A Framework for Email Communication



Most companies are NOT satisfied with their Open Rates and Click-Through Rates (CTR). If you really want to solve this problem, it is important to take a step back and look at email as part of an overall communication strategy. Here’s a framework to help you identify the levers that really matter for effective email communication.

Place in Life

Since email is push-based, you have to figure out how much of a role you play in your target audience’s life. While we all like to think that our customers are constantly thinking about us or will want to use our platform 24 hours a day, it’s important to be realistic. When designing an email communication plan, think about the ‘Place in Life’ you occupy in your target customer’s life. The infographic gives you a place to start.

For example, if your target audience is 20-30 year-old males and you are an e-commerce company, your target customer does not expect to hear from you more than once a month (ok, definitely not more than once a week). Make sure that the communication is really high quality, targeted, personalized, based on past purchase behaviour if you have that information, and adding value beyond the transactional relationship.

Opt-in Quality

We introduce here a concept called opt-in quality, which is extremely important in gauging the response you can expect from your email audience. An email address collected on your website where intent and frequency of communication is explicitly stated is of much higher quality than one collected with a checkbox as part of another signup process or at a physical store while filling out a loyalty form. This concept relates to the ‘intent strength’ of the subscriber when signing up. This has an impact on open rates and click-through rates. The higher the intent strength, the higher the engagement you can expect.

Frequency of Communication

An explicitly stated frequency is much better than ‘we will occasionally send you updates on our products’. Sometimes less is more. I am less likely to unsubscribe from your monthly communication than your daily one. You can also segment your customers into various communication buckets. While your power users might like to hear from you every week, others might prefer less frequent communication.

Quality of Content

This is the holy grail. Quality here includes the concept of Relevance. The initial Quora weekly emails were of high quality because the topics were universally interesting (how does it feel to murder a person – with answers from a real convict, wow!). They also personalized them, with questions related to my alma mater, for example. With email, you have the opportunity to speak to each individual as an individual. However, the effectiveness of this depends on the quality of information you have about each subscriber. LinkedIn has begun sending me job emails, but most of those jobs are irrelevant. To begin with, I am not looking for a job. Also the keyword matching is sub-optimal. I receive many jobs that are not related to my background or areas of interest. Twitter, on the other hand, has managed to get me spending more time with it because it is helping me discover interesting people almost every day, based on my twitter behaviour and that of others in my network, on twitter and on the web (every major site has a tweet option). Facebook emails are not interesting any more, as tags from friends and likes and comments are mildly interesting, but this information is easier to browse and discover when I visit Facebook a few times a day.

For businesses, it is important to see how social and new media companies are using email, because they look at email more intensely than most companies out there. Think about email in conjunction with your other communication efforts. Use it to engage (and re-engage) customers who may have forgotten you.

Opens and CTR

Open rates are an indicator of your brand’s strength (From Name and Quality of previous emails) and the Subject Line. While catchy subject lines might get you a temporary bump in opens, it can backfire if there is dissonance between the subject line and the content of the body of the email. However, most companies under-estimate the importance of a good subject line. A fair yet powerful subject line can improve open rates by upto 30%. Your ‘From Name’ is your brand. If you have a strong offline (or online) brand, use it. But make sure your communication quality backs it up.

The Click-through Rate (CTR) is what you typically want to maximize. You want people to click on links within your email, go to your landing page and read that information or make that transaction. There are several best practices for optimizing email creative to ensure high click-through rates – some of the basic ones are – make one point in the email, have multiple click-through links (at the top and the bottom for example) and use a good mix of text and images. Too much image ends up not appearing properly on many mobile clients and in inboxes where images are not turned on. Images also take time to load. Only-text emails might be boring and may not do a good job of making the communication lively.

The more you can think about adding value to your subscriber’s life with your content, the better. Make it useful and/or entertaining. Only then, ask them to consider buying your product or service.