Newsletter Netiquette - Best Practice Email Targeting

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As a marketing man, I will always be in favour of the pull rather than push mechanic - doing clever, captivating subliminal campaigns which gently sway people into action, rather than forcefully cajoling people into action via an ongoing barrage of prompts and ’offers’. I’m not saying I’m entirely opposed to outbound marketing of the email sort, it’s just that you can so easily cross the line from an informative service into harassment.


Most companies, particularly new / young ones need to target prospective customers in a somewhat unsolicited fashion. The idea is that you do your research carefully, and then target only a very specific audience, for whom your product or service would be of some significant benefit. This morning I unsubscribed from two retailer mailing lists as I felt I was being spammed by them - getting a message every day - ’3 days left of sale’, ’2 days left of sale’, ’Only one day left of sale’, ’Sale extended ...!’.


What irks me most in those kinds of mailings is when content is not personalised; there are so many fashion retail sites I am signed up to that send me mostly previews of ladieswear - when I’m quite obviously subscribed as Mr, and have only ever purchased menswear from them. Worse than these though are emails which advertise something generic - without pictures or reference - or when the reference is wrong. I have lost count of the times I have clicked on an interesting picture in a Zalando mailer, only to find no evidence of said garment on the current site.


There are obviously lots of different types of mailing, but I like to break them down into 2 specific types - a news service, and a featured mailing. The former is when you sign up to in effect a news feed - such as I do for the Times, and The Media Briefing - these are daily mailings with the most recent news stories. A featured mailing is really a ’push’ mailing, where the sender is typically putting out an offer or specific call to action. With the latter, you need to be very careful of tone and content, and particularly frequency. We find that a monthly featured mailing is perfectly acceptable, in some cases a fortnightly or even weekly one could be suitable, whereas something every day of the week is harassment.


My favourite type of retail mailings are new products within my preferred categories - Juno - the vinyl retailer does this superbly, and I enjoy regular updates from End Clothing and Forbidden Planet which both do similar excellent latest products mailings.


In any kind of email campaign though, there are some key ground-rules, and some distinct best practice guidelines; here are my top 10:



Be Judicious


The best mailings are the ones which are best targeted and therefore the most relevant. Ensure that you are only targeting persons who might be genuinely interested in what you are offering, and to whom you can delivery some obvious benefit.





This means not just the salutation - ’Dear John’, but the content too, something several of our clients do brilliantly - using customer preference selections to filter relevant content. The more direct and relevant you can be to a recipient, the more receptive they are likely to be.



Keep it Minimal


Again this means two things - keep your newsletters short and to the point, and don’t overdo the frequency for featured mailings - once a week is the upper limit really.



Reference Everything


Include proper links of everything you cover in the email - so that the recipient can do their own due diligence on all your claims, and click directly through to all relevant contact points.



Be Truthful


There’s nothing wrong with a little exposition, but don’t over-hype it, and don’t twist the truth into something that is plainly fiction. When posting image references, make sure that what is featured is included in the offer / promotion.



Be Clear


This means keeping the text unambiguous as well as making contact points and ’Unsubscribe’ links very obvious. Many a time have I struggled to find the unsubscribe link on a newsletter - often hidden in amongst some general terms and conditions text.



Be Singular of Purpose


Don’t try to shoe-horn too much into a single message. It’s far stronger to have a uniform message which leads to one unassailably strong call-to-action.



Be Personable


Ideally the mailing should come from an individual - with that individual’s name and contact details highly visible at the end of the message. A personally identifiable message is far more appealing than a generic / general announcement.



Clean-up your lists regularly


Use bounce-handling, and regularly check on automated messages from recipients - email address no longer in use etc. However much automation you have, there is usually also a certain amount of manual effort required to successfully manage a mailing list



Get Permission


I am guilty of this on occasion - if you are using client brands to promote your product or service - make sure you check their references with them. Modern marketing is all about being swift and seizing the opportunity - but try to work this into your process, or you could end up damaging good will.


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