Serious about digital? InPharm Digital Guide November 2011
We all know that emails are a quick and cost-effective way of communicating with your target audience but what makes them successful? How do you get the recipient to firstly open an email, then to hopefully read it, and then if you're really lucky, to engage with it? With inboxes becoming ever more crowded, catching and retaining a recipient's interest is becoming more challenging. Emails therefore need to be more valuable, more relevant, more timely and more targeted to ensure you get the results you want.
A science or an art?
There are many individual factors that make up an email communication. Getting the mix right will contribute to the success or failure of your email communication. Therefore understanding what that ‘mix' is, is key. So when putting together an email communication, is a scientific or creative approach best? When you look at the definitions of each, it's clear to see that a combination of the two is essential.
Science is defined as ‘a system of acquiring knowledge using observation and experimentation to produce useful models'. This refers to testing different messages to see which gets the best response or using an established service provider so you can benefit from their knowledge, experience and proven models of success.
Art is defined as ‘the process of deliberately arranging items in a way that influences and affects one or more of the senses, emotions, and intellect.' This refers to the style, flow and content of an email that really captures people's attention and makes them engage with the message you are trying to convey.
The essential mix
Now we've discussed approach, let's look at the individual elements that make up an email communication and can influence the success of a message.
Without doubt, the most important part of any email is the subject line. It's the first thing the recipient sees when your email lands in their inbox. It's the difference between them clicking on it to view, skipping past it or hitting the delete button. In a few short words you can challenge thinking or demonstrate value contained within the email. Sometimes the topic alone is enough, other times you have to be inventive. So how can you improve your chances of getting a winning click?
Firstly, consider the basics. When creating subject lines, awareness should be given to filtering software. Avoid the use of capitals and exclamation marks or ‘spam' words such as ‘free', ‘tips', ‘enter', ‘sample', ‘private', ‘reserved', ‘products' and ‘introductory'*. A reputable service provider should be able to check subject lines to determine the likelihood of the email being considered ‘spam'. If in doubt, send a number of different subject lines to a small percentage of your overall targets and use the one that gives the best results.
* Institute of Direct Marketing
Research* shows that shorter subject lines generate more displays and click-throughs. Keep subject lines to a manageable length and remember that subject lines may be cut off in the inbox if they are too long. Subject lines with 4-15 characters have shown to have the highest display rate, whilst subject lines with more than 51 characters have the lowest.
Lastly ask yourself (with an unbiased hat on) "would I open this email?” If the answer is "probably not”, then think again.
Content and layout
Keep it short. Think about emails you receive and how likely you are to read all of the content. Most people scan read an email until they find something relevant, or of interest, to them. If they don't find anything of interest in the top part of the message then they are unlikely to read further. Bolding or using different colour text to highlight key points can help to grab the attention of the reader if they are only skim reading your email.
The beauty of emails, as opposed to printed messages, is that you don't have to put all of the information in the email. You can provide links to additional information in online resources such as websites, Apps or even hosted PDFs. This allows the recipient to choose the information they read rather than impose it on them. People often make the mistake of replicating printed literature into an email and this seldom works. Email and print are two different mediums and should be treated as such.
A clean layout and design improves deliverability and the use of white space can be used to break up content. HTML can be your friend or your enemy. Images in emails can look great and improve engagement but consider what your email would look like if the images weren't loaded. Most email programs do not automatically load images. It's also worth thinking about how your email will look on a smartphone. Good suppliers will take this into consideration when creating your email.
More and more people view their emails in the ‘preview' or ‘reading' pane so you need to make this work for you. If the images aren't automatically loaded then they won't see anything but an image placeholder. Not exactly the most engaging email! On this basis it is recommended that any imagery is placed on the right hand side of your email. It is generally accepted that the three second rule applies to email, so the most compelling copy should appear on the left hand side to encourage the recipient to open the email and read on.
Use a sender address that is relevant to the content. This allows the recipient to understand the intent of the email and to distinguish it from spam. It doesn't necessarily have to be a product name, which are predictable and not always successful, but something that encourages engagement and value. Again, reputable service providers will be able to assist you with this. Sometimes coming from an independent URL such as OnMedica can add credibility to your communication.
Timing of emails
There is no hard and fast rule as to the best time to send your emails. Generally, it would seem that emails sent between 1.00am and 5.00am have higher display rates and click-throughs. The most popular time for reading emails seems to be between 9.00am and 1.00pm. A good way to find the best time for your emails, as with subject lines, is to send a series of tests and see which perform best.
The measure of success
How will you know when you've achieved what you set out to achieve with your email? To measure the success of your email communication you first need to define what success means for you. The best way to do this is to set SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based).
The key here is to make sure your expectations are realistic. Time and time again people set objectives that are unrealistic and unachievable, and then are disappointed when the results don't reflect them. As a guide, based on 977 million emails*, the average measured display rate in the medical sector is 7.1%, with the average click-through rate being 1.1% of emails sent. If the metrics that are being reported to you seem too good to be true … then they probably are! It's difficult to verify if the number of displays you have been given is accurate but you can verify the click-throughs, if linking to your website, by checking them against your analytics package.
Confused by the different metrics? Here is a quick guide to what you need to know.
Displays (open rates)
• The way email systems measure displays is when the recipient loads the images (HTML)
• As previously mentioned, a lot of people now read emails in the preview pane without loading the images, therefore these aren't included in your display rates
• Displays are the minimum number of recipients that can be proven to have engaged with the email. In reality the number is likely to be higher
• Click-throughs rates (CTRs) are determined by the number of times an individual recipient clicks on a trackable link within the email
• Some companies will give you averages based on all of the emails they send. Many of these are not sponsored by Pharma and are likely to have much higher click-throughs, so their averages will seem higher
• Use a service provider that only uses averages from sponsored emails to ensure you get realistic expectations
• An experienced service provider will give you click-throughs as a % of the total number of emails sent. Some providers give you the % of click-throughs from displays (as discussed above this number is often skewed)
Don't shoot the messenger
Remember, emails have to be successful for both the sender and the recipient. Senders have a responsibility to ensure what is being sent via email is relevant to the recipient. At the end of the day, all recipients are potential customer and prospects and should be treated and respected as such. You could get your email through the most stringent spam filters but ultimately, it's the recipient who decides whether your email is ‘junk'. In summary, when it comes to using email as a method of communication, be realistic about what you want to achieve, think short and engaging, and be inventive, but most of all, use a provider you trust.