Effective email marketing strategy for growth

Russell Dawson is an email marketing professional with a decade long experience in framing end-to-end email strategy, development, production, and optimization. He’s the founder of Email Rut, providing email consultancy services for many popular brands. He focuses on using email marketing as a tool for growing a business and increasing revenue.

Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to the experts in this space, and help them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to connect email geeks and form a community that learns email marketing from one another.

Our second podcast focuses on email marketing growth techniques for brands, delivered insightfully by ‘Rut’ Dawson.

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Audio Transcript:

Aishwarya: Marketers today firmly believe that email as a channel can drive both customer growth and retention. Emails can be used in all stages of lead-to-customer cycle and hence it’s an essential component in a marketer’s toolkit. So wouldn’t it be great to discuss some strategies that shape email marketing in the next couple of minutes? Welcome to Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and with me I have Russell Dawson, a leading professional with a decade long experience in email marketing. Russell also runs ‘Email Rut’ providing email marketing services to several businesses.

Welcome Russell! It’s a great pleasure to have you with us today.

Russell: Thank you very much! Nice to be here, thank you for having me.

Aishwarya: Let’s begin with a discussion about your strongest belief. You always say that “email marketing is the essential marketing channel for growth, retention, and revenue.” What makes you firmly believe in email marketing?

Russell: That’s a good question! So, umm… it ensures profitability and measurement. Let’s start with the fact that it’s the cheapest route to market, so the Return on Investment (ROI) runs to about 35 to 45 pounds for every 1 pound of email marketing spent. And, it’s a really versatile way of communicating with your audiences. You’re able to tailor the message to different segments of your database in different locations, with different needs at different points in their customer journey, so you have this flexibility.

Subscribers respond with engagement and transactions, and it’s very easy to sort of analyze these and act upon them within email marketers so we’re able to measure that data and constantly improve our offering so around timing, content, and prices. And businesses that value their customers and are serious about growth—they understand this. So, let’s take an example of an SME company for small leading enterprise. So this company might have a email contactable database of say a 100,000 to 250,000 email recipients—they’re all at different stages of activity and purchasing history.

So, you can place a financial value on that database using an RFM model—that’s a Recency Frequency Monetary model. And, like any company asset that generates profit, an email database, is there has been nurtured, respected, and taken care of. And, when we look at income streams, for a business that doesn’t take its email marketing activity seriously you know it’s going to be looking at a reduced leads and revenue generation. And then you have to think about how serious this business is! A lot of my email marketing activities are based around four pillars, so if the work that

I’m doing don’t feature within these four pillars, I have to question why I’m doing them. So one of the key things is about growing your email contacts or databases. So most businesses will lose on average a third of their email database a year through churn, therefore acquisition is a major focus. But it’s more of a quality over quantity game, increasing your subscriber base tenfold doesn’t mean anything if they start doing it and an engaged. And, in fact it is you know could do a great deal harm in terms of sender reputation and deliverability. So, testing the most effective methods of how to bring in the most enlightened subscribers is a long term goal. Looking at measuring your opt-in sources, where we ritual where is your email leads coming from, how many of them go activate it all verified, especially if you’re using sort of double opt-ins, the percentage of those that go on to activate as a as a prospect or a subscriber. I don’t think there’s ever one right answer for anything. It’s a continuous process you’re sort of reviewing this every three to six months, how are things, and how things work out. Another aspect is about the retention in the reducing churn so you’re after a balance of email frequency and relevancy that demonstrates the business, understands their customer needs, behavior and requirements, so this is where you’re asked to step up and make your pitch to customers, so in their awareness stage they realize that they’re first interested in the products or services etc. And, this is when the life-cycle email marketing comes into play. So things like dynamic content insertion, so based on what you know about them, their interests and needs.

So in terms of onboarding process it’s what data can you catch about them and what can you feature. The segmented onboarding programs that customize their message to their prospects represents one of the quickest times to opportunity, so in terms of getting into a sail. And it’s taking advantage of that interest and it’s obviously a lot easier to keep a subscriber engaged from the beginning then it is trying to reactivate them once they’ve gone dormant. I think one of the other things to look at is engagement, the return on revenue, and the lifetime value, and they’ll come in together, so basically you know if you’re able to build the best emails that you can do with the most relevant data that you can, money comes. And, alongside your business promotional campaigns there are editorials, newsletters digest, offers etc., and, there’s a host of automated email programs you can set up and run based on behavioral triggers. So some of the obvious ones are like an abandoned cart or post-purchase series which is a really important thing. There are a lot of companies that don’t do post-sales follow-up emails and they’re a really good opportunity to thank the subscriber. So, on the customer side, this is split between the onboarding, whether they’re winning them back whether they’re loyalty or advocate types.

When determining what the ideal conversion funnel looks like, you’re trying to get an alignment and feedback from stakeholders and what the optimal customer experience is. And then you’re looking to map content and assets to the buying stage, that addresses your unique selling proposition, your benefits for pricing, and in which formats these are likely to convert better. So this could be videos, articles, guides, testimonials, but obviously as a company, you’re restrained by how much contents and assets can people do, so you can only work with what you’re able to and what you’ve got. But the measurement of success in all of this lies in the growth the lifetime value of an email subscriber. It’s the whole reason that we do this. You want them to buy more in a shorter time-frame, with a higher average order value, than the same period last year. And, you want them to be more loyal to you than your competitors and your email operation plays a big part in an integrated marketing firm.

So, I think one of the other ones which I would add is the stakeholder and business management—it’s how do you get this across to the rest of the business, how do you get buy-in from senior management especially when you’re looking to increase your email marketing budget. As an email marketer, you have to demonstrate that you understand the business model, have to understand the customer data, the technology, the integrations, the analytics, because when you’re setting your foundation level, you have to analyze and review; effectively audit these because you’ll find that there were different data that sits in different pots and most of the time you’ll find that email behavior is in one system and the transactional data is in another, so it’s having these systems talk to each other. You’ve got to get to these base points relating to the business that you understand the audience needs there and their requirements. So what I do is I look at identifying, reviewing, and documenting, customer touch points and the analytics—so this customer journey process for me is anything that could come out of there, start with alignment and the feedback from the business stakeholders on what the customer experience is, what the alignment and feedback from the overall conversion funnel looks like.

So before you start plowing ahead with your campaigns or with your automations, and setting up these life-cycle behaviors, you need to have the buy-in from senior management and the business as well, so everybody needs to be on board—you can’t unfortunately just work in silos, those days are over now. It’s a really-integrated effort, so along with the retention, growing your list, and growing the return on investment, a big part of it is spent with stakeholder and business management. That’s a really crucial part if you want to progress and improve your email marketing activities.

Aishwarya: Wow! I see some solid information on why email should be a go-to channel for all the businesses, and you’ve very well articulated about email profitability and the capacity to measure how email campaigns perform, so that marketers can hold their grip over these strategies. And, the four pillars of email marketing—they were just spot-on because you rightly gave an example of how a small business can get started with the whole thing, right from subscribers to getting through the continuous process and setting all of the other components like frequency, dynamic content, personalization or creating that awareness—all of this right.

So, I loved the way you touched upon the different email campaigns that a marketer can send out and how to map these to understand the subscriber, their buyer behavior, their journey, and to get that whole picture right. I think this shows some solid proof on why email marketing is important in today’s world, where there are multiple marketing channels, so I really thank you for mentioning all of these points today.

Russell: Welcome, and I think what I try to do is I try to kind of put customer segments into five parts.  

  1. The first part is obviously your prospects—these are people that are coming to your site again. They have an awareness of products or services that you offer, so these are prospects that are we’re trying to target.
  2. The second customer segment is around the activated welcome and onboarding. So, they’ve given you their email address and they’re obviously keen on hearing about you. Now, it’s up to you to be able to earn a long-term relationship. They’re giving you permission but it doesn’t mean that you have that permission forever—you have to earn that. And so coming through the activation, there’s a big point here that those people that sign up, go on to activate. It’s really important to focus on this metric because you will sometimes see 30 percent or 40 percent drop-off rates here. And so it’s a very important part to get this onboarding, following up with the game for the triggers—did they verify their email address, double opt-ins, did they take a particular action, did they engage with any of your emails after they signed up (and, that’s a very-easy one to look at) and so on.
  3. The third customer segment that I have, a part of it is the marketing promotional schedule. These are normally newsletters, campaigns and timely offers. So, I would imagine some of your listeners are working on Black Friday events—they were key seasonal times of the year depending on the sector, and so you want to look at focusing on those and this is obviously your email campaign schedule comes in. You know, as the email marketer, you should own that; you’d get to determine what goes out. By doing the calendar, it gives you an opportunity to work back so if an email is going out, I look to start working on it six weeks beforehand—this is the audience segmentation, this is the kind of the content type, the content assets, the type of messaging that we’re using. So all of that takes place there.
  4. The fourth one is the win-back and the inactive part. Again, what you’re trying to do is to have a customer segment that has a propensity. So, if you’re aware that your customers on average spend maybe six months with you before they go inactive in terms of stop gauging with the emails, then you want to put warning signs maybe two months before that. Then you can start sending the propensity model to say, “Hey, do you still need us? We’ve got some new offers! We haven’t seen you for a while!” What you’re trying to do is re-engage these people before you know the cut-off points because once somebody goes inactive, it’s fairly difficult to win them back again.
  5. And, the fifth customer segment I have is normally around event or action triggers.When somebody has taken a particular action, these triggers are then set off again—the most-obvious one being the abandoned cart. It might be that they’ve left on a particular product page, and then you’ll send them an email about that in terms of you know where they’ve exited. So, I try to keep them into customer segments, and I’m trying to make sure that when I look as a pipeline for the business, I am able to tell my senior management, I guess it goes back to the last point I made there—to the company we have X amount of people within the prospect pool, we have X amount of people that are now coming into our onboarding and welcome program stages, and we have X amount of people who are currently sitting in our marketing promo schedule, so that I will constantly keeping an eye on the volumes and these numbers of people because what I’m trying to do is forecast the business about potential sales opportunities. And, so again the prospect is part of it so if you’re looking at the sales final winners as you know people coming through the exploration, decision-making stage, the purchasing etc., I’m able to feed back to the business what is likely or the estimated forecast for the amount of revenue. And, that’s the benefit of being able to split these email recipients into customer segments. So, I thought it might be quite useful to share that in terms of what I do with the customer databases that I work for my customers.Is that helpful?

Aishwarya: Yes, yes, totally! I’m so glad that you mentioned about customer segmentation because even we believe that customer segmentation is a major key in reaching out to the right target audience because it lets you send the right content to the right set of people at the right time. And, when you have these many customer segments, one for each specific case, it will help you earn the trust and extend connections for longer times. And, since each stage will have a couple of leads or a couple of customers associated, setting up workflows or sending out specific emails for people in each of these customer segments will really help in benefiting your revenue. So, well, I’m so glad that you brought this point forward.

Russell: Thank you, appreciate that! I think again sort of going through this, the interaction that somebody has with your brand or your business, and again going into these customer segments, which type of email campaigns are coming in— there’s obviously your welcome programs, if it’s B2B or B2C; you can have the introductory offers—it’s trying to get people to make that first purchase; your newsletters, your transactional statements, etc. Surveys are great, I really love surveys! They’re a really great opportunity if customers make a purchase or they’re engaging with you after three or four weeks. It’s an opportunity to probably acquire a little bit more data about your people as well, because asking them to fill out some information, also just to see how you’re going, you know how do they rate you, what feedback do they have for you, and then being able to you know incorporate that back into your next sprint, when you’re making those next changes to campaigns or the automations that you have. But, early notification that an email subscriber is going to go dormant and trying again to entice them—I hate to say it, I mean, there are obviously other channels outside of email marketing, maybe subscribers don’t want engaging email anymore, but if they’re following you on their social accounts, you know that’s still very very valuable to the business because they’re still engaging with you. Again, for inactives, I don’t just base it on those who haven’t engaged with an email, but also those that haven’t logged in or used platform for a while, because they might not be engaging with email but they’re coming to the platform or they’re coming to your website. So therefore, I wouldn’t class them as inactive—they’re just actually choosing to use other channels. And that you know again that comes into a modern multi-channel mix.

Aishwarya: Yes, true! I think welcome emails are the first tools that help you connect your brand with the subscribers or your contacts. And, as you mentioned, getting all the channels as an integrated system into email is essential because email has that power to reach people across multiple channels and multiple platforms. So, somebody who is landing on your website or somebody who is checking out your service—all of these people can be equally engaged with an email.

Russell: I think from an email marketer’s point of view, and especially working with the data, some of your audience will be responsible for the data as well as some will have separate data teams. But, really it’s about having these segments already mapped and available for campaign use, within the data sets. So, one of the key factors that I look at is mapping out the customer personas, so you know for personas that are based on the businesses, customers for B2B or B2C cycle, looking at these demographics, you know the type of companies that we want. And, being able to map these out within the data that sits within your email service provider, things like the age, location, business size, previous pin, if you’ve got any depended information about the spend, etc., so that it allows you to be able to react quickly if campaigns come up.

Obviously, things happen on social media, things happen in the news, and so you want to try one of the most-highest engaging typical content, that’s based around what’s out there in the wider news or what’s going on in the market etc. So, as with all things worthwhile, you find that most of the hard work is done upfront, and then you’re able to use these segments later on, and it saves you a lot of time—they’re available, really ready to use, and I think being prepared for any eventualities is a good trait of an email marketer.  

Aishwarya: That’s actually very true, and I think you’ve also answered a question that has always been running on my mind. Both B2B and B2C have customers at the end of the day, emails can be used as a tool to connect with them. And, yes, bigger businesses come with their own set of challenges, and usually their environment will have longer and complex decision-making systems because they deal with leads and customers from various stages and backgrounds. But, I think as you mentioned, having a clear customer segmentation at every level will help you focus on the right set of people at each time possible, and help you send the right emails, thereby.

Russell: Absolutely, I agree with that! It’s normally a much longer process for B2B because it has more decision-makers and there’s a lot more touchpoints to nudge these contacts forward, so some of the KPIs that I work with is like basically increasing the number of sales-ready leads per month and sales team getting those leads converting to qualified prospects, trying to forecast as we’ve mentioned earlier. And, improving the rate of which leads convert to close deals because it’s a far more complex proposition, so lead scoring is critical here at this point.

The hardest thing about lead scoring though is getting an agreement across the company—everybody has different ideas of what this lead scoring should be and how it should be set up. So, I think in terms of lead scoring, there are three phases basically—I think the first one is to get the agreement for the lead scoring rules, so you want sales, marketing, operations, and business management into there, to define what these parameters are going to be; the second phase is then obviously you as a marketer implementing those tools that you have available, running them through, and finding a process that comes through to sales, and this is how you get your leads through sales.  

For me, on a personal level, what I try to do is I look at inbound funnels as you’ve got the KPI stages and unique visitors. And then, the next goal is trying to get their contact details, then I have the contact, and then I’m trying to nurture them into a marketing qualified lead, and then from there trying to get them a meeting with the sales team. So, there’s always these next steps and basically what I try to do is break them down into KPIs and conversion stages for them. But it’s incredibly complicated, and again it’s not just on the B2B side—marketing is one part of the mix, you need your sales teams as well, and you need to be aligned with your sales team so that they can pick the reasonably hot leads, can give them a call—if they’re not quite ready yet, they can go back in. But, they need to change these statuses within your CRM or data, so then actually they can go back in and start carrying on being nurtured. So, a lot of people that have the leads—they get leads growing and the sales team gives them a call—if they’re not ready, nothing happens and then they kind of disappear and go off into the void. But, actually, you’ve got to keep recycling these leads—they’ve got to go back into more further nurturing programs.

Where as in the B2C side, it’s a lot more emotive, and I think it’s a far more quicker process. If I have to be honest, for the companies that I’ve worked with, it might not always be the case, but you know it is dependent on size, and the larger the business size, the more complexity is included. You have more chefs in the kitchen, basically more people want to get involved, and more stakeholders want to have, and this is where obviously you sometimes have issues working with senior people around the business that aren’t as knowledgeable about you on the marketing side—so they’ve been there a long time, this is the way we’ve always done it, you have some objections to it.

But also, the more people you know, the more complexity you have, the longer the workflow, the more risk you have as well, and if you think about again from our point, with GDPR from last year we really need that that security and data handling and processing. The use of spreadsheets for data and everything needs to really be locked down and accessed only for the right people.

Obviously, every business is different, and again, it’s to reiterate I don’t ever think there’s one answer that is universal for all companies when it comes to email marketing.

Aishwarya: Yes, yes, that’s very true! And, I really liked the way that you threw some light upon challenges in the actual customer life-cycle map, seeing how a simple thing like lead scoring, which might look simple from the outside. What is actually involved in lead scoring is the agreement or the entire process to set it up. So, I totally agree with that point where you said lead scoring needs a total consent from all of the marketing and the sales or the services people from a company, and the whole process is a step-by-step approach where a lot of minor things need to be covered before the major lead scoring actually happens for leads or customers.

As you said, all of these regulations like GDPR and the other email marketing laws are putting some weight on security and data handling and processing, and I see it as a better way that email is approaching because the more regulations come in, the more email is becoming the safest and the easiest, and the most reliable channel to be used, and that we can contribute to the revenue in a very elegant and a better way, in my opinion.

Russell: Yes, certainly. I think this is where email comes into because of the analytics. So again, I think you know some of the easy ways to start with the lead scoring is based on the customer personas and these demographics, and so by splitting them out you’re able to see in terms of open rates, click rates, and so, a lot of my measurements and my KPI is based around the click-to-open rate, so those people that did open this email that went on to click is a great indication that I got the right message to them, I got the right content. But, the actual level of insight when you could then start drilling down into you what type of customers open this email, what type of demographics did they have and where did they come from in terms of opt-in sources. And, I think we have an advantage with that over other marketing channels. I mean one of the biggest opt-in for us is in social media. I tend to use social media for opt-in to get new subscribers on our email list. I found it’s very successful when it’s a really good way of demonstrating to the business that these marketing channels can work together.

I think that’s where email has an advantage over the analytics and then be able to tweak these as well. If you have a welcome program that introduces new subscribers and go say over five emails say over a 20-day period you, let’s test moving one of these emails a day before or a day after—it’s relatively straightforward to do;  it takes a couple of minutes if you’ve mapped it out within your ESP, and it’s really good way to see if we shortened this welcome program, do we see an increase or is it that too much email for people because the cadence and the frequency can affect that. So, it’s very easy for us to make these tweaks based on data and the analytics—that’s why I’ve really enjoyed email marketing for ten years. It’s a great mix of the technical aspects, the analytics, and the creative parts of it.

Aishwarya: Mmm-hmm! So, this actually gives me more room to conclude our conversation by asking what would be like a quick five-step email launch checklist, because now that you’ve discussed a whole lot about email strategy, what kind of emails to begin with, how does a business approach emails—

So, what would be a quick five-step email launch checklist for people out there?

Russell: Right, okay!

  1. So, I think the first one is actually the list process—what is the process for getting this data, are you sending a batch-and-blast email out to your whole database which has the same content for everybody, are you able to take segments within this, how does the list get into your ESP—only if you’ve got the technical side of it so the data side of things, but you’ve also got how this list process works before you send the email.
  2. The second step is what you would call the Holy Trinity—which is the from name, the pre-header, and the subject line test. So, if a family member, your partner, or your sibling—if they email you, it doesn’t matter what the subject line is, what the content is will be, you always open it because you have been familiar with these people. So, I think one of the things to make sure you’re getting the from name right is by testing that out as well as the pre-header, so you can you know add a bit more curiosity or insight, or to answer the question that is posed within your subject line. Again, you absolutely have to try personalization within the subject line or the pre-header.
  3. The next step is how the rendering across the majority of the clients are in boxes that are on your list. So how the HTML renders—first off, you have to look at your data list and get information about what type of operating systems your subscribers are using, what type of devices (is it desktop, or tablet, and so on), and then what type of email clients are they looking on, and the apps that they have. So, you want to have a look at what is the largest percentage that covers the majority of my audience here. You’re receiving emails where, the HTML is broken, the rendering is incorrect—that’s going to be a major put off, if it’s not responsive. I would imagine these days everybody’s email should be responsive, if it’s not you need to address that very quickly. So, that’s the thing—how does this email present of the majority list—you don’t have to get everybody just the majority that’s on your list.
  4. Then, you’re looking at the proofing stage, so before this email goes out, you have to prove for the content and the message variances. So, this is where dynamic content comes into play. So, if you have your personas available, you are able then to preview these emails with the right type of content and the message variants that are in there. Again, if you know what’s your message for your prospect, test it, have a look on your prospect persona, you should see the right type of content on that. You don’t want to be sending emails out that has the wrong message in it.
  5. Before I send an email out, I email the business, to let my stakeholders know that there is an email going out so they get to view it before time. So obviously, we have workflows and email marketers, and we have an approval process. Normally, it has to go through their marketing director, marketing manager, up and then back down, and you’ll have a number of amends, etc. But, what I do is I send an email out to the business, and it gives them a copy of the email, it tells them what time I’m sending it, what the subject line is, who are the audience segments, and the volumes are I’m sending them out to. One of the horror stories obviously of email marketing is that we know that once you send an email out, some platforms will allow you to change the links behind, but effectively, once it’s gone it’s gone, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Aishwarya: True!

Russell: So, going through this checklist, you know these five areas, and having an email going out to the business gives you peace of mind because if someone comes back to hold on something wasn’t right, you can go as, “I sent an email out two hours beforehand, I asked everybody for the feedback, and if there’s any queries in app you can contact me.”

 Just to recap:

– List process—your from name, pre-header, and the subject line test 

– The rendering test across the majority of clients

– Your content and dynamic content 

– Message variants proofs 

– Email to the business 

So, they would be my five! It doesn’t matter how long you put into it— I’ve been doing it for ten years, and I always use a pre-checklist before so that would be my recommendation before sending an email out.

Aishwarya: Wow! That was like the perfect email launch checklist because all the points that you covered were actually essential points for marketers to begin with. And, I hope everybody who’s listening now would get the right points from you so that they can just start with all of these actions that we just discussed. As I look back, I see that today we have discussed a lot of pain points, a lot of advantages, the technical nuances or the business backgrounds—to email there are many facets, and I love the fact that we discussed all the facets of email marketing so that any marketer, be it an owner of an SMB, or a tech organization—anybody could begin with email marketing in the most simplest format.

Russell: Yes, absolutely! I think regardless of whether your B2B, B2C, how large your business is, I think they were fundamentals that you can follow. And that is about respecting your subscribers, delivering on what you promised you were going to deliver at the point of sign up, and a continued earning of that respect and that permission to be allowed to email these people, to be able to deliver communications into their inbox. So, regardless of size, regardless of your verticals, your markets etc., there were these principles that apply to all business of all sizes in all sectors. I hope that was helpful.

Aishwarya: Yes, totally! I think it was an absolute delight for us to talk to you today about all of these email marketing strategies, ideas and best practices. For all the listeners—I think they would absolutely love to connect with you on social media to hear more about what you’ve got to say, and all of your opinions will definitely help them build the best email marketing efforts in the days to come. Thank you so much, Russell! 

So, today’s session would have definitely been an eye-opener for all of the email marketers out there, whether you’re starting out or be it you are in the middle of achieving something big in email. All of these strategies and the best practices of today will help you build your email marketing program. To listen to more such email marketing conversations, please keep tabs on Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns. Until next session, bubye!



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