Competition: Another Big DC Week for Tech (Where Do We Go From Here?)

When the leaders of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google come to Washington, you know there’s going to be a lot of posturing – and it’s usually not (just) from the witnesses.

The focus this past week was the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law rather than privacy, security, and foreign influence – topics of previous high-profile hearings. Yet the out-sized attention on these leading executives and companies – all of them U.S.-based – is actually a testament, in my humble opinion, to the power of data, information, and innovation at work advancing the American and global economy. Has this exercise and accumulation of power been benign, beneficial… or harmful?

I’ve not been shy to tout the conveniences and benefits that we’ve accrued and enjoyed as a result of responsible data use. Yet I do not dismiss an investigation of harm, unintended or otherwise. Simply, I ask that in our zeal to rein in questionable practices, let’s flash a sign to policymakers: “Handle with Care.”

The world has embraced the Information Economy. It just so happens, not by accident, that the United States has both many global leaders (four of them visiting DC) and – it must be said – a long tail of innovative companies that want to grow, prosper, and potentially join the ranks of the next big, successful data-driven entities.

As Americans, we should do all we can to recognize our own advantage, and to encourage such business ingenuity – for a better world.  Transparency, control, and civil liberties must be protected… that’s all.

There’s a part of me – with my direct marketing heritage – that’s utterly in awe of what these companies have achieved, each of them forging their own paths to business success, and doing so in a way that has cultivated and curated data – marketing and otherwise – to create in each a global powerhouse. Digital has always been “direct marketing on steroids” (please let me know who coined this phrase), and many of these companies achieved their success through a fervor for measurability and accountability.

But the question of the day – antitrust – is a very serious charge. 

Practically every business revolution in the age of capitalism – oil, banking, computing, communications, digital, among others – have had to grapple with the question, how much power is too much? What constitutes “too big” in the Information Economy? Though no one has gone there yet, could there ever be a concept in the digital world as Wall Street’s “too big to fail” – in reference to our banking giants?

I myself don’t have these answers, but I do think it’s worth looking (again) to our digital and direct marketing heritage for some guidance. Certainly any new federal laws and regulation, such as for privacy, ought to be pragmatic in their approach – rather than overly prescriptive. We have a blueprint for a federal privacy law in Privacy for America, for example, which seeks to discern reasonable from unreasonable data uses.

Some consideration, please.

  • What if we held out that data collected for marketing use should be used for marketing purposes only? What non-marketing uses – product development and design possibly – might also be acceptable?
  • Should personally identifiable data collected for marketing use ever or always be anonymized for non-marketing use? Certainly, let’s make sure we can recognize consumers as they jump from device to device and across digital and offline platforms, if for no other reason than marketing or fraud prevention purposes. These aims grow the economy, serve consumers, and finance vital social aims such as news reporting.
  • Under what circumstances should private-sector data be handed over to government sources? What legal protections should govern such handovers – subpoenas and otherwise? It’s a borderless world. What access should foreign governments have to such data, about U.S. citizens or from other jurisdictions? It’s a fine line – or even a fuzzy blur – between anti-terrorism and unwanted surveillance of ordinary people.
  • And of course, there’s anti-competition. Data enablement and data sharing should grow the economy, foster competition, and serve consumers. Laws – whether anti-competition or privacy – should seek the same, and not undermine innovation. For example, the current demonization of third-party data feeds a frenzy that concentrates first-party data collection and power in “walled gardens” – where knowledge about customers’ marketing preferences often becomes incomplete and clouded. Could policymakers use their pen unwittingly to diminish the long tail of ad tech to detrimental effects? Even (some) Europeans have questioned what they’ve done.

As far as bias is concerned, add my voice to those who wish to do our utmost to minimize and eliminate protected-class discrimination in our algorithms and artificial intelligence – gender, race, religion, sexual preference – as we practice the art and science of commerce.

All the same, I have deep sympathy for this same task regarding political free speech: when and how we would ever attempt to define and remove political bias is dangerous territory. What is a lie? What is hate speech? What is a conservative or liberal bias?

There are no easy answers here. But I look forward to this public investigation, all the same. We need to understand fully where the Information Economy may overstep, overreach, restrict free speech, or undermine competition – even if these grievances are found to be remote.

A Map or a Matrix? Identity Management Is More Complex By the Day

A newly published white paper on how advertisers and brands can recognize unique customers across marketing platforms underscores just how tough this important job is for data-driven marketers.

As technologists and policymakers weigh in themselves on the data universe – often without understanding the full ramifications of what they do (or worse, knowing so but proceeding anyway) – data flows on the Internet and on mobile platforms are being dammed, diverted, denuded, and divided.

In my opinion, these developments are not decidedly good for advertising – which relies on such data to deliver relevance in messaging, as well as attribution and measurement. There is a troubling anti-competition mood in the air. It needs to be reckoned with.

Consider these recent developments:

  • Last week, the European Court of Justice rendered a decision that overturned “Privacy Shield” – the safe harbor program that upward of 5,000 companies rely upon to move data securely between the European Union and the United States. Perhaps we can blame U.S. government surveillance practices made known by Edward Snowden, but the impact will undermine hugely practical, beneficial, and benign uses of data – including for such laudable aims as identity management, and associated advertising and marketing uses.
  • Apple announced it will mandate an “opt-in” for mobile identification data used for advertising and marketing beginning with iOS 14. Apple may report this is about privacy, but it is also a business decision to keep Apple user data from other large digital companies. How can effective cross-app advertising survive (and be measured) when opt-in rates are tiny? What about the long-tail and diversity of content that such advertising finances?
  • Google’s announcement that it plans to cease third-party cookies – as Safari and Mozilla have already done – in two years’ time (six months and ticking) is another erosion on data monetization used for advertising. At least Google is making a full-on attempt to work with industry stakeholders (Privacy Sandbox) to replace cookies with something else yet to be formulated. All the same, ad tech is getting nervous.
  • California’s Attorney General – in promulgating regulation in conjunction with the enforcement of the California Consumer Privacy Act (in itself an upset of a uniform national market for data flows, and an undermining of interstate commerce) – came forth with a new obligation that is absent from the law, but asked for by privacy advocates: Companies will be required to honor a browser’s global default signals for data collection used for advertising, potentially interfering with a consumer’s own choice in the matter. It’s the Do Not Track debate all over again, with a decision by fiat.

These external realities for identity are only part of the complexity. Mind you, I haven’t even explored here the volume, variety, and velocity of data that make data collection, integration, analysis, and application by advertisers both vital and difficult to do. As consumers engage with brands on a seemingly ever-widening number of media channels and data platforms, there’s nothing simple about it. No wonder Scott Brinker’s Mar Tech artwork is becoming more and more an exercise in pointillism.

Searching for a Post-Cookie Blueprint

So it is in this flurry (or fury) of policy developments that the Winterberry Group issued its most recent paper, “Identity Outlook 2020: The Evolution of Identity in a Privacy-First, Post-Cookie World.”

Its authors take a more positive view of recent trends – reflecting perhaps a resolve that the private sector will seize the moment:

“We believe that regulation and cookie deprecation are a positive for the future health and next stage of growth for the advertising and marketing industry as they are appropriate catalysts for change in an increasingly privacy-aware consumer environment,” write authors Bruce Biegel, Charles Ping, and Michael Harrison, all of whom are with the Winterberry Group.

The researchers report five emerging identity management processes, each with its own regulatory risk. Brands may pursue any one or combination of these methodologies:

  • “A proprietary ID based on authenticated first-party data where the brand or media owner has established a unique ID for use on their owned properties and for matching with partners either directly or through privacy safe environments (e.g.: Facebook, Google, Amazon).
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a PII- [personally identifiable information] based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy.
  • “A common ID based on a first-party data match to a third-party, PII-based reference data set in order to enable scale across media providers while maintaining high levels of accuracy; leverages a deterministic approach, with probabilistic matching to increase reach.
  • “A second-party data environment based on clean environments with anonymous ID linking to allow privacy safe data partnerships to be created.
  • “A household ID based on IP address and geographic match.”

The authors offer a chart that highlights some of the regulatory risks with each approach.

“As a result of the diversity of requirements across the three ecosystems (personalization, programmatic and ATV [advanced television]) the conclusion that Winterberry Group draws from the market is that multiple identity solutions will be required and continue to evolve in parallel. To achieve the goals of consumer engagement and customer acquisition marketers will seek to apply a blend of approaches based on the availability of privacy-compliant identifiers and the suitability of the approach for specific channels and touchpoints.”

A blend of approaches? Looks like I’ll need a navigator as well as the map. As one of the six key takeaways, the report authors write:

“Talent gaps, not tech gaps: One of the issues holding the market back is the lack of focus in the brand/agency model that is dedicated to understanding the variety of privacy-compliant identity options. We expect that the increased market complexity in identity will require Chief Data Officers to expand their roles and place themselves at the center of efforts to reduce the media silos that separate paid, earned and owned use cases. The development of talent that overlaps marketing/advertising strategy, data/data science and data privacy will be more critical in the post-cookie, privacy-regulated market than ever before.”

There’s much more in the research to explore than one blog post – so do your data prowess a favor and download the full report here.

And let’s keep the competition concerns open and continuing. There’s more at stake here than simply a broken customer identity or the receipt of an irrelevant ad.

3 Color Truths You Want to Know

We’ve all seen them: color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.” But the reality is much more complicated. Let’s bring this back to marketing and design.

We’ve all seen them … color charts with a description of color and how we’re supposed to feel about it. Broad sweeping statements are made and graphics are created titled “The Psychology of Colors.”

pyschology of colorsThe reality is much more complicated. We select color based more on our personal experiences. Research done by Karen Schloss and Stephen Palmer tackles this, focusing on evolution. The main theory — we like colors tied to things that are healthy and promote survival.

Also mixed in this “personal experience” are cultural norms. We are culturally conditioned on how to perceive color. For instance, Eskimos have 17 words for “white” as it applies to snow conditions.

Let’s bring this back to marketing and design. There are several studies available with many of the same conclusions. Here’s my take on three aspects we can all start with:

1. Does the Color Fit What’s Being Sold?

Is the color appropriate for the brand or product? Does the color fit the “personality” of the brand? Example: We can assume a pink glittery model of a Harley probably wouldn’t sell well given the brand’s rugged, cool image.

When it comes to picking the right color, predicting consumer reaction is critical. Although there are stereotypical associations (brown = ruggedness, purple = sophistication and red = excitement), it’s more important for your brand or product color to support the personality you want to portray instead of simply fitting within a stereotype.

Color works best when it matches a brand’s personality. There’s no clear-cut guideline here but the feeling, mood and image plays a large role in perception and purchase persuasion. Think of Apple, which uses white as its dominant color to effectively communicate their clean, simple design. Yet remember, they didn’t start out with white.

2. Stand Out From the Competition

We prefer recognizable brands. This makes color important when creating a brand identity. Consumers quickly recognize brands not only by the logo but also by its color. New products or companies should select color(s) that separate them from their competitors. If the competition is using blue you’ll want to choose a color to contrast them. Think of Apple again, vs. IBM. White is most definitely not “big blue.”

I know this may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how often I hear “we want to be similar to our competition.” Be YOU. Not a “me-too.”

3. Gender Makes a Difference

Yes, it’s true men’s and women’s color preferences are different. One of the best studies on this topic is Color Assignments by Joe Hallock. I encourage you to read it.

Here are the highlights. Take notice that blue was the favorite color of both genders and how consistently it’s liked across age groups.

Female favorite color Male favorite colorMen and women also differ when it come to shades, tints and hues, with men liking brighter bolder colors and women preferring softer colors. Men tend to pick shades of colors (black added) and women leaned toward tints (white added).

Favorite Color by AgeThe small piece of an infographic below from KISSmetrics demonstrates this difference very clearly.

KISSmetrics Shades and TintsConclusion: It’s Not all Black and White …

… And, not as simple as many infographics will have you think. The more research you can do, the better you’ll understand the subtlety color brings from a psychological perspective. Stay tuned for future posts as we fill in the missing colors on practical applications.

Comparison Tables: Smart or Dangerous?

Recently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Mobile megaphoneRecently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Started in 2009, FounderDating was started as a place where entrepreneurs could find co-founders. FounderDating invited industry experts (advisors) to join in 2014. Founders could then either seek them out directly, or pose a question, tag it with keywords for specific category expertise and then sit back and wait for response.

In total, more than three dozen individuals responded to the question posed above — the first 16 within five hours of the post. But the discussion that ensued was fascinating and because this is a topic that I’ll be covering in webinar I’m participating in on May 3, I thought it was a valuable topic to review here.

Before I get to the various ideas that were provided, here’s some background on the company that posed the question:

“We are a new entry into a very niche market… we also have a vastly superior product offering to that of our competitors. Our features blow them away, but we are slightly higher in price. My thought was to provide a features-comparison table to justify our pricing relative to theirs. My concern is whether to name them or just say “Us” vs “Them” or “Others”, etc.. Thoughts?”

To me, the idea of a comparison chart and the use of named competitors is a strategic marketing question, but the advice poured in from CTOs, CFOs, CEOs, attorneys, a pricing specialist, engineers, other founders — but only one or two marketers. And, as expected, the collective responses were all over the map.

After reading all of them, I’m not sure any one answer provided the most valuable perspective. Some were dismissive of even including a chart at all, while others suggested only naming well-known competitors and information about them that was available publicly (ie. proved the point).

However, I wanted to take a step back and talk about when and where to use a chart like this — and how, in my opinion, to get the most value out of creating one.

Smart Idea When Used in the Right Stage of the Buy Cycle

In my experience, a comparison chart is a great marketing tool that can be used with great success if it’s used when a buyer is in the middle of the buying process. For most business buyers, the discovery process does not start with comparing brands; instead their focus is on category solutions. They are either experiencing some sort of “pain” in their business, or are trying to research an idea. In this early phase of research, most are trying to get a handle on what their peers are doing, or are seeking some timely or unique information that can help provide insight.

But once they have completed that phase of their buying journey, they become more open to thinking about a brand solution — and here’s where a comparison chart can be helpful.

Include Features and Benefits to Strategically Differentiate

A comparison chart can help to level the playing field by providing a head-to-head contrast in features but, when done well, it can also include commentary about benefits of any particular feature. It’s not necessary to include price as part of the comparison as the buyer is not ready to even think about price without a deeper dive into your particular product/solution.

The best charts are not chest-pounding “look at me!” comparisons, but rather straightforward, authentic and easy-to-understand tools that build credibility for your brand. They do not overly emphasize your brand over another (which detracts from the credibility factor) so there are no logos. Just remember, buyers are neither dumb nor “tricked” by an obviously self-promotional piece, so don’t waste your energy creating one in that vein.

Consider Leveraging an Independent, 3rd Party

Another strategy is to hire an outside, third party industry pundit to create or review your comparison chart to ensure it feels balanced and transparent. Plus, having an outsider prepare or review it and provide a stamp of approval means it’s less likely that a competitor could challenge the findings.

One Note of Caution

As an attorney noted in the comments section of the FounderDating post, make sure there is no misrepresentation of a competitor’s products, and properly identify any trademarks to their rightful owners.

So here’s the question: Does your brand have the strategic smarts to design and implement a competitor chart that helps position your product/solution in the best possible light? Would you publish it if you could? Do you think it might help propel your brand to the front of the consideration set? I’d love to hear from fellow marketers.

B-to-B Marketers Still Struggle With Lead Nurturing

I thought it was widely understood by now that staying in touch with a prospect who has shown some interest in your product or service can triple, even quadruple, lead-to-sales conversion rates. But a new study from Bizo and Oracle Marketing Cloud suggests that business marketers are still struggling to get the most value from lead nurturing programs. Disappointing, since the value of lead nurturing was clearly demonstrated years ago…

I thought it was widely understood by now that staying in touch with a prospect who has shown some interest in your product or service can triple, even quadruple, lead-to-sales conversion rates. But a new study from Bizo and Oracle Marketing Cloud suggests that business marketers are still struggling to get the most value from lead nurturing programs. Disappointing, since the value of lead nurturing was clearly demonstrated years ago, when James Obermayer coined the Rule of 45, which says 45 percent of business inquirers will eventually buy in that category, so if you don’t stay in touch, you’ll likely lose the sale to your competition.

The Bizo study reveals some intriguing issues for marketers today. I was struck by the mere 35 percent of responders who say nurturing is essential to their businesses. The majority (53 percent) said “It’s somewhat important; we have a few nurturing campaigns running.” Granted, these words were put in their mouths by Bizo researchers, but it’s troubling that the power of lead nurturing still seems to be under appreciated.

Further, marketers seem to be using little other than email as their nurturing medium. This is a mistake. Worse, these emails are simply not getting through: Nurturing email open rates are less than 20 percent, according to most (79 percent) of the 500 marketers surveyed.

So let me offer some success factors in lead nurturing, which I hope will help marketers up their nurturing game:

  • Set up a triggered sequence of nurturing messages, using a variety of media channels, with the objective of keeping in touch with inquirers until they meet your qualification criteria and are ready to be handed to your sales team. See the chart in the media player at right for an example. The point here is that a nurture program needs to be continuous, steady and responsive.
  • Tailor the nurturing stream to key variables in the prospect’s profile, like buying role, job description, industry and company size.
  • The tone of the messaging needs to be informative and helpful, instead of sales-y. Your objective is to deepen the relationship and move prospects along the buying journey, not hit them over the head.
  • Use a wide variety of media and messaging types to keep the recipient interested. Adding to the mix options like an event invitation, press release, tweets, infographic, podcast, a survey or questionnaire, video, a newsletter—the possibilities go on. Bizo itself is offering a retargeting program that permits cookie-based nurturing of prospects whose email has not yet been collected.
  • Get creative, for example, with a peer-to-peer letter from a counterpart executive in your company, or a birthday card.
  • Ask for a response to collect additional information and feedback, always moving toward that qualification stage. Create dedicated landing pages, where you can pose profiling questions and continue the educational content.

It’s all about staying in touch with prospects to deepen the relationship and increase the chance of converting them to customers.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.

5 Things to Do Now to Prepare for the Next Stage of Email Marketing

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program. But the email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king

The email channel is well known for being a low cost high performance marketing machine. Generating revenue requires little more than the ability to acquire opt-in permission and change content in a template. It’s so easy that someone with no experience could create a successful email program.

And, they do. This is one of the reasons that spam continues to grow. Someone with access to thousands of addresses can fill his or her coffers by blanketing the list with promotional messages or scams. Those emails keep coming because they work. If people didn’t respond to them, the spammers would find a new source of income.

The minimal requirements for success also contribute to the cookie cutter emails sent by established brands. Subject lines, images and content change, but the layout and offers are strikingly similar. When asked why they do this, marketers claim that testing has proven that their subscribers respond best to this presentation and offers.

The problem is that they decided to stop testing once a solution was found. Any halfway decent direct marketer will tell you that testing shows what works best AT THAT TIME. The winner becomes the control that is used to gauge the effectiveness of future tests. Email marketing lulls marketers into complacency because it works so well at consistently generating revenue. Following the “don’t fix it if it’s not broke” theory keeps them from finding strategies that work better.

In fairness, the demands on marketing teams are continuously increasing. Participation in high maintenance, continuously changing channels requires time and effort that might have been dedicated to improving email campaigns if the world were different. Resources have to be allocated by need and email campaigns do not require much to be successful.

The email marketing world is changing. Evolution has already begun. Companies have to adapt or lose the effectiveness of a channel that has served well as a cash flow king. That adaptation has to start now because it takes time to establish the relationships required for continued success. Waiting until campaigns start losing their effectiveness will be too late.

There are two shifts creating the need for change. The first is increased competition. According to the Radicati Group’s email statistics report for 2012 – 2016, 144.8 billion emails were sent in 2012. By 2016, that number is expected to increase to 192.2 billion. Business emails account for 61 percent of the emails today, increasing to 75 percent in 2016. Consumer emails are decreasing. In 2012, 55.8 billion emails were sent. By 2016, consumer emails will drop to 48.4 billion. More marketing messages mean that company emails have to fight harder for recipients’ attention.

The second shift is the ongoing effort to provide a personalized universal search experience. Google is the first search engine to test adding emails to results. It’s only a matter of time before the field trial rolls out and other search providers follow the lead. This changes the rules of engagement for the email marketing game.

Email campaigns will need to work overtime to deliver the best results. In addition to generating immediate cash flow, they need to have a “save for later” appeal that keeps recipients from deleting them. The saved emails will appear when people search the web for similar products or services.

Fortunately, preparing for increased competition and universal search has immediate benefits. The same tactics that position your emails for success in the future also make them work better today. To get started:

  1. Improve your customer relationships: Loyal customers are more likely to ignore increased competition and save your emails. Including emails that make it easier for people to use your products and services solidifies relationships and adds life to your messages.
  2. Optimize emails for search: Adding alternative text to images provides information that can be accessed by search bots. Balancing text and images makes your messages more readable by recipients and bots. It also improves deliverability.
  3. Use personalized trigger emails to improve the shopping and service experience: Trigger emails are a low cost way to keep customers informed about order status and new products or services.
  4. Customize emails by customer behavior: Sending everyone in your database the same marketing message works. Sending customized message to individuals based on their shopping and communication preferences works better.
  5. Keep everything simple and easy: The easier you make it for your customers, the more loyal they tend to be. Work to eliminate as many steps as possible between the marketing message and sale. People keep coming back when the process is simple.

What Is the Best Day to Send Emails?

Somewhere, in the world just on the other side of the rainbow, there is a magical day for sending emails. The messages sent to customers and prospects on that day get more responses and generate more revenue than any other email. There is only one problem for marketers—catching a leprechaun is easier than identifying that day

Somewhere, in the world just on the other side of the rainbow, there is a magical day for sending emails. The messages sent to customers and prospects on that day get more responses and generate more revenue than any other email. There is only one problem for marketers—catching a leprechaun is easier than identifying that day.

I know that finding that special day is important to marketers because they consistently ask me, “What is the best day to send emails?” For some consultants, this is a perfect segue into a sales pitch. Finding the best time to send emails is a project that can take months of testing. For me, the question is extremely challenging because I am not an “it depends” consultant. I am a teacher who happens to consult. Showing clients how to solve marketing problems is what I do best. My clients operate in continuous improvement mode. We work together to identify what works best and then dig deeper to improve on that.

The real answer to the question is this: The best day to send an email is the day that the recipient is most likely to act. This is not the answer people want to hear. They want a day of the week, not a response that generates more questions than answers:

  • How do we know when a person is ready to act?
  • What action should the recipient take?
  • Can’t you just tell us what our competition is doing?
  • Aren’t there best practices for choosing the day to send emails?
  • Why is this so hard?

If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it! Since it is and they don’t, doing it well gives your company a competitive edge.

How Do We Know When a Person Is Ready to Act?
People act when they have a need, real or perceived. Timing emails to match when people are most likely to act requires behavior analysis. Reviewing historical data to see what prospects and customers do before they buy gives insight into action patterns. Once the patterns have been identified, test copy and timing to find the most effective messages and delivery.

Well-crafted emails create perceived needs. Reading copy that speaks directly to the individual motivates even the toughest prospect to complete the next step. Invest in good copywriters and designers who can create messages that appeal to multiple senses. Timing becomes less important when the needs are clearly defined.

What Action Should the Recipient Take?
Most emails are blasted out to customers and prospects in hopes of generating some revenue. Products or coupons are posted in a gallery to be sent to everyone on the list. This shotgun approach gets sales so marketers keep doing it until subscribers die from email fatigue. The only actions for the recipient are to buy or not buy.

Buying action doesn’t create customer loyalty. A good email marketing strategy is designed to get people involved enough to be loyal. It includes actions like asking, learning and sharing. The ownership established by participating in a marketing program that include more than “click to buy” increases lifespan and lifetime value. Test emails that include call to actions beyond buying to see what works best for your business.

Can’t You Just Tell Us What Our Competition Is Doing?
Implementing a marketing strategy based on your competition’s activity is risky. What if your competitors aren’t testing to find the best methods? Ignoring your competitors’ activity is equally risky. What are they telling your customers and prospects? Monitor what your competitors are doing by subscribing to their emails, watching online reviews, and shopping their business (when being a secret shopper is feasible).

When people are ready to buy, email timing can determine who gets the sale. If your company is sending emails once a week and your competitors are sending them five times, then they are more likely to be in the front of the line when the buying decision is made. Find the right balance between what you know works and what your competitors are doing to keep your business in the forefront.

Aren’t There Best Practices for Choosing the Day to Send Emails?
There are always best practices. The top three have to work together to get the best results. They are:

  1. Analyze behavior to find the factors that move people into the sales funnel.
  2. Test different strategies to find the best message and delivery time.
  3. Monitor competitors for content and delivery to insure that your strategy is competitive.

In addition to monitoring specific companies, services like the Who’s Mailing What! email archive provide additional insight. Last month the email activity by day and industry was:

Mon

Tues

Wed

Thur

Fri

Sat

Sun

Total

Retail

15%

15%

15%

15%

18%

10%

12%

100%

B-to-B

17%

21%

20%

21%

17%

3%

2%

100%

Non-Profit Fundraising

15%

19%

13%

23%

23%

5%

3%

100%

Financial Services/ Investments

4%

9%

30%

4%

48%

0%

4%

100%

Travel

13%

21%

17%

21%

20%

6%

2%

100%

Insurance

24%

10%

19%

0%

48%

0%

0%

100%

Looking at this gives you an idea of when your customers and prospects are receiving competitive messages. You can use this information to create tests that will go head to head with the competition or you choose send times when the competition is less likely to be present.

The magical send day remains elusive, but hopefully this post helps you find the best strategy for your business. Investing the time and effort required to understand more about the things that make people buy from your business is guaranteed to deliver a good return. The more you know, the better you can serve and the less likely they will shop elsewhere.

Get Ready for 2013: Customer Acquisition Emails

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy. This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Acquiring long-term platinum customers is much harder today than it was even a decade ago. The globalization of the marketplace created an environment where people have access to multiple choices for every product or service they want to buy; a simple search on Google for any item or service will reveal a multitude of choices at a variety of prices.

This availability has created an environment where long-term customer loyalty has been replaced by hit-and-run shoppers. The only way to offset this to create a relationship with your customers that makes them want to stay with your company even when the competition offers lower prices and faster service.

Relationships begin at the first contact point. Prospects who sign up for your email list have different expectations than your customers. Sending them the same promotional emails may convert a few, but it will not create the foundation for a long-term lasting relationship. People need to know they’re valued. The best way to communicate that is by creating customized emails designed to woo prospects into becoming customers. The same technological advances that increased your competition also make it easier and more economical to connect with people.

Every email marketing strategy needs a triggered systematic campaign designed to convert prospects into customers. Most companies have a welcome email automatically triggers when someone subscribes to their email list but very few businesses follow-up with additional emails that communicate information about the company products and services. It’s as if they presume that everyone knows everything there is to know about their company.

People subscribe to email lists for a variety of reasons. Some are simply looking for discount offers, others want to learn more about the products and services. Failure to take advantage of the opportunity to share information with people who have indicated they want to know more is a waste. The cost is minimal. The potential return is huge. If you do not have a customized prospect conversion strategy, you are squandering an opportunity to build a foundation for long-term customer loyalty.

It’s almost impossible to identify the prospects with long-term customer potential. The only information you have available is the original source and what people choose to share. Requiring additional information to better qualify subscribers is counterproductive—long sign-up forms yield fewer subscribers. The objective of your sign-up form is to gain permission to email prospects. The trigger emails following subscription can be used together additional information as well as convert the subscribers.

Start with a welcome email that thanks people for subscribing. Ask if they will share their preferences so you only send relevant emails. Be very careful with this. Do not ask what the subscribers want if you are not going to honor their wishes, it will alienate your prospects. If you choose to ask the questions, limit them to five. Keep them on one page above the fold with the save button in clear view. People’s eyes start to glazing over when they see a long list of questions.

The emails following the welcome letter need to build trust, provide relevant information and match the preferences indicated earlier. Don’t presume your prospects know about your top-notch service, liberal return policy or special promotions. If they do, the emails will serve as a reminder. If they don’t, providing the information is a service. Including customer testimonials and product reviews provide social proof and help establish trust.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for creating a triggered welcome email campaign:

  • Do include an added bonus in every email. This can be as simple as providing tips. For example, a B-to-C business selling cookware could offer recipes and cooking tips. A B-to-B company selling office supplies could offer productivity tips.
  • Don’t overwhelm new subscribers by bombarding them with emails. Test different delivery times and spacing to find the best strategy.
  • Do provide links to your website and additional information in every email. Always gives people a place to go and easy way to get there if they want more.
  • Don’t include icons for social media sites without providing a call to action. Give people a reason to connect with you on the other channels.
  • Do test everything. What works for your competitor may fail for you and vice versa.
  • Don’t think of your welcome email campaign as “set it and forget it” marketing. Strive for continuous improvement to maximize your return.

Getting Your Email Heard Above the Roar of the Holiday Crowd

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels.

The noise in the marketplace is almost deafening under normal conditions. It reaches a high point during the holiday season. Every marketing channel is filled with offers and one-off stunts designed to capture people’s attention, if only for a nanosecond. Frenetic cries from marketers desperate to generate revenue overwhelm the senses of the customers and prospects they seek to engage. Enjoyable shopping experiences become a crazy event that people dread.

Good marketing messages get lost in the attempt to outshout the competition. The constant barrage of screaming marketers becomes white noise to recipients. They become adept at filtering out the extraneous information to only hear the messages they need. This ability is similar to athletes who hear their coaches over thousands of fans.

Getting your message heard above the roar of the holiday crowd requires a different approach. Instead of being the loudest voice, you have to be the voice your customers and prospects want to hear. This requires a marketing shift from one-off deals to providing the service that people want when they need it. The better the relationship between company and customers, the easier it is to connect with them in crowded channels. If your past marketing strategy included provided highly targeted messages your customers are already tuned into your messages. If not, here are a few things you can do now to be heard above the crowd:

  • Make everything as easy as possible. When it comes to making people happy, easy trumps exceptional. This is especially true during the holiday season when time is limited. Create emails that include everything needed to make a buying decision and minimize the number of click from the email link to check out.
  • Be available. Sometimes people have questions that are not addressed in the email, catalog or online. Put your telephone number on every piece of marketing materials, in every email and on every web page. It will increase your sales without significantly increasing your calls. If you offer click to chat service, include a link to it in your emails.
  • Preselect items to simplify the shopping process. Buying patterns change during holiday season because people shift from shopping for self to shopping for others. Review historical data for seasonal purchases and make appropriate recommendations for similar products or services.
  • Offer reassurance. The best delivery and return policies cannot influence purchase decisions if people don’t know about them. Provide specific “order by to receive in time” dates during the shopping process. Send transactional emails that include expected delivery dates and shipping confirmation numbers with a link to the carrier. If there are any issues with the order, notify the buyer immediately.
  • Follow up on abandoned carts. Life gets a little crazy during the holidays. It’s normal to see a bump in abandoned carts since people are ordering more and trying to be secretive about it. Browsers get closed quickly when others walk into the room. Double check your online and email reminders to make sure that they are working. If you don’t have a reminder process in place, add one.
  • Show appreciation. After enough time has passed for the order to be delivered, send an email to verify receipt, thank the customer for the order, and offer assistance if needed. Doing this distinguishes you from the competition, encourages feedback and improves trust. Be sure to use a valid reply address. Test using an individual’s email address versus a generic corporate one. People tend to respond to other people better.
  • Prepare for next year. Create and implement a strategy that is designed to keep people engaged and listening for your voice. The more they are tuned in to your marketing messages the less they will hear the competition.