E-mails – love them or loathe them, they are very effective for recruitment marketing, for reaching both clients and candidates.

What are the elements of a successful email marketing strategy? We spoke to Tamsin Fox-Davies, Senior Development Manager at Constant Contact and you could listen to the chat below:

Why is e-mail marketing still important?

I think of it as the powerhouse of your digital marketing. So, social media and different social media channels now get more buzz, but at the end of the day, people spend most time, most often, in their e-mail inbox. So, that’s where you can hit them. I have an exercise that I often do when I’m speaking to small business audiences, and I’ll ask people to put their hand up if they’ve used Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn that day. Somewhere between a third to two thirds of people might put their hand up. And I say, “Okay, right. Now put your hand up if you’ve used Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest for your business today.” And fewer people put their hand up. It depends on how tech-savvy the audience is. And then I say, “Okay, who has used e-mail for their business today?” And everybody puts their hand up unless they’re those obstinate people that will never put their hands up for anything. That’s really the easiest way to show the prevalence that e-mail still has in our business culture. It’s just the fact that you can actually get to people when you want to. There’s even some interesting statistics that show the extent to which people will go on to make a purchase from an organisation if they’ve received an e-mail from them, but they didn’t even open the e-mail. Just that fact of showing up consistently in front of people is a benefit in itself.

Are emails more trusted than social media?

I don’t know that it’s a case of more trusted, because we all get spam e-mails or things that we think might be spam and then we look at them suspiciously and delete them right away unless you are my mother who has ended up with some viruses at odd times, but now she knows to ask me, which is an improvement. I don’t think it’s a case of trust. I think it’s a case of what you expect that medium to do. So, for example, we are very pro opt-in e-mail. We absolutely do not believe in spam and in fact if you’ve bought a mailing list, you cannot use it with Constant Contact. So, what I think is a benefit of opted-in email communications is that people have actually put their hand up and said, “Yes, I do want to hear from this organisation on these subjects” because, you know, a proper e-mail opt-in tells you what you’re actually going to get. People then expect it and they accept it as well. If the expectation has been set appropriately and their expectation’s been met, they’re getting what they want out of it. I think with LinkedIn messages, it’s not the medium, but it’s the way people use them.

I find that a lot of the LinkedIn messages that I get are out-of-the-blue from people I’ve never heard of, I’m going to delete that unless it’s really funny, normally. And I’ve only had a couple of those ever, ones that have been really humorous and I’ve actually thought, “You know what, I’m going to look a little bit deeper into this.” But yeah, same with Twitter direct messages. I think it’s great now that you can actually – it’s made easier for you to DM people who aren’t necessarily following you because there is always that problem where you’d get someone saying DM me and you’d be like, “I can’t because you’re not following me.” But I can see people are already starting to abuse that which is out-of-the-blue sales messages. So, it’s not the medium, it’s how you use it.

How do you create a successful e-mail marketing strategy?

Tamsin: It’s actually very simple. There’s a process that I outline for people before and they go, “Oh! Great, it’s not that hard.” So first of all, you need to use a good e-mail service provider. Whether it’s Constant Contact or someone else, you use a proper service. You cannot do good e-mail marketing through your Outlook or your Gmail or your Hotmail or whatever. It’s just not as professional and you’re not going to be managing things like the unsubscribes and that kind of stuff properly. Good email marketing service providers have that covered for you. So, number one, sign up. If you use us, we actually give you a lot of free coaching and support as well as part of that.

The second thing that you need to do is you need to encourage people to actually join your mailing list. So you can do that in a couple of different ways. One is by actually telling people the value of it. So, when you have a – you know, you have those little sign-up boxes on people’s websites and it says, ‘Join my mailing list.” That is not an incentive. That is not interesting. Nobody wants to join your mailing list. However, if it says, “Get My Free Weekly Marketing Tips,” which is what I used to use on mine, people are like, “Okay! If I want weekly marketing tips and thank you they’re free, I’ll sign up for that.”

you will subscribe, you will

The other way is that you can sometimes give people what’s called an ethical bribe or a list building incentive or a lead generation magnet and actually put together one of those free guides or white papers or special reports. And that still works very well. But the key with that is that the more effective ones are becoming shorter. So, you want maybe a single page PDF that’s got some real top tips in it or a checklist or something like that. So, if you’re doing those things, you can actually start building your mailing list.

Then you want to look at putting together a regular e-mail newsletter. Because this is the other thing. I meet so many people and they will tell me, “Do you know what? I’ve been collecting e-mail addresses ethically for three years, and I have never mailed out to any of those people.” And you kind of go, “Okay, well there’s no point in you collecting those addresses, then.” So, you have to start sending. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Most people try and cram too much into their first e-mail newsletters. Keep it really simple. Just send one thing, whether it’s an offer, a tip, a great video that you found, a recommendation, a link to a blog post, etc. Just send one thing and just start to get that out there and get a good rhythm for it. So, if you want to send weekly, make sure it’s always on the same day every week.

If you want to send monthly, make sure it’s always the same day of the month. Every first Tuesday, for example. Just get that cadence in there. Then think about forward planning. So, one of the worst things to do is to sit down to write your e-mail newsletter because you have to send it out tomorrow and think, “I have nothing to write about.” So, it’s a really good idea to sit down and come up with a whole list of different topics that you could cover and maybe pull from one of those or maybe start in advance and say, “Okay, in January I’m going to cover this, and in February I’m going to cover that and in March I’m going to cover that.” Link each one to a call to action. So, there’s no point in sending something out that’s just information for information’s sake. Tell people what you want them to do with that, whether that’s giving you a call, passing it on, downloading an additional guide, whatever it is. And then really go back to building your e-mail list because this is the thing that I think most people don’t understand. If you’re going to get serious about e-mail marketing – and you should, because it’s showing to be the highest return on investment of any digital marketing medium.

There are some UK statistics that came out earlier this year that said it’s 38 pounds for every 1 pound you spend on e-mail marketing, which is pretty damn good. Yeah, it’s amazing. You want to actually be building your list everywhere that you go. So think about it. Every time that you come into contact with someone who is a potential customer, how are you going to get them to join your mailing list? Now, you need to do that without being creepy or weird. But think about – so, if somebody asks you a question, they send you an e-mail and ask you a question and you reply to it by e-mail, is there a link in your e-mail signature that actually says, “Get more information like this. Sign up for our newsletter.” You know, when people come onto your event page and they register for a ticket, have you got a tick-box on there that says, “Join my mailing list, find out about more events near you.” Think about every single interaction that you have with people, online or offline. And then work out how you can actually turn that into a list-building opportunity. Basically, rinse and repeat. See what works, do more of that. Drop the stuff that doesn’t work so well. And keep going.

Which type of content should you include in a newsletter?

There’s a rule of thumb: you either have to be very useful, very interesting or very entertaining. So, if you can fit one or more of those categories, then you’ve got good content. People always jump straight to thinking, “Oh, I need to send out an offer every time I send out a newsletter.” This is for service-based businesses and B2B based businesses as well as B2C. People just tend to gravitate towards thinking, “I need to do an offer.” I say, “Don’t!” That’s not necessarily what people want, unless your whole business model is, “We send you the latest offers.” So, think about what do your people want to know? What are their frequently asked questions? What are the things that you know would make their lives easier in terms of using your products or services if they were only aware of it? So, that is a useful thing.

it's a cat

You can also look at what’s happening in your industry that they should know about, but they’re not necessarily going to be aware of. That’s particularly good for people like financial advisers and lawyers and those kinds of people because there’s no way that I’m going to know, as one of their potential customers, that I’m going to know everything that’s happening in the financial world or in the legal world. Even if I was aware of it, it’s probably in language that is not going to be easy for me to digest. So, if they can translate that into something that’s really useful and that’s really engaging and that’s easy to access, then I’m going to lap that up because I need to know that stuff and they’re making it easy to understand. So, that’s one of the places I’d start. I think in terms of being entertaining, this one is kind of open to interpretation and I would tread very carefully. So, unless you’re quite confident in the fact that you can come over with something that’s entertaining, that’s not going to harm your brand in fact, going to enhance it, I would be very wary how you do that because not everybody has the same sense of humour.

I’ll tell you someone who does that really well. It’s a lady called Jo Tall. Her company is Off to See my Lawyer. She’s someone that I’ve been in contact with for quite a while, and I helped her set up her first newsletter. She has something in there that she calls her legal chuckle. So she will have a legal tip and she focuses on serving small home-based businesses. So, she’ll have like the legal tip, something that they need to know about, and then she puts it in her legal chuckle. That would be a story from the recent world of law that is quite amusing. There was one where there was a chap who had committed a murder in India. It doesn’t sound funny right now, it gets better. He committed a murder and they didn’t know whether it was him. It was actually the nephew of the victim. The way that they found out was because the victim’s parrot actually told them that he didn’t. I know! I know. Amazing. Things you wouldn’t think about. There you go. So, that’s something where you go, “Wow, that’s incredible.” That kind of information, those kinds of out-of-the-ordinary things that you wouldn’t necessarily find out if you’re not a specialist in the industry are really great.

The interesting angle is something that you can pull into both sides of that. What’s interesting is something that you need to actually work with your customers on. So, when you’re talking to a customer face to face, if they say to you, when you mention something, “Oh! That’s interesting!”, make a little note of it. Make a little note of what it was that you were talking about because that could be great content, not just for your e-mails, but for your blog as well and potentially for your social channels, too.

What should you not include in a newsletter?

There are a few things that I’d come across again and again with e-mail marketing that just drive me absolutely nuts.

I think the first no-no for e-mail marketing is not using permission only as a very basic starting point. I don’t want to be spammed by anyone. Even if we get someone who’s one of our customers who just decides to randomly add me to their mailing list, I will send them a little note saying, “You know, this isn’t a great idea.” Because nothing is going to annoy people more to start with. The second thing you don’t want to do is forget to include a call to action. As I mentioned earlier, what you should think about is where you’ve got your content topics, what your call to action could be? Your call to action should be something that is designed to move people closer to becoming your customer. It doesn’t have to make them buy now because not everyone has a “buy now” type of business. If you are an architect, people don’t press a big buy now button on your website and order a seven story office building. That’s not how it works. There’s a consultation process in there. They get know you. They’re get interested in your work.

So, your call to action could be, “Have a look at our latest designs” or “vote for us in this competition” or “hear from one of our happy customers.” There are all different things that you could have in there, but there should always be something that you’re trying to get them to do. And when you’re doing that, try to avoid passive language. This is something that is particularly a problem in the UK. So, if you’re saying – here’s an example, if you’re saying, “We would like to” or “Our aim is to”, it can come across as a bit wishy-washy. It is the right word. It doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’m not really bothered about what you’d like to do. I want to know what you’re going to achieve for your customers and therefore, what you’re going to achieve for me. So, try and use more active language. Not, “we would like to” but “we will” or “we are doing.” That makes it a whole lot stronger. I guess one of the other things as well is that you don’t want to over-rely on just talking about your products and services the whole time.

How do you create an e-mail subject line that gets people clicking?

What a lot of people don’t realise is that the only purpose of a subject line is to get your e-mail opened, right? So, think about that. It’s the only purpose. It’s not to necessarily provide education in itself. Its only job is to get that email opened. And most people don’t look at them in that way at all. Now, saying that, if I get an e-mail from you and it says, “Free Chocolate” in the subject line, there sure as hell better be some free chocolate in there or I’m coming for you, basically. So, you don’t want to be misleading about it. You want to make sure that it’s giving people a flavour of why they should actually open that newsletter and there’s a few key rules.

There’s something that we like to call the 2-2-2 principle which is that you’ve got two seconds to grab people’s attention. The first two words are the most important. And you have to get them to take action today. So, what that means is people’s attention spans are short. You’ve got two seconds to grab their attention. So, what you want to do is use relatively short words. You want to keep the whole thing pretty short as well, around five words is probably the maximum that you should have in an email newsletter subject line. It should be very clear- what you’re offering by people opening your e-mail. When we say the first two words are the most important, what we’ve found is that people will read the first two words of the subject line and then decide whether they’re even going to bother reading the rest of the subject line. Not open the email, but even the rest of the subject line. Yeah, I know, it’s crazy. And you have to give them some reason that’s compelling for them to open that e-mail now because what happens is, when people are sorting through their email inboxes and I do it and you do it and everybody else does it or we do it subconsciously, is that as you’re looking down your inbox, you’re kind of going through the Now, Later, or Never process. You want to be in the “Now” pile.

How can you combine e-mail marketing with social media?

There are a couple of different ways. I would say that the first thing that you want to think about is actually how you can use social media to build your list. In fact, let me just give a bit of context here. Social media tends to create different types of relationships than e-mail, at different rates. What you can do is you can use the power of both of those types of relationships to really help you. So, e-mail will create very relationships of building that feeling of trust and understanding very quickly because you’re constantly showing up in their inbox and they see you and they see your face. But your number of people you’re contacting tends to be smaller because they have to opt-in to you. If you’re doing things right, they have to opt-in to you, which is what I thoroughly recommend. However, on social media, you can much more quickly reach a larger number of people, but the relationships there tend to be a little bit more tenuous. I actually think of social media as more of a broadcast medium than e-mail, really. For example, I have some very close friends that I met through social channels, but we didn’t become friends and we didn’t take the relationship to a more personal level than just Twitter or Facebook until we actually moved away from those channels. So, it was when we decided to have a phone call or meet up for coffee or something like that.

let's connect socially

Here’s how you can use the benefit of both of those things because ideally what you want to do is to get everybody who is on our e-mail mailing list, connected with you on all dominant social channels. Also, get the majority of your social followers and fans onto your mailing list. You’re never going to get 100% of that. The numbers will skew more towards one side than the other, but that’s what you should aim for. So, there are a number of good things that you can do. First of all, actually linking back to your website from your social profiles and your newsletter and have a landing page on your website that is designed to get them to find out more. I think the first time I saw someone do that really well was a friend of mine. He’s based in the west, Peter Shankman. He’s quite well known in PR circles. He had his Twitter bio linked to a page on his website that was titled “So you found me on Twitter.” He gave a bit more of a detailed bio, he explained what kind of stuff he posted. That’s a great place to also add in a sign-up link for your mailing list because if I’ve gone through the bother of actually clicking on your link in your bio, I probably want to know more. So, that’s one great way.

Then you can also do things like posting on your social channels about your newsletters and email updates. A customer of ours, Karen Haller, is really great at that. She sends out a monthly newsletter which is about colour design. She’s an applied colour psychologist so she does a lot of work with colour branding. She will send out – I think the day before her newsletter goes out, she sends out a message on Twitter and LinkedIn that says, “My colour branding digest – or colour and design digest – is coming out tomorrow. Still time to sign up!” And then adds in a link. So, people are like, “Oh! Something’s coming out tomorrow!” If they’re interested, they’re going to click that link. And I think that’s really clever as well because that’s even before the newsletters come out, you’re able to actually get people onto that list.

If somebody sends me a newsletter – that has happened this morning. My colleague Minal sent me a newsletter that she’d received. I wanted to sign up for it, but there was no sign-up link and when I clicked on their call to action button, it didn’t take me anywhere that I could sign up. It was really annoying. Really annoying. So, there’s an organisation there that I’ve made two attempts to sign up with, but it won’t let me sign up with them. And I’m a good prospect. So, you want to think about all these little things. And it’s not just a case that e-mail feeds social or vice versa. I like to think of it like a cycle. So, yes, you should have links to your social profiles, even in your newsletter because then people can be encouraged to find you there. And yes, say on your Facebook page you want a nice sign up box that explains to people what they can get there. That might be one of those places that you want to use one of those incentives that we talked about earlier – a little app that does that which you can do with us. They’re really cool. It gives people a bit of something extra that they’re getting at. I could go on and on, there’s like a million different ways, but I realise it’s turning into more of a monologue.

Connect with Tamsin on Twitter @tamsinfd and check out the Constant Contact UK blog for more resources on email marketing.

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About Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter, CEO of Link Humans & host of the weekly Employer Branding Podcast.

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