Daniel Burstein

Boost Your Email CTR with a Customer-First Approach: A 3-step guide

October 6th, 2023

Yesterday on MarketingSherpa we published a case study showing how AI Guild member Michael Lerner increased email marketing clickthrough rate. You can read the case study in this article – Value-Driven Marketing Strategies: Email marketing, OOH, and SEO examples with results.

Michael told me he partly got the idea for his new email marketing approach from an email campaign I worked on, which you can read about in this article – Successful Marketing Campaigns: Get ideas from a Mother’s Day email campaign, digital advertising, and programmatic SEO.

While that article explains the email marketing strategy, I thought it might be helpful to go a little deeper into the thinking behind the strategy – with a step-by-step guide and more general info to help you apply this tactic for your own business or nonprofit organization.

Step #1: Understand your limited perspective

The good folks at Ten by Three had two challenges I’ve seen countless small and large, B2B and B2C businesses face.

First, they pour so much of their time into their organization, they intrinsically understand the value their offerings deliver. In this case, it isn’t a typical ecommerce store. It is a nonprofit, and the founder and her team personally visit rural villages in developing countries. They see the transformation stories firsthand – how the handcrafted goods they sell enable artisans to build their own businesses and pull themselves and their communities out of poverty.

You may not be doing similarly noble work (I know I’m not), but you are also hampered by an insider’s perspective. Perhaps you visited your factory or worked with your service providers and know how skilled they are. Or you know the ins and outs of how your website operates.

Second, this nonprofit has an objective they work very hard to meet. They have handwoven baskets and other artisan-crafted goods sitting in a warehouse that they have to sell to continue to empower this cycle of entrepreneur-driven growth in these developing countries. To be blunt: if the product doesn’t sell, the good work stops.

We all have the same challenge, right? We need leads, we need sales, we need donations, etc. Performance-based marketing, maybe? There is a scorecard, it is a number in an analytics or sales platform, and we need to hit it.

So we push the customer hard to get a conversion. But the customer doesn’t want to be sold, they want to be helped.

Step #2: Create a customer-first objective

When someone starts a free trial in the MECLABS AI Guild and has the sort of performance issues this nonprofit faced, one thought tool we suggest they use is the Customer-First Objective. This will help you overcome your limited perspective.

While these questions seem simple at first glance, they are quite hard to answer well. In fact, marketers and entrepreneurs often struggle in their first or second attempts until they participate in some group coaching and have an ‘aha’ moment about their ideal customer and their offer.

Answer these three questions for your offer:

How will you help the customer?

In the case of the Ten by Three email marketing campaign, the product did so much good – it helps artisans in developing countries pull themselves out of poverty. Shouldn’t we have just hit that hard? Well, you can probably attract some people with that.

But let’s face it, we humans (me, you, and our customers), are inherently selfish. What’s in it for me? With these emails, we had to break down how this purchase actually helped a customer.

With Mother’s Day approaching, many potential customers had a felt need – to get their mother a present. And if she lives out of town, you can’t just take her out to dinner. So what can you get her? Just go on Amazon and buy whatever the algorithm serves up?

In this case, we were trying to help the customer show their mother that they were a good daughter or son by giving her a beautiful gift with meaning.

What will you give the customer?

Gift givers check two boxes when making a purchase. Will the recipient use this gift? And what will they think of me based on this gift?

We gave the gift giver a story they could tell their mom when they called her on Mother’s Day, after she received the gift. A story about how she could use the gift, and the good works the gift enabled.

What will you ask for in return?

Their time and attention reading the email, a click to the product page, and hopefully (ultimately) a purchase.

Step #3: Write emails to a person

When you’re working in your marketing cloud or ESP or marketing automation platform or whatever you want to call it, it’s so easy to overlook there are real people on the other side of those sends. When we log in, we see graphs and marketing calendars and database fields and numbers of “prospects created.” We can be blinded by platforms and forget we are trying to communicate with people.

When we write to “prospects,” we garble it up with marketing words and euphemisms and pull hard on any lever we can think of to hit our numbers.

So when I write an email, I always write to a sample real person in the ideal customer set that I know well, or have at least met. And I try to channel the real voice of another real human being I hopefully have had real interactions with – in this case, the nonprofit’s founder. Our industry has B2B and B2C so let’s call it H2H – human to human.

Using that tone, here’s how I leveraged the customer-first objective in the emails:

How will you help the customer?

When people come upon an offer, they instantly and subconsciously consider – is this meant for someone like me? So with the subject lines, we instantly made clear that this could help them with their felt need. For example, “Gifts worthy of mom.” (I didn’t come up with that line by the way, the nonprofit had mentioned it).

What will you give the customer?

We helped them check off those two gift-giver boxes I mentioned. With the first email, we told the customer about the functional benefits of the product, and then added in the good works this gift enabled. I was inspired by the Jobs to be Done framework from Clayton Christensen. By showing them the jobs these products could do in their mother’s lives, they saw the gift would have a functional use for the gift recipient. And then the email explained the good works, giving them a story to tell when they called their mom on Mother’s Day to talk about the gift.

And then in the second email we helped them envision how their mom would talk about them when people saw her out in public with the gifts. Every product tells a story about its user. For example, a Louis Vuitton purse costs $20 for the functional benefits you get and $2,480 for the story it tells about you. This email leaned into the story these products would tell about the mom when other people saw her using it, and what that reflected onto the gift giver.

What will you ask for in return?

These emails were longer than I would have liked. The goal of the email should be just to get a click.

However, the nonprofit’s product pages and shopping cart were not conversion optimized. And this needed to get out quick – far enough before Mother’s Day for them to have time to ship the handcrafted goods to arrive in time.

You may face a similar challenge. Key elements of your funnel aren’t optimized, and yet you need results.

As a work around, I tried to do more of the sale in the email, so they were highly motivated to get through the product page and cart. That approach probably suppressed clickthrough rate to some extent.

But the answer to this question was essential to know for the email’s strategy, and by asking this question it forces you to realize that you often ask for more than just a sale or even a click – you are asking for your ideal customers’ time, attention, trust, information, etc.

As I mentioned, the new successful email marketing campaign was from an AI Guild member. Here is a recent excerpt from an AI Guild briefing:

Daniel Burstein

About Daniel Burstein

Daniel Burstein, Senior Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS. Daniel oversees all content and marketing coming from the MarketingExperiments and MarketingSherpa brands while helping to shape the editorial direction for MECLABS – digging for actionable information while serving as an advocate for the audience. Daniel is also a speaker and moderator at live events and on webinars. Previously, he was the main writer powering MarketingExperiments publishing engine – from Web clinics to Research Journals to the blog. Prior to joining the team, Daniel was Vice President of MindPulse Communications – a boutique communications consultancy specializing in IT clients such as IBM, VMware, and BEA Systems. Daniel has 18 years of experience in copywriting, editing, internal communications, sales enablement and field marketing communications.

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