5 Ways That Cultural Organisations Can Enhance Their Email Campaigns

cultural email campaigns

Social media – not just in cultural digital circles but beyond – has obviously become the darling of the digital marketing world in the last 5 years or so. As previously discussed, it’s rare to find organisations who haven’t focused at least some of their time on regular social media activity.

Interestingly though, the regular mailing list – one of the most important marketing assets held by organisations – is often ignored, or at least not the subject of the kind of focus it deserves.

Let’s take a look at five ideas for making the most of your mailing lists.

1. Use it!

Where social media is highly effective at maintaining a conversation with users and can be useful in raising the profile of your content, your mailing list is almost definitely more effective at driving engaged traffic.

Our first tip is the most obvious one – if you’ve got a list, use it! When working with cultural organisations I’m often surprised at how many of them have large mailing lists that just sit there, gathering dust.

Using a list means three things:

  • grow it
  • maintain it
  • send to it

Grow your list

“Growing an email list” is one of those Google searches that returns endless snake-oil sellers promising the moon on a stick. Broadly though, it comes down to a few simple and reasonably obvious things.

Make the offer as compelling as you possibly can. You’ve got a tiny space to convince your users to hand over something relatively valuable – their email address. So do what you can to convince them to act: can you promise email subscribers cheap entry to your next event, a discount in your cafe, or exclusive access to some content?

The use of modal popups – particularly “exit popups” – is fashionable right now, and promise to convert more visitors. Sites like Privy help you develop these really easily and then keep track of conversions.

Make the sign-up process as quick and painless as possible – test sign-up boxes on both mobile and desktop. Use double-opt in to prevent false sign-ups, but think hard about the words that you use throughout – make this as seamless as you possibly can.

Maintain your list

Maintaining a list is made relatively easy by most modern mailing list systems – MailChimp, Campaign Monitor and the other big systems all look after bounces, failed sends, duplicates and so on – and you should also get a really good set of analytics to help you determine which emails are working and which you should tweak.

Send to your list!

It’s the most obvious thing – but use a solid plan (see below) to choose times in your working week to focus on writing content for your next email and performing the send-out itself.

2. Plan

Determining how to use your email list is part of a bigger picture which encompasses your content creation and social media use. The development of a simple editorial calendar is a good first step.

If your museum or cultural organisation already has a solid marketing plan for the coming year – use this as the basis for your wider digital plan and more specifically, when to send out your emails. We tend to think of this content as consisting of two types: planned activity (exhibitions opening, anniversaries, public holidays, etc), and unplanned (government announces X policy which has an impact on your organisation, or a famous person dies who is related to your museum’s content).  

There are lots of free tools out there to help you plan – most obviously things like Google Calendar – but systems like Trello to are also widely used by organisations to help them plan the flow of content through a workflow.

3. Measure and adapt

Measuring the performance of your list is key to understanding whether it’s working or not. Luckily, email software is usually ripe with metrics – often the key is to know what to focus on.

The main two metrics you’ll get out of your software are opening rate and click rate. The former helps you understand whether your users care enough to even open the email (so this will often be dependent on the subject line); the latter will tell you which items in your email have given them cause to take action (or click).

Both sets of metrics will also enable you to compare your emails against industry standards – MailChimp publishes a regularly updated Email Marketing Benchmarks report, and there are many other reports out there on the web to compare against.

Over and above the analytics provided by the mailing software, make sure you’ve installed and configured Google Analytics on any sites you’re driving people to. By using Conversion Tracking and Campaign URLs you can track clicks from your newsletter and then onwards across the whole journey through your website.

Measuring is only half the story, though. Knowing how well things perform is often the precursor to doing something about that performance – if a particular approach works well, do it again. If it doesn’t, try something else. Most mailing software will enable you to carry out A/B and other tests so you can compare results of how well particular subject lines, content, or sending day affect your opening and click rates.

4. Segment

One of the reasons email is an effective communication medium is because it is opted-into. You are only pushing content to people who have chosen to receive that content – they’ve already given you consent to do so, so have self-selected as being in a list of caring what you say.

Segmentation can take you beyond this to further personalise your emails. Your mailing list software will enable you to group your lists into more specific segments – either of people who have specified on sign-up that are interested in say, contemporary exhibitions, or segments of people who have clicked on a particular type of content in a previous mailing.

Segmentation can take quite a long time to organise – but the opening and click rates usually reflect the extra work that has to be put in.

5. Automate

Automation is the means by which you can send a series of emails which follow some kind of pattern. A good example might be if someone has signed up for information about a particular event. Using automation, you could send them an immediate “thanks for joining” email, then 5 days later a reminder to buy their ticket, a personalised email to thank them if they do buy a ticket, another reminder 3 days before the event if they don’t… and so on.

Doing this manually – across a large list of hundreds or thousands of subscribers – would be a huge headache. Luckily, automation manages all of this for you, keeping track of subscriber sign-up time and activity and sending pre-set emails on your behalf.

There are many popular automation platforms, including Drip, Convertkit and Marketo. The main mailing list platforms often also include automation – and just recently MailChimp announced that Automation is now available on their free plan.

In Conclusion

There is no doubt at all that email is the most ubiquitous of channels for reaching users – but at the same time we have all suffered email marketing fatigue, so thinking hard about the specifics of how to use this tool is absolutely crucial.

As with any other digital activity, email marketing should be thought of strategically, within a framework of activity which asks what you want to do, how you’ll measure success and what resource you have to do it. Typically, the best balance is to use social media to drive people to your mailing list and then use compelling copy to convert them to subscribers. Once you have users on your list, it’s then a case of providing user-centric, useful, “call to action” style content on a regular basis.

For more information of how to send effective emails, read Email Marketing for Events: Everything You Need to Know


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Mike Ellis

Mike Ellis is the co-director of Thirty8 Digital, a small but perfectly formed digital agency. Thirty8 provides web consultancy, web builds and training work all over the UK with museums, heritage organisations, universities, research councils and non-profits.