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6 Smart Email Marketing Tactics

Although consumers’ communication habits have evolved with the rising popularity of social media and smartphones, brands are still turning to their dependable friend — email — to attract and retain customers and boost their bottom lines.

There’s no denying that email is showing signs of decline — the number of visitors to web-based email sites fell 6% in 2010 compared to the previous year, and email engagement declined at an even greater rate, according to a report from digital analysis company comScore.

In response to these changes, brands are quickly adapting by combining email, social media and even mobile marketing tactics.

Despite the decline in email, new communication channels won’t replace email. “Email is actually more important than ever with the ground swell of social and mobile,” says Greg Cangialosi, CEO of email marketing company Blue Sky Factory, which also partners with Mashable.

“When you think about the social ecosystem out there, there isn’t a tool or network available that doesn’t allow you to sign up without an email address. Email actually drives a lot of the social web activity, through notifications, alerts and more. Email is a great complement to social in that it allows marketers to extend the reach of their messages and identify influencers on their list,” he adds.

And successful brands are doing just that — cross-pollinating email marketing strategies via email clients, social platforms and mobile devices. Ultimately, brands still find email effective because it’s inexpensive and universally accepted by people all over the world.

Here are several simple, emerging email marketing methods with which brands are seeing success. If you’ve seen or implemented other tactics, feel free to share them in the comments.


1. Tap Into Current Events & Pop Culture


Email recipients respond well to messages that borrow from current events and popular culture.

Built — a company that designs bags, cases and totes — took advantage of Groundhog Day to market to its audience in an entertaining way. On February 2, Phil the groundhog did not see his shadow so Built immediately sent an an email that read, “Nice Call, Phil! Spring Is In Bloom at Built.”

The key to creating hyper-timely emails is planning and being nimble, says Christopher Stemborowski, associate communication strategist for marketing agency Oxford Communications. “Seeming timely can be the result of preparing multiple emails or just one email and waiting for the right time to send it.”

He suggests these tips:

  • Build multiple versions ahead of key events: In the same way that shirts are made ahead of the Super Bowl declaring each team the champion, you can design two versions of an email to respond quickly to the outcome of major events.
  • Plan an email for an event that has an unspecified date: Snowstorms will happen each winter. Will you have an email ready to go out the moment it happens? With a little planning, you can.
  • Track trending online memes: In 2011, we have seen a #winning Charlie Sheen and a really excited Rebecca Black ready to have fun, fun, fun. Smart brands can tap into these memes in email blasts. You can keep track of these popular memes by viewing the trending topics section on Twitter.

2. Use Twitter & Facebook to Promote Opt-In URLs


Brands such as wine education and recommendation app Daily Grape and social media education company Social Fresh tweet timely messages to their followers regarding email newsletter release dates and topics. The messages, which encourage followers to sign up to be on the brands’ mailing lists, include shortened URLs that lead to newsletter sign-up pages (pictured above).

The tweets look like this:

Companies also leverage Facebook to attract email subscribers. Visit Baltimore has a tab on its Facebook Page solely devoted to its “Get the Buzz Enewsletter” initiative (pictured below).


3. Segment Your Database


Blasting irrelevant content to your email subscribers is one of the biggest email marketing mistakes you can commit.

“For example, if a salon sends an email to men that highlights services solely for women, it shouldn’t be a shock when the men unsubscribe,” Stemborowski says. “To avoid this, the salon needs to know who in its database are males and who are females and then avoid sending irrelevant messages.”

When demographics play a role in which subscribers you target for certain emails, it’s beneficial to screen subscribers as soon as they sign up for your mailing list. This will allow them to tell you the type of messages they want to receive.

HARO, a New York-based service that helps reporters and sources find each other, is one company that uses this strategy (pictured below).

“Self-selection means subscribers willingly receive emails that are in the categories they asked to get,” Stemborowski said, adding that it’s vital to keep the screening short so users don’t abandon the process.


4. Provide Incentives to Email Subscribers via Social Media


To personalize its marketing efforts, international chain Villa Fresh Italian Kitchen engages with email subscribers by giving them a coupon for free items on their birthdays.

“The simple personal touch of sending users a coupon for a free slice of pizza and a soda on their birthday keeps subscribers hungry for more,” Stemborowski says.

Companies also can capitalize on holidays with free or discounted products or services.


5. Expand Email Lists With SMS Promotions


Blue Sky Factory’s clients and other agencies’ clients grow their email audience with the help from mobile devices.

“Marketers have short codes set up so that consumers can opt into their email databases by sending their email address to an SMS short code,” Cangialosi said.

For example, Chuck E. Cheese’s has an ad in its locations that asks viewers to join its email club by texting their email address to “35505.”


6. Optimize Emails for Smartphones


More than ever, people are reading emails on their mobile devices. Mobile email usage increased 36% in 2010, according to comScore.

“Checking personal email is the most common web-based activity for smartphone users,” Stemborowski says. “Marketers need to make sure that emails can be read on mobile devices.”

The first line of your email should never read, “If you are having trouble reading this email click here,” he adds. “Remember, the first line of the email is what shows up as the preview on smartphones. For this reason, the first line is premium real estate and, with this in mind, you should put your most important message first for a well-crafted call to action.”


Conclusion


It’s an exciting time for marketers to expand their traditional email marketing repertoire with new opportunities presented from social platforms and mobile devices.

“Whether you’re a business marketing your brand or products — or an individual marketing your lifestyle and social norms — social marketing allows customers to dictate how they are marketed to. … That’s something that hasn’t been done previously,” says Ben Kirshner, CEO of search engine marketing company Elite SEM. “It’s something that’s changing the parameters of email marketing in a way that’s smart, interactive and rewarding (to the customer experience and the corporate bottom line).”


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