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Email marketing is a beloved tool of marketers and companies; so beloved, in fact, that in 2013, 838 billion marketing emails were sent out. That’s a whole lot of email flooding inboxes. When you see numbers like this, is your first thought, “Wow! Customers must love marketing emails!”?

They do … right?

To answer that, let’s look at stats of actual open and click-thru rates. What you find is that they’re pretty low – around 20% on average, depending on the industry. Or, put another way, about 80% of your email recipients never even bother to open the email you so craftily put together.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that customers don’t want to read emails. Perhaps the problem is that you don’t truly know your customers, and you’re sending out canned messages, just hoping that people will open the email and click through it. If you want to make email marketing effective, you’ll need to take a different approach that involves more than just tweaking your headlines. You’ll need to dive deep into research that will show you who your customers are and get to know what interests them. Here are three secrets that will help you do just that.

Secret #1: Know your audience. And not just through statistics

You have Big Data. You have troves of customer survey responses. You’re pretty sure that because you have in-depth audience statistics, you know your customers. Ergo, you’re confident in your email marketing strategy because it’s based on statistics, so how could it be wrong?

Well, we hate to burst your bubble, but statistics don’t give you the whole story. And we love stats – we do a lot of statistical research at InterQ – but we almost always combine it with qualitative research because numbers don’t tell you opinions, and they can’t build a customer personality profile for you. When you write email marketing messages, you need to know more than just demographics. Yes, it’s great to know that your average customer is a female between 25-30 who lives in the suburbs, but this alone isn’t sufficient knowledge to help you craft messages that appeal to her preferences and her lifestyle.

Before you start writing email messages, take a step back and ask a third-party to give you an objective look at who your customers really are. In-depth interviews, focus groups, or even ethnographic research will give you a rich, full picture of your customers’ tastes, preferences, and habits. You can hone in on specific questions, like what kinds of messages capture her attention? What companies have caught her eye and why? Once you’ve gone through the process of doing in-depth qualitative research with the customers you want to email, you’ll find that those open rates will skyrocket. You’ll be composing copy specifically tailored to your customers’ needs and wants.

Secret #2: Figure out what your customers’ business problems are

It’s easy to become so caught up in our own companies’ coolness factor, that we become consumed with writing messages about Our Great Product. We use emails to tell our customers about the latest feature, the awesome cloud-linking technology that we just invented, or the snazzy new version 3.0 that we just released.

But guess what. Your customers may not care. Not even a little bit.

In fact, what your customers likely care about is the fact that they can’t solve problem X, or that they can’t ever get anyone at your company to answer the phone and offer tech support. “Great,” they’re thinking as they scan your latest ‘VERSION 3.0 JUST RELEASED!!!’ headline. I wish you could spend as much time helping me, your client, as you do working on new software versions.”

And therein lies the problem with email marketing: You market based on what’s new or what’s interesting to your company, but rarely do companies slow down to ask themselves: Does this actually matter to our customers? Will this solve their business problem? And oh, by the way, what is their business problem?

See now why qualitative research is so important? When you take the time to interview your clients and conduct methodologically sound research to figure out their business problems, you won’t have to guess whether customers care about your latest software version. In fact, you probably won’t write about it at all, unless it directly helps cure what is ailing your dear customer.

Secret #3: Don’t oversell

Finally, to master email marketing, refrain from overselling. Your customers are already your customers. Once you identify their business need and are crafting tailored messages that help them do their job better, you don’t need to repeatedly beat the drum about your extensive product line or flashy new app upgrade. They know. They probably like you already. Use your email marketing messages to offer them information that they want to know. And leave it at that. If you take the time to go through the qualitative research process, you will know what they like to read about, so you won’t be playing a big guessing game every month when you sort through topic ideas. If you have a sale or special – awesome. Let them know that you value their business and want to give them a deal.

Look at your email marketing messages as a two-way conversation (instead of a billboard screaming at them), and see what happens. Chances are, your customers will keep you out of their Spam box.

Want to improve your email marketing strategy? Let’s get to know your customers a bit better, shall we? >