Out With the Old, In With the New – The Evolution of Email Best Practices

Posted by Alexandra Braunstein on

As Heidi Klum says on the popular TV show, Project Runway, “with fashion, one day you’re in, and the next day you’re out.” Although fashion and email don’t really have too much in common, they do share this. Email marketing, which has been around now for a couple of decades, is constantly evolving and best practices are always changing. One thing that remains the same, however, is that email is one of the most successful channels for ROI. According to a recent survey conducted by Econsultancy.com, 73 percent of companies surveyed agree that “email offers ‘excellent’ to ‘good’ ROI” and “on average, organizations are spending 15 percent of their marketing budget, up from 13% in 2015.”

So as email continues to thrive as one of the strongest marketing channels, let’s take a look at some former best practices and how they’ve evolved over time:

Old Best Practice: Forward to a friend
New Best Practice: Social sharing

Including a mechanism to easily let a subscriber forward an email to a friend used to be fairly common and a function that was included in the platform for all email service providers. However, as time has passed, and forward to a friend metrics usually remained relatively low (mostly due to the fact that a subscriber would manually forward the message rather than using the actual forward to a friend process), this best practice is no longer valid. Instead, with the rise of social media, including share buttons in your emails alongside interesting content and promotions is a great way to allow your subscribers to share your message with others in their social networks. Also, always remember to promote your social network profiles in all your emails, whether highlighting this in the content itself or by placing these icons in the message header or footer.

Old Best Practice: Whitelisting instructions in the email header
New Best Practice: Whitelisting instructions during the acquisition stage

Whitelisting, or asking subscribers to add your email to their address book, is an effective way to ensure your message reaches the inbox and is still a best practice that’s highly recommended. However, the placement of this message has evolved. It used to be recommended to include a whitelisting prompt in the header of all messages so subscribers wouldn’t miss it. Over time though, we see that this is still an effective way to help your deliverability but not a step actually taken by many subscribers. We now recommend promoting whitelisting during the acquisition phase. After a new subscriber has successfully signed up for your email program, include a whitelisting prompt in your sign up confirmation message and also use the welcome message as an opportunity to remind them to add you to their address book for an improved email experience.

Old Best Practice: Preference centers
New Best Practice: Utilizing subscriber behavior

While we still recommended utilizing a preference center to collect subscriber preferences, such as frequency and content categories, you should also be using subscriber behavioral data to ensure your emails remain relevant and engaging. Using software and tools that easily allows you to track and incorporate this type of data into your messages, such as email behavior, browse behavior, and past purchase data will take your emails to the next level, giving your subscribers an even more personalized and individualized experience. Also, basing content on things like location and current events is another great way to ensure emails remain relevant and timely for your audience.

Old Best Practice: One creative for the entire audience
New Best Practice: Dynamic content

As we begin to incorporate even more subscriber data into our emails, as highlighted in the best practice above, we move away from a one size fits all creative, to instead use creative with dynamic content. Dynamic content refers to specific areas within the email creative that change based on the interests or behaviors of each specific subscriber. This is the most effective and timely way to easily personalize messages, without requiring you to create multiple different versions of an email. Instead, assign designated spots within the message to include dynamic content, populating products, images, or content that is most relevant for each individual subscriber.

Ensuring that your own email program is implementing these current best practices will not only help ensure your brand remains relevant for your subscribers but also help you stay ahead of the competition. So as we near the end of 2016, be sure to incorporate these strategies into your 2017 email program planning.

 


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About Alexandra Braunstein

Alexandra has been helping world class brands grow and optimize their email marketing strategies and initiatives for over a decade. As an Email Strategist for Return Path, Alexandra uses her passion for analytical and creative thinking to help marketers refine their email programs, resulting in more emails getting delivered to the inbox, improved subscriber engagement, and increased ROI.

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