We talk a lot about the importance of personalization and sending the right message to the right people that reflects where they are in the buyer’s journey.
Sometimes, we get stuck on ideas that, at one point, worked. But, good marketers are always updating their ideas to match what’s currently effective. This is true for a lot of things, especially when it comes to showing up in someone’s inbox. That’s why it helps to reevaluate certain practices from time to time to make sure they’re working. And, if they’re not, maybe it’s time to rethink the approach.
In this post, we’ll explore the email blast and why it may be time to try something else.
What is an email blast?
An email blast is when you send out an email to a large number of people on your list (if not the whole list at once). It’s an effective way to reach out to everyone at once but lacks the nuance and personalization that comes with targeted email messages.
Why we should retire the term ‘email blasts’
As we hinted at above, email blasts are used to send one message to everyone. This is an okay approach if you’re sending out a personal newsletter or sharing big news with your entire list (like maybe you’re shutting down or have been acquired). But, email blasts aren’t great for day-to-day marketing. For one, they lack meaningful details like a strategy beyond what is effectively yelling your news at everyone on your list. They also lack any real segmentation that ensures you’re sending customers (and potential customers) messages that they want to hear.
The problem with email blasts
There is almost always a more strategic way of promoting the message that you’re looking to blast. Rather than leaning into them and thinking that your open rates are dropping because your list isn’t engaged, it helps to understand why people don’t love email blasts and think about what you can do to change your approach.
Personalization is critical to email marketing success. We’re not just talking about including [$FNAME] at the top of the email. It needs to be deeper than that. You’ve got a whole treasure trove of data about your customers, use it. We’ve hit the point that customers expect personalized marketing and will look elsewhere if they don’t get it.
Similar to personalization, email segmentation is a key part of your email marketing efforts. According to Hubspot, it’s the most effective strategy you can use in your email marketing. Email blasts don’t typically segment at all and, if they do, it’s very rudimentary because, by their very nature, they’re designed to reach as many people as possible. There’s no care given to making sure people are seeing messages that apply to them. It quickly becomes obvious that you’re not trying to send a thoughtful message, you’re effectively standing on the street corner yelling your thoughts to anyone who can hear you.
Lack of attention to deliverability
There are a lot of factors that can impact deliverability and each one of them stands between you and your customers. Email blasts tend to ignore a lot of those factors. Even if you remove the more technical aspects of deliverability, like DKIM and SPF authentication, you risk running into issues like high bounce-back or hitting send limits within your email marketing platform.
With email blasts, you’re not paying any attention to what your customers are doing, you’re just sending an email. What this means is that you’re not leveraging customer behaviors, like downloading an ebook, to send out a series of targeted emails. By not leveraging these kinds of emails, you’re missing out on key moments to engage with customers and potential customers.
Testing often requires segmentation and, since we’ve established that blasts don’t use much (or any) segmentation, it’s hard to test. Even a basic A/B test requires you to break your list down into two groups (one that receives the A variant and one that gets the B variant). Among other things, testing helps you refine your messaging and ensure that people are only getting emails that speak to where they are in their customer journey.
Evolve from ‘blasts’ to automated ‘journeys’
Rather than blasting your list with untargeted mass messages, it’s time to rethink your approach to better leverage automation in your email marketing.
If you’re using an email marketing platform, you’ve got most (if not all) of the tools you need. It doesn’t make sense to continue using an outdated “blast” approach to email marketing when you could reach out to people with highly targeted content that helps increase revenue.
This is a great example of how even a little bit of automation in your process can result in stronger results. Not everyone opens every email. This is something that we’re used to and, when you send an email blast, you’re accepting that these emails aren’t going to be read and leave it at that. However, when you move away from blasts, you can create automations that allow you to resend the same email with a different subject line to try and capture the attention of readers who didn’t open it initially.
Rather than leaving money on the table, you’re creating a system that goes after it.
Controlled A/B testing
We mentioned above that blasts don’t let you run simple A/B tests, which are tests that allow you to hone in on the most effective approach to take in your marketing. Similar to above, you can use a simple approach, like testing different headlines to see which is most effective and focus on that.
The best approach to take is to run a test with a small sample of your list, say 10% to 20%. Divide the control group in half and send one subject line to group A and a variant to group B. You can use the data captured by your email software to see which of the two variants resulted in the most opens. You then send the winner to the remaining group.
Again, this is something that you can’t really do with a blast because they’re not designed with testing or even personalization in mind.
We’ve talked about the importance of personalization in email marketing before and we’ll keep doing it until it isn’t necessary anymore. The reality is that personalization is critical these days. According to Accenture, 91% of consumers prefer brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations.
A big part of personalization is meeting people where they are in their customer journey. That means sending out blasts to everyone isn’t going to work because you’re only really addressing one part of the journey. Instead of doing this, create specific emails (or sequences) for people who are evaluating your product for the first time, use a different sequence for first-time customers, and another for customers who’ve been using your product for years. You have access to most of that data in your email platform, use it.
Create a preference center
Not sure what your customers like? Ask them. Better yet, get them to set their own preferences, so they can only receive the kinds of emails they want to see.
If you can, create an email preference center that allows your subscribers to select the kinds of content they want to see from you and even how frequently they get it. This gives your audience a granular level of control over what they’re receiving.
Along with making sure that customers are only seeing the content they want to see, you’re also saving yourself (and your team) a lot of time. Because people are self-selecting, you don’t have to worry about manually adding people to segments, or even using your software to do it. People are simply adding themselves.
Zero-party data collection
Zero-party data is data that your subscribers voluntarily share with your organization. This can be data captured through preference centers, as mentioned above, but can also be collected through surveys and even quizzes. Quizzes are one of those open secrets in marketing that can lead to an absolute gold mine of customer data. Quizzes are effective because they’re easy to set up and people love to take them. A simple quiz can tell you a lot about why someone is looking for a product, what they’re looking for, what’s important to them in that product, what they love about something, and, as an added bonus, they can be used to generate leads.
Automated follow-up based on engagement
Email blasts don’t take customer behavior into account at all. They’re a catchall message you send out to everyone. The problem is that customer behavior tells you a lot about someone and it provides you with a way to further engage with them. What you can do is determine what elements in your emails signal a high purchase intent and create automations around that event. This could be things like clicking on product descriptions of anything mentioned in the email, clicking links, and downloading any shared content. For all of these events, you can create highly targeted emails and sequences that help usher your customers along their journey.
Take advantage of integration with tools like Zapier
Platforms like Zapier are great because not only do they let your customers create a more personalized experience within your app, but they also give you the ability to access data across their entire ecosystem. What this means is that you can use this data to create triggers based on what people are doing in other apps. If you see someone trying to activate a certain feature, for example, you can set up an email sequence that talks about the benefits of the feature or, better yet, send out a tutorial to help them set it up.
Email blast best practices
Of course, there are going to be times when you feel that a blast is the best approach to achieve your email marketing goals. Maybe you need to let everyone know about a change of ownership or your closing down or offering a huge sale on just about everything (although there are better ways to announce that last one). Whatever the reason, if you’re going to send out a blast, here are some things you can do to make sure it’s as effective as possible.
Never ‘blast’ a purchased list
Purchased lists are tricky at the best of times. If you purchase a list and just start blasting out emails you’re going to experience all kinds of woes, and they’re going to happen quickly. People will flag you as spam, you’ll lose a ton of subscribers, and it’s possible that you’ll even get regulatory complaints (because people won’t have remembered signing up for your list). If you’re going to use a purchased list, warm them up first by sending out an email that allows them to opt in and go from there. You’ll lose subscribers, but it’s not going to be nearly as bad as if you send a blast out to a cold list.
Validate your list prior to sending
Validating your email list is the process of going through your list and making sure that the emails on the list are valid and that you’re not going to see too many bouncebacks. You’re doing this mostly to ensure that you don't have too many bouncebacks or other deliverability issues because that can tank your domain. Your email provider should provide you with the tools you need to validate (we provide those tools).
Set up SPF, DKIM & DMARC
Email authentication is an important piece of the puzzle for email marketing in general, especially if you’re going to send out a blast. Each of these protocols works together to ensure that your emails get to where they’re going, without running into issues or seeing scammy.
SPF, also called SenderID, is effectively a way of verifying you’re not using a fake address to send an email. The SPF record checks the identity of the fake email address and rejects incoming mail from spammers using spoofed domains. You can see the process below.
DKIM stands for DomainKeys Identified Mail. This protocol is set up to prevent people from spoofing addresses at your company (effectively working to prevent phishing attempts, among other things) and helps foster trust between you and your audience.
Finally, there’s DMARC, which stands for Domain-Based Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance. This system acts are a go-between for the sending system and the receiving system to help:
- Reduce false positives
- Minimize phishing attempts
- Enforce sender policies.
Send from a custom sending domain
Most email service providers (ESPs) will start your account on a shared sending domain. In Gmail, you’ll often see this in your inbox that indicates a brand is sending from a shared domain:
What this means is the “from” address (email@example.com) doesn’t align with the sender domain (in this case a shared domain controlled by your ESP). Gmail shows the sender address after the word via when the domains are misaligned like this.
ESPs do this because it makes it easier to onboard smaller senders, however, it looks sketchy to the average person.
Instead, use a sending domain that you control and authenticate mail delivered from that domain for SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. When authenticated properly, Gmail will remove the “via” portion from the screenshot and you’ll start building a reputation on a domain that you own, not your ESPs.
The other huge benefit of sending from your own domain is that you can subscribe to feedback loop tools like Microsoft SNDS & Google Postmaster Tools to get deliverability feedback on your domain, and not a shared domain that may support hundreds or thousands of other senders.
Monitor Google Postmaster Tools & Microsoft SNDS
Google Postmaster Tools are a suite of tools that allows you to track data from the emails you send. This includes reports about deliverability, spam reports, and reputation. Ultimately, they help you troubleshoot any issues that you’re experiencing and create a better system for sending your emails.
The equivalent of Postmaster Tools for Outlook users is SNDS (Smart Network Data Services). SNDS also enables you to get feedback on how Outlook SPAM filters perceive the reputation of your sending IPs and domain.
Use a conservative warm-up schedule
We touch on this a little bit above, but it always helps to start with a nice, relaxed pace with your emails. If you can, start with high-engagement emails, like transactional emails:
- Purchase receipts and thank you emails
- Account creation emails
- Password reset emails
- Account notifications
From there, continue with a slower cadence than you might otherwise. Not only will you lose subscribers if you start sending a lot of emails, but you’ll also set off alarm bells with your ISP. If you do too much, too soon, you can hurt your sender reputation, which can put you directly into someone’s spam folder every time.
Monitor KPIs & observe problematic thresholds for unsubscribe rate/bounce rate
When you’re trying things in your business, it helps to have KPIs to help guide the process. KPIs are an effective way to both monitor performance and establish a baseline for success and failure. With email blasts, you’ll want to keep an eye on bounce rates and unsubscribe rates. These metrics tell you whether or not your list is good (bounce rates) and engaged (unsubscribes). Obviously, too many unsubscribes tells you that you’re not sending the kinds of messages that people want to hear, but a high bounce rate tells you that it’s a good idea to go back to your list and verify it.
It’s a good idea to establish these thresholds before you start sending email blasts to prevent things from crossing the line without you realizing it. Retroactively deciding what too many unsubscribes looks like, means you could lose too many subscribers.
Use a blacklist monitoring tool
Email blacklists are lists that domains use when deciding whether or not they’ll accept emails from you. If there are too many spam complaints from your list, for example, you might end up on a blacklist. This means you’re far more likely to end up in a spam folder, regardless of whether people want to receive your messages. These tools monitor blacklists for your information and tell you if you end up on one.
Testing your creative using Litmus or Email on Acid
Before sending out your emails, check to make sure they look good on as many email platforms as possible. You can use tools like Litmus or Email on Acid to gain a better sense of what your emails will look like across devices and email clients. You want to do this because people notice when something’s off about emails. We’re increasingly trained to look for details that tell us an email is a phishing attempt and, often, it’s emails that are a little broken. Not only that, but when emails don’t render properly it reflects poorly on your business.
Run a seed list prior to sending
This is another one of those things we touched on earlier, start by reaching out to a seed list and sending out your email to see what happens. Seed lists are smaller lists that are made up of people who can offer feedback. This gives you a sense of any deliverability issues you may encounter, as well as other factors like seeing how your emails render across different platforms.
Work with a designer and/or copywriter
It never hurts to work with creative professionals who understand best practices. These folks can put together an email that is designed to look great and to connect with people using strong words. Sometimes, the difference between an email that connects with your audience in a strong, meaningful way and one that flops is working with a professional.
Make it easy to unsubscribe
You’re going to lose people with email blasts. Heck, you’re going to lose people with non-blasts, as well. The best thing you can do is make it as easy as possible for people to get off your list. That means don’t make them log in. Don’t make them call. Don’t make them do any more work than clicking on a link. The more barriers you create, the more likely your emails are to be flagged as spam by frustrated people.
Email blast services & software
Most email platforms can send out a blast, although they don’t all have the tools you may need to make sure that your blast lands where you want it to (or the ability to capture the data based on that blast). It’s important to make sure that you’re working with a tool that does what you need it to do and, even better, is designed for the industry you’re working in (like ecommerce).
Sendinblue is an email marketing platform that’s aimed at small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs). You get email, SMS, a CRM, and even on-site chat options. The one tool to rule them all approach is great for SMBs, but as a business grows, more focused tools may be needed.
Moosend is a dedicated email marketing tool that offers everything you need to maintain a strong email marketing program. It’s industry agnostic, though, so if you’re looking for something specialized for a certain industry (like ecommerce), you may not find everything you’re looking for here.
Mailchimp is almost everyone’s first stop when it comes to email marketing platforms. They’ve been around for a long time and offer a pretty robust toolset even on the free platform. Similar to Moosend, though, it tries to be the only tool you’ll need, regardless of the kind of business you run. Mailchimp can also be hard to work with on the free tier if you’re just getting started.
It’s us. Rejoiner is an ecommerce email marketing platform. We help you reach customers, no matter where they are in their journey by offering tools that segment, test, and optimize the emails you send. We are, it’s worth noting again, ecommerce specific, so if you’re a service provider, Rejoiner is probably not for you.
Like Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor is a one-stop shop for all things email marketing, regardless of your industry. They have the tools you need, but again, without the focus on a specific industry, you may find that it’s lacking specific options for you.
Sendgrid is another of the all in one for all industries platform. What’s interesting is that not only are they a platform that you can use, but they also provide their API, so you can create your own platform. This is great if you have the time and resources to develop something like this, but if you’re a smaller business or lack the in-house technical knowledge to create an email platform, it’s probably not for you.
Constant Contact is increasingly a digital marketing platform, as opposed to the email-specific platform it started as. This is ideal if you’re looking to work with SMS, social media, and email all from the same platform. But the lack of focus can result in tools that aren’t as robust as they could be.
Email blast examples
Schoolhouse is a manufacturer of high-quality lighting and home accessories. Their biggest strength is that they don’t spend all their time on sales. They offer a strong mix of content, showing maker profiles, before and after home transformations (like the example below), thematic how-tos, and staff picks.
If you’re blasting your list, this is the way to do it. Offer a little something for everybody, at a good pace, without leaning too heavily on one kind of content.
Vuori is an athletic clothing and activewear brand. Their focus is what they’ve identified as their three primary drivers of repeat purchases - gifts, new products, and new colors.
This is where it helps to have a strong understanding of your customers. Vuori knows what kind of content their audience wants to see and they understand what’s going to trigger repeat purchases.
Here’s another strong example of brand-first marketing. Breeo is a fire pit manufacturer. With something like this, it’s hard to sell the features because everyone knows what a firepit does (even one with a unique twist). Instead, they focus on ways to enjoy their product. Their emails are filled with accessories, recipes, and other forms of experiential content that show you what your life could be like with one of their fire pits.
Patagonia has long established itself as an outdoor brand that cares more about the world, than profit. As a result, people buy from Patagonia because they want to be connected to a brand that makes wonderful products and is doing good in the world.
Patagonia keeps this message at the heart of all its content. You get a mix of activist stories, conservation messages, and deep looks at their products (and how those products align with their brand philosophies)
What to do now
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