It certainly wasn’t the year of major innovation but marketers seem to have their hands full enough with justifying social media – they want some security and consistency and that is what email marketing provides.

Here are some nuggets from 2009:

Recipient Control and Targeting

As more and more of us are sending more and more emails, people are getting more and more emails.  At the same time social media has taught us that our recipients’ attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.

So whilst competition for the inbox is increasing our recipients are spending less time deciding whether or not to open our email or if they want them at all!


Amazon appears to be the exception for me, they send a lot of emails, at Christmas I was getting one or two a day. I’m always interested ‘just in case’ but I’m not always in the market. I do want a lot less emails from them, but it is not obvious how to control that, so do I opt-out of all or just put up with it? As it is Amazon, I put up with it, because when I am in the market, the special offers are useful. I have a tidy little filter which puts them in a folder and I check the subject line and read the occasional email.

Very few of us are able to consistently hammer people and not lose subscribers, so the rules for us are different:

1.    We want as many emails to be opened as possible each time; we don’t want to be de-prioritised.
2.    We need to give our recipients more control over what they get from us and how often.
3.    To implement this we need to categorise our campaigns, so if people are not interested in some things we send, they don’t have to opt-out from all emails.
4.    We want to give people options, we can do this by implementing a Preference Centre.

Preference Centres – Give them a choice

The main generic categories of email marketing campaigns are:

  • Newsletters – Regular newsletters with updates covering most things that people will want to hear about if they filled out a sign-up form. Monthly is the most popular, but if you don’t have enough to say each month bi-monthly is also a good idea. Weekly or bi-weekly has had mixed reviews and if you have that much to say, it’s often a good idea to break this up to two sub-categories based on frequency, so people who don’t want a weekly email can get a monthly one without missing out.
  • Special Offers – This category does not always fit everyone’s business model, because this normally means that there is a set-price for everything and at one point it might be cheaper.
  • Events – Again not for everyone, but normally if you can’t do special offers you do events, like trade shows or charity events etc.
  • Updates and Alerts – This is like the wild card and you reserve this email for the occasion when you have something extremely exciting and important to say. This might fall in two of the other categories, but is so special that people who might not want to hear about them all the time, would want to hear about this one.  For example Product updates – when we release new features on our software or we win an award. It will not be every month or even every other month but these are big things that people might want to hear about even if they don’t want consistent contact.

N.B. If someone is opted into any of the other categories they could be on this too. On the occasion when an alert might not be obviously linked to that person’s preference, it is important that they can find out why they got this email.

Of course, every company is different and your email marketing distribution will be different depending on what you do, what you offer and what your recipients want.

Normally your regular product offerings count as a newsletter. So every month or so you will have an email to send out regarding all of your products. You might have so many products or such different products you cannot get them all into one email, your recipients will only want to hear about one or some and putting them all together would not do each product justice. From here you break it down again. You ask them which bit they want to hear about. If you have a web shop your products will already have categories, if you provide services these might be categorised.

Offering multiple opt-ins

Around now you are probably thinking “But how do I get to know all of this, surely if I ask too much I won’t get the sign-up?” and that is a fair point!

They key is to identify the source of the sign-up. If you have clearly categorised pages or sites, that is easy, wherever they sign-up from is the category they subscribe to and in the welcome message you can then offer them more. If it is all one site you can dumb it down to the top level categories, maybe three or four check boxes and offer them more control from the welcome message or if you only have a couple, opt them into everything and again offer them more in the welcome message or link to it in future emails. Remember the key is to give your recipients the control and earn their trust for the privilege to stay in contact, as soon as you get that wrong, you’ll lose people, so if opt them into everything, you could  hammered them in their first week – that is not a good idea.

Get a clear strategy

Implementing any of this in reality needs a clear strategy before you start moving and offering your recipients control. If you don’t know what you’d like to email about, your recipients won’t know what to say yes or no to.

This level of consultancy is something that your ESP should offer out of the box.