Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!

Boost Your Website Sales: 8 Simple E-commerce Tips That Really Work

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert? This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

OK, so you’ve won half the battle. You’re driving traffic to your site. Now what? How can you get your visitors to convert?

This is a challenge that most every website that sells a product faces. The following are some tried and true tactics that, over the years, I’ve seen make a difference. Some may seem simplistic, but they DO most definitely impact your online conversion rate.

Here are a few things you could do to boost online sales and gain loyal customers. These can be applied and refined for most any business, industry or niche:

1. Make Sure Your SSL Seal And Other Consumer-Trust Logos Are Prominent. SSL or secure socket layer is a sign that the site is encrypted … that the information consumers enter, such as personal and credit card information, is protected. Most e-commerce sites must file for an SSL certificate from vendors such as VeriSign, GoDaddy, eTrust, TRUSTe and others. It’s a good practice to display the vendor’s logo on your order page, as well as make sure in the browser window the “https” or image of a lock is present. This is a clear and comforting sign to consumers that they can order online with confidence. Other logos that are in plain view and are anchors on each page of your website can also instill confidence with potential buyers. Some may require membership or purchase, when applicable, and may include Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), PayPal Verified, Authorize.net Verified Merchant and virus protection software (i.e. “McAfee Secure”). Also, if you accept credit cards and have a money back guarantee, there’s nothing more powerful than strong, eye-catching graphic image icons, such as “100% Money Back Guarantee” or “We Accept All Major Credit Cards” (than have images of Visa, Mastercard, Amex and Discover).

2. Encourage Online Sales vs. Other Response Mechanisms. Offer special “Internet Only Pricing” to customers. It could be a discount of 5 percent to 10 percent if they order online versus by phone, fax or mail. This reduces any potential overhead costs for staffing fees, such as telesales or order entry personnel. These Web-only specials can be highlighted on your homepage via a banner ad, as well as on your product pages near qualified items.

3. Offer Free Shipping. Many e-tailers already factor all or a portion of shipping into the retail price of an item as part of their COGS (cost of goods sold). If you are truly offering free shipping, already factored shipping into the product’s cost, or are simply having a limited time free shipping special—if you’re offering it, mention it—big and bold on your home page. Free shipping offers have a huge psychological affect on consumers when they’re comparing competitor’s products and websites. In addition to product quality and value, offering free shipping can make all the difference regarding the final purchase decision.

4. Use Buyer Feedback To Your Advantage. Have an area on your website or indicate next to select items “Customer Favorite” or “Hot Item.” Also, have some glowing customer testimonials or reviews next to the product itself for potential prospects to see. Sites like Amazon, Babies”R”Us and others are pros at this strategy as well as using ratings and ‘Likes’ to convey a product’s popularity. Consumers like to feel good about the item they are about to purchase. as well as see that it’s popular with the masses. Seeing a great testimonial and knowing that others purchased the product provides validation and a feeling of comfort to a consumer. In addition to helping the conversion rate, this tactic also helps reduce buyer’s remorse and product returns.

5. Advertise Products in Google Shopping (formerly Google Product Search, and before that, Froogle). http://www.google.com/shopping is a free product information platform from Google where you can post a single item or submit a data feed. Your products will appear in Google Product search and may also appear in Google.com search results, depending on keywords used. This is simple and easy way to increase your product’s visibility and market share.

6. Make Sure Your Product Pages are Optimized for Search Engines. Sounds obvious, but many folks overlook their catalog and product pages. After doing some keyword research on actual search behavior for your product, refine your meta description, meta keywords and title tag of your product pages. This will help consumers find your product in the organic listing of search engine results.

7. Have a Special Coupon Code “Call Out” On Your Home Page. This is a best practice with online fashion retailers who typically have a banner ad or interstitial ad on their homepage stating something like, “Summer Blow Out Sale, Use Coupon Code 1234.” But this concept can be applied to virtually any industry. This is another great way to offer a special discount for your online customers that makes them feel good about the purchase. You can also encourage viral activity by having “forward to friend” or “share” create viral marketing. Make sure to have some great intro copy mentioning how customers should “pass on the great savings to friends, family and colleagues.”

8. Consider Payment Plans. For higher-ticket items, consider setting up extended payment plans that allow customers to pay for an item over a few payments. HSN.com and QVC.com have mastered this. If an item is, let’s say, $200, you might want to offer a flex pay option of “6 easy payments of $33.33” that is conveniently auto-billed to their credit card. Just be diligent when calculating your payment prices, as well as creating your return/refund policy for these items. The general rule is that your actual production costs/hard costs should be covered in the first one to three payments.

It’s all about being strategically creative and taking the consumer’s point of view into account regarding e-comm strategies. Remember to keep testing methods that help improve sales and drive prospects to your storefront.

Make note of when you implement new tactics and then after a month of being live. Compare sales results year-over-year to see if your efforts had made an improvement. I’m confident that you will see a positive difference in your online conversion rates.

An ABC Introduction to Data Mining for Dollars: Slicing and Dicing Your In-House List for Profit (Part 1 of 2)

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

One of the best ways to build your online business is to build your list; that is, your “database” of potential subscribers, customers or prospects. This may not be as sexy as social marketing, as robust as mobile marketing or as challenging as search engine marketing … but it is a viable way to harness the power within your own “house file” to maximize your marketing ROI.

Today, I’ll show you how you can segment your database of names to boost sales, increase bonding and shorten conversion time. Data mining, list segmentation or strategic database marketing is basically the art of slicing and dicing your own in-house list of names for optimal performance. You do this to help increase the response of your promotional and conversion efforts.

You see, once you divide your list of names into smaller groups (known as segmentation), you can target your product offers and promotional messages to each of those groups. By customizing your marketing messages based on specific customer needs, you’ll be promoting products to people who are more likely to buy them. You increase your customers’ satisfaction rate as well as your potential conversion rates. And higher conversion rates mean more money for your company.

One data-mining model is the RFM method. It’s practiced by direct response marketers all over the world. “R” stands for Recency—how recently a customer has made a purchase. “F” stands for Frequency—how often the customer makes a purchase. And “M” stands for Monetary—how much the customer spends. Here’s how you can use the RFM method to help lift your sales.

Recency
Whether your house list is made up of people who signed up to receive your free e-zine or people who paid for a subscription, you can segment your database according to how long your subscribers have been with you. For instance, you can create categories such as: 0-6 months, 6-12 months, and 12-plus months. You would look at these groups as your hot subs (newest subscribers 0-3 months), warm subs (mid-point subscribers) and cool subs (those who have been subscribing to your e-zine the longest, 12-plus months).

Here’s one way you can put that data to use …

Let’s say some of your “cool subs” have lost their initial enthusiasm for your e-zine. You could cross-reference those names with their open rates. If most of these subscribers haven’t been opening your e-zine in six, nine or 12 months, you may consider sending them a special message asking to reengage them. These “inactive” subscribers are a great group on which to test new marketing approaches, new prices and new subject lines. Since this group is not responding to your current emails, why not use this as a platform to reengage AND test? Your “hot subs” are your newest, most enthusiastic subscribers. They are ripe to learn more about you, your products and your services. If you handle this group properly, you can cultivate them into cross-sell and up-sell customers.

For example, send your “hot subs” a special introductory series of emails (also known as auto responder series). This special series would encourage bonding and introduce readers to your e-zine’s contributors and overall philosophy. It could also tempt readers with specially priced offers. Sending an introductory series like this can not only increase the number of subscribers who convert to paying customers, it also increases their lifetime value (LTV)—the amount they spend with you over their lifetime as your customer. Hot Tip! Make sure to suppress the recipients of your auto responders from any promotional efforts until the series is complete to ensure more effective bonding.

If, instead of subscribers to a free e-zine, your house list is made up of people who paid for their subscription, the same segmentation process applies. You break your active subscribers into hot subs, warm subs and cool subs. You also break out “expires” (those who allowed their subscription to run out) and “cancels” (those who cancelled their subscription).

Cross-marketing to these lists is usually effective. The expires oftentimes simply forget to renew and need a reminder. And just because someone cancelled one subscription doesn’t mean they may not be ideal for another service or product that you provide. If they’re still willing to receive email messages from you, add these folks to your promotional lists. Once you’ve gotten these cancelled subscribes to open your messages, turning them into paying customers is just a matter of time. Most Internet marketers would have written these people off. So any revenue you get from them is ancillary.

Next time, I’ll go into Frequency and Monetary, the two other components of the RFM model. So stay tuned!

New Paper Recovery Data Shows Impact of Recession, Digital Media

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

The good news is that the paper business has continued to increase recovery rates for all types of paper, achieving a record 66.8-percent recovery for the nation [see the first image in the media player at right].

For printing and writing grades, recovery rates slipped from its 2009 recovery percentage peak of 61.0 percent, now registering a 56.8-percent recovery rate, but still ahead of the pre-recession recovery rate [see the second image in the media player at right].

In both the overall market for all grades combined, and the printing & writing grades market, the peak year for paper consumption (the bars on both of the preceding graphs) was pre-recession 2007, a high point we have yet to re-attain in both categories as our economy has returned to tepid growth.

However, by looking at just printing & writing grades consumption, the falloff from the 2007 peak, and the lack of recovery, is far more pronounced than in the paper market overall—fully a 23.7-percent drop from 2007 to 2011. This is certainly a sign that while the recession prompted a pullback, digital media has brought on a migration from print communications, and most certainly in postal mail. That data is supported by declining U.S. Postal Service First-Class Mail volume data, and near-minimal growth in Standard Mail.

Thus, the generally higher recovery rates are generated by higher recycling collection activity or perhaps a more expansive recovery infrastructure, but also by source reduction—there’s just less printing and writing papers being generated.

Certainly, the role of direct mail is changing in an increasingly mobile, digital age—and thankfully, we’re getting a good percentage of what we do consume recycled. We need to do better.

Helpful Links:

Inside the Recycling Tub: Catalogs & Direct Mail, Post-Consumer

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

During the early 1990s, millions of consumers wrote their request to the then-Mail Preference Service (MPS, now DMAchoice) to remove themselves from national mailing lists, partially as a result of the media hype around that publication and its recommendation to consumers to sign up for MPS. Even some cities and towns urged their citizens (with taxpayer money) to get off mailing lists. I don’t think the Direct Marketing Association released publicly its MPS consumer registration figures, but it swelled to the point where some saturation mailers nearly considered not using the file for fear it would disqualify them for the lowest postage within certain ZIP Codes where new MPS registrants were concentrated. (DMA developed a saturation mailer format at the time to preserve MPS utility.)

Removing names from a mailing list is what solid waste management professionals call “source reduction”—an act that prevents the production of mail (and later waste) in the first place.

One of the reasons “junk mail” met with some consumer hostility then was simply because once you were done with a catalog or mail piece, wanted or not, there was no place to put it except in the trash. It seemed to many, “All this waste!” (that actually amounted to about 2.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream back then).

Thankfully, there were other marketplace and public policy dynamics tied to support of the green movement, circa 1990. In a word, “recycling” (like source reduction) was seen as a part of responsible solid waste management. At the time, North American paper mills were scrambling to get recovered fiber to manufacture paper products and packaging with recycled content. Some states (and the federal government) set minimum recycled-content and “post-consumer” recycled-content percentage requirements for the paper they procured, while California mandated diversion goals for solid waste from its landfills. Increasingly, foreign trading partners were clamoring for America’s discarded paper to meet their ravenous demands for fiber. The cumulative results were an aggressive increase in the amount of paper collected for recycling and the number of collection points across the United States.

All this boded well for catalogs and direct mail, as far as their collection rates. Catalogs and magazines are considered equivalent when it comes to their fiber makeup. They do tend to have more hardwood (short, thinner fibers) versus softwood (long, strong fibers) since the hardwood gives a nice, smooth printing surface. When they are collected for recycling, recovered catalogs and magazines are suitable for lower quality paper/packaging grades, as well as for tissue. Some of the fiber does wind up getting used as post-consumer waste in new magazines and catalogs, but producers of such papers much prefer having recovered office paper (ideally not mixed with other lower-quality post-consumer papers) as their source of post-consumer content, as the quality is better for making higher quality magazine/catalog papers. (See link below from Verso Paper.)

Most direct mail when recovered is classified as mixed papers, and is suitable for tissue, packaging and other recovered-fiber products. (Today, a lot of paper recovery mixes it all together, and with positive reuse.) By 2007, DMA had received permission from the Federal Trade Commission to begin allowing mailers to place “recyclable” messages and seals on catalogs and mail pieces (roughly 60 percent of U.S. households must have access to local recycling options before “recyclable” labels can be used). Upon this FTC opinion, DMA promptly launched its “Recycle Please” logo program. By 2010, in addition, thousands of U.S. post offices were placing “Read-Respond-Recycle” collection bins for mixed paper in their lobbies.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began tracking “Standard Mail” in its biennial Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report in 1990, the recovery rate (through recycling collection) was near 5 percent. By 2009 (the most current year reported), the recovery rate had increased more than 10-fold to 63 percent—but I cite this figure with a big asterisk. There will be a discussion in a future post on why the EPA MSW recycling data may not be as accurate (and as optimistic) as these findings seem to present. In fact, the EPA itself has asked for public comment on how its current MSW study methodology can be improved—again, more on that in another post.

While I’m not an expert on solid waste reporting, I certainly can see the positive direction underway here, no matter what the actual recovery rate may be. The more catalogs and direct mail that are recovered for their fiber, chances are that there will be more efficient use of that fiber in the supply chain, rather than ending up in a landfill. That helps relieve pressure on paper and packaging pricing, which is good for our bottom lines.

It might also, just a little bit, make a consumer think to herself “I love my junk mail”—as she takes the no-longer-needed mail at week’s or season’s end and places it into a recycling tub. Recycling makes us feel good. It is simple to do. Recycling may not truly save the Earth, but it certainly does extend the life of an importantly renewable natural resource, wood fiber.

Helpful links:

Some Email Industry BS We Should All Be Wise to by Now

Quick! Which email service provider has the best delivery rate? Don’t know? Neither do I. Let’s try and find an answer. According to a list put out by ranking firm topseos, Pinpointe On-Demand has the best delivery rate of 10 email service providers it ranked for January. Let’s just cut to the real problem with Topseos’ rankings list—that it mentioned ESPs’ so-called “delivery rates” at all.

Quick! Which email service provider has the best delivery rate?

Don’t know? Neither do I. Let’s try and find an answer.

According to a list put out by ranking firm topseos, Pinpointe On-Demand—as topseos referred to it—has the best delivery rate of 10 email service providers it ranked for January.

The company name is actually just Pinpointe, but let’s not quibble.

No, let’s just cut to the real problem with Topseos’ rankings list—that it mentioned ESPs’ so-called “delivery rates” at all.

ESPs don’t have delivery rates. Or they shouldn’t anyway.

Why? Because every major lever that affects whether email gets delivered to people’s email boxes is under the list owner’s control.

Email inbox providers’ spam filters have traditionally relied on three major metrics to determine whether or not email coming from a specific sender is spam: the number of spam complaints, the number of bad addresses a mailer tries to reach and the number of spam traps they hit.

And these days, ISPs are reportedly increasingly looking at engagement metrics—clicks and opens, for example, or lack thereof—to weed out unwanted mail.

All of the above-mentioned metrics are directly attributable to the sender’s behavior, not the ESPs’.

Yet, some email service providers tout their so-called delivery rates in their sales pitches.

For example, Constant Contact claims its delivery rate is 97 percent. But when one reads why its delivery rate is so high, it becomes clear

“We hold our customers to high standards with good email marketing habits and practices,” says a headline on the page touting Constant Contact’s delivery rate.

There is nothing wrong with Constant Contact touting high standards.

And this isn’t to say an ESP has nothing at its disposal that can affect delivery rates. For example, an ESP can affect deliverability by throttling-or sending the messages at a slower rate—so ISPs are less likely to block them.

Also some ESPs have better support structures in place than others. As a result, delivery rates can reportedly vary from ESP to ESP. But it’s not the ESPs’ delivery rates we’re discussing here. It’s the senders’ delivery rates.

This may sound like a ridiculously minor quibble. But referring to email delivery rates as the ESPs’ shifts responsibility for behavior that helps ensure high delivery rates from where it belongs—the sender.

Senders of commercial email must continuously be made aware that the responsibility for ensuring high email delivery rates lies mostly with them and there’s not an ESP in the world that can magically overcome the deliverability consequences of sloppy email address acquisition practices and poor list hygiene.

Dealing With This Season’s Burned Out Subscribers

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

In September, all email marketers have good intentions. They meticulously map out segmentations; plan a logical calendar to support strategic initiatives; and commit to holding firm on protecting margins, avoiding the trap of ever increasing sweeteners as we near the end of December.

Then reality sets in. Although this year has been significantly better than last year in terms of business buying and consumer spending, most email marketers are quickly caught up in the email marketing return on investment trap. When times are tough, the pressure goes up to send just one more email campaign in order to boost revenues and response.

That strategy can work in the short term, but come January, the reckoning takes hold. This is when email marketers must rebuild relationships sullied by overmailing and lack of targeting. Hopefully, your business can pause and take a deep breath in order to both slow down the frequency as well as improve customization and relevancy. If you still see low response rates and list fatigue, then it’s time for a strategy to win back your audience.

Strategies for winning back subscribers
A win-back strategy can be anything from a friendly reminder to visit the preference center to a full-on bribe, like offering a steep discount or free service if the subscriber clicks now. Test a few of these ideas on subscribers who didn’t open or click on your emails in December and January. After a few attempts to win them back, if you still don’t see any activity, it may be time to clear the dead wood from your file.

While suppressing data is an anathema to direct marketers’ hearts, clearing nonresponsive subscribers from your email marketing file can help with everything from reducing churn to lowering costs to improving the new engagement metrics used for inbox placement and deliverability. Logically, it makes sense. More active subscribers are more likely to respond.

Surprisingly, however, clearing nonactive addresses from your file also improves response. That boost in response isn’t just on the rate off of a smaller base, but is also on absolute response and revenue per subscriber. Why does this happen? By focusing on the needs of active subscribers, marketers improve relevancy and lower frequency. They start to segment their files with tighter subscriber profiles. Be sure to note that this is the opposite of what you’re able to do in the rush of end of year.

Even permission files end up with anywhere from 25 percent to 65 percent of inactive subscribers. These subscribers, despite giving permission at some point, haven’t opened, clicked or converted from email in the past year or more. Unfortunately, the fourth quarter is when most subscribers burn out. The overflowing inbox at a busy time of year just becomes too much. They tune out your messages if you’re not offering value. Pretty soon, ignoring your emails becomes a habit.

For a long time, it was widely believed to be reasonable to keep all those dead addresses on your file, as it didn’t cost much to mail them and having a larger denominator made complaint rates and other deliverability metrics seem lower. Plus, marketers are ever hopeful. Even if a subscriber hasn’t responded to their emails in a long time, they still believe that today’s message will be the one that rouses them to profitable response. Of course, very few of these sleepers ever wake up.

However, internet service providers and mailbox providers like Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail have long been suspicious of marketers who keep such nonresponsive data on their files, believing that they’re trying to game the system and escape penalties of higher complaint rates. In the past six months, all three global providers have introduced new metrics as well as new inbox management tools to help them see subscriber-level activity. MSN/Hotmail was the first to announce the use of activity measures to block senders from a particular subscriber’s inbox (I wrote about this in early September).

I’ve seen some success in win-back campaigns that respect subscribers, are honest about the offer in the subject line, and keep the message and tone in line with the brand. Test a few alternatives and segment as much as possible to improve relevancy as well. For example:

  • A publisher tested several approaches and found that “We hate spam, too. Change your email settings now” in the subject line was the best way to encourage 90-day nonactive readers to adjust frequency and title choices. Typically, I find that clarity trumps cleverness in a subject line. Just say clearly what the subscriber is being asked to do.
  • A retailer sent an email campaign to six-month inactive subscribers inviting them to vote for the brand’s next catalog cover. The engaging campaign consistently earned 25 percent clickthrough rates. By focusing on the click (the action needed to prove that the subscriber isn’t truly dead), the campaign earned a very high response rate. As a bonus, while many subscribers were on the company’s website they took advantage of specials offered on the landing page.
  • A retailer tested the effect of a win-back campaign versus lowering frequency to six-month inactive accounts. Lowering frequency is a commonly used tactic to respect nonresponding subscribers level of interest, but, of course, does nothing to actually engage them. The win-back strategy was the clear winner, earning a 10 percent response rate and $900K in revenue versus a 2 percent response rate and $150K in revenue from the segment that received lower frequency.

Let us know how you’ve successfully re-engaged subscribers by posting a comment below.