Email remains an effective marketing channel, but organizations must find ways to stand out from the crowd and offer relevant, personalized content if they want their campaigns to succeed.
At HubSpot's Inbound 2023 conference in Boston, speakers highlighted ways for marketers to improve their email marketing strategies. While email marketing can help organizations build brand awareness and customer connections, common challenges, like spam filters and a highly competitive landscape, can prevent emails from reaching target audiences.
Marketers should know common email marketing challenges and how to overcome them so they can increase open rates and engagement.
1. Avoiding spam filters
Email service providers use spam filters to protect users from unwanted outreach, which causes marketers' emails to often land in the junk folder. These filters use algorithms to analyze various factors, such as the sender's overall engagement rate, keywords in the subject line and the sender's IP address, to determine if the email will go to the recipient's inbox.
In a session called "Debate: Email -- Get the Open! vs. Get the Response!" Jay Schwedelson, CEO of Outcome Media, a marketing services company, explained that, as marketers increase the number of emails they send, they can increase engagement and avoid the spam filter more effectively.
"You need to be sending more emails than you are right now … [but] the secret sauce is being relevant," Schwedelson said in the session. "Don't send out, 'Hi, my company's great.' … Send out real content, real things that matter to people."
Marketers must know their customers' interests, wants and needs and use that insight to send relevant and personalized emails to them multiple times weekly. In the same session, Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer at HBT Marketing, an agency based in Massachusetts, said these emails should have informational, educational or entertainment value for customers. Frequent and relevant emails can create engagement and help organizations avoid the junk folder.
2. Getting recipients' attention
The average person receives dozens of marketing emails daily, so marketers struggle to stand out in a recipient's inbox. To improve open rates, marketers can optimize the email's address and subject line.
Email recipients look at the sender's address before anything else. If the address uses a person's name instead of a generic department name, the email feels more personal, said Chris Eichelsheim, head of inbound marketing for Dtch. Digitals, a marketing agency based in the Netherlands. For example, an email like [email protected] typically has a higher open rate and more engagement than something like [email protected].
Next, recipients look at the subject line. In the session "New Email Marketing Test Ideas and Pitfalls To Avoid," Schwedelson said marketers should experiment with subject lines that appeal to recipients' aspirations.
For example, a B2B marketer selling financial management technology might email a finance director with the subject line: "6 trends all CFOs should know." Directors often aspire to hold C-suite positions in the future, so these subject lines can generate high open rates.
3. Creating convenience
The advancement of automation tools has made people increasingly impatient as they expect technology to complete mundane tasks for them. Customers want convenience, so marketers should make actions in emails simple to complete.
For example, email marketers often struggle to get people to fill out forms, said Jessica Bell, digital marketing strategist at Growth Spurt Agency. If an email contains a call-to-action button that directs to a landing page with a form, many customers won't fill it out, even if they have interest in the offer.
"People don't want to take the time … even if it's two minutes, to fill out a form. So, one of the [ways] we've been able to overcome that is [by] doing one-click emails," Bell said in an interview.
One-click emails let customers transfer personal information, like their name and email address, to forms so they can sign up for offers, such as webinars, e-books and loyalty programs, with a single click. This automation improves engagement rates as it offers customers convenience.
4. Increasing click-through rates
Another email marketing challenge is the fact that customers increasingly expect convenience. Marketers should know that most recipients won't carefully read their emails from start to finish.
To keep the recipient's attention, marketers should keep emails under three lines long, Schwedelson said. Lengthy text blocks turn people away and lower click-through rates (CTRs).
Additionally, marketers should include only one call to action or link in their emails to prevent confusion, Bell said. Like a lengthy text block, an email with multiple links and buttons can overwhelm readers and reduce CTRs.
Marketers can also add a postscript to the end of their emails because these lines tend to grab people's attention, Schwedelson said. Short text blocks, bullets, brightly colored buttons and a postscript can improve CTRs as they help customers quickly digest an email's contents.
5. Using generative AI effectively
Since ChatGPT's public launch in November 2022, marketers increasingly rely on generative AI to create marketing copy. Despite the technology's usefulness, these tools can also bring email marketing challenges. For example, they can generate unnatural and formulaic content.
"I've asked AI tools to write multiple stories for me, and they always use terms like 'picture this' or 'in conclusion.' A lot of people will just copy and paste the results, but you can tell right away it's AI," Bell said.
To ensure AI-generated content feels genuine, marketers should edit the copy and remove formulaic or repetitive language.
Generative AI is also an emerging technology, so marketers may not know how to use it most effectively. Presenters at the conference offered many tips to help inexperienced AI users get started.
For example, marketers can prompt the tool to transform long-form content, such as blog articles, into marketing emails or social media posts, Schwedelson said. This ability to transform content lets marketers repurpose their existing work for different channels and increase overall productivity.
Marketers can also use generative AI for content ideation.
"I'll put together my list of what I want to say, and then I'll … see if I missed an angle because maybe I got seven really good points, and all of a sudden, I can plug something into chat, and what comes back? Another two or three that I hadn't thought of," Harhut said.
The future of email marketing
Organizations can expect new marketing channels to pop up as technology advances, but email will likely continue to coexist with these channels due to its effectiveness. Still, advancements in AI and automation will likely make consumers expect even more convenience than they already do.
Overall, email marketers should continue to make emails digestible and offer highly relevant content. They should also stay up to date on spam filter algorithms and emerging technologies like generative AI that can enhance -- or challenge -- their campaigns.