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Grow Your Business Sales & Marketing

Apply the 80/20 Rule to Optimize Your Email Marketing

image for Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Email marketing has been a form of marketing for years. Over the years, tools like Mailchimp, Constant Contact and iContact have become an email marketer's best friend with their ease of campaign creation and reporting. 

As email marketers worked to improve their efforts, testing different strategies and seeking out new email marketing tips to make their campaigns successful, they started applying the 80/20 rule.

But what exactly is the 80/20 rule, why should care about it, and how can you apply it?

Editor's note: Need to revamp your digital marketing strategy? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

The 80/20 rule is a simplified naming convention for the Pareto principle, or the principle of factor scarcity. 

This convention is a hyped concept based on an economics principle. The way it's used in marketing is to denote the idea that 80% of sales come from 20% of clients, or 80% of work is accomplished with 20% effort. 

So what does this mean for email marketing optimization? Simply put, instead of growing a list with the wrong strategies, focusing intently on the right strategies can create more effective email marketing. [Are in you looking for an email marketing service to use for your small business? Check out our reviews and best picks.]

Instead of writing to a broad audience who (for now) simply puts up with your generic emails, as an email marketing best practice, write to a specific audience who's thrilled every time your email arrives in their inbox. This requires purposing your newsletters and promotions with a distinct personality and talking about subjects only your truest fans are excited about. Inspired fans are better than bored followers any day.

While this may reduce your subscriber retention rate, it can do wonders for your open and click-through rates. When people are so excited to read your content that they jump to open an email like they would from one sent from a friend, you know you're doing something right.

Furthermore, a highly engaged niche audience will seek out your products and services and be more likely to buy from you over and over.

Austin Rief, COO of the daily business newsletter Morning Brew agrees.

"At Morning Brew, we think it's more important to build a highly engaged niche audience than achieve mass readership. Our goal is to be the first thing our readers look at when they wake up in the morning, and the only way to hold their interest is to deliver news on a more personal level. Obviously, content is most important, but the way in which that content is presented is a close second," he said. 

As part of building a highly engaged niche audience, you need to build and manage winning email lists.

Morgan Lathaen, marketing and brand coordinator of the marketing company Thumbprint, suggests managing email lists by making subscribers feel welcomed and sending automated welcome emails when a consumer opts in to receive your emails.

"When their experience with your brand is fresh in their mind, their excitement about you is at an all-time high. In this welcome email, thank them for joining your brand, let them know how you will contact them in the future – how many emails they will receive, what type of content to expect, etc., and make it clear how they can contact you," said Lathaen.

Thanking your customers for their time is more than just an email marketing best practice – it's an age-old best business practice.

When you are developing a promotion to gain new subscribers, think carefully about the type of subscribers the promotion will bring in.

If you want people who are eager to engage with you, offer them exclusive content. If you want people who need a certain resource, offer them a free download. Make sure that what you offer them aligns with your goals for that niche audience. Your goals should specify what you want email subscribers to do and how you want them to engage with your business going forward.

"All good marketing starts with setting goals, and email marketing is no different. You need to think about what you want to achieve with your email marketing. Do you want to welcome new subscribers, boost engagement, nurture existing subscribers or something else?" said Lathaen. 

If you don't feel you know your subscribers well, take a step back before running your campaigns. Not understanding your niche audience can result in failed marketing campaigns. The more you know about your subscribers and target audience, the better. 

Surveys are a helpful tool in getting to know your target audience. There are survey tools where you could survey a random group of people based on what you think your target audience is. There is also the old-fashioned way of running in-person interest groups, but based on my success with online surveys, I recommend them over interest groups. Some marketers recommend collecting data from Google Analytics and social media. Facebook interest groups are a great place to gather data.

For an example of a promotion that's a hit, check out Marie Forleo's newsletter MF Insider. Unlike other newsletter opt-ins, she isn't offering a download to get new email addresses. The newsletter is the opt-in. She offers exclusive resources and information only to those who have signed up to be an MF Insider. These goodies aren't available to people who watch her Marie TV episodes, listen to her podcast or follow her on social media. The content is only available to her email subscribers, and that is genius.

 If you're running e-commerce email marketing campaigns, take advantage of abandoned shopping cart emails. You've likely seen them before ‒ you shop at your favorite e-commerce store, put something in your cart but don't make a purchase. Within a day or so, you get an email reminding you that you still have an item in your cart. Some companies send multiple emails with the second or third one offering a discount on the item if you complete your purchase within a specified amount of time.

As a business owner, you probably create valuable content every day. Whether you are generating home design ideas on Pinterest, giving product demonstrations on Facebook Live, or writing articles for trade publications, the work you do daily has the potential to transform into engaging email content for your subscribers.

Let's say you're planning to spend the entire week working on a new pottery collection for your Etsy shop. Instead of doing that in isolation, record the process or take photos. You can then turn this into a teaser sequence that gives subscribers an interesting behind-the-scenes peek at the creative process while also giving them a preview of what will soon be available.

Taking the time to document the process doesn't substantially increase the effort of the work itself, but it greatly increases the dividends your work will produce.

This type of repurposing is accessible to almost every industry in some form. No matter what you're working on, think about how you can share the process and offer your subscribers valuable content.

Anne Fairfield-Sonn, director of corporate communications at CiBO Technologies, a science-driven software startup, elaborates on building email sequences for both new leads and existing customers. 

"A targeted campaign leads contacts through email on an automated schedule, coaxing them along the sales funnel from lead to prospect to client," she said. "The content is built to carefully hook the customer, prove the ROI of your product, and then make it easy to stay top of mind and get in touch."

"These types of campaigns are particularly impactful for B2B organizations that have a long sales cycle. Once the customer signs up for a trial or is in talks with internal stakeholders around the buying decision, drip emails help keep the product top of mind," said Fairfield-Sonn. "For example, this type of audience can receive emails every other week that includes a tip, best practice, reference to a blog post, webinar or white paper."

Now that you know how to use the 80/20 rule, next you need email marketing tools. The following are my favorite.

  1. iContact: This is an email marketing software company that has great service, an easy-to-use campaign editor, in-depth reporting and competitive pricing.
  2. Facebook Ads Manager: Use Facebook ads to build your email list.
  3. Co-Schedule: Test your email subject lines. Co-Schedule scores subject lines and offers suggestions to increase your open rate. In addition, it scores your character count, word count and emoji count. 

You don't need to spend hours on end in front of a keyboard optimizing your email marketing strategy. What you do need to do is think outside of the box. Evaluate what you are already doing ‒ really think about who you are trying to reach when you write an email.

You'll be amazed at how quickly and easily your email marketing transforms.

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.