Nurture Your Subscribers to Higher ROI in 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email Strategies & Tactics Exposed – An Insider’s Look at Mint.com

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about socializing email, and it makes a lot of sense. While social media is the hot topic of the moment and adoption continues to increase, many brands continue to struggle with measurement. In fact, according to a recent Mzinga and Babson Executive Education survey, 84 percent of professionals worldwide do not currently measure the ROI of their social media efforts.

Pretty shocking, considering the economic environment we’re in and the increased pressures placed on marketers to deliver results. On the other hand, email’s ROI has been analyzed to death and remains the most efficient marketing medium used today.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that these two communication and marketing powerhouses join forces to drive success and efficiency for today’s leading brands. The only questions that remain now are: “How?” and “Who’s doing it well?” One brand that’s been successful doing it to acquire new customers is Mint.com.

Launched in 2007, Mint.com has quickly become America’s No. 1 online personal finance service. Mint’s intelligent and easy-to-use approach to money management has quickly attracted more than 1.5 million users to date. Given its online audience and technologically savvy user base, Mint.com recently turned to the power of email marketing and socialized it to further drive new customer acquisition.

Building a successful social email marketing campaign
Taking the time to understand user motivations is key, and Mint.com did an impressive job in a recent campaign that tested a series of offers appealing to a diverse spectrum of user needs.

The winning campaign, analyzed below, appealed to Mint.com users’ desire to achieve “insider status” – or access to beta features and products prior to their rollouts to the general user base. In return, users were encouraged to tell friends. If three of those friends became Mint.com users, they would be granted exclusive access. The campaign also helped Mint.com identify key influencers – those who self-identified by indicating their desires to know more and demonstrating the ability to drive new users. In the end, the results were impressive – the effort drove one new user for every 2.6 invite clicks.

Looks like Mint.com is well on its way to making a mint thanks to some great planning and testing, and by combining two incredibly powerful and relevant mediums – email and social media. However, like all campaigns, Mint.com has a great opportunity to take it a step further by considering the following:

Testing personalization. Mint.com could strengthen its relationship with users by making it more personal and conversational. Using the subscriber’s/user’s name, such as “Dear Michael,” and signing the communication with an actual Mint.com employee (i.e., “Bob Smith, director of new product development”) may improve performance even further.

Add additional response mechanisms. The email might benefit from including a text link, in addition to the “Tell Your Friends About Mint.com” button, in case images are blocked.

Flagging responders for future marketing efforts. Given these users’ desire to know more and ability to drive new users, Mint.com should consider building an influencer communication program around these users to further leverage their knowledge and reach.

Great program with lots of learnings. Congratulations, Mint.com.

Note: Michael Della Penna currently sits on the board of directors at StrongMail Systems, Mint.com’s social marketing technology provider.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.