Here’s a Modest Proposal for Batch-and-Blast Email Marketers and Robocallers

The increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Unnumbered terabytes have been squandered recently as the increased volume of data-driven marketing initiatives have taken digital marketing to the top spot in the media universe. There, it’s likely to be king of the mountain until the next fashionable tsunami comes along. Enter, batch-and-blast email marketers and robocallers.

Consumers who formerly complained about getting too much mail are increasingly (and rightly) up in arms about the intrusiveness of unsolicited emails, ads jumping onto their Internet pages — visually blocking desired content, just when they want to see it — location-driven cell phone promotions advising them of the goodies inside the retail shop they are passing (remember them) or receiving endless robocalls.

Anything is possible! In today’s world of almost endless permutations and combinations of digital sales messages, what faster than a speeding bullet Superthing can stop them before they plunge irretrievably into some black hole, never to be seen again?

Would you believe that the answer is neither a superman nor woman? No: It’s not even a humanoid. It is quite simply that elusive substance that is said to make the world go ’round: money.

The useful website AlterNet recently carried what could be the game-changing story for our industry. Why stop with the industry? It could be a game-changer for our society and sanity. Consumers may not complain as much about emails and push ads as they do about robocalls, but you can bet they get nearly as angry about their privacy being invaded. Wrote Matthew Chapman:

Americans are being bombarded with robocalls. It’s an epidemic, and it’s getting worse. By a recent estimate, 71 million of these scam calls are being placed per hour, [my highlighting] often completely illegally.

Robocalls make up the top source of complaints to both the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC); both of which, in theory, have power to police robocalls. The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.

Almost; but not impossible. As Shakespeare wrote:

“If money go before, all ways do lie open.” —Ford, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” Act 2, Scene 2

Chapman reported that Roger Meiners, a professor of law and economics at the University of Texas at Arlington, has a brilliant proposal for how to defeat robocallers, once and for all. It has exquisite simplicity and can, by extension, apply to almost all of our batch-and-blast outrages. Professor Mainers’ proposal, which deserves nothing less than a Nobel economics nomination:

Levy a 1-cent tax on every outgoing phone call.

If codified into the law of the land, it would be collected automatically and digitally. Individuals and small businesses would hardly notice it. We’d all pay the tax but even for a heavy individual user who made 50 calls per day; his tab would be only $15.00 per month.

In the Wall Street Journal, Meiners explained how it would work:

Most taxes aren’t popular, but this one will be. Call it the Penny for Sanity Tax: a 1-cent tax on every call made. Fifty billion robocalls would cost $500 million — a powerful incentive to stop.

Because the tax would apply to all calls, it would avoid litigation about what can be legally disfavored. It would be impossible to evade by sneaking around classifications of calls. And it would not necessitate hiring more bureaucrats to enforce a complicated rule.

What a huge effect it would have if put into practice. The amount could be easily raised if it didn’t act as a sufficient inhibitor of batch-and-blast. The whole idea might also inform an app where the consumer could choose to get paid to look at ads. As the Bar proclaimed “ … all ways do lie open,” if there is coin to pay the piper. And imagine how even a little of this money might be used for the environment, the public good or worthy charities.

Now let’s stretch and imagine the application of the Meiners’ formula to email. The Radicati Group estimates the worldwide number of consumer and business emails sent per day in 2018 at more than 281 billion. If these were taxed at 1 cent each, (same as the calls, but harder to collect), the cost would be $2.8 billion per day. You get the idea.

Where technologies have run well ahead of the business models they support, not a lot of thought has been given to the actual costs of emails and robocalls. “Let’s mail another million. It isn’t costing anything. And then we can go to lunch” has an all-too-familiar ring to it, even if it happens to be more apocryphal than true. There is, as the saying goes, no such thing as a free email or robocall or lunch.

Because very few marketers have done the math to determine the real comparative bottom-line effect of over-promoting or looked at the medium- and long-term commercial and societal damage it causes, they might as well go off and enjoy lunch. Their C-Suite days are numbered.

Soon, they are likely to be replaced by a tribe of literate data nerds, a species currently in short supply. Their recruitment is driving up costs like international soccer stars. They are just what giant consulting firms, such as Accenture, need to support their acquisition of “creative” shops with funny names and casual dress and time-keeping habits certain to annoy the hell out of the senior partners, who are mostly former three-piece, dark-suited accountants who daily commute from the suburbs and arrive at the office with Swiss punctuality.

Imagine the culture clash. And imagine how in this radically changed game, our vision of response rates and costs — in fact, almost everything in our marketing sphere — would change for the better.

Best of all, when the telephone rings, we wouldn’t have to worry we were about to be propositioned or otherwise engaged in a time-wasting conversation with a robot.

Why the Email Batch and Blast Practice Is an Addiction and How to End It

It’s the junk food of marketing. We all know that the email batch and blast practice really isn’t good for anyone, but many marketers just can’t seem to wean themselves off of the practice.

In email marketing, “Batch & Blast” is a common practice. But dare I say, it’s the junk food of marketing. We all know that the email batch and blast practice really isn’t good for anyone, but many marketers just can’t seem to wean themselves off of the practice.

The addiction level in some cases is as bad as that of an opioid, not some casual black bubbly water loaded with sugar. I’ve seen marketers who are so addicted to it, they blast emails to “everyone” on the list multiple times a day. With the same creative and offer,.seven days a week. If that’s not junk mail — yeah, I said that ultimate dirty word in 1:1 marketing — I don’t know what is.

It’s a vicious cycle. With that many emails literally bombarding the targets, the list gets saturated. Open, clickthrough and conversion rates start to go down. To make up for lost sales, marketers send even more emails to cover the difference. And the downward spiral continues.

I’ve actually received requests from such clients to figure out how many “more” emails they can send out in situations like that. My answer? If everyone is getting 14 or more emails every week, there is no need for further study. Everyone in the database is over-promoted, so give them a break in the name of humanity, if not for best practice in marketing.

Nevertheless, many still see every email drop only as a sales opportunity, and they believe that more is always better. From the receiving end, however, it’s a nuisance — or even torture. Had it not been for the “unsubscribe” button hidden at the bottom of the email with the font size of a few pixels, many would have just opted out from the brand. Most email recipients would just “highlight all, then delete.”

Many marketers believe that batch and blast works, because some revenue comes in with every email campaign drop. However, in my opinion, that is like believing that prolonged trawling in the fishing industry is beneficial in the long run. Yeah, you’ll catch lots of fish that way. Initially, for a while. But if you and your fellow fishermen keep doing that, there won’t be many fish left in your area in the near future. Then what? Just eat more meat?

Sadly, many folks who are in charge of email marketing don’t even care about the long-term effects of indiscriminate and incessant email bombardment. They may not even be in that position in a particular company for long, anyway. Even if they do care, many email marketers are compensated based on the number of successful email drops and attributed revenue numbers. When the bonus plan is tied to such things, who cares about the long-term effect of batch and blast? Well, CEOs and CMOs must care.

Not that I will convince every email marketer here, but let’s pose the question, nonetheless. Why is the batch and blast practice bad for the brand in the long run? Let’s go down the list one by one.

Batch-and-blast emails:

  • Train the audience to ignore your brand: Sending non-personalized emails to everyone very frequently always ends up training valuable audiences to ignore the brand message. Yes, I do get multiple emails a day from certain reputable retailers, like Amazon. But I’m not always annoyed, because the email offers from Amazon are “somewhat” personalized for me, based on my past purchases and individual profile (or the profile of a segment to which I happen to belong). Sending irrelevant messages is bad enough. Do that every day, multiple times a day? You are literally asking them to ignore you. Tell me how that is good for anyone in your organization?
  • Opportunity cost, if not real cost: Proper targeting had been at the center of 1:1 marketing strategy in the days of direct mail. Because it costs so much money to procure lists, process data, print marketing materials, put postage on them and mail them out, every marketer needed to target better. In fact, modeling techniques for target marketing were paid for by the savings from reduced mail volumes. With properly built targeting models, we could achieve revenue targets without mailing to everyone. Math worked because, in general, it would cost more than $1 to send out a piece. No one would send an expensive catalog to “everyone” in the database if the mailer could get the same revenue by sending copies to 10 to 20 percent of the target universe. On the contrary, in the world of email, such costs are irrelevant. Marketers would still have to pay for an ESP, anyway; so why bother with targeting? In fact, why mail less, at all? But, we must think about the opportunity cost. Danger of un-subscription is real, if you consider the acquisition cost (which is always high). Dwindling open and click rates are very much real, too, bringing in less and less revenue per campaign as time goes by. And the cost of training customers to ignore brand messages? It’s hard to calculate a short-term monetary loss on that, but it’s a real loss in the long-run, nonetheless. You’d always need a fresh set of new customers, only to abuse them until the point of non-response.
  • No personalization: Batch and blast, by definition, is sending the same message to everyone, all of the time. In the days when we can’t avoid the word “personalization” in any marketing conference, that’s a real shame. There are plenty of studies and stats emphasizing that relevant messages lead to higher conversion rates. Claims vary — some are bolder than others, like eight times the conversion rate — but one thing is for sure. People respond better when the message is about them. I find it very difficult to convince batch and blast addicts to subscribe to the benefits of personalization. It is almost as difficult as converting a conservative person to a liberal, or vice versa. Now, why is that? Don’t they get tired of the same of messages from a brand as consumers themselves? I often hear about the difficulties of not having enough creatives. But that alone can be an excuse for not even trying. If it’s difficult to go for a more elaborate kind of personalization, then start with just two creatives first and add more layers slowly (refer to “Road to Personalization”).
  • Attribution: When you blast emails every day, multiple times a day, how would you ever know what really worked? What is the point of mixing up offers and creatives occasionally, if finding out how each drop performed is so difficult, or even impossible? Yes, one may rely on direct attribution (i.e., only counting direct clicks on email links leading to conversions), but we all know that is not the full picture. Consumers come back to the site not necessarily using the email links, and further, email isn’t the only promotion channel leading to the site. So, when “look-back” attribution is employed, how would you know what really worked when there are so many drops every day? Well, the answer often is that folks who just blast away emails don’t really care much about what elements of campaigns worked, for as long as they get decent — or usual — open, click and conversion rates (even if they are tainted figures). What a shame, in the age of 1:1 marketing via every conceivable channel.

How to End the Batch and Blast Addiction

Then, how do marketers wean off of the addiction?

Like any other type of addiction, it starts with the recognition. They have to realize that in the long run, the batch and blast practice is not good for the organization. I’ve been saying it for years, but let me say it again: 1:1 marketing (such as email campaigns) is about identifying “whom to contact,” and if you so decided to contact someone, knowing “what to offer, and when.” That’s it.

Even if you have a small customer base and you have no choice but to send emails to every available email address, can we at least agree that you must control the campaign frequency (i.e., “how often”), and try to send more relevant messages for each target or segment?

How do we control the frequency factor? To do that, marketers must be aware which target is over-promoted, under-promoted and adequately promoted. And such a calculation is not possible if you do not know both number of emails and number of responses on an individual level. One may say sending 20 emails to a person in a month is too much. Maybe. But what if the person purchased items more than two times in that period? Surely, that “20” looks quite different, doesn’t it?

If you keep track of response rates on a personal level, we can easily group them into Over-, Under- and Adequately-promoted groups based on response rates. Such rates often fit into a normal distribution curve, and dividing them into three groups would be simple (when in doubt, just use one standard deviation from each end, which will give about 16 percent from the top and the bottom). If anyone falls into the danger zone called “Over-promoted,” then put the red flag up for such a target, and suppress them before the campaign deployment until the flag is lifted.

Now, let me remind you that if you have been doing batch and blast for a prolonged period, do not bother with this type of data consolidation and calculation, as “everyone” in your base must be labeled as over-promoted. If fact, you may have to go the opposite way and decrease the frequency of emails for loyal customers first, to give them a break. “Loyal” doesn’t mean that you can abuse them or take them for granted. If you so must contact them frequently, at least treat loyal customers with special offers or invitations.

Of course, curbing the email frequency must come from the top. Without any elaborate calculation, CMOs may just mandate “maximum emails per person per week.” I’d say four to five times a week is a good start, but that depends on the product types and business model. The key is to give the target audience some breaks on a regular basis. If the benefits of such a practice is hard to prove to your fellow blasters, then create “hold-out” segments, and do not touch them for a set period of time. You may be able to see the before and after pictures after some hold out period (if the rules are honored by everyone in the marketing team).

As for personalization, I’ve written numerous articles about that for this fine publication. To summarize more than 10 articles in a few sentences (refer to “Key Elements of Complete Personalization,” for one), I’d say start with basic “heuristic” segmentation and try to offer different discount and products to each segment. Then move onto more elaborate segmentation or clustering techniques for better results, and ultimately develop individual level personas using modeling techniques for best combination of target and offers (refer to “Segments vs. Personas“). That may sound daunting to many organizations, so that is why I emphasize using even heuristic segments (such as high-value customers, multi-buyers, recent buyers, tenured customers, inactive customers, etc.) is far better than keeping sending the same message to everyone, every day.

The batch and blast practice is an addiction that will lead to list saturation and an unresponsive audience. Unless you have cheap and unlimited acquisition sources hidden somewhere, please cherish your customer base and do not bombard them as if they will be there forever for you to meet your email goals. Now, to wean off addiction, an organization may have to go through a 10-step process for alcoholics. Starting with the “recognition.”

11 Best Practices for Email Acquisition and Engagement

The income generated by your email marketing is directly related to the quality of your email address list. A list filled with highly targeted prospects and customers delivers solid response rates, clickthrough and revenue. Acquiring addresses for the people most likely to respond to your email marketing and sending relevant content should be top priorities for every company.

The income generated by your email marketing is directly related to the quality of your email address list. A list filled with highly targeted prospects and customers delivers solid response rates, clickthrough and revenue. Acquiring addresses for the people most likely to respond to your email marketing and sending relevant content should be top priorities for every company.

The best strategies capture email addresses at a variety of locations and use customized messaging to motivate participation in the marketing program. Moving people past the resistance to share their email address is only the first step in a multi-faceted strategy. Every email from the initial “Welcome to our program” to routine promotional messages must speak directly to the recipients or risk triggering opt-out activity.

Overcoming the inertia created by using a tool that consistently generates responses is one of the biggest challenges faced by email marketers. The “if it isn’t broken, why fix it?” thought process prevents email programs from generating even more revenue and building better relationships. The only way to move past this is to implement a continuous improvement policy and test everything.

Continuous improvement begins with best practices. Using the results from tests by others is a good way to insure that you will not reinvent their mistakes. Once the best practices are in place, testing different ways to engage customers and prospects is easier and more effective. Here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Measure Everything: Capturing every piece of data is important because it creates benchmarks for improvement. If the data isn’t immediately convertible to usable information, save it. Hard drives are cheap and trying to regenerate lost data is hard.
  2. Customize Welcome Emails: Subscribers from different sources have different expectations. Create customized emails that recognize the difference and speak directly to the recipients. If your email marketing service provider doesn’t have this capability and changing isn’t an option right now, speak to the persona most likely to become a long-term profitable customer.
  3. Capture Email Addresses at Point of Sale: Offering to email receipts reduces customer resistance to sharing information and provides a second opportunity to encourage program participation when people don’t automatically opt in.
  4. Give People a Tangible Reason for Signing Up to Receive Your Emails: Offering a discount on the next purchase encourages the sign-up and future purchases. If people don’t respond to the discount, test sending a reminder just before the coupon expires. (Note: if you don’t have the ability to identify the people who responded, don’t send the reminder. Doing so tells them that they weren’t recognized when they returned and undermines the relationship.)
  5. Offer People a Sign-up Choice Between Email and Text Messages: When given a choice, people are more likely to choose one than none. It simultaneously grows your email and mobile marketing programs.
  6. Use Pop-ups to Encourage Sign-ups: Pop-ups are the acquisition method that people love to hate. Forget the hate talk and go with the test results because it is also the method that delivers high response rates.
  7. Personalize Everything: Relationships are personal. Sending generic emails will not create loyal customers. Create an email marketing program that is personal and customized for individuals and you’ll get lifelong, highly profitable customers.
  8. Keep Your Data Clean: Email hygiene services verify your addresses and reduce spam risk. A good send reputation keeps the spaminators at bay, improves deliverability, and connects you to people interested in your products and services.
  9. Create Second Chance Offers for People Who Don’t Opt In: Automatically opting people in when they provide their email address for other reasons can reduce deliverability and your send reputation. Use a second chance offer to encourage people who didn’t opt in to change their mind.
  10. Segment Well: Sending the same email to everyone generates results. Creating specialized emails based on people’s behavior and preferences generates much better results. In addition to the immediate response, customized emails make people more likely to open and respond to future messages.
  11. Test Everything: General best practices are simply rules of thumb that provide a starting point for successful email marketing programs. The best way to optimize your program is to test different tactics and use the information to fine-tune future mailings.

Everything You Want to Know About Email Marketing … and More

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a great time for email marketing professionals to give their programs a much needed boost. That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about eM+C’s upcoming All About eMail Virtual Conference & Expo. This free virtual show will be held Nov. 10 and features industry experts discussing the hottest email marketing topics of the day, including:

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a great time for email marketing professionals to give their programs a much needed boost. That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you about eM+C’s upcoming All About eMail Virtual Conference & Expo. This free virtual show will be held Nov. 10 and features industry experts discussing the hottest email marketing topics of the day, including:

  • email marketing best practices and strategies;
  • tips to help improve your email acquisition efforts;
  • an analysis of email data management tactics;
  • best practices for integrating email and social media marketing;
  • strategies around successful email rendering; and
  • much more!

Click here to register for this free event.

As email marketers, I urge you to attend this can’t-miss opportunity to give your holiday emails the edge they need to stand out in this hectic time. I hope to “see” you there!

Four Email Marketers, My Gmail Account, and Why They Matter to You

Let me tell you the story of four marketers’ emails and their placement in my Gmail account. Trust me. Their story matters to you. I gave none of the four marketers permission to send me email. Yet, two are making it into my inbox. Two are being shunted off into my spam folder.

Let me tell you the story of four marketers’ emails and their placement in my Gmail account. Trust me. Their story matters to you.

I gave none of the four marketers permission to send me email. Yet, two are making it into my inbox. Two are being shunted off into my spam folder.

The four merchants are Walmart’s PictureMe Portrait Studios, Kmart, Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens Products.

The two marketers getting shunted off to my spam folder are PictureMe Portrait Studios and Kmart.

PictureMe Portrait Studios began sending me email after I had a mug shot taken for my website at MagillReport.com.

Somehow, Gmail recognized PictureMe Portrait Studios’ messages immediately as spam. I can only guess, but PictureMe Portrait Studios’ emails were probably being delivered to people’s spam folders long before they started spamming me.

Regular offers on having portraits taken sent without permission is probably prompting people to hit the spam button. How often does the average person want their portrait taken, after all?

Kmart started sending me email after I gave my address during a big-dollar purchase to Sears, its sister company under the Sears Holdings Corp. umbrella

Astoundingly, while Kmart’s email is being delivered into my spam folder, Sears’s email is being delivered to my inbox.

Why is that astounding? Because I gave permission to one of Sears Holdings’ brands and not the other to send email. Gmail has apparently somehow discerned this and is treating their email accordingly and they are the same company.

Meanwhile, Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens are getting delivered into my inbox. Weber-Stephens began sending me email after I bought a grill refurbishing kit from its online store. Cigar Auctioneer began sending me email after I did business with its parent, Famous Smoke Shop.

Neither had permission to send me email. Yet both their messages are marked as priority emails in my inbox.

Why? Because I open every single message I get from them. Weber-Stephens sends a recipe-of-the-week email every Friday. I look forward to them. I open them and I cook about half the recipes in them.

And because of Cigar Auctioneer, I haven’t paid retail prices for my hand-rolled smokes in months. I don’t always get my favorite brands, but boy do I save money.

And here is why my inbox experience matters to you: Email inbox providers are reportedly increasingly eying how individuals interact with their email to determine whether or not it’s spam. As a result, email is increasingly becoming more about engagement.

Translation: You can get a little fast and loose with your permission practices with customers as long as you send email they want and interact with.

Conversely, you can exercise the gold standard in permission practices-fully confirmed opt in where people must respond to a confirmation message in order to be added to your file-but if you send a bunch of unwanted crap, your messages will be treated as such.

Email inbox providers’ spam filters are designed to deliver email people want and filter out email people don’t want.

Send messages people want and you’ll be fine. It’s really that simple. Or not, depending upon what it is you’re selling.

Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens have fairly obvious advantages over other marketers. Their messages invoke thoughts of highly self-indulgent experiences. As a result, they stand a better chance of being welcomed than email from marketers whose products and services don’t invoke similar pleasurable thoughts.

So Cigar Auctioneer and Weber-Stephens can afford to be a little loosey goosey with their permission practices while Kmart and PictureMe Portrait Studios apparently cannot.

The lesson: Make an honest assessment of your product or service and what it represents to customers and prospects. Then make an honest assessment of the email program you’ve set up around it.

Can you honestly say people are likely to want your messages? If not, go back at it. Something needs to be changed.

Dealing With This Season’s Burned Out Subscribers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s On the Minds of Email Marketers

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood – or utilized – by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.
 

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood — or utilized — by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.

Two questions came up repeatedly (perhaps you struggle with these issues, too, and will share what you’ve learned or offer other questions that challenge your program’s success):

1. What can email practitioners do to keep up with their brethren on the social marketing side, who seem to get all the attention and new resources these days?

Just because social marketing hasn’t killed email (all the dire predictions are well dismissed by now), it doesn’t mean that email marketers can rest on their laurels. You have to continue to innovate and improve the experience for subscribers. Email marketers must prove that the channel can grow revenue in order to get more funding and resources.

First, the solution is in smart segmentation, intelligent content strategy and the discipline to match message cadence to the needs of different subscribers. Automation and triggering technology is readily accessible from most email broadcast vendors. Be careful, however, because just sending more and more messages won’t build long-term revenue opportunities. (It might generate revenue in the short term, which is why too many marketers fall into that trap.)

Email marketers must send more of the kinds of messages that subscribers value — e.g., post-purchase offers or reminders; information that helps to make renewal decisions; or tips on how to improve productivity, lose weight this summer or look good in front of your boss (or kids). Try the following three ideas for improved results, higher customer satisfaction and more executive attention:

* Segment and customize content that’s regularly consumed on mobile devices.
If you don’t know what this might be, ask your subscribers! Optimize your mobile rendering by trimming out images and unnecessary links. Streamline your content by sending shorter bits of info more frequently than one longer message.

* Treat customers and prospects differently. They have different relationships with your brand. Even simple segmentation can make a huge difference in relevancy and response — and lowering spam complaints.

* Send fewer generic messages and product announcements in favor of custom content based on customer status, product ownership and recent activity. For B-to-B marketers, acknowledge products customers already own, and celebrate things like anniversaries and renewals. For B-to-C marketers, sitewide sales can be effective, but only if they’re perceived as being somewhat unusual and unique. Customize sales for key segments of your audience, even if that means just changing the subject line or which content is at the top.

You can’t earn a response if you don’t reach the inbox — something that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. Mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and corporate system administrators are using reputation data pulled from the actual practices of individual senders to identify what’s welcome, good and should reach the inbox versus what’s “spammy,” unwelcome, and should go to the junk folder or be blocked altogether.

This creates both friction as well as opportunity. Email marketers must keep their files very clean, mailing only to those subscribers who are active and engaged. And to be welcome, they must create better subscriber experiences. Sender reputation is based on marketers’ practices and is the score of your ability to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response.

2. How do I break through the clutter of the inbox?

The inbox isn’t just more crowded, it’s fragmenting, becoming more device-driven and crowded. Only the best subscriber experiences will break through. The number one mistake email marketers make is forgetting about subscribers’ interests. It’s not about sending out “just one more blast” this week in order to make this month’s number. Do that too often and you’ll soon find your file churning and possibly all of your messages blocked due to high spam complaints (i.e., clicks on the Report Spam button).

Focus on building long-term relationships with your subscribers. Change your metrics to measure engagement and subscriber value, not list size or how many people bother to unsubscribe. What drives the business is response, sharing and continued activity.

Defy internal pressure to abuse the channel by sending only what’s relevant. Work hard to customize content and contact strategies to meet the life stages and needs of each key segment. Ensure that your email program contains content that’s right for the channel. Don’t duplicate with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make each channel sing with some unique and powerful value proposition. If you can’t think of one for each channel, then you probably don’t need to be in that channel after all. Tie your business goals to subscribers’ happiness and success. They’ll reward you with response, revenue and long-term subscription.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual event and my chat session! For everyone, let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Why Good Email Gets Blocked as Bad

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

There’s no shame here. Every email marketer gets blocked occasionally, even if you have permission or generally follow best practices. The best defense is good offense: Be knowledgeable on the root causes of blocking, respect subscribers and measure inbox deliverability.

This is no tree in the proverbial forest. If your messages don’t reach the inbox, they won’t earn a response. It’s not something that happens to “that other guy.” In fact, about 20 percent of legitimate, permission-based email marketing messages and newsletters never make it to the inbox, according to a study by Return Path earlier this year. (Full disclosure, I work for Return Path).

Any lift in inbox placement goes right to the bottom line. All your metrics (e.g., opens, clicks, page views, conversions, ad revenues, etc.) will rise concurrently. The good news is that marketers can absolutely impact how messages are treated by ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail, and corporate system administrators.

Do not delegate inbox deliverability — a very important step to ROI — even if you delegate delivery. Your email broadcast vendor or ESP can’t do this for you. It’s a shared responsibility. A good broadcast vendor will operate an efficient delivery system, give you full reporting that includes actual inbox placement (Note: this is NOT your bounce rate) and help you follow best practices. However, no vendor can control your message content, frequency and acquisition practices. The buck stops with the marketer or sender.

You need the following four things to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response:

1. A solid infrastructure. For either an in-house system or a vendor, check frequently to be sure you know that your infrastructure is sound (e.g., proper reverse DNS, MX records, authentication and volume throttling) and your bounces are managed properly. Make sure you fully understand the metrics used in reporting as well.

2. Low complaints. There’s a penalty for irrelevancy in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other channels. It’s called “complaints.” A complaint is registered every time a subscriber clicks the “Report Spam” button. It only takes a few complaints to get all your messages blocked at Yahoo, Gmail or corporations (which use many of the same data sources). Subscribers complain when they’re not happy or interested in your messages, even if they’re customers and gave you permission. They complain even when they claim to love your brand.

Yikes! Imagine what would happen if Yahoo or another major ISP blocked all your messages for the next 30 days (the length of time many deliverability failures take to correct). Revenue would drop like a brick and you’d be under the spotlight to explain why your mailing practices earned such a wallop.

Relevant messages have low complaint scores. It’s the single most powerful factor in a good sender reputation, which dictates if your messages reach the inbox and earn a high response. It’s up to marketers and publishers to engage subscribers with every message rather than assume an opt-in gives you license to send whatever you want whenever you want.

Increase relevancy by developing a subscriber-focused content strategy. Address the editorial needs, buying cycles and life stages of your subscribers. New subscribers may welcome more email than long-time subscribers — or the opposite may be true. Tailor messages for subscribers who are up for product or service renewal, have recently purchased, visited a particular section of your website, abandoned their shopping cart, clicked but didn’t convert, downloaded a whitepaper, or haven’t opened or clicked in the last quarter.

3. A clean file. Keep a clean list by doing the following:

  • Be sure everyone on your email marketing file really wants to be there. Offer choices and make it easy to unsubscribe and change preferences.
  • Try to win back fatigued subscribers who are ignoring you early in the relationship. If you see a customer hasn’t opened or clicked in the past 90 days, you may have an opportunity to re-engage.
  • If someone hasn’t opened or clicked in 12 months, take them off your file.
  • Only accept subscribers from legitimate sources — e.g., your own website, partners you vet carefully and publishers with high sender reputations. It may be nice to have a large file, but it’s always better to have a file that’s more responsive and engaged.

4. Good reporting. You can’t manage or optimize what you don’t know. Track complaint data by signing up for all ISP feedback loops, and quickly remove those subscribers who complain. (Detailed instructions can be found here.) Be sure you actually know your inbox deliverability rate, by campaign and message type. This is not your bounce rate (typically 1 percent to 5 percent), but the actual number of messages that reach the inbox. You must seed your campaigns to get this data. If your email broadcast system or vendor isn’t reporting this to you, ask them for it.

What are you doing to better manage inbox placement as part of your response metrics? Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.