Email Marketing Tips and Best Practices From Industry Experts

By Kenda Macdonald | Speaking Events

Aug 28
Email Marketing Tips and BEst Practice

Coming from Litmus

Where do you go to get the best email strategies, best email marketing tips and email best practices? Whether it’s for email design or email strategy? 

You find the one place where the word email will be said way more than in the previous sentence… you find an email conference. 

Now I’m a complete and utter marketing nerd at the best of times. But when you get the opportunity to not only attend, but speak at, one of the worlds best email conferences - Litmus Live… You jump at such an opportunity. And if course I did.

Litmus Live is all about email. It’s where email nerds get together to discuss strategy, data, analytics, and design. So if you love email, or it’s integral to your job, it should be on your list of must go conferences. 

 I loved it. More importantly, there was so much to learn from other speakers and attendees - most of whom are experts in their own right. Campaign Monitor had the following to say about the conference: “The Litmus Live conference puts every facet of an email strategy to the test. The organizers use data to show what works, while also myth-busting harmful ideas that are propagated in the marketing world. In short, the purpose and vision behind the Litmus Live conference is to help you design and run a super effective email marketing campaign.”

They were 100% right. There was so much value in Litmus Live London… and off the back of it, I'd like to share some of my main takeaways with you. 

Images, Email and Calls To Action - The Broken Love Triangle

One of my favourite sessions was the Live Optimisation session. Brave souls submitted their email designs before hand, and the designs were opened up to not only the Litmus pro’s on the stage - but the entire room. The crowdsourced email optimisation was excellent. 

In 2019 emails must grab and keep attention long enough to complete a desired action. To do this, a good email needs to do the following 4 things: 

  1. Add Value

  2. Be visually appealing 

  3. Be consumable 

  4. Have a goal or purpose

There are a variety of ways to create an email, and you can (and should) get super technical about each element and how it’s done. While the technical tips were varied and brilliant - two simple basics stole the show: 

Images and call to actions

And not in a good way.

Your job with an email is to strategically provide combine value, aesthetics and consumability so that you compel the reader enough to complete your desired action. 

One of the easiest ways to blend all of these is to design a beautiful email that will stand out in the inbox. And we get hung up on beautiful imagery. Once you fall into the beautiful trap, it’s easy to neglect the other 3 components.

During the live session, Litmus used their email checklist tool. It has a sneaky little button that shows you what your email looks like with no images. And lordy lord. It was not good. Some of the best emails fell foul of the no images test. Your email still needs to do its job without them incase those very same images aren’t allowed, are switched off by the user, can’t be viewed due to data constraints or don’t display for technical reasons. 

This goes hand in hand with call to actions. Where are they at? If something needs to grab attention and compel action, you’ve got to tell people where to go...

Too often the emails didn’t make it clear what it wanted the reader to do. You can completely nail value, aesthetics and consumability - but you’ll still fail if you don’t have a proper call to action. 

Instead direct and use the energy you create with your value, visual appeal and easy consumption to something the user can actually do. Your goal. 

I was so worried that Litmus would be overly techy. I was scared I’d get lost in a sea of code. Instead I got immense value. Much was learned in the chunky Live Optimisation session.

Emotional Intelligence - Creating Emails That Connect

Early on in the morning we heard from the fabulous Kait Creamer. Kait created a brilliant subject line for her GDPR campaign, going out on May the 4th:

“We find your lack of email engagement disturbing”

All the Star Wars fans out there will recognise the play on the classic Darth Vader one liner from Episode IV: A New Hope.

But if you’re not a Star Wars fan… well the joke is completely lost on you. And unfortunately, that’s precisely what happened to Kait. Her well intended (and hilarious) subject line was lost on the majority of her audience. The email bombed. 

The hard won wisdom that Kait imparted was simple: 

Good content isn’t good enough.

You need to understand your audience well enough to make sure your content and it’s intent is perceived in the correct way. It’s all well and fine having a high general intelligence, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to craft emails that connect. For that you need high EQ - emotional quotient. 

EQ is emotional intelligence. If you have high EQ, you’re better at identifying emotions, reacting to others, and connecting socially. 

If Kait had spent a little more time emotionally connecting with her audience she would have had the understanding that the joke wouldn’t play out well with her audience. 

Her takeaway was that good content can be made into excellent content by spending time to really getting to know your consumers. 

I loved her session for an insight into something that went wrong, and how we could all learn from it, but also for her amazing hand drawn slides… she killed it.

Why omnichannel comms won’t kill email (and why email isn’t dead)

Next up we hit data heaven (and some supreme geekery - the slides were all actually an email!) with Cyrill Gross. 

He took us on a phenomenal journey explaining how email is not dead. It is very undead in fact. It’s still kicking and screaming at the top of the pile for reach, conversion, ROI and consumption. Email is still the best medium. 

Here are some of my favourite snippets from Cyrill’s talk: 

This is an amazing Venn of owned vs paid vs earned vs shared media. It’s scary to look at and realise that so many of our communication platforms are essentially out of our control. We spend so much time crafting the right message, and then rely on the goodwill of others to like it enough to share it, or in other cases the business smarts of the mediums we have to pay to use fairly. Email is owned. That means it’s under your control and yours only. That’s a strong place to be.

It’s also the most democratic platform. It’s not owned by one corporation…

Email is also performs on par with search usage… Let that one sink it, it shocked me a little too.

It’s also consumers preferred method of contact for brands. They are comfortable with this kind of communication, and they expect it. Yes chatbots are very exciting, but they pale in comparison to the mighty strength of the email.

And finally, my favourite bit, the communications quadrant and where email fits. There are different types of communication, mapped her as Formal, Synchronous, Informal and Asynchronous. Different platforms lend themselves to different styles of communications… And it’s hard to find the balance on each one. Thankfully email allows you to bridge each and every one:

Creativity in email - Dungeons and Dragons Style

I’d like to say a special thank you to Jonathan Pay, for the coolest (nerdiest) session that didn’t involve techy stuff. Jonathan unloaded a brilliant talk on how to make creativity more inclusive in email team through playing Dungeons and Dragons. 

It was a fun session that spoke about how being aware of your weaknesses as well as your strengths can help you create in the best way possible, with the best teams possible. 

While not a session full of crazy takeaways, it was brilliant for making us all really think about how we could work better together as teams to achieve our goals. 

Also the award for the coolest font... Thanks Jonathan!

Making Email Accessible 

How do you make emails accessible? And what’s accessibility got to do with it anyway? Who cares about that stuff?

Elliot Ross from Taxi for email gave me a real earworm about accessibility. My buddy Ahmed Khalifa is deaf. He has opened my eyes to things that I, someone without any disabilities, have been fortunate enough to be ignorant about. He runs Hear Me Out CC, a site full of resources promoting deaf awareness for people like me. He also dresses super snazzy.

As a result of Ahmed’s influence, I’ve been making an effort to be more inclusive. So I found a section of Elliot’s encouraging us all to create emails that are accessible, pretty awesome. 

The real earworm though was simply that a disability is not always permanent. Yes you get people like Ahmed who are deaf. And you get people who are perhaps confined to a wheelchair for a period of time. But you also have situational accessibility needs.

Times when people without disabilities might need you to have created content that is consumable in certain situations. 

For instance caption on social media: you might be in a space that you can’t watch the video on LinkedIn outloud (like the bus) - but you’re still interested - so you watch the captions instead. 

Or perhaps you’ve asked your mobile to read your subject lines out to you… Do they make sense? 

So when we’re creating emails and content, we really need to be thinking about the 4 areas people could struggle to access our content through:

Touch, See, Hear, Speak

What are you doing to improve the accessibility of your content? And what levels of accessibility do you cater for?

Email Conversion rates vs Email open rates - who wins?

And finally, the closing keynote - a masterpiece in statistical validation. I tip my cap to Parry Malm from Phrasee. At the end of a full day, he took an entire room of tired conference attendees through some heavy data on email open rates and conversion rates, and their stability as split testing metrics. 

Sounds a bit hardcore right? Fortunately Parry is a talented speaker, and the session was a blast. 

When you’re testing your emails, what wins? Email open rates, or conversion rates? 

Everyone wants the conversion. That’s what we’re striving for at the end of the day. But it’s also the wrong metric to choose. 

You see, for data to be valid, you need to have enough of it. There is too little data to cancel the noise out of conversion rate data. And noisy data is data that has been rendered meaningless by the existence of too much variation. Straight from my university textbooks” It's assumed that the signal (deterministic or meaningful data) is present but obscured by the noise (random data)”

Basically we can’t get clear enough data from conversion rates to use it as a reliable test metric. You’re much better off using open rates. They’re much more stable:

If you’re paying attention to your emails, I strongly suggest you read Parry’s data set and validations here - it’s more fun than you think...

To wrap up

Litmus was brilliant. It was vibrant and geeky all in one. I learned a tonne from the speakers and attendees, and had a rad time doing it. 

So to end this little jaunt we’ve had throughout the best of the talks I saw, here are the top 5 tips I got from Litmus Live London 2019:

Top 5 tips

CTAs and Images - Test your emails 

Keep your emails fool proof and make sure they can be understood without images. Explicitly state what you want people to do if you want them to do it.

Keep it emotional

Be more emotionally intelligent, get to know your audience so well you get how they will react to your jokes and humour.

Be creative, but make them accessible 

Make sure you’re pushing the boundaries of your creativity with your content, but at all times ensure that you’re also taking accessibility into consideration.

Add value 

Always add value, otherwise you’re spam.

Experiment - with open rates

Go forth and split test… But be careful with your noise. Email open rates win every time because you have more data to validate.

Thank you once again to Litmus live for having us, it was brilliant! See you next year.

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