Six things to know about email marketing

On Monday this week, WonkComms aficionados gathered for our second Breakfast Club hosted by Soapbox. This time we focused on email marketing – what one attendee referred to as the ‘Trojan horse’ of digital communications. As our discussion highlighted, that’s because it’s often an overlooked part of the communications remit. And yet, it’s also one filled with minefields and complexities. Did someone say EU data protection laws?

Appropriately, as our main speaker Branislava Milosevic joined us from Chatham House, the session was under the Chatham House Rule. While we can’t say who said it, we still thought it important to share these top takeaways from the session.

1. It’s time to brush up on your data protection laws: Before it even comes to sending emails, it’s important to get your lists setup appropriately and in a way that complies with current data protection legislation. At the same time, you’re going to want to make sure that you have your eye on the horizon about upcoming changes in these laws. While none of the information in this blog should be construed as legal advice for your organisation, we did want to share a few resources.

In the UK, we are subject to the 1998 Data Protection Act, and are also (as of writing…) subject to new EU General Data Protection Regulation, which has a two-year implementation period. More information on these laws and general data protection principles can be found on the website of the UK regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Also mentioned was the expiry of the EU—US ‘safe harbor’ regulations, which allow for data on European citizens to be stored on US servers. The previous agreement was nixed by the European Court of Justice in October 2015; in February this year the EU and the US agreed to pursue new regulation under the name ‘EU-US Privacy Shield’. The details of this new agreement have not yet been worked out, so it’s worth keeping an eye on them.

2. Email marketing is not a one-person job: As one attendee reflected, ‘companies cannot rely on one junior member of staff to create e-marketing strategies that bring about culture change and deliver impact for the whole organisation. There needs to be investment in the right staff and infrastructure (including people for data cleaning and planning) to ensure e-marketing efforts are successful’.

3. Personalisation is key to successful emails: Many of our attendees were familiar with segmenting email lists and sending more targeted emails, but people hadn’t necessarily appreciated how far the technology had come when it comes to being able to tailor emails. As one attendee put it:

‘To me, personalisation meant sending people targeted content based on what interests they had ticked on our sign up form. But using past behaviour segmentation could allow us to make educated guesses about what content might interest our newsletter subscribers – for example,  targeting an event invitation to an event to people who had clicked on a similar item in a previous newsletter.’

4. Preference centres and ‘single supporter views’ are the way forward: The flip side of personalisation is allowing audiences to be able to have greater control over what emails they receive. People may still want to receive event invitations but not regular newsletters or other updates. This can have implications for how databases themselves are structured – whether as a single list or multiple lists. The key here is communication with the end users and making sure they know exactly what they are signing up for. Having preference centres where a user can see all the information held on them and allows them to tailor their subscriptions is becoming the gold standard. If your organisation is using Salesforce, one way to achieving this might be through Force Sites.

One big advantage to this is allowing your organisation to respond quickly to information requests as all information about someone is held in a central place. But moving to the single view can also allow for greater insights about users and facilitate the much-desired personalisation.

5. Don’t shy away from automatic workflows! One attendee suggested that using automated workflows saved her staff up to 66% of their time – an absolutely massive saving! We discussed two types of automation: within email databases, and connecting different services. When it came to the first type of automation, examples included setting up workflows following subscriptions to encourage people to complete profiles and directing them to key pieces of content from the organisation. They can also be used when cleaning or verifying data. For the second type, Zapier was mentioned as a tool to help connect and automate workflows across different services. For example, one organisation asks event attendees on Eventbrite whether they’d like to be subscribed to their weekly newsletter. If they answer yes, then they are automatically subscribed through a ‘zap’ to their email service.

6. Use buttons: When it comes to the content of an email itself, we had a short discussion on A/B testing – where small groups are sent emails with, for example, different subject lines to see which has a higher open rate before sending to the rest of the group. One attendee mentioned that they had done a test on whether to include ‘Read the report’ buttons after the description – it increased click through rates. Indeed, there was a lot of love for including buttons in emails. Buttons make calls to action clearer and more accessible, especially on smart phones.

And if that weren’t enough advice for a rainy morning, several people took away one last key message:

Jeff is the Digital Communication Manager for the Nuffield Trust, a think tank focusing on the UK health systems and Director of Quaternary Consulting. Previously he was Policy influence and Research Uptake Manager for the Future Health Systems research consortium based at the Institute of Development Studies in the UK.

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