Increasing Email Engagement Rates

… small, simple details add up over time to higher engagement rates — because our emails become more and more relevant to their recipients.

“How many people are on your list?” It’s a question I still ask when working on email campaigns, but not like I used to.

Working at NGOs over the years there was always a nervous energy around list numbers I never quite put my finger on. Open rates were never as high as we liked, click-throughs even lower, and conversions lower still. And we took those low percentages as a given; just part of the email reality.

Even with strong copywriting and design, this “attention scarcity” bred an underlying anxiety that led us to focus on compensating with larger and larger lists. After all, the more people we reached out to, the bigger those small percentages got in terms of real numbers, right? Well, not really.

Shift the conversation

List-building is an important part of our overall long-term communications and digital outreach strategies, but it’s only the beginning. If our email campaigns fail to meaningfully engage with recipients, we’ll forever be scrambling for new sign-ups as our unsubscribe rates rise and emails are marked as spam.

Non-profits face added pressure to focus on list-building when sponsorship funding is directly influenced by how many people they reach. But email marketers in the for-profit sectors have become savvy to a more “quality vs. quantity” approach. They’re beginning to realize it’s about how engaged our recipients are, not just how many there are.

The time is right for us to reassess our email strategies and make engagement the centrepiece of how we think and talk about digital outreach.

Really use those tools

Technology options available from email service providers and CRM (customer/client/constituent relationship management) software have been steadily improving over the years, but few organizations take full advantage of them to improve engagement. With the constant pressure of limited HR resources and day-to-day operations, taking the time to segment, personalize and automate email outreach can easily fall by the wayside.

But why send people in Vancouver an announcement about an event in Montreal? If you know someone’s name, why not use it? If someone donated a year ago, why not thank them and ask for their continued support in the year ahead? When someone signs up for your newsletter, why not send them a welcome email? These small, simple details add up over time to higher engagement rates — because our emails become more and more relevant to their recipients. Sure, nobody has any delusions this is being done with anything other than clever technology, but it will be clear we’re trying to talk to them in a more meaningful way, and that effort gets rewarded.

Get the ball rolling

Improving engagement is an on-going process, not a sudden overhaul. It can be a bit daunting at first, but here are some simple suggestions:

  1. Brainstorm, strategize and set goals: What would ideal engagement with your audience look like? (Hint: you should know your audience when asking this question.) How does this align with your organizational goals? What are some good examples of engaging emails that are relevant to both?
  2. Assess the technology: What options are provided by your email service provider and CRM systems? Are they inadequate, over-powered and complicated, or just right? Make sure you’re using technology that will serve you well for the foreseeable future.
  3. Evaluate your lists: How many people are on your lists? Where and how did you get their contact information? What other information exists besides email? Has the information ever been amended or verified since collected? What information would you like to collect in future and how? Knowing the depth and quality of your lists will provide you with your first avenues for segmentation and personalization.
  4. Compile a baseline: Gather some data from previous email outreach efforts. What are the key metrics you can look to improve? And don’t forget the qualitative side: How strong were the designs, image selections, copywriting and calls to action?
  5. Start with some “easy wins”: Get started by creating simple automations like welcome emails, and reaching out to targeted audience segments for specific offers or campaigns.

If you’d like to talk about using personalization, segmentation and automation to improve your engagement rates, feel free to reach out — Second Revolution Communications is here to help organizations make the most strategic use of their email outreach options.

Brad Pearson

Brad Pearson

Brad is a digital and print designer, and Creative Director at Second Revolution Communications. He occasionally acts in short films you’re not likely to see.

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