Are Autoresponders Killing Email Marketing?

Two events in the same week have triggered an email unsubscribe flurry on my behalf. First, a change in my spam provider is permitting more unwanted emails than usual to leak through. And second, a conversation with a long-time colleague and regular reader of my blog, where she wondered if marketing automation software is being abused to a point where we’re drowning

Two events in the same week have triggered an email unsubscribe flurry on my behalf. First, a change in my spam provider is permitting more unwanted emails than usual to leak through. And second, a conversation with a long-time colleague and regular reader of my blog, where she wondered if marketing automation software is being abused to a point where we’re drowning in email and ignoring it more than before.

A smart strategy used by many direct marketers is the invitation to opt-in for emails. Often there is a carrot dangled in front of prospects to opt-in, such as a few dollars off an order, a free report, the promise of being the first to be informed, or because they’ve made a purchase transaction. Of course, legit direct marketers always assure privacy and provide a link in their emails to unsubscribe.

As an outcome of this strategy, marketing automation software companies report impressive stats about autoresponder welcome email performance:

  • The average open rate for welcome emails is a whopping 50 percent, making them significantly more effective than email newsletters.
  • Welcome messages typically have four times the open rate and five times the clickthrough rate of other bulk mailings.
  • Subscribers who receive a welcome email show more long-term engagement with a brand.

What these stats don’t reveal is the long-term effect after time of high frequency marketing automation software autoresponder emails.

Of course, opens, clicks and unsubscribe rates are good early warnings if you’re emailing too much. If your unsubscribe rate is 0.5 percent, according to various email deployment firms, you’re performance is great. Even 1 percent is good. Some email providers suggest industry unsubscribe norms are acceptable at 2 percent.

But I wonder how many of us have given up on the step to unsubscribe and simply delete. Is there a tipping point where enough is enough?

One day last week I made an inquiry for a direct mail list from the automated website of a mailing list organization. I gave them my email (a fair trade for quickly accessing counts). Obviously, the organization’s automated system knew I had run some counts. I didn’t order that day, but suggested to a client that they place an order. An hour later, an autoresponder asked if I needed help with my unfulfilled order.

Smart, I thought.

But then the next day, another autoresponder email arrived. While a bit annoyed with seeing still another email not even a full 24 hours later after I didn’t purchase, they presented me an offer of 15 percent off my order.

Smarter, I thought.

Until I realized that, had I ordered the day before, I would have paid full price (and would never have known because no doubt the marketing automation software would have placed me in a totally different sequence of follow-up messages). Such is a marketers’ challenge with autoresponders. Annoy me by sending them repeatedly, or too soon; surprise me with a 15 percent discount, but tick me off when I realize I could have paid more than needed had I ordered on the spot. Oh, and embarrass me when I contact the client to say “hold off on ordering!” And we wonder why shopping carts go abandoned. Marketers have trained people not to order on the spot because, if we wait, there may be a better deal.

Poor email content, little purpose and too high frequency of emails isn’t the fault of marketing automation software. It’s the fault of the marketers who are abusing a program that regularly, and systematically, automates the email marketing contact cycle.

What do you think? Too many email autoresponders? Poor email content and reason to email? Or are marketers sending email at what seems to be a reasonable pace?

Monitoring clicks, opens and unsubscribes reveals the true answer to these questions. But sometimes one wonders if the relatively inexpensive cost of email marketing is encouraging some marketers to abuse sending email, and that they’re not paying attention to their email marketing metrics.

Flag on the [Mobile] Play

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you already know that I’m a cheapskate. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always downloaded the free mobile apps and games. But recently I surprised myself by actually being captivated by a mobile ad from Buffalo Wild Wings and took the bait—only to be deeply disappointed by the lack of, what I like to call, experience management.

If you’re a regular reader of this column, you already know that I’m a cheapskate. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always downloaded the free mobile apps and games. I’ve found that I don’t have a problem staring at an ad for 3 seconds, waiting to return to my next round of Scramble With Friends (SWF).

But recently I surprised myself by actually being captivated by a mobile ad from Buffalo Wild Wings and took the bait—only to be deeply disappointed by the lack of, what I like to call, experience management.

Here’s what got me hooked: The ad was brilliantly designed for this mobile user who had just spent the previous two minutes rolling my fingers quickly across the screen in different directions to connect letters to form words and score points.

The visual, in the center of the screen, was a circle with a thumb print in it.

The headline was very inviting to this 49er fan: “Football fever is spreading fast. Take a quick test.” And the call to action was “Press and Hold Your Finter [sic] for an Instant Scan.”

Aside from the typo (doesn’t anyone proof anymore??), I was hooked. Great call to action and great visual—especially for an ad inside a mobile game where my fingers do all the work.

Naturally I pressed my thumb over the thumbprint, and a little “scan” visual swept back and forth, seemingly scanning my print. The next screen was a file folder labeled “Results.” A red “stamp” stated “Further Testing Required”—and a call to action to “Get a Complete Fever Diagnosis” kept me motivated to continue to the next screen. So I clicked, and that’s when the brilliance of the campaign all came crashing down.

It seemed that I had landed somewhere within the Buffalo Wild Wings website. Nothing more about football fever. Nothing more about my scan or my fever diagnosis. Nothing even closely related to my previous experience. What was most prominent was a “Find a B-Dubs” (I figured out this is insider lingo for Buffalo Wild Wings) with a place to enter my zip code. Sigh …

If I hadn’t been a marketer, I would probably have hit the “x” button to go back to my game. But being a glutton for punishment, I entered my zip code, hopeful that the B-Dubs folks might tie the action back to my football fever. But instead, I wait a second and … and … I get a message: “Results (0).” Really?

I get that there may not be a B-Dubs within 25 miles of me, but according to the website (which I visited separately), I found several in my SF/Bay Area geography.

So here’s my advice: Instead of telling me there were none, how about programming your site to say “Oh no! There isn’t a B-Dubs in your neighborhood, but we’ve found 5 that you might enjoy as you travel around Northern California.” And then provide those pinpointed on a map.

And what happened to that football tie-in?

All digital advertising and landing pages are an opportunity to optimize a series of thought sequences, and it’s critical that marketers understand how to help a consumer connect the dots.

In this case, the game ended with Buffalo Wild Wings: 0, Consumer Purchase Opportunity: 0.

Turnaround Tired Direct Marketing Campaigns With Video

Online video marketing has the ability to transform and turnaround a tired direct marketing campaign. We wouldn’t make this claim if we hadn’t witnessed a 20 percent lift in sales from an integrated campaign using video. If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may recall how we took you inside a successful video marketing program for a performing arts organization in October. At that time, we were testing a “proof of concept” of video marketing

Online video marketing has the ability to transform and turnaround a tired direct marketing campaign. We wouldn’t make this claim if we hadn’t witnessed a 20 percent lift in sales from an integrated campaign using video. If you’re a regular reader of our blog, you may recall how we took you inside a successful video marketing program for a performing arts organization in October. At that time, we were testing a “proof of concept” of video marketing to sell tickets to a Fall performance.

Because the proof of concept using video worked, we applied this approach during November and December to promote the organization’s Christmas shows.

We’re delighted to report that this latest online video campaign worked, lifting sales by nearly 20 percent over last year. And it wasn’t just ticket sales that were impacted. Product sales at the event broke new records, too.

Because the proof of concept in the Fall worked, it gave confidence to the organization to commit to significant changes in marketing direction for the Christmas season.

A series of five “behind the curtain” videos were created to create curiosity in the upcoming performances, interspersed with three “music” videos where the product was, in effect, given away.

A primary advertising channel (and expense) for the organization in prior years—radio—was dropped entirely.

Email marketing was leveraged in a big way because the videos gave purpose to frequent messaging. The previously established Facebook “group” approach wasn’t robust enough for marketing purposes, so we started all over with a Facebook “page.” Twitter and Pinterest played a role. Direct mail remains an important vehicle because the demographics of the group. This was a true multi-media, offline and online direct marketing campaign.

There was some concern that we would “oversaturate” to the installed base of thousands of patrons on the email list and they would unsubscribe in droves. Or that we would “over post” on Facebook and turn off fans who would “unlike” us.

Yet, because we applied sound content marketing practices, not only were patrons not alienated-they asked for more.

It was the viral effect of the video at the core of the campaign that drove engagement, and brought in new patrons to the performances that had never before heard of the group. On Facebook, using promoted posts and ads, friends of friends were introduced to the organization, and many of them came to the show.

Why did this happen? Because weaving everything around online video transformed the entire direct marketing campaign.

The turnaround of a tired effort from the past resulted in three transformations that turned the campaign around: with video, the direct marketing campaign 1. had purpose, 2. enabled frequency and 3. we could use the content marketing component of “free.”

We’ll elaborate on these three transformational components, and how we made them work, in our next blog in early January.

In the meantime, we invite you to watch this video for background about the “proof of concept” campaign from last Fall.