Email Marketing and The Psychological Spam Filter

Posted by Lee Noble

Painstakingly, you have put together your open-rate-dominating subject line. You have perfected the email copy and even resisted the temptation to use "FREE!!!" in every sentence and you're pretty confident in your credibility as an email sender.

You load the data, sort out that pesky unsubscribe list (some people are blind to your electronic-art) and you set the campaign to send. All done. Breathe. Relax. You're confident.

And that's it isn't it? Sit back and watch the open rate percentage climb, the downloads/clicks/purchases soar and the inevitable back-pats from your (fans) colleagues reign in.

But sometimes all is not rosy in the land of subject lines and spam filters. Unfortunately one thing that could hold back your success is (almost) impossible to track with your usual metrics. In my experience so far, I have been guilty of distancing myself as some separate marketing entity that is devoid of humanism and interaction (no that's not just because we are in Manchester). This has caused me in the past to disregard my own thoughts and experiences when developing subject lines and email copy because I am too focused on "keeping with the benchmarks" and "adhering to best practices".

This causes the production of email communications that are designed to beat computers, not inflame the interest of minds. And if you don't capture the attention of the person after opening the email then ultimately, your campaign is dead.

I have coined this situation "The psychological spam filter"; aka the "open the email just to get rid of that pesky unread email notification" or the "I've opened this email but to be honest I don't really think it is relevant to me anyway" filters. This is a problem that you can't monitor, you can't measure and you can't really plan for. These situations may as well have been hard bounces when it comes down to the value added to your campaign. But as part of a marketing and branding agency we need to develop methods to combat it in a proactive way.

I can not put enough emphasis on the phrase "Put yourself in their shoes". This phrase alone has helped me a lot in life, not just in marketing and I feel it is much overlooked these days. Allowing yourself to get into the mind of the person that will potentially be opening your email will go a long way to them actually being interested, reading on and completing whatever CTA you have put in there.

Another question to always ask yourself is "Would this email appeal to me?" Sure, when it comes down to demographics and the target audience of your email (like in my example below of sending to Payroll Managers a few decades older than me in a previous role - I used this example to highlight the difference between myself and the audience I was targeting) there may be some disparity between what I would consider a worthwhile email and what they would consider as being worthwhile. But as basic human interaction, you can generally get a good feel for what you think they may find valuable. After all, you're the marketer, you should be good at getting inside a target audience's mind!

It is also extremely beneficial to make use of any Personas that you have developed. And if you don't have any Personas developed then I seriously suggest you clear your diary and get some written. Personas are perfect for getting inside the mind of the people you are writing the email for. Even with B2B marketing - it is a person at the end of the day that is reading the email, not the business itself so make sure that you appeal to the human element.

Be emotive, put pressure on them, give them a time scale. Make the subject line stand out to them, import their first name and make that initial connection.

Let me give you a quick example of an email that I worked on. The CTA was to try and encourage someone to download a whitepaper that had been written about the 7 top tips for staging in 2016 (pensions automatic enrolment).  As the subject line you could say:

Download this guide for some top tips on staging in 2016

It is short, straight to the point and sets the reader's expectations around what is inside the email. But, it uses the word "Download" (spam), is quite boring and doesn't particularly scream emotiveness (or indeed encourage someone to open the email). What I went for instead was:

<Insert first name> hurry, your business' staging date is closing in on you

Immediately, this subject line is addressing the recipient personally. Your name is the most familiar word that you know so use that knowledge to capture someone's attention. I also then triggered a small part of the recipient's "fight or flight" response with the words "hurry" and "closing in on you" and encouraged a feeling of worry around a suggestion that their business was under threat in some way. All of these factors coupled with the information about a business' staging date gives a more compelling reason to open the email to get past the typical "nah, delete".

The email had a 98.1% delivery rate (beat the computer spam filter), a 35.1% open rate and 33 downloads of the whitepaper inside. And this was to prospect data (i.e. they are completely new business).

Another thing that you can do is to mix it up and ensure that you are keeping a fresh message in the emails themselves. The worst position you can find yourself in is for the recipient to see the email land in their inbox and think "ah, I usually delete emails from them" and then condemn the email to the trash bin. It is then extremely hard to recover from this so mixing up your content and making it interesting to read is extremely important to staying on the positive side of the mind of your email targets.

So, you can craft the email, beat the spam filter and land the email in the inbox but then making sure that your email appeals to the mind of the recipient is extremely important or you may as well just count that as a deleted email.

If you can do this, you are well on your way to beating the psychological spam filter.

We apply this practice of thinking to all of our campaigns and methodology from writing an email to planning a strategy. How can we resonate best with our clients' target markets? How can we put ourselves in their shoes?

How can we help you? Get in touch and let us know.

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