7 Data-Driven Email Marketing Best Practices for Startups

Is email a core part of your marketing strategy? While some business owners still see email as a supplementary or "add-on" tactic, email should be as foundational to your marketing strategy as social media or SEO.

Salesforce Marketing Report

Fortunately, according to the Salesforce 2017 State of Marketing report, businesses are investing more in email marketing. B2C companies especially are favoring email marketing, with a two-year growth of 106 percent, making email marketing the second-fastest growing marketing channel in B2C, outcompeted only by video advertising.

Top 5 Fastest Growing Marketing Channels

Overall, email is still in the top five fastest growing marketing channels, representing 83 percent growth over the past 2 years. The survey collected responses from 3,500 full-time marketing professionals (and not just Salesforce customers) from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, U.K./Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia/New Zealand.

The survey also found that “top performers”—the 12 percent of marketers seeing the highest ROI from their strategies—used the highest amount of “heavy coordination” between their channels.

Basically, the best marketers across all industries relied on multiple interconnected channels, rather than zeroing in on any one specific strategy. About 90 percent of high performers used “heavy” coordination or “moderate” coordination, compared to only 61 percent of under-performers.

Why Does Coordination Matter?

Why does that coordination matter to email? Email marketing remains one of the most coordinated channels in the digital marketer’s arsenal, with 29 percent of messages dynamically evolving across channels based on customer actions.

What Is Your Truth?

Do these findings hold true for you? Are you approaching email as a core aspect of your marketing strategy? Are you increasing your investment in email marketing?

This post will examine seven email marketing best practices you should be using, based in part on the most recently available data from Salesforce.

1. Pay attention to the rise of non-traditional forms of email marketing.

In 2017, we saw “email marketing,” a term that has traditionally referred to marketing campaigns sent en masse to opted-in recipients, evolve to include outreach emails sent by sales staff -- a tactic that’s becoming more and more popular due to its effectiveness.

This evolution of email marketing, however, necessitates new metrics beyond the traditional ones (such as open rates, click-through rates, and bounce rates) that need to be tracked in order to fully understand resource usage and ROI. Metrics such as average response times, words typed per email, and overall email volume (sent & received) over time are crucial to understanding effectiveness with this form of email marketing.

New Tools

New tools are becoming available to provide these insights, including EmailAnalytics – the only such tool that works for Gmail and Google Suite. If you initiate an email outreach campaign, be sure you have your analytics in place.

2.  Entice visitors back to complete purchases.

If you run an ecommerce site, it’s probably no surprise to you that shopping carts get abandoned more often than they actually result in a sale. In fact, according to the Baymard Institute, a whopping 68% of all online shopping carts get abandoned.

While there are any many reasons why carts can be abandoned, remarketing can be an extremely effective strategy for bringing visitors back to complete their purchase. While only 24% of businesses report using this strategy, 72 percent believe it’s a “very effective/effective” one.

Browse retargeting is another effective strategy to re-engage with website visitors. Through tracking which product pages subscribers have visited, businesses can offer incentives to entice them back.

Some strategies to test out for abandoned carts include:

  • Remind visitors what they left in their cart
  • Offer an incentive to close the sale (discounts and free shipping work well)
  • Give a link straight to the abandoned cart (not the homepage or product page)
  • Show cart expiration (e.g. “Your cart will expire in 48 hours”)
  • Send multiple email reminders: For instance, send a reminder 2 hours after abandonment, and a discount email 24 hours later.

3. Run periodic reengagement campaigns.

Reengagement campaigns allow subscribers to update their current email preferences to receive more relevant and timely emails. While these campaigns weren’t ranked highly in terms of use (only 34 percent of marketers use them), 89 percent of respondents believed they were at least somewhat effective.

When sending reengagement emails, some things to keep in mind include:

  • Determining who you’ll reengage: Subscribers who haven’t opened your recent emails? Those who haven’t converted? Those who haven’t clicked through to your site in a while?
  • Consider a series of reengagement emails rather than just one. One may not be enough to win them back.
  • Giveaways and contests can be a good strategy for increasing opens and clicks, but may not fix the underlying lack of engagement.
  • Give subscribers the option to customize the emails they receive including email frequency, format and topics of interest.

You’ve worked hard to get your subscribers to join your list, and periodic reengagement campaigns can help keep them connected and engaged.

4. Responsive email design is a must.

Based on the most recent data from 2015, 33 percent of marketers said their subscribers read emails on a mobile device at least 50 percent of the time (up from 24 percent in 2014). While this points to an increase in our awareness of the importance of responsive email design, are our actions keeping pace?

According to the same 2015 survey, 48 percent of marketers reported “always” or “often” using responsive design for their emails; this was up from 35 percent in 2014. In addition, 46 percent reported “always” or “often” using responsive landing pages for their email; up from 40 percent in 2014. It seems that marketers are getting the message, and are realizing the important of mobile-friendly email campaigns.

Any good email management services will provide responsive or mobile-friendly email templates. These templates will ensure that:

  • Email width and font sizes adjust to a variety of device sizes.
  • Users can read your emails without having to pinch or zoom.
  • Links and buttons are spaced out so they can be easily tapped by mobile users.
  • Emails are a single column design for easy reading (two-column at the absolute most).

5. Test out sending emails on the weekend.

  If you’re like most business owners, you likely send out your email newsletters and promotional content during peak business hours: on weekdays sometime between the hours of 9 am and 5 pm.

However, according to the Salesforce report, marketers should consider sending out emails on weekends when inboxes are emptier, and subscribers may have more time to read non-essential emails: “Recognize that your work schedule won’t always coincide with your subscribers’ email-reading habits. Explore sending campaigns over the weekend, when subscribers may have more leisure time to peruse their personal email accounts and non-urgent messages.”

While no one can guarantee your open rates or click-throughs will be higher, in certain industries and niches, weekend emails may be just what’s needed to gain a competitive edge.

6. Newsletters are great – but recognize that other types of emails will likely be more effective.

We’ve already touched on two types of emails that tend to be most effective: abandoned cart emails and reengagement emails. While 66 percent of marketers find newsletters “very effective/effective,” the majority of other strategies marketers are using have proven to be even more effective:

  • Mobile opt-in campaigns (76 percent).
  • Birthday/Anniversary emails (75percent/74 percent).
  • Transactional (74 percent).
  • Welcome series (72 percent).
  • Loyalty (72 percent).
  • Promotional content (69 percent).
  • Post-purchase emails (67 percent).
  • Social opt-in (67 percent).

Test out a variety of content types instead of garden-variety email newsletters. Offer coupons and discounts, and spend time perfecting and personalizing your welcome and post-purchase emails. And don’t forget to collect data on important dates like birthdays.

7. Track negative metrics that may indicate suboptimal practices.

We know that metrics like open rates, clicks and conversions are important for tracking the effectiveness of email campaigns. But are there metrics that can do a better job of indicating problems with your current email marketing practices?

According to the most recently available report, while click-through rates, conversions and click-to-open rates are the three most commonly used indicators, there are other important, “negative” metrics that are being regularly tracked by marketers:

  • Unsubscribe rates (23 percent or marketers track these).
  • Bounce rates (17 percent).
  • Inactive user rate (13 percent).

While open rates and conversions are perhaps the most critical metrics you’ll be tracking, don’t neglect other indicators that can signal unhealthy or suboptimal marketing practices. While not mentioned in the report, tracking spam reports and complaints is also important for keeping your list healthy.

Final Thoughts

Marketers can no longer get away with conducting their email marketing as an afterthought. Unlike other forms of marketing, email is a one-to-one communication with your customers - which gives you the ability to customize, personalize and segment based on almost limitless combinations of factors.

If you truly believe that email is a foundational element of your marketing, make sure you’re “walking the walk” by incorporating responsive design, tracking key metrics and testing out a variety of email content with your audience.

What best practices would you add to this list? What strategies are you finding most effective these days? Share in the comments below.