I have been a professional marketer for more than 20 years now, which both makes me feel old and, shockingly, at times wise. Email marketing has changed immensely over the last two decades - including email marketing for events - but it is still probably the most valuable and effective marketing tactic available to most marketers. And I admit I've made my share of embarrassing mistakes while learning how to properly conduct event email marketing campaigns.
For example, I once accidentally sent out a test email to a database of 10K people with the subject line "Test Monkey" (which oddly had a much better open rate than the actual email I ended up sending, providing more evidence that subject lines with the word "monkey" often perform well). About a decade ago, I also stumbled into discovering that the colors red and green are optimal for emails (and especially for call-to-action buttons) and that blue just blends in with everything else.
Now, I will admit that I have also tested and measured my marketing emails quite a bit (more than I want to admit, actually), and based on my years of research and diligence, I want to save you from all the mistakes and painful learning moments I had to go through in building event email marketing campaigns.
So I sat down and wrote out my best, top-of-mind event email marketing tips that have worked for me over-and-over again and that won't steer you wrong, whether you are marketing events to potential attendees or marketing an event planning service or event venue.
#1 - Be honest and upfront with your intentions.
If your audience signs up for your list thinking they will get useful resources and value-adds only to later receive a slew of stale sales emails, you will anger more people and damage your brand more than you can imagine.
However, if you would have told them you would be primarily sending them crappy sales emails, your signups would be dramatically lower, but those people receiving your emails will be ready for your crap.
But lets turn that around ... Better yet, never push lots of sales pitches to your audience (because they are sick of being sold), stay far away from salesy language and instead be courteous, positive and honest in what your email recipients can expect when they opt-in to your list. And yes, they do need to opt in.
#2 - Build and maintain your list with strategic content and surprising offers.
It's a good thing you already know that self-promotional emails don't move the needle much ;) So what emails do work? For starters, timely studies and research conducted by you on topics that interest your audience. Videos detailing useful ideas and tips that educate them in their areas of interest and your areas of expertise. Images and graphics that illuminate, inspire and entertain (oh, and infographics are still very effective, too).
Beyond providing your email recipients with educational and inspirational content, occasional offers and discounts that are of value to them also make great email topics.
Yes, you can certainly provide the expected offers like early-bird savings or discounts off your services. But adding the element of surprise can make your offers more unique and appealing. For example, you could curate discounts from events industry partners and offer them to your list. Or you could offer discounts for people who tweet your event to 100 of their colleagues. Anything that varies from the norm but still reflects your brand and offers value is worth trying at least once. And email, if it's about anything, is about testing constantly.
#3 - Mail to your list frequently in the first month, regularly after that.
If you are like us and garner opt-ins via a variety of tactics (like product trials, e-newsletters and how-to guides), you want your new recipients to understand the kind of value they will get from your emails. And you don't want to wait too long for them to receive your first email; otherwise they may forget they signed up and mark your emails as spam.
So a good rule of thumb is to send six emails to your new email list members within the first month of them signing up. Usually a mix of educational content and discounts work well, and towards the end of the month you may want to toss in an opt-in confirmation email to make sure they are interested in sticking around.
After that, I would recommend emailing to your list not more than twice a month and sending out one (1) offer email for every four (4) educational emails. The reason for this is that people enjoy mulling through content and don't mind getting more of these types of messages, but if they receive too many offers they tune them out and start ignoring them.
The key here is consistency, and dropping off will only hurt you because your list members will forget about you.
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#4 - Tap your blog for email content.
If you're like me, you often don't have spare time to write unique content for both your emails and your blog. So ask your blog to do double duty and use your posts as content sources for your emails and e-newsletters.
I have found that my social media friends and followers are much more likely than my email list members to read our blog, so I have provided my email list with abbreviated versions of blog posts. In addition, you can curate content from other blogs and industry Websites and include blurbs and links to those in your emails. Just make sure that the content you are curating resonates with your target audience.
#5 - Use your company name, alliteration and question marks in your subject lines.
For starters, subject lines should be less than 45 characters (including spaces) so that they can fit onto smartphone screens. Never use all caps. And, if you want to stay out of spam filters, your emails should never include the words "free", "buy", "cost" or "avoid."
So what does work in a subject line? Well, by putting your company or product name in the subject line, people will more easily recognize you among all the detritus in their inbox and be more likely to open a mail from a known entity.
Using alliteration in your emails (words in a phrase or sentence that have the same first consonant) also catches people's attention and has been found to regularly improve open rates. Word parings like "swimmingly serene" or "downright dirty" might sound glib, but try your own alluring alliterative phrases and see how they pump-up and bump-up your open rates (yes, rhyming works, too).
Generally I would say to avoid punctuation in subject lines (especially exclamation points ... another spam flag). But question marks actually perform extremely well because people are intrigued by questions and want to know the outcome or answer, so consider using enticing questions in your subject lines, too.
#6 - Rely on text and links - not images - to generate interest.
Event professionals love to include lots of gorgeous pics in their event marketing email messages, and for good reason ... you get lots of amazing photos from all the great photographers working your events.
Here's the thing ... quite a few email apps/clients like Google Gmail have images turned off by default. So any emails you send that are a single image or are image-heavy may not be opened by a large percentage of your recipients who have their images turned off.
A better practice is to focus on the messaging and basic HTML layout of your email, which almost all recipients will be able to see, and strategically embed one or two images in your emails that the user can turn on once they have opened the email.
Oh, and avoid using attachments in your email blasts ... they are also a spam flag for Internet service providers and email spam filters.
#7 - Keep each email to a single message (and put that message in your headline).
This email event marketing tip comes from my journalism teacher in college Dr. Grace, who once critiqued my then fairly florid newswriting by politely but firmly reciting the age-old mantra of editors: Don't bury the lead.
The "lead" is the one main message you are trying to convey, which also doubles as the most interesting and compelling idea in your email. If you have a unique or notable offer, lead with the special deal. If your big event secured a great speaker, lead with this exclusive appearance. If you are launching a new kind of event, lead with why it's fresh and different.
And don't just lead with your one big idea ... make it the focal point of the email (including your subject line and headline) and don't clutter it up with other offers or ideas. One email, one idea.
#8 - Send business emails in the middle of the week.
In my decade of hard core email event marketing, I have rarely had any success sending business event related emails on weekends or Mondays or Fridays.
If you are sending event email invitations for social events like weddings or parties, blasting your event emails on weeknight evenings or weekends may actually show better results. But for emails for business events, your best bet is to send out on a Tuesday or Wednesday between either 8-10 am or 2-4 pm, with Thursday being a close second.
Why do these days and times work better for business event email marketing campaigns? Mainly because many people take long weekends and are sometimes out on Mondays and Fridays, plus those are the two work days in which people are the most buried. And in the middle of the week people aren't as buried and are more accessible.
#9 - Always, ALWAYS have a call-to-action that is the first place your readers look.
People make fast decisions on whether they should read or trash an email, and you usually have 1-2 seconds to get their attention. So you want them to dial into your message fast and be directed immediately to your intended action.
This is where your call-to-action (CTA) is vital. It needs to be direct, clear and short (less than 10 words), and it needs to be the next step the person should take regarding the email. If it's an offer, the CTA is should be for buying or registering now. If you are providing content, it should be to click on links to navigate or to download something.
For your call to action to stand out, it should be in another color than the rest of your email; red is the most visible and garners the most attention, but green also works well. And it should be above the fold (visible in the email viewer or when the email is first opened) and the first thing a person notices when they open the email.
Bonus Extra Tip - Never sell or share your list.
This dilutes the value of it, and other people tend to overuse your list and do things with it you would never do. Your list is gold and your most valuable marketing asset, so don't let someone ruin all your hard work and piss off your audience in the process.
Oh, and never buy lists. Purchased lists are often unreliable and the members of the list have not opted in to receive your emails, so your messages may not be welcome. Instead, take the time to build your own event email marketing list ... it's worth it.
Anything you'd like to add ... then feed the comment monster.