Examining Success Factors for E-mail

Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries AssociationAt RIA, we are constantly assessing our e-mail strategy and how to maximize its effectiveness, and I am happy to pass along some observations. According to Telesian Technology (www.telesian.com), open rates for e-mail have gone down by close to half in the last year. They claim open rates of 30-40% are at the high end for “solid, educational e-newsletters.” Much lower open rates are quite common. Here are a few strategic and tactical e-mail factors to consider.

Ultimately, it is all about open rates, so let’s start there. According to Telesian, there are conditions that cause underreporting of open rates by as much as 20%. Apparently, tracking devices can be rendered ineffective by certain IT settings (particularly preview panes).

Since we have twice-weekly newsletters, with nearly 40,000 total subscribers between RIA and AIA, the Association has a good sample to work with on a regular basis. Open rates of our newsletters tend to be about 20-percent. Our latest approach for the Robotics Online newsletter is to use a cover note with fewer links and fewer graphics. (The more links there are; the more bold text there is; the more font colors you use, the more likely a spam filter will block it.)

It turns out that even with the newsletter cover note; the open rate is about the same as without it. However, we received numerous e-mails praising the new format, so there is still a positive impact on subscriber satisfaction, which is certainly important.

A creative subject line is also crucial. It must be provocative and relevant. I may have been getting too ambitious when I recently used “Kilroy Was Here (Space Still Available at Robots & Vision Show)” to alert potential exhibitors about space opportunities at the International Robots & Vision Show, but it was a calculated gamble to break through the clutter. We sent that message to two lists, and it generated a 26% open rate for one and 18% for the other.

What about graphics in e-mails? According to an expert e-mail advisor and consultant to RIA, the majority of recipients use a preview pane (not all, just the majority). This leads to considerations when it comes to layout. For instance, e-mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook have “dumbed down” their newest release with a default that does not load images except by request (i.e. a click of the mouse). For some users, this could mean they see no message in the preview pane if the information is below or built into the graphic, which is known to have an adverse affect on open rates.

There are always different perspectives on e-mail, but our members tell us it is their preferred mode of communication. RIA’s MARCOM Committee had discussions about Internet strategy recently, and the consensus was that e-mail should be expanded over printed pieces. Some feel that open rates of even 5% are superior to direct mail because it is more trackable; more effective (and besides, mail pieces go unopened as well.)

Thanks to member input, we have incorporated more e-mail blasts for promoting the International Robots & Vision Show, including more lists from outside sources to offset potential fatigue to our own list. So far, I can report that Ward’s Auto World produced an 8% open rate, and combined lists from DM2 (Control Engineering, Design News and Packaging Digest) had a 19% open rate. I can also tell you all our pre-registration numbers for the Show and Conference are up solidly this year, and we are doing even more with cyber marketing.

I’ve run into a lot of opinions about e-mail. Some say it is losing steam as an effective medium. Many say it is the best way to broadcast your message. Certainly, it pays to monitor developments such as image suppression, IT blocking and so on. Please feel free to share your own experiences on this blog site.

— Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, RIA


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