Archive for the 'Email Marketing' Category

How Dirty Harry Can Help Your Email Marketing

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

There is a classic scene from the movie Dirty Harry in which Harry, a cop played by Clint Eastwood, is talking to a bank robber whom he shot.  When the wounded thief starts to reach for his weapon, Harry mentions that he isn’t sure whether he has any bullets left in his gun.  Harry makes the point that if the robber guesses wrong and goes for the gun and Harry does have a bullet left, the thief will pay the price.  Harry then utters the famous words:dirty-harry

…you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Harry forced the criminal to pause and think – think about about the consequences.  Too often, I see email campaigns launched without thinking of the consequences – the consequences of not putting the proper time into planning and executing the campaign. This is partly due to the fact that email marketing is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement (to clarify, I mean that email service providers make the act of creating and launching an email campaign easy, not that it is easy to develop a compelling email campaign).  As such, the perceived risk is low.

Now, the risk to email marketers isn’t as serious as getting your head blown off by a .44 Magnum but there are risks nonetheless with a failed email marketing campaign.  You can alienate your customers or prospects, tarnish your brand, damage your email reputation, weaken customer loyalty, etc.

So, before you hit the send button on your next email marketing campaign, instead of asking yourself if you feel lucky, ask questions like the following:

  1. Do I have a clear vision of my subscribers – what they need or want, what drives them, what challenges they face, etc. (as it relates to the product or service I provide)?
  2. Am I offering something of value? Am I thinking of my subscribers and not just of my organization?
  3. Have I reviewed past campaigns in order to see what the subscribers respond to and what doesn’t seem interesting?
  4. Am I ‘blasting’ the same content to all of my subscribers? Can I be more targeted? Can I segment my list to provide a more personal message?
  5. Am I confident that all of my subscribers have opted-in, and I don’t have email addresses that were obtained by questionable means?
  6. Am I doing something special with those subscribers who haven’t engaged with my email in a long time (e.g. re-engagement/re-activation campaign)?

If you can ask yourself those types of questions and provide the right answers before your next email marketing campaign, you can avoid some serious mistakes. In fact, the results just might ‘make your day’ (sorry, I couldn’t resist – it was too easy!)

Evolution of the Inbox

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Recently, Google introduced its Priority Inbox for its Gmail web-based email service in which Google attempts to divine the relevance of an email message based on a variety of factors such as keywords and past interaction with other email messages.  Microsoft and Yahoo have announced similar initiatives.


Image: Google

These changes are the next stage in the evolution of ISP’s, web-email providers and other email related companies helping users manage their inbox. Even though each may take a different approach, all solutions strive to identify the relevant emails and block or de-prioritize the irrelevant.

I don’t see this a ‘game-changer’ for email marketers. If you provide engaging, useful content, you should be in good shape – just like 3 months, 6 months ago, etc. If you think email is just a cheap marketing channel where your ‘blasts’ are more of an afterthought than a well-planned, integral part of your program, you are still going to fail.

The following are a few recommendations as to how you can position yourself well in the era of the evolving inbox:

  1. Focus on your Subscriber – Ensure that you are putting yourself in the shoes of your customer and thinking about what content she really wants to receive.
  2. Use Segmentation – Improve your relevance by using all possible data to segment your list.  Use those segments in varying the frequency of emails, content delivered, etc.
  3. Start the Relationship on the Right Foot – Set expectations with your sign-up form and Welcome email about the type of content and frequency of emails.  Provide something of value in your welcome email so that your subscribers are likely to engage with that first email.
  4. Practice Good List Hygiene – Most subscribers who don’t want your email anymore aren’t going to click the ‘unsubscribe’ button.  They are just as likely to click on ‘Spam’ or do nothing.  Those that are emotionally unsubscribed can damage your relevancy score just like those who reported your emails as spam.   After attempting to re-engage a subscriber don’t be afraid to throw in the towel and remove that subscriber from your regular list.
  5. Grow Your List the Right Way – Stay away from promotions or activities that incent people uninterested in your brand to sign-up for your newsletter. Launching a contest that awards a car to a new subscriber would definitely grow your list but after the contest ends, you are going to be left with a lot of people who aren’t going to be into your email.
  6. Make Unsubscribing Easy – Don’t hide your unsubscribe link.  If someone really does want to leave your list, you would rather have her unsubscribe than mark your email as spam.
  7. Don’t Take Your Subscriber For Granted – Approach your marketing program with the mindset that you have to re-earn permission with every email you send.
  8. Be Data Driven – Ensure you have analytics in place that allow you to understand what works and what doesn’t. Obviously focus on what drives engagement with your emails but don’t lose track of the fact that you ultimately need conversions.
  9. Test, Test, Test – Test everything you can: subject lines, personalization, images used in design, integrating video, etc.
  10. Be Adventurous – Try new things – don’t get stuck in a rut.  Get inspiration from what others are doing, even those who aren’t competitors.

Focusing on the Right Numbers

Friday, April 16th, 2010

numbersYou’ll hear companies tout the number of Facebook fans, Twitter followers or email subscribers they have, but those numbers don’t mean much.  Sure, everything else being equal, you would rather have more fans than fewer.  What is really important, however, is how engaged those fans, followers, and subscribers are.

My wife has an address book that she has kept for as long as I can remember.  She has hundreds of names, but many of the people listed are ones whom we have lost touch with.  We don’t know what is going on in their lives and we wouldn’t be invited to a birthday party, wedding, or graduation party they hosted.  In fact, a large percentage of addresses and phone numbers probably aren’t valid anymore.  We certainly can’t count everyone listed in that book as a friend, even if their information is still current.

The same holds true with your online marketing lists.  People may have signed-up because of a contest, by mistake, or were once interested in your product.  The reality is a significant portion of many companies’ customer lists are disengaged.  It happens – people lose interest, move on.

So instead of focusing on how big your list is, focus on how many people you can really get engaged with your company, brand, service, or product.  That is the number that really matters.

Online Marketing: Focusing on the “And” Instead of the “Or”

Monday, August 31st, 2009

choicesToo often there is a discussion about which is the ‘best’ online marketing tactic or channel (e.g. Facebook vs. Twitter or social vs. email) as if we can only choose one.  As marketers, we need to focus on having conversations with our consumers how they want and where they want.  For some, that is still email and for others it might be Twitter, Facebook, or something entirely different.  The more places we can be providing relevant content and useful information, the more successful we will be.

We recently conducted a number of online surveys for one of our clients in order to get a better sense of the audience overlap among their Twitter followers, Facebook fans, and email newsletter subscribers. What we found was interesting:

  • 40% of Twitter followers didn’t subscribe to the email newsletter and 60% weren’t Facebook fans
  • 50% of Facebook fans didn’t subscribe to the email newsletter and only 5% were Twitter followers

While there is some overlap, our client is getting a much greater reach by embracing all three channels than if they were only using any single one.

So instead of focusing on the ‘or’ (e.g. is Twitter or Facebook better), think about the ‘and’ – how we can best use all of channels and tactics like Facebook AND Twitter AND email AND video AND ….

Content, Content, Content

Monday, June 29th, 2009
Photo: Sharyn Morrow

Photo: Sharyn Morrow

No matter what type of marketing you are engaged in (search marketing, email marketing, social marketing, etc.), the first, and perhaps most important, thing you can do is ensure you are providing relevant and useful content.

Most companies could benefit by spending more time thinking about what they can do to continually provide value to their customers, followers, fans, etc.  Marketing is made so much easier if you have something of interest.  Content is still king.

Your Email Reputation

Friday, May 29th, 2009

With all of the mortgage and credit card issues today, much attention has been given to an individual’s credit score.  Our credit scores are extremely important because they determine whether we can get loans, what interest rate we will be charged and even cab impact the ability to get a job. 

As email marketers, we need to be equally focused on our email reputation which is essentially our email sender credit score. Our email sender reputation is the most important factor in determining whether an email is going to be blocked, end-up in a junk folder, or reach the inbox.  ISPs and others looking to prevent spam use your email reputation to determine how trustworthy you are just like lenders use credit scores.

If you aren’t checking your email reputation, you need to be.  A great and free resource to determine your email reputation is, which is provided by Return Path, a leading email services provider.  The sender score is a relative ranking of your email sender reputation with ‘0’ being the worst and ‘100’ being the best.  The website also provides additional information that helps to identify what issues can be negatively impacting your sender score.

Sender Score

Don’t forget that your email reputation can change, and so you need to continue to monitor it.

Improving Email Marketing Results With Pre-Testing

Monday, April 20th, 2009

As Internet marketers, we love our testing, and one of the greatest benefits of email marketing over direct marketing is the immediacy of testing results.  By ‘pre-testing’, we can use that immediacy to improve the performance of our email campaigns.

A typical A/B test usually involves developing two different versions of an email (e.g. different subject lines, including personalization, etc.), splitting the list of subscribers into two randomly selected groups, and sending a different version to each group.  The test is often run multiple times, results are analyzed, and the information is used to inform future campaigns. 

Most marketers start with what I’ll call ‘macro tests’ which involve larger issues such as testing different layouts, best time of day and day of week to send, etc.  All of these type of macro tests are very important and establish best practices and guidelines for an email program.

However, there are situations in which elements specific to a campaign need to be tested – I’ll refer to those as ‘micro tests’.  For example, maybe the creative director and product manager disagree on which photo should be used in the email as a hero shot or there are questions about the arrangement of words in the subject line (i.e. which are most important to place toward the front).  You could just A/B test the two approaches, sending each version to 1/2 of the list.  However, if one version significantly outperforms the other, then you would have lost opportunity by sending out the worst performing version to 50% of your list. 

Let’s look at the results (similar to one of our client’s recent campaigns) of an email that was A/B tested with 200,000 subscribers and in which version A outperformed version B:

Typical A/B Test Scenario

Typical A/B Test Scenario

The good news is that we did 20% better than if we would have sent version B to the entire list. However, the bad news is that we performed 20% worse than if we had sent version A to the entire list.  Of course, we didn’t know which would be the best version prior to the send.  Pre-testing allows us to reduce the risk associated with sending a worse-performing email to a large percentage of our list.

A pre-tests involves deploying the initial A/B test to a smaller, but statistically significant percentage of subscribers first and then sending the ‘winning’ version to the remainder of the list.   For example, using the same number of subscribers and response rates in the example above, a pre-test sent to 20% of the list would generate the following results:

Pre-Testing Scenario

Pre-Testing Scenario

In this example, pre-testing improved results by 16% over straight A/B testing.  The greater the performance between the two versions, the more benefit provided (and risk-reduced) by pre-testing.

A few caveats about pre-testing:

  • Pre-tests are not suitable for all situations.  For example, there are some tests (like testing a new enewsletter layout) that you are going to want to run multiple times involving as many subscribers in the the sample as possible.  Also, you need to allow at least 24 hours between the pre-test and the send to the reaminder of the list so that you have enough data to reach a conclusion, so if the email is time sensitive, you may not have time for the pre-test.
  • Even though you want the pre-test groups to be small, the groups need to be large enough to be statistically significant. (for more on sample sizes and statistical relevance, read Wayde Nelson’s response in a MarketingProf knowledge exchange answer)
  • To help validate your approach to pre-testing, run a few tests where you conduct a pre-test with your two versions and then deploy an A/B test to the remaining subscribers.  If you don’t see the same results between your pre-test and full A/B tests, then you need to pre-test with a larger sample size or check to see if something else is impacting results (e.g. day of send).

5 Internet Marketing Myths

Friday, April 17th, 2009

It’s amazing how often I hear the same misconceptions and misunderstandings from prospects we talk to, clients we work with, or others when discussing Internet marketing.  While businesses have become more savvy with respect to the web, some still have much to learn. 

The following are five of the most frequent Internet marketing myths that I come across:

It’s really about the latest and greatest trend.  While technology continues to amaze, some things don’t change.  Content is still king and in order to engage you have to provide something of value.  The printing press probably wouldn’t have had such an impact initially if Gutenberg had decided to print a book of mutton stew recipes instead of the Bible.  In the end, technology can’t overcome bad design, poor strategy, inferior quality, or terrible customer service. 

I can handle email subscribers in the same was as my direct mail list.  Direct mailers sometimes have a difficult time understanding the repercussions of emailing to subscribers too frequently or to those who didn’t provide clear permission.  Junk mail delivered by the United States Post Office, at worst, ends-up in the recycling bin, while unwanted email triggers spam complaints which in turn tarnishes your email reputation and makes it more difficult to get your communications to those who really want it.  Just because it only costs fractions of a penny to send an email to an email address doesn’t mean that you should.

I’ve implemented XYZ analytics application so I have done all that I need.  Implementing a service like Omniture Site Catalyst or Google Analytics is a great start, but it is just a start.  Companies need to ensure that they have trained staff dedicated to analyzing the information provided by tools like Site Catalyst.  These applications have many wonderful reports but the ‘canned’ reports won’t tell you everything in you need (often they only provide a small portion), and you have to have skilled people focused on analyzing the data in order to gain the insights needed to improve results.

SEO is free – I can just have someone already on staff handle it.  There are companies that handle search engine optimization in-house and are very successful.  But those companies will be the first to acknowledge that it’s not free.  SEO is still such an art and science that you need to dedicate real resources to truly understand how to succeed.  Also, because the rules are continually evolving, a considerable effort needs to be made to stay current and that takes time and commitment.  Companies who think they can buy a book and task someone without search marketing experience to handle SEO in her ‘spare time’ soon discover that approach is a recipe for failure.

I control the conversation.  Companies can foster, facilitate, participate, and even impact the conversation but they can’t control what is being said about their organization.  Customers are having conversations about organizations and their products and services on Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, blogs, Amazon (product reviews), etc.  There is nothing that a company do to stop it and attempts to only backfire.  Organizations must stop worrying about control and learn how to participate.

What Internet marketing myths would you add?

In Defense of the Email Open Rate (sort of)

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Over the past months, many have proclaimed that the email open rate is obsolete and utterly useless.  The poor open rate has become a persona non grata, and while not as risky as trying to defend the AIG bonus structure, I do think someone needs to stand-up for this email metric.

While I completely agree that clients often focus too much on the open rate, it can be misused, and it isn’t as relevant as it once was because, among other reasons, email clients are more likely today to suppress the image that is used to track an open, I do believe that the open rate still provides value and it is worth following.

Ask any professional football coach what the most important measure of success is and he will tell you that it’s all about wins and losses.  However, he will also acknowledge that when analyzing a team’s performance, you need to go beyond the end result (win/loss) and look at diagnostic metrics like how many yards you gained on offense, how many yards you gave-up on defense, how many fumbles and interceptions you had, how many penalties you incurred, etc.

I believe you take a similar approach with email marketing.  While, if I am an online retailer, I am most concerned about conversion rates and sales, metrics like the open rate provide value.  Obviously, before someone can purchase as a result of your email, they must click on a link, and before they click on a link, they have to open the email.  If you aren’t getting the email to the inbox and the subject line isn’t compelling or engaging, you aren’t going to get a conversion.

I believe that the open rate can still provide insights that will help you improve your email marketing.  If the conversion rate was significantly different between two emails and the open rate for the better converting email was much higher (and assuming the emails were sent within a reasonable time of one another), I might conclude that the subject line, whether it be the way it was written or the offer communicated, was the culprit.  Obviously, I would look at other metrics and analytics but the fact that the open rates were so different would likely impact my conclusions.  Open rates have also been helpful in identifying deliverability issues (when clients didn’t have inbox tracking) and enagement by various segments of a list (e.g. when comparing recent subscribers to ones that have been subscribed for over a year).

So what do you think?  Is it worthwhile to track the open rate or is it ready to go the way of the buggy whip?

She’s Just Not That Into Your Email Newsletter – Or is She?

Friday, March 6th, 2009

We were working with a client to help identify inactive subscribers – those who hadn’t opened or clicked on an email in many months.  The assumption was that these people no longer wanted to receive the email but just hadn’t taken the time to unsubscribe.  We were looking at various changes to the newsletter, and we were interested to see if we could learn anything from this group (e.g. why were they no longer interested in the content and what information might they find more useful) so we decided to send a small segment an online survey as a test.  The first question asked them to rate the value of the newsletter with the expectation that the newsletter would receive low scores.

The survey actually received a good response rate, especially given to whom we sent it, and the respondents gave the newsletter a surprisingly high rating (4 out of 5).  Also, interestingly, a number of people indicated that they hadn’t received an email from the company in long time. 

So, while there were certainly subscribers who were no longer interested in receiving the email newsletter, there were many that still wanted it but a deliverability problem may have been preventing the emails from getting to the inbox.  The overall deliverability to the inbox was very good for this email (as measured by a 3rd party monitoring service), but this information will allow us to work with the email service provider to identify whether there are deliverability issues that our 3rd-party monitoring isn’t discovering.

Therefore, unlike the situations where a friend was listing all of the reasons why a girl didn’t call him back and you had to have that difficult conversation informing him that she just wasn’t that into him, this was a situation in which she was (at least some of them were).