Get Ready for 2013: Email Marketing Redefined

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen.

How much time do you spend thinking about your email marketing strategy? If you are like most marketers, juggling multiple channels in an ever changing marketplace doesn’t leave much time for contemplating the whys and wherefores in any area.

Would you make the time if you knew that changing your email marketing strategy could make your job easier, increase revenue, and improve customer acquisition and retention? Email campaigns can do it all, but they have to be carefully planned and orchestrated to make the good things happen. The way people access information and connect with each other is changing rapidly. Your email marketing has to adapt or die.

The best strategy is multifaceted with specific processes that move people for one stage to another. It provides access to the content via the technology that fits your customers and prospects. The people who subscribe to your messages aren’t always at their computers. Your content and how it is delivered has to adapt to their needs.

The first step in creating a comprehensive strategy is defining the purpose of your email marketing. Do you want to acquire more customers? Sell more products and services? Keep customers happy? Reduce operating costs? Or, is it all of the above?

The four primary objectives for email campaigns are:

  • Customer Acquisition
  • Sales
  • Customer Retention
  • Service

Each objective requires a customized strategy designed to move people from original contact to completion. Everything varies from the point of origin forward. The messages that sell the latest products to seasoned customers are rarely as effective with prospects. Creating a specific process for each objective moves email marketing from generic blasts to targeted marketing that connects with people. There can be some crossover, but in general, every email sent needs a specific objective and clearly defined success metrics.

Start the planning for 2013 by reviewing 2012. How many customers were acquired via emails? What percentage of sales is directly attributed to email campaigns? What percentage of sales was influenced by email marketing? How does customer retention for people who subscribe to your emails compare with those who don’t? How do service metrics compare for subscribers versus non-subscribers? You have to know where you are before you plan the journey to your destination.

Next, look at the content of the emails sent in 2012. Does it match the information in your analysis? Are there exceptions? For example, if the majority of the emails were sales promotions, then a low customer acquisition rate and strong sales generation would be expected. If there are any exceptions, try to identify the elements that made people act.

The last part of the 2012 review is looking at segmentation and consistency. Was your list segmented so people received emails targeted by behavior, or did everyone on your list receive the same emails? How often did each group receive messages? Is there a pattern of response in relation to timing? Are all of the emails branded so your company is easily recognized?

The 2012 review provides a benchmarking foundation so you have a reference point for comparison. The review process often triggers ideas and awareness that can be used to maximize the return in 2013. Document your thoughts and any metrics readily available for future reference.

It is time to look forward to the New Year. What do you want to accomplish with your email marketing in 2013? The best strategies have a balanced approach to accomplishing the four primary objectives. They attract new customers, keep existing ones happy and generate revenue while reducing operating costs.

Identifying specific targets provides goals and accountability. How many customers do you want to acquire? What are your direct and indirect sales goals? How much should your retention rate increase? What effect do you expect on service levels and operating costs?

There are many questions to be answered in the process of creating a comprehensive email marketing strategy. The better the answers, the more likely your email program will succeed. Investing the time and resources required to do this right is guaranteed to generate a solid return on investment.

This post is the first in a series on developing a comprehensive email marketing strategy.

Email’s No. 1 Misunderstood Metric

So you’re sitting around a conference table discussing your company’s email marketing and someone starts talking about the program’s open rate. To the uninitiated, common sense says “open rate” refers to the average percentage of emails that get opened. … But that’s not what it means all.

So you’re sitting around a conference table discussing your company’s email marketing and someone starts talking about the program’s open rate. To the uninitiated, common sense says “open rate” refers to the average percentage of emails that get opened.

But that’s not what it means all.

An “open” is recorded when the receiving machine calls for graphics from the sender.

With most email inbox providers blocking images by default these days, a lot of email is getting opened and not registering as such.

At the same time, email landing in boxes using so-called preview panes—those small windows that allow users a glimpse into their email’s content—will register as having been opened whether the receiver read it or not.

So the open rate is useless, right?

Well, not really. While the open rate has been widely criticized—including, at some points, by me—it can be useful as long as it’s used correctly.

While it can’t be measured with even close to 100 percent accuracy, the open rate can serve as a barometric measure.

For example, it can indicate how engaged recipients are with a marketer’s brand. A high open rate means people are making the effort to turn on the graphics in the company’s messages, indicating they’re highly engaged.

Not surprisingly, though, open rates can be misleading. A newsletter I once edited, Magilla Marketing, had a low open rate, but at least one advertiser determined I had a highly engaged readership based on its ad activity.

The issue? Our designers had designed the newsletter so well it was highly readable without the graphics turned on.

In any case, what’s an average open rate? According to email service provider Epsilon, the average open rate across all the industries it tracks for the first quarter of 2011 was 23.3 percent.

However, open rates in the report varied widely from industry to industry, from a low of 14.1 percent for retail apparel to a high of 37.4 percent for financial services.

And like response rates in direct mail, open rates will vary widely from marketer to marketer even within the same industries based on many variables, such as how the list was built, how much email the firm sends, the types of messages it sends and the types of offers.

Nonetheless industry benchmarks can serve to manage expectations.

Where an email program’s open rate can really be useful, though, is when it changes.

If it’s going up, it means the sender is doing something right and recipients are getting more engaged with the brand.

If it’s plummeting, it means the marketer has probably begun doing something wrong. For example, maybe the marketer just added purchased names to the file-a big no-no-and email inbox providers have begun treating the marketer’s messages as spam.

Also, if opens begin plummeting in addresses managed by a specific ISP, say, Gmail, it means something has happened on Gmail’s end that needs to be investigated.

The open rate can be quite useful. But it needs to be understood, first.

How to Find the Right Mobile Marketing Vendor

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

Question 1: What type of vendor do you want?
Mobile marketing vendors come in all shapes and sizes. Some specialize in particular solutions, while others offer a wide range of capabilities. From application platforms to service providers, vendors may focus on any or many of eight basic pathways to mobile marketing: SMS, MMS, email, voice/IVR, proximity (Bluetooth, WiFi), mobile internet, apps and content.

Think about what type of mobile capabilities you need to create the user experience you’re seeking. Is it couponing, loyalty programs, customer care or something else? What about enabling services, like location or contactless payment? Finally, consider both short- and long-term factors surrounding the longevity of your campaign and future reinventions of it. These factors will certainly play into your decision to work with a multiservice or specialized vendor.

A resourceful place to start your search is the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) online directory of members who offer mobile marketing services. These vendors are certainly up-to-speed on mobile advertising guidelines and consumer best practices. For SMS campaigns, you should also check out the Common Short Codes Administration’s “Partners” page.

Question 2: How will you qualify your vendor?
Whether you’re searching for a full-service vendor or for support to help you build it in-house, be sure to consider the following:

  • Experience. How extensive is the vendor’s mobile experience and relationships within the industry? Ask for current references and review their past campaigns.
  • Industry leadership. Make sure the vendor is a member of MMA, or at least following the industry’s best practices and standards of care. Check if it belongs to related trade associations that are unique to your business. Membership in industry organizations demonstrates that the provider is continually learning and adapting to changes.
  • Expertise. Confirm that the vendor has expertise in your desired platform, along with analytics, strategy, creative and execution. If the provider says it’s an expert in “all of them,” drill down and find out who they work with or who they’ve recently acquired — no one firm can be an expert in everything!
  • Capabilities. Does the provider already have the capabilities to deliver on what you need, or will it have to develop something special for you? If it already has the capabilities, it can show you immediately.
  • Capacity. Consider the scope and reach of your campaign. How many text messages per second/per hour can the platform handle, for example? If you’re a national brand running a national SMS campaign and it’s really successful, you better make sure the platform can handle millions of messages an hour. Ask to see reports that prove it can support your messaging traffic. Beyond total/average volume alone, be sure to ask about peak spikes, meaning the maximum number of messages supported during a specific time.
  • Disaster recovery. Is the vendor prepared for a catastrophe? What will it do if its data center loses power or if a server fails? Ask how quickly it can get back into service. If they’re industry leaders, they’ll have a redundant data center and can be back up in minutes with no loss of data.
  • Pricing. As one of the last criteria considered, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you pay a little amount for your platform, don’t expect a lot of service or support.

To learn more, visit the MMA online, follow it on Twitter and don’t miss our upcoming MMA Forum series in New York, June 8-9.

Postal service in Finland tries an experiment that direct marketers will despise

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer. I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail.

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer.

I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail … and that it’s hard as hell to open an envelope by ourself. The UK Telegraph writer begins the story smartly, sounding the alarm bells: “Not even the most intimate love letters, payslips, overdue bills and other personal messages will be spared under the controversial scheme.”

Of course, few of us get love letters anymore, but that doesn’t mean we relish the idea of others checking out our credit card bills. One commentator on a forum called the experiment straight from the KGB play book. (KGB seems a little extreme; I’ll go with Orwellian, instead.) We like our privacy, and it’s why the U.S. Postal Service continues to get such high marks from Americans: Our mail arrives where it’s supposed to, and nobody opens it. Likewise, we receive mail that’s retained its seal. When that seal is broken, so is our trust.

For the volunteer Finns, they can actually get their mail pieces delivered to them, but after it’s been resealed … by a stranger. Creepy, methinks.

The direct marketing community, meanwhile, must frown on such an experiment. Reducing a well designed mail piece to a measly email? Now that’s a lousy deal.

For now, some private companies are offering such services to consumers, such as Earth Class Mail, which originally brought the idea to Swiss Post, and Zumbox, which also scans your mail and then puts it into your Zumbox email box.

But since marketers will be charged anywhere from 2 cents to 5 cents per mail piece on Zumbox, I don’t see that many companies wanting to foot that bill for essentially an upgraded email. Again, it simply robs direct mail of its true “landing” and “feeling” power. They’re acting like the recipient is the beneficiary, but we all know that it’s Zumbox … while customer and mailer alike have their relationship digitally reduced.

And like my colleague Hallie Mummert said to me, “Who’s going to sign up for yet one more inbox via which to receive non-targeted junk mail?” People still like mail, maybe even more so now because there are many ways to control the flow, but people are getting rather sick of email. So in some ways Zumbox, and certainly Finland, may even be behind the curve.