Mastering the Complexities of Multichannel Digital Marketing

Integration is like the Holy Grail of marketing. Connecting the dots at the customer level, across channels, devices and owned and non-owned properties is hard, but not impossible. Multichannel marketers must commit to meeting the customer along a matrixed journey. In a session I led at DMA2014 in San Diego last month, we discussed the types of lifecycle marketing, automation and buyer-centric programs that are most effective for drawing marketers out of silos and into a collaborative multichannel approach.

Integration is like the Holy Grail of marketing. Connecting the dots at the customer level, across channels, devices and owned and non-owned properties is hard, but not impossible. Multichannel marketers must commit to meeting the customer along a matrixed journey.

In a session I led at DMA2014 in San Diego last month, we discussed the types of lifecycle marketing, automation and buyer-centric programs that are most effective for drawing marketers out of silos and into a collaborative multichannel approach.

Andrew “Drew” Bailey, marketing principal at FedEx, said that the most important thing is to have a roadmap that is blessed by the executive team. “We’re mapping out a 3-year roadmap for our strategic objectives, now branded ‘Purple Journey’ (color selected from the brand logo). We try not to be paralyzed by our own processes. We still have to keep the lights on while we move things forward.”

Customers don’t think about channels, so why are marketers still clinging to our silos? Silos occur for a very valid, if not a very good reason, said Staples Director of Analytics and Customer Insight James (Jim) Foreman. “You solve a single need, and then new needs are solved by bolting on something to the original solution and you end up with a lot of things duct-taped together,” he said. “To emerge out of the rut, you need to prioritize with people, upgrade your specifications and budget based on the benefits you will earn from the change.”

There is certainly a people-process-technology synergy that has to happen for great customer experience. “It’s a three-legged stool,” Jim said, “But the glue and power comes from data.” Technology has surpassed our ability to use it well, so a key aspect of your IMM and CRM planning has to be that terrible “P” word that all marketers hate because we really want to do it all, “Prioritization.”

“The purpose of marketing has not changed, but the technology has changed,” Jim said. “Now that we are smarter about—and faster to respond to—the customer, the key is to make sure that we still listen to customers and synchronize touchpoints to recognize people across channels. We’ve learned a lot by combing through the data, inserting touchpoints at conversion points (a video watch, certain session length, repeat purchase, email behaviors, change of address, etc.) and encourage customers to engage with us across a richer journey. We greet you at each new interaction, informed with data from the past—which customizes the experience as much as possible.

“That translates to higher share of wallet, as Staples becomes important to both business and personal needs (customer need), both office and technology needs (product offering), and offline and online (multichannel).”

Not all customers are created equal, and a huge benefit of CRM-driven marketing is to treat all customers well, but some customers better/differently. This allows more personal and custom experience, and builds brand loyalty—especially in competitive, price-driven markets.

“We deliver packages really well,” Drew said. “But when there are concerns, customers can be pretty vocal via social media, so you have to do a good job of addressing the needs of all customers, even when you mess up.”

One approach Drew shared: “We encourage all our team members to be patient, passionate and persistent. With a ‘Good, better, best’ approach, we can help employees be the champions of our customers.

“Change happens from the work of champions,” he continued.

The data that matters to us most is our own delivery performance data—we need the ops teams to play well with the marketing team, Drew said. Staples starts with basic Web behavior—views, clicks, purchases—but quickly augments with demographic data from online accounts and the loyalty program. “We find that a mix of data is most helpful to understanding the next-best offer,” Jim said.

Successful multichannel marketing is in large part due to the way each interaction is met and tackled by the various people and machines that make up your company’s front line. Focus on those that move the needle for your business, stick to an endorsed plan of action, and be nimble and open to changing as your customer and market demand.

Turn Your Customers Into Your Best Salespeople

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Enabling satisfied customers to spread the word takes a combination of the right messaging and some careful listening to ensure you don’t lose out on valuable opportunities for positive online word-of-mouth. Empower your brand advocates by devoting attention to these four specific areas:

1. A great customer experience. Certain customers will go out of their way to praise a high-quality product, helpful customer service or even a compelling interaction with a brand. (This holds true whether they’re B-to-C or B-to-B customers.) Naturally, the first step is to offer a great product or service. Then start paying attention to who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. Social media listening tools will help you locate enthusiastic customers online. Make them prime targets for engagement.

Don’t wait for the active few, go after the silent majority, too. The primary reason most customers don’t share good news about brands they do business with is because they’re never asked. After every appropriate interaction — and without being creepy or becoming a nag — invite your customers to participate in product reviews, experience surveys, customer forums or just plain telephone calls as part of “executive outreach sessions.” Use the channel that the customer used, whether it’s SMS, social, email or retail.

2. Loyalty. Customers willing to share their positive experiences with your brand are well worth your time and resources. Once you’ve found these happy customers, invest in them to create a loyal following. You can’t underestimate the power of simply thanking customers for their business.

In addition, keep your database up to date and integrated with your segmentation and campaign management tools. Update customer profiles to include recognition of brand advocacy and nurture loyalty with special acknowledgments, promotions and discounts. It’s critical to keep these interactions relevant, personalized and well-timed. In other words, don’t spam. Just because you can email a brand advocate on her birthday, before holidays and whenever her favorite item is on sale doesn’t mean your messages will be welcome.

Track response rates over time so you can optimize message frequency and timing. While many of your loyal customers will be happy to receive lots of notices from you, never assume their interest. One of our retail clients recently found that a whopping 10 percent of their most loyal customers had marked their email messages as spam in the past year. When the retailer reached out to these customers via other channels to find out why, it learned that the email messages were too frequent and not specific to the interests of those customers. Don’t risk upsetting or annoying your customers to the point of complaints. Listen to the response data you have and back off when necessary.

3. A platform to promote. Help your brand advocates find their voice by giving them ample opportunity to share their feelings online. They’re multichannel, so think across channels too. Engage them via email, your website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make sure they feel welcome to talk about their positive customer experiences online.

Is your company blog comment friendly? Do you provide a timely response to mentions of your brand on Twitter? Are you using clickstream and email data to inform your personas and segmentation? Does your website provide easy access to contact information for customer service and social media accounts? Present a seamless approach across all platforms — both traditional and digital — so that your messaging is consistent and credible.

4. Pull your head out of the sand. There are dozens of examples every month of brands that tried to ignore negative social commentary or got “shamed” for suppressing negative comments on Facebook. Nestle, for example, battled with Greenpeace supporters who voiced their concerns over the company’s use of palm oil. Rather than listening and engaging with concerned consumers, Nestle created a wealth of bad PR for itself by deleting posts and snapping back at fans. Similarly, Pfizer agitated consumers by deleting Facebook posts that suggested one of its viral video campaigns may be sexist.

If you’re going to listen and respond to social data, you must accept and engage with consumers who don’t agree with your positions or didn’t have a good brand experience. Like all battles of public opinion, the trick is to empower your advocates to respond to your detractors while providing a fact-based, reasonable platform for thoughtful discussion.

Brand advocates have always played the role of valuable, cost-effective salespeople. Now their voices can be amplified even more via social media networks. With a little encouragement and support, today’s brand advocates can become a powerful sales force. Put marketing automation and integration tools to work and you’ll be able to find your satisfied customers, engage with them and delight them even more with offers and promotions that resonate and cultivate deeper brand loyalty.

Turning Email and Social Synergy Into Opportunity

In marketing — as in candy bowls — chasing too much opportunity can produce nothing more than paralysis or, at best, a dilution of the effort when it’s spread too thinly.

Too much candy isn’t good for you. As appealing as that big bowl of M&Ms looks right now, you know that if you get even get close to it, you’re going to regret it.

The same can be true in marketing. Working with a marketer who is merging three email programs into one campaign management application, I realized very early that there was huge opportunity for synergy of content as well as cross-selling and promotion between the three brands. The marketer was very excited about the possibility of managing the programs in a true CRM-driven fashion. That was only possible once the programs were generated off the same database and integrated at the subscriber level. Until now, the best this marketer could do was run separate promotions with similar offers, then try to compare the impact on revenue and unsubscribes after the fact. There were never very promising results.

With everything managed in one solution, the field is open for new approaches. A quick diagram of the combined customer base by brand showed a very slim overlap between them. At first glance, that feels like all upside — what a great opportunity to expose each brand to new, known audiences. It’s a big bowl of untouched delicious chocolate!

Synergy situations like this do create opportunity. That can be very exciting. But before you get too swept up in dreaming big, consider how important it is to prioritize those opportunities. In marketing — as in candy bowls — chasing too much opportunity can produce nothing more than paralysis or, at best, a dilution of the effort when it’s spread too thinly.

Consider these factors to help prioritize the opportunities before you:

1. Permission. Never assume permission. Period. First, it may be illegal depending on the countries where you market. Second, it’s bad marketing. There’s plenty of cross-sellling opportunities along the existing permission grants that you own today. At the same time, encourage subscribers to sign up for more types of messages from other brands in your preference center.

Lest you falter in your steadfastness, take this tale to heart: We had one marketer recently suffer a big drop in sender reputation and inbox placement. We traced the high complaints to a few campaigns promoting retail partners. Even though it was the marketer’s brand, template and “from” line, subscribers thought the messages were actually from the partners. Complaints were very high, even though the partners were trusted brands themselves. Subscribers knew they didn’t sign up for email from those brands and didn’t stop to check to see if it was a cross-promotion. They just clicked the spam button. Even if you own the partner brands, don’t assume your subscribers know that. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to gain permission and earn it with every message you send.

2. Audience profile. You don’t have the time or resources to tackle every possible cross-promotion opportunity, so focus on the two to three that have the right criteria — reach, revenue and strategic importance. The latter is sometimes hard to gauge, but it usually involves business drivers, high-value customers or high-visibility projects. Balance those factors out in a spreadsheet so that you have real science behind your discussions. Make sure that every test has an actionable learning so that you can continue to improve and optimize.

3. Brand affinity. Just like in social marketing, customers who already trust you are the ones most likely to take your advice on cross-promotional purchases. Therefore, segment not just by permission status but also by the likelihood of brand affinity that will encourage cross-pollinization of the brands. For example, free online members may have a very low brand affinity and thus are least likely to welcome cross-promotions. Paid members who have purchased recently or have more than one product will be more likely to welcome upsell offers (and not complain).

4. Sales channel preference. A factor that became more important than we initially considered is sales channel — e.g., those who purchase in-store versus online. Not only are there demographic differences between the two, but there are also differences in the way email is used. For example, in this case email wasn’t very successful at encouraging in-store customers to purchase online, but it was effective in generating store traffic. Seems obvious now that we see the results, but of course the magic is in the discovery.

5. Customer life cycle. This is perhaps the most important factor. I’ve found time and again that marketers are way too confident in their assumptions about how interested consumers are in their offers. In fact, you have to start way back in the life cycle for cross-promotions, just as you would with new prospects (which, of course, many of these people are). Nurturing has to start with discovery and exploration. Too many times marketers hit prospects with offers well before they’ve established credibility with them or before they even acknowledge their own needs.

What have you learned from your efforts to create new revenue and customer satisfaction opportunities through data integration? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

Getting Started With Email Segmentation

Creating effective email connections that drive response and revenue requires segmentation. That sounds fine in concept, as many marketers know they need to do more segmentation in order to engage subscribers and break through the clutter. However, many marketers struggle with getting access to data and developing creative approaches that match the customer lifecycle. I urge you to not be intimidated. Demand greater data integration and access from your vendors. Start testing new content and creative approaches so that you can be automated and fully functioning immediately.

Creating effective email connections that drive response and revenue requires segmentation. That sounds fine in concept, as many marketers know they need to do more segmentation in order to engage subscribers and break through the clutter. However, many marketers struggle with getting access to data and developing creative approaches that match the customer lifecycle. I urge you to not be intimidated. Demand greater data integration and access from your vendors. Start testing new content and creative approaches so that you can be automated and fully functioning immediately.

Ease into segmentation to avoid overtaxing your precious resources. Use early tests to learn about subscriber interests and understand key success metrics. Doing so will build your confidence and help you make a case for automation, data integration and creative services — all of which are essential for advanced segmentation and better results.

There are two ways to get your arms around your segmentation opportunity, both with the goal of “right message, right person, right time.”

  1. Segment by customer profile and craft messages around customer demographics, firmagraphics and behavior.
  2. Segment by customer life stage and speak to customers who are in specific life stages.

Customer profile segmentation: With profile approaches, even simple segmentation can make a big difference. Separate your file into large segments that distinguish subscribers by a factor that has significance to your business. Clickers are a good place to start. Those subscribers who have clicked on something in the past month are more likely to be engaged than those who haven’t.

You can do less storytelling with clickers. For example, a retailer may simply alert clickers that a sale continues until Friday or put in specific sale prices for pants, sweaters and scarves. A business software marketer may send clickers three of their most popular whitepapers or an invitation to participate in a LinkedIn community. In both cases, clickers need less background info and more options to get them to act, whereas nonclickers may need more guidance and education prior to taking action.

Why burden clickers with info they don’t need and that gets in the way of their actions? At the same time, don’t skimp on critical storytelling information for nonclickers, as they clearly don’t have a strong connection with your offer yet.

Other starter segments worth testing include new subscribers versus long-time subscribers, buyers, geography (e.g., north versus south) and gender.

Draw segment lines around key drivers for your business — i.e., differentiators that give you a clear path to a custom message that will make an impact. For many B-to-B marketers, the most important driver of customization is job title. For B-to-C retailers, the key data point is most recent purchase. Don’t choose geography if location has no bearing on purchase behavior. Your business is unique, but good marketers understand the key customer attributes that lead to increased sales and satisfaction. Focus there for your segmentation and you’ll be rewarded with the biggest lift.

Life stage segmentation: To effectively segment by life stage, first abandon the notion that every email program has to be a long-term affair. Short-term email conversations can be even more powerful, particularly because they address a specific need at the time when that need is most acute. A four-message reminder series that disrupts the messaging flow around renewal time can be much more powerful than a generic newsletter which comes like clockwork every two weeks. Why not replace the newsletter with custom messaging for all customers who are up for renewal in a particular quarter? Similarly, create custom series of two messages to 20 messages that cluster around that particular life stage.

Remember to think through the dialog of the conversation if the message series is longer than three messages so that you can intensify, cease or adapt the message stream to accommodate response. For example, stop pitching the purchase midstream if someone has already upgraded from a free trial.

Not every email program has to be long term. The goal of “right message, right person, right time” can be achieved through segmentation that focuses on a specific life stage as well as customer profile.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to nurturing engagement via segmentation strategies? Perhaps I can address them in a future blog or learn from others handling of them.

The Database Marketer Superhero: Expanded Role, Big Impact

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight? Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Riddle me this, Batman: What sort of marketing strategies today require deeper, strategic database insight?

Not so puzzling, is it? Pretty much everything a marketing team does today is driven by data — e.g., digital outreach, content, media, attribution, return on investment analysis, lead nurturing, PR and social community participation. In fact, the list would be shorter if we tallied up those marketing functions that don’t benefit from data-driven decisions.

Database marketers were traditionally the geeks of the marketing department. They kept to themselves, ran queries to answer questions posed by other strategists, and worked hard to keep data clean and updated. Today’s database marketers are part of an emerging and essential marketing operations team that’s driving a lot of brands’ strategies. One marketer said to me recently, “Whomever knows the customers best gets to make the call.” Who knows your customers better than the people working with the data every day? All of a sudden, database marketers are superheroes — or at least have the opportunity to wear capes if they choose to accept the challenge.

There are two factors driving this trend, one being consumer habit. Given the ability and choice to interact with brands in many ways and across many channels, consumers are taking full advantage. It’s a me-centered consumption world where customer preference and whim create habits. At the same time, marketing automation technology is advancing and data integration is possible. Marketers can track and, more importantly, react to customer behavior in order to meet needs across channels.

Consider these five initiatives that have become imperatives for many chief marketing officers today:

1. Obtain a 360-degree view of the customer. One B-to-C marketer told me that there are more than 25 ways customers can interact with her brand, from a kiosk to a store counter to email to mobile commerce to branded website to call center to social communities. Most consumers participate in three or more of those channels. Communications can only be optimized if those habits and experiences are captured — and actionable — in your database.

2. Respond to customer behavior in the channel where the interaction occurred. This also has to be aligned with self-selected preferences.

3. Select the optimal channel for your next offer. A hotel owner uses past booking behavior to send last-minute alerts via SMS to those who have opted in and accessed the brand’s mobile commerce site. All others get the information via email. Response has boosted overall 8 percent.

4. Outline personas representing key customer segments. Do this in order to profile audience types and improve communication messaging and cadence.

5. Test and optimize your mix of channels for lead nurturing campaigns. For a live seminar event, one B-to-B marketer emailed reminders and offers based on interaction with previous email campaigns. Those who didn’t respond got simple reminders on date, location and keynote speakers. Those who did respond got more robust offers. Revenue from the offers increased 50 percent over the previous year and spam complaints dropped 25 percent. This is surely because those who demonstrated a willingness to engage prior to the event were nurtured with offers that made sense to their actions, and the others were left alone.

I’m sure there are infinite variations of these opportunities. Perhaps you’re testing some of them now. It will also be great to see how database marketers react to this new level of attention and interest from the C-suite. Will you embrace it and join the strategists, or will you run back to the corner and take orders?

How are you and your team embracing the need for a data-driven marketing approach? Please tell us by posting a comment below.

Email Marketing is the Sticky Stuff of Digital Conversations

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Glue? Is that good? I think so. Because email marketing communicates with your eCRM database and connects marketing campaigns with data at the individual subscriber level, it’s become a powerful way for marketers to connect across customer touchpoints, even other channels. It’s become “conversational glue.”

Consider this glue to be a series of messages that nurture and engage consumers over time. Marketers already aim to do this. They create content and messaging that reaches customers and prospects over time, with a purpose that’s meaningful to customers. Most likely, the conversation component (i.e., each individual message) drives an action or interaction with the customer. While not every email needs to drive a click to be effective, if you’re engaging in conversation it must be a two-way dialog. This means the timing of the messaging and the content encourage higher response.

There are many ways that marketers collect data in order to customize experiences. Consider what you have at your disposal: past response data, online forms, surveys, sales teams, competitive analysis, social communities (including comments on your blog) and web analytics. Understanding the key drivers of response will help you focus on the things that matter most. For example:

1. Post-purchase triggered messages, like those from Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, encourage suggested follow-up items. That alone isn’t a conversation, so turn that post-purchase request into a conversation by offering testimonials from others who have purchased the follow-up product. Provide helpful tips from your product experts or merchandisers, or even invite the customer to join a product-owner community.

You can still suggest related products, it’s just not the sole purpose of the communication. A colleague received a “personal” follow-up from a sales associate she met during her purchase at Neiman Marcus. Now that’s a conversation starter!

2. Sign up for a B-to-B event and what do you get? An invitation the following week for the same event — sometimes at a better deal. An order confirmation or download receipt isn’t a conversation. This period of anticipation — post sign-up and pre-event — are actually great times for conversations. Engage participants with experts by sending provocative insights to be shared at the event, and collect feedback in advance that you can use during the event to tailor the experience. While you do that, offer help for hotels, travel, networking, etc. Wrap the conversation around those helpful informational messages.

How do you do this? It starts with data. If you don’t have a campaign management tool integrated with your database, you need to prioritize the data elements that will power the most relevant conversations and import that data to your email marketing tool. That data isn’t as timely or rich, but it will get you on your way. Perhaps it could even help you make a business case for better segmentation and campaign management tools. Create the content up front so that you know the whole conversation. But if subscribers aren’t engaging, don’t keep talking. Allow those who aren’t interested to drop out of the series.

Test everything — content, images, offers, presence of navigation and secondary offers, cadence, timing, and message length. Even subject line testing will help you improve results and guide your segmentation going forward as you learn more about your audience.

Successful conversations require a deep commitment to subscriber interest. Let’s be honest: Self-interest and business pressure often result in low relevancy for subscribers, the very people you’re trying to engage in conversation. Often there’s a disconnect between a marketer’s desire to have conversation and a subscriber’s willingness to converse. Select your opportunities carefully. Marketer must become advocates for their subscribers, and not just for altruistic reasons. Relevancy improves response and revenue.

Don’t forget to include your landing pages in the conversation. Continue to offer ways to respond, interact and provide feedback. Social elements can help here as well. Think of landing pages as a continuation of the conversation.

What are you doing to start and nurture conversations? Let me know how you’ve successfully improved engagement and response by posting a comment below.

Dealing With This Season’s Burned Out Subscribers

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

Then reality sets in. Although this year has been significantly better than last year in terms of business buying and consumer spending, most email marketers are quickly caught up in the email marketing return on investment trap. When times are tough, the pressure goes up to send just one more email campaign in order to boost revenues and response.

That strategy can work in the short term, but come January, the reckoning takes hold. This is when email marketers must rebuild relationships sullied by overmailing and lack of targeting. Hopefully, your business can pause and take a deep breath in order to both slow down the frequency as well as improve customization and relevancy. If you still see low response rates and list fatigue, then it’s time for a strategy to win back your audience.

Strategies for winning back subscribers
A win-back strategy can be anything from a friendly reminder to visit the preference center to a full-on bribe, like offering a steep discount or free service if the subscriber clicks now. Test a few of these ideas on subscribers who didn’t open or click on your emails in December and January. After a few attempts to win them back, if you still don’t see any activity, it may be time to clear the dead wood from your file.

While suppressing data is an anathema to direct marketers’ hearts, clearing nonresponsive subscribers from your email marketing file can help with everything from reducing churn to lowering costs to improving the new engagement metrics used for inbox placement and deliverability. Logically, it makes sense. More active subscribers are more likely to respond.

Surprisingly, however, clearing nonactive addresses from your file also improves response. That boost in response isn’t just on the rate off of a smaller base, but is also on absolute response and revenue per subscriber. Why does this happen? By focusing on the needs of active subscribers, marketers improve relevancy and lower frequency. They start to segment their files with tighter subscriber profiles. Be sure to note that this is the opposite of what you’re able to do in the rush of end of year.

Even permission files end up with anywhere from 25 percent to 65 percent of inactive subscribers. These subscribers, despite giving permission at some point, haven’t opened, clicked or converted from email in the past year or more. Unfortunately, the fourth quarter is when most subscribers burn out. The overflowing inbox at a busy time of year just becomes too much. They tune out your messages if you’re not offering value. Pretty soon, ignoring your emails becomes a habit.

For a long time, it was widely believed to be reasonable to keep all those dead addresses on your file, as it didn’t cost much to mail them and having a larger denominator made complaint rates and other deliverability metrics seem lower. Plus, marketers are ever hopeful. Even if a subscriber hasn’t responded to their emails in a long time, they still believe that today’s message will be the one that rouses them to profitable response. Of course, very few of these sleepers ever wake up.

However, internet service providers and mailbox providers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail have long been suspicious of marketers who keep such nonresponsive data on their files, believing that they’re trying to game the system and escape penalties of higher complaint rates. In the past six months, all three global providers have introduced new metrics as well as new inbox management tools to help them see subscriber-level activity. MSN/Hotmail was the first to announce the use of activity measures to block senders from a particular subscriber’s inbox (I wrote about this in early September).

I’ve seen some success in win-back campaigns that respect subscribers, are honest about the offer in the subject line, and keep the message and tone in line with the brand. Test a few alternatives and segment as much as possible to improve relevancy as well. For example:

  • A publisher tested several approaches and found that “We hate spam, too. Change your email settings now” in the subject line was the best way to encourage 90-day nonactive readers to adjust frequency and title choices. Typically, I find that clarity trumps cleverness in a subject line. Just say clearly what the subscriber is being asked to do.
  • A retailer sent an email campaign to six-month inactive subscribers inviting them to vote for the brand’s next catalog cover. The engaging campaign consistently earned 25 percent clickthrough rates. By focusing on the click (the action needed to prove that the subscriber isn’t truly dead), the campaign earned a very high response rate. As a bonus, while many subscribers were on the company’s website they took advantage of specials offered on the landing page.
  • A retailer tested the effect of a win-back campaign versus lowering frequency to six-month inactive accounts. Lowering frequency is a commonly used tactic to respect nonresponding subscribers level of interest, but, of course, does nothing to actually engage them. The win-back strategy was the clear winner, earning a 10 percent response rate and $900K in revenue versus a 2 percent response rate and $150K in revenue from the segment that received lower frequency.

Let us know how you’ve successfully re-engaged subscribers by posting a comment below.

A ‘Back-to-Business’ Email Optimization Checklist

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

1. Put on the proverbial tie. Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your email look with a template minirefresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and calls to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them, including the following:

  • small image, link or headline additions requested by the brand, product or sales teams;
  • the multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages;
  • that extra banner at the bottom of your emails promoting a special event that never seemed to go away;
  • a bunch of social networking links that no one has clicked on (usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they’re more appealing and inviting); and
  • extra legal or other language in the footer.

2. Insure against failure. Take a quick look at two key engagement metrics this year: unsubscribe requests and complaints (i.e., clicks on the “Report Spam” button). First, ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Then, take a look if the unsubscribe and complaint rates for your various types of messages (e.g., newsletters or promotions) are erratic, growing or steady?

If erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new lifestage and are now uninterested in your content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited for your brand and/or content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities.

3. Turn frequency into cadence. Back when everything reached the inbox, being present was enough to earn a brand impression. So, many marketers just broadcast often to be near the top of the inbox. People are now fatigued from inbox clutter, however, and are employing more filters as a result. Being relevant and timely trumps volume. Subscribers visit their inboxes expecting to see timely messages tailored to their interests. On the other hand, repeated reminders about last week’s sale may turn them off forever.

4. Adopt a new attitude. Gather new information about subscribers, and use it to test content or segmentation strategies. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. To get higher participation, make it fun by featuring the results of the poll on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share. Or keep a Twitter tally of response in real time.

5. Arm yourself for the crush. Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the email transit way also fills up as marketers promote their fall offerings and gear up for the holidays/Q4. Just like in any rush hour, the more email traffic, the higher the likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered.

Make it a habit to check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings — it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data. If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your email service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics such as my firm’s free email reputation service SenderScore.org or DNSstuff.com, another free email reputation service.

Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95th percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of “delivered” (i.e., the inverse of your bounce rate). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of delivered email is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox, according to a study by my firm. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics if you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

6. Make new friends. You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices, then regularly link to those websites in your own messages as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of experts and potential referrals back to your business.

These might be tasks already on your to-do list. Do them this week and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.