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.).

Backlink Pruning: A Staple ‘Best’ Practice, Especially in Penguin’s Aftermath

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list. Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive. The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

Many direct marketers are familiar with the practice of list hygiene. In a nutshell, it’s going through your email file, looking at inactive, duplicate or bad emails, and removing them or “purging them” from your list.

Having a “clean” list means it’s more relevant and responsive.

The same holds true for backlinks … especially in lieu of recent Google algorithm updates like last year’s Farmer/Panda and this year’s Penguin, which penalize websites for low quality irrelevant content and backlinks.

It’s always a best practice, from a search engine hygiene standpoint, to monitor and “prune” your backlinks to make sure you don’t have spammy or irrelevant websites linking back to you.

And now more than ever, with Google’s latest update, it’s prudent to check your own website’s backlinks to ensure those who are linking to you are relevant and synergistic to your own site’s content.

Here’s what you need to know (and do!):

First, check out some free online tools that do this, known as “backlink checkers.” Some that I use are:

But there are many out there. You can simply type a search for “free backlink checker tool” and see which one appeals best to you.

Second, after you plug in your website’s URL in the backlink checker tool, go down the results list and see who’s linking back to you. Note: This is a laborious process, but well worth it; especially if you noticed your traffic and SERP placement dropped recently and you may have speculated that Penguin is to blame.

Next, identify the sites that appear to be irrelevant and non-related to your website—a site in a totally different industry or one that is blatantly spam. Then it’s simply the manual process of visiting the bad backlinks website and contacting them to remove the link going to your site.

If you happen to find dozens of irrelevant and potentially harmful websites, for the sake of time management, it’s best to create one form letter and send to each asking each site to remove its backlink to your site in an effort to avoid/recover from a Google penalty.

List the specifics about the irrelevant URL, such as where it can be found (its entire URL), where it links to (which page on your site), and any anchor text. Your goal is to give the other website as much useful information as possible so they can easily find the link and remove it from your site.

Sometimes, it’s easy to find contact information for the irrelevant backlink’s website owner. You simply visit the corresponding website link and search their site for contact information or a “Contact Us” page.

Other times it’s a bit harder, and you may need to do a bit of sleuthing and use some additional free tools to help determine the website’s owner. Such tools are:

  • Domaintools.com: If you want to find out who owns the site your link is on,
    visit domain tools or type “whois.sc” in front of a URL.
  • C-Class Checker: If you have a list of all the links you want to get rid of,
    you can run them through a bulk C-class checker to see how many of them
    are on the same C-class.
  • SpyonWeb: If you only have 1 URL to work with, this tool lets you find out

what other domains they are associated with. Just put in a website URL,
IP address or even the Google analytics or AdSense code and you can find
all of the websites that are connected to it. Keep a record of all efforts to
contact “bad links,” as it will show Google you’ve been making a good effort
to get rid of these irrelevant links.

If you received notification from Google or found that the Panda or Penguin updates have affected your website’s rank and SERP visibility and believe there may have been an error of some sort, there is some recourse …

Google has a quick and easy form you can fill out to pinpoint search terms that you believe you shouldn’t be penalized for.

Good luck!

How to Make a Billion: The Costs of ‘Undeliverable as Addressed’

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail. That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

The USPS recently shared some interesting data on the volume and cost of undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail.

According to the USPS, “Total UAA volume dropped from 9.3 billion pieces (4.71 percent of total mail volume) in FY 1998 to 6.9 billion pieces (4.11 percent of total mail volume) in FY 2010. (This reduction, while significant, falls far short of previous Postmaster General Jack Potter’s goal of reducing UAA mail by 50 percent by 2010.) Historically, UAA mail runs in the range of 4 percent to 5 percent of total mail volume, and the percentages of total volume vary by class of mail. Periodicals mail, for example, has a UAA percentage of about 1.5 percent, while Standard Mail usually runs about 6.75 percent. Interestingly, the volumes of UAA mail that the USPS forwards or treats as waste both experienced declines, but the volume of UAA mail that the USPS returns to sender actually increased.”

All this UAA is money down the drain to the mailers—who designed, produced and labeled it and applied its postage—and to the Postal Service that has to deal with its final disposition.

That tab was $1.3 billion in 2010, and that was just the cost to the Postal Service, which has to incorporate these costs into its rate-setting. Add to this bill the cost of 7 billion pieces that went nowhere near the intended recipient—and that’s a fortune off the bottom line. Some of this is inefficiency. Marketers in particular—primarily who use the Standard Mail category—must do a better job in data hygiene and the use of postal addressing and preparation tools.

It may be helpful, and profitable, for mailers to make sure they are undertaking every feasible effort to keep their mailing lists clean—and to avoid this hefty bill. The Direct Marketing Association has an online tool to help marketers make sure their list hygiene and data management efforts are up to par.

It’s called the Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator, and it’s based in part on the DMA’s “Green 15” Environmental Principles. But the green focus is dual in nature. Avoiding mail waste through proper data management also applies green—as in money—back to the bottom line! Consider these suggested activities from this planner to get back some of this billion-plus that are lost to UAA:

________________________________________________________

I. LIST HYGIENE AND DATA MANAGEMENT

Our company continually endeavors to manage data and lists in an environmentally responsible manner with a focus on reducing the amount of duplicate, unwanted and undeliverable mail [to both consumers and businesses]. To achieve our goals in this area [If applicable to the goals and/or nature of your organization, please select one or more of the following options.]:

A. We Maintain Suppression Lists

  • We maintain in-house do-not-market lists for prospects and customers who do not wish to receive future solicitations from us (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We maintain a more detailed suppression file that enables customers and prospects to opt off our organization’s marketing lists on a selective basis, such as by frequency or by category.

B. We Offer Notice & Choice

  • We provide existing and prospective customers with notice of an opportunity to modify or eliminate future marketing contacts from our organization in every commercial solicitation (as required by DMA’s Commitment to Consumer Choice).
  • We provide periodic notices and opportunities for prospects to opt in or opt out of receiving future marketing contacts from our organization.
  • We provide customers incentives (such as the offer of a discount on their next purchase) for notifying us of duplicate mailings and incorrect addresses.
  • We offer customers a choice to receive communications from our organization electronically.

C. We Clean Our Lists Prior to Mailing

  • We use the Direct Marketing Association (U.S.) Mail Preference Service (MPS) monthly on all applicable consumer prospecting lists. In addition to use of MPS, we maintain clean, deliverable files by using (Please check all that apply):
    • ZIP Code correction
    • Address standardization
    • USPS National Change of Address (NCOA)
    • Other USPS products such as
      • Address Element Correction (AEC)
      • Delivery Sequence File (DSF)
      • Address Correction Requested (ACR)
    • Predictive models and RFM segmentation
    • Other: (Please specify.)
  • We use the DMA “Deceased Do Not Contact” list to eliminate names of deceased persons from mailings.
  • We use the Foreign Mail Preference Service on applicable mailings to the United Kingdom, Belgium or Germany.
  • We use the mail preference services of other foreign national direct marketing associations, where applicable.
  • We [ encourage/ require] our client mailers to use MPS.
  • We [ encourage/ require] companies and organizations that rent our list of customers to screen consumer names through MPS, and to maintain their own do-not-rent and do-not-mail in-house name suppression lists.

D. We Merge/Purge Our Data

  • We match outside lists against each other to prevent duplicates.
  • We use match definitions in merge/purge that minimize duplicates.
  • We match outside lists against other commercially available suppression files where appropriate.

E. We Test Market Offers

  • We test a sample of a list before mailing or marketing to the entire list.
  • We test different versions of advertising and marketing offers, in mail and other media, to select those offers and media combinations that receive the best response.

For more information, see DMA Environmental Resource Guide, “Mailing List Management: A Key to Waste Reduction,” pages 63-70.

________________________________________________________

Now the entirety of the UAA issue is not attributable solely to less than adequate data management, but it is likely a good portion of it is. We know the DMA Board of Directors—in adopting its first environmental public goal which in part commits to reduce UAA by 25 percent from 2009 to 2013—very much intends for marketers to avoid losing these billions down the line.

The Postal Service is working closely with mailers and, vice versa, to tackle other ways to manage UAA and to reduce its volume. Certainly, Intelligent Mail barcodes will help, with the ability to track mail whereabouts in real time as it moves through the USPS’s processing and handling. “Return to Sender” UAA is the most costly for the Postal Service to handle, because of the return handling costs—that, too, needs attention.

In the very least, marketers also should work with their mail service providers most closely to design mail pieces for postal automation compatibility, to apply proper data management practices (as indicated by DMA, for example), and—as the USPS embarks on its network consolidation effort—to track their mail most precisely through the mail stream. A billion dollars and more are in the balance.

Helpful Links:
DMA First Public Green Goal, concerning List Hygiene

DMA Environmental Planner & Optional Policy Generator