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12 Common Mistakes in Email Marketing

Don't you simply adore these wonderful lists that spell out the potholes folks typically fall into when they set about accomplishing a task? I do. Especially when I'm about to embark on something as significant as an email campaign. A tidy collection of DONT's makes it hugely easier to catch yourself before you take an obvious misstep and tumble down some weird rabbit hole just like Alice. Except Alice landed in an interesting place and learned a few things.

I gotta tell you - when you fall into one of these holes, you don't wind up in a very interesting place (although you certainly can wind up learning from your mistakes, but who wants to waste that kind of time and money?). So how do you keep your head above ground? Just pay attention to these mistakes of email marketing, and you'll find yourself smiling like the Cheshire Cat!

Several years ago, my clever friend Roy Williams created a list of the 12 common mistakes advertisers make. With his permission, I've taken his sound ideas and recast them to apply to your email campaigns. Email marketing is, after all, a form of advertising. But it goes beyond conventional advertising, because it is also your principal pathway to building a long-lasting relationship with your customers. You really don't want to mess that up, do you?

I thought not. So let's look at these mistakes, one by one (you can remind yourself as you read each item, "This is a mistake - don't go there").

1. The desire for instant gratification

Launching an email campaign is like trying get your car rolling from a dead stop. You think you're going to manage it all in one push? Nope. It takes time to work up some momentum. And before you achieve a decent speed, you're gonna start wondering if you are even up to the task. Be patient!

Studies have proved the only variable that influences the success of any campaign is the power of your message. So make sure you are saying the right thing. "Uncover the story that is uniquely yours; focus your campaign; commit to your message."i And be prepared to give it time.

Once you get your momentum, it will be hard to stop it! Sure, along the way you're gonna have to give the occasional push, but with the momentum established, the job becomes much easier.

2. Attempting to reach more people than the budget will allow

This is the reach versus frequency issue. Let's say you are going to buy inventory or place an ad in an email newsletter. You can afford to make 100,000 impressions. Do you go for 10 placements in one newsletter that goes out to 10,000 people, or do you opt for one placement that goes out to 100,000 people? Same number of impressions, but the first option exposes fewer viewers to multiple impressions.

Think about it this way: Would you rather reach 100% of the people and convince them 10% of the way of them, or reach 10% of the people and convince all of them all the way? When it comes to maximizing your email marketing efforts, this is a useful analogy: Your message is the nail, repetition is the hammer, and a block of wood is the customer. If the nail is sharp and you hammer effectively, you will pierce through the wood and clinch the customer.

For more information on this topic, check out "Email As Advertising," written by my colleague Bryan Eisenberg in ClickZ.

And it doesn't hurt to remember this: "Retention fades with sleep." Repetition has its rewards.

3. Assuming the business owner knows best

When it comes to stuff in which you have a huge personal investment (your kids, your homes, your businesses), you risk losing your objectivity. Hey, it's a human thing. Too much knowledge about your company and what you offer leads you to answer questions nobody is asking. When you're inside the bottle, it's hard to read the label. But that's also when you risk pushing your own interests at the expense of your customers' interests. Sometimes it helps to bring in an objective outsider to give you some perspective.

4. Unsubstantiated claims

Folks make claims all the time that miss targeting their customers' needs and simply wind up turning them off. Specifics about yourself, your way of doing business and your products are far more persuasive and cut to the chase far more effectively than generalities. So get credibly specific!!

5. Improper use of passive media

Passive media are sight-based media - newspapers, magazines, billboards, direct mail, and yes, even email - that require the user to sustain focused attention in order to process the message. Intrusive media are sound-based - radio and television. Sound is heads above sight in its ability to get your message lodged into your customers' brains. The best use of passive media is as a follow-up to intrusive media.

This is a toughie, and there's not much you can do about it at this stage of the technological game. It is largely one of those obstacles you have to factor into your marketing equation. Trust me, now is not the time to go lining your emails with .wav files - and that misses the point anyway. The huge advantage of email marketing, passive though it may be, is its relative low cost. It's worth the effort, but be aware of the limitations.

Passive media is an effective way to reach those customers who are actively in the market for your product or service. You'll improve the effectiveness of your emails if you can use this to your advantage. Exactness is the key attribute of passive media - you can give a lot of specifics that your potential customers can check as many times as they want, simply by revisiting their online mail boxes.

6. Creating individual emails instead of campaigns.

Remember the hammer analogy from last time? Good. Now add this: No single ad constitutes a campaign, Rome wasn't built in a day, and friendship isn't a first-sight phenomenon. You have more to say and more to accomplish than can be said and accomplished in a single email.

A very important thing to do as you develop your campaign is build upon your previous (successful) efforts. Your individual emails have to be interconnected, with a logical flow and a united presentation - after all, they are all pieces of that big “puzzle” that is your company. In a way, it's like the old Burma Shave signpost campaign … you want to keep your customers eager and on the lookout for more of what you have to offer.

7. Obedience to unwritten rules.

Do you really want to be like everyone else? Do you want to communicate the same message as your competitors? No, of course not. You want to be unique, you want to stand out from the crowd. So don't follow it! Dare to be different in a believable way. That's how you get noticed. I'm not suggesting you go overboard (commercial relationship-building requires tact and tends toward the conservative end of the spectrum), but if your emails sound, act and look like everybody else's emails, what's the value in doing business with you rather than them?

8. Ignoring timing.

It should come as no surprise that you've got to think about timing your message. Who is your audience and when are they most likely to read your email? Rebecca Leib presents some very useful information on timing in her article Does Anybody Know What Time It Is? Does Anybody Care?

Your goal is to give your customers the right message and send it when they are apt to take the time to read it. This isn't the same as suggesting you should time your message to exactly when you think your customer is going to act on it. Seasonal situations aside, an important tenet of advertising is this: "Tell the customer WHY and wait for WHEN. Quit trying to predict the moment of need."i

9. Overtargeting

Be careful to avoid over-segmenting your data base in your efforts to reach your target audience. It's a myth that you only need to get your message to the decision-makers. Truth is, decisions are seldom made in a vacuum. Don't neglect the influencers!

10. Event-driven marketing

It's best to steer clear of designing an email campaign around a single event (unless it's a major, well-branded event that strengthens your Unique Selling Proposition). When an event is over, folks will immediately forget the marketing pitch behind it, and besides, 99.5% of the people you've spent the effort to reach won't be coming to The Do anyway. Where does your message go when this happens? Up in tendrils of smoke.

11. Great production without great copy

"Slick, clever, funny, creative and different are very poor substitutes for informative, believable, memorable and persuasive." The name of the ebusiness game is persuasion; getting people to take the action you want them to take. Don't even dream of neglecting those magical words that are going to help you craft your brilliant, perfect message.

12. Confusing "response" with "results"

"Slick, clever, funny, creative and different ads are most likely to generate comment, or response." Buzz doesn't feed the bulldog and excitement alone won't bring in the cash. See the problem?

I recently heard a great saying: Intelligent folks learn from their own mistakes; wise folks learn from the mistakes of others. Now you've got all 12 of the most frequently made mistakes in email marketing, and you're in a great position to learn from them. So go, Grasshopper, and be wise!

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i All quotes from "12 Common Mistakes Advertisers Make." A Power Point presentation by Roy H. Williams.

 

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