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Are You Getting Through? - 4/24/2012 -

Here's how to make your association's email messages stand out.

By Carole Hayward

When it comes to getting our associationís messages heard through the noise of every other organization, service provider, and retailersí messages, I often feel like the Whos down in Who-ville, struggling to be heard in Dr. Seussí timeless classic Horton Hears a Who, shouting, "We are here, we are here, WE ARE HERE!Ē

According to MailerMailer, an e-mail service provider (ESP), increased volume is a significant contributor to the industry average decline in the open and click-through rates. Readers, simply put, canít keep up with the volume of messages they receive.

This is sobering for those of us who rely on email messages to our members and customers to generate sales, boost conference registrations, and deliver timely publications. How do you make your messages stand out from all the others?

According to Lisa Harmon, vice president of creative services, Responsys, a company that delivers marketing campaigns across email, mobile, social, and the web, three tactics emerged from the leading emails from the past year that can make your strategy more effective in the future: personalization, triggered emails, and mobile design. To view Responsysí selection of the best of 2011, download a pdf of its 2011 E-mail Design Look Book (Note: Itís free, but you do need to provide some information before you can download it.)

I work for the educational nonprofit association ASCD, and we are continually refining our email strategy, content, and design to get through to our readers, members, and customers. Here are some tips that might help your email efforts:

  • Personalization. Using dynamic fields (more on this in an upcoming issue) to customize our message for our readers, ASCDís member e-newsletter, ASCD Delivers, has seen a significant increase in open and click rates (20 percent open vs. 12 percent and 5 percent click-through vs. 3 percent). Personalization today is much more than just filling in the personís name. Figure out what you know about your readers and deliver content specific to that knowledge. Do you know where they are from? What level of membership are they? Have they attended your conference in previous years?
  • Triggered emails. These messages are designed to speak to readers when they will be most receptive to what you have to say. For example, weíve learned that many of our conference attendees donít plan what sessions they are going to attend until just before our conference, so a couple of weeks before the event, we send our registrants a Conference-Planning Toolkit, a personalized URL (PURL) email message. It provides good customer service, while helping us learn more about our attendees.
  • Mobile design. What does your email message look like when read on a smartphone? If itís not optimized for mobile delivery, your message is likely being tuned out by your readers. More and more people are reading all of their mail on mobile devices, and they are skipping over messages that are too hard to read. ASCDís ESP, Real Magnet, provides tools that allow us to create mobile and text versions of our emails. Weíve learned that itís not enough to optimize the email page for mobile; pages that our email message links to on our site need to be mobile friendly as well. Weíve made strides in this area in the past year, but our mobile strategy continues to evolve.

Mike May, who blogs at Real Insights, offers these useful tips:

  • Use the unexpected in subject lines. The subject and from lines are your only way to stand out in a crowded inbox, so creating the unexpected can invite readers to read more and discover what you have to say. At ASCD, weíve found that provocative questions yield better open rates than a straightforward statement.
  • Pare down your copy. "Your audience may love hearing from you, but they may also be lending their attention to a hundred other senders, 200 Facebook fans, and 150 Twitter feeds. The best way to take advantage of the attention they extend you is to respect and conserve it,Ē May recommends. Write your message, assess the word count, and reduce it by an additional 25 percent to give your message more clarity and focus.

In Dr. Seussí story, the Whos finally break through and are heard in Hortonís world by uttering a word that had never been heard before (perhaps the inspiration for inventors of Google and Pinterest?). Availing ourselves of the latest tools in email messaging can help associations break through to our readers in new ways so they know we are here.

Carole Hayward is the interim publisher and director, newsletters and special publications, at ASCD and a member of the Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.


 

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