Automation isn’t all about gleaming robots on factory floors. You’ll have heard about some of the stunning email automation solutions out there right now – there’s some amazing stuff on offer. If you haven’t already, it’s well worth automating at least part of your emailing process.
Here’s a couple of reasons why:
- Automated email messages have a 5% higher open rate and 152% more click-throughs than standard messaging
- 60% of marketers choose automation as one of the three most important attributes of an email technology solution
Sounds good, right? And it is! But, you do have to put some work at your end as well! It’s not good enough to just plug in some automated software and sit back. To really make the most of your new ‘bot help, you need to optimize. Here’s how:
1. Strategy, strategy, strategy
According to a recent Ascend2 survey, 64% of marketing professionals consider an overarching strategy to be THE most important aspect of any campaign. So don’t even go near your email automation program before you’ve done some serious strategic thinking.
At the early stages of your email campaign, think about:
- Your overall goals. What do you hope to achieve with this particular campaign? Do you want to gain sign-ups? To convert browsers into paying customers? To drive up web traffic? Defining your goals is crucial to keeping your campaign focused and relevant.
- Measurable outcomes. Nebulous, ill-defined outcomes are hard to measure, which makes it tough to establish how successful your campaign is. Pin down a few desirable outcomes that you can easily measure through the data that your email program will gather.
- Your customers. The better you know your customers and the more closely you can tailor your campaigns to them, the greater the chance of success for your campaign. From the get-go, think about how you can divide your customer base into tailored segments, which can then be targeted with content relevant to their own contexts, interests, and personal customer journeys.
2. Use your data properly
Automation is data-driven. Your ‘bot’ will use data types as triggers for launching new actions. So, you need to work out the ‘triggers’ most relevant for your campaign and your customers, and direct your automation to the appropriate ‘reaction’. For example, a sign-up may trigger an automated welcome email, or a period of absence could trigger a re-engagement email.
Depending on how tightly you’ve segmented your audience, the beauty of an automated system is that it can juggle multiple customer paths with many different ‘reactions’ to data triggers at once and with ease. Take full advantage of this stupendous multi-tasking skill – it’s not only very handy, but it also saves your team a lot of headaches!
However, to really benefit from this, you need to be feeding your automation the right data in the right way. As part of your initial strategy, you should be doing some deep data diving. You must line up the data you have (or will have) with customer email templates, reactions, and so on.
- Data hygiene. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to end up with an unholy data mess when dealing with automation software. For example, a simple action like syncing your CRM database with your automation software can leave you with piles of duplicate data, which you probably won’t notice until some weird analysis results start coming in. So, be careful to keep your data neat, standardized and well-sorted.
- Data in context. You must use the right data at the right time. You won’t know what or when these are unless you’ve deeply considered your customers’ contexts. Trace customer journeys in detail in order to set up data triggers at appropriate points for nurturing your customers along the path to purchase.
- Data accessibility. Sync your CRM with your automation tool as it will make your data more accessible both to your automation tool and to human analysts. Centralizing your data will (if done with regard for clarity and data hygiene) make it far easier for everyone to get the data they need when they need it.
3. Test subject lines
Many email automation services give you the option of sending the same email out twice, with different subject lines. This is a clever (and very useful) little trick, as it allows you to see at a glance, which subject line is performing better with each of your customer segments.
Like the common cold, customer interest in subject styles mutates and evolves constantly. As soon as marketers find something that seems to work, customers get bored with it and lose interest. So, keeping up to speed with the ever-changing interests of your customers is vital.
- AI subject lines. If nothing you try is working as well as you’d like, it might be worth putting some Artificial Intelligence on the case. Programs like Phrasee can sift through billions of bytes of data, cross-reference them with all the trillions of probabilities out there, and come up with an on-the-money subject line in seconds. In tests, AI subject lines have beaten human ones for opens, click-throughs, and ROI in 98% of cases! Phrasee can be tailored to your brand’s particular voice, and tweaked for enhanced customer relevance.
4. Consider accessibility
2019 is the year for expanding our frame of reference. The advent of voice technologies like Siri and Alexa means that we’re going to be able to reach audiences we’ve never really considered before – and that’s a really good thing. Accessible and format-friendly emails are going to be what cracks the market in the near future.
So, we need to consider optimizing our content for a far wider variety of platforms than we’ve ever done previously. If your content is going to not only be seen but also read out, you need to think about crafting content that works in both formats.
- How graphics like emoji sound when read out in flat HTML speak.
- The implications of your emails being overheard at both ‘ends’ of the equation.
- How to track open rates on devices not currently recognized by your software.
5. Create more opt-in opportunities
Data is still the king, even in this post-GDPR world. Now that people have to opt-in to receive our emails, we need to encourage people to entrust us with their valuable data. There’s a lot to be written on this subject, and we could go deep into the psychology of the customer/brand relationship – but, sticking purely with emails, one thing sticks out: more opt-in opportunities.
Increasing opportunity is a surprisingly effective way of increasing engagement. Make sure your opt-ins are:
- Easy to undertake (nobody can be bothered to fill out pages of forms these days),
- Don’t ask for any information too sensitive
- Completely transparent.
Trust is paramount, and customers won’t trust you if you’re not being utterly above board with what you’re asking for and why you’re asking for it.
6. Nail down your sales paths
Sales paths are the route your customer takes along their journey. If you’ve done the customer analysis part of your overall strategizing correctly, you should have a good idea of each customer segment’s needs, interests, and paths to conversion.
This is where you line up your customer journey with your data triggers. Using what you know about your segments and how they behave creates an email-led sales path to nurture your customers through each stage in their journey to your mutual goals (and beyond).
Automation is great at dripping out nudges and prompts in response to various customer actions (or inactions).
However, a couple of words of caution:
- While your automation can handle a complex variety of paths and respond effortlessly to a huge tangle of variables, crossflow, and conflicting triggers – at the end of the day, it’s humans who are experiencing it. And studies show that 53% of consumers receive too many irrelevant emails. Keep your sales paths as simple and to the point as you can, or you risk adding to that statistic.
- Also, remember that it’s your human marketers who will have to wrangle with the data your automation produces. So, unless you’ve got someone who absolutely adores getting lost in tangled line graphs for hours on end, keep your campaign workflows simple enough to analyze!
7. Synchronize your landing pages
According to a study by Marketo, a whopping 96% of consumers who click through to your website aren’t ready to buy. So it’s vital that your landing pages are continuing the work begun with your email. If your email extends a promise, your landing page needs to fulfill that promise.
It’s astonishingly common for emails and their landing pages to be vastly different, both in style and in content. Sometimes, this is because teams are working in silos and lines of communication are not effective enough. Whatever the reason, however, a landing page, which is jarringly out of sync with the email linked to it, is a roadblock in your customer’s path to purchase.
Your emails and landing pages should have a similar look and tone. The copy on the landing page should feel like a natural next step on the customer’s path to purchase. If you aren’t sure how to synchronize with the people working on your website – well, that’s a sign that you’ve got a silo problem. Open up your internal communications, and build multi-team marketing into your overall strategy.
8. Don’t get complacent
Automation is fantastic – but it is not (nor is it designed to be) a replacement for human marketers. Its job is to take on mundane and time-consuming tasks like firing off email batches at specific times, collecting data, parsing contact lists and so on. Their job is not to respond strategically to campaign challenges, to create an engaging copy, or to engage on a human level with your customers.
Automation is a tool, and it will do what you tell it to. You and your team are the ones who are ultimately responsible for what your automation does and how it does it. Don’t sit back and assume that the bot has everything covered, because it has not. But do thank it for freeing up your valuable time.
Remember – email does not operate in a vacuum
Automation has the potential to do amazing things for us – email marketers. And it will only get better from here. If you’re savvy about the data you feed, keep your site and emails well synced, study your purchasing paths and understand your customers inside out, automated email marketing can wing you towards your goals in no time.
However, automation is not a substitute for human strategizing and creativity. Always keep your customer’s experience in mind. Remember, your emails are not the only thing they are receiving, and emails are not the only notifications they’re hit with. Increasingly, consumers are voicing annoyance at the volume of marketing emails they receive and growing to loathe their phone notifications. Email does not operate in a vacuum – it’s one part of a screen, which grows more crowded with each passing year. A common mistake is for brands to give the automation tool free reign, resulting in the tool bombarding customers with emails and notifications at every single data trigger. Not a great UX. Your automation can’t see or empathize with this wider customer context in the way that you can.
Automation is a fantastic tool – but, like data, graphics, and fonts – it is just a tool. Don’t let it replace human marketing ingenuity!