Email Marketing Is a Strategy Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Always Having a Solid Email Marketing Program

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

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

Email Marketing Keeps You Top of Mind

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

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

Email Messages Are Easy to Personalize

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

Email Is the Great Connector

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

You Own Email

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You

Content marketing success requires work before you begin writing, as well as after you’ve hit the publish button. Here are tips to help ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message.

To make your content marketing do more, you need to do more with it.

There are any number of reasons you may not be seeing the return you expect on your content marketing. Here are a few, and how you can address the issue to improve your results.

‘Write It and They Will Read It’ Is Wrong

Long gone are the days when anyone sane thinks that building a website will “automagically” win you an audience and convert that audience into paying clients. But there’s less clarity around the idea that simply publishing your content — even if it’s great content — is enough to power marketing properly. We see too many marketers doing just that.

The truth is that once you’ve published your content, you’re about halfway there. You still have the work of getting your content in front of the right audience. We can’t cover here all of the ways in which you can promote your content, but the list certainly includes social media, email marketing, paid digital advertising, and even old stalwarts like direct mail.

The goal is to reach beyond your existing network to attract new prospects. At the same time, you should be sure that what you’re writing encourages engagement. Will your prospects want to share it with their colleagues as they’re considering their options? Does it offer a different perspective than anything else out there?

You Haven’t Done Your Competitive Research

Speaking of which, do you know what kind of content your competitors are publishing? If you’re publishing the same kind of content and they already have a bigger audience, you face an arduous task.

There’s just so much content marketing going on now that if you’re not standing out from the crowd naturally, you’re going to have to work that much harder at the promotion and distribution we talked about above.

You’ll find it much more fruitful to stake a separate ground; either by offering a different perspective, concentrating on a very tightly defined niche, or differentiating yourself in some other way. Forget any ideas you have of doing the same thing better. Except in the rare cases where your competition is truly asleep at the wheel, better is going to be in the eye of the beholder, and you may not be as obviously superior as you think in their eyes.

Relevance Is Not Irrelevant

Finally, there’s the holy grail of knowing that what you write matters to your audience. In the B2B world, nobody is on your website because they have a few hours to kill and they’ve already watched all of the videos on YouTube. They’re on your website because they have a problem to solve.

If your content doesn’t help them solve that problem or give them a greater understanding of what they should be considering as they search for the best-fit solution, it isn’t going to get read. So even if you do everything else right — carve out a niche and promote your content to an expanding audience — you’re not going to see content marketing results, because you’re not going to attract the right audience.

And ultimately, that’s the goal of content marketing: attract the right audience in a way that gains their trust and moves them toward a decision — hopefully, a decision to work with you.

Purging (and Blocking) Bot Traffic From Email Reporting Metrics

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

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

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

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

A Cautionary Tale: Take 5 Media Group Shutdown

Gupta gave permission to share his Aug. 9 post:

Ajay Gupta
Ajay Gupta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day — Addressing the Unexpected in Content Marketing

You expect a zig but your prospects zag. Let’s look at how to prepare for outliers and other unexpected opportunities in your content marketing. 

You expect a zig but your prospects zag. Let’s look at how to prepare for outliers and other unexpected opportunities in your content marketing.

A day at the beach

As I write this, I’m at the beach. More accurately, I’m in a house near the beach waiting for an all-day soaker to move on and give us some sunshine. The weather forecast didn’t call for torrential thunderstorms, yet here we are.

Not that this was all bad. The view of the bay during the storm is beautiful and it brings to mind how even our best laid plans as content marketers don’t always mesh with the realities of our prospects’ plans. It doesn’t matter what the weatherman says if you look out the window and see something different …

Addressing the realities of the marketplace in which we operate is crucial. On the one hand, we have to be open to the idea that the assumptions we made as we planned our content marketing and put it into place may have been imperfect. And on the other, we should recognize that it can often be the outliers, the use cases that we didn’t account for, who are fantastic prospects. So how do we address these opportunities?

Websites and Control of the Narrative

On our websites, we need to give visitors the opportunity to explore. For all the effort we expend trying to control the narrative — and that’s generally effort well spent! — the web is a non-linear environment and even those in our audience who aren’t “power users” will still be eager to take advantage of the ability get where they want to go, regardless of where you want them to be.

So it’s important to walk the (admittedly fine) line between encouraging a particular course of action and hemming your visitors in. The former will increase your conversion rate; the latter will push visitors off your site, back to the search engine, and on to your competitors’ sites.

Content Presentation and Progressive Profiling

In an ideal content marketing world, we’d present only the content of interest to our audience. Meaning, we would know

  • Where each visitor is in his or her buying cycle
  • What his or her primary concern is
  • Who they are as an organization

And we’d be able to sue that information to serve up content custom tailored to their needs and situation.

Calls to Action

But we don’t live in an ideal content marketing world, so we have to build in flexibility that allows our audience to pick and choose, even if they’re not “ready” in our estimation, for what comes next. Most critically, we want our prospects to always be able to take action. Specifically, we want to make it as easy as possible for them to contact us easily and effectively.

That’s typically going to be email or phone, so you want to be sure that your prospects feel that they’re engaging with someone who can talk to them about their needs, not a switchboard operator or mail bot who is going to reroute them or get back to them days later. They’re making the effort now, they have an unmet need now, they want a response now.

Of course, we want to be careful that our calls to action aren’t so broad that they look to most visitors like a too-early ask, that uncomfortable moment when you haven’t earned their trust yet but are suggesting that you think you have.

If our systems are well built and we’re gathering data effectively, we should be able to influence and convince a variety of prospects to take the next logical step in their buying process. Have you evaluated your content marketing presence with the occasional rainy day in mind, rather than just the sunshine we all hope for?