While all of the buzz in the travel industry still surrounds social media, we would be remiss in forgetting about email (and direct) marketing. Marketing your agency is not a single platform process; your clients and prospects want to hear from you, but they all have different preferences. One of the strongest relationship building tools is email and your email newsletter. Unlike every other platform, your prospects and clients have given you specific permission to start a conversation. But there are some critical points yo need to consider to get the biggest bang for your email marketing buck.
1. Avoid the Spam Filter
The majority of large Internet service providers and domain hosts now use rigorous spam protection mechanisms to trap unsolicited email before it gets into their customers inboxes. Spam filters generally “rank” each email by a number of different criteria, and, if that email rates above a certain level (such as 10 spam points), then it is flagged as spam and deleted. To make sure your emails don’t get flagged as spam — and deleted before they even get to your clients –avoid using words such as ‘Free’, “$$$’,’Save’, ‘Discount’, etc. in both the subject line and the content of your email. ALL CAPS and a lot of punctuation is also a trigger!!!!!!! See what I mean????????
2. Maximizing Click-Thru Rates
Both web pages and emails contain a lot of text and graphics, and this sometimes makes it harder to get your subscribers to perform a certain task, such as clicking on a link to see your special offers. Numerous research papers show that the majority of Internet users respond better to a plain, bold, blue text link — such as this — as opposed to a banner or button. Don’t assume they know where to click, so make it easy. Make sure they are bold, blue and underlined, and if needed, spell it out for them. (Ex: To view or itinerary, click on the title or the “read more” link.) This will mean that more subscribers click through, meaning more potential sales for you.
3. The Power of Personalization
If you were standing in a crowded mall, which of these would get your attention: “HEY, YOU!” or “HEY JOHN” (assuming your name Is John). The power of personalization can and should be used in your emails. In-fact, by simply starting your email with “Hi [subscriber-name]” instead of the boring “Hi there”, you can increase both your reading and click-thru rates by up to 650%. Why? Put simply, it’s because your subscribers feel like they already have a relationship with you as you’ve addressed them by their first name. Paint a picture for them using what you know. “Imagine the [last name] family fleeing the brutal winter of [hometown] and heading to a beautiful beach in St. Lucia. [family pet] has been dropped off at the kennel and the airport beckons…”
4. One-Click Unsubscription
If you want to grow your mailing list, then there are 2 things that you absolutely must have: a double opt-in process, and a quick way to unsubscribe. In some countries, it’s actually mandatory by law that every email has an unsubscribe link in it–the US being one. The unsubscribe link should take the recipient directly to a page where they are then removed — courteously and quickly –from your rnailing list. No questions asked.
5. Signup Confirmation
Don’t get accused of spamming –always, and I mean always, use a double opt-in confirmation process. Double opt-in means that after your visitor initially enters their email address to subscribe to your list, you should then send them a “confirmation” email. This email should contain a special link back to your email marketing program, which will then verify that this visitor did indeed sign up to your mailing list. Never take their subscription for granted. Do not enter names gathered from a fishbowl at a restaurant, a sign-in sheet for a trade show, or a contest entry form unless you have specifically and clearly let them know your intentions.
6. Tuesday and Wednesday = Increased Response
Studies conducted by online research analysts have shown that the best days to perform a mail-out to your list are Tuesday and Wednesday, as this is when people are more receptive to communication. This means that they are more likely to read your content and click on links, meaning more potential sales. On Mondays, everyone is still recovering from a hectic weekend. On Thursday and Friday, people are already too busy looking forward to the hectic weekend. I’ve actually experimented with this, and received the best results by sending out emails at around 2-3pm (EST) on a Wednesday. I recently did a split broadcast and sent the same message to my database–20% on each day of the week. The open rates were astounding. Monday (23%), Tuesday (72%), Wednesday (76%), Thursday (48%) and Friday (42%). My open rates are extraordinarily high because my travel business is in an extraordinarily tight niche. According to Mail Chimp, a generic travel email should have about a 14.5% open rate and a 2.71% click through rate.
7. Repeat Email Communication
If you have marketing service like A Weber, Constant Contact, etc., make use of the autoresponders. An autoresponder is an email that is scheduled to be sent at a certain time interval after someone subscribes to your mailing list. Autoresponders are a great way to automatically follow up with your subscribers or provide them with more information on your agency. For example, you can set it up to send an email every 4 days–each broadcast explaining different aspects of your business. It is often a good idea to offer some sort of incentive to help build that trust. If they sign-up the day after you sent your newsletter, they are in limbo until the next send. Use these tools to help build the relationship right rom the beginning. This let’s them know you are there, and what is happening. Autoresponders help your subscribers build trust in both your agency and your brand, and this can help make it easier when trying to close sales in the future.
8. Consistency is the Key
If you’re publishing a newsletter or frequent email publication, make sure you keep the look and feel consistent from issue to issue. By keeping the look and feel consistent, you help to maintain and strengthen your brand and your image to your subscribers, which again will make it easier to close sales when you need to. Create a template for your newsletter and whenever you need to create a new issue, use that template as the basis for each issue.
9. On Time, Every Time
When sending an email to your subscribers, always make sure that it’s sent on the same day, at the same time. For example, every other Wednesday at 3pm. Your subscribers will come to “expect’ your email to arrive in their inbox on the same day at the same time every week, meaning that they want to read your content and are generally more receptive to any special offers or promotions you may include. Of course, you need to periodically test the list to see if your Wednesday at 3pm has not turned into a Thursday at 9am.
10. The 1/2 Second Subject Line
When your email arrives in your subscribers inbox, you generally have about half a second to catch their attention with the subject line of your email. After this, they will either delete your email or ignore it. In your subject line, try and specify a benefit that the subscriber can expect by reading your email. For example, instead of using ‘Billy Bob’s Travel Newsletter Issue #1’, use ‘Billy Bob’s Travel: 10 Tips for an awesome vacation.’ That way you have solidified your brand (putting your name in the subject) and given them a really good reason to open it.
11. The Free Bonus Hook-In
Free is overused these days, especially on the Internet. However, if you’re looking to grow your subscriber list, create a product of value to your visitors and offer it to them for free when they sign-up for to receive your newsletter. How useful would a packing list, Passport application, or parental permission form be to your prospects? To make sure they don’t simply type any email address into your subscription form, setup an autoresponder to send them the freebie 1 hour after they subscribe.
12. The Preview Pane
Popular email clients such as Outlook, show a preview of an email when it’s selected in the inbox. Always have some interesting content at the very top of your email, as this is the part that will show in the preview window of your subscribers email program. If it’s interesting enough, then your subscriber will open your email and continue on reading.
13. Link-Click Testing
When creating marketing emails, try using different text for both content and links. Also try re-positioning images such as logos and buttons. After sending about 3 different emails, compare the click-thru stats and see which one worked best. Now, when you need to send marketing emails in the future, you know that you will be sending the right mix of content and images that will attract the most click-thrus, and ultimately the most sales. Most email services now offer the ability to split test your broadcasts. For example, if you are talking about an Italian vacation, the phrase “northern Italy” might be more attractive to your audience than “Tuscany.” The photo of a cooking class might garner more action than a field of flowers. Play around and find your balance.
14. Email-Based Learning
Add value to your website, build trust in your visitors, establish your credibility and collect more subscriptions to your mailing list by setting up an email-based learning course. To do this, simply create a series of autoresponders (for example, 5) containing unique content. Then, schedule the first one to be sent after 24 hours, the second after 48 hours, etc. This would work ideally for the first time cruiser.
15. Always Sign on the Dotted Line
Always include a signature at the bottom of your emails, as it’s one of the easiest ways to attract more traffic to your website. This signature should include your personal details and your company details. You can use your signature to link back to your website, and even to other services. And since social media is a big thing, make sure your readers have the ability to follow you from the email and (perhaps more importantly) the ability to share your email with others.
I realize that this is a lot to remember and implement. And certainly no one expects you to be consistently doing all fifteen–then you would be an email marketing guru and not a travel professional. But, if you look and see where you fall short (we all do, I am horrible with a consistent schedule) and make a concerted effort to improve in those two or three areas, I can guarantee you will see greater success in your email marketing efforts!