Why Email Is an Easier Way to Establish User Identity

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users.

To better engage and monetize your audience, you have to know your audience. It’s no coincidence that the two platforms that command the majority of digital ad spend also collect the majority of first-party data on their users. To effectively compete with the duopoly and maximize audience value, publishers need the means to establish user identity, reconcile it across the multiple devices used day-to-day, and tie that identity to associated first-party data.

Of course, tackling the problem of user identity is easier said than done. Browser cookies are inherently transient, and result in different user identities for each of their devices. One common approach to resolving user identity is to add a registration layer, which effectively asks users to identify themselves. However, prompts asking site visitors to register or sign in are typically met with crickets. And customer profile or identity management technology that aims to resolve identity automatically often complicates an already-complex tech stack, only to achieve mixed results. Fortunately, establishing and reconciling audience identity can be as straightforward as tapping into technology you already have: email.

An Email Click Is a “Sign-In” to Your Site

For all its simplicity, email is a powerful key to user identity. As a direct link to the user, the email address is essentially a user’s home address on the internet, their identity. Publishers have long used this link to communicate directly with readers, but email doesn’t just allow you to reach your audience and bring them to your site. It identifies those audiences once they get there.

When readers click through an email link to your site, that click carries a token of that reader’s identity. This token is simply a unique ID on the URL that represent a known email address; you can work with your tech team to add one in your email platform. With this token on all email links and a little JavaScript on your website, each click functions as a sticky “sign-in” that establishes and reconciles visitor identity, regardless of whether that click takes place at home, on a mobile phone, on a work computer, and even on a brand new device.

An email click doesn’t depend on the user to explicitly sign-in. Onsite registration and sign in processes can only reconcile user identity if users consistently sign in — assuming you even convince your site visitors to register in the first place. There’s typically little incentive to complete a registration process (particularly when content is free), and even less incentive to stay signed in. Collecting a newsletter opt-in is generally a lower hurdle than setting up a username and password, and unlike user logins, each subsequent “sign-in” through the email address happens automatically.

Finally, email sidesteps the obstacles of customer identity or access management solutions, which use an array of tactics to identify users. While technologically advanced, these solutions aren’t infallible, as cookies are cleared and devices often replaced, leading to duplicate user profiles. Meanwhile, people tend to hang onto their email address for life, and email is the first thing they configure on new devices. This makes the email click a more reliable carrier of identity than cookies, registration credentials, or identity resolution technology.

Deriving Value From Audience Identity

Having established this “sign-in” to your site, you can collect first-party data about onsite behavior and content consumption and apply that session’s data to a consolidated user profile record. This gives you the ability to create a long-term user profile as long lived as that user’s email identity.

User behavioral data can be pushed into any number of existing platforms without requiring additional technology, for example Google Analytics, or customer data platforms (CDP). This consolidates your first-party data, with fewer additional systems in your ever-growing tech stack.

With audience identity and its associated data readily available for use across your channels, you can better engage and monetize your known audience. For instance, given that you already have the email address, you also already have an effective channel for putting data to use. With the direct link to your users that email provides, you can use enriched data to sell targeted audience segments to in-email advertisers, deliver personalized newsletter content, and nurture subscribers with marketing emails that closely align with their position in the customer lifecycle.

Another benefit of combining this new first party identity and data with your existing analytics instance is that it unlocks the historical data in your analytics you have already been collecting for years. This gives you deeper historical insight into user interests, allowing you to better answer questions about your readers and shape your content strategy to match your audience. When you know who your audience is, you are empowered to drive the most value from that audience.

Media Outlook 2019: Spell Marketing with a ‘D’

The January marketing calendar in New York has included for the past decade or so a certain can’t-miss event of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. In 60 fly-by minutes, 100-plus advertising and marketing professionals hear a review of the previous year in marketing spend, a media outlook for the current year and macro-economic trends driving both.

The January marketing calendar in New York has included for the past decade or so a certain can’t-miss event of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. In 60 fly-by minutes, 100-plus advertising and marketing professionals hear a review of the previous year in marketing spend, a media outlook for the current year and macro-economic trends driving both.

Bruce Biegel, senior managing director at Winterberry Group, keeps everyone engaged, taking notes and thinking about their own experiences in the mix of statistics regarding digital, mobile, direct mail, TV and programmatic advertising.

“We will be OK if we can manage the Shutdown, Trump, China, Mueller, Congress and Brexit,” he noted, all of which weigh on business confidence.

Suffice it to say, marketing organizations and business, in general must navigate an interesting journey. Biegel reports estimated U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 2.3 percent in 2019 down from 3 percent in 2018, while total marketing spending growth in 2018 had dipped below its historic level of exceeding two times GDP growth.

In 2019, we are poised for 5.3 percent growth in advertising and marketing spending a slight gain from the 5.2 percent growth of 2018 over 2017.

Watch the Super Bowl, By All Means But Offline Dominance Is Diminishing

Look under the hood, and you see what the big drivers are. Offline spending including sponsorships, linear TV, print, radio, outdoor and direct mail will spot anemic growth, combined, of 0.1 percent in 2019. (Of these, direct mail and sponsorships will each post growth of more than 3 percent, Winterberry Group predicts.)

But online spending growth display, digital video, social, email, digital radio, digital out-of-home, and search will grow by 15.5 percent. Has offline media across all categories finally reached its zenith? Perhaps. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1.

Credit: Winterberry Group, 2019

Digital media spend achieved 50 percent of offline media spend for the first time in 2018. In 2019, it may reach 60 percent! So who should care?

We do! We are the livers and breathers of data, and data is in the driver’s seat. Biegel sees data spending growing by nearly 6 percent this year totaling $21.27 billion. Of this, $9.66 billion will be offline data spending, primarily direct mail. TV data spending (addressable, OTT) will reach $1.8 billion, digital data $7.85 billion, and email data spend $1.96 billion (see Figure 2.)

Figure 2.

Credit: Winterberry Group, 2019

Tortured CMOs: Unless She’s a Data Believer

Marketing today and tomorrow is not marketing yesterday. If marketing leadership does not recognize and understand data’s contribution to ad measurement, attribution and business objective ROI, then it’s time for a new generation to lead and succeed. Marketing today is spelled with a D: Data-Driven.

Unfortunately we don’t have all the data we need to manage Shutdown, Trump, China, Mueller, Congress and Brexit. That’s where sheer luck and gut instincts may still have a valid role. Sigh.

Factors for Marketers to Consider in Attribution Rules

At the end of each campaign effort, a good database marketer is supposed to study “what worked, and what didn’t,” using attribution rules. Call it “Back-end Analysis” or “Campaign Analytics.” Old-timers may use terms like “Match-back.” Regardless, it is one of the most important steps in 1:1 marketing that is synonymous with what we used to call “Closed-loop Marketing.”

At the end of each campaign effort, a good database marketer is supposed to study “what worked, and what didn’t,” using attribution rules. Call it “Back-end Analysis” or “Campaign Analytics.” Old-timers may use terms like “Match-back.” Regardless, it is one of the most important steps in 1:1 marketing that is synonymous with what we used to call “Closed-loop Marketing.” (refer to my first article on Target Marketing from 11 years ago, “Close the Loop Properly”).

In fact, this back-end analysis is so vital that if one skips this part of analytics, I can argue that the offending marketer ceases to be a 1:1 or database marketer. What good are all those databases and data collection mechanisms, if we don’t even examine campaign results? If we are not to learn from the past, how would we be able to improve results, even in the immediate future? Just wild guesses and gut feelings? I’ve said it many times, but let me say it again: Gut-feelings are overrated. Way more overrated than any cheesy buzzword that summarizes complex ideas into one or two catchy words.

Anyhow, when there were just a few dominant channels, it wasn’t so difficult to do it. For non-direct channel efforts, we may need some attribution modeling to assign credit for each channel. We may call that a “top-down” approach for attribution. For direct channels, where we would know precisely who received the offers, we would do a match-back (i.e., responders matched to the campaign list by personally identifiable information, such as name, address, email, etc.), and give credit to the effort that immediately preceded the response. We may call that a “bottom-up” method.

So far, not so bad. We may have some holes here and there, as collecting PII from all responders may not be feasible (especially in retail stores). But when there was just direct mailing as “the” direct channel, finding out what elements worked wasn’t very difficult. Lack of it was more of a commitment issue.

Sure, it may cost a little extra, and we had to allocate those “unknown” responders through some allocation rules, but backend analysis used to be a relatively straightforward process. Find matches between the mailing (or contact) list and the responders, append campaign information — through what we used to call “Source Code” — to each responder, and run reports by list source, segment, selection mechanism, creative, offer, drop date and other campaign attributes. If you were prudent to have no-mail control cells in the mix, then you could even measure live metrics against them. Then figure out what worked and what didn’t. Some mailers were very organized, and codified all important elements in those source codes “before” they dropped any campaigns.

Now we are living in a multi-channel environment, so things are much more complicated. Alas, allocating each of those coveted responses to “a” channel isn’t just technical work; it became a very sensitive political issue among channel managers. In the world where marketing organizations are divided by key marketing channels (as in, Email Division vs. Direct Mail Division), attribution became a matter of survival. Getting “more” credit for sales isn’t just a matter of scientific research, but a zero-sum game to many. But should it be?

Attribution Rules Should Give Credit Where Credit’s Due

I’ve seen some predominantly digital organizations giving credit to their own direct marketing division “after” all digital channels took all available credit first. That means the DM division must cover its expenses only with “incremental” sales (i.e., direct-mailing-only responses, which would be as rare as the Dodo bird in the age of email marketing). Granted that DM is a relatively more expensive channel than email, I wish lots of luck to those poor direct marketers to get a decent budget for next year. Or maybe they should look for new jobs when they lose that attribution battle?

Then again, I’ve seen totally opposite situations, too. In primarily direct marketing companies, catalog divisions would take all the credit for any buyer who ever received “a” catalog six months prior to the purchase, and only residual credit would go to digital channels.

Now, can we at least agree that either of these cases is far from ideal? When the game is rigged from the get-go, what is the point of all the backend analyses? Just a façade of being a “data-based” organization? That sounds more like a so-called “free” election in North Korea, where there are two ballot boxes visibly displayed in the middle of the room; one for the Communist Party of the Dear Leader, and another box for all others. Good luck making it back home if you put any ballot in the “wrong” box.

Attribution among different channels, in all fairness, is a game. And there is no “one” good way to do it, either. That means an organization can set up rules any way it wants them to be. And as a rule I, as a consultant, tend not to meddle with internal politics. Who am I to dictate what is the best attribution rule for each company anyway?

Here’s How I Set Up Attribution Rules

Now that I am a chief product guy for an automated CDP (Customer Data Platform) company, I got to think about the best practices for attribution in a different way. Basically, we had to decide what options we needed to provide to the users to make up attribution rules as they see fit. Of course, some will totally abuse such flexibility and rig the game. But we can at least “guide” the users to think about the attribution rules in more holistic ways.

Such consideration can only happen when all of the elements that marketers must consider are lined up in front of them. It becomes difficult to push through just one criterion — generally, for the benefit of “his” or “her” channel — when all factors are nicely displayed in a boardroom.

So allow me to share key factors that make up attribution rules. You may have some “A-ha” moments, but you may also have “What the … ” moments, too. But in the interest of guiding marketers to unbiased directions, here is the list:

Media Channel

This is an obvious one for “channel” attribution. Let’s list all channels employed by the organization, first.

  • Email
  • Direct Mail (or different types of DM, such as catalog, First Class mail, postcards, etc.)
  • Social Media (and specific subsets, such as Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Display Ads
  • Referrals/Affiliates
  • Organic Search/Paid Search
  • Direct to Website (and/or search engines that led the buyers there)
  • General Media (or further broken down into TV, Radio, Print, Inserts, etc.)
  • Other Offline Promotions
  • Etc.

In case there are overlaps, which channel would take the credit first? Or, should “all” of the responsive channels “share” the credit somehow?

Credit Share

If the credit — in the form of conversions and dollars — is to be shared, how would we go about it?

  • Double Credit: All responsible channels (within the set duration by each channel) would get full credit
  • Equal Split: All contributing channels would get 1/N of the credit
  • Weighted Split: Credit divided by weight factors set by users (e.g., 50% DM, 30% EM, 20% General Media, etc.)

There is no absolutely fair way to do this, but someone in the leadership position should make some hard decisions. Personally, I like the first option, as each channel gets to be evaluated in pseudo-isolation mode. If there was no other channel in the mix, how would a direct marketing campaign, for example, have worked? Examine each channel and campaign this way, from the channel-centric point of view, to justify their existence in the full media mix.

Allocation Method

How will the credit be given out with all of those touch data from various tags? There are a few popular ways:

  • Last Touch: This is somewhat reasonable, but what about earlier touches that may have created the demand in the first place?
  • First Touch: We may go all of the way back to the first touch of the responder, but could that be irrelevant by the time of the purchase? Who cares about a Christmas catalog sent out in November for purchases made in May of the next year?
  • Direct Attribution: Or should we only count direct paths leading to conversions (i.e., traceable opens, clicks and conversions, on an individual level)? But that can be very limiting, as there will be many untraceable transactions, even in the digital world.
  • Stoppage: In the journey through open, click and conversion, do we only count conversions, or should the channel that led to opens and clicks get partial credit?

All of these are tricky decisions, but marketers should not just follow “what has been done so far” methods. As more channels are added to the mix, these methods should be reevaluated once in a while.

Time Duration (by Channel)

Some channels have longer sustaining power than others. A catalog kept in a household may lead to a purchase a few months later. Conversely, who would dig out a promotional email from three weeks ago? This credit duration also depends on the type of products in question. Products with long purchase cycles — such as automobiles, furniture, major appliances, etc. — would have more lasting effects in comparison to commodity or consumable items.

  • Email: 3-day, 7-day, 15-day, 30-day, etc.
  • Direct Mail — Catalog: 30-day, 60-day, 90-day, etc.
  • Direct Mail — Non-catalog: 7-day, 14-day, 30-day, 60-day, etc.
  • Social: 3-day, 7-day, 15-day, etc.
  • Direct Visit: No time limit necessary for direct landing on websites or retail stores.
  • General Media: Time limit would be set based on subchannels, depending on campaign duration.

Closing Thoughts

The bottom line is to be aware of response curves by each channel, and be reasonable. That extra 30-day credit period on the tail end may only give a channel manager a couple extra conversions after all of the political struggles.

There is really no “1” good way to combine all of these factors. These are just attribution factors to consider, and the guideline must be set by each organization, depending on its business model, product composition and, most importantly, channel usages (i.e., how much money bled into each channel?).

Nevertheless, in the interest of creating a “fair” ground for attributions, someone in a leadership position must set the priority on an organizational level. Otherwise, the outcome will always favor what are considered to be traditionally popular channels. If the status quo is the goal, then I would say skip all of the headaches and go home early. You may be rigging the system — knowingly or unknowingly — anyway, and there is no need to use a word like “attribution” in a situation like that.

A Popular Sales Email Best Practice to Avoid

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

Misrepresentation in cold email outreach and social selling is rampant. In fact, it’s becoming a mainstream idea. The result is a popular, yet ineffective, sales email best practice among inside sales teams.

I’m talking about blatant lying. Faking sincere interest in a prospect as a means to tricking them into a self-centered pitch and/or meeting request.

“What’s the biggest challenge you have as a vendor or service provider?” asks sales trainer, Scott Channell, in a recent blog post.

His answer: Your prospects don’t trust you.

“They have been on the receiving end of too many exaggerations and lies,” says Channell, who then asks, “How much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?”

Think this isn’t happening in your organization or daily practice? It may be.

What It Looks Like

“Hey, Jeff. Love what you’re doing at Communications Edge …”

Reality: The seller knows nothing about what my business is doing lately.

“Hi Jeff, I am very interested in what you are doing and wanted to invite you to combine forces to help your business have more exposure …”

Reality: In most cases, the sales rep is not interested in what I’m doing. Because they have no idea what I’m doing. The rep is interested in creating the illusion of interest … all aimed at earning my gullible response.

“Hi Jeff, I came across your website this weekend and was really impressed by your expertise. I was wondering if you had ever thought about teaching online? I think you could teach a great marketing class …”

Reality: The rep is not impressed. Because they’ve not examined my expertise. I’ve been teaching online for years. That fact is obvious if you invest 10 to 15 seconds in noticing. This seller could not be impressed by my expertise without noticing that fact.

Why do I mark such messages as spam, so quickly? Why are your potential customers doing the same?

Because I’ve made myself vulnerable once too many times. So have your customers.

We’re being trained by sellers to distrust sellers.

Saying whatever is needed to trick prospects into speaking is, currently, fair game. It’s a sales email “best practice.” Insincerity is, right now, a mainstream component of sales prospecting culture. So what’s the big deal?

Do Your Emails Reek of Insincerity?

Making ourselves vulnerable cuts both ways. It’s the open, kind thing to do when receiving an email appearing to be genuine. Offering consideration to anyone who asks for it, especially the sincere, is smart. Humans are programmed to naturally think positively — maintain an “abundance mentality.”

But trick me three or more times and shame on me! Hence, we all learn to distrust sellers who exploit our willingness to be vulnerable. Because it takes too much effort to sort the truly sincere from the (fake) “sincere.”

In the end, sales (and your brand) earns a bad reputation.

“Buyers have seen it all,” says Channell.

“As soon as they sense a whiff of insincerity, or that their time is being wasted, you are done. And for those that do agree to speak, the no-show rates (to meetings) are high and the closing rates are low.”

“Your closing rate is going to be lower when you start the relationship faking genuine concern and interest or rely on gimmicks. That sales relationship is built on sand.”

Lies? Misrepresentation? Surely this could not be true in your situation.

But if your inside sales team practices activity based selling (ABS) you may have reason to pause.

Most inside sales teams are becoming defacto marketers — ramping up activity “touch points” to scale outreach. More meetings or demos demand more emails, voicemails … more outreach.

This is leading to a dangerous need: Looking sincere, authentic and relevant to large numbers of people using mass email.

But is your sincerity being seen for what it actually is? (insincere)

The Problem With Activity Based Selling

The ABS culture, mentality and practice is all about the numbers. ABS helps managers know how many proposals it takes to get one deal… and how many meetings are required for a proposal… and, thus, how many calls and emails must be sent for one meeting.

With ABS, success is reduced to squeezing more activities out of inside sales reps. But there’s a hidden problem emerging: Communications techniques reps are resorting to when communicating “at scale.”

Lying. Insincerity.

Indeed, how much sincerity do you have to fake to earn trust?

To be fair cold emailing prospects isn’t about earning trust. It’s about earning a response. I get that. But how effective is it to earn replies using an insincere advance?

What kind of conversations can you expect? In my experience you may earn conversations with unsuspecting prospects. But once you engage in honest discussion (revealing your trickery) they quickly back out of the “conversation.”

Have you ever traded emails (or LinkedIn messages) with someone and suddenly realized, “hey… wait a minute, this isn’t about me after all… this ‘conversation’ is purely about them! They tricked me into listening to a sales pitch!”

Let’s set aside the issue of sabotaging one’s ability to close deals. How many times does it take for prospects to learn the pattern—becoming skeptical about all all inbound emails they receive?

A Sales Email Best Practice That Isn’t

“I talked to a team last week who was sending automated emails on their first touch and getting a 1.5% reply rate,” says Ryan O’Hara, VP or Marketing at LeadIQ.

“I asked the sales manager, ‘Hey … why are you guys doing something that only works 1.5% of the time?’ … they told me… ‘We need to hit our activity goal.’”

“We ran our numbers across the entire sales team and the results showed that we have to do 150 activities a day to hit our stretch goal for the year. We need each sales rep to get one or two good responses a day … to hit their quota of 10 opps per month.”

Not surprisingly, O’Hara reports the sales team had a 4.8% unsubscribe rate. The client was pushing more people out of their funnel than putting in.

Examine your sales communications technique today for any faux sincerity and misrepresentation. Seek and destroy!

Direct Mail: Create USPS Informed Delivery Ads

What is USPS Informed Delivery? It allows customers who sign up to receive emails with grey-scale images of the address side of letter-sized mail pieces that have processed through automated equipment. Why is this helpful for companies that send direct mail?

What is USPS Informed Delivery? It allows customers who sign up to receive emails with grey-scale images of the address side of letter-sized mail pieces that have processed through automated equipment. Why is this helpful for companies that send direct mail? You are now able to send the post office your artwork along with your mail.dat file to be included in the email that is sent to customers with a link to a web page of your choice for the campaign. Basically, customers get a digital preview of their mailbox. This means that prior to getting your mail piece, people can click on your link and start buying.

Here is an example:

How it works:

  • Your content is associated with an individual mail campaign. You can run multiple campaigns at one time for a single mailing. You may also run multiple mailings and campaigns simultaneously.
  • Each campaign is triggered by and mapped to a single Mailer ID that is used on the mail pieces. You may set a date range, as well.
  • Mailers can also use the Serial Number range within the Intelligent Mail® barcode to provide a greater level of personalization.
  • When a mail piece scan for an enrolled Informed Delivery user and the MID or Serial Number in the IMb is associated with an active mailer campaign, the customer will see your customized content that you provided to the USPS.

If you would like more detailed information you can check out the USPS guide at: https://www.usps.com/business/pdf/informed-delivery-interactive-campaign-guide.pdf

This is an easy way to add a channel to your direct mail. Since customers have signed up to get the emails you can easily provide color artwork they will want to click on. So what do you need to qualify to participate in this program?

  1. Mail pieces must be automation compatible
  2. Mail pieces must contain a valid IMb
  3. You or your mail service provider must be IMb certified

This is a free program, so why not try it out and see if your customers like it?

How to Participate:

The process is simple; you create and send the normal hardcopy mail, then provide USPS with your image content and web address. There are two ways you can run informed delivery campaigns:

  1. Ride-along Image and Target URL: This campaign includes the USPS gray scale scanned image of the letter-size mail piece and an image provided by the mailer. This image is placed below the gray-scale image in the email. The Ride-along Image is clickable and so is the “Learn More” link. These are both linked to the same URL.
  2. Representative Image, Ride-along Image, and Target URL: In addition to the required Ride-along Image and URL, this dual campaign includes an image that is provided in lieu of a flat-size image or in place of the gray-scale letter-size image. In this version, your images are static, they are not clickable. The images must be clearly branded and must be directly related to the hard copy mail piece. One more thing, images are optional for letter-size mailings; but required for a flat-size mailing.

Now you are ready for the required components to actually do your campaign:

  • Campaign Display Name
  • Campaign Title
  • Campaign Code
  • Campaign Start Date
  • Campaign End Date
  • MID on Piece
  • IMb Serial Number Range
  • Image and URL
  • Images must not exceed 200 kilobytes
  • Images must be in JPEG (.jpg) format
  • Images must meet minimum or maximum pixel height/width, which varies per image type
  • Images must be representative of the brand or mail owner and directly related to the mail pieces

Now you are ready to submit your campaign. There are two ways to submit an Informed Delivery campaign, via the Mailer Campaign Portal or PostalOne!. The Mailer Campaign Portal is currently in beta testing. With PostalOne! mailers enter campaigns. You may also edit campaigns here. Are you ready to get started?

The Future of Email Marketing in a Creepy Data World

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subject, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like? At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed.

For years, the future of email marketing has been seen as tied to increasing data integration and personalization. But in a consumer data world that appears increasingly creepy to its subjects, not to mention increasingly regulated, what does the future of email look like?

At Emma’s Marketing United, marketers working for GasBuddy, Taco Bell and more talked about where this channel is headed during the session “The Future of Email.”

Data, Trust and Your Email Program

“If 2017 was about what you could do with email,” said Logan Baird, design services lead at Emma, “2018 is really talking about why we make these choices about our email marketing programs.”

Email Marketing has always been a value exchange. Subscribers exchange their opt-in and personal data for the perceived value of what you’re going to send them. But as the channel has evolved, the nature of that exchange, the data you collect and the value you are able to offer for and with that data has shifted.

“Email at its best uses that one-to-one relationship with the person,” said Baird. “But to do that, you need data.” And using data for marketing today is a conversation that’s gotten to be a little creepy for your subscribers.

“It’s really important that when we are collecting data, we’re really transparent about why we’re collecting it and how it’s going to be a benefit to the user,” said Cher Fuller, senior strategist or eROI, who handles Taco Bell’s marketing.

She emphasized that it’s really a combination of transparency about data collection, and delivering solid benefits in return for sharing it, that mark the boundary between what’s OK and what’s creepy .

Melanie Kinney is the email marketing manager for GasBuddy, which tracks gas station prices and other driving-related data via input from app users. Those app users contribute a lot of data to gas buddy’s efforts, but also see significant benefits.

“This is a difficult topic in general,” said Kinney. “Of course, we’re asking you to share a lot of your data, but when you opt-in, we’re able to tell you important things about your driving.” And of course, the main benefit is the information and the app help users save money on gas.

But Kinney has to be careful in how GasBuddy uses the information it has in email communication. Email is better for ongoing communication, but she said mobile push alerts are better for immediate notifications. For example, if GasBuddy is using geo-location to reach out to a person about gas stations near where they are, that’s a job for push notifications, not really email. Via push, it’s helpful. Via email, it’s feels kind of like stalking — creepy.

‘People Marketing’ vs. ‘Brand Marketing’

“Email is one of the most personal channels that exists,” said Fuller. “Email’s really interesting because we can actually personalize it for the people who we’re sending it to.”

However, Fuller pointed out that the personal touch is exactly why you need to be careful in how you use email.

“I’m a really big advocate for people marketing and not brand marketing,” she said. “Give them content that’s worth engaging with, that they look forward to, so your open rates stay good and your engagement rates stay good.” That’s people marketing.

On the other hand, “brand marketing,” in Fuller’s analogy, is when brand’s use email to force people to consumer the brand’s message, not a message that’s tailored to them.

“When brands try to use their email to say ‘Hey, buy this! But this! Buy this!,’ it’s a little annoying.” Fuller compares it to the friend who asks you to help them move again and again, and you stop answering the phone. “If I know the only email I’m going to get from you is asking me to buy something from you, I’m going to get annoyed.”

Providing Value for the Data

There’s a school of email thinking that has always said send more, make more offers, and you’ll make more sales. And in many tests, the raw numbers hold up. Even when over-saturation drives up opt-outs, the bottom line can look like a win.

But if you’re not delivering personal value for permissions, data and trust those subscribers have given to you, you’re damaging your brand.

Why 97% of Sales Email Messages With Questions Don’t Work

Two of the most popular writing strategies in B2B sales email messages fail to provoke desired behaviors. Especially replies. Instead, they put your customer in a vulnerable position.

sales email messagesTwo of the most popular writing strategies in B2B sales email messages fail to provoke desired behaviors. Especially replies. Instead, they put your customer in a vulnerable position.


I’m talking about asking prospects questions and/or offering persuasive research.

Both tactics fail or under-perform. Because both result in tipping-off customers to your motive:

To sell … before they’re ready to be sold to.

These tactics reek of persuasion. While marketers think persuasive copywriting is good, it’s not.

Copy that openly allows customers to persuade themselves — if, and when, they’re ready for it — delivers consistently more value to both sides. Especially if you are trying to get a meeting with the CEO using email.

Are You Asking Customers to Become Vulnerable?

Are you asking prospects to:

  • Answer questions leading to an outcome you want?
  • Be persuaded by third party research to form a conclusion you want?

If so you are asking customers to become vulnerable. Nobody likes feeling vulnerable. Hence, your email (or even website) copy may be under-performing or not performing at all.

Because your persuasive tone screams, “I’m trying to persuade you … answering (at all) will entrap you!”

Example: I recently received this response after requesting a demo from a software provider.

Thank you and Communications Edge for your interest in learning about our award winning [software tool]!

I am eager to hear from you and what you are looking to get out of your LMS package.

In order to give you a more detailed pricing quote, do you mind answering a few questions:

  • Are you training staff or external partners?
  • If external, will you be selling the courses?
  • How many learners are you expecting on a month to month, year to year basis?

Who says I want — or am qualified to request pricing?

Why would a seller communicate, “I’m going to ask these questions specifically to size-you-up for a quote” before discovering if a price quote is appropriate?

Wouldn’t it make better sense to ask me (a potential buyer), “What is your current LMS solution and/or why would you not build your own LMS?”

Of course it would.

But this solution provider’s rep didn’t ask me that. Because in his twisted world it wouldn’t serve him. After all, I just requested a demo.

I must be ready to buy! Or I’m darned close.

Wrong and wrong.

Those conclusions are both foolish and blindly abundant thinking.

Perhaps you may not think “Why would you not build your own tool?” is smart. But have you considered how this question is neutral? It pushes against making a quick sale.

Therein lies the power. Sound like David Sandler’s “negative reverse” technique? Indeed! It can be very effective.

Effective at qualifying a purchase for both buyer and seller? No. Effective at qualifying a discussion about a potential purchase … if and when the purchase is right for the buyer.

The Role of Questions

The role of questions in effective cold email messages is to serve. The client! In doing so you serve yourself: Clients “qualify-out” themselves. Customers will gladly tell you if they’re going to purchase, when and why … if you will kindly not rush it.

Too often we see questions being used to qualify buyers and/or entrap them. Both cause your email messages to fail or under-perform.

Another rep recently sent this question to me, paragraph No. 1, cold:

“Hi, Jeff. Would you like to increase distribution of your training modules? I am contacting you because I would like to bring [company] to your attention.”

Of course I’d like to, you dope. But then it gets worse … he tells me his intention is 100 percent about his need to place a solution. This isn’t about my need at all. Just to be clear!

First this rep tries luring me with a question that, if I answer, obviously makes me vulnerable to a sales pitch. But just in case I miss his intention he spells it out clearly for me!

The above reps want to sell LMS software to me … more than they care if this is, at all, a fit for me. Prefacing questions with “I’m asking you these questions to push a quote on you” literally screams “I’m going to jam this sale through as fast as I can … game, Jeff?”

In the first example, exploring the nature of my demo request could be saving him time. Time is money. (if you’re this reps’ boss this should trouble you!)

There are a myriad other problems with this message. For example, how does communicating, “I’m eager to show off” benefit me, a potential customer?

BANT Is Killing Us

Rather than a servant leadership mentality (and practice model) there is a pervasive “BANT mentality” (Budge, Authority, Needs and Timeline) dominating sales email messaging. Especially inside sellers.

It’s giving us a bad name, wasting resources and losing accounts.

All by promoting a communications technique which helps customers feel vulnerable to pitches that want to happen way, way too soon.

Help the prospect see your questions as neutral to your bias to sell. In other words, don’t help them feel your question is self-serving. Instead, aim your question at their decision-making process … to spark curiosity.

What is your experience with questions? How are you using them to serve customers and your lead qualification process?

Fueling the Little Engine That Could

In our compulsion to always be in the fast lane, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time, direct mail was our principal medium of marketing communications and not incidentally, made some of its best practitioners millionaires.

direct mail
“Mailboxes in ivy,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Ryan McFarland

Summer Gould’s recent useful article, “How Direct Mail Is Your Little Engine That Could,” is a helpful reminder for those of us who like to believe we are always at the leading edge of technology-driven marketing. In our compulsion to always be in the fast lane, it’s easy to forget that once upon a time, direct mail was our principal medium of marketing communications and not incidentally, made some of its best practitioners millionaires.

That said, it is also worth recognizing that while the little engine can chug along and “snail mail” gives us the opportunity to put varied and interesting messages into the hands of potential consumers, that little engine needs a good deal of fuel and that fuel is increasingly expensive. According to Ms. Gould: “The average prospect needs to see your mail piece seven to 10 times before buying from you. So a well-planned direct mail program includes multiple drops with various mailers and postcards.”

That’s an expensive statement and raises the question: How much fuel do we need to get the little engine up and over the hill to bring us an order? Perhaps Gould is being too pessimistic. Seven to 10 mailings to get a purchase is almost certain to be wildly expensive and not economic unless your product is very, very expensive.

One way of looking at this is to calculate the cost-per-order (CPO) at different response rates and numbers of mailings to reach the desired response. In this case, 44 sales. Using Bizo and Epsilon data, the DMA’s benchmark says that “direct mail achieves a 4.4 percent response rate.” While that is a higher average return than is informed by my experience, let’s go with it, anyway.

Rosenwald chart
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

As we can see, direct mail at a 4.4 percent response rate, for every thousand mailed at a total cost of $1,000 per thousand, the marketer would have 44 orders on a single mailing, each costing $22.73. Assuming he could afford to spend 25 percent of his revenue for marketing, he would need at least a $91 or higher product price to justify just a single mailing. Each one thousand mailing would cost the marketer about $1,000. Whether we like it or not, that’s the cost of the little engine’s fuel. And if he had to mail the prospect three times to get the same 44 orders, his order cost would rise to $68.18 which would suggest that his product selling price would have to exceed $250.

On a CPM basis, as we know, email is likely to be only approximately 1/10 as expensive. Email costs are so varied that it is difficult to establish meaningful comparisons, but $10 per thousand emails sent is as good a rule of thumb as any. Using as our baseline industry average open and “clickthrough” rates, we see that to achieve that same 44 sales, converting clickthroughs to sales at 70 percent, it would be necessary to email 10 times. Even so, the total bottom-line cost would be only just under $100.

In this head-to-head comparison, on the basis of pure cost and response, the little engine would have been overwhelmingly beaten by email. The risk:reward ratios certainly favor email.

As we all know, CPO is only one variable. Of high importance is the comparative ease and speed of email, the ability to test quickly and accurately with small quantities and best of all, the ready availability of comprehensive data permitting large quantities to be analyzed and segmented quickly and easily. But as the figures demonstrate, just opting for email because it is much “cheaper per thousand” doesn’t address the key marketing economic issue: How much do we have to pay for an order and can we afford it? Looking at the entire smorgasbord of media from this perspective is essential.

While marketing costs per thousand and response percentages follow more or less predictable patterns, how much any product or service, single sale, continuing sale or subscription can afford to acquire a new customer depends totally on its own economics; how much the marketer is prepared to risk and how soon he expects to get his investment back.

Direct mail may well be the little engine of choice for many good reasons. But before taking a ride on it, it would be prudent to compare its costs and risks to other media.

Effective Sales Emails Don’t Use These Techniques in 2018

Trying to start conversations with potential clients using cold email or LinkedIn Inmail? Most sellers are. But are you sabotaging yourself by sending prospects the following?

Mobile emailTrying to start conversations with potential clients using cold sales emails or LinkedIn Inmail? Most sellers are. But are you sabotaging yourself by sending prospects:

  • a template you found while Googling?
  • a subject line starting with RE:?
  • messages with words like hope, love & “looking forward to” in them?
  • follow-ups using words like “bubble up” or “fall through the cracks”?
  • phony complements, automated or artificial intelligence-driven messages?
  • messages starting with questions biased to answers you’re looking for?
  • PDF attachments or videos?

Any of these look familiar? Most of these tactics are failing sellers… or will fail you soon. Simply because they’re not creative.

They lack originality. These tactics scream lazy, un-researched, marketing-style spam.

“Don’t turn your sales reps into mini marketers, please. Sales is context. Sales has to put context around the content,” says sales trainer John Barrows.

“If you’re not you’re no different than marketing … your template email is crap.”

Use phrases like, “Would you like to know more or do you have any questions for us?” at end of your messages.

Tricky or Burnt-out Subject Lines

Cute, tricky or over-used subject lines are the leading cause of sales email failure. Your subject line will fail to provoke curiosity (get opened) if you:

  • try to dupe your reader into opening like: “RE: Did you see this?”
  • use more than five words
  • specify what is inside your email
  • use an obvious subject line that pops into your head

Some of my students do have success tricking clients into opening. I discourage it. Dishonesty is never worthwhile — even if it works near-term.

For example, one student selling trade show services to marketers uses “the artwork” in his cold email subject line… to dupe customers into thinking his message is project-related. It gets him opened. But for how long and at what long-term cost to his (and his company’s) reputation?

Sellers with the strongest email open rates are using 2-3 words maximum. This exploits the nature of a cold email subject line: It should be provocative and vague.

Beware of words that telegraph what you want to talk about with your prospect. Don’t let on to the message inside the email. If you do it will most likely be deleted or put-off until later (a.k.a. never).

Never, ever, ever use an email subject line that just popped into your head. Any idea how many other people like you are doing this? The result is dozens of inbound emails coming at your prospects—most being spammy and looking precisely the same.

Subject lines get burnt-out fast. So fast!

Using weak subject lines trains customers to delete your message.

All the Wrong Words

Are you writing introductions like this?

“Hi Jeff,

Out of respect for your time, I thought an email might be less disruptive than an unannounced phone call. I was hoping to offer you qualified leads for your sales team to close.”

Or this?

“Hi, Jeff,

I’m a co-founder at XYZ Company. We’re a startup developing a new technology to debug large scale production environments …”

Or this?

“I wanted to find out if you have any design needs at ____ [insert target company]. We can increase sales, engagement, conversions and more through our design strategies. Interested? Email me back. I’d love to chat.”

As a sales coach I see these lazy, failing email messages by the dozens each week.

Here’s the problem: Templates you’ve found on Google. Guess what … everyone has Google. Billions of people. Most sellers are too lazy to get creative. Hence, they use email templates others (falsely) claim work.