Email marketing may have only recently become ubiquitous, but it's actually much older than many people think. As of 2018, email marketing has experienced a 40-year history of both successes and failures. Over that time, certain standards have evolved. There are many rules that email marketers are generally expected to follow. You probably know many of them already: grow your subscribers list organically, track things like click-through and open rates, remember your call-to-action at the end, and many more.
However, just because you know them doesn't necessarily mean you fully understand them or are comfortable with them. Today, we're going to answer ten questions you might have about the rules behind email marketing. With a little extra clarification, these mainstays will hopefully become both more useful and more meaningful to you.
10 Of Your Top Email Marketing Questions, Answered
1. Do I have to follow the rules?
That depends. Strictly speaking, you almost always have the freedom to do as you please. However, these guidelines have become standard practice for a reason - they work. The oft-quoted average 3,800% ROI that you can expect from email marketing assumes that you are following them. If you deviate from them, your expected return becomes much less predictable.
If you choose to alternate methods, you should always do so by keeping the original rule in mind, then purposely breaking it to achieve a specific goal. Simply trying anything that pops into your head and seeing what happens is a recipe for disaster - or at least, for much lower revenue than you might otherwise be able to accrue.
2. Aside from potentially losing revenue, are there consequences to not following email marketing rules?
Unfortunately, yes. In response to consumer complaints, many countries have passed laws requiring marketers to follow certain regulations in their commercial emails. These regulations vary from country to country, but a few that you are likely to run into are the US's CAN-SPAM Act, Canada's CASL laws, and Europe's GDPR laws.
Breaking any of them may result in fines or legal action, either of which will not make your company very happy with you. Following the rules will almost always keep you compliant with any email marketing laws that you otherwise might accidentally break. When you make a change, you should do the research to make sure it isn't at risk of being challenged in this way.
3. Okay, so some rules exist for legal purposes, but not all of them do. Why are the other rules so important?
Email marketing rules are intended to work in concert with each other in order to keep everything optimized as you go along. Following the prescribed steps ensures that you start off with a genuinely interested lead and have the chance to steer them closer to purchasing something from the company you're representing. Decades of experience accumulated by all the marketers operating around the globe have determined that there is a specific psychological process at play when a company and a lead are in contact. Perhaps even more importantly, they have figured out the technical infrastructure needed to keep the lines of email communication open in the first place. Essentially, the rules make sure you have a cohesive process in place from start to finish, which is why they are so reliable.
4. The rules say that I shouldn't always be directly pushing a particular product. Isn't that missing an opportunity?
Not necessarily. Generally, you'll only want to see a range of product options when you've already made up your mind to buy something. Many people will sign up to receive emails from you long before they are ready to buy; this is the case for a full 96% of first-time visitors to a particular website.
These people won't make a purchase yet no matter what you put in front of them, so pushing products at them won't be very helpful. Instead, you can use that email space to show them something that will make them feel good about your brand and earn their trust before their next purchasing occasion. This is called lead nurturing, and it's easier to do it with email marketing than almost any other medium. You'll get your sales eventually, but playing the waiting game in the meantime will pay off.
5. A lot of the rules ask me to do multiple things to accomplish the same goal. Can I just go with one or the other?
Commonly accepted practices incorporate a lot of backups and redundancies because it's always best to include those if you can manage it. For example, it's typically recommended that you make an HTML and a plain text version of each email you send. People express a preference for complex HTML emails, but actually open messages built with just a simple HTML template 25% less often than an identical email in plain text. With both options included, you'll have something for everyone.
It clearly does pay off to account for multiple potential scenarios in your marketing work. That doesn't mean that you necessarily need to do these things if you can't get the financial or workload logistics to work out. If you only have the resources for one approach, choose one, but make sure you know what you're giving up.
7. Many of the rules call for a lot of customized content (seasonality, segmentation, personalization, etc.). Is this overkill?
While it's definitely a bit more work, email content that is tailored to a specific person or point in time is the new gold standard for a reason. These kinds of messages drove an incredible 77% of all email marketing revenue in 2018! It may sometimes feel like you're trying to do the impossible and cover every single base, but no one actually expects that of you. Make a solid and earnest effort in this area and you shouldn't struggle to see results fast.
7. There's a lot of statistics and measuring involved in this process. Wouldn't it be more effective to work on future campaigns than to worry about what happened during the last one?
On the contrary - analysis and reflection like this is the only way you can improve your skills as a marketer over time. No matter what your current skill level is right now, it could be higher. By understanding what went wrong the last time, you can correct your shortcomings and make your next campaign even more well-rounded and impressive.
8. I'm more comfortable with content creation/technical frameworks/data analysis than I am with the rest of standard email marketing practices. Can I just focus on my strengths and still do well?
Unfortunately, no - at least not unless you have a few colleagues on hand to pick up the slack for you. Email marketing is a multi-pronged process and no specific part of it is any more important than the rest. If you neglect any of them, you'll be operating at a distinct disadvantage.
Even if you're operating on a solo basis, there is still something you can do to get these tasks done without having to give them too much of your personal attention. Even then, though, you should make sure you have a firm grasp of all the different domains that go into this kind of marketing.
9. How can I make things easier on myself?
We get it - there are a lot of email marketing rules, and following all of them is a tall order. The more you market, the more you'll internalize these things and the closer they'll get to being second nature. However, it's one thing to remember to do something, but quite another to fit it into an already busy schedule.
You'll have an easier time adhering to the rules with the help of marketing automation to create personalized workflows and email quality verification to maximize deliverability. By taking time-consuming tasks off your plate, these marketing aids will let you do your job more effectively and make it more realistic to stick to the rules with only a small core team.
10. What about Chatbots and Artificial Intelligence? Will rules change to this new reality?
Of course they do! Email marketing has changed drastically in just the past few years, and there is every indication that that transformation will continue to take place in the future. This is especially true because of how intimately connected this discipline is to ever-changing technology. For instance, many experts believe that chatbots and artificial intelligence started to play a big role in email marketing. You can bet there will be new rules established for those things too. It's all just a matter of time.
Learning From The Past To Look Ahead
While the standard email marketing rules are extremely important, they are not gospel. You should know them, but also understand the logic behind them and feel confident adapting them to suit your own needs. Use them as a map to help you forge your own email marketing path while still benefiting from the knowledge of those who came before.
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