Recently I came across a question on LinkedIn: “Why Does Email Marketing Sometimes Fail?” To be fair, the question is an honest request for feedback, not an assertion. Email is a proven communications method when used well, however there are those moments when senders see a pronounced reduction in email’s effectiveness, and must decide whether to re-evaluate their strategy.
It’s a dirty little secret in marketing: Every tactic eventually falls short. We see it when a great television campaign just stops being interesting, and when a Facebook page rises to 100,000 Likes and then suddenly stops growing. Dancing Santa banners must have been hilarious at one time, but are now the online equivalent of carnival barkers.
Email is more of a journeyman tactic. It’s always there. It’s reliable. It’s expected, and it drives immediate visits. But it rarely makes a big splash or gets talked about (unless the sender made a mistake). It’s hard to ‘re-launch’ a brand using email. It just reflects what the brand is doing in other avenues.
Email’s Strengths and Weaknesses
Even the most reliable methods have their bad days. In fact, if you consider that the majority of recipients never open a mailing, email marketing doesn’t sometimes fail – it always fails.
Naturally, that’s not the criteria we commonly use to define success. In comparison to television ads, yellow pages, postcards, billboards, radio spots, magazine ads, websites, social outposts, and store displays, email is superior in maintaining awareness with existing subscribers. It can also drive immediate visits and sales activity from those subscribers better than most other methods.
As a tool for reaching a new audience or raising the Wow! factor, however, email is terrible. It’s simply not meant for that. When email starts to falter, it can be seen in the trends over time, usually in the levels of opens and clicks. This could be due to many things, for instance:
- Changing Subscriber Behavior. Your readers might start to trend younger and move on to other platforms. They might move in a direction away from your brand or solution. They might trend toward a different buying stage depending on what kind of marketing you are doing in other areas.
- Lack of consistency. Email campaigns should be consistently written and designed so readers always know who it’s from and welcome it. This can be overdone, of course, causing the issue noted next.
- Natural atrophy. A weekly email is very exciting when I’ve just signed up for a campaign, but over time I get bored with it.
- Static branding. People expect your company to reinvent itself every few quarters. Email campaigns should reflect this, and are even good for announcing sneak previews of what’s coming.
- Lack of value. If all the best writing and presentation is going into the company blog, website, landing pages and social outposts, but not the email campaigns, this can affect the trend.
- Economic conditions. I know I ignore emails from vendors when times are tough in business and in the personal realm. I might still get them, but I don’t read them.
So What Can You Do?
If your trends are showing reductions in opens and clicks, the best ways to shake up your email campaigns are evident in the issues I’ve pointed out above:
- First, find out what your market base is doing. This is a great time to send your subscribers a survey asking for key demographic information and expectations. This will help you understand why they’ve fallen out of love with your emails.
- Make sure your emails follow a consistent brand theme, and treat every aspect as part of that theme. It’s not just the size and color scheme, but also the way you write, the shape of the text areas, the location of the call to action, and the subject line itself. Take one of your best performing campaigns, and try to mimic its layout.
- Even with the best brands and themes, email can fall flat. There are two ways to go: Change it up, potentially losing a good chunk of your audience, or shift your focus to building your list. Your proven look will always appeal to someone new.
- If you’re always sending product news, promotions and updates, and asking the reader to buy something, maybe it’s time to send something different. Invite them to read your blog, host a guest-written article, or feature a video. Give something away.
- If economics are affecting your email campaigns, there may be little you can do about that. Many senders dial back their email strategy during these times, but that’s the opposite of what they should be doing. Email is the cheapest, quickest way to communicate with your most loyal fans and subscribers, and should be your go-to during tough times.
Email is proven and getting better at reaching people quickly. If your email is flagging, it doesn’t mean the tactic no longer works for you. It just means you have to step back, evaluate, learn, and make some changes. Your website isn’t the same as it was five years ago, right?