Direct Mail: Creative Envelopes Win

Envelopes have been a part of direct mail for a very, very long time, and many companies still use them the same way they always have. Then, they wonder why their results are stagnating. It is time for something different. Envelopes have changed — there are so many different and exciting things you can do with them now. Let’s look at some ideas.

envelopes winnersEnvelopes have been a part of direct mail for a very, very long time, and many companies still use them the same way they always have. Then, they wonder why their results are stagnating. It is time for something different. Envelopes have changed — there are so many different and exciting things you can do with them now. Let’s look at some ideas.

Enclosure Types

  • Regular Envelopes: There are many different sizes to play with, from small invitation envelopes to large ones. The larger ones stand out more, but if they qualify at the flat size postage level, they will be more expensive for postage. To keep them at a lower postage rate, use envelopes that are not square and are 6.125 x 11.5 inches or smaller.
  • Window Envelopes: You have all the same size choices here as regular envelopes. You also have the same postage concerns. Window envelopes have various options on window placement and the number of windows. Check with your vendor to see some creative windows.
  • Two-Way Envelopes: These are really inventive. They work first for outgoing mail and then by following the instructions on the envelope, they become reply mail envelopes too. This saves on envelope costs and is good for the environment. It is also another way to stand out with your prospects and customers.
  • Wrapping: These envelope wraps are created on equipment with folding and gluing while the inserts are already inside. These are extremely customizable and are very cost effective. You do not have to maintain an envelope inventory. You can create them as needed. The down side is that some people do not like the finished look of the wrap as it is clunky when compared with the normal sleek look of an envelope.
  • Snap Packs: These are the more official looking enclosed pieces. They require your prospects or customers to tear perforated strips off of the side and the bottom of the snap pack in order to open it. Since they are more formal looking they tend to get better open rates. You have probably received checks in this format before.

With the growth of Variable Data Technology, you are now able to do so much more personalization on each of these types of enclosures. You can personalize images, graphics, as well as copy. This is even better than adding a tagline to get people to open the envelope. Compel your customers and prospects to open your envelopes with graphics that speak directly to them.

Get creative on your envelope. Keep in mind that you can customize both sides. Other than the addressing requirements for the USPS you have plenty of room to add eye catching designs. What will speak to your customers and prospects? The best way to identify this is to test various options. See what people respond to most and use various forms of it going forward.

Don’t continue to send drab direct mail. Stand out — build a direct mail campaign beyond your dreams. No matter what type of information you are sending to people, when it is enclosed you should be using the enclosure as a marketing piece. Get your envelope opened, instead of thrown straight in the trash. Visual appeal to stimulate curiosity will get you better open rates. How did your last envelope mailing go? Are you using snazzy envelopes to grab attention?

All KPIs Are Not Created Equal: Measuring Content Marketing

Too often, there’s an overemphasis on process metrics like page views, open rates and list growth (subscribers, followers, friends, etc.). This is understandable since these are among the easiest metrics to obtain and to interpret. The metrics that really matter — business metrics — get lost with the focus on process.

tape measureCheck out even more about personalization and artificial intelligence with FUSE Enterprise.

“If you’re not measuring it, it doesn’t matter.”

It’s hard to argue with that marketing truism — it’s just about impossible to know what is and isn’t working if you aren’t measuring your efforts and tracking your results. But what’s often left unsaid is that what and how you’re measuring matter.

Too often, there’s an overemphasis on process metrics like page views, open rates and list growth (subscribers, followers, friends, etc.). This is understandable because these are among the easiest metrics to obtain and to interpret.

The metrics that really matter — business metrics — get lost with the focus on process. Business metrics include leads generated, revenue booked and return on investment, and provide insights on your business’ health.

That’s not to say that process metrics don’t matter at all. Both business and process metrics are valuable. Depending on your industry, your organization and your approach to marketing, you can apply both accordingly to derive your best path.

Knowing that your organization’s needs are going to differ from others, I hope you’ll take these thoughts as general guidelines rather than edicts written in stone. The one inviolable rule you should follow is, “What would the C-Suite think?” Because ultimately, if your marketing is not producing results, something has to change.

Consumption Metrics

Despite the gray areas in process metrics, they are important to track because they frequently serve as a sort of leading indicator, providing a sense of whether your marketing is on the right track. Among the metrics you should consider here are:

  • Site visits
  • Email open rates
  • Subscribers/Followers/Friends

These metrics are not going to be numbers we worry about as individual data points, but as trends we track over time. The trends will be the most valuable in monitoring content marketing.

Engagement Metrics

This is another type of process metric that will paint a clearer picture of your marketing’s effectiveness. As with consumption metrics, these are going to be most valuable when considered over time.

They are also going to be quite valuable when broken down further: Are there particular pieces or types of content that are providing better results than everything else you’re doing? That’s the content you’ll want to focus on as a model for future content development. Use your highest-performing pieces to both create more content just like it, and to reverse engineer it, if possible, to apply whatever is working here to other, less effective areas of your content marketing. Some important metrics to consider include:

  • Pages per visit
  • Time per visit
  • CTA completion: download forms, subscription signups, etc.
  • Email clickthrough rates
  • Comments
  • Social likes
  • Social sharing
  • Email forwarding

Retention Metrics

Your retention metrics will help provide insights into other metrics. A slowly growing list might mean your progress is just that — slow and steady. Or it could mean that you’re doing a great job of attracting new subscribers, but a poor job of keeping them. Plugging that retention hole could be an easy fix for increasing your reach. Common retention metrics include:

  • List churn
  • Repeat visitors

Leads Metrics

Now we’re starting to get to where the rubber meets the road in business metrics. These are the numbers that the executives in the C-Suite are going to be interested in, particularly if you can track how valuable the leads you hand off to your sales team prove to be. Consider these metrics in your evaluations:

  • Leads generated
  • Leads progressed

Sales Metrics

Finally, we have the sales metrics, which are, of course, the ultimate metric. Are we adding to the top line, and are we doing so with a reasonable return on the investment we’ve made in our efforts? Use these metrics to help you answer these questions:

  • Leads handed off to sales
  • Revenue generated
  • Profitability
  • Measurement against other lead/marketing sources

As I mentioned, not every one of these metrics will be part of your KPI dashboard. But you’ll likely want at least one of each type of metric outlined here in order to recognize where your resources are best allocated to maximize revenue and profitability. You’ll need to choose the metrics that give you the best picture of your marketing today, and give you a high degree of confidence in where your marketing is heading tomorrow.

Learn even more about the convergence of technology and branded content at the FUSE Enterprise summit. Artificial intelligence and personalization will be featured among many other techniques and technologies.

All About eMail 15: The Great Twitter Roundup

Here’s the deal, fam: This past Thursday was the All About eMail Virtual Conference, the live virtual event that brings together the best and brightest minds in the industry for a full day of sessions, resources and chats that are (say it with me now …) all about email.

Here’s the deal, fam (and if you read my last blog post, you should already know this): This past Thursday was the All About eMail Virtual Conference, the live virtual event that brings together the best and brightest minds in the industry for a full day of sessions, resources and chats that are (say it with me now …) all about email.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the show for its full course, and walked away from my desk stuffed full with new email tips and strategies, and a heaping side of downloaded resources to peruse even after the show had ended.

If you didn’t get to check it out, don’t you fret — the show and all its content is available on demand until Feb. 16. Click here for immediate access!

I also got to scope out the social scene during the show (try saying that 10 times fast). Lots of great activity in the #AAEM15 hashtag, and I thought I’d share a little roundup of bite-sized takeaways and observations from the show I found on Twitter.

A-five six seven eight!

Of course, there’s only so much 140 characters can tell you about 6.5 hours of content. So if you’re hungry for email expertise, be sure to sign up to check out the show on demand. I think these tweets do a good job of showing why it’s worth your while. Hope you enjoy!

And now for a little announcement unrelated to virtual shows or tweets. Recently I’ve taken over as marketing manager for one of Target Marketing’s sister publications, and it’s been an exciting and fulfilling whirlwind but, as you can imagine, busy and demanding. That being the case, I came to the difficult but necessary decision to put this blog aside for the time being.

My hope and my intention is to be back and better than ever in 2016 once I’ve gained my sea legs with this new undertaking, gotten all my ducks in a row, and other various water-related metaphors for “gotten my **** together.” Just think of it as … taking a short caffeine break! (Waka waka!)

Thanks so much for all the fantastic support so far — hope to see you back here in 2016!

Best Practices Exist for a Reason, Part 3: Email Results Analysis

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

For many marketers, the bulk of their time is taken up with list selection, subject lines, email design and ensuring the email links to integrated landing pages. But not enough time is spent analyzing the results of those efforts in order to learn and apply it to the next campaign.

Whenever clients ask us to help them with new creative, our very first question is “Can we see what you’ve done before and the results associated with it?” You’d be amazed how many don’t have this information — let alone know where they can find it.

And on many occasions when they do provide us with it, they are unsure how to interpret the results or use them to influence the next campaign effort. So here are a few best practices worth considering:

  • Maintain a Historical Record: You should have one digital file that contains the creative for every email you’ve blasted. Organize them by target audience (existing customers, warm prospects, cold prospects). This makes them much easier to find when you’re thinking about your next campaign by audience type.
  • Target Audience: Ideally your notes should include the parameters you used to select your target from your house file (e.g. customers who haven’t purchased in 60 days from X/XX/XX; or inquirers who downloaded whitepaper “ABC” between X/XX/XX and X/XX/XX”). If you rented or purchased an outside list, include additional information like the company you rented from, the name of the list, the parameters you provided to them, and the price you paid (you’ll want this to measure your ROI).
  • Blast Quantity: While this is important, it’s NOT the metric you should be using to calculate your open rates. You’ll also want the number of hard and soft bounces, and whether or not your email system is automatically re-blasting to soft bounces at another time. You want to start measuring results based on how many recipients actually received your email which requires you to subtract hard and soft bounces from your gross blast quantity.
  • Open Rates: While this may seem like a no-brainer, emails can get opened up to 10 days after you blasted, so be sure to take a “final” tally a few weeks after your initial blast date instead of creating your only results report within a few days of the blast.
  • Clickthrough Rates: This number should be based as a percent of the number of unique individuals who opened the email. I’ve seen lots of email companies report click thru rates as a calculation of clicks divided by the number blasted—and I just find that irritating. Your audience can’t click unless it opens the email, so the most important stat is to understand how many of those that opened, clicked.
  • Conversion to Sale: What was the objective of the campaign? To sell a product? To download a whitepaper? Don’t assume that just because your target clicked on the link, they took the next step. Using Google analytics (if you don’t have any other source of intel) will let you see which links a web visitor clicked on, including the “download” or “shopping cart” button. If your email is the only source of driving traffic to this page, then you can match this rate back to your email campaign. If your email drives the recipient to your website, shame on you. Read Part 2 of this series about Best Practices for Landing Pages.

If you achieve a high open rate (there are lots of recent industry stats here for comparison), then your problem is not your subject line.

If you achieve a high click thru rate, then you’ve designed great email creative with a great offer (and may want to examine/test your subject line to see if you can get better exposure of your message).

If you achieve a low conversion rate, reexamine your landing page. Does it match your email offer? Is it working as hard as possible to lead the visitor to the desired next step? Is your button obvious and clear what the recipient will get when they click?

The truth is, you won’t really know if YOUR email campaign is working until you establish some benchmark metrics, and then begin to compare additional email efforts against that benchmark (while always keeping an eye on industry averages).

When All Hell Breaks Loose

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further?

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected.

After auto-sending many emails to clients in the span of a few hours, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further? Do you stop all communication until the recipients have been given enough time to forget you spammed their inboxes? Do you remove them all from your list entirely? Do you respond to the dozens or hundreds of hate emails? Lastly, what do you do to salvage unsubscribes?

Many of my peers believe you should always apologize when you make a mistake in your automated program—be that a simple typo, an unfortunate parallel (when your marketing message inadvertently aligns with an unfavorable situation, e.g. “Retailer Apologizes For ‘Unfortunate Timing’ Of Isis Lingerie Line”), or, as in this instance, when your automated program goes haywire and sends your subscribers 37 emails in the span of 14.6 minutes (or something like that).

If this happens to you, remember to keep the gravity of the error in perspective. Panicking will not help you, but this checklist may.

  1. Evaluate the extent of the damage: For most errors of this type, you can get a feel for how angry your constituents are by reading the reply emails. As you do this, keep in mind not everyone feels the same way. Don’t let a vocal few represent the entire list, but do give these responses careful consideration and use them as a guide to gauge the overall impact. Take a look too at opens, clicks and unsubscribes. Though irritated, your list may have actually engaged with the content to an acceptable level and this should help you to decide next steps.
  2. Choose an appropriate response: With a clear understanding (and some best guesses) at the level of damage, think next about what you would say to these recipients. Don’t draft a response to the most annoyed and most vocal, deal with those persons individually and separately in more personal emails if the group is small enough to do so. Your response should instead target the group just below the most angry; those who are smoldering in silence. Pick up the phone and dial one or two of your best customers and ask how they felt about receiving three dozen emails and in what way could you best show your concern for the event and desire to lessen the impact. For best results, act quickly, be frank and forthright about what happened, do not make excuses, and do apologize.
  3. Choose a response method: You may learn sending another email would only worsen the situation, but everyone has likely been the recipient of more than just your wayward program. A simply apology with an offer designed especially for them may do the trick. If you’re not retail, perhaps a small gift card at a local coffee shop or Amazon.com (which typically has a very low redemption rate) might be in order. Find a vendor that charges you only for gift cards redeemed. If another email is not recommended, try reaching out through social media or direct mail. Admit your mistake, take it in the chops, and perhaps add in a bit of self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood as you extend the olive branch.
  4. Distill the analytics. Go beyond opens/clicks/unsubscribes and look at visits to the landing page, form completions and more. This is a golden opportunity to learn something, so don’t consider the entire event a disaster. Even tornadoes leave a trail useful for educating storm chasers about patterns and other types of data, which can influence prevention and protection.

You are not alone. Even software/hardware giant HP apparently experienced issues with its automated program and sent a few too many emails to subscribers. HP sent an email apology with oops in the subject line and title. As a side note, this is the subject line I receive most often, and for me it’s effective. Short and sweet, and though I don’t have statistics to support this, my guess is it elicits good open rates—even when tempered by the influence of the multiple emails preceding it.

If you choose to promote your oops in social media, know that some people who did not receive the multiple emails will also use the discount code, but that’s probably a good way to turn a bad situation into a redeemable fiasco. That’s not such an awful thing—is it?

The Demotion of the Open Rate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate

For years, marketers have been tracking open rates and using this stat for everything from choosing the best time to send to validating the deliverability of a particular email-automation vendor; and well, everything in between. With more and more email being opened on mobile devices, Gmail caching images, and fewer recipients choosing to download images (perhaps accounting for as much as 40 percent of your audience), the open rate simply isn’t what it used to be—not that it was ever all that accurate.

Charting a high open rate does not necessarily equate to clicks or conversions, but this has always been true. You might have written the most fabulous or enticing subject line and enjoyed a very high open rate, only to have failed to deliver the message and lost in the long run.

The Mobile Effect
Mobile devices are lowering the dependability of the open rate for some analysis, too. Most people scan emails on their devices and save only those they wish to read or act upon later. Emails that don’t answer an immediate need, or that are not relevant, may be deleted prematurely and without much recipient consideration. Even with responsive designs, the recipient is less likely to take advantage of an offer on a smartphone than on a tablet or desktop device, it’s simply easier to engage on a bigger screen.

Open Rate Increases
Gmail’s new image caching system automatically downloads images, and, for those recipients using Gmail or Google Apps, this can further affect your open rate tracking—your open rate will likely increase. The first open will be tracked correctly by most ESPs, but subsequent (repeat) opens by the same recipient will likely decrease. Unique opens, like opens, will become more accurate.

As with Gmail and Google Apps, iPhone and iPad devices download images by default. If you’re tracking your stats year over year, this increase in open rates by Gmail and iOS users will affect your ability to accurately assess your campaigns.

You may find that your open rates increase, but click-through rates do not, resulting in lower click-to-open rates.

Best Time to Send
Some email automation systems, such as Variant4, are able to send messages at the same time as the last open from the recipient, and this can be useful, but determining the right time to send based upon open rates alone will be misleading for the reasons stated earlier. When possible, opt for the previous engagement time, since if the open occurred on a mobile device, the click or conversion may have taken place later from a desktop device and that actually represents the better time for future sends.

Ensuring your content is on the mark is more important than ever as this is the driving force behind clicks and conversions (and not opens). Getting your audience to engage will gain you future priority placement in the inbox rather than a continued relegation to the promotion tab of Gmail.

Still Some Value
As undependable as the open rate has become, it does still represent some value—especially for segmentation and A/B testing of subject lines, for instance. Show caution when basing your conclusions on open rate alone and take the necessary steps to validate your finding through other supporting metrics.

Design Wins
As more email providers download images by default, we as marketers make a major win in the design arena. No longer will we have to design text formats and forfeit brand recognition. Our emails will be displayed in the manner in which we had intended all along.

Gmail’s Tabbed Inbox: What Is Your Risk?

Marketers are vacillating between “no big deal” and “panic mode” when they think of Gmail’s interface that automatically sorts incoming emails. There are two questions that every emailer needs to ask: “What’s our risk?” and “How do we prepare?”

Marketers are vacillating between “no big deal” and “panic mode” when they think of Gmail’s interface that automatically sorts incoming emails. It continues to be a hot topic for users and marketers. Early feedback from Google suggests that users like it because there has been a strong retention rate of the tab experience. This isn’t surprising because the automated sort process simplifies life in the email world. Marketers can expect the tabs to stay.

The effect on email marketing results will fail somewhere between a complete derailing of campaigns and very little change. There are two questions that every email marketer needs to ask: “What’s our risk?” and “How do we prepare?” Answering those questions now makes it easier to respond if the changes have a direct effect on your business.

What Is Your Risk?
Assessing your risk begins with a review of your subscriber list. Estimating how many subscribers use Gmail isn’t as simple as one might think because there are two types of Gmail users. The easiest type to identify includes addresses that end with @gmail.com. They are confirmed users. The second is impossible to identify because Gmail provides email services to corporations, schools and government offices. You would have to have Google’s proprietary list of Gmail clients to know who to tag.

Judging by the databases we’ve analyzed, B-to-C companies have a better ability to measure the risk than B-to-B because people tend to use personal email addresses for consumer shopping. B-to-C companies can look at known Gmail users to access the risk. B-to-B companies will have a harder time because their subscribers tend to use company or organization email addresses. There are always exceptions. One exception for B-to-B is companies that market to soloprenuers.

A large base of Gmail users doesn’t automatically translate into high risk. The tabs have no effect on emails opened in applications like Outlook. There are studies that suggest that direct Gmail opens are less than 4% of total opens. Globally, there may be very little risk. What happens globally doesn’t matter if your database houses a high percentage of direct Gmail users.

How Do You Prepare?

  • Segment known Gmail users. This makes it easier to monitor open rates and times. The timing is especially important if your company sends limited time offers. Placing promotional emails in a separate tab may delay opens instead of reducing them. If the delay extends beyond the offer expiration, it will have a direct effect on revenue.
  • Watch for consistent trends. Gmail users tend to be a bit erratic with their open rates. It’s not unusual to see fluctuations. A small drop may be a hiccup instead of the beginning of the fall.
  • Monitor individual behavior. If you can identify individuals who use Gmail and consistently open your emails, create a segment for them. These are highly engaged people that want to read your messages. A drop in their open rate indicates a problem.
  • Ask for help. If there is a negative Gmail tab effect, ask Gmail users to flag your emails so they will go to the Primary tab. Some marketers started doing this shortly after the tabs became available. I don’t recommend this preemptive move because the new inbox is being tested by users now. If there isn’t a problem, why bother subscribers with information that may be confusing for them? It may not work anyway. While people are in test mode, they may switch between the classic and new versions. When they do, the flagged addresses revert to their original status.
  • Make your content more valuable. When people want to read your emails, they will find them. It doesn’t matter where they are hidden. Avid subscribers look for the messages and will email you if they don’t find them.
  • Watch for trends. If one or more segments start showing declines in response rates and revenue, look for similarities in email addresses. It could be a Gmail issue where the service is being provided to a third party.

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.