How to get your email opened - and read - 5 tips on email marketing
Over the past 7 years I have worked with countless fundraising and email marketing campaigns. Yet many organizations are startlingly ineffective with their online asks. I've written this piece to detail 5 common mistakes I see people making with their email marketing campaigns and how to fix them. You will note that I used examples from past email marketing campaigns I have built; many of the examples are from political work but are just as applicable in an enterprise context.
Tip #1: Never ignore the title (and the sender)
Simply said - if nobody opens your email, nobody reads it. This should be obvious yet even in 2018 too many emails have boring titles, whether in the work place or in personal correspondence. Sure, I may open my mom's email titled "Upcoming Family Gathering" however I'm opening it because it's from my mom, not because of the title. We have all been guilty of the "Quick Question" email, but we are also much more likely to open the email with a title that creates a sense of urgency or makes you curious. If you need ideas, try checking your spam filter - some email scammers are masters of this technique.
Here is an example produced for the 2014 WA-8 congressional campaign of Jason Ritchie (D) vs. Dave Reichert (R) of a title that gets people to open the email. What could we have done better? Well, the picture for one. Another great way to improve this email is to have a unique sender, there is a reason you see emails from Joe Biden and Michelle Obama and campaign staffer "John Doe" during the course of different email fundraising campaigns; a unique sender, especially a trusted or important one, increases the open rates of your emails.
The email below is another great example. Taken from my work with the 2016 campaign of Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib the email creates a sense of urgency with a succinct one-word title and edits the sender to create a personal feel (the email says Cyrus Habib yet is from the finance team address).
Bonus Tip: Follow the rules
While it doesn't deal with open rates, note the disclaimer at the bottom of the email - political entities and non-profits often have important financial disclosures they have to include on fundraising emails. Always check to be sure what your organization's disclosure requirements are and follow them. You don't need the bad publicity and potential penalties that come with mistakes.
Tip #2: Be succinct
Typical readers will only look at each email for 10-15 seconds. You need to hook them with your title and a creative topic, then you need to get them to say yes - all in less time than it takes to write a tweet. The email we wrote for Lt. Governor Habib's campaign above is a great example of this. Within just a few sentences the email's point was made and all eyes are on the big red donate button in the middle of the page. This email is targeted with intent and doesn't give me time to lose interest and click forward to the next before it gets to the point.
Tip #3: Grab their attention
We've all seen the same tired emails saying "the race is so close, giving $5 now can make the difference!". I've even written some of those emails - over hundreds of emails some material gets recycled. While this technique can be slightly more useful in promoting sales or unique offers, for example "Only 48 hours left at 30% off" or "24 hours to DOUBLE" in a donation context, this still isn't ideal. The emails that stand out, and actually get read (the average adult attention span was down to 8.25 seconds in 2015) are more creative.
The "Empty Ice Bucket" email was another email we produced for the 2014 Jason Ritchie campaign. This email capitalized on the viral ALS challenge to make a creative attack against Congressman Reichert for his role in cutting NIH funding. This ended up being one of our most effective emails of the entire campaign; a timely, creative email with a funny photo on a relevant topic will always beat out a standard ask.
Tip #4: Optimize for mobile
Yes, this should go without saying. 66% of email opens occur on mobile devices. If your images don't fit, or if any html isn't hidden, you've got a problem. Nobody on the receiving end of the email should be seeing the html (and if you use max device width or a responsive email template they won't). A good guideline is to reduce the image file sizes you use and to preview every email before you send it both on mobile and on your desktop.
Tip #5: Make it easy to unsubscribe
This brings us to our last tip - if subscribers don't have an easy way to opt out of your email, your emails will be flagged as spam. This can cause massive problems with future emails being blocked and potentially getting you locked out of your email list: if this happens, nobody will be receiving your emails, let alone reading them. Make it a simple process to unsubscribe because if people really don't want to read your emails anymore, they won't.
This could be better. You don't want a giant button saying unsubscribe, but when using this tag line (during Thomas Pitchford's campaign for State Representative) we noticed a higher than normal ratio of our emails flagged as spam. We A/B tested the tag line and realized that not having the click here in a different color was increasing the rate of our emails being marked as spam by viewers who couldn't read the small font without a color change. If we hadn't corrected this we would have likely been locked out of sending emails at some point.
Bonus Tip: Invite interaction
Does your organization still do email marketing? Do you believe email marketing has a future?