The first-ever email was sent in 1969, when computer programmer Ray Tomlinson successfully transmitted the first message from one computer to another using ARPANET, an early computer network created by the Department of Defense for intra-department communications. Some 20 years later, in 1993, millions of Americans got their first taste of email when they logged onto America Online, the internet service provider whose famous welcome -- “You’ve got mail!” -- helped make email ubiquitous.
With such a long history, one might assume that email by now is passé. In fact, the opposite is true. According to market research company Statista, humanity collectively sent roughly 281 billion emails every day in 2018. And by 2023, that number is expected to rise to more than 347 billion daily emails.
Email isn’t just pervasive. It’s also effective. According to OptinMonster, a maker of online lead-generation software, email has a potential return on investment of up to 4,400 percent. And the best part: Email is especially effective for marketing meetings and events. In its “Event Marketing 2019” report, event technology company Bizzabo reports that email is event marketers’ preferred channel for event promotion.
“Email marketing is still considered the most effective channel for promoting an event (40 percent), followed by personal relationships (15 percent) and earned social media (11 percent),” Bizzabo says. “Email marketing is cheap, requires relatively little resources and can have huge reach.”
But email marketing will only drive meeting registrations if you do it well. Here are six tips that can help.
1. Build a better list.
Before you even send an email, you’ve got to cultivate a list of prospects to send it to. And if you want your emails to land, you should focus on quality over quantity, author Grace Miller advises in a blog post for Bizzabo.
“Every marketer wants a big list of contacts to reach out to for their next event, but list size isn’t going to give you the most bang for your buck. Instead, focus on list quality,” Miller says. “It’s better to have 100 names that are already excited about your event than it is to have 200 not-so-interested people on your list.”
To ensure the people on your email list actually want to be there, Miller recommends using a double opt-in process, stating your intentions (i.e., to invite them to your event) in your first email and giving subscribers a clear, easy way to unsubscribe.
“For your next event, try building a list of quality subscribers through in-person sign-ups at live events or by including a sign-up with a webinar you’re already offering,” Miller advises. “Utilize what you’re already doing to promote your event in order to find the quality subscribers who want to hear from you.”
2. Be strategic with subject lines.
You can send all the emails you want. To get attendees to actually open them, however, you’ll need to write compelling subject lines, email marketing platform Eventsforce says in a post on its blog.
“What makes a potential attendee actually open an email about your event? More often than not, it’s the subject line,” Eventsforce says. “It’s usually the first (and possibly the last) impression of the email you send.”
There are no hard and fast rules about email subject lines, but a few tips can help you refine yours, according to Eventsforce. For example, keep it short.
“Ensure that your subject line is viewable and readable. That’s why we recommend writing subject lines of approximately 50 characters or six to eight words,” says Eventsforce, which also recommends adding personalization tags to your subject lines to make them feel more personable.
A/B testing can be a good way to find the perfect subject line, according to Miller. “By creating two slightly different emails and sending them to a small subset of contacts, you can see which email subscribers prefer and which one delivers the best results. Then, the best email can be sent to the bulk of your list, improving engagement and interaction with your content,” she says.
3. Get with GIFs.
The best event emails have a little something extra that catches prospective attendees’ attention. Animated GIFs can be that little something, author McKenzie Gregory suggests in a blog post for event technology company Eventbrite.
“You’re not seeing GIFs everywhere because they’re trendy: You’re seeing them because they work. Experian found that 72 percent of email marketers who use animated GIFs have higher conversion rates, compared to bulk emails to the same customers,” Gregory notes. “The majority of ticket sales tend to happen right after the announcement or right before the event. For all your other sends, including a compelling GIF in your email can be a great way to grab subscriber attention and boost sales during the down period.”
Miller agrees. “GIFs increase click rates by 26 percent and videos can increase clicks by 22 percent,” she says. “For your next event, why not try something new? Cut a 15-second video of last year’s fundraiser and include it in an email campaign, or use an online tool like GIPHY to create a GIF that thanks participants for attending.”
4. Make it mobile.
These days, attendees don’t just read emails on their computers and laptops; they also read them on their smartphones. For that reason, a mobile-friendly email is critical.
“Fifty-four percent of email recipients now open on mobile first … and 70 percent of consumers will delete an email that doesn’t render properly on their device,” Gregory says. “To provide a great mobile experience, stick with a scannable, one-column design … You’ll also want to include a big, tappable [call to action] button and only use text that’s 14-point or larger. Finally, if you’re directing recipients to a landing page, make sure that page is mobile-friendly, too.”
5. Create a compelling CTA.
Speaking of a call to action (CTA): It’s essential, according to Miller. “The call to action in every email -- be it an event invitation or a post-event survey -- has to pop,” she says. “The average subscriber spends about 11 seconds reading your email … To compensate for this, you have to leverage well-defined elements that explain what your email is all about at a glance.”
That includes a bold CTA. “To create a unique call to action, opt for a button rather than a hyperlink. Buttons actually outperform hyperlinks by 33 percent,” Miller continues. “You should also make the CTA button a noticeable color; perhaps one that's not used, or barely used, in the email. In addition, keep your CTA copy short and concise. Stick to two or three words, at most.”
6. Provide proof.
“People … may have some natural hesitation and anxiety about attending … In order to help get people to click-through from your email, purchase tickets and attend your event, you need to take steps to reduce that anxiety,” email marketing platform Campaign Monitor explains in a post on its blog. “A great way to do this is by including social-proof elements, such as testimonials or expert reviews of your event, in your campaigns.”
Author Lauren Minning also sings the praises of social proof. “In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, leading psychology professor Robert Cialdini names social proof as one of his six core principles of persuasion,” Minning writes in a blog post for email marketing platform ActiveCampaign. “People decide to do things because other people are doing the same things. Cialdini writes that ‘we seem to assume that if a lot of people are doing the same thing, they must know something we don’t.’ An event email invitation … uses a testimonial from a past attendee to push you in the right direction.”