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October 1, 2014
Don't Forget the Tried and True
Email may feel passé, but guess what? It still works. And well.

Back-to-School displays have made way for Halloween, but retailers are already thinking about their Black Friday offerings. You can be sure of it. With that will come a barrage of emails in our inboxes. 

Email is a pivitol marketing vehicle for retailers both online and off, because nearly everyone online uses it. We each average about 416 commercial messages per month. Ninety-one percent of us check email at least once a day and 70% admit to always openings emails from their favorite companies. Seventy-four percent say it's their preferred channel for receiving commercial messages. Social media is fun, but email gets the job done.

Stats tell us that one in every three emails gets opened now, a significant improvement over past numbers. More than half now get opened on mobile devices, and nearly a third of those who open actually take action. Every dollar spent on email marketing typically yields a $44.25 return.

The big tactical decisions are about frequency or cadence and offers. Some form of free shipping and a minimum of a 10% discount are table stakes. And 3–4 times per week between November 15 and December 24 seem to be the norm.

These email marketing best practices will separate the sellers from the hopefuls:

Write Compelling Subject Lines. For a solid one-third of recipients, the subject line is the only criteria for opening. Put the offer and the CTA in the SUBJ line, but understand that less is better. Subject lines with fewer than 10 characters have a 58% open rate and better than a 2.5% CTR. Shorter is always better. If you can work in the customer's name and/or location, you can spike open rates. Everybody immediately responds to their own name.

KISS. Keep It Short and Simple. Focus on the offer. Don't dilute it with endless details. Think four paragraphs maximum. Limit the possible CTAs. Click rate degrades with the number of links, so focus your customers on seeing a single powerful offer and direct them to click on a big, colorful link or button or two. Avoid the urge to load up on logos and taglines. Present the product or service clearly. Find a stand-alone illustration or image to make your point and ask for the order. Adding a personal signature, evidence of human interaction, can increase opens by 5 times and clicks by 3.5 times.

Potent proven retail words like free, coupons, sale, today, news, and special resonate particularly well. But since everybody knows this, your offer has to pay it off in a differentiating and motivating way to deliver a decent click-through or click-to-open rate.

Timing is Everything. Most email is opened during business hours (10a–4p) and the majority of response happens in the first hour after delivery. More than half of mobile email is opened from 5p till 8a. Consider these cycles as you craft content and offers.

Open rates peak midweek, on Tuesdays and Wednesday, though the highest click-through rates are on Sunday. The most email is sent on Wednesday, so the burden to stand out midweek is greatest. Saturdays draw the lowest volume; maybe an opportunity to flank the competition.

There is a lot of click-through action early in the AM. That's why so many retailers transmit overnight to catch consumers when they check their email first thing in the morning. Open rates generally peak at 10am and then gently slope downward throughout the business day.

Be Yourself. Twenty-four percent of recipients only open email from names they recognize. Transparency works best. Use your brand name. The higher your brand awareness, the better your open rate.

Optimize for Mobile. Almost half of all email is opened on mobile devices. Too many render badly and drive customers away. Design for smartphones with clear calls-to-action and big buttons for fat fingers. Aim for more elegant rendering on tablets, but expect buying actions to take place from home in the evenings.

Don't Stop Now! Consumers want options and choices. They are not bothered by hundreds of emails in their inboxes because, for the most part, they've asked for them. The more email they get, the more control they have. High email volume will not annoy customers and prospects at this time of year.

Consumers won't open everything, but a good deal is hard to pass up. Savvy email readers are often lookng for offers and get a charge out of sorting, deleting, and, yes, clicking through and buying. Go ahead, make the sale!

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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