Email Marketing Is a Strategy Game

For years, email has been our solid companion, our owned audience. It’s the path of least resistance to the audience and serves the purpose of delivering content, promotions, advertising, and more. But it’s time for email marketing strategy to evolve because Google is changing the game.

Email marketing continues to be a dominant channel for audience engagement, sales monetization, and product sales. Why? Because it’s an owned audience. You own the direct relationship with that audience member … well, for the most part.

That direct relationship with the audience is increasingly under attack from Google, turning email marketing into a strategy game that is quite similar to ones publishers and brands have been playing for years with Facebook and Google itself. It’s 2020, and we all better be ready to play.

Remember when publishers were burned by Facebook back in 2014 when organic reach from the platform plummeted from 16% to a mere 6.5%? Publishers and brands had worked so hard to grab all of those friends (then fans, then likes), but then our voice was essentially snuffed out unless we forked over cash to boost content.

For years, email has been our solid companion, our owned audience. It’s definitely the path of least resistance to the audience and serves the purpose of delivering content, promotions, advertising, subscription offers, event invitations, and more. The barriers of entry are low; the tools are accessible, easy to use, and not too expensive.

But it’s time for email strategy to evolve. Publishers need to be ready to play because Google is changing the game. And although Gmail doesn’t have the same dominance in the email market that Google has for search engines, as of 2019, Gmail is leading the global email client market share with 27.8%. Apple iPhone is close behind with 27.6%, while Outlook is in third with 9.1%, according to Litmus Email Analytics.

In 2013, Gmail launched the Social and Promotions Tabs. This update was intended to offer Gmail users a better experience by segmenting emails based on their content and who they were from. Your contacts end up in your inbox while marketing and bulk emails (deals, offers, and other promotional messages) go into the Promotions tab.

“Mail classifications automatically adjust to match users’ preferences and actions,” a Google representative told nonprofit news organization The Markup. This means our inboxes are starting to operate more and more like our social feeds, influenced by our engagement and assumptive about the type of content we want to see. In free Gmail accounts, the Social and Promotions tabs also serve as ad inventory for Google.

The Markup conducted a recent experiment to determine how Gmail “filters political email from candidates, think tanks, advocacy groups, and nonprofits” into the Primary, Promotions, and Spam tabs and saw results all over the map. Candidates including Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar ended up in the Promotions tab most often, while Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris ended up in the Spam folder more often than any other inbox destination. Pete Buttigieg, by comparison, ended up in the Primary inbox 63% of the time but also had more than a quarter of his emails go to Spam.

Setting aside the anxiety these results induce in me about the influence of only one or two companies on our elections, they illustrate that publishers need to start paying attention to the ground rules that Google is setting with Gmail.

Last year, Gmail began to penalize publishers and marketers for continuing to send to email addresses that hadn’t engaged in more than 180 days, making it increasingly important to maintain a clean email database and regularly purge inactive email addresses.

All of these changes over the last seven years point to the fact that Google is increasingly making the inbox a competitive landscape that requires adherence to the rules set forth. Attention, engagement, testing, and reputation. Sound familiar? Don’t take email marketing for granted. It’s 2020 and publishers need to play the email game.

The Importance of Always Having a Solid Email Marketing Program

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. Email marketing should already be a part of your digital arsenal.

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. A solid email marketing program should always be a part of your digital arsenal, no matter what’s going on in the world.

Email Marketing Keeps You Top of Mind

We’ve all found those prospects who are a perfect fit in every way — except they’re not ready to buy. Sometimes it’s a priorities issue. In other cases, it’s a mismatch between need and budget cycle.

When you find those prospects, stay in touch via email until their need becomes pressing enough to push those other issues aside. Nothing beats email when it comes to drip marketing.

Email Messages Are Easy to Personalize

No, we’re not talking about “Dear [your name here],” though that certainly is one type of personalization. We’re talking about a more meaningful way to connect with your audience by tailoring email to their interests. These can be self-identified or based on past behavior. You can do this on your website, too, though doing it with your email marketing is usually a little easier to wrangle. Getting your email and your website to work together this way is even better. Which is an excellent segue to our next point.

Email Is the Great Connector

Email doesn’t just connect you to your target audience. It connects various pieces of your marketing tool kit. Email can introduce prospects to your social media presence and vice versa, allowing you to meet them where they already are. Well-executed email marketing efforts can drive traffic to your website, which is likely where the conversion from possibility to prospect occurs. In both cases email is improving not only your reach but your engagement.

You Own Email

Social media channels can fall out of favor in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest meaningfully in those platforms that work best with our audience. But those “borrowed” platforms should not be more than a part of our overall strategy. Owning email marketing means never having to worry about what social network will fizzle or when the next search engine algorithm update might upend years of SEO gains. (Well, we still have to worry about these things, but we don’t have to worry about them being catastrophic to our marketing.)

The key to all of this email magic is relevance. No surprise there. That’s the key to all marketing today, traditional or digital. If you want to reap the benefits of email marketing’s power, don’t show up in someone’s inbox just to show up. Have something relevant to say that they want to hear.


WWTT? So Many COVID-19 Emails … But Are There Any ‘Good’ Ones?

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. But there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Right now, the world feels like a very scary, uncertain place, as we all make adjustments to our daily lives during this pandemic. And while each day often seems weirder or scarier than the one before it, there is also a lot of room for hope and positivity. For today’s “What Were They Thinking?” post, I want to look at some COVID-19 emails I’ve received from brands and nonprofits to my personal email account, showcasing a couple that I think did an excellent job at standing out in my inbox and offering value.

Because if you’re not offering up value right now (and no, I don’t mean a sweet sale on a pair of shoes), then maybe think twice about what campaigns you’re running, especially if they include COVID-19 messaging.

Also, a little tip I’d like to offer: Consider removing inactives from your list BEFORE you message your entire list. I don’t need to know that you’re keeping your establishment clean and being decent to your employees if we interacted maybe once, back in 2014. If you can wash your hands, you also can take some time for list hygiene.

So much like an episode of MTV Cribs, step into my inbox with me, and let’s look at some examples of COVID-19 emails done right:

COVID-19 email message from Lush I received this email from Lush on March 14, and the headline reads: “Be safe, get clean.”

Already I’m thankful the subject line isn’t the usual canned “[Company name] and COVID-19 update.” Yes, in some cases we do need an update from a particular company we do business with — for example, when my hair salon emailed me how they were were taking care of their staff and the salon, how this would affect services, hours, etc, I definitely read that email. My salon is a very personal marketer to me … some others who email me, however, are not.

Back to Lush. So the subject line is great and has me curious enough to open. The main message is simple: “Wash your hands for free at Lush.” The rest of the short email says that their stores are still open in North America, come on in and wash your hands for free with no expectation of purchase.

Now yes, this can be looked at as a way to increase foot traffic, but they are offering a service that is very relevant right now (How many of us have replaced our usual goodbyes with “Wash your hands!”?) Sure, some people might make a purchase, but the focus of this email is about a beneficial service Lush wants to provide the community, wherever one of their brick and mortar stores reside.

Unfortunately, the next day I received a second email from Lush alerting me to North America store closures from March 16-29, but even that didn’t feel like a boilerplate email. You can check it out here.

The bottom line about Lush is that their emails were compassionate, offered value to their customs, and were on-brand.

Now, let’s look at a nonprofit I support:

The Western New York Land Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in the Western New York (WNY) region of the Empire State. It’s a second home to me, due to the fact I went to college there and I have friends and family in the area.

While the WNYLC’s subject line is a bit closer to some of the boilerplate ones I’ve seen out there on other COVID-19 emails, what works so well is the message. It starts with a note from their Executive Director, leading off with a cancellation of a specific hike for the safety of others, as well as information about how future events will either be conducted via phone or video, or rescheduled. All important info, especially if you’re a donor who actively participates with this organization.

But what I appreciate the most is how this email ties into part of the land conservancy’s mission — to experience the land. The call to action to go outside and take it in during these uncertain times is what a lot of people need to hear: to take a break, step away from the constant news cycle or ding of email, and go breathe some fresh air. The specific mention of the Stella Niagara Preserve (land the WNYLC has protected) is fitting, and the P.S. includes a reminder that social distancing is great for the outdoors, so send photos of your favorite moments.

This call for photo submissions isn’t only user generated content, but when the WNYLC posts these images, their follows can enjoy them and feel a little less distant. Something we all need.

As marketers, before all of “this,” our jobs were to educate prospects and customers about our services and products, and to often help people be their best selves, whether professionally, personally, or both. Our creative and analytical minds were put to work building campaigns and helping support sales teams. And yes, those are all still our jobs right now.

But I think we have some new ones. We need to be there to help lift up our customers and donors (when appropriate and relevant, don’t just barge in out of nowhere). We need to make sure we share good, accurate information, no matter what the topic is. And we need to be positive … because I think keeping a positive attitude through the darkness is the only way through this. And we’re gonna get through.

Marketers, what do you think? Tell me about some thoughtful, well-executed COVID-19 emails you’ve seen in your inboxes (and if you’ve seen some cruddy ones, tell me about it on Twitter, over at @sass_marketing). And take care of yourselves, each and every one of you (Gary, stop touching your face.).

Coronavirus and Marketing Automation: Let’s Be Careful Out There

I’m no stranger to writing about crisis management. And while we’re in uncharted waters here with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are some things that marketers forget about doing in times of crisis, including the emails they have set up in their marketing automation tools.

I’m no stranger to writing about disaster preparedness and crisis management. I live in an area where we get hit with a hurricane every few years. And while we’re in uncharted waters here with the COVID-19 Coronavirus, there are some things that marketers forget about doing in times of crisis, including the emails they have set up in their marketing automation tools.

I will leave it up to the medical professionals to discuss what needs to be done to protect yourself from the virus, other than to say it’s a very fluid and dangerous situation, so please take is seriously.

That said, marketers and business owners, here are some things you need to consider regarding your current and ongoing email campaigns:

Let’s talk about your tone: I received the above email March 12, and it’s completely tone deaf. The subject line for the email I got from Spirit Airlines says it all: “Never A Better Time To Fly.” And while I certainly understand that Spirit still needs to fill seats on its planes, maybe it could have come up with a better subject line considering the times?

In my favorite gaffe email of the day, also from March 12 (and I’m not taking political sides here; in fact, I get emails from both parties), our president literally invited me to dinner.

Which brings me to my second point: Please take a look at your marketing automation campaigns. It may be time to cancel some, tweak some of the copy in others, add some new ones, etc. We tend to set-em-and-forget-em, but unless you want to put a negative ding on your brand image, have a look at what you’re sending out — especially in these unprecedented times.

I hope this helps. I wrote this quickly given the fluid situation surrounding COVID-19; there are many more things you can do as a marketer in times of crisis. Please be safe!



Gmail’s Message to Newsletter Publishers: Get Rid of Inactive Subscribers

As a result of recent changes in Google’s popular Gmail product, newsletter publishers need to take a close look at slimming down their subscriber lists to prevent readership from plummeting.

As a result of recent changes in Google’s popular Gmail product, newsletter publishers need to take a close look at slimming down their subscriber lists to prevent readership from plummeting.

Email services have long tended to punish newsletters that are sent to large numbers of “spam traps” — AKA abandoned email addresses — sometimes shunting them to spam folders or blocking them altogether. So the need to weed out subscribers who never open a newsletter is nothing new.

But Google upped the ante late last year with Gmail, which serves more than half the subscribers for many consumer newsletters. (The changes were presumably rolled out as well to G Suite, the Google product that underlies many corporate email systems.)

“Gmail began to penalize senders more heavily for longer-term inactives — those subscribers who hadn’t opened or clicked in more than 180 days — and there was some intermittent spam folder placement and a reputation drop as a result,” says Clea Moore of Oracle CX Marketing Consulting. That led to a noticeable drop in open rates for email campaigns that Oracle’s clients sent to Gmail addresses.

There are two takeaways:

  • List hygiene has usually focused on avoiding spam traps. But now Google’s machine-learning system is also identifying the much larger pool of people who are actively monitoring their email accounts but simply not opening your newsletter.
  • Now we have a deadline: Just under six months. And remember, that’s Oracle’s estimate for what will send you to the Gmail doghouse. To be safe, you should probably stop sending to subscribers who haven’t opened your newsletter for five straight months.

Screams from the C-Suite

I can hear the C-suite screaming now, “Just when we need first-party data more than ever, why would we shrink our subscriber list? What will the advertisers say? Shouldn’t we be sending the newsletter to as many people as possible?”

No, you should be trying to get the newsletter delivered to as many inboxes as possible. Continuing to send to non-readers will give the newsletter a bad reputation, causing even some of your active subscribers to stop receiving it.

“But our email service provider says that more than 99% of our newsletters are delivered.”

That’s misleading. When an ESP says “delivered,” it means there was no bounce-back message that would prove an email was not delivered. But “delivered” can apply to emails that ended up in a Promotions or Spam folder that the subscriber never sees and even to emails that were blocked by the recipient’s email system.

And, worst of all, some “delivered” newsletters are sent to valid email addresses that haven’t been monitored in several months – perhaps because of a job change, switching to a new email service, or even a death.

Spam Trap

When actual people stop sending emails to an address, it becomes a spam trap; any organization that continues blasting newsletters to that address will find it harder to reach the inboxes of other subscribers using the same email service.

And as for advertisers, from what I see, they’ll be fine. Gone are the days when publishers could wow sponsors with big subscription lists for newsletters that hardly anyone actually reads.

Savvy ad buyers are now more interested in open rates and clickthroughs than in total subscription counts. They would rather place an ad in a 10,000-subscriber newsletter with a 40% open rate, which indicates high reader engagement, than a 40,000-subscriber title with a 10% open rate, which is a red flag that a newsletter is being ignored both by subscribers and the publisher.

The email service providers used by most publishers have automated ways to send what are euphemistically called “re-engagement campaigns” to inactive subscribers using a set of rules — such as anyone who hasn’t opened or clicked in the past four months. These are more accurately described as “click-or-you’re-toast” campaigns because, unless the subscriber clicks a button saying she wants to continue receiving the newsletter, she will be automatically unsubscribed.

No matter how clever the subject line, the open rates and response rates to such campaigns are abysmally low, often below 1%. That’s because, in essence, you’ve already lost the subscriber. She’s either ignoring you or you’ve already been kicked out of her inbox.

It Starts Before the Beginning

Maintaining a healthy subscriber list with a sterling reputation starts with the sign-up process.

Are your promotions overpromising or overhyping the newsletter? That may bring in a lot of new subscribers – who won’t actually read the newsletter.

Dig into your subscriber data to see how many people have never opened the newsletter. If the numbers are high, that may mean the subject lines aren’t living up to the hype. Or it may indicate that bots, pranksters, and others who have no intent of reading the newsletter are signing up.

To prevent such abuse, many publishers have instituted a double opt-in process, where the new subscriber must click a button in a confirmation email to activate her subscription. Another common tactic is a welcome email that confirms the subscription, tells the subscriber what to expect from the newsletter – such as when it’s delivered and what it will cover – and sometimes provides a few links to popular evergreen articles.

What about paid subscribers? Try sending a personal email (there are ways to automate the process), which the inactive subscriber is more likely to see than another newsletter blast. You may get a change-of-email-address notice in reply. And perhaps end up renewing a subscriber who otherwise would be lost.

‘Too Much’ Is a Relative Term for Promotional Marketing

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month?

If a marketer sends you 20 promotional emails in a month, is that too much? You may say “yes” without even thinking about it. Then why did you not opt out of Amazon email programs when they send far more promotional stuff to you every month? Just because it’s a huge brand? I bet it’s because “some” of its promotions are indeed relevant to your needs.

Marketers are often obsessed with KPIs, such as email delivery, open, and clickthrough rates. Some companies reward their employees based on the sheer number of successful email campaign deployments and deliveries. Inevitably, such a practice leads to “over-promotions.” But does every recipient see it that way?

If a customer responds (opens, clicks, or converts, where the conversion is king) multiple times to those 20 emails, maybe that particular customer is NOT over-promoted. Maybe it is okay for you to send more promotional stuff to that customer, granted that the offers are relevant and beneficial to her. But not if she doesn’t open a single email for some time, that’s the very definition of “over-promotion,” leading to an opt-out.

As you can see, the sheer number of emails (or any other channel promotion) to a person should not be the sole barometer. Every customer is different, and recognition of such differences is the first step toward proper personalization. In other words, before worrying about customizing offers and products for a target individual, figure out her personal threshold for over-promotion. How much is too much for everyone?

Figuring out the magic number for each customer is a daunting task, so start with three basic tiers:

  1. Over-promoted,
  2. Adequately promoted, and
  3. Under-promoted.

To get to that, you must merge promotional history data (not just for emails, but for every channel) and response history data (which includes open, clickthrough, browse, and conversion data) on an individual level.

Sounds simple? But marketing organizations rarely get into such practices. Most attributions are done on a channel level, and many do not even have all required data in the same pool. Worse, many don’t have any proper match keys and rules that govern necessary matching steps (i.e., individual-level attribution).

The issue is further compounded by inconsistent rules and data availability among channels (e.g., totally different practices for online and offline channels). So much for the coveted “360-Degree Customer View.” Most organizations fail at “hello” when it comes to marrying promotion and response history data, even for the most recent month.

But is it really that difficult of an operation? After all, any respectful direct marketers are accustomed to good old “match-back” routines, complete with resolutions for fractional allocations. For instance, if the target received multiple promotions in the given study period, which one should be attributed to the conversion? The last one? The first one? Or some credit distribution, based on allocation rules? This is where the rule book comes in.

Now, all online marketers are familiar with reporting tools provided by reputable players, like Google or Adobe. Yes, it is relatively simple to navigate through them. But if the goal is to determine who is over-promoted or adequately promoted, how would you go about it? The best way, of course, is to do the match-back on an individual level, like the old days of direct marketing. But thanks to the sheer volume of online activity data and complexity of match-back, due to the frequent nature of online promotions, you’d be lucky if you could just get past basic “last-click” attribution on an individual level for merely the last quarter.

I sympathize with all of the dilemmas associated with individual-level attributions, so allow me to introduce a simpler way (i.e., a cheat) to get to the individual-level statistics of over- and under-promotion.

Step 1: Count the Basic Elements

Set up the study period of one or two years, and make sure to include full calendar years (such as rolling 12 months, 24 months, etc.). You don’t want to skew the figures by introducing the seasonality factor. Then add up all of the conversions (or transactions) for each individual. While at it, count the opens and clicks, if you have extracted data from toolsets. On the promotional side, count the number of emails and direct mails to each individual. You only have to worry about the outbound channels, as the goal is to curb promotional frequency in the end.

Step 2: Once You Have These Basic Figures, Divide ‘Number of Conversions’ by ‘Number of Promotions’

Perform separate calculations for each channel. For now, don’t worry about the overlaps among channels (i.e., double credit of conversions among channels). We are only looking for directional guidelines for each individual, not comprehensive channel attribution, at this point. For example, email responsiveness would be expressed as “Number of Conversions” divided by “Number of Email Promotions” for each individual in the given study period.

Step 3: Now That You Have Basic ‘Response Rates’

These response rates are for each channel and you must group them into good, bad, and ugly categories.

Examine the distribution curve of response rates, and break them into three segments of one.

  1. Under-promoted (the top part, in terms of response rate),
  2. Adequately Promoted (middle part of the curve),
  3. Over-promote (the bottom part, in terms of response rate).

Consult with a statistician, but when in hurry, start with one standard deviation (or one Z-score) from the top and the bottom. If the distribution is in a classic bell-curve shape (in many cases, it may not be), that will give roughly 17% each for over- and under-promoted segments, and conservatively leave about 2/3 of the target population in the middle. But of course, you can be more aggressive with cutoff lines, and one size will not fit all cases.

In any case, if you keep updating these figures at least once a month, they will automatically be adjusted, based on new data. In other words, if a customer stops responding to your promotions, she will consequently move toward the lower segments (in terms of responsiveness) without any manual intervention.

Putting It All Together

Now you have at least three basic segments grouped by their responsiveness to channel promotions. So, how would you use it?

Start with the “Over-promoted” group, and please decrease the promotional volume for them immediately. You are basically training them to ignore your messages by pushing them too far.

For the “Adequately Promoted” segment, start doing some personalization, in terms of products and offers, to increase response and value. Status quo doesn’t mean that you just repeat what you have been doing all along.

For “Under-promoted” customers, show some care. That does NOT mean you just increase the mail volume to them. They look under-promoted because they are repeat customers. Treat them with special offers and exclusive invitations. Do not ever take them for granted just because they tolerated bombardments of promotions from you. Figure out what “they” are about, and constantly pamper them.

Find Your Strategy

Why do I bother to share this much detail? Because as a consumer, I am so sick of mindless over-promotions. I wouldn’t even ask for sophisticated personalization from every marketer. Let’s start with doing away with carpet bombing to all. That begins with figuring out who is being over-promoted.

And by the way, if you are sending two emails a day to everyone, don’t bother with any of this data work. “Everyone” in your database is pretty much over-promoted. So please curb your enthusiasm, and give them a break.

Sometimes less is more.

Simple Math: Direct Mail + Email = Better Response

The job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

Direct mail is a strong channel by itself for nonprofits, but like I’ve written before, the job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

And knowing this, you have numerous opportunities to parlay multiple channels to create a stronger response. Let’s dive into a combo that’s an easy one: direct mail and email.

Think of it like shortstop and second-base position players: They each have a distinct job on the field, but when a double-play is available, they work as a tight combination and move as a duo.

The reason direct mail and email is a natural pairing is because their jobs and strengths are so different, but they’re united by data and personalization.

Direct mail is great at storytelling and using its leave-in-the-basket physicality to just simply hang around until your donor acts. Email is great for peppering your donor with reminders and moving them through an easy click-to-donation experience. And both of these channels reference the donor’s name and drop their message right into that person’s life space — mailbox or inbox. It’s a personal outreach.

Plus, the data shows this works: All the studies from the ANA (formerly the Data & Marketing Association) reveal that combining digital and direct mail increases response about 20%.

Use the Strengths

Direct mail is strong with storytelling. Use direct mail to tell a longer story via a letter, and drop in some visual assets that linger as a reminder. Most folks don’t want to or have the basket space to keep a letter, but if you have an insert slip, sticker, bookmark or postcard as a visual leave-behind, it lets the user recycle the letter without feeling like they’re going to forget you. They can put the asset on the fridge, keep in the basket, etc. as a lingering reminder to get back to you with that donation.

Emails are strong in visual frequency. Since emails can be designed lots of ways, and with high frequency, reference a direct mail asset in the email. Visually connect the inserts of the direct mail package in the emails. And use snippets from the letter in the shorter form email, telling the story of the letter in multiple touches. Also, you can use the email as a preview for a letter package coming in the mail. If your open rates are 30%, then those folks may be on the lookout for the upcoming letter and be more inclined to open the letter, too.

Judo-Block Weaknesses

One of direct mail’s weaknesses is that postage is a necessary expense and the frequency needs to be paced based on your budget. It’s rare for a business or nonprofit to mail more than once per month to their own customer base, and letter rate postage varies widely (from as low at $0.18 up to $0.42). As you plan the project, ask your mailing services provider for postage prices.

Judo Block: Use different formats for mailing that may be less expensive. Postcard rates — especially for nonprofits — are less than letter rates and could be an alternative. The postcard postage usually runs about $0.24 per piece, and some mailing services co-mingle to get even lower rates (for a full rate sheet, see the USPS calculator).

One of email’s weaknesses is that the donor data is incomplete. To make the subscription process easier and have lower barriers, many nonprofits just have name and email in their opt-in forms. That makes it faster to subscribe, but it doesn’t give you their home address, which limits your ability to do multichannel touches.

Judo Block: Do reverse-append to get a mailing list of your email subscribers. Usually a good partner can get 60% to 80% of your emails matched to a home address. Next to your house file of donors, this is the best mailing list you can get. And since they’ve opted in with their email, appending address data is privacy compliant (including GDPR and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act).

In the end, you want your direct mail and email to work together to tell your story to your donors and move them along the next-step action. Cross-referencing, using images, pacing the story between the two, are all good ways to get the combo working together.

As you move into your 2020 marketing plan, pair these channels up in new and creative ways, as two players in an integrated double-play.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments.

‘Crassmas’ Messages Show the Strengths of Snail Mail, the Weaknesses of Poor Digital Personalization

Even if the old-fashioned way of choosing, inscribing, and snail mail posting greeting cards has given way to “eCards,” the good intention is the same. It’s a reminder that someone is actually thinking of you. Which is why I was annoyed when I recently received cards from friends sent using the Jacquie Lawson platform.

Seasonal greeting cards are many things to both senders and recipients.

Starting at the top, they can be very personal communications of greetings, reminders of friendships often left to lapse during our busy year. At the bottom, they can be nothing more than purely commercial direct mail — with a bough of holly or a reindeer to give them a seasonal scent.

Either way, they are big business (estimated at 6% of the $7.5 billion greeting card market).

And even if the old-fashioned way of choosing, inscribing, and snail mail-posting them has to a great extent given way to “eCards,” the good intention is the same: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the reminder that someone is actually thinking of you and expending time, effort, and money to send a greeting should be at least heartwarming, even if the non-digital examples have become somewhat anti-environmental.

Which is why, despite this un-Christmas like critique, I became really annoyed when I recently received cards from friends sent using the Jacquie Lawson platform. However brilliant the superb graphics (and they are truly beautiful) the gross commercialism of the accompanying messages totally detracted from the personal richness of the senders’ intent.

The notice in my inbox was straightforward enough. It said that my named friend had sent me an ecard. The “Correspondent” was simply, “Jacquie Lawson ecards,” a name I may or may not have known. And when, for no good reason, I had not opened the original missive, the day after Christmas I received a reminder. (Identification of the generous sender in the illustrations has been surpressed: what might her husband say?)

personalization absent
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

What Bothered Me?

These notices, instead of keeping the focus on my friend’s message to me and the hope that it would be something pleasurable, instead were Jacquie Lawson branding-dominant. Using the next-to-last paragraph of the reminder, right after “You can view your card here” to invite the reader to “learn more about us here” may be someone’s idea of a good promotional ploy. But to me, it was a rather good example of turning Christmas into “crassmas.” Can you imagine receiving a seasonal gift with a promotional message in the box?

Lest we have missed the Jacquie Lawson come-ons and just enjoyed the animated card, after the greetings message from the sender, at the bottom of the card this line with its links reminds us not of our friend’s greeting but of, you guessed it, Jacquie Lawson.

personalization absent, branding present
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Perhaps this is a singular example, but there has been a growing tendency this past year for marketers to forget that “personalization” — the heart of truly successful targeted marketing — needs to stay focused not on the super technologies that make personalization and the accompanying graphics possible, but rather on not letting anything get in the way of truly personal interactions.

Sure, Jacquie Lawson has every right to promote the beautiful work done by her team and, no doubt, I’ll be receiving plentiful invitations to know more about it and purchase new designs from the company.  That’s the business we are in.

But in this New Year, let’s not let our desire for growth and profits outweigh the personalization sensitivities of our messages

Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

How many “fake” email metrics are out there — spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

How many “fake” email metrics are out there spurious traffic measured in opens, clickthroughs, and other engagement metrics? How many of these email reporting metrics may be built into service-level guarantees offered by some email service providers (ESPs)? And what should we do about it?

For those of who pay attention to such metrics (thank you for reading this far), perhaps we need to do more data investigation, working closely with our ESPs to make sure there’s nothing “fake” in our marketing performance reporting.

This was essentially the point of Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta in a blog post he shared after a competitor’s operations were reportedly shut down by its new parent company this summer. I’m using this post to share some of his observations  which may be helpful as we look to our email campaigns, and read the engagement data in order to best ascertain accuracy. [Disclaimer: Stirista is a continuing client. My interest in amplifying this content is intended to serve email marketers, at large.]

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

Stirista Global CEO Ajay Gupta has something to say about email reporting fraud.

“Tongues have been wagging in the marketing world ever since the New York Times’ shocking exposé in early 2018 about how easy it is to buy social followers. And, how most of the followers you buy turn out to be ‘bots’ or fake accounts, and not real people.

“I was not surprised, because I work in digital media and knew about this practice. So, I cried, screamed, and wrote about an even bigger epidemic in the world of email. My articles were received with polite applause and not much more in terms of action.

“But then last week happened. One of our competitors, Take 5 Media Group, shut down operations with a ‘ceased operations’ message on its website. While details are still murky, one of our partners shared an email from them that mentioned the parent company had completely shut down the business after discovering inconsistencies in how open and clickthrough rates were inaccurately reported to its clients.

“The parent company did the right thing, in after discovering these inconsistencies, took immediate action to first, take responsibility, and subsequently, offer its clients reimbursement for payment of services already rendered. Kudos to them for standing up for the right thing, but there are still at least a half dozen companies masquerading as legitimate entities that continue the practice.

“This incident is but a sobering reminder that bots remain a big problem in email marketing today. Sadly, when you order up a prospecting campaign from an email service provider, chances are that the large part of the campaign is being sent to fake bot accounts. And nobody seems to care.

“We have, as an industry, created a fake floor of 10% open on acquisition emails. When marketing managers of Fortune 1000 companies ask Stirista to guarantee 10% open just because some guy from Florida said so, we know we have a problem.

“Now, it should be clear to any marketer worth his or her salt, that if the bulk of the clicks come through bots, that conversion rates will be dismal. So, I can only assume that the marketers ordering up these campaigns aren’t keeping their eyes on conversions. They must judge them on clicks and opens. Or, maybe they don’t care. We are here today because many large data companies that outsource email campaigns have subsidized fraud.

“Let Take 5 serve [as] a cautionary tale, but realize that this is not an isolated incident. The pressure to deliver fake open, fake clicks, and fake form fills transcend one company and one incident. Collectively, this industry has turned a blind eye to fraud, just because ‘so and so’ is a nice guy and a vegetarian who loves animals.

“These fraudulent providers often work quietly, behind the scenes, for a reputable agency or data provider. Many times, marketers are shielded from the dirty dealings underneath the hood. But all parties involved — the providers, their partners, and the marketers themselves — should be ashamed of themselves. And, the FCC should be on their case. Until then, we must all be responsible for fighting back against bot fraud.

“I urge all marketers to shun this practice. It’s wasting your company’s money. And it’s given honest, transparent providers like me a bad name. Open rates are a terrible metric to track as in you can’t track it that well.

“So, if you hear a guarantee that sounds too good to be true, very likely it is. Walk, make that RUN, the other way, FAST.”

Back to Chet. I remember the first time I saw a data provider advertise a way to “buy” 5,000 followers on this-or-that social platform for some CPM, some 10 to 12 years ago and I thought then, “here we go again with the shysters living on and off the fringes of direct marketing.” In each and everywhere data is in play, and the compensation from it, we must guard ourselves from the “fake” and the “fraud.” Better to measure conversions, sales, and metrics that are real.