I stopped in a small, local antique shop the other day when the owner held out a spiral bound notebook and asked if I’d like to write down my name and email address so I could be notified of a coming sale. How many “forms” like this one had I filled out online in the past month, let alone year, to get news, secure a discount, or learn more about a product? Yet this simple gesture stopped me in my tracks because it was so rare — a face-to-face interaction between an email marketer and a subscriber.
Marketing automation software has changed the game and worked wonders on our ability to stay in touch with a global customer base on ways that are more timely, consistent, and engaging than ever before.
Yet it’s also made it easy for us to start thinking of our subscribers more as data merge fields than as real people.
Email marketing has changed the conversation
When we have a B2C encounter face-to-face, it’s simple to get a conversation going. Before I was handed that notebook, the owner had also asked me how I’d heard about the store, if I’d been there before, and what I was looking for. It was easy and pleasant to answer her questions as I browsed.
But email is different. While few people would straight up ignore questions being asked of them in person, try sending customers a survey with same inquiries and you might expect anywhere between a 5 – 15 percent response rate — not exactly a great representation of your group.
Furthermore, consciously or not, people have a tendency to lie on surveys. Reacting to false that feedback could send marketers down an entirely wrong path.
Data bridges the gap
But beyond speed and scope, email automation has another advantage over in-person interactions — data. Data tells the story that people can’t or won’t tell themselves. It tells us who our subscribers are, what they need, and how we can serve them. However before you can get those answers, you have to ask the right questions. Here are eight questions you should be asking about your email subscribers and answering with data.
1. What are their names?
It’s much easier to get someone to fill out a single email field than it is to ask for more information. Yet it’s worthwhile to test asking for at least a first name at sign-up. Personalized emails draw the eye and deliver six-times higher transaction rates.
2. Do they know what they signed up for?
It can be tempting to use a contest or other workaround to gather subscribers. But more than likely, you’ll see massive disengagement once you start to send emails. Worse yet, if your subscribers don’t understand what they signed up for, they may flag you as spam hurting your campaigns overall. No matter how you sign up subscribers, send an auto-responder immediately afterwards. This gives unwitting sign-ups the chance to opt out and begins to build a strong relationship with people who want to be there.
3. Where did they find me?
Speaking of getting subscribers onto your list, it’s critical that you understand the path your subscribers took to get to you — and not just the page of your site they signed up on. How did they get to that page? Was it an organic search, a referral link, social media? And what pages did they click on before signing up? Following your users’ paths will help you answer the next question …
4. What is their problem?
Most consumers don’t come to product site looking to make a purchase, they come looking for a solution. The distinction is important because the former assumes that consumers want what you’re selling while the latter defines that they still need to be convinced. Mapping your subscribers’ journey to your sign-up page as well as closely monitoring their engagement behaviors will help you understand what challenges they have so you can convince them your product or service is the solution.
5. Where are they reading your email?
By the end of next year, 81 percent of email users are expected to access their accounts on mobile. These numbers can vary based on who your audience is and when they are opening your emails so it’s important to check your data, optimize for all screens, and test for a variety of devices before sending.
6. When are they reading your email?
You can do a Google search turning up any number of data points about the best days and times to send email. But the truth is, the best time to send email is when your subscribers are reading it. If your subscribers tend to be in the same industry or geographic area, there may be times that are uniquely suited to their needs.
Teachers, for example, may check email very early in the morning before students arrive then not again until later in the day. Office workers may be bombarded with a full inbox on Mondays, and emails sent on that day can get lost. Testing is key. Think about your audience then test different days and times to see what works.
7. Can they see my email?
If you aren’t asking this question, you might be spending hours designing a beautiful HTML email that few people can see. Check your HTML emails for accessibility by adding alt text to your images and using both button and text links. Mix styles up on occasion — while most subscribers report that they prefer HTML emails, plain text actually gets higher open rates.
Lastly, clean your lists. If a group of subscribers on your list is repeatedly unresponsive, continuing to email them could cause some email providers to start marking your emails as spam for all subscribers. Regularly check who isn’t opening and segment that group off your main list into a special reengagement list.
8. What would they do if I …
This is the most important question you can ask about your email subscribers, and it’s the one that data answers best. Testing — different segments, content, subject lines, frequency, send date, and so on — is the key to any successful long-term email strategy. So don’t be afraid to ask those big what ifs, take a chance, then let the data tell the story.