Here’s some news that might come as surprising: a recent study in the UK of IT professionals working in B2B said they preferred that companies market to them using email by a gross majority: 57 percent.
What’s even more interesting, the second largest preferred marketing method wasn’t even marketing at all: 36 percent that they’d rather reach out to the company themselves than be marketed to.
This indicates an interesting trend in marketing today: many professionals are getting fatigued at the sheer amount of ways that marketers can target them. Push notifications, text messages, social media, content, paid search, paid social, and videos ads are just some of the digital ways marketers can reach potential prospects.
Email surely fits into this basket of digital approaches, but studies like this one show that there’s still hope. Email fatigue is certainly a real thing, so even though this study points to the fact that some users don’t mind getting marketing emails, it doesn’t mean they want to be inundated with them.
A study on email fatigue by SendGrid found that the ideal frequency for brands to send emails (which was averaged across different industries) was about eight times per month. However, some brands are sending as many as 25 emails a month – almost one per day! After a certain point, users will begin to ignore all your emails, no matter the type or approach.
In order to send emails that your target B2B audience actually wants to open, consider the following five formats. As with anything, do some A/B testing of subjects, layouts, and offers, and see if different types of emails resonate more with your audience than others.
Mass Data Personalization Campaigns
Personalization marketing is more than just being able to dynamically insert a recipient’s name into the subject line or body of the email, as a recent post for Salesforce Canada I wrote explains. There are many different components of a user’s activity online that you can use to better personalize your emails, including how what pages they visited on your website, their past purchasing history, and how they landed on your website in the first place (e.g. through organic search, social media, etc.).
These different user attributes can be used to craft better emails catered to an individual’s interests.
For instance, if you’ve noticed they’ve purchased from you before, but recently signed into their e-commerce account and didn’t purchase anything, you might send an follow-up email with a special offer or incentive to purchase. Their behavior indicates that they are still interested in your company, so take advantage of their interest and reach out to them again so they will re-engage with you.
The same could be said for how users use your products if you have a SaaS product or something digital you can track. If they signed up for a free trial or demo, but haven’t converted into a purchase, you can send them a follow-up survey about their experience or offer a temporary discount to convince them to buy.
Not using personalization, especially when you are asking a user to do something, can potentially backfire. Users are getting more and more used to personalized emails, so not having it when you could is definitely a drawback. In fact, 2017 study by Ascend2 found that mass personalization was the number one tactic to increase email campaign success.
Take this example of a real email I got from Instagram, which didn’t fill in my name or give me any personalized incentives to fill out the requested survey:
They could have not only filled in my name, but also offered some personalized insights about how I used Instagram (e.g. “We noticed you liked 300 photos last year, but have never used Instagram Stories. Could you take 3 minutes to tell us why?”). This ask could then tie into a better incentive for me beyond just “improving the Instagram community,” which many users won’t feel a personal pull toward. For instance, Instagram could offer randomly selected survey respondents to win a gift card or a feature on their official profile.
If you have the capability, personalize when possible and use an approach that keeps users interested instead of feeling sold to.
Drip campaigns are targeted, scheduled email campaigns that go out to your list over time. It focuses on a specific incentive, such as converting the customer after they request a copy of your latest e-book or drawing competitor clients over to your products instead. Drip campaigns historically have a high conversion rate compared to other types of B2B email marketing campaigns; Delivera reports that it’s over 50 percent.
While that’s likely not always the case with every business or industry, a useful series of emails can help your business establish a relationship with new leads or re-engage “cold” leads that haven’t purchased anything from your business for a while.
Drip campaigns can also use personalization to make the series of emails more enticing to the user based on their action. For instance, if they get an initial email with a download link to their requested free ebook, then click on the intro video included in the email, the drip campaign can split off to focus more on a video content approach since that is what the user engaged with. Conversely, if they didn’t click on the video and went straight for the ebook only, a drip campaign can use more written content emails to get them to convert.
The drip campaign tree can also continue to split as needed. If you include one video in the written content branch, and the user clicks on it, you can then try sending them more videos. This “choose your own adventure” approach to email marketing is taking users on a journey with your brand, instead of just being talked to through emails that don’t interest them.
Educational Email Courses
Another popular type of email marketing that can be considered a drip campaign – because they are a series of related emails and go out to your audience over time – are email courses. These are automated, educational emails users can sign up for on your website and are then sent a series of emails on a specific topic.
For instance, if you are a manufacturing workplace safety supplier and there are new OSHA requirements, your 7-day email course could cover the highlights of the new changes and end with a call-to-action to purchase some of your safety products to keep up with the new regulations.
By focusing on education first, you are providing a service to users, while increasing positive brand sentiment and trust. Potential buyers begin to look to you as a thought leader in the industry, and are much more likely to trust you down the road when it comes to actually making a purchase.
When creating an email course, first outline your goals for the course (e.g. identify priority conversion actions or product to purchase) and then storyboard the email series. Map out how many emails there will be and what each one will contain. Drip has a good guide on creating an email course that explains the creation process step-by-step.
If you’ve never seen an email course in action, I recommend signing up for one on Highbrow. They offer free email courses on several different educational topics, like art and history. While they aren’t doing it for marketing purposes (but rather have a premium membership option), it’s a good way to get ideas and see an email course play out in real time in your inbox.
If the educational angle is working for your brand, an email newsletter may be a hidden asset you aren’t devoting enough time to. Email marketing started gaining traction in the 1990s, and the CAN-SPAM act was passed in 1998 to protect consumers from receiving email they didn’t want. Throughout the evolution of email marketing, newsletters have remained a valuable way for brands to connect with their target audience by providing useful industry information.
The best email newsletters not only include the latest blog posts (or a featured blog post) from their own website but also have useful information for their audience that isn’t strictly self-promotional. These could be links to external news sources on the latest development trends or laws that may apply to them.
For instance, a corporate accounting firm could feature their own blog post about the upcoming changes to United States tax regulation based on the bill passed in 2017. The newsletter could then tie in additional information about the tax bill, such as reputable, impartial sources that give more information about how it could affect businesses and what to watch for in 2018.
Newsletters don’t have to be all text and links either. You can also include featured quotes with statistics and inspirational sayings, or a “chart of the month” that shows industry study findings. Many email providers also allow marketers to embed videos into their emails by including the YouTube link.
By using a mixture of images, video, and text, you’ll break up the content and give users media options, so they can choose their preferred format.
Most email newsletters are sent monthly, and newsletters can easily be integrated into the other email campaigns you have running. Many businesses automatically roll their email subscribers into their regular newsletter list after they complete a drip campaign or sale, but it’s important to get users’ permission for this when they sign up. No one wants to receive a newsletter they didn’t know they would be getting.
Finally, offering exclusive discounts, free products, or offers through email can be much more enticing than other forms of conversion marketing, like paid search or social media campaigns. Incentives can be used in almost any type of email, including all those listed above.
As mentioned previously, you can cater your discounts or offers to customers’ past interactions with your company. Often, an additional discount is all it takes for someone on the fence to go through with a purchase. This is even more so the case when the offer creates a sense of FOMO: either it’s only for a limited time or only for that specific user.
Drip campaigns and email courses often lead with an offer at the end of the course, in case the user wants to continue engaging with the company or has found the series interesting enough to make a purchase. Long-term email campaign series can show how invested a customer is in your business, which may make them more likely to have a higher average order amount or to order more frequently.
Initiatives can also be used as the initial tactic that gets users on your email list in the first place. Copyblogger recommends using exclusive content or products to get email subscribers, which you can then push into a drip campaign or your regular email list.
In addition to adding incentives to your various campaigns, you can also try offering discounts or offers to your existing email list as a one-off email. Marketing Land reports that not putting the exact offer in the subject line returns the most open rates, and percentage and free shipping discounts usually generate the highest sales.
Email marketing continues to show strong conversion and engagement rates in B2B. By varying your approach through different types of email campaigns, you can hold your audience’s interest.
Email platforms offer more options than ever when it comes to testing, so be sure to A/B test various aspects about your campaigns, from the subject lines to time of day delivery.
Users aren’t necessarily turned off by marketing emails, but when they are done with little regard to what customers actually want, need, and are interested in, they will continue to find their way to the trash folder. Continuous tracking, experimentation, and testing can ensure that you get the best open and click-through rates possible.
Screenshot taken by author in April 2018.