The return of email marketing


Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

email marketing
Illustration: llesia – 123RF

With the changes to privacy settings on mobile phones, email marketing is coming back into vogue. But there’s something you should fix on your mail list before you start sending out bulk emails… By Daniel Warren

After falling out of fashion for a while, email marketing is growing in importance. It’s mainly because of Apple’s latest privacy update—you may have seen the ads on TV. The current operating systems on iPhones stop apps (like Facebook and Instagram) tracking you by default. As a result, social media has become a significantly less powerful medium. Suddenly poor old email marketing—the ugly duckling of digital marketing—is looking a lot more attractive than it used to.

According to Mark Brown of Engage Content (who also publish Bite), many dental practices do email marketing, and most of you get pretty much the same result. “Between 40 and 50 per cent of the people on your email list will open it,” he says. “But only between three and seven per cent will actually click on a link.

“While that’s a pretty normal average, there are strong reasons to improve those click-through rates (CTRs).” 

Your motivation to do so, he says, is based on two things: making your marketing more effective, and secondly, stopping it from being marked as spam. The key to both is to do something almost completely counterintuitive: cut down your list.

Size doesn’t matter

The whole idea of advertising to a large number of people is to find the ones who are interested in you. No-one buys an ad on TV expecting everyone who sees it to respond to it. Advertising assumes you don’t know your audience.

“But with email, you do know them,” says Brown. “You already know their email address, and most likely know their name. And email is the most intimate medium. People opt in to receive it, and read it on their phones, in their downtime, and at night before they go to sleep.”

The big question is, if these people already know you, and have opted in to receiving emails from you, why are 93 per cent of them ignoring you?

The growth of graymail

“It’s because your marketing has become graymail. Graymail is the term used to describe bulk emails that people have opted in to receive, but which they then ignore,” Brown explains.

The fact that people are doing this with your practice newsletter is not a reflection on you. There are many reasons people ignore emails. “Don’t worry about people ignoring you. Worry about their Internet Service Provider (ISP) and their email program.”

The mail server at their ISP is slowly noting that Fred the patient, who signed up to get your newsletter six months ago, hasn’t opened a single one. In fact, the computers have noticed that 93 per cent of your emails that pass through their servers just sit there, ignored.

“The ISP and email program is not fooled by your open rate, even if you are. It knows that many email programs open emails by default—it doesn’t mean that the user has engaged with them,” says Brown.

“And it starts filtering your emails into spam folders or junk folders. And no-one ever checks their spam and junk mail folders for proper mail.”

The solution to disengagement

The solution to this problem, he explains, is to clean your email list of all those people who have stopped engaging with you. “You don’t want to do it all at once. As I said before, there might be very good reasons they’ve stopped engaging.

Email is the most intimate medium. People opt in to receive it, and read it on their phones, in their downtime, and at night before they go to sleep.

Mark Brown, Engage Content

“Start with the people who haven’t opened any of the last 12 emails you’ve sent. Send them an email saying you’ve noticed they’re not engaging, and if they want to keep hearing from you, let you know. Otherwise they’re dropping off your list.”

The reality is, many of these people will not respond. It’s a big mental hurdle to go ahead and cut them off your list—but their silence is a kind of response in itself. 

Next, says Brown, go to the people who have opened some of your emails, but never clicked on a link. Send the same ‘opt-in or opt-out’ email. 

“If you’re worried these people are printing the email out, and ringing you, just give them the option of hearing from you through SMS or by calling. Don’t keep emailing them, because they’re not responding to it, and it’s making you look like a spammer.”

You don’t have to unsubscribe these people forever. Just don’t email them. Put them on a separate list of people who rarely respond.

The benefits of a small list

The people left on your email list have opted in AND are actively engaged in what you’re sending. You should see an immediate lift in your open and click-through rates in the next newsletter you send out.

Also, ISPs will also note an increase in engagement, and will be less likely to tag you as a spammer. Which increases the chance that more of your remaining list will see it and interact with it.

“If you want to increase your open and click-through rates even further, try sending content rather than an offer,” Brown adds. “Instead of your generic Zoom Whitening campaign, send a teaser for an article on tooth whitening that you have on your blog. Then advertise the Zoom whitening campaign as a call-to-action at the end of the blog post.”

It sounds simple, but the results speak for themselves. “We send a lot of emails on behalf of many clients,” says Brown. “Those who put in content rather than a sales message may have the same open rate as everyone else (sometimes higher). But their click-through rate ranges from 14 to 20 per cent. Instead of two to eight  per cent for straight sales campaigns.

“In fact, I have one, highly targeted email that has an open rate of 75 per cent and a click-through rate of 83 per cent. Because it offers useful content.”

That’s something worth thinking about next time you prepare to fire your email marketing messages into the void.  

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