Five top tips for effective email marketing

With 107 trillion emails sent worldwide last year, the fight to stand out and grab attention gets harder and harder. Added to this moves by some ISPs to penalise senders who have lower engagement metrics with their subscribers has added more woe to the story.

So what actions can marketers take to make emails more engaging and relevant? This article looks at the ISP changes (particularly Graymail) and five best practices to enhance the performance of email campaigns – customer centricity, content, timing/frequency, subject lines and engagement scoring.

What is Graymail?
Following the trends started by other ISPs, including Google’s ‘Priority Inbox’, Graymail was publicly announced by Hotmail in October 2011 as a way of enabling end users to prioritise the emails they see in their inboxes. In Hotmail’s terms, Graymail is a phrase used to categorise emails based on user engagement: legitimate emails that people have subscribed to, but may no longer have an interest in.

Microsoft’s SmartScreen technology forms the backbone of this. It has the ability to label emails according to content – newsletters, social updates, groups – and categorise them accordingly.  This in turn brings more ‘relevant’ emails to the top of the inbox ensuring that the content users see is something they engage with regularly. To tackle Graymail, Hotmail has introduced five new tools including ‘schedule clean up’ that allows users to decide how long they want emails to remain in their inboxes before they get deleted. Graymail ensures that end users have access to a more relevant and topical inbox; so how can marketers ensure that their emails form part of that inbox?

What does Graymail mean for your email marketing campaigns?
The implications of Graymail may pose a challenge to marketers, but in reality it’s a positive opportunity to refresh the approach of your email marketing techniques without changing the tried and tested methods of good marketing. Marketers need to take this opportunity to re-evaluate the content and relevance of their emails, making them more specific to their customers and avoiding the spam folder. We’ve worked with our counterparts at Experian CheetahMail to develop these key tips to refresh your email marketing campaigns:

  1. Treat inboxes as individuals, not machines…
    Successful email marketing campaigns are the ones that address customers as individuals; so make sure you look at your customer preferences, and fine tune your emails accordingly. To encourage continued engagement, recipients need to be treated in a personal manner and not just as a member of a mailing list. If a customer has recently purchased a television from your site they are unlikely to open emails about future TV deals, but are more likely to open related offers to blu-ray players; sound systems or cable packages, for example.
    Making sure your emails are personalised to the recipient will help ensure continued engagement with your campaigns. Emails that don’t address individual needs are likely to remain unopened and become susceptible to Graymail’s filtering.
  2. Ensure content is sticky
    Sticky content within a marketing campaign can help ensure continued engagement with your target customers. Not only does the email need to contain information that is relevant or tailored to the interest of the customer, it needs to provide an incentive for the customer to continue to revisit the site and open future emails.
    Look at how you can extend your email campaigns beyond the inbox and open up a continued dialogue with your target audience.  Without sticky content, you run the risk of the customer losing interest and ignoring your emails in future, which could eventually lead to your emails hitting the spam folder.
  3. Test different frequencies and timings
    Frequency plays a key role in successful engagement with your emails. If a brand is sending a large volume of emails on a very frequent basis, there is the likelihood that a number of these emails will remain unread. New inbox functions introduced as part of Graymail can also mean that multiple emails are filtered from the inbox.  Don’t overfill your customer’s inbox and address the frequency of your email – you will have more success sending one interesting, relevant email a week rather than bombarding customers with multiple emails about the same topic. The time that an email reaches a customer’s inbox is also important. Marketers should test different deployment times to optimise the results of their campaigns.
  4. Test and refine subject lines based on insight
    A subject line provides the recipient with a taste of what the email holds so it needs to be punchy, engaging and relevant. Careful analysis of your selected keywords, based on both seasonal and individual data, can be the crucial factor between a click-through and an action that will potentially spur future delivery to the spam folder. Marketing departments need to ensure they have access to such levels of analysis from their previous campaigns and implement the learnings from this.

Use engagement scores in your targeting mix
Use your email event level data to create a history of behaviours at an individual email address level. Create engagement segments that reflect the nature of your business based on factors such as time since last click and time since last open. This will help you to identify how engaged customers are with your emails – and your brand.

So if you are considering reducing the frequency of your emails, target this reduction at those who rarely open them and direct efforts at reactivation for those who have not opened for over say, three months. As you track trends, look out for those showing signs of disengaging and initiate specific messages to try and pull them back before you lose them By thoroughly planning email campaigns, based on data insights as well as creative content, and implementing these best practices you will be better positioned to maintain the effectiveness of your email programmes and ensure greater success.


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