Your Email Subscribers Are People, Too

Your Email Subscribers Are People, Too

By Trisha Coffman |
Feb, 26 2020

Whenever I start working with a new client who needs help with their email strategy, we almost always have to start with a vocabulary reset. Turns out the way people talk about email says a great deal about how they send email to their customers—and how well their emails perform. 

If a client is thinking about email in archaic terms or considers email as merely a platform for selling, then it’s likely they’re not seeing the maximum benefits from this critical marketing and customer relationship channel. 

To get the most from email—higher open and click-through rates, fewer unsubscribes, more conversions, etc.—requires a very strategic shift in the way you talk about and use email. 


Email is not: 

A blast. A broadcast. About you, your business or your product.

Email should be:

Data driven. Personalized. About the subscriber (a.k.a. your customer). 


If you’ve been using email as one tactic in your toolkit, but you don’t have a real strategy behind it, here are three important steps you can take that will drive engagement and conversions (i.e., revenue) in an upward direction. 

#1: Get to know your subscribers as individuals.  

Yes, knowing your customer is very much Business 101, and yet, it’s a rule that’s largely ignored when it comes to email, particularly among small businesses who often just need to get an email out the door. The person in charge of marketing (who often wears multiple hats) sends an “email blast” or “broadcast,” meaning every single subscriber gets the exact same email and message. 

The trouble with that? Every single one of your subscribers is different: In addition to being different demographically, they have different motivations, different product interests, different paths to purchase, different buying patterns and timelines, and on and on. 

How can you possibly know what all of those are? It starts with ejecting another word from your email lexicon: the email “list.” Thinking in terms of an email “list”, or a growing collection of email addresses that live in rows inside your email service provider (ESP),  is damaging your email performance. 

Your email list is made up of individual, highly dimensional people who live in physical places. They are not their email address. Their email address is just how you reach them. 

To understand your subscribers in that way, you need to organize and analyze your subscriber data. Fifty-three percent of companies say that data makes them more customer-centric, and data-driven marketing has resulted in an increase in engagement for 75 percent of companies. And, no, you don’t need to hire a data analyst or data science expert for this part (although, when you get to a certain point in your business, having a data wrangler on hand can give you a real marketing advantage). 

Start by consolidating your data in a single place, everything from data the customer provided to you directly (such as via a form or even in an email inquiry) to the behavioral data available (things like page visits, opens, clicks and purchases). Maybe it’s a spreadsheet. Maybe it’s a CRM or other cloud-based tool. The point is that your data is centralized and actionable. 

From here, start looking for patterns, differences, and commonalities. Who are your most engaged subscribers or frequent buyers? Do they have anything in common? Do you have high openers who never actually purchase? Organizing and analyzing your data can be a time-intensive process, but it’s worth the investment. Ultimately you’ll want to get this data flowing into your ESP, where it can inform and be used in your campaigns.

Don’t have much robust data? That’s ok. Start with what you know, build a foundation, and keep building. 

#2: Let your subscribers know you know them.

In other words, start developing email content around the data you’ve collected and analyzed. In the digital marketing world, we call this segmentation. At its most basic, segmentation refers to lumping customers into groups (or target audiences) based on data. For example, you could segment and create content for audiences based on gender, location, or last product purchased. Or simply segment based on past purchasers and those who are in your list, but have never actually purchased. 

Personalization is another way to let subscribers know you know who they are and what services or products they have purchased from you. Many ESPs have functionalities that allow you to “merge” customer data into your email content. One routine use case is adding first name in a campaign or subject line. Despite the prevalence of this tactic, it almost always bumps up engagement. One study found that personalized subject lines are 26 percent more likely to be opened. 

Of course, there are two important caveats that come with using customer data to personalize email: 

First, the data you’re using to segment or to personalize an email must be true. The moment it becomes untrue is the moment you create a disconnect with that customer. Always keep your data current.

Second, make sure the personalization makes sense and that every component serves the greater purpose or strategy. If you stick a first name in the subject line, for instance, but the actual content in the email doesn’t resonate with that particular customer, that can create a negative experience with your brand.  

#3: Use email to respond to actions your subscribers take.

I’m talking about marketing automation, which sounds complex and expensive, and it can be. But in my experience, you can start small and see big rewards in terms of email engagement. What’s more, email technology and tools keep improving and are becoming more widely available at a cost that can fit just about any budget, making the case for ROI that much stronger. 

The most exciting thing about marketing automation is that, once you have the data in place, it delivers emails to subscribers when they take a specific action on your site, such as filling out a form, or reaching a certain milestone that you define. It effectively works to create a conversation with your subscribers, as you “listen” to what they’re doing on your site, and then keep the flow of ever-more relevant information going to their inbox. 

Two automated emails I always recommend my clients start with are the welcome email (which is sent to a new subscriber) and the cart abandonment email (which is triggered if a customer puts something in their cart, but doesn’t purchase). 

Savvy subscribers have come to expect and even anticipate these kinds of interactions with businesses, so not having them in place can be a huge miss. Welcome emails, for instance, have been shown to generate 320 percent more revenue than other promotional emails, in part because you’re commanding a subscriber’s attention right when they’re most attentive—immediately after they’ve signed up. 

Ready to get more strategic?

It’s as easy as eliminating the phrases “email blast” and “email broadcast” from your vocabulary, and starting to think about messages that will be relevant to the individuals in your list. It’s ok to start small. Just start, develop proof that these concepts can work for your business, and grow as you go.

Need help with your email marketing? Let’s chat about strategies that we could put to work for you.

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