Four All-Too-Common Enterprise Email Marketing Mistakes

Four All-Too-Common Enterprise Email Marketing Mistakes


In the beginning, there was email, and for a time, it was good.

No matter how many times someone tells you email is dead, it keeps sticking around, like a particularly stubborn houseguest that can’t take a hint. The difference between email and said houseguest is that email brings something to the table for your business.

Email may actually be getting more useful as time goes on, not less. In Salesforce’s 2015 State of Marketing report, 60% of marketers said that email is “a critical enabler of products and services,” versus 42% in the year before. When it comes to the shifting seas of social media, email is a constant.

The problem is that, as with any area in business, there are rampant misconceptions that can have your email marketing efforts diving head-first into wasting your business’s time and money. What exactly are those misconceptions, and how can you avoid them?

Transactional Emails Have More Value Than You’d Think

Newsletters, you’ll ignore. Notifications of a sale, you might pass over.

The receipt or the shipping notification email for your latest online purchase? You’re much more likely to look at or click within that email. Just check out Experian’s research for confirmation (the over 100% open rates are because people opened repeatedly):

Image via Experian

Given those increased engagement rates, the last thing you want to do is be sending badly formatted or plain text emails that simply say “your order is received.” Tanya Wheeler-Berliner, senior marketing manager at Email on Acid, notes that “Optimized transactional emails are well branded, provide valuable content and reinforce an excellent customer experience.”

A few tips from Tanya to make sure your emails are meeting those criteria:

  • Provide a clear “from” name and a friendly “reply to” email address
  • Ensure that the email includes content that’s both valuable and relevant
  • Keep the design simple (while still being branded and responsive), with clear calls to action

Past that, there are also tactics like upsells and cross-sells that can be easily added into many transactional emails, too.

Amazon knows how to do this (which nobody is surprised by, right?). Here’s an example from the bottom of a receipt email for a Kindle order of mine:

If you’re looking for a way to do this yourself, Yotpo (which integrates with Shopify, of course!) can help you build post-transaction emails that prompt for reviews and upsell on similar products (or accessories for the product the customer bought).

Transactional emails are also a great way to work on your customer onboarding and retention. If people are already opening and clicking on receipts, confirmation emails, and other emails, that makes them ideal place to include prompts for customers to sign in to their accounts, try out a new feature, or finish setting up their profile. Learn how to get the most ROI from your transactional emails and create behavior-targeted campaigns that get results from our article on post-purchase transactional targeting.

For another example that isn’t Amazon, Mike Moloney at FilterGrade found out firsthand what a difference these sorts of changes can make. After a few months of using the default receipts and getting bad results with them (confusion, complaints with customers, and so on), they decided to try out Receiptful — a tool that helps ecommerce businesses create better looking email receipts that get more engagement. Here’s a before and after (note that the new receipt includes a discount for future purchases):

The result was a 300% increase in repeat sales and great feedback from customers on the new receipt format.

Leveraging your transactional emails isn’t the only thing you should be doing after the sale — there’s a lot that goes into creating an amazing customer experience after the checkout.

For a full rundown on what you can do to wow your customers while creating repeat customers, from using a customized thank-you page to designing a memorable unboxing experience, check out our article on designing the new customer experience.

Good Email Strategy Starts With the Culture

One problem that Aaron Smith, principal at Lift Science, has seen over and over again is that marketing teams will struggle with getting the results they want from their email efforts, and as a result...they switch to a new tool that should solve all their problems, wooed by vendors that promise everything under the sun.

Of course, once the charm of a new app wears off, they have the same problems as before.

“Most of the time, this comes down to either issues with how the organization approaches email marketing, or the team hasn’t done all of the work on the technical side to set it up properly,” Aaron notes. The solution is two-fold:

  • To the extent that you can, build the right foundation into your marketing team and email marketing efforts — a focus on working together, staying up with industry standards, and creating solid strategies that give email a spot equal to and integrated with the rest of your marketing ecosystem.
  • If you do wind up switching tools, assume that you’ll have to spend 30-50% more time on the integration work (and accompanying process changes) that come with switching systems than you think you will.

In short, you want to focus your team on strategy, not the latest shiny new toy. Rather than switching platforms to get better results, look at making small changes to your existing programs.

Look at how different segments of your list are responding to what types of emails, and target the most profitable or engaged segments. You don’t have to make any drastic changes, just message that segment a little more — the 80/20 rule applies to email, too. In general, email segmentation is a great way to get more mileage from your email marketing; for more on ways you can segment and how to leverage those segments to get results, refer to our article on email segmentation strategies.

Back to Aaron, who has two suggestions for how this can work:

Messaging the More Engaged Users More Often

Usually, there’s about 5-10% of your customers that are the highest value brand advocates on your list — the most engaged subscribers. This corresponds roughly with the average number of customers placing four or more orders in a year:

Image via RJMetrics

“You can experiment with messaging some of these brand loyalists more and making sure those messages let them know they're VIPs by creating a series framed along the lines of ‘Special offers only for our most valued/loyal customers.’ I've seen clients improve overall program lift 3-8% by putting effective high value targeting and messaging supplemental programs in place,” notes Aaron.

For more on the value of your most engaged subscribers and what creates a higher customer lifetime value, check out our recent article by RJMetrics.

Reaching Out to the Low Engagement Folks Less

Some people would have you delete inactive subscribers from your list completely (more on that in a moment).

But instead of deleting them, you can take your least engaged subscribers and take them out of regular mailings, only reaching out to them once every month or two when there’s a big promotion.

At Lift Science, Aaron did an A/B control study with a client where they kept half of the “poor performers” in the regular frequency program (getting emails at the same time the rest of the list did). The other half only received messages once every 2-3 months when there was an especially compelling promotion running. The segment that received fewer messages outperformed the average order value by over 200%.

That brings us to...

Don’t Kick Out Your Inactives Just Yet

Tim Watson, an email consultant with over nine years of experience, agrees with Aaron that throwing out inactive subscribers is the wrong way to go.

“A widely held email best practice that I hear often is to remove inactives from your mailings.”

The idea is that if a subscriber hasn’t opened emails in three months, you may as well not be sending them any, so it’s better to remove them. However, this can be a bad idea — you can see Aaron’s case study above for a counterexample, and in Tim’s analysis of his clients’ data, removing inactives completely drops revenue by 10% on average.  

Sometimes, people just don’t need or want what you’re offering for a while. The solution is to step back and either email them less (as in the example above), or leave them be until it becomes a problem.

The two cases he does suggest as being a good time to deactivate inactives are deliverability issues (caused by the combined factors of low open rates and high spam traps) and no ROI.

If your deliverability is starting to be affected, or the cost of sending is greater than the revenue you’re getting, it’s time to clean things up. For more about Tim’s thoughts on inactive subscribers, head here.

Emails =/= Intent to Buy

Lean Startup methodology has shot to the forefront of the business world over the last few years, and for good reason — it’s a solid set of principles. However, one tactic from the methodology that often gets misused is the concept of validating an idea.

Image via the Lean Startup

The thinking goes like this: before you spend time, money, and effort on a new product (or business venture), you should make sure there’s a demand for that product in the market.

To do that, you create some kind of validation experiment, whether it’s a “Wizard of Oz” set up (where there’s a “man behind the curtain” fulfilling customer requests manually, while a team of developers works on the actual app), pre-orders or a crowdfunding effort like Kickstarter, or a landing page to capture email sign ups. In the last case, if a certain number of people put in their email address, the idea is considered validated.

These techniques are generally intended for scrappy startups without time or money to waste, but they’ve also seen adoption with enterprise companies, as well.

A prime example is Sony, who has used crowdfunding for several projects ranging from an e-ink watch to a maker kit for inventions,  and recently launched their own crowdfunding site for employee ideas. After all, no matter what size your company is, wasted money is wasted money and it’s good to know if people want your product whether your brand name is attached or not.

The problem comes in when you rely on email addresses too much as a form of validation.

Sure, it’s safe to say that 1,000 people signing up for preorder notifications in less than 24 hours means people want your product — but how many of those people can you actually expect to buy it?

There’s no way to know for sure ahead of time, especially since conversion rates vary so widely by industry — it’s impossible to know if you’ll be looking at 1% or 5% or somewhere in between or another number entirely. If you bank on a certain number, then wind up short, you can find yourself with a profit leak instead of a profitable launch.

One way to help offset this is to make sure that your landing page has as much detail as possible, including price. If people sign up for notifications thinking that a product will be $5, and then it’s $50, chances are they won’t be interested in purchasing. Including at least the basics on features and benefits (getting more specific than “it’ll change the way you work/cook/eat/etc.”) will help, too.

Of course, you can always ask people to actually put their money where their mouth is.

Flash sales or pre-sales give you a real number of people that are willing to pay for the product. One way to approach it might be to validate the basic idea with email sign-ups, then move on to initial development and launch a flash sale or pre-sale to your email list to validate the full development of a product.

That way, you have concrete numbers as far as what people are willing to pay and how many people are willing to pay it, before you pour time and money down the drain making things that people may not want. And then once your product is actually launched, you can refer back to the other points in this article to keep your sales running smoothly.

All in all, when it comes to getting the most from your email marketing, here are the key points to remember:

  • Don’t ignore your transactional emails — they can bring a lot of value to your business.
  • Focus on strategies, not nifty tools and apps, when it comes to your email marketing.
  • Remember that emails aren’t necessarily the best indicator of intent to buy.

About the Author

Michelle Nickolaisen is a freelance writer and business owner based in Austin, TX.