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Are You an Email Marketing Rebel?

It turns out the old rules about promotional email no longer apply.

What with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and all the rest, the idea of using email to market to your customers seems so old school it’s pre-school. Or is it? As the authors of the just-published book The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win point out, email is far from dead as a marketing tool. Not with 94 percent of those online using email regularly.

It turns out that passionate social networkers use email more, not less. As you might imagine, mobile email is big and getting bigger every day. So email affords marketers more opportunities than ever—opportunities to guide customers from consideration and trial to repeat purchase, loyalty, even advocacy.

Our interview with authors DJ Waldow and Jason Falls follows.

Schepp: Why did you decide to write this book, and what makes it a “rebel’s” guide?

Waldow and Falls: Simple. We kept hearing and reading a lot of email marketing advice—online and face to face—that was outdated and, frankly, just outright wrong. If you Google “words to avoid in a subject line,” you’ll see what we mean. It used to be the case that using the word “free” or having all caps in the subject line was a no-no. That’s no longer true.
“There is no such thing as best practices. Instead, there are practices that are best for your audience”

Also, we’ve learned over the years that there is no such thing as best practices. Instead, there are practices that are best for your audience. Bottom line: Test. Test. Test. We wrote this book to show marketers examples of folks who were breaking the rules and still finding success.

Schepp: How would you define email marketing, and how is it best accomplished?

Waldow and Falls: Email marketing is an online mechanism for efficiently communicating with a group of individuals. It’s best accomplished when you have something of value to provide your audience. This value can be in the form or products or services or, sometimes, just killer content.

Schepp: You quote an industry expert who writes that “email is not dead, however, it is changing.” How is it changing, and what should small-business people do to take into account how it is changing when formulating marketing campaigns?

Waldow and Falls: Email marketing is becoming more social. It’s starting to find its way into other facets of our online lives. Take smartphones for example: No matter where you go, your email is only a click away. Smart email marketers have to account for that fact and adjust their strategy accordingly.

Schepp: You mention in your book that the secret to email marketing is list growth. Why is that, and what pointers can you offer e-merchants to help them grow their lists?

Waldow and Falls: If you don’t have a list of email addresses to send to, email marketing is pretty pointless. You can craft the best message—amazing subject line, compelling copy, great imagery, out of this world offer—but, if you don’t have a list of email addresses to send it to, it doesn’t really matter. As far as pointers, you’ll have to buy the book! We dedicate an entire section to email list growth.

Schepp: How do you craft an outstanding email?

Waldow and Falls: The million-dollar question, right? We wish we could tell you that there is a silver bullet, an “easy button,” if you will. Unfortunately, that’s not true. The straightforward answer is this: Send email marketing messages that cause someone to say, “Wow. That was unbelievable.” Create content that keeps them coming back. We give an example in the book of a company who sends an email out three times per day. One of its subscribers sets their alarm for 5:45 a.m. so they can read it immediately. Now that’s an outstanding email.

Schepp: What are some of the biggest mistakes marketers make when using email marketing, and what should they be doing instead? Can you cite examples of fantastic campaigns that readers may glean insights from?

“We’ve seen emails that were quite successful with a blank subject line. Many would call that a mistake. But what if it works?”

Waldow and Falls: When it comes to email marketing, there are not really many mistakes you can make. In fact, the book is all about breaking “the rules” of email marketing. It’s about pushing the boundaries—testing many of the things the email purists say you should never do. We’ve seen emails that have been quite successful with a blank subject line. Many would call that a mistake. But what if it works?

Schepp: So many e-merchants do everything themselves, from sourcing products to shipping orders. In a phrase, they’re busy. How can they streamline the process of email marketing?

Waldow and Falls: First and foremost, we’d recommend working with an email service provider (ESP). Most of them help with the infrastructure—the technical stuff—that helps give your emails a better chance of landing in the inbox. Additionally, many ESPs have client service managers who can assist with the entire email marketing process. Some of them even have mobile apps to send and check your email campaigns while on the go.

One of the major advantages of sending email marketing messages through an ESP is that they set up the infrastructure for you. This includes feedback loops, sending thresholds with the ISPs, and other “technical” aspects of your program. When it comes to choosing one, it really depends on your specific needs, budget and skill level.

There are several in the “entry level” category, such as MailChimp, AWeber and ConstantContact, which tend to be quite inexpensive and easy to use, but they lack some of the features of the mid- or high-level applications. If you are interested in more of a marketing automation platform, where email is part of it, Infusionsoft is a good choice. (Disclaimer: DJ and Jason both use Infusionsoft, and the company is a client of DJ’s). On the mid-level, services such as ExactTarget, Silverpop and Bronto are all good choices. Our recommendation is to set up some demos, and test drive a few to see what’s best for your needs.

Schepp: What else should The Online Seller’s readers know about creating email marketing campaigns that rock?

Waldow and Falls: Don’t be afraid to break the rules. Test what works best for your audience. Create emails that, when a subscriber opens them, totally knock their socks off. Be a rebel.

Some Surprising Facts About Email Marketing

  • Using all caps in the subject line actually does work in some cases.
  • Using the word “free” doesn’t necessarily trigger spam filters and make your email less likely to be delivered to the inbox.
  • For subject lines, short isn’t always good, and long isn’t always bad.
  • Using pop-ups and single opt-ins, and even sending email to addresses of people who haven’t yet opted into your list, aren’t always no-nos. In fact, they may be the absolute right things to do, depending on the situation.
  • The perfect email only happens when you’ve tested every aspect so you know what works for your audience.
Source: The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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