While business-to-business email response rates are generally reported in the 1 percent to 2 percent range (as measured by use of a click-through device), some email campaigns can garner a stellar 25 percent response rate, as reported by a Harte-Hanks research study. But before you can reach for the stars with high-performance email, it's important to understand the email realities all marketers face today.
According to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), four out of five companies are using email as a component of their marketing strategies. Gartner Inc. reports that spending on email marketing will increase 33 percent to $1.25 billion in 2002. In case you haven't noticed your own email inbox lately, proliferation is here. It's not surprising that according to IMT strategies, nearly 80 percent of email users delete messages from unknown sources before even opening the message, and two thirds of all email users say they receive too much email, according to Quris Inc.
If those facts don't pose enough problems for your campaigns, legislation will soon make things even more complicated. Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington have joined California in enacting antispam legislation. A federal antispam bill is under consideration, and many political prognosticators say its passage appears likely.
A recent research study conducted by the market intelligence team at Harte-Hanks examined 700 permission-based email campaigns involving 4.25 million email addresses to uncover the strategic and creative practices of successful email marketing. The study primarily focused on b-to-b campaigns in telecom and technology markets that were designed in accordance with DMA ethical guidelines.
Here are actual click-through response rate ranges, broken out by type of campaign:
|Purpose of Email Campaign||Response|
|General Marketing||1.3 %||25.0 %||0.2 %|
|Market Research||4.1 %||21.0 %||0.5 %|
|Sales Promotion||1.7 %||10.3 %||0.1 %|
|Offline Seminar Invitation||1.0 %||9.2 %||0.1 %|
|Subscription Offer||1.4 %||3.8 %||0.1 %|
|Online Seminar Invitation||1.0 %||3.6 %||0.0 %|
Although an email campaign does fail, but the potential numbers are still too good to ignore. For the same budget, an email campaign can touch twice as many prospects as a traditional direct mail campaign, if not more.
However, not all email campaigns are created equal. Based on the campaigns examined, here are 10 best practices that separate higher generating campaigns from ordinary ones:
1. Integrated media messages boost email click-through rates by at least 5 percent. As with any other type of marketing program, the more an email campaign is targeted, the better response it will realize. Email marketing should not be viewed in a vacuum. Based on our experience, integrating a telemarketing and direct mail program will boost response rates from 5 percent to 15 percent, as measured by click-through rates. One message might suffice, but Harte-Hanks has found that an ongoing dialogue using integrated media will lift response with clients and prospects.
2. Segmentation is key to high response. Craft messages based on information known about individual recipients, and segments of recipients. Although much attention is given to one-to-one marketing--and personalization by name of recipient--email content crafted for segments perform well, too. For example, content crafted differently for executives in sales, marketing, and senior management will lift response better than the same message sent to all individuals holding those three business titles.
3. Be straightforward in the subject line. The call to action should be the backbone of your subject line, and should include words that describe the offer or reason for action. Such like free, discount, complimentary, or this weekend only in the subject line lets the creative move response. Marketers often worry about fatigue in their lists, which is not only a matter of frequency, but also a function of being misled at the recipient's first encounter with a marketing message. Hiding or cloaking the true intention of a marketing message feeds fatigue and undermines confidence.
4. Clarity of message, offer, and response means is required. Anecdotally, email is opened, scanned, and closed at rates faster than direct mail. It's imperative that every message contains a clear, compelling call-to-immediate-action and provides a transparent response mechanism. The time customers and prospects spend searching for a "reply" button or URL is enough to lose them--thus layout is critical, as well as traditional direct marketing discipline and principles.
5. The sender should be a person, not a company. People also are more likely to open email from a person, rather than from a company or some generic server address. Designate a sender.
6. Email messages must have a clear opt-out process. Permission is permission, but the choice to take that permission away must be clear and readily available to the recipient. The quickest way to earn the wrath of busy prospects and customers is to send an unexpected email with no way for them to opt out. Having a prospect name by way of permission is not an excuse to duck an opt-out option--in fact, it violates DMA and Association for Interactive Marketing ethics guidelines--even for b-to-b and customer emails. Make it easy for people to leave gracefully, preferably with a one-click procedure, backed up by a toll-free number. More and more recipients appear to notice which campaigns follow accepted opt-out practices, and they appreciate having the option, even if they don't use it.
7. A response device should be more compelling than a simple link to a home page. In most cases an email campaign with only a home page link generates higher Web site hits, but that traffic can get lost after the home page. When using links it is better to have a landing page tailored specifically for the offer in the email message. Still, even a tailored landing page cannot overcome an offer that fails to be compelling.
8. Short and sweet works. Plain text-based emails can be very effective if they are targeted, have a compelling call to action and are brief enough to be read quickly. HTML emails, if used, need to include the same clarity and brevity in organization to elicit response.
9. Saturation points for frequency are low and getting lower. It appears that the optimal frequency for receiving email messages is declining across all categories. Appropriate frequency estimates vary widely and should continually be tested, but generally fall within a range of twice a week to twice a month. Err on the side of caution to foster continued good will.
10. Be a list builder. And finally, if you purchase an external list, don't miss the opportunity to build your own internal lists via the campaign. Immediate revenue is always a driving goal, but don't forget the long-term dividends of renting an external list as well.
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