Nurture Your Subscribers to Higher ROI in 2010

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

The inbox is essential in 2010, but it’s also fiercely competitive. Social networks drive their businesses through the inbox, and more and more marketers are sending more and more promotions. Your message must stand out amid this noise.

Sending the same message to everyone is the opposite of nurture — it’s numbing. It has the opposite effect, driving disengagement and dissatisfaction. Too much email in short time periods will not only depress response, it’ll increase complaints (counted by ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail) every time someone clicks the “Report Spam” button. Even a small number of complaints will prevent your messages from reaching subscriber inboxes — all your subscribers, not just those who complained.

It’s painful enough imagining the slow death of your email response rates when subscribers are bored week after week. Even worse, imagine the drop in revenue if all your messages are blocked by Yahoo due to high complaints. Ouch! It’s worth taking the time to nurture instead.

The ideal is to offer subscribers what they need before they realize they need it. Luckily, you can get pretty far even without deep resources. Test a few of the following “baby step” ideas now; then integrate the hardest-working into your ongoing calendar this year. Since not all subscribers have the same value, focus on those with the highest potential.

1. Educate prospects. Many marketers have both prospects and customers on their house lists, each receiving the same promotions. Probably neither are inspired by something watered down for the masses. Never assume prospects know anything about your content, editorial personalities, products or benefits. Consider a series of messages or offers that move prospects through the sales pipeline.

2. Treat customers better. Email is a great way to treat your best customers special. Certainly VIPs are easy to find and celebrate, but also take that same approach down the line. Identify your cusp customers, and invite them to participate at higher levels while showing them the benefit of doing so. Every once in a while, just thank your customers. You’ll be surprised at the response you get.

3. Listen. Let subscribers tell you what they need through their actions. Even if you can’t overlay behavior and demographic data, use the data you have. Customize transactional emails based on purchase. After a click, trigger a context-specific email with content recommendations — which could be sponsored advertorial — or premium services. Replace static landing pages with deeper microsites focused on particular topics to capture more page views or present more detailed offers when prospects are “in market.”

4. Test subject lines. Many campaigns go out without any optimization testing. Yet even simple A/B testing of subject lines can improve response by 5 percent or more.

5. Customize by age. Watch response by vintage (the length of time the subscriber has been on the file), and determine when subscribers go “inactive” — defined as no open, click or conversion/response activity in the past three months.

Quickly send out a “win-back” campaign to those who may be on the verge of going inactive. Don’t wait two years to send a win-back. Once subscribers start ignoring your emails, it’s difficult to re-engage them.

Audit your past 90 days for a “nurture appeal.” Are you blasting or engaging? Broadcasting or customizing? Talking or listening? You’ll likely find a number of points of vulnerability where you’re not optimizing your nurture potential. The payoff is real: Satisfied customers click more, buy more, and engage frequently with advertising and offers.

Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.

Crafts 2.0

I had a short e-mail exchange recently with Rob Kalin, founder of Brooklyn-based Etsy, which may be the first true Web 2.0 company.

Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods. It also offers a host of ways for its customers to connect with Etsy and each other. For example, the site offers user profiles, forums, blogs, and a rating and feedback system for the site’s registered users, including crafters and artisans who sell their wares on the site.

I had a short e-mail exchange recently with Rob Kalin, founder of Brooklyn-based Etsy, which may be the first true Web 2.0 company.

Etsy is an online marketplace for handmade goods. It also offers a host of ways for its customers to connect with Etsy and each other. For example, the site offers user profiles, forums, blogs, and a rating and feedback system for the site’s registered users, including crafters and artisans who sell their wares on the site.

Etsy was conceived by Kalin in early 2005. A painter, carpenter, and photographer, Kalin believed there was no viable marketplace to exhibit and sell his creations online. In his opinion, other e-commerce sites had become “too inundated with overstock electronics and broken appliances,” according to Etsy’s Web site.

As a result, he, along with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik designed the site, wrote the code, assembled the servers, spliced the cables and launched Etsy in June 2005.

Today, Etsy has more than 1 million registered members, 185,000 of whom are individual artists selling more than 1.9 million of their handmade creations. In 2007, Etsy’s revenues were $26 million; this year, to date, they are $35 million.

While Kalin says he would recommend that any company create a Web 2.0 site with similar community-oriented features to his, he admits “technically, much of what we do is difficult,” adding that “on the Web, we are conducting our education in public, [so] there’s no downtime.”

Kalin also says that Etsy does not really engage in any digital marketing programs, opting instead for an internal advertising system called Showcase, “wherein our sellers purchase spots to reach buyers’ eyes,” he says.

When asked if he has any Web 2.0 tips, Kalin replies, “Avoid buzzwords. Web 2.0 is simply a name older folks give to newer technologies they either don’t fully grasp and seem novel to them.“Do honest, hard work, be open to your community, be a good listener. It’s no longer possible to censor or manipulate the discussions your customers have about your company. The Web is an inherently open platform, and I hope it stays that way.”

True words indeed.