As a core part of the Data HQ team since 2004, David is an expert at unravelling complex data and making sense of intricate client requirements.
B2b email marketing: Best practice for 2019
Email marketing is a proven method for business success, but doing it properly is both a science and an art – especially in the b2b sphere, where customer journeys tend to be longer and more complex than in the b2c world.
As such, you need to ensure that you’re up to date on email marketing best practice and applying it to everything you do in your campaigns.
Spring clean your database
The success of your campaigns will always depend largely on the quality and purity of your contacts, so it’s worth regularly cleansing your database and identifying areas for improvement.
Here’s how to keep your database fresh:
Remove contacts who’ve opted out
In fact, make a routine of it. Aside from the primary common-courtesy element of doing so, you’ll increase the accuracy (and the attractiveness) of your own metrics, because the remaining contacts will all, in theory, be those who are interested in your emails.
Fix personalisation issues
Personalising your emails can be an extremely effective way to make them more engaging, but only if those personalisation tokens are displaying correctly in the emails themselves.
For example, displaying lowercase names or initials are a dead giveaway of automation, which can ruin the entire effect you’re trying to create with the personalisation.
Ensure that all names are capitalised properly, and use an email platform that is sophisticated enough to recognise initials and clear them from the database (replacing “Hi [name]” with “Hi there”).
Segment, segment, segment
Successful b2b marketing relies heavily on the creation and utilisation of buyer personas, because what resonates with one professional will make no sense whatsoever to another professional in a different role. Some b2b companies are selling to one specific job title, but others are selling to as many as seven or eight different types of professionals – or more.
Any business that does have multiple buyer personas absolutely must segment contacts, so that the right messaging is sent to the right people. The more granular you can get with your email segmentation, the more accurate and effective your email campaigns will be.
Monitor your hard-bouncing contacts – and remove them
If a recipient’s email address continually hard-bounces, it either no longer exists, never did, was submitted incorrectly or has blocked delivery of your emails. In any case, contacts like this are no longer useful for your database.
As with the opt-outs, removing these hard-bouncing recipients will purify your performance metrics and give you an overall clearer picture of how well your audience is engaging with your emails.
Do something with your unengaged contacts
If you’re sending emails out to contacts who are technically opted in but simply not engaging, you’re sending ‘graymail’ – which, over time, can damage your sender reputation score. Keeping these contacts sat there will, again, dilute your performance metrics and make your campaigns look lacklustre.
Your first course of action should be launching campaigns that specifically aim to re-engage these dormant contacts, with upfront emails such as “We’ve missed you” or “Do you still want to hear from us?” If a contact doesn’t respond to any of these over a period of several weeks, you’ll then know for sure that it’s time to remove them altogether.
Look for gaps in your database – and fill them
Do you have enough contacts to begin with? We’ve spoken about removing uninterested contacts, but it’s worth noting that, sometimes, what you need is more contacts rather than fewer. If your database has a distinct lack of one type of buyer persona (or more), you ought to look into supplementing your existing data with some additional – relevant – contacts to fill in the gaps.
Consider mobile-first (in the context of your business)
Campaign Monitor reports that roughly 50% of all emails are opened on mobile devices, but that b2b emails are below the 50% mark.
Nonetheless, this shift in user behaviour highlights the importance of mobile-friendly design.
Designing with a mobile-first approach allows you to cover all bases: the emails look and feel great on mobiles and tablets, and they adapt and expand accordingly when viewed on desktops. Even if the percentage of mobile openers is much smaller than desktop openers for your particular business, it won’t hurt to cater for everyone.
The relatively simplistic design required for mobile-first emails might turn out to be a positive for your campaigns, too.
Analyse engagement and trial new approaches
Closely and consistently reviewing your campaigns is the only way to identify what’s working and what isn’t.
Are certain segments of your database more engaged than others? Do certain designs, formats or topics prove particularly effective? Does personalising your emails lead to more engagements with your call-to-actions (CTAs)? Are certain times of day a waste of time when it comes to sending emails out?
Come up with hypotheses and investigate them with A/B testing. For example, if a particular email is text-heavy and suffering from low engagement, trial an alternative that has less text and more visuals. Do the 50% of contacts who receive the new version engage with it more than the 50% who receive the original, text-heavy version?
This analysis and adjustment is a continuous process. Tomorrow’s new approach may work for a while but then need replacing further down the line. Pay attention to the data and adapt your campaigns accordingly to keep seeing positive results.
Try using emojis in your subject lines (if appropriate)
There is a general reluctance to use emojis in b2b marketing, often because it is seen as too unprofessional for the corporate environment. However, there is no denying that emoji usage has permeated our daily lives, and the fact is that they stand out in inboxes – especially b2b ones. Besides, not all emojis are the crying-laughing face; plenty are suitable for corporate audiences.
Here are just 10 of the many emojis that, if used in the right context, would not look at all out-of-place in a b2b subject line:
✅ 📄 📊 📈 📂 📏 📌 📝 ✏️ 🔍
So, for example, if you’re sending out an email to promote a new ‘checklist’ piece of content that you’ve written for your audience, why not use a clipboard emoji in the subject line? It will stand out more.
One factor to be mindful of, though, is that certain emojis can look drastically different depending on the device – so perhaps be careful not to stray too far from the trusty, everyday emojis such as the green tick or the magnifying glass.
Follow the other ‘classic’, tried-and-tested practices
Although this article is about best practice for 2019 specifically, some best practices never change, and it’s always wise to remind ourselves of them.
Test your emails before you send them
With each new email you create, send a test of it to yourself or to someone else within your organisation. Mistakes are bound to happen every now and then, so catching them internally before they’re sent out to hundreds or thousands of database contacts is always preferable.
In b2b email marketing, there is such a thing as overdoing it. Even if your emails are a joy to read and a pleasure to look at, your contacts will run out of patience if you send too frequently.
Devise a careful, considered schedule that gives your contacts time to consume each email before you send the next. This can depend on several factors, such as your sector and even the nature of the email itself. Common sense prevails here: just ask yourself how soon would be too soon if you were the recipient.
Avoid spam-trigger words
Although spam-filters are more complex now than 10 years ago, it’s still wise to be cautious when wording your emails – especially the subject lines. ‘Win’, ‘free’ and other such financial terms are best avoided, as are any phrases that imply urgency, danger or gimmicks.
There’s almost always a subtler way to say the same thing, if you take the time to think about it.
Use a mixture of text- and button-based links
If you incorporate CTAs into the text itself as well as on buttons, you’re giving them more opportunities to click through and convert. Some users gravitate towards text-based links, whereas others prefer to engage with more obvious CTAs such as buttons, and catering for both of them in the same email is easy enough.
Data HQ: Helping you to achieve email marketing success
Further reading: Data HQ's complete guide to email marketing
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