Email is still the fastest and most direct way to deliver content to clients and prospects. Of all the channels available to marketers, email is the one channel your audience accesses regularly. Nevertheless, challenges remain and many firms’ email campaigns could use some new life.

Whether it’s low open rates, high unsubscribes, less than stellar clickthrough rates, poor deliverability, or campaign fatigue, common issues are persistent among B2B firms. The good news is, by making some tweaks and adapting your efforts to today’s email reader, many of the challenges can be overcome.

Here are 11 tips to breathe some new life into your B2B firm’s email marketing campaigns.

1. Stop spamming

Before you think that your firm couldn’t possibly be guilty of sending spam, remember that spam is defined by the receiver, not the sender. Your email campaigns might be perfectly in compliance with the US CAN-SPAM Act (or possibly not, but that’s another issue), but it can still come across to your contacts as glorified junk mail. Spam to a contact is often anything in their mailbox they didn’t expect to receive or don’t want to receive—even if they know the sender and/or opted in to the mailing list.

To avoid your emails being perceived as spam, be sure to send emails that are relevant to your audience, focusing on their needs and interests, not your firm’s. It’s best to view your email marketing as a tool for relationship building, not for advertising or even public relations. Ask yourself what type of content would your contacts appreciate and find value in.

2. Put a plan in place

For email marketing to be effective, it needs to be done strategically and intentionally. First off, it’s important to remember that email is just one of many marketing touch points, so it shouldn’t operate in a vacuum. Don’t just shoot out emails on a whim; instead, align with your firm’s marketing and communications plan and overall content strategy. You’ll want to determine what role email will play in your overall marketing plan and how it will contribute to other marketing activities and initiatives. Then, it’s important to set goals, assign metrics to those goals and monitor your success along the way (see #11).

3. Grow and manage your lists the right way

With lists, quality is always preferred over quantity. So while it may be tempting, you should avoid buying or renting lists, and instead build permission-based, organic lists. There are a number of ways to grow your lists organically. These include placing email subscription forms on your website and blog, gating premium content and collecting contacts at events.

Once you’ve created a list of quality contacts, you’ll want to manage the lists to ensure the integrity of the lists moving forward. Statistics show that up to 25% of your email list will drop off each year. So you’ll want to regularly perform list hygiene to clean out invalid emails, unsubscribes and unengaged subscribers. Sending to invalid and unengaged emails repeatedly will negatively affect your sender reputation, which will impact your ability to reach your contacts’ inbox.

4. Send something your audience actually wants to read

The definition of a relevant email is an email that has something to say that the receiver wants to read! This can rarely be accomplished by the “blast” approach of sending the same email to your entire list of contacts, often in the form of an e-newsletter. Instead, leverage list segmentation and send much more targeted and relevant emails to smaller batches of contacts. Remember that read-worthy content is content that has enough value that a contact is willing to stop in the middle of their busy day and read, or at least not delete it, and come back and read it at a later time.

5. Follow best practices for email design and deployment

While content is absolutely paramount, the anatomy of the email itself is equally important. There are certain best practices for design and deployment that are often overlooked or ignored. More than half of all email opens now take place on a mobile device, so it’s important to design your emails with mobile in mind. Along those lines, it’s important for your emails to stand out in a crowded inbox, so everything from subject line, to use of images, layout and length of copy should be important considerations. Less is always more with email, so be sure to make a quick and immediate impact and use a compelling call-to-action.

6. Test, Test, Test then A/B test

Proofreading and testing plays a critical role in ensuring that your email marketing campaigns are as good as they can be. Some best practices and recommendations for testing include:

  • Send at least 3 test emails to at least 3 additional people
  • Review the subject line
  • Proof for typos, punctuation errors and incorrect dates/times
  • Test all links and buttons
  • Check personalization tokens
  • Ensure ALT tags are in place
  • Check accuracy of text version
  • Test for design consistency across various devices and email clients
  • Use A/B testing to optimize subject line, call-to-action, etc.

7. Get timing and cadence right

Timing and cadence are also critical considerations for an email marketing program. Timing being the days and times you send out email and cadence being the pattern of how you send out emails. When it comes to timing, there are a lot of misconceptions about when you should send emails out. The truth is, every firm is different, so there’s no magic formula for timing despite what you might have heard. That’s where testing different times and days will help you identify what works best for your firm and your contacts.

Along similar lines, determining the sending cadence of your email marketing efforts is also important. Cadence includes the number of emails you send out, the spacing between emails and the kind of emails you send out regularly. This is where having a gameplay and a schedule is critical. It needs to be strategic, especially if you send out more than just a quarterly enewsletter. Consistency is important, so you want your subscribers to become accustomed to your sending pattern.

8. Use subscription management

Recent research by Merkle found that 66% of email users list frequency of emails as a reason to unsubscribe. So don’t lose a contact permanently simply because they are getting tired of receiving a certain type of email or too many emails. Subscription management allows contacts to customize the content they receive from you. It also allows you to stay compliant with CAN-SPAM but potentially avoid losing a contact altogether. Allow your contacts to control whether they opt out of certain types of email, or opting out altogether.

9. Focus on deliverability

Without giving proper attention to deliverability, sometimes even relevant, permission-based emails won’t make it to your subscribers’ inboxes. Deliverability is the term used to classify the percentage of emails that actually make it into the intended recipients’ inboxes. Deliverability is a complex issue and it can be a result of many different factors—some which are beyond your control (e.g. your ESP’s business policies, contacts’ quarantine settings etc.). However, there are some practical steps that marketers can take to improve their deliverability rate. These include:

  • Send to known contacts
  • Make it easy to unsubscribe
  • Play by CAN-SPAM rules
  • Perform proper list hygiene
  • Monitor response rates
  • Remove unengaged subscribers
  • Create an SPF Record
  • Set up DKIM authentication
  • Consider a dedicated IP address

10. Utilize marketing automation

Marketing automation software takes email marketing to a whole new level, providing a more robust feature set for email marketing, in addition to a host of other digital marketing tools. It allows you to leverage prospect intelligence in order to create automated email marketing programs that send ongoing, context-driven emails and speak directly to the needs and interests of your prospects and clients.

Triggered emails are one type of automated email program you can implement with marketing automation. You can set up targeted emails that get automatically sent out based on event triggers, behavioral triggers or time-based triggers. Drip campaigns are similar to triggered emails, however instead of being a single email, they are a series of targeted, automated emails sent to contacts at scheduled intervals. They are beneficial for lead nurturing campaigns, on-boarding for new clients and a host of other possibilities. The point is, marketing automation allows marketers to go far beyond the “batch and blast” approaches of the past.

11. Turn insights into action

Keeping a close eye on the results of your email marketing campaigns is critical to the success of your ongoing efforts. Some of these metrics include:

  • Delivery/Bounce Rate
  • Open Rate
  • Unsubscribes
  • Click-through Rate
  • Social Shares/Forwards
  • Best Day(s)/Time(s)
  • Number of Visits
  • Pages Visited
  • A/B Test Results

But it goes beyond simply measuring KPIs, you should also be looking for specific insights into what contributed to the success (or failure) of each email. Based on those insights, your approach should be optimized and tweaked to improve future performance. Learn from the past, improve for the future and always keep improving.

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When properly planned and executed, email marketing remains a powerful and effective communications channel and one that many firms should depend on more. Email marketing success, however, is a moving target and your approach should always be in a mode of continuous improvement.