11 Email marketing best practices for 2021

Expert Diaries 23 bannerTips regarding email marketing tend to change every year. However, it might never change so much as it has owing to the uncertainties that email marketers faced in 2020. This year not only brings us, email marketers new challenges but also provides us with new vigour to succeed. You might wonder, what are those suggestions that will see you sail through and make your email marketing successful for 2021? No worries, to answer many such questions we are bringing to you, Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries.

Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to experts and helps them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to form a community that allows email marketing enthusiasts to learn email marketing tips from each other.

In our recent session, we were joined by Kath Pay, CEO and founder of Holistic Email Marketing. Kath has been a renowned name in the world of email marketing for over 22 years. In 2009, she showed a new approach towards email marketing, Holistic Approach. Kath has also been a part of over 150 conferences. An avid blogger and writer, Kath has been helping email marketers worldwide with her suggestions on email marketing.

Firstly, what is your philosophy for email marketing?

A) I abide by the philosophy that I preach—a holistic approach. That means we need to look at ourselves being less brand-centric and instead focus on the customer and their journey. Email is one of the most called-up channels during a customer’s journey, so we need to put the customer at the forefront of everything that we do and understand them. We need to ask ourselves, “How can we help them achieve their objective?”

Email being a push channel makes it easy for brands to push out the messages reflecting the goals and objectives. However, we should flip it around and start to think, “What does our audience want from us and why did they come to our list in the first place?” After this, you need to think about how we can help them fulfill their needs. The bottom line here is that if we help them achieve their needs, we’ll also automatically achieve our objectives.

It’s all about a change in mindset that allows us to achieve a concept. Sometimes it’s as simple as changing the copy and making it more customer-centric. Being a popular channel, (email marketers) need to churn out content but are often under-resourced and under-budgeted. We tend to think before investing more into this channel when it’s already working very well. Thus a change of mindset is essential when it can remove a lot of burden off the email marketer by injecting more value and budget into this channel.

Due to uncertainties in 2020, many email marketers had to constantly change their strategies. How do you see things panning out this year? Are email marketers going to be more alert, and will there be any shift in strategy?

2020 has been a huge learning curve for email marketers. They haven’t been resting on their laurels and thinking it was business as usual and everything will be fine. It’s because some businesses are doing much better and some are doing much worse. The needs of the market have changed, though no one can be blamed for that. Email marketers are left to react and respond to these changing needs. You need to analyze the market and see if the needs or situations of your subscribers have changed. Try and understand how you can be empathetic and help them achieve more objectives.

Basically it’s going back and looking at your data and then understanding the economy and the situation. It’s a challenge for email marketers busy with regular work to embrace and overcome. However, I find it exciting as we email marketers are calling upon our knowledge and expertise to react accordingly.

Prior to 2020, manual acquiring of contacts was pretty common. However, the dependency on such avenues increased over the past few months. How do you see lead gen changing as a method over the next period?

One of the biggest challenges is that we need to be adaptable. Earlier we saw that better quality leads came from business emails. Previously we accepted only business email addresses in the form of signups, but now we’ve changed it and are accepting everything. This is because a lot of marketers are currently unemployed and may have issues with a business address while working from home.

The problem is, now we’ve got a little database that is not just filled with business addresses. Now we have got a lot of consumer addresses in our business database.

We have to be very mindful about that, as it also makes it difficult to understand in terms of lead generation and warming them along with other deliverability challenges.

However, we made that decision on the basis that many people are there who might want to learn during this period even while currently being unemployed. They hope to get employed at some stage, thus they don’t want to stop learning. They may not need us currently, but when they get back to their old positions, they might hold us in good  esteem.

There has been a bit of an upward slide in virtual cases as people had to rely on the online method. Just make sure that while adopting this method, you collect the permissions properly.

Compassion has been an important aspect in the content created during 2020. Do you see this trend growing in the upcoming year?

This is all a part of a helpful marketing approach. I don’t want to think that they are doing it just for now—I hope that this becomes a habit. Email marketers should adopt this instead of returning to the brand-centric approach.

Brands that are approaching their marketing with empathy are actually getting better results. It’s making the brand more humane and helpful. Consumers are now often leaving suppliers with unacceptable approaches. So the compassionate approach should be a permanent one to provide better results.

My next question is a two-part one. I’ve seen that there are two groups of people in email marketing—one that believes that HTML templates with heavy designs work well and another that relies more on plain-text emails. It’s a tough job maintaining the middle ground, but how do you see it turning out this year? What, according to you, will be the more prevalent approach?

Secondly, I have of late heard and read a lot about dark mode email templates, so what is your take on that?

Depending on the situation, objective, product, and database, there is no one answer. However, I am an advocate of testing, having done it many times. In some cases, the plain-text version wins while the HTML version is victorious in other occasions. Then there’s a hybrid of the two—it’s actually an HTML template looking like a plain-text version with a couple of images. This type of template shouldn’t be overtly marketing-oriented. However, the best answer to this question is A/B testing as I wouldn’t rule out either of them.

As for dark mode, I believe that there is a need for that. I welcome the fact that now personalization allows you to provide the look and feel that works best for your eyes. It’s about finding out what works best for your audience.

The next question is related to the very relevant topic of working from home. I’ve noticed that many articles and webinars talk about the best sending time for emails. Now that we’re working from home, all the days are equal when it comes to best sending time. What is your take on that?

When one report says that a particular time is best for good engagement, everyone will try to adopt that particular time. Quickly that time will become the best time. However this “best time” is also subject to change eventually. Test and check what time works best for audiences. You also need to understand what your objective and success metrics are for that campaign. If you’re simply looking for opens, go ahead and do a test—maybe a split test—on your current sending time.

You should test different days and times and see if there is an uplift or a change in the engagement. If open rate is your key metric—as in you are being rewarded on your opens, then that’s great. However, if your goal is to get them to download, to buy, or to register for something, then the open time doesn’t necessarily resonate with the time of conversion.

What is your take on email marketing automation for 2021, as it has always been an integral part of email marketing for a very long time? Do you think it can be used in more innovative ways for this year to fetch more engagement?

Automated marketing emails are very helpful, and that is the idea for 2021. We want to help our customers achieve their goals and get their needs met. I prefer calling them lifecycle marketing, as marketing automation is a very brand-centric term. Email marketing automation focuses more on technology, whereas lifecycle marketing focuses more on the customers’ lifecycles. Most of these emails are centered around customer journey and lifecycle, therefore I like to focus more on customer journeys.

On that basis, they aren’t to be set and forgotten as some people did earlier. As they work in the background and fetch revenue, they shouldn’t be forgotten. They really need to be checked, refined, optimized, and updated. Regular checking of automation should be carried out, especially because of the pandemic. This is when they need to be updated accordingly and timely. During this time, make sure that delayed email is definitely followed by another email wherever relevant. You should also make the emails relevant for the concurrent context and situation. Therefore I believe that they are extremely essential, but, again, they shouldn’t be set and forgotten.

So their behavior throughout the journey has to be taken into account. The reason lifecycle emails work well is because they are personalized to that person at that particular time. Humans love personalization and also being recognized. The little recognition of their past purchase and the little personalization can work well to prevent them from moving over to a competitor.

Do you think survey campaigns and feedback will still be relevant as the necessary means to understand email recipients? If yes, are they going to be used in some new way, or are newer techniques and innovations going to be introduced along with them?

Essentially, we are talking about personalizing by using the data we have. Usually a series of surveys are carried out because a consumer doesn’t mind giving data as long as it benefits them. So, I prefer a layered approach in this case, as I believe that there are three main types of data.

Firstly there is Informed data. This is the data that you gain via survey. Usually this comprises a preference-centric approach or a form that you are using. It can also be an actual survey where they have replied. This is a great place to start.

Sometimes companies aren’t in a position to practice personalization as they might have insufficient criteria. However, now you can opt for personalization as you can now observe their actions and behavior on the website. This is another type of data and can be used on top of that layer of preference-centric survey data (informed data).

Then we have contextual data. It comprises things like geolocation, the device they are using, the current weather, and so on. So if you can combine and use these three kinds of data together, you are a winner. However, I also think that the survey or preference data can often get stale, so real-time personal data is very effective. This will help you in your current needs. I think there is a place for all these different types of data, and thus data isn’t going anywhere—we as email marketers need to use it carefully and very well.

You can even test these data types with criteria such as “free delivery” or “paid delivery.” Based on that, the subscriber or buyer will have to pay a lower price. It can also help the email sender or the seller understand what the position of the buyer is in the sales cycle.

The next question is related to ecommerce, an industry that has faced some changes. Many festive season sales couldn’t be conducted by in-person shops owing to regulations and restrictions. This is where the ecommerce industry came in and utilized email marketing in a better way. Do you have any tips for them for 2021?

Research suggests that more people were online than before, and email has been the workhorse as it’s been more necessary than ever before. For those people who send emails only during the sale time, I would suggest they keep up a consistent relationship with their contacts. The whole idea is to use data by understanding their engagement pattern throughout the year.

If subscribers are seen to be actively making purchases during the sale time and being fairly inactive for the rest of the year, there’s a reason. It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested in your product. It means that they are active only during the sale time when there is a gift-giving need or something similar. You should always try to stay in touch with them regularly so that you can stay relevant.

This can be done so that when they have requirements, you can be the first person they might remember. Make sure that you regulate your sending frequency so you don’t irritate them. Send them useful emails like tips and tricks to build loyalty. However, if you’re new to email marketing and are practicing sending out emails only during the holiday season, you might also face deliverability issues.

My next question is related to the point that you just made. There are several email marketers who engage in seasonal email marketing. Re-engagement campaigns are what they rely on mostly. Now, re-engagement campaigns might take a different shape in the future owing to uncertainties. What is your message for email marketers who carry out seasonal email marketing, and how do you see re-engagement campaigns shaping up in the future?

So, the more personalized your re-engagement campaigns are, the better it is for you. You need to follow their past engagement patterns. You can refer to the products they purchased in the past and suggest similar products, as well as products they might like.

I would personally avoid sending seasonal campaigns. You need to have that relationship with them throughout the year or on a lesser frequency so as to stay relevant without cluttering their inboxes. Sending out emails only in a seasonal frequency might become very challenging for you. The ISPs are going to monitor you once they see you suddenly sending such a high volume of emails.

If you are sending bulk emails to people who aren’t expecting them, you’ll find spam complaints coming to you. Sending emails regularly has its benefit—even if they don’t find the emails relevant, the brand name in the subject line is going to help you stay relevant amidst them.

Now, finally moving to the last question of the day. What are three necessary things you want email marketers to keep in mind to fetch better engagement?

I would quickly talk about the three things related to helpful marketing:

-Keep your customers foremost. Help them achieve their goals, because if they achieve their goals, you will achieve yours

A/B testing is really essential as things are not as they used to be. You are starting with new data, new customers, and different circumstances and context than you normally would. What you previously knew might not work now, so you need to test and decide

Personalizing is essential, as it’s a part of helpful marketing. Focus your tone on the customer rather than talking about the brand—this will make subscribers realize that the email sender knows them well




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