Email marketing: busting best practice myths

Five best practice tips to make your marketing campaigns more successful

By Daniel Clarke, Creative Director at Zeta Global.

Many marketing channels have best practice guidelines, and email marketing is no exception. In fact, a quick Google search will bring up articles that feature up to 40 best practice tips, all with research or tests to back it up. Surely then, creating successful marketing campaigns is simply a case of following as many of these tips as possible? Sadly, no.

Here, we focus on five best practice tips that don’t stand up to scrutiny – and share the ways you could make your campaigns more successful.

Myth 1: Important information MUST be above the fold

‘Above the fold’ is a term that dates back to broadsheet printing. It was used to make sure the most important facts can be seen when the paper is folded in two. Somehow this has made its way into email best practice, so that key information appears in the preview pane. However:
  • We don’t know where ‘the fold’ is anymore. The market is awash with different devices and screen sizes – and it’s evolving all the time. In fact, with mobile phone screens getting larger and tablets getting smaller, the fold on a desktop device could be 500px from the top, and on a mobile it could be 150px. So, the size of this magical preview pane varies hugely.
  • Think about your content hierarchy instead. Rather than lose sleep over where the imaginary fold might be, focus on your content hierarchy. What’s your primary message? Once you know it, make sure it’s at the top and as engaging as possible.
  • Give someone an early escape route. The goal of most email campaigns is to encourage engagement and site visits. The best campaigns will have one main goal and CTA. Our advice? Make sure your CTA is clear and placed towards the top of your email, giving those already interested a fast and easy route to your website.
  • Create a reason to scroll. If the object of the email is to encourage the customer to read all of the content, then give them a good incentive or enough of a tease to scroll down. Customers need a strong hook to stop them deleting and moving onto the next email in their inbox.

Myth 2: Always keep your marketing emails short

Many brands now see over 50% of their customers opening emails on mobile devices. Given the tactile nature of smartphones and that the ability to navigate via pinches and swipes is so ingrained, scrolling through an email is no longer a blocker to engagement. So, rather than stick to this piece of best practice, focus instead on the following points and let the email length take care of itself:
  • Keep copy short and concise. Rather than worrying about the overall length of the email, keep the copy clear, succinct and digestible, using bullet points and short paragraphs.
  • Focus on the key message. Unless it is a regular newsletter that contains a variety of content, be clear on what your primary goal from the email is. Focus on landing the primary message. Then, if there is any secondary or tertiary content, make sure there is a clear hierarchy to the design and structure.
  • Ensure the email can be scanned quickly. Break up the copy with headings, subheadings and imagery so that readers can scroll through the email and pick out pertinent information quickly.
  • Clear call to actions. Give customers quick and easy exit points from the email to the landing page. And set clear expectations about where your CTAs will take the reader when clicked.

Myth 3: Customers respond better to images of people

Plenty of research claims that using human faces in your marketing increases engagement. But it’s not that black and white. Here are four key things to consider before choosing images of people for your campaigns:
  • We are not walking emoticons. A human expression contains infinite nuances and can be interpreted differently – what is a warm, friendly smile to one person can be cheesy and insincere to another.
  • You could alienate part of your audience. Very few brands appeal to one single demographic. So if you’re not certain that the models resonate with your target audience, or are in the appropriate life stage (married, retired, with or without children etc.), then you risk alienating a large portion of your customers.
  • What values are you trying to communicate? Your brands USP or values may be better conveyed using a different approach. For example, a tech product with a high level of design aesthetics might be better conveyed by a close-up product shot. Just take a look at Apple for inspiration.
  • Does your brand already have customer-facing staff? If so then using real imagery of real staff members might be an authentic way of conveying your message and creating a connection with your customers.

Myth 4: The more emails you send, the more you annoy your customers

Sending lots of email to your base of customers has often been regarded as ‘spamming’ – and carries the risk of mass unsubscribes. However, there are many aspects to your email campaigns to address first to prevent your customers feeling like they are being spammed:
  • Personalise your emails. Personalisation helps show that you recognise and know your customer. It can be as simple as adding their name to the subject line or starting your email with their first name.
  • Include custom published content. Beyond just including a first name the next step is to make sure your emails are relevant and timely containing content that you feel the customer would be interested in. This may be based on data you hold regarding previous purchases or a recent action they made, be it a previous email click or website visit.
  • Vary your content. Sending your customers a variety of content will help keep your campaigns fresh and opens rates high. Mix regular newsletter themes with emails focused on new product launches or annual events such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day or Cyber Week.
  • Learn from previous behaviour. If you continually send content or products that your customer never clicks on, they will inevitably unsubscribe. So, keep track of how your customers interact with your emails and tailor your content accordingly to help keep your campaigns relevant.

Myth 5: Avoid spam words in subject lines

Most email clients have spam filters that help identify unsolicited emails. However, in days gone by, using words like ‘sale’ ‘extra’ ‘off’ or ‘new’ in your subject line almost guaranteed a place in the spam folder. Now, filters are more sophisticated, which means your subject line wording is less of an issue – your IP reputation and the validation of the sender are far more important. So, rather than working out how to cleverly word ‘20% OFF’, focus on these areas instead:
  • Keep your subject lines short and sweet. Short and punchy subject lines mean that more of the content will appear in the preview pane of mobile devices.
  • Keep the key message at the front. Make sure your customer gets the main gist of the line even if the end of the line gets trimmed in the preview.
  • Pair your subject line with a pre-header. The first line of HTML in your email will appear in the preview of most mobile devices. Make sure this isn’t ‘Click to unsubscribe’ by adding a pre-header that re-enforces your subject line copy. If you don’t, it’s a missed opportunity.
  • Stay consistent to your brand. Most customers have their own internal ‘filter’, so whether you use humour, intrigue or straight-up facts, make sure the line adheres to your brand’s tone of voice.


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