Q. What are the most important priorities for email list communication in 2009?
Thank you for this timely and important question. While not even the Email List Guru can predict all that will emerge and evolve in the coming year – especially in the challenging economic and email environment we face – I can offer some recommendations on priorities that make sense and can help ground and center the efforts of hard-working email list communicators.
The priorities need to be rooted in three words – of wisdom, if you will:
Yes, it's a curious combination of words but is not, in fact, a random word association. All of these terms are interconnected, so allow me to explain this in parts, yet as a whole concept.
There is much to talk about in the email list universe at present – mobile devices, Twitter, social web, the list goes on – meaning, so many different ways we can direct our attention and resources. All are worthwhile and important, and it's easy to feel pulled in many different directions, and the constraints of budget and time can seem even greater when our focus is spread too thin, running here, running there, trying every new trend we read about.
So let's step back for a moment and boil it down to the pure essence, the primordial nature of email list communication. Email list communication is about connecting people.
To connect, we must earn trust. To earn trust, we must respect. To gain respect, we must ask for permission.
So the purest and most essential practice must be this:
Always ask for permission, using double-confirmed opt-in. We need to be certain that our recipients have given explicit permission for the types of messages we are sending. This is not an area for cutting corners or taking chances that a message is close enough to what a subscriber has requested. Retaining and growing our subscriber bases is more important than ever – and so we ensure the highest level of respect and trust by practicing permission.
By fully engaging with permission and the specific types of information a subscriber would like to receive, we can achieve a higher level of targeting and segmentation – which can only bring benefits and success. As email list communicators, we are continually challenged to find ways to weave our messages into the consciousness of each person making up our subscriber base. This is no easy task, but it can be done.
To understand, we must listen. To listen, we must ask for information.
So the interconnected method to keep our email pure and effective is:
We need to hear from our subscribers what they want and need from the email that we have the privilege of sending to them. It is up to each one of us to determine what makes the most sense for our specific organizations and campaigns, optimally with the benefit of informed decision making based on data from the people who are receiving our messages. Even if our resources do not permit a large-scale evaluation, let's commit to making the most of our efforts to learn subscribers' preferences and updated profile information, and to use this information mindfully. A simple message asking subscribers to take a moment to update their profiles can go a long way, and you may consider including some type of incentive. Who doesn't appreciate a worldly reward, here and there?
With these important steps to remain true to the pure practices of email list communication, we find ourselves increasingly in need of being sure our messages and our brands stand out. As conflicted and scattered as the trends and information are about what's in, what's out, what's important, what's not, we must always bear in mind how many messages our recipients are encountering in a given moment.
For this reason, let's focus on two key elements of Pop! – going out on all channels and being a standout (for all the right reasons, of course).
Getting Seen (and Read) in HTML and Text
Ah, HTML versus Text, the eternal (and ethereal) question. The bottom line is that our subscribers prefer what they prefer – and wishing it wasn't so isn't going to change that. Senders often prefer HTML newsletters because it allows us to put our best foot forward with logos, graphics and advanced layout possibilities. However, if our subscribers can't or don't want to read HTML newsletters, all the work we spent on our cutting-edge HTML newsletter is lost. So what is an email communicator to do? Simple, ask your subscribers which type they prefer or send both. Most modern email clients allow the user to choose which part – HTML or Text – to display by default, and by sending a multi-part newsletter, we have all bases covered.
Stand Out and Get Your Brand Out
Getting noticed isn't easy, but using our organization's logo and graphic profile strategically in our email list communication is a great way to keep our brands in the forefront of our subscribers' consciousness. Keep it consistent, simple, clean and on-message. By using an existing graphic profile, for example, from our website, we can expand into HTML templates that make our email appear to be the interconnected communication that it is, part of our overall Internet presence. Again, subscriber data and preferences can give some useful guidance on creating the look and feel of the email. Focus on one core product, message or service per email. If you have a newsletter, consider adding a new feature or providing opportunities for reader interaction. Remember, in challenging times, a little fun and humor, chosen with wisdom, can add sugar and spice – as well as a sense of engagement to your communication. And if your graphic profile seems a bit tired, infuse new energy into it with colors or a new HTML template design, all while keeping the core of your business or organization clearly within people's mindstreams. In turn, yours will be the memorable brand – the one that pops, on the screen and in (and into) the minds of the people who have opted in to receive your mailings. And this will help spread the word about your organization to other people, building your subscriber, customer and member bases with people who are genuinely interested in your offerings.
Sometimes, in contemplating the state of email list communication, it can seem as if we're talking about anonymous entities – senders, subscribers, recipients – machine-like and automated, in the same way as the computers and software we use to communicate. Yet at the heart of all of this are people who have chosen to connect with your organization – and by virtue of your being the sender, with you, the person – and, in the case of email communities, with one another. This connection could be borne of a shared interest in reading a newsletter, a common relationship with a company or organization, a mutual desire to discuss the same topic – the possibilities are many. And accordingly, there will likely be many differences among this group of people who have opted in to receive your email. By practicing the pure essentials – permission and preferences – and giving your email the Pop! factor, you will have a sound set of priorities for 2009 and beyond. Trends come and go but some things remain and are worth keeping top of mind with every message we send: Email list communication is about connecting people.
Ask the Email List Guru is a new column in LISTSERV at Work, designed to bring vision and wisdom (with the power of the crystal ball) to everyday challenges of email list communication and email marketing. Post your questions and the guru will respond to the most intriguing topics in each issue.