In the Bible chapter Proverbs, we are told the wise learn from the mistakes of others. Using this method, I must be a fantastic teacher.

Mistakes are powerful lesson builders. Nowhere is this more evident than when you: measure everything; are in the “marketing for return-on-investment” business; and have two teenage children in your household. Was I ever that sulky? Anyway ...

Email marketing inherently brings mistakes. That’s because it’s free and everyone who can push the “send” button can use it. Usually, the more difficult or costly the media price, the greater the research and testing.

Yet, the wise have certainly learned from the mistake of testing multiple email methods to maximize results. The barrage of pointless emails, lengthy unfathomable benefits or worse — the spamming of America — has caused readership to plummet.


Maximize ROI

Follow these methods to maximize your return on this powerful marketing tool. And before you think I made these up, these are based on a four-year study from Marketing Sherpa, the online marketing heavy-hitter think tank.

  1. The from line. Do you send emails with your company name in the from field, thinking, “Hey, they know me and my company, so this is a good, trustable source”? Wrong. One of the primary strengths of email is being personal, so making the from box appear personal is the exact same advice behind “blind” or “shielded” direct mail envelopes. Personal emails get read first; many company ones are trashed instantly. Get in that first group.
  2. Remain consistently known. Often, a company will send an email from the salesperson, then from the CSR, then from accounting, then back to the tech to confirm an appointment. Bad idea. Finally, the branders win one, but we knew this one anyway. It is better to have either a consistent spokesperson communicating by name or the email should come from customer service or something creative such as TheDreamTeam.

    Now, for one, the silly branders have lost, which makes me somewhat giddy …
  3. Watch the subject line branding attempts. Have you been told by the “experts” that putting your company name in the subject line is a good branding idea? Wrong. Findings from the research team proved, “This single mistake sends response rates tumbling.” So, quit slamming them with your company name if you want your emails to be read.

    Now, another shot in the branding vs. direct response marketers mini-war.
  4. Subject lines rule open rates. This is huge. Consider that your subject line is the headline for the email. If you’re sending salesy stuff — such as “Check this out” or “We have some great deals” — then consider yourself deleted. Fact: The highest paid group in marketing is direct response copywriters. Within that are the elite headline writers whose fees can be in the thousands per hour. Yes, per hour. Their trade has ballooned by writing emails that get opened, which means subject lines.

    I save the emails I get with the best subject lines and have for years, having amassed more than 2,000, but have just under 200 that work.

    To create the best subject lines, use curiosity, unfinished sentences, entertain-ment, intrigue, question, controversy. These consistently out-pull the corporate ego schlock everyone else is sending.
  5. Subject line brevity. I got a subject line this week that said “Come by our booth to see the new <name of insipid product>.” Really UnSmart. Due to the various pane previewers out there, most can’t even see more than about 30 characters. Keep subject lines under 40 characters.
  6. Formatting nightmares.We all get emails in two basic forms: HTML (with graphics and formatting) and plain text (plain and legible). But which is better? Finally, an answer. Send in HTML but with very plain graphics. Why? Testing proved that high graphics — though nice to see — slowed emails, reduced opens and appeared as blank spaces more often.
  7. Common link mistakes.Lazy marketers, or unaware contractors, often send links more than one line long, causing it to slip to the next line, rendering it unopenable, except by cutting and pasting. Response killer. Avoid link-wrapping and long tracking links. Better yet, name your links alluringly for more clicks.
  8. Readership list death. Many business owners believed the words “cheap” or “free” meant “smart” in their corporate communications. So, many swapped out product announcements, home show appearances and newsletters from hard mail or traditional paid media to email. The study showed two things happened, both bad.

First, email is to be short or linked to a longer subject, as we do in our Sales & Marketing Insider ezine. When the email was long, it was summarily discarded.

Second, since email is known to be cheap and fast, customers saw company information delivered this way as cheap, thus deletable. How warm do you feel when you get an ebirthday card vs. a mailed one? Just checking.

Research proves that mailed vs. emailed newsletters get higher open rates, better branding, better imaging and — most importantly — higher response rates. The study showed that postal mail got between four- and 22-times more response from the same company, for the same product, to the same list. Pretty good test.

Hudson, Ink recommends sending short, content-rich emails to your broad free list, linking them to a longer article or product info within that email. Then supplement your email communication to your paid list (customers) with real mail (such as a customer retention newsletter or direct mail piece). This way, you’re communicating both ways to the higher-value list members.

The takeaway here is to not forgo offline marketing unless you want to reduce your image and response. We have seen response rates actually increase over the past two years with traditional “snail” mail. These are the same results found in the now-famous Wall Street Journal article on direct mail vs. email response, proving the exact same point.

So, if you’re going to use email — and you should — use it well.

So there you have it. I hope this article is the most profitable thing you read today. Keep this article; send it to a friend. You just saw how to make all the emails you send get opened more, read more and pull better.