Introducing ‘The Integrated Email’ Blog by Debra Ellis

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

Why is email marketing so effective? Is it the one-to-one communication, ability to connect with customers and prospects on the go, or the provision of instant gratification with one-click shopping? The answer depends on the company and the customer relationship, but there is one universal truth: The combination of interactive communication with self-service solutions makes email the most versatile tool in a marketing workshop.

My experience with email marketing began shortly after Hotmail launched the first Web-based email service in 1996. A client had compiled approximately 11,000 customer email addresses and wondered what we could do with them. Our first test was a 25 percent discount on any order placed that day. A text-only message was sent using the mail merge functionality in Excel and Outlook. It took over two hours to send all the emails.

Those two hours were quite exciting. We had two computers in close proximity so we could watch the progress of the outgoing emails and monitor sales on the website. Within minutes of starting the email transmissions, orders started flowing in. By the end of the day, more than 1900 orders were received. A handful of people asked to be excluded from future mailings. Over 200 people responded with personal notes. Some were grateful for the discount. Others apologized for not placing an order and asked to receive more emails.

Things are much different today. The novelty of receiving a personalized message from a company is long gone. Spam filters make getting emails delivered a near impossible mission. And the competition for recipients’ attention is at an all-time high. Even so, email marketing remains one of most effective marketing and service vehicles available.

The emails that deliver the best return on investment are the ones that are integrated with the other marketing channels to provide information and service to the recipients. They create a connection between company and customer that motivates people to respond. A successful email marketing strategy builds loyalty while increasing sales.

Many email campaigns today are little more than a systematic generation of one promotional email after another. Discount emails are relatively easy to create and deliver sales with each send, making them a quick way to inject some life into lagging sales. The simplicity of sale marketing combined with solid response rates creates an environment where marketers are reluctant to move beyond the easy, low-hanging fruit.

In addition to generating sales, discount marketing also trains people to always look for the best price before buying the company’s products and services. It is not a sustainable strategy because there will always be another company that can offer lower prices and lure customers away. A better plan is to develop an integrated email marketing strategy that educates and encourages people to develop a relationship with the company. This requires more effort, but it delivers loyalty and long-term results.

Every email that a customer or prospect receives is an opportunity for the company to establish itself as the best service provider and solidify the relationship. Best practices include:

  • Using a valid return email address so the recipient can respond with one click.
  • Sending branded emails that identify your company at first glance.
  • Mixing educational emails that provide “how to” information for products and services with new product launches and promotional messages.
  • Transactional emails that communicate shipping information and challenges so customers aren’t left wondering, “Where is my order?”
  • Highly targeted and personalized emails designed to engage customers and prospects at every point in their lifespan.

Finding the right combination of educational, event and promotional emails requires testing and measuring results for incremental improvements. The resources invested improve relationships, increase sales and create a sustainable marketing strategy.

Note: Over the next few months, we’ll feature winning and losing email marketing strategies and campaigns on this blog. If you would like to share your company’s killer emails, send them to Debra at dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.

Is Frequency a Pay-off or Piss-off Strategy?

We’ve all heard about contact frequency strategies: Send (often) the same communications to your target audience repeatedly over a period of time. But if you continue to bombard your target over and over and over and over, does it really pay-off? Or does it just piss off your audience?

We’ve all heard about contact frequency strategies: Send (often) the same communications to your target audience repeatedly over a period of time.

The rule of thumb is that you’ll get half of the response rate you got from the prior mailing. So if you got 1 percent the first drop, you’ll get 0.5 percent the second, 0.25 percent the third and so on.

But if you continue to bombard your target over and over and over and over, does it really pay-off? Or does it just piss off your audience?

Earlier this year, I started noticing that Comcast was sending me a lot of direct mail solicitations. And when I say a lot, I mean A LOT.

First it occurred to me that perhaps the marketing team at Comcast had never heard of a merge/purge process. Or perhaps the person who was in charge of merge/purge had gone on vacation … or had been laid off … or had dozed off.

So instead of filing them in the recycle bin like I usually do, I started to save every package that came to my office. And then I noticed that my husband was also being bombarded with the same packages at his home office—so I saved those too.

And then I was personally receiving business mail solicitations at home (my business is at a separate location). AND I was receiving very similar DM packages at home for home service (we already use them for Internet service but not for phone or TV).

While I realize there is no data strategy that will enable Comcast to match me to both my home and business addresses, the fact is, we got over 13 solicitations over a few weeks. THIRTEEN. Some arrived on the same day, while others were a day or two apart. Hello … have you heard of merge/PURGE?

It’s not like it’s a compelling creative package. Pretty plain really. A white, #10 envelope with a teaser in big blue type and my name, in all caps, lasered on the front. And inside? A form letter: No niceties like a salutation—A little “Dear Carolyn” or “Dear Ms. Goodman” would be nice. Nobody bothered to sign the letter. Just, “Sincerely, Comcast Business Services.”

Sometimes the offer changed price-wise (clearly I’m in a test panel), but more often than not, the packages are identical.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but I have trouble believing this strategy has a positive ROI.

Several years ago, a prominent B-to-B client told us that a customer had contacted them after getting 28 direct mail packages in one month from them. Despite being from different divisions, and about different products, it brought home the point: How do companies control the communications flow to any single customer without a proper customer relationship management strategy in place?

I propose that all companies demand that the customer relationship marketing manager job description includes:

Managing and monitoring customer communication to ensure we are never perceived as badgering our customers. That means that no single customer will ever receive more than X no of direct mail or email solicitations in any given 30-day period.

With all of the sophisticated segmentation techniques, it isn’t uncommon that one customer would meet multiple criteria for selection for any given campaign. But part of that strategy should also include the “last time customer received an outbound communication.”

Merge/purge is a lost art. Purge being the operative word here. Finding duplicates. And protecting Customer Zero.

Comcast—I know you’re busy streaming, but are you listening?

4 Tips to Improve Environmental Performance of Email and Digital Communications

When discussing the sustainability of marketing, attention very much needs to be paid to digital communications. Many fall into a trap: We may believe we are being environmentally “good” when we use a digital message in place of a print message. Evidence increasingly tells us to think more deeply.

When discussing the sustainability of marketing, attention very much needs to be paid to digital communications. Many fall into a trap: We may believe we are being environmentally “good” when we use a digital message in place of a print message. Evidence increasingly tells us to think more deeply.

Banks, utilities, investment companies, retailers, credit card companies and others that all use “green messaging” to appeal to customers to go “digital” with their invoicing and statements most often commit a sin of “greenwashing”—because they are not measuring truly the environmental impact of such claims. (I’ve mentioned a superb, must-read report for marketing professionals on the “Seven Sins of Greenwashing” in previous blog posts: www.sinsofgreenwashing.org.)

However, digital and electronic data-driven technology users and suppliers are highly—even urgently—concerned about the amount of energy used to run IT infrastructures—from data centers, to servers, to PCs and laptops and the power grid that keeps them all humming 24/7. They are not alone. A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report says 1.5 percent of total energy consumption in America is attributable to data centers—and the figure is growing rapidly. Streaming video eats server capacity—and more and more U.S. households (and workplaces) are spending time online; watching television and movies off tablets and laptops; streaming audio and video; chatting and emailing with friends, families and social networks … and, in short, tapping energy sources that keep the dialogue moving.

This has a clear environmental and sustainability impact—requiring brands to assess their energy sources, the efficiency of the IT equipment, and, most certainly, any verbiage their organizations may have used previously to state the “green” credentials of digital over print.

While purchasing Green IT and Green Power are perhaps the most profound ways digital communication users can tackle being sustainable environmentally, there are other smaller but visible ways to lessen environmental footprints when dialoguing online with stakeholders. This is just a suggested list:

  1. Team up with a green partner. Have a tie-in with an environmental or conservation group. With a recent e-commerce purchase I made with one marketer, I was prompted to direct where I wanted a seedling to be planted in return for my transaction, with one of four regional forest areas (California, Michigan, Florida or Virginia) of the National Forest Service.
  2. Guard against greenwashing. Avoid “greenwashing” when environmental claims are made for everyday business activities or for products, behaviors or processes where one or two attributes may be “green,” but the overall activity may very well not be. There are two excellent resources to refer to prevent “greenwashing.” Going digital—again—is not “green” if a company fails to analyze the lifecycle of its power choices and data centers, for example. Canada-based TerraChoice, which works with both Canada and U.S. regulators to monitor environmental claims, has published The Seven Sins of Greenwashing: Environmental Claims in Consumer Markets. By reading and absorbing this report, communicators will likely not make a mistake in hyperbole over a green dialogue claim. Further, the Federal Trade Commission is scheduled to release its updated Green Guides for environmental claims at any point this year—with an expectation it will clarify creative interpretations behind many of today’s eco-marketing terms.
  3. Opt-out, opt-in, opt-down and more. Modify any online preference center for emailing and mobile messaging to customers from mere CAN-SPAM compliance to “best practice” heaven—where each customer is in (near) total control. Preference centers should be designed for our multichannel world, rather than simply an on/off switch for email. Opt out. Opt in. Opt down. Allow for frequency, subject matter, mail and phone switches, and—most certainly—third-party data sharing suppression if that applies. Retailers are excellent leaders in this area: Crate & Barrel, Williams-Sonoma, L.L. Bean each offer preference centers on their respective Web sites. Likewise, segmenting stakeholders and sending targeted emails to each segment helps to prevent non-responsive email. Why is this green? McAfee, the provider of security software, recently reported that each legitimate email (sending and receipt) generates approximately 4 grams of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas associated with climate change. FYI: One of my clients, Harte-Hanks, offers an excellent white paper on designing online preference centers.
  4. Open up the suggestion box. Web 3.0 and accountability go hand in hand. There’s no one path to environmental responsibility, so let customers, vendors and other stakeholders help. Brands should tell their sustainable story online—enable audiences to post suggestions and engage an internal team to evaluate all of them. Talk with suppliers—not just about green IT, but ways to procure power, print, paper, packaging, office supplies and other workplace necessities. Environmental pursuits—and their tie-in to business success—shouldn’t be kept a secret. By sharing objectives and outcomes with customers and vendors, there is higher chance of success—and transparency is achieved.

The lesson here: like print, digital communications have an environmental footprint. As marketers, if we seek sustainability for our enterprises, and if we wish to communicate such objectives to our many stakeholders with credibility, these impacts need to be assessed, measured and managed accordingly in the very communications process itself.

“Consider the environment before you print this electronic message.” Yes, consider it—thoroughly!

10 Tips to Help Grow Your Twitter Followers

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

This past Labor Day weekend saw Republican presidential candidates hit the campaign trail, and Twitter was buzzing with location updates, photos and 140-character sound bites. While many of the candidates boast huge Twitter followings, several have come under criticism for the authenticity of their numbers.

In fact, a recent review of Newt Gingrich’s followers by PeekYou, a social search company that matches online identities through publically available information, found that only 106,055 out of 1.1 million of his followers were legitimate. Similar results were found for other candidate’s followers, but at much lower rates. Mitt Romney was found to have 26 percent real followers, Michelle Bachman had 28 percent and Tim Pawlenty had 32 percent. With that in mind, here are some best practices for keeping it real when it comes to growing your number of Twitter followers:

1. Mine the database. As always, the best place to start is with your customers. Leverage the knowledge you have about existing customers and prospects in your database and reach out to them communicating the benefits of following your brand on Twitter. Consider sending an email campaign to acquire new subscribers. Remember to tag all existing promotional campaigns, newsletters and service email communications with your social communities.

2. Listen and follow. Leverage listening and monitoring tools such as Radian6 to find out who’s already talking about your brand. Follow them to keep the dialog going and be sure to recognize and thank those that retweet or @mention you.

3. Leverage social tools. Look for and engage key influencers to help spread the word about your brand. Helpful tools include wefollow.com, which helps you to find key influencers within your industry or topics related to your brand. Use Klout and PeerIndex scores to identify who are the most influential. Also look at Twitter’s “Who to Follow” tab for some contextually relevant suggestions on an ongoing basis.

4. Hashtags, advertising tags and Twitter ads. Include hashtags pertaining to popular topics and conversation threads to ensure users interested in similar topics can easily find you. Tag TV, radio and print advertising with your social communities. Use that opportunity to highlight exclusive content prospective followers may find there.

Twitter has and will continue to develop new opportunities to help marketers call greater attention to their brand. The most recent announcement includes Twitter’s expanded advertising program, which allows brands to display ads to Twitter users who are following a particular type of company within a vertical niche. This program is similar to promoted tweets highlighted in a user’s timeline.

5. Directories. List your Twitter account in directories such as Twibes.com, TweetFind.com and Twellow.com. Consider building lists on key communication streams so potential followers with similar interests can find you easily.

6. Search tags, bios and backgrounds. Create a bio with a clear description of your brand and the kind of content you plan on posting. If you have several Twitter accounts serving different purposes, make it easy for users to find those as well by listing them or creating a custom background with the address. Add social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and visitation for your social communities. In addition, be sure to promote your social communities on your website. Include your Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and other communities on each platform. Better yet, use the strengths of each community to create a conversation flow — e.g., break news on Twitter and ask folks to join the conversation on Facebook.

7. Partnerships and sponsorships. Leverage and cross-promote key partnerships and sponsorships. Retweet, @mention and build a dialog with these partners; become a resource for their followers as well.

8. Unique content. Offer followers unique content they can’t find elsewhere. Grant followers “first to know” status, which will keep them tuning in and engaged. Consider building Twitterviews if you have access to individuals that will resonate well with your followers. Challenge users with trivia and reward those who actively engage with recognition. If possible, offer the chance to win prizes.

9. Engaging conversation. As we all know, the best way to grow your followers is to engage your audience with entertaining and valuable content. Ask and answer questions; encourage people to tweet their thoughts and opinions on key issues; address concerns; ask for feedback and input; and be sure to thank those that engage your brand by either direct messaging them or giving a public shout-out for their contribution. Build a communication calendar around engaging content ideas and find a unique voice. By showcasing your most engaged followers, you’ll create an army of advocates for your brand that will help accelerate your growth.

10. Analyze and focus. Leverage social campaign management tools to analyze consumers’ reactions to your content. Create content categories such as news, articles, events and promotions to track responses. Adjust the mix of these categories based on the feedback you receive from your community.

In addition, use your social media campaign management tool or free tools like friendorfollow.com to see who you may be following but isn’t following back. This will help you keep your follow-to-following ratio in check. With a little analytics and creative writing, you can optimize your voice and ultimately your results.

Twitter remains an evolving medium. While most brands have their share of followers who are inactive, there’s much they can do to grow and improve engagement. By paying careful attention to best practices and creating content that’s valued by consumers, you’ll be well on your way to creating a vibrant and engaged community of brand advocates.

A Real Mobile Wallet (Finally!)

I heard about an interesting mobile payment technology yesterday from MobilePayUSA. The press release I saw detailed how MobilePayUSA, a mobile payment solutions provider, launched a private beta test of its solution with Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt in Balboa Island, Calif.

I heard about an interesting mobile payment technology yesterday from MobilePayUSA. The press release I saw detailed how MobilePayUSA, a mobile payment solutions provider, launched a private beta test of its solution with Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt in Balboa Island, Calif.

Big deal, right? Well, the release noted that MobilePayUSA launched its test without near-field communication (NFC) technology.

What does this mean? Basically, it means that unlike most other players in the mobile payment space, MobilePayUSA doesn’t require vendors or customers to buy new NFC technology-based hardware to use it. (NFC is next generation short-range, high-frequency wireless communication technology that enables the exchange of data between devices built with this technology. Many devices aren’t yet built with this technology, however, nor have any standards been created around it.)

Here’s how it works: MobilePayUSA’s mobile payment app connects to its cloud service, which gives users access to multiple payment options as well as discount and group cards. Users that sign up for the service enter their credit card information on MobilePayUSA’s website and download the app. Then, when they’re in a store that accepts the service, they simply open the mobile payment app and show the cashier. The cashier hits a few buttons, the transaction is processed and a receipt is emailed to the customer.

Here’s a promotional video showing an actual mobile payment transaction taking place at the Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt store using MobilePayUSA’s app. Pretty neat, huh?

Also unlike other e-wallets, MobilePayUSA doesn’t use RFID chips embedded in smartphones, so credit information is never stored on a phone or shared with the merchant. The company declares this difference will prove to make its solution more secure from the real threat of illegal skimmers and hackers.

I have to admit, I think this is a really great use of mobile commerce technology. It seems to make it very easy for consumers (and retailers) to finally take the mobile commerce plunge. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

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.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: 5 Essential Technologies to Ignite and Manage Conversations

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

In my first blog I talked a lot about how you can overcome the fear of social media and embrace the medium so it can become an integral part of your overall marketing mix. My next post shined the spotlight on understanding your customers in order to build ongoing and successful conversations. My most recent effort demonstrated how B-to-B companies, like B-to-C companies, have much to gain by embracing social media. I highlighted specific examples of several social media programs that are making a measureable impact. All of which leads us to this month’s blog.

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

1. Email. Perhaps the most obvious one of the bunch. While email’s promise of facilitating one-to-one dialogs never really panned out, the effective use of dynamically-generated email communications based on subscribers’ profiles and/or behaviors help build timely and relevant conversations. While automated or triggered communications have been in practice for some time now, they are, in my opinion, not used often enough and are typically isolated to individual programs within the lifecycle communication strategy.

Therefore, although effective, triggered emails can rarely sustain the dialog over long periods of time and across different stages of the lifecycle. But the impact email has on conversations is hardly over. More recently, the emergence of social tools within email is on the rise. These tools encourage individuals to share content with their social networks, which then enables the conversation to be continued with a larger group across the social internet.

Look for email to remain a force for years to come as brands use targeted emails and Twitter to ignite discussions that are then continued and discussed in-depth on Facebook.

Top providers with both capabilities: ExactTarget, StrongMail (full disclosure: I sit on the board of directors at StongMail) and Yesmail.

2. Inbound reply handling. Who among us hasn’t used email to contact customer service? Who among us has been delighted by the experience? Truth be told, few, if any, of us have been delighted. Lackluster email response times continue to plague many brands, and often contribute to decreased customer satisfaction ratings.

While real-time social tools such as Twitter and CoTweet have emerged as critical tools for handling customer service inquires, sophisticated inbound reply handling for incoming inquiries via email is still essential to building and maintaining great conversations and satisfaction with customers.

Top providers: KANA, eGain.

3. Listening/monitoring tools. I’m a huge fan of listening tools. For many brands, it’s a natural starting point as they continue to search for the content that will best resonate with their customers and prospects. Listening to what consumers are saying about your brand and/or products often yields important insights. It may even provide you the context you need to spark a conversation around a shared passion or related topic that’s of great interest to the community. Listen carefully and use learnings from this listening to build conversations with critical customer segments and prospects.

Top providers: BuzzMetrics, Cymfony and Radian6.

4. Social media platforms.
The emergence of social media networks such as Facebook and microblogging networks such as Twitter opens up a whole new opportunity to connect and communicate with customers and prospects. According to a report from Nielsen, the average Facebook user now spends more than seven hours a month on the social network, which is more than three times the average time spent on Yahoo.

As social networks become more popular, so will the use of social media platforms. Like email, social media platforms enable brands to create, execute and manage real-time interactions and communications with fans and followers. In many respects, the emergence of social media platforms picks up where email left off — enabling communications with both individuals and groups who like your brand.

Top providers: Hootsuite, Objective Marketer, Spredfast and StrongMail.

5. Social communities and networks. Aside from the emergence of leading social networks like Facebook, brands are increasingly recognizing the power and benefit of building their own communities. These collaborative environments help brands capture customer ideas and feedback, allowing them to glean critical information from conversations between customers. Often the wisdom from these conversations results in new products and a culture of innovation. Look to see the continued growth of these proprietary communities as social and software combine to help build critical conversations that drive business success.

Top providers: Communispace, Jive Software.

There you have it: five essential technologies to help every brand create, execute and manage real-time, relevant conversations.

‘Til next time!

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed – An Insider’s Look at Mint.com

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

Pretty shocking, considering the economic environment we’re in and the increased pressures placed on marketers to deliver results. On the other hand, email’s ROI has been analyzed to death and remains the most efficient marketing medium used today.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these two communication and marketing powerhouses join forces to drive success and efficiency for today’s leading brands. The only questions that remain now are: “How?” and “Who’s doing it well?” One brand that’s been successful doing it to acquire new customers is Mint.com.

Launched in 2007, Mint.com has quickly become America’s No. 1 online personal finance service. Mint’s intelligent and easy-to-use approach to money management has quickly attracted more than 1.5 million users to date. Given its online audience and technologically savvy user base, Mint.com recently turned to the power of email marketing and socialized it to further drive new customer acquisition.

Building a successful social email marketing campaign
Taking the time to understand user motivations is key, and Mint.com did an impressive job in a recent campaign that tested a series of offers appealing to a diverse spectrum of user needs.

The winning campaign, analyzed below, appealed to Mint.com users’ desire to achieve “insider status” – or access to beta features and products prior to their rollouts to the general user base. In return, users were encouraged to tell friends. If three of those friends became Mint.com users, they would be granted exclusive access. The campaign also helped Mint.com identify key influencers – those who self-identified by indicating their desires to know more and demonstrating the ability to drive new users. In the end, the results were impressive – the effort drove one new user for every 2.6 invite clicks.

Looks like Mint.com is well on its way to making a mint thanks to some great planning and testing, and by combining two incredibly powerful and relevant mediums – email and social media. However, like all campaigns, Mint.com has a great opportunity to take it a step further by considering the following:

Testing personalization. Mint.com could strengthen its relationship with users by making it more personal and conversational. Using the subscriber’s/user’s name, such as “Dear Michael,” and signing the communication with an actual Mint.com employee (i.e., “Bob Smith, director of new product development”) may improve performance even further.

Add additional response mechanisms. The email might benefit from including a text link, in addition to the “Tell Your Friends About Mint.com” button, in case images are blocked.

Flagging responders for future marketing efforts. Given these users’ desire to know more and ability to drive new users, Mint.com should consider building an influencer communication program around these users to further leverage their knowledge and reach.

Great program with lots of learnings. Congratulations, Mint.com.

Note: Michael Della Penna currently sits on the board of directors at StrongMail Systems, Mint.com’s social marketing technology provider.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.

Wunderman’s Morel on Social Media, Online Video and Mobile, Part 2

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

I recently spoke with Daniel Morel, chairman and CEO of Wunderman, a New York City-based marketing services firm that’s part of Young & Rubicam Brands and a member of WPP. Among other topics, we talked about the difference between social media and social networking, online video, and mobile marketing.

Last week I offered part 1 of the highlights of our discussion. The following is part 2.

Melissa Campanelli, eM+C: I know Wunderman has used video extensively in its campaigns. Why is video important?
Daniel Morel: People are more seduced by moving images than fixed images. They’re more interested in entertainment than text. People are inherently lazy — you and me included. We want to be entertained constantly. That’s why television moved from a static experience — simply voice and text — to a medium of moving images. That’s when it became an entertainment medium.

The same thing is happening on the web, thanks to new technology. Moving video — and thus entertainment — is appearing on the web, and when entertainment arrives in a medium, that medium takes off. This is why we’re doing more video on the web. It’s possible. It’s what people like to consume, and it allows for customization. It’s also tested, and we know it works.

My only concern right now is about how many creatives we need to produce if we want to use our data to create customized video. We’ll have to create several versions of the same piece of communication — not just one 30-second spot. So, what kind of production capability will we need?

MC: What about mobile marketing. Do you see that as a growing area?

DM: We spend a lot of time testing mobile marketing. But I still haven’t made a large bet on it yet. Maybe I’m making a mistake, but the reason I haven’t made a serious bet on it is because I follow the desire of my clients, and they’re not asking for it. Sure, I try to push them a bit and have them look at new technologies, but in most cases, I can’t make the economy of mobile work for my clients and me. A large amount of time is spent on working on the mobile platform and technology and making sure messages can be calibrated properly and tabulated.

On a $100,000 mobile marketing project, for example, I could spend $75,000 on technology and only $25,000 on communication. And when I get 10 [percent] to 15 percent of the $25,000, that’s not a lot of money.

We do have several people here working on mobile with clients. Ford is very interested in mobile, as is Microsoft. Our clients Nokia and Burger King are very active in it. But what does that represent in terms of a percentage of our business? It’s not large.

Yes, technology has improved. The chips are getting faster, the messages can now be in color and customized for each platform, and mobile operators are becoming more receptive to the needs of marketers.

So, the channel has become more marketing-friendly and more interesting to me. But, the technology has to mature even more, and the people in charge of the pipe have to recognize the value of marketing more before I make any real bets on it.

MC: Where do you see advertising or marketing being in the next five to 10 years?
DM: You’ll see exactly the same thing you’re seeing today: The existing channels will continue to coexist with whatever new channel or new use of an existing channel comes around.

Books have been around since the 16th century and still haven’t been replaced. The television advertising market is also very robust even after 15 years of internet communication. So, we have yet to see an example of a new medium totally eradicating what was done before.

Customers in the end will decide how they want to consume information. Consumers like to have choices. They want to watch the Oscars on large screens, product demos on their laptops and stock quotes from their portfolios on their mobile phones. They decide which channel is most appropriate. Five years down the road it will be exactly the same.