Email is a powerful channel. Done well, email marketing can help you effectively reach new members and communicate with existing ones. 50% of associations selected email as the second most popular channel for recruitment, and 83% say email marketing generated the most renewals (Marketing General, Inc.).
Which means you should keep a close eye on how you’re using email marketing. Ask yourself questions like, “Are we paying enough attention to improving our emails? Is there anything we could change in our email marketing strategy to improve results? Are we making mistakes?”
To help you get started on your email marketing audit, review the list of 11 common mistakes below.
Mistake 1: Too Many Untargeted Emails
Do members commonly get long emails from you that contain information they’re not interested in? If they get too many of these, you’re reducing email effectiveness. They’ll start to tune you out, and they will unsubscribe. Members join your association for specific reasons, and the more you can personalize the content you send, the more excited they’ll be to receive it.
Solution Starter: Find out how to create more personalized experiences by giving this podcast episode a listen. Sneak preview: Use marketing automation. With the right marketing automation software, you can stop sending newsletters that cover everything for everyone. Instead, you can personalize multiple workflows with behavioral data to send fewer, more effective emails to recipients focused on the things they care about.
Mistake 2: Your Content Could Be Better
No doubt about it, technology is a very powerful thing. It can do more in 2022 than ever before. But we’re not yet at the point where technology makes creativity and human empathy expendable. Whether it’s a website, email, or landing page, the content presented must be entertaining, attractive, and informative enough to grab, hold, and build audiences who want to come back for more.
Solution Starter: Everything starts with a story. And most stories are driven by the written language. Check out our favorite examples of storytelling in marketing.
Mistake 3: Watching Metrics That Don’t Matter
Are you giving the wrong metrics more attention than they deserve? Too much attention is often given to vanity metrics, like email opens. Opens (which aren’t very accurate now anyway), are nowhere near as important as what recipients do with the email. How did they engage with it, or not engage? Did they act on the desired call to action (CTA)? Did it cause them to unsubscribe altogether?
Solution Starter: Determine which metrics matter the most to you in terms of your marketing goals, then track those.
Mistake 4: Sending Emails Members Don’t Want
Do you like spam? That’s not a trick question. None of us like getting emails we didn’t ask for. It’s a great way to inspire unsubscribes, which you don’t want. And if that’s not enough to deter you, you might even be going against CAN-SPAM, CASL, GDPR and other rules and regulations. Speaking of which, always make sure you put a physical address in email footers and give visitors a way to unsubscribe—and check that the link and unsubscribe process work.
Solution Starter: Always ask members to opt-in to the communications they want to receive. Give them choices and let them check the boxes. Let them know what emails they’ve subscribed to after they subscribed to make sure they didn’t make any mistakes. Don’t trick them using auto-signup gimmicks. And always offer to let them opt out of topics they aren’t interested in. Need a way to let them micro-manage their emails? Try mute campaigns.
Mistake 5: Including Known Spam Flags in Your Emails
Certain words and symbols create red flags for spam filters. You might see things like dollar signs or multiple uses of the word “free” on the list. The good news is you’ll be able to identify spam flags in your content when you test your email (you are going to test your emails, right?) before they go out. Know what these little spam landmines are so you can avoid those triggers sooner rather than later.
Solution Starter: Learn all you can about email deliverability. This will help you better understand how to keep your emails out of spam folders and get them into inboxes, where they belong.
Mistake 6: Only Sending HTML Emails
For all the testing you try to do, there are still some subscribers who have email clients that won’t load your HTML email as intended. Some people even have it set as the default to not show HTML emails. And .gov addresses only accept text emails. But don’t give up! Provide a plain text and web version of your emails so they’ve got some options. Fair warning, not everything is going to translate correctly from the HTML version, so check everything carefully in the text and web versions.
Solution Starter: Include ALT tags on all your images. It not only helps search engine optimization, but it makes your content more accessible to those with disabilities.
Mistake 7: Including Broken Links
Sadly, URLs don’t always stay live forever. There are any number of reasons a page might be taken down or a link gets “broken.” If you’ve actually captured a member’s interest so much so that they’re willing to click a link to get more information, that’s quite an achievement. So you can imagine how fast that interest evaporates if the link doesn’t go anywhere.
Solution Starter: Check all your links and then recheck them. In fact, any time you include a link in new material to a URL you’ve used before, don’t make assumptions. Check that link again and make sure it still works. And click on every single link in the test. Always. Every time.
Mistake 8: Not Thinking About Outlook
One of the most common email clients is Outlook. Millions of people and companies use Microsoft Office, which includes Outlook. And Outlook doesn’t always follow HTML/CSS rules. Remember, members aren’t going to say, “I use Outlook so I deserve this bad email.” They’re going to say, “Wow, this email is a mess. They’re sloppy.”
Solution Starter: Test your emails in Outlook so you can make any tweaks and get it looking the way you intended it to look. Some email providers offer inbox testing, but even with that, it’s a good idea to get Outlook and test for yourself.
Mistake 9: Not Paying Attention to Preheaders
The preheader is the first line of text in your email. Depending on how recipients have customized their view settings in their email client, they can see a preview of the email in a panel before they even click to open it. The first lines are what they’re going to see—and you do not want that to be “view web version” or “IMG3535.JPG.” So, not only should the pre-headers be compelling and motivate opening of the full email, they have to complement and play off the subject line.
Solution Starter: The subject line still has to stand on its own, because not everyone will see your preheader. If you don’t want the preheader to show up in the actual email, you can hide it by making the font the same color as the background. The risk here is if the recipient is in dark mode or only getting text emails, it will show up. If you have the ability to make the preheader font size “0” you can hide it that way instead.
Mistake 10: Too Much “We,” Not Enough “You”
Hopefully all your association communications are member-centric. What you want to say and what you want to accomplish takes a back seat to what members have shown they are most interested in, want, and need. Messaging should lean toward “you” and “your”, not “us” and “we.” Their pain points should be your pain points. And make it easy for them to find the answers and content they’re looking for.
Solution Starter: In addition to email reporting, you can use an online member community and emails to regularly conduct polling and focus groups. Member needs and priorities shift, especially during the past couple years we’ve had. So you want to stay on top of what your audience is thinking and feeling so your comms can come across as knowledgeable and empathetic.
Mistake 11: Stopping at One CTA
People don’t want to be overwhelmed with choices, but they do like to have a choice. Many associations put one CTA in their emails. But if a recipient is not interested in that option, or if it’s irrelevant to them, you can still make the email worthwhile by giving them another choice.
Solution Starter: Not everyone is ready to “Sign Up Now!” That can be CTA #1 and the main desired action, but you should supply a CTA #2 in case they aren’t ready to do that. CTA #2 should be something that helps get them ready to take the desired primary action, like “Learn More.”
Take Our Email Marketing Course
Email marketing is a broad field – and one it takes time to learn in-depth. So don’t worry if you find yourself making some or all of these mistakes (well, if you’re making all of them, you might want to worry). But there are plenty of resources out there to help you improve! For example, we just created a course that’s all about email marketing, designed specifically for associations: Email Marketing 101. You can sign up for the course here.
Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.
In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.
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