How We Kickstarted Our Email Marketing – With an Open Rate of >40%

Hanna Lisa Haferkamp – 22. Okt 2014

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Quick question for you: Are you taking advantage of the great potential of email marketing?

When I started working at Erento in January, we didn’t do any email marketing. No newsletter, no email onboarding, no nothing.

And this despite email marketing being one of the most effective marketing activities out there:

  • Email is almost 40 times better at acquiring new customers than Facebook and Twitter (McKinsey & Company)
  • 88% of all B2B Marketers say that email is their most effective lead generation tactic (Circle Research)
  • 74% of consumers prefer to receive commercial communications via email (Merkle)
  • 44% of current customers cite email as their preferred communication channel for customer service (eConsultancy)

THE QUESTION: How could we implement email marketing @Erento?

My hypothesis after reading up a lot on email marketing stats: We were missing out on a huge communication channel with our customers – and a significant sales opportunity.

So we set out to answer the question above: How could we implement email marketing at Erento? And – would it actually be effective for us?

 

THE SOLUTION: Testing email marketing with a new newsletter

To test my hypothesis, we decided to develop a newsletter for Erento. I’m going to share the strategic process we went through with you – and the implementation using the example of our first newsletter.

I hope this will inspire you to give email marketing a go (if you’re not already doing it) or give you some new ideas how to make your emails more effective!

 

Strategy

We followed these steps when coming up with a strategy for our newsletter:


1. Defining the target group

This was the most basic choice we had to make: Who did we actually want to address with the newsletter? As Erento is a two-sided marketplace, we could’ve written a newsletter to rental companies, renters – or both. As we wanted to test whether email marketing could serve as a communication channel with our customers, we decided to start with a newsletter to the rental companies. They are the ones our Sales team is in daily contact with and opening up a new channel for communicating with them seemed very promising.

Remember: Be clear about who you want to address with your emails. This serves as the basis for all other decisions!


2. Deciding on a content framework

Our next decision revolved around the content we wanted to present in our newsletter. In general, a newsletter can be

  • a roundup of existing content
  • a mixture between existing and new content or
  • only brand new pieces.

We chose the middle way: at least one piece of original content for our newsletter plus a roundup of interesting links from our blog for rental companies (disclaimer: in German only). This way, we could make sure that every newsletter could provide something new and unique to our customers while at the same time promoting the content on our blog.

We put these pieces into a content framework which provides the basic „skeleton“ for every one of our newsletters:

  1. Welcome message
  2. Original content piece
  3. News roundup
  4. CTA for blog signup

Developing such a framework for your emails ensures that you know exactly what you need for every email and can focus on creating amazing content. It also provides a recognition effect for your readers: They exactly know what to expect!


3. Designing the newsletter

Fun fact: Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text (Unbounce). I’m sure you know the effect from your own experience: You’re much faster at grasping visual differences than reading through a text.

Therefore, we wanted our newsletter to look really, really good – visually appealing, structured and clean. We also wanted a design template we could use for every newsletter – again, recognition!

Luckily, we have an amazing in-house designer; Alanna worked on this for almost a week and developed a beautiful template that we’re now using for all our newsletters.

Investing time in good design definitely pays off! Even if you don’t have an in-house design resource, no worries: You can find a good visual designer on dribbble.com or Odesk.


4. Determining the frequency and time of sending

Once we knew our target group, our content and had our design, we started looking into how often we should send out the newsletter. There are endless options – weekly, monthly, bimonthly, you name it. We knew we needed some time to produce a good piece of original content so we settled on sending it out monthly.

We also discussed the best day and time for sending out. There are lots of good posts and stats out there that help you determine which time is the best for your email to go out. We decided to send it out at the end of each month and on a weekday morning as we knew our customers were most active then.

Remember: You want your customers to receive, open and read it – and that’s not going to happen at midnight (unless you’re a party website ;)). Consciously decide how often, when and at what time you want to send your emails.


5. Defining success KPIs

The last step of our strategy process was to define the metrics we wanted to track for our newsletter. We needed a way to test whether our hypothesis held true – that email could actually be a great communication channel for us. We also needed to know whether it’s actually worth spending our time on it. As Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz put it in their excellent book Lean Analytics:

„Measuring something makes you accountable. You’re forced to confront inconvenient truths. And you don’t spend your life and your money building something nobody wants.“

We decided to track the following KPIs:

  • Open Rate (Opens / Delivered):
    • Shows you whether your headline was actually good enough to click and whether your customers are interested in your emails.
    • Benchmark: The average open rate lies around 20-25%, depending on industry and company size (MailChimp has an excellent benchmark that breaks this down!)
  • Click Rate (Clicks / Delivered):
    • Shows you whether your content is engaging – whether your customers actually click on links that you put into the body.
    • Benchmark: The average open rate is around 3.5% (MailChimp).
  • Churn (Unsubscribed + Spam / Delivered):
    • Helps you to determine if you customers think you’re content is so bad that it’s spam.
    • Benchmark: You should aim for 0 – at the end, you don’t want anyone to unsubscribe!
  • Hard Bounce (Email addresses non-existent / Delivered):
    • Helps you to judge the quality of your mailing list – if a lot of email addresses bounce back, you should clean it up!
    • Benchmark: Also aim for 0 – you want your mailing list to be of highest quality.

In addition, we’re looking at what people click on in the newsletter. With Hubspot – the tool we’re using – you get really good stats on how often specific links were clicked. This helps us to analyze which content is performing really well (or really badly) within our emails.

 

Implementation

Enough strategy, let’s talk about the exciting stuff: our first newsletter! Implementation was superexciting 🙂

I hope by now you’re also excited to see how it looked like!

Without further ado, here is it:

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If you’re interested, you can see the full version of the first Newsletter here.

For starters, we needed a great piece of original content. After a couple of discussions, we decided to do some cross-departmental collaboration to create an Erento Performance Infographic. In this infographic, we shared information about the performance that we were delivering to our customers – information that no one had seen before. Huge thanks to our Business Intelligence team for the help in putting the numbers together!

Here’s a little screenshot of the infographic:

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With the template and the performance report ready, we composed the rest of the newsletter. One part that we wanted to take particular care of was the subject line: After all, around 30% of email recipients open email based on subject line alone (Convince & Convert)!

We took inspiration from one of Upworthy’s Slideshares about Going Viral and tried the 25 Headlines Challenge:

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Katja, our Marketing Specialist, sat down and wrote 25 subject lines for the newsletter. Was it pleasant? No. Was it helpful? Immensely. I can only recommend that you do this for every single email, blog post, article that you write – it’s SO worth it.

Then it was time – sending time! No kidding, I was so nervous – we were about to send out a brand-new email newsletter to 1,800 customers with my name on it and the reputation of our Marketing team on the line. Sometimes you just have to do it – and that’s what I did. Just hit the send button.

And then we had to wait. Would anyone actually open it? Would people hate it? Would everyone unsubscribe?

Luckily, we were very, very, very pleasantly surprised! We had an open rate of more than 40% and a click rate of more than 5% – amazing results!

If you’d like to see, here are the detailed stats:

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We’ve used this process now to send out three newsletters since July and we’re super happy with the results! Of course, we learn every time we send one out: what our customers like, what they don’t like and what we need to improve. We love it – we’ve finally found a channel to communicate with our customers that really works!

 

What’s in it for you & TL; DR:

  1. Spend some time defining your strategy. It might seem like a lot of effort to go through the thought process described above, but it’s absolutely worth it. In the end, it will make your marketing more effective and efficient – and your customers happier.
  2. One size does not fit all. Think about what you have to offer and set a strict target group for your Newsletter.
  3. Focus on quality. This goes for design, content and headline – especially when you only send it out once a month like we do. Your email list is one of your most valuable assets – don’t waste it!
  4. Collect & use data. Track your results and use the numbers to improve your newsletter. Maybe you can even learn something else from them? For example, we learnt that the content we’re producing on our blog might actually not be what our target group wants to read. This triggered an entire blog strategy review!

What is your experience with newsletters and email marketing? Share your thoughts – I’d love to hear them!

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