Six Email Myths You Should Know

There are over 4.35 billion email accounts and it is predicted to reach 5.59 billion by 2019, a growth of more than 26%. Here are some other fun statistics on email:

  • Over 122 billion (122,500,453,020) emails are sent every hour.
  • The average number of emails an office worker receives each day is 121.
  • The open rate for email in North America is 30.6%.
  • The percentage of email that is spam is 49.7%.

Email marketing is thriving throughout the non-profit and for-profit worlds. This includes the growing number of multi-generational mobile users who check email on their phones daily. Statistics like these have convinced many planned giving marketers that email is essential for donor lead generation.

Many online email marketing gurus claim there is a perfect subject line length, time of day to send email, or magic “open” words, etc. It is not true. Every donor list is different. What works for one organization may not work for all. To find the best approach for your organization, it is essential to test new ideas.

In anticipation of the year-end giving push, we thought it would be timely to explore some common email myths.  These myths, often considered “facts,” can hurt your email campaigns more than help them. Here are the six worst offenders.


1) Tuesday is the best day

Yes, Tuesday is considered the most effective day to send out an email marketing message. But isn’t Tuesday the day that you rush past after a busy hectic Monday? The logic is that the weekend, starting on Friday, is bad for email since your subscribers are too busy with social activities. On Wednesday and Thursday your readers are too focused on work. So, it must be that Tuesday is the best day. Well, for some lists it may be. But for all? No.

We are not saying Tuesday has never tested well in some well-read and publicized studies. But in the for-profit world, sending emails on Tuesday produced no better than average results. Friday and Saturday were always our best days, and that is because the weekend is when most personal email is read. Think about it. The majority of your email is going to people that are either still in the workforce or are retired. If they are working it’s easier to get their attention when it’s not vying against more important priorities. If your donors are retired, does the day of the week matter? They don’t experience that crazy Monday, or the overly focused midweek, or obligated social weekend. The logical argument for Tuesday no longer makes sense.

Note that some of our best donors are retired and they can read email anytime.  Also, if all the online gurus are sending on Tuesday, that might actually now be the worst day to send your marketing emails. The point is every list is different, and you need to test and test often to determine if there is a trend identifying the best day for sending your planned giving marketing email.

2) You can send an email only once

If you craft the perfect email for your donors and get an open rate of around 25%, good work. You crafted the perfect email, yet 75% of your donor list will never see it. Missed opportunity, right? Not necessarily.

You don’t have to send a well-written and well-received email just once. In fact, in the for-profit world the most successful emails may be sent several times. The idea is to get it out to as many names on your list as possible, so at the end of the campaign over 70% have seen it instead of 25%. How do you do this?

It’s as simple as it sounds. Take the same email and send it again. You can send it “as is” with just an editor’s note saying, “We are re-sending this due to popular demand.” Your readers will not mind. Moreover, some who opened your email the first time, but did not read it, are most apt to read it now.

Alternatively, you can take your original list and remove all the donors who opened the email from the first send. You can now send it again with a new subject line. No one will have seen it twice, and you have just, with any luck, doubled your open rate.

3) Only use short copy

Many Internet gurus say that people who respond to emails have shorter attention spans and that marketing emails have to contain short copy with multiple links. Never make a reader scroll down in an email in order to read your message. While we like the traffic that email links can bring, it’s not that simple. The truth is it all depends.

The length of your email depends on your donors and how they prefer to read. Some want all their information in the email and would never click to a website. Others prefer to skim and click to the full articles. This is why we test. It’s not about picking one length or style based on what an internet publication says. It’s about learning who your donors are by testing different layouts and designs; finding out what format your donors prefer, and how much they are willing to read. Don’t fall victim to an arbitrary word count, or design. Write clear and concise copy, but don’t be afraid of testing a long-form email. If that is what your donors respond to, give it to them. And the only way to know that is to test.

4) Subject lines must be brief for mobile

Gurus say that, due to the advent of mobile marketing, email subject lines should now be shorter. Again, don’t fall victim to an arbitrary word count. A well-crafted subject line will get your email opened, be it on a desktop, tablet, or mobile device. It’s crazy to think you would limit your creativity because some blogger says to optimize your subject line for mobile. Our advice as it relates to mobile is simply to stay away from subject lines greater than 50 characters. Otherwise, there is a danger of your subject line being cut off.

5)All unsubscribers are bad

For-profit marketers love to brag about low unsubscribe rates. They say it’s proof that subscribers are satisfied with the content. In some cases, that may be true.  But we want to know if the subscribers open and click. Is there engagement and responsiveness, or are they just inactive email addresses on the list? If you want to examine the health of your list, you cannot just take one measurement out of context to prove effectiveness. The smart marketer will take into account multiple metrics to get a more applicable picture of the content relevance and health of the list.

An unsubscriber is not always a bad thing. It’s bad if you send poor content, over-mail, or simply put out a poorly conceived and executed email. It’s not a bad thing if you are sending a quality communication and the donor is just not ready to listen to your message. Although they are unsubscribing, they are making your list more targeted. Your response metrics will now be more accurate as the uninterested leave. Your delivery rates and mailing reputation will go up, and the cost for sending email will go down, (Email service providers usually charge on the size of your list). Don’t stress over unsubscribers that leave over time. If you see a spike, that is a sign of a problem. But it’s healthy to let uninterested people go.

6) Emails should always have an image

The general Internet assumption is that an image in an email will always increase content understanding and lead to additional click-throughs. This is not true. Inserting an image for the sake of inserting an image will not help you. If the image has nothing to do with your message it will not necessarily help. Nor will stock photos. Phony people laughing together, generic buildings, or any images that are not personal to your donors, nor your institution, can hurt you more than help. Images like these will not convey your mission or build the relationship of trust needed for a planned gift.

Images must be relevant to the content. If they add to the messaging, then by all means use them. Relevant imagery can help describe a point, or create a more visual understanding. Also, don’t be afraid to test no-imagery. Sometimes a brief message reads better as a letter. Making it look like a “marketing email” may hurt its appeal. It again depends on your audience. Your donors may prefer the conversational, personal feel.

Bottom line regarding all these myths… test to see what works best for your unique list of donors. Over time, you will learn the behavior of your donors and become better at anticipating what your donors will respond to.

 * This post is adapted from a webinar presented by my colleague, Andrew Palmer, Director of PG Calc's Marketing Services line of business.

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