What No One Tells You About Industrial Automation Marketing (Part 3): Email Marketing

Welcome to part three of this multipart series on marketing for the industrial automation industry. If you haven’t checked out the first two installments, you really should. Don’t worry; I’ll be here when you get back.

Going forward, we’re going to be focusing in on one channel at a time to provide tips and advice—and also demonstrating how these channels work together as part of your larger marketing mix. This time, we’re going to be focusing on the old standby that you’ll be quite familiar with if you spent any time marketing for this industry: email marketing.

I’m going to start off by saying that you—yes you—are probably making mistakes with email. I’ve seen a lot of email campaigns in this industry, and most of them aren’t that great—particularly because most of them look exactly the same as everyone else’s, but we’ll get to that later.

In case you don’t know (and I don’t know why you would!), I have a background in email marketing. I started my marketing career at a (now very popular) email marketing company back when it was just a start-up. I know what I’m talking about from the in-house marketer side of things and the back-end side of things, as someone who used to work at an email service provider (ESP). So strap in, because I’m about to rearrange everything you think you know about email marketing, starting with the fact that…

You Send Too Much Email

I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that your company sends far too much email. Yes, I’ve heard the thing about how people “want” more email during the pandemic than they have before, but really, how many emails about a new PLC component or a valve can a person get before they’re sick of it?

People often need to learn the hard way that if you send too much email, you’re going to have a bad time. Unsubscribes, spam reports—and angry complaints in general—are almost all you’re going to get with an “annoy ‘em until they buy!” strategy. Have you ever been badgered or pestered into buying something via email? I didn’t think so—so why assume someone else will?

There is no “magic number” for how many emails you should be sending. Pay attention to your open rates, unsubscribe rates, and spam complaint rates, and they will tell you everything you need to know. Check out the average industry benchmarks and then compare yours.

If you’re around those numbers, fantastic! If not, it’s time to cut back on the sends, especially if your open rates are low. This should be your first step in revamping your email marketing program. I mean, there’s no point in worrying about your content yet if people can’t even be bothered to open your emails to see it. (Also, did you know that “emotionally unsubscribing” is a thing? Those are the people who can’t be bothered to click the unsubscribe link but never open your emails because they hate your face.)

What’s that you say? How do you tell people about your products if you shouldn’t send that much email? Great question!

Here’s the answer: use something else.

Email should not be your primary marketing channel to tell people about your new products. That’s just not what it’s the best at. Sure, you can do it, and if you segment your lists properly, you should do it, but in reality, it’s not the best channel for it.

Email marketing should mostly be used to “close the deal.” There are far better channels for awareness and engagement, and we’ll get to those in later articles. Email should be only one part of your marketing mix, not the whole thing.

With that, let’s move on to content. Once again, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that…

Your Emails Are Terrible

Unfortunately, your emails are probably bad. I know because I’ve seen a lot of automation industry emails—and they almost all look like Geocities websites from 1996 minus the sticky caps.

They’re usually a wall—and I mean a wall—of text filled with cold and robotic technical jargon and item specs, usually about five or so paragraphs long. They have about 10 different links pointing to the 10 products you wanted to just cram in there. There are about three tiny images, probably depicting a poorly lit piece of automation equipment sitting on the floor or a table somewhere, along with a header stock image of someone in a hard hat doing some nondescript work on something somewhere vaguely related to a factory.

Sound familiar?

Look, nobody likes that. You wouldn’t like it, why do you think anyone else would?

Imagine opening an email and seeing a product manual for something you don’t even own. How fast would you just stop reading that?

Something I’ve learned from my time in eCommerce is that people don’t buy features. They buy solutions, and the industrial automation space is not as unique as you might think. Don’t try to sell me something with a bunch of widgets and doodads on it, even if you’re a techie and you think they’re cool. Sell me something that is going to make my life easier. Don’t try to impress me with a bunch of fancy jargon; tell me how this is going to grow my business.

Emails should be brief, personalized, and to the point. They should have more images than text, and above all, have a singular purpose.

Do not throw a ton of different links and calls to action all over the place. Your message will be diluted, and usually you’ll just end up confusing your readers. There are a lot of places online you can learn to make quality emails, in terms of both layout and copy. Remember, if at first glance/scroll, your email looks like a chore to get through, people won’t do it.

List Sizes: Who Cares?

Here we go, the moment we’ve all been waiting for.

Email lists. The bigger the better, right? I mean, if you don’t have thousands and thousands of people on your lists, then there’s just no point! The goal of every email campaign you send is to just shove your message in front of every human with an inbox and hope they send you money, right? Thousands of dollars on rented, harvested, and purchased lists from trade shows, partners, vendors, and random people on the internet is money well-spent. Now we have another 10,000 people who won’t open our emails—but our list is even bigger!

Hopefully you’ve picked up on my sarcasm by this point. Everything in the previous paragraph is completely wrong, of course. And stop laughing, because I bet your company does this.

Let’s get serious for a second. At the end of the day, the size of your email list is a vanity metric. Pure and simple—it means nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I’m going to say that again and I want you to really take that in this time—your email list size means nothing.

Actually, I take that back. Having a huge email list size, full of people who never open your emails, let alone engage with you, can actually hurt you. This is called graymail. Basically, graymail can make your messages far more likely to end up in the spam or junk folder. You’ll probably never know because your email marketing platform most likely won’t tell you where your messages were delivered, just that they were delivered—and technically they were, just not anywhere useful.

Also, when you do shady things like buy or rent email lists, not only are you possibly breaking several laws (e.g.: GDPR, CCPA, CASL, various state data privacy laws in the U.S., and so on) but also, you’re just hurting yourself. Those people are more likely to unsubscribe from your emails at best, mark you as spam (which can lower your sender score, and then you end up in the spam folders) at middle, or file formal complaints to the GDPR governing board or the state or governmental equivalents. Regardless of how severely your recipients react, buying or renting email lists is a waste of money at best. It’s just not worth it.

Build your lists in the proper way and you’re going to have a much better time. How? I’m glad you asked. Here are a few ideas you can try today:

  • Facebook lead ads are highly effective, especially if you have a good clean email list you can upload into the system and use to build a lookalike audience. We’ll get more into lookalike audiences in our social media article, but this is a great start. They’re not free, but neither are the garbage lists you get from rental or purchase services—and with lookalike audiences, the people who sign up here are actively saying they want your emails.
  • Put product-specific and/or area-specific sign-up forms on your website. I don’t mean a single generic “HEY! SIGN UP HERE AND GET EVERYTHING WE SEND ABOUT EVERYTHING!” list. The less specific you are with what you send, the more likely people are to unsubscribe or mark you as spam.
  • Offer exclusive discounts/content only for people who sign up for your list. Sure, you’ll get some churn from people who only wanted the one discount from you. But really—if that’s all they wanted, that’s all they’re really good for, so what would be the point of keeping them on a list anyway?

There are a lot more ways that you can build good lists, but these should get you started. Just make sure that whatever you do, it’s 100% permission-based and compliant with all data privacy laws.

Think about the whole list size thing like this: would you rather have 100,000 people walk past your store who never buy and aren’t even interested, or 1,000 paying and loyal customers?

I thought so.

Things to Remember

This article isn’t meant to be the end-all and be-all of email marketing strategies for industrial automation companies. Instead, think of it as an overview of some things you might be doing and things you can correct now. It’s a science, and sometimes it takes trial and error to get it down.

On that note, here are some things to keep in mind—and some things to research—to make your program the best it can be:

  • Split testing. You should be doing this for every single email. Never have just one version of a message that goes out because you never know what’s going to play better until you try. Remember, if you’re not testing, you’re guessing.
  • Tracking and reporting. Understand how tracking in your email ecosystem works. Some platforms put UTM codes in your links automatically, and others don’t. Make sure you know how yours works so you can get the best results.
  • Personalization and segmentation. Emails must be targeted properly with segments. The messages themselves should be personalized to the individual user. Different tools do this in different ways, so make sure you know how to use yours—and test before you send to your database to make sure it’s working. Nobody likes seeing “Hello, {Fname}!” when they open an email.
  • Email is not “free.” Sure, you’ve already bought the email marketing platform, but you still have to pay your employees for the time it takes to make the messages. Let’s not even get in to the time that email creation leeches away from other tasks. There are only so many hours in a day, and as we all know, time is money. If your email program isn’t getting the results you want or isn’t up to par, you are throwing money down the drain with every bad message sent.

Hopefully this post gave you enough to start getting your email programs on track. Be sure to join us next time, when I take a dive into social media marketing. I’ll tell you why LinkedIn should be the least of your priorities!

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