Inbox Etiquette: How to develop an effective, sensitive message

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Inbox Etiquette: How to develop an effective, sensitive message

Megan Stewart

Every touchpoint, whether it’s a marketing message, letter from the CEO, order confirmation, or password reset represents the whole of what your brand is saying. Effective messaging focuses on helpfulness to subscribers. This is a foundational email best practice that is even more relevant right now. A lot of I’ve received have been a letter-style message from the CEO. And after receiving several dauntingly long letter-style emails, I appreciate the brands that spend a little time on the visual appeal, like Walmart. Their messages focus on how the company is helping me, by highlighting things like touch-free payment, how to navigate the store quickly with store maps, or free shipping.

Summarizing content into digestible headlines and adding visual appeal goes a long way. See this Starbucks example that doesn’t have imagery but still achieves visual appeal.

 I love this message from REI. Although they are having a sale, they don’t open with that. The hero image nods to how they can be helpful for me first, before offering sale information.

 But if you’re struggling with content or what to say, simply asking customers what they need from you goes a long way. When a loss of control is felt, there can be a sense of satisfaction from a poll or opportunity to give feedback. I’d love to see more companies do this. Here’s an example from a yoga studio offering yoga-on-demand classes free, in which they poll customers to see interest by class type. This information will help CPY know which video content to focus on, or which one to highlight in future emails to that customer.

How often you should be sending

Email deliverability not only impacts your ability to get to the inbox today but has long-term implications as well. Diligently managing deliverability now will ensure your company is able to bounce back with the economy and increased demand.

Leveraging A/B testing for subject lines to boost open rates is not only a best practice; maintaining your open rate in a period of increased inbox volume can assist with maintaining your reputation and deliverability.

Start monitoring your email metrics, including deliverability, with more diligence. Know your audience. Know your metrics. Your goal is to have relevant content to send consistently over time. If you don’t have anything to say, consider decreasing volume—but don’t stop completely--and ramping back up at a later date. Your sending IP address is how inbox providers identify email from your brand and monitor your reputation. Depending on how much you slow down, it might serve you well to follow an IP warming plan when you ramp back up. Avoid sudden, major changes in send volume compared to your historical norm. 

Creative copywriting will also improve customer engagement and keep your emails going to the inbox. According to MediaPost, One Out Of Every 15 Emails Now Mentions The Crisis. But if you use an email validation tool built into your ESP, be aware there are other things to look out for. Inbox Service Providers (ISPs) may start filtering messages containing words like “coronavirus”, “COVID-19”, and even jargon such as “unprecedented times”. Staying away from those types of overused phrases will also help avoid customer fatigue. Other strategies to boost open rates and avoiding spam filters include AB testing subject lines, writing an enticing preheader, and sending to the appropriate audience. Learn more about effective segmentation strategies here. For poor-performing segments, consider emailing them less, or moving the message to other channels.

It is common for companies to use separate IP addresses for transactional and marketing messages. You may find the need to significantly reduce the volume of marketing emails you send during this period. If your marketing IP’s reputation is strong, consider what emails currently living on your transactional IP could temporarily come from the marketing IP to help maintain volume and reputation. For example, consider emails like abandon cart, webinar registrations, addendums to the shipping confirmation, such as delayed shipping notices and order confidence emails like “we’re still processing your order--we haven’t forgotten about you”.

This Everlane email is an example of an order confidence email that might be a good candidate for sending from the marketing IP.

 

Another tactic akin to soliciting customer feedback is revisiting the email preferences page. Some Email Service Providers have an out-of-the-box snooze button you can add, giving customers an intermediate option that does not involve completely unsubscribing. Consider offering staggered options such as 30, 60, and 90 days for the customer to choose from. Review your email categories--do you have one for company-wide updates? Perhaps they are less interested in hearing about COVID-related CEO updates and more interested in promotional emails. Having clear buckets and giving the customer control over what arrives in their inbox is an excellent best practice to deploy during this time. 

In Summary

According to the US Commerce Department, retail sales fell 8.7 percent in March, by far the largest decline in the nearly three decades that the government has tracked the data. Retailers will be putting forward their best efforts in order to recoup missed opportunities with foot traffic by overwhelming the inbox. A strong focus on employing best practices to send customer-centric messaging that protects your brand reputation will ensure long-term success.

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