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Interview: 13 Great Tips Straight From Smaily Email Marketing Pros


Here at Smaily we aim to help small and medium-sized businesses with their email marketing efforts. We offer a super user-friendly platform with amazing features at a very affordable price. But we’re also proud of being there for our customers, sharing our knowledge and expertise. Today, we want to talk to Erkki Markus, the founder and product owner of Smaily, and Tanel Rand, a partner and the guy behind Smaily’s growth, sales and marketing. Learn a little bit more about the heart and soul of Smaily and get 13 fantastic tips straight from our Smaily email marketing pros.

What is Smaily’s “secret sauce”?

Erkki: here, our “secret sauce” is a personal touch. We work with the client. We are not just a service solution, but we are more like an email marketing agency. We educate, develop HTML templates, integrations and much more. We make sure our customers are satisfied. We want our software to be really flexible but at the same time very user-friendly. Our drag-and-drop email template editor is so easy to use, and if you’re a developer, there are almost unlimited options for you.

Pro-tip #1: find your own “secret sauce”. Try to be unique, creative and relevant. Build personalised messages instead of one-message-to-all  emails.

This question keeps on resurfacing every year: is email marketing dead?

Tanel: Nope. [Laughs]
It’s actually asked in all the webinars that we’ve done. But, in fact, we are seeing that email marketing is growing because it’s cheaper than all the social media channels. Nowadays, you have to put a huge amount of money to boost your posts on Instagram or Facebook. Yes, you have to do email differently: be more specific, targeted, be more segmented.

Erkki: I would like to add that email marketing has some unique features. For example, you own the list; it’s owned media. You can target one-to-one. There is no other media where you can so easily target one-to-one. It’s cheap; it’s got a great return on investment. There are more email readers than on any media combined. It will not be dead. Ever.

Pro-tip #2: email marketing is here to stay – it’s a channel that you should add to your marketing mix if you haven’t already done so. According to Statista, there are more than 4 billion email users worldwide. Almost 320 billion emails are being sent and received daily, and email marketing revenue is projected to grow every year.

If you had the power to change one thing in email marketing, what would it be?

Erkki: Actually, I think it works really well right now because you have to be good to be competitive! No one controls it. Spam filters and content filters are not too hard. If you write relevant content that people have opted into and expect, you will easily get results. I think this is the best communications channel that we have, compared to anything else. I wouldn’t change anything.

Tanel: Technically, I would make it so that the logic of HTML magically worked in all emails…

Erkki: and Outlook would support rounded corner buttons…

Tanel: and background images also, and gifs would work! Actually, I’d want videos to work in every email.

Pro-tip #3: email marketers know the pain points of building emails (especially for Outlook), testing how the emails render on many different devices and programs. While email has its own challenges, it’s still a fantastic marketing channel. There are many hacks and tips for email building and troubleshooting – remember, the email marketing community is very helpful!

What’s the most important part of a great marketing email?

Both: The subject line.

Erkki: This is the part that will get your email opened. You can have the perfect design and perfect psychologically written copy text, but if the subject line is “newsletter of July”, no one will open it.

Tanel: Unless you’re sending it in December. [Laughs]

Erkki: Then it’s sketchy! [Laughs]

Pro-tip #4: make sure you nail your subject lines! The subject line is the key to getting your email opened and noticed in the inbox. And, if you can, A/B test them and get even more insights into what kind of subject lines your subscribers like.

Now, don’t think but answer quickly: favourite colour. One, two, three, go!

Erkki: Pink.

Tanel: Black.

You’ve instinctively chosen two different colours. Are colours important for email call-to-action buttons?

Erkki: Yes, Tanel, tell us about your black CTAs. [Laughs]

Tanel: Probably black CTAs are not so good, but one of our clients tested perhaps twenty or thirty different colours in their email templates. It’s not obvious. It’s colour psychology logic. They chose orange because orange will give you that “it’s tasty” feeling.

Erkki: Yes, good appetite, fresh. They tested different colours and actually saw that orange generated the highest number of actions for them. Our newsletter has pink call-to-action buttons. There is no definite truth; contrasting colours can work well, but the email has to work as a whole.

Pro-tip #5: colours in your call-to-action buttons can make a big difference. Test and find what colours your subscribers engage with the most; just make sure to stay on brand.

How many unread emails do you have in your personal mailbox?

Erkki: Zero.

Tanel: Fifteen.

Erkki: I just archive or delete them. I don’t do anything.

Tanel: He’s not opening them; he is just deleting them! [Laughs]

Pro-tip #6: according to the Zipwhip study, 39% of respondents had more than a hundred unread emails in their personal mailbox. 20% revealed having over a thousand unread emails! The competition of getting your email noticed and opened by your subscribers is real. So make sure your subject line, pre-header and sender name are helping you drive your open rate.

What’s the closest thing to real magic in email marketing?

Erkki: Hm… What I’ve seen that looks most like magic to me is when you send two campaigns simultaneously. One is like a plain old newsletter when you send all offers to everyone. The other one is at least segmented, or, even better, a one-to-one targeted newsletter with offers picked especially for you. The targeted campaign gets up to 8 times higher revenue. This is magic. The click rates and open rates might be the same, but the customers make the purchase. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Tanel: Probably when AMP is usable everywhere, then it will be magical. If you could show all the things… like, I don’t know, flying butterflies in your email, making it more interactive. Use fillable forms inside the emails. These types of things.

Erkki: This would be a new era for email marketing.

Tanel: Yes, it will actually be a new era for email marketing when AMP works everywhere.

Pro-tip #7: email marketing is constantly evolving. So keep an eye on the latest trends and email developments. We try to share the latest news, tips and hacks, so don’t forget to sign up for our emails and regularly check our blog for some great content.

Here’s a “would you rather” question: would you rather receive a full-image email or a plain text email message?

Erkki: Plain text.

Tanel: Full-image. Because an image is worth a thousand words.

Erkki: Plain text is easier to read. I usually think before I allow images. If it’s a full-image email, especially from a sender I don’t know, I probably won’t download them [the images]. So, I won’t know what’s written in the emails. Plus, I’m a Gmail power user, and if the email has text, I can easily find the content later on.

Pro-tip #8: you need a healthy image-to-text ratio in your emails. Usually, it’s recommended to go with the 60-40 split (in favour of text).

You mentioned that a picture is worth a thousand words. So, in your opinion, what makes a bigger impact: a picture of a cat or a dog in an email?

Tanel: Probably the cat, because I’m a cat person.

Erkki: I think so too. There is science behind this, but people are attracted to cat images. Puppies are cute, but statistically, if we had to choose, the cats would probably win. I’m also a cat person, but I like dogs too.

Pro-tip #9: according to Budget Direct Instagram post analysis, cats were more popular than dogs in 91 countries; and dogs were more popular in 76. Animals such as dogs or cats provide psychological release, so they’re often considered for marketing campaigns. That said, be creative and try to cater to your audience – consider using images that your subscribers would notice and like.

Here’s another “would you rather” question. Would you rather get one email every six months or one email a day from a brand you like?

Tanel: Uhh, this is very extreme… Probably… I think one a day.

Erkki: I think one every six months, because I wouldn’t read them if they came every day.

Tanel: I’m probably getting emails from Disney every day.

Erkki: Why, Tanel? [Laughs]

Tanel: I don’t know. I like to see what nice emails they are sending. [Smiles]
If you’re thinking of an email every six months, I could have switched brands during that time.

Erkki: I, for example, have subscribed to a really technical newsletter about email technology. They send an email every couple of months, maybe half a year, and when it arrives, it is really interesting. When they send it, it stays in my inbox until I’ve read it, clicked through the articles. Then I delete it or archive it. If they sent it every day, well… maybe I would browse it if they were really good, but probably not every day.

Pro-tip #10: find your frequency. While some subscribers may prefer certain types of content sent daily, others might be put off by such a high frequency. Sending emails too infrequently can also negatively impact engagement. You don’t want your subscribers to move on to other brands. Get to know your audience: what kind of content and how often they want to get it.

Name something your brain tells you to do, but you just can’t?

Tanel: Quit smoking. My brain is telling me to, but I just cannot.

Erkki: Not procrastinate.

Many small business owners, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs want to start with email marketing, but they don’t. They think it’s too complicated and too technical. What would be your one piece of advice to them?

Erkki: Think of the easiest thing you can execute and do it right away. And off of that, everything gets a lot less complicated!

Tanel: You have to find the time to do it too… Because 90% of what we hear from those small companies is I don’t have the time to do it.

Erkki: The business is inside your head – no one else can do it for you.

Pro-tip #11: plan well and in advance. Don’t leave anything to the last minute. For email marketing to bring great results, you need to commit your time. And if you’re not sure where to start – connect with us; we’re here to help.

What’s your most-used emoji?

Tanel: Heart.

Erkki: Simple smiley face.

Tanel: Heart, heart, heart.

When you look in your personal mailbox, do you see lots of emojis used in promotional emails?

Both: Nope, nope.

Tanel: Oh yeah! Today I see one, two, three… oh yeah, sorry, I do see them!

Erkki: We can see all the campaigns our clients send. Usually, on one page of 50 subject lines, I see only a couple, maybe one, two, three subject lines with emojis. Emojis are not overused. They should be more embraced.

Pro-tip #12: emojis in subject lines can help! While not all industries and not all types of content can use emojis in their emails but, generally, emojis can be a great expressive way to stand out in the box.

And, finally, what will email marketing look like in 20 years?

Erkki: Thanks to Outlook, probably the same. [Laughs]

Tanel: [Laughs] But I think it’s going to be hyper-cool.  Smart devices like Alexa or Google Home will read them to you.

Erkki: You will be able to interact with it. Yes, sing a song, order products for you. I talk about this in our webinars all the time. 

Pro-tip #13: Automation is one of the key features constantly evolving in email marketing. It’s definitely going to be critical for successful email marketing in the future. It’s something that every company should embrace sooner rather than later.