3 Common Email Marketing Challenges

In my earlier blog post I highlighted why all companies including time-strapped startups should have a robust email marketing channel, and how to go about building it. I extolled the many benefits of an email marketing channel for startups and bigger brands alike. It sounds so simple. Then what are the few reasons due to which a lot of companies fail in their email marketing attempts? Here are 3 common email marketing challenges I have come across in most companies I have worked with,

1) Reader Segmentation

There is no reader segmentation. There is a whole chunk of subscribers – friends, family, customers, investors, journalists. Everyone gets the same one email. No deeper study of the email subscribers has been done. Inevitably the email you write for this group of people will be generic, or you will assume a certain segment and write the email for that segment. But what if a significant portion of readers don’t fall into this segment?

What can you do about? Well, ensure reader segmentation.

a) Don’t mix up different email databases – just so you can send a bigger blast.

generic email blast to a bigger subscriber base < well targetted blast to a niche database

b) If you got the subscribers via a form on your website then you need to have insight into why they are signing up. Some ways to get this insight,

  • where they are signing up from? For eg: Blog readers v/s social channel subscribes
  • run a survey in one of your email blasts and identify key interests / demographic and so on
  • track engaged readers versus non-engaged readers depending on the open rate and other analysis of your emails
  • analyse email engagement – readers who click on a specific content piece – segment them into that specific interest group

There are still more ways to enrich your email marketing database with additional information about the readers. This additional information can help you segment your emailers accordingly.

2) Technical Costs

Email marketing can start out very simply for startups using free tools available. However, if you are doing it right and your startup is growing, there are high chances that you will run out of the free plan limits. For eg: Mailchimp the popular email marketing tool has a free plan until you hit 2000 subscribers or 12,000 emails/month. Then you need to either pay or figure out another tool.

I was recently working with a startup where we were using an email client called Sendgrid. The pricing of Sendgrid is way cheaper than Mailchimp. But of course there is a catch. Mailchimp is so user-friendly that even a marketing intern in your office can figure out how to use it. That is not the case with Sendgrid. While I can dabble around with HTML and code, even making a simple formatting change in the Sendgrid emailer took a lot of time. Eventually we realised that if we were using Sendgrid then there was the need for a marketing tech person and we hadn’t hired one then. So with over 20k subscribers this startup should have had a robust email marketing channel in place…. But it didn’t.

Just so you know, at 20,000 email subscribers Mailchimp costs $150 / month

Email Marketing Challenge - High Price of Mailchimp

So How Do You Bring Down Email Marketing Costs?

There are no easy ways here. But here are a few routes startups take,

  • Cull your email database and keep only the most engaged readers on the email list. This way you spend less money on the more engaged readers.
  • Hire a junior tech person who can help the marketing team. Or basically get tech help from a techie friend or startup. This let’s you use the cheaper emailer systems like Sendgrid.
  • Depending on the subscriber number, startups try spurious means like using multiple Mailchimp accounts or sending via Gmail itself. All of this is okay until you hit really high subscriber numbers. After that doing this will be time consuming. Moreover, you run the risk of being blacklisted by the email provider (Mailchimp) or getting your domain blacklisted by Google. So I wouldn’t suggest this.

The best way would be to get expert help (like Me 😉 ) at ensuring a well targeted email channel which should soon show high return on investment. And then just pay for the tools as needed. Through proper research you can figure out your cheapest payment options and then just keep to it. Anyway over time the email channel should deliver enough business to justify the spends.

3) Mediocre Content Writing

I see this problem in big corporate companies and smaller setups alike – they have one person who manages all content. This is a problem because with different content channels, the style of content has to change. On social media the updates need to be short and catchy. Here a copy-writer may do better than a blogger. But for a blog you want detailed, SEO optimised content. And all of this is different from website content where a stronger understanding of user behaviour and action oriented content would work best. PR would be another form of content.

Obviously unless you are a marketing agency, for each of these tasks you won’t be hiring a dedicated content person. But there are a few solutions,

  • Training. This probably can’t be said enough. But there needs to be adequate training for the content person, either from company seniors or by bringing in external consultants.
  • Supplement this training with a culture of learning of the net. There are ample international experts who have their blogs and webinars online for free. Content people must closely follow a few such people, so they are up to date with the trends and what is needed on each platform.

For email marketing the content person must be very well tuned into these pieces of information,

i) reader segment they are addressing

ii) the funnel that the email is part of – basically what is the purpose of the email

iii) which stage of the buying cycle is the reader in?

Here I will add a special note of my experience with certain Indian companies.  These are typically companies with a team size of 20 – 50 people. They may be small companies or even large corporates but the specific department would be again 20 – 50 people. These companies do something atrocious. They have a tech team that sits in some completely different place in the corporate structure. So while I as the marketing consultant will be in touch with the cool brand managers, social media managers, designers and such. I have nothing much to do with the tech team (who are always some old school folks busy putting up firewalls on the corporate wi-fi and such). So when the matter of sending out the email comes in here is how the process works,

  1. Cool marketing team with hep brands managers and content writers work out a fair copy. The problems at this stage I already highlighted above. But now comes the ATROCIOUS bit,
  2. The email content is then sent to the tech team! The same old school tech folks who have I don’t know which random email sending tool. Something I have never heard of. And they take the content and design it as acceptable on their email system. And send out the mail. 

The final mail is thus, something that reminds me of 1980s. Yes, I am exaggerating because there was no email in 1980s  but nonetheless I feel like I am in 1980s. Basically these old school companies throw their email marketing efforts onto the bus because of the technical part of it. Very sad. However, I have worked with such companies, and I must tell you even they see results from email marketing. Sure it could be a lot better with evolved tech. 

And now the conclusion….. 🙂

Typically in India I find most emails to be unremarkable. And I am not talking about SPAM. I am talking about companies with whom I have actually signed up. And the emails they are sending out. Either they are boring or they are unremarkable. Every piece of content needs to be amazing and towards a pre-defined goal.

So once these three challenges are taken care of, then your email marketing channel should be giving you measurable results. It is now a matter of optimisation. Experiment with different content pieces, different subject lines, time of email and other changes to get a deeper insight into your reader segment and what works with them. This is where stuff gets interesting. 🙂

Have you faced different challenges while establishing your email marketing channel? Share your experiences here.