in the process, and branding you an e-mail pariah.

Here are 10 quick considerations for any current or prospective e-mail marketer:

1. Get permission. People will read what they know they signed up for, and are immediately suspicious of unsolicited e-mail. Whenever you collect e-mail addresses, ask for the consumers' permission. Make the consent wording clear and concise, and let them know specifically how you intend to use it.

2. Make it easy for them to "unsubscribe." Be completely open, upfront and friendly about your "unsubscribe" process, and make it as easy as possible for your customers to follow. This will decrease any concerns they might have of getting stuck on a mass mailing list. It also shows that you are not afraid of customers unsubscribing because whatever it is you are offering via e-mail is compelling and relevant.

3. Pay attention to "From" and "Subject" fields. These fields are the two most important determinants of whether a recipient will open the message or not. The "From" field conveys trust and authenticity, while the "Subject" field conveys relevancy. Keep the "From" field short and clear, so customers can immediately make the connection between the message and your company. Keep the "Subject" field short, under 70 characters and avoid words that will be caught by spam filters (check with your e-mail service provider for this ever-growing list).

4. Keep it relevant. Your customer is not always buying travel, so don't bombard them with one offer after another. This will annoy them and lower your readership rates. Take the time to plan what kind of conversation you want to have with customers on an ongoing basis, recognizing this may change by segment, by time in the relationship, etc. Strive to always have at least one piece of content that appeals to everyone in your target audience. If you're not sure what's relevant to your customers, ask them!

5. Listen to your customers. A good conversation, which is really what you are trying to establish with e-mail communication, needs to be two-way and interactive. Give your customers opportunities to interact with your e-mails (quizzes, polls, surveys, contests, feedback, content suggestions), and use feedback intelligently to optimize your content or other related processes.

6. Regulate your frequency. If resources permit and you have done the appropriate customer segmentation and content planning, offer a choice of e-mail frequency and content selection. Not only will customers get the most relevant e-mail communications based on their timeline, but also you are likely to increase both the opportunities to communicate and readership levels.

7. Get viral. Turn your e-mail customers into advocates and champions. Provide ample and visible opportunities for your customers to forward your e-mails to friends, family and colleagues with ease. And don't just expect them to do it—ask! Customers who are happy with what you are providing and feel that there is value-add will be willing to share this with others.

8. Master the metrics. E-mail marketing offers unprecedented tracking and measurement of customer behavior. Using a series of cascading metrics, marketers can evaluate not just the success or failure of a program, but where in the communication process a customer may have lost interest. Key e-mail marketing metrics, usually reported as percentages of total e-mails sent, include:

  • 1. Delivery rate: e-mails that actually reached their destination
  • 2. Open rate: e-mails that were viewed by the recipients
  • 3. Unique or distinct open rate: e-mails that were opened by recipients (the net of e-mails that were viewed through preview panes)
  • 4. Total click-through rate: total number of clicks on e-mail content
  • 5. Unique or distinct click-through rate: total number of unique e-mail addresses that clicked on content
  • 6. Conversion rate: total recipients that completed the final intended action (e.g. purchase, subscription, survey completion)
  • 7. Bounceback rate: e-mails that were undelivered, as split between "hard" bouncebacks (bad e-mail addresses) and "soft" bouncebacks (mailbox was full, server was unavailable)
  • 8. Unsubscribe rate: recipients who removed themselves from future mailings

9. Manage your lists and their deliverability. Cost efficiency and proven effectiveness are good reasons for building an e-mail "house list" (one you build yourself). If you're not already doing so, make the capturing of e-mail addresses a top marketing priority. Promote it across all marketing vehicles, get creative (e.g., "Chance to win..."), and keep it going. Specifically ask recipients to have them add you to their approved or preferred sender list (to avoid spam filters), and give instructions on how to do so.

Carefully monitor your bounceback rate with each new campaign. Contact those recipients with "hard" bouncebacks (see No. 8 above) via other channels to get a new or updated e-mail address, while ensuring that your "soft" bouncebacks are not the result of an ISP that's blocking your e-mails.

10. Testing, testing... The e-mail medium is ripe for experimentation, and cost efficiencies enable marketers to exploit this. Do not be afraid to try new things to see what resonates with consumers, ensuring you are constantly innovating, improving and optimizing. And remember to change one variable at a time so you can identify what has improved your e-mail.

Evan Wood is founder and president of JumpWood Marketing Consulting, a provider of strategic and direct marketing services in the travel industry. Find out how JumpWood can deliver a better return on your marketing investment. Visit, call 416-840-3452, or e-mail [email protected]