man on his cellphone reading email
PHOTO: Anete Lūsiņa

In 1978, a marketer at Digital Equipment Corp. sent a mass email to nearly 400 recipients on ARPANET, a precursor to the internet. The email promoted a new computer model, and like that, email marketing was born. But it was far from perfect: Complaints came in almost immediately and the marketer was reprimanded.

Email marketing has come a long way since then, as brands and marketers have outgrown those early generic mass-mailing campaigns. Marketers now recognize the importance of personalized and relevant messages — as a result, 61 percent of consumers say they prefer to be contacted by brands via email, according to the Adobe Consumer Email Survey Report 2017.

But while the days of blasting generic mass emails are over, conventional emails face increased competition for customers’ attention — not just from other emails, but also from other channels, like display, social and search. Therefore, it’s more important than ever for marketers to be laser-focused on creating email marketing campaigns that customers truly look forward to opening. Here are tips about how to do that, with examples of how some brands have had success with email.

1. Ensure the Maturity of Your Email Program

The key to running a successful email program is understanding the maturity of your current emails, which can be categorized into these three types:

  • Classic emails: These include batch and blast emails, welcome campaigns and personalized emails.
  • Dynamic emails: Efforts focused on abandoned cart campaigns, automated remarketing and cross-channel integration.
  • Contextual emails: Emails that centralize online and offline data to ensure that customers receive relevant content based on open time and context.

While each of these are rated with different levels of maturity, you need all three for a comprehensive program. Classic emails are foundational, whereas dynamic and contextual emails are effective for driving conversion and increasing revenue.

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2. Personalize Emails for Every Customer

Any marketer will tell you that personalization is a top priority, and with good reason: Customers who feel connected and valued are more engaged. They make quicker conversions and their sense of long-term loyalty increases — as does the amount of revenue they generate.

When it comes to email, personalization involves more than simply including the customer’s first name in the greeting. Marketers must include contextual information to make the message effective. Personalization like this should begin with the first interaction — a welcome email must feel welcoming.

Garmin, for example, has a welcome email for new subscribers that introduces them to what it means to be part of the email program. Garmin asks customers to provide information about their preferences, whether they’re interested in cars, sports, recreation, aviation or other areas. Customers are taken to Garmin’s landing page, where they can indicate their interests. Garmin can use that information later to target and segment, and in the process better meet the needs of its customers.

Related Article: How to Put the Trust Back Into Email Marketing

3. Engage Customers With Timely, Relevant Interactions

With the right customer data, real-time email delivers relevant experiences that engage customers with the right message at the right time.

Verizon provides a stellar example of just-in-time email: When people buy phones from Verizon, they immediately receive an activation email that provides information about the device and walks them through the process of setting it up. Those emails also tell the new customers about accessories they can buy, insurance options and contract information. This is all timely information that benefits people who have just purchased phones.

Another good example is Sephora. The retailer has identified the average purchase cycle for its beauty products and sends customers reminder emails when it’s time to replenish a previously purchased product. The email engages customers in another conversion by linking them to online shopping and providing directions to the closest Sephora location.

These examples are easy to replicate: Map out your customers’ journeys, and identify key moments in time that present you with opportunities to engage in relevant interactions with them.

Related Article: Personalized Marketing: Where We Are in 2018

4. Create a Connected Experience by Leveraging Other Channels

Customers need a seamless experience across every channel. By using marketing channels beyond email — direct mail, social media, websites, etc. — to effectively interact with customers, you can drive stronger engagement and conversion. Many brands are siloed within their organizations, meaning their marketing efforts aren’t always aligned. Being able to manage all channels in one place means marketers can create a seamless, multichannel journey.

Taylor Guitars is a great example of a brand that uses one channel to drive engagement on another channel. Featured artists sometimes play live gigs on Facebook Live. Using a cross-channel approach, Taylor Guitars sends email subscribers messages encouraging them to join Facebook Live and watch the show.

In another example, the Oregon Community Credit Union (OCCU) had a goal last year of getting 400 new customers when it launched a new program for pre-approved credit cards. OCCU created personalized emails containing information about credit card offers along with personalized URLs that migrated the information straight into personalized landing pages. On those pages, customers found credit limit and interest rate information predetermined from third-party credit rating agency data. The campaign also included a direct mail component. All of that personalization seems to have paid off: OCCU exceeded its goal for the campaign by 236 percent.

As these examples show, email marketing requires a good strategy and tools that drive context and personalization. An effective campaign will show customers you really care and yield more opens, clicks and conversions.