LinkedIn InMail Changes: What B-to-B Sellers Should Do Next

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

Yes, I said nearly unlimited. No, I’m not kidding, nor risking my integrity.

There is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

Briefly, What Changed and Why?
When InMail was introduced, LinkedIn’s “guaranteed response” policy rewarded spammy messages. Oops. So, as of January, LinkedIn gives InMail credits (that you buy) back—BUT only for InMails that earn a response in 90 days.

This is radically new.

Under the old system if you did not receive a response within a week, the InMail credit you purchased was given back. LinkedIn guaranteed a response. However, this rewards you for failing.

For example, let’s say you purchased 50 InMails and sent them. A (poor) 10 percent response rate allowed you to earn credits and send over 400 InMails per month. Thus, the policy increased the amount of spammy InMail messages being sent. The system rewarded it.

What the New Policy Means to You
Going forward, you will receive a credit (get your money back) for each InMail receiving a response within 90 days. You can re-use the money to invest again … and again and again. But if you earn no reply (or a poor response rate) your money is wasted.

LinkedIn’s old InMail policy rewarded sellers who weren’t successful with InMail.

LinkedIn’s new InMail policy rewards you (only) for writing messages that get good response. How good?

If you send 100 InMails per month, with a steady 20 percent response rate, you will end up with about 125 total InMails to send-based on InMails credited back to your account.

How to Send 100 InMails and Get 193 Credits Back
If you’re an average InMail user, you’re seeing credits vanish lately. But there is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 98 returned to you. Or even 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

How? Write effective InMail messages.

For example, let’s say you earn a 50 percent response rate on your first batch of 100 InMails sent. Over time (as you use the InMail credits returned to you) you earn a total of 98 credits. Not bad. You get nearly all of your investment back for re-use.

But what if you were really good? Let’s say you earned a 70 percent response rate to your InMail messages? Hey, it’s possible. I have students who earn 73 percent response rates.

With a 70 percent response rate, you would earn 193 InMail credits (of your original 100) to re-use for prospecting.

In actual practice the math is a bit messy, due to the delays between prospects responding and LinkedIn’s re-issuing credits. But you get the picture.

Should You Stop Using InMail?
As much as it may hurt, your never-ending stream of InMail credits were part of LinkedIn’s lack of foresight. If you are considering investing in InMail you’re in luck. Learn from this experience. Most B-to-B sellers who invested in LinkedIn Sales Navigator (and InMail) are complaining loudly. Many are resigning accounts.

And they should.

As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Change for the better.

What to Do Next
LinkedIn’s InMail policy change is another signal. Another warning. A reason to abandon fairy-tale beliefs like:

  • Email prospecting doesn’t cost anything when it fails-or under-performs
  • It’s mostly a numbers game
  • Getting response and appointments means sending more emails

Yes, it is a numbers game. Just like cold-calling. But what is the basis of an effective cold-call routine?

An effective communications process. More specifically: A systematic, repeatable, scalable way to turn calls in to leads. I recently described this technique—gave next steps and templates to help make it easy.

If you aren’t serious about learning an effective process, you won’t experience predictable success.

“Lazy individuals will still be able to send indifferent InMails, but they won’t be rewarded for it.” says Bruce Johnston of The Practical Social Media blog.

“The new InMail system will reward people with imagination that experiment to get optimal response rates,” says Johnston.

Whether you pay cash for LinkedIn InMail credits or send standard emails to prospects … if it doesn’t work, it costs you. Cash or wasted time-time you should have spent doing something productive!

How do you feel about LinkedIn’s new InMail policy? What do you intend to do about it, looking forward?

How Big Is Your Halo? 3 Ways to Measure the Branding Effect of Your Direct Promotions

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc. But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc.

But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Consider big direct marketing brands like 1-800-Flowers.com or Omaha Steaks. These brand names have been built through direct marketing promotions over time and, as a result, people self-direct to their Web and phone sales channels.

But most direct marketers don’t know how to account for this halo effect, and when they work with response rates only, at best, they shortchange their results; and at worst, they get fooled by failing to account for those who buy without responding.

Case in point: A few years ago, I analyzed a data set from a multivariate direct mail matrix test that had 12 cells: four list segments, four offers and four creative executions.

Working off of response rates alone, we identified the winning list segment, offer and creative. But digging deeper by matching the solicitation file to the sales file, we discovered that from a revenue-per-prospect standpoint, these response rate winners were not the best revenue producers. Further analysis showed that from an ROI standpoint, they were actually the worst. In fact, the offer with the highest response rate (a free trial) produced a negative ROI when compared with a control cell: People in the control group who did not receive this offer actually spent more than the ones who responded to the offer for a free trial.

Here are three ways you can account for the halo effect:

1. Compare customer sales data to your promotion history. This is a good starting point. See who was exposed to your promotions and purchased without responding

2. Index brand awareness to sales over time. Take a look at this post for a methodology to measure this metric.

3. Create an engagement score that counts brand exposures and index it to sales over time. More on a methodology to measure this metric next time.

Sell Chief Executives With This Email/InMail Template (Part 3 of 3)

The “experts” say executive officers aren’t open to being pitched via email and LinkedIn InMail. But they’re wrong. You can you spark conversations with chief executives. Discussions about them. Their pains, fears and ambitions … and bold public statements they make. Then, gently ask permission to connect that discussion to a new solution-what you sell.

The “experts” say executive officers aren’t open to being pitched via email and LinkedIn InMail. But they’re wrong. You can you spark conversations with chief executives. Discussions about them. Their pains, fears and ambitions … and bold public statements they make. Then, gently ask permission to connect that discussion to a new solution-what you sell.

You’ll get some yeses and some nos. It’s all part of an effective, repeatable social selling process.

Hyperpersonalize: An Effective InMail Template
Many of my students are brilliant. They take a bit of wisdom I give and run with it. Recently, my student Sam combined one of my InMail copywriting approaches with a hyperpersonalization technique: Using email recipients’ own public statements.

This approach stops busy chief executives in their tracks, and gets them to reply to his emails.

Let’s have a look at Sam’s practice so you can give it a try. I’ll turn it into a email/InMail template of sorts.

Follow These Guidelines
Sam crafts a handful of short email messages for testing using a few guidelines. He writes messages that:

  1. Are three to four sentences long maximum.
  2. Apply the words “I” or “my” minimally.
  3. Quote and compliments the chief executive in context of a hot industry issue.
  4. Align that meaningful quote with a conversation he would like to initiate.
  5. Ask for a brief email exchange to qualify a larger phone or face-to-face meeting.

The approach works. Because it is so personal, so authentic it busts through gatekeepers whose job it is to block unsolicited emails from pouring in.

It gets seemingly unreachable executives to invite discussions about issues that (ultimately) relate to what Sam is selling.

An Effective Email Template
My student, Sam, is a real person. He asked me to avoid sharing his full identity for competitive reasons. But he wants to help others, so I’ll describe his technique in a way you can copy. However, please don’t copy this template verbatim. Use your creativity and experiment with variations on words.

Create multiple versions of this approach using different kinds of quotes and issues. Discover what gets the best response and do more of what works, less of what does not.

Here is the template:

Hi, [first name].

Your quote in ___ magazine was stunning. Your perspective on _____ [burning issue] is vitally important to all of us working in _____ [industry]. Have you considered enhancing _____’s [target company] capability to ________ [insert challenge to overcome]?

There are alternate means to achieving ___ [goal]. Would you be open to learning about an unusual yet effective approach to ____ we use with clients like ___? [your current client].

Please let me know what you decide, [first name]?

Sincerely,
[your name & signature]

Beware: Don’t Threaten the Status Quo
Use the above template as a guide. Create your own, provocative email approach to a CEO, CIO, CTO, CFO, etc. Don’t limit yourself to quotes in magazines—leverage trade show speech quotes. Don’t limit yourself to the issues you believe are important to buyers—make your approach using what they say is vitally important.

Then, gently position yourself as a thought-provoker. Beware of being a cocky thought leader. That’s not your job. Your approach must not threaten the status quo or the way your prospect currently views the world. It must compliment (via the quote) and then gently nudge.

“Have you considered enhancing …” is a nudge. It’s less assertive than, “Have you considered replacing …” or “Would you be interested in talking about …”

The Experts Are Wrong
Once again, the claims of “experts” sabotage our ability to succeed. They say you can’t use LinkedIn’s InMail or standard email to sell. Why? Because chief executives “aren’t on social media to be sold to.”

But effectively written messages can get chief executives to stop, listen, respond and converse with you. There is a proven technique to increase InMail response rates.

Yes chief executives are difficult to sell to. But you can you spark conversations with them using email, InMail and LinkedIn. Not about selling. Instead, make your message about anything that matters to them. Literally.

Then pivot. Connect your conversation to what you sell—if and when appropriate. What do you think?

Wasted Personalization

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message 

Chatting with a friend about this article, he suggested I write about the most memorable email I’ve received. And while that would be interesting, I know I find emails memorable for reasons you might not. I’m most enthralled by the development, design or concept, whereas you might be most taken by the message.

As my friend described the most memorable email he had received, I thought about why that same email would have been memorable to me. That led me down the path I started in my last article—applying direct-mail lessons to today’s email campaigns.

In 1995, I founded The World-Wide Power Company, the world’s first international distributor of all (graphics) extension-based technology. As the only distributor of all things plug-in, we had extensive records about who owned what, their core applications, versions, numbers of copies and so much more. Back then, this data lived in our invoicing system, which suited us perfectly as we had customized FileMaker Pro for inventory, invoicing, reporting, vendor tracking, managing the product matrix, and other day-to-day business activities. This meant our customer and purchase data were clicks away any time we built a direct-mail campaign.

Our most-successful campaigns were our weekly direct-mail postcards and letters, nicknamed PUN (product-upgrade notice) and CUN (competitive-upgrade notice). These events were mailed each week to everyone in our quarter-million name database who owned a product undergoing an upgrade during the week or for which a competitive product had been announced. The messaging on the cards went something like this (I’ve represented some of the messaging with the field names from our database, shown in all caps, to save space and to illustrate connections to fields):

CUSTOMER NUMBER: [001097]

[LESLIE STRONGMAN], [XYZ PRINTING]
OR THE CURRENT IS/IT DIRECTOR OR GRAPHICS MANAGER

[ 1/22/1997 216350 1 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/4/1997 221450 5 Imposer XTension]
[ 4/7/1997 221527 2 Imposer XTension/MarkIt Bundle]

Dear [Leslie],

On behalf of [XYZ Printing], you purchased [Imposer] from The World-Wide Power Company. Your purchase information, including invoice date, invoice number, and quantity, is listed above. According to our records, you currently own [8 copies] of QuarkXPress [4]. In order to upgrade your [QuarkXPress] to version [5] and maintain the ability to [SHORT DESCRIPTION], you must also upgrade your [XTENSIONS] purchases listed above.

[Imposer 2.0] has been upgraded to provide
[1-LINE BENEFIT] and to support [QuarkXPress 5].

[LIST BENEFITS]

[LIST FEATURES]

[Imposer Pro] retails for [$399]. For a limited time, upgrade each of your copies of [Imposer 1.X] or [2.X] to [Imposer Pro] for [$199].

Call ThePowerXChange to upgrade and take advantage of this special pricing before [31 March 2003]. Prices do not include taxes, where applicable, or shipping. Delivery options are as follows: [electronic delivery is free] or [CD-ROM sent via Airborne overnight for $12].

The response rates from these postcards averaged more than 50 percent, but our best result was more than 80 percent! This is a number to make any marketer salivate.

Having set the stage, the reason I bring this up is to discuss the opportunities lost by today’s marketer—even me, and I most certainly know better.

Today, personalization is demonstrated in our emails often by including the recipient’s first name in the greeting or subject line, but rarely, very rarely, do we see the level of personalization I’ve shown above—except perhaps in the case of our shopping cart abandonment messages … but that’s actually my point.

We know abandonment messages enjoy high open and click rates and yet we don’t apply the trigger of those messages to our everyday marketing messages. Why not? Difficult? Lack of technical know how? Lack of resources? All of the above? Probably.

Step back and ascertain a complete view of the data you have within your organization—and I’m not talking about big data here. Look to your accounting system and ferret out nuggets like those in my example. Look to your marketing database and find unusual bits to help you connect with the recipient. See if your badge scans can disclose something new, or if your sales team can add color.

What my friend told me about his most memorable email (from Hyatt) was the message thanked him for having stayed at a Hyatt property 75 times and provided the name and location of his first Hyatt stay. He enjoyed the trip down memory lane, and while he admits most of the information was wrong, he still felt a strong connection and fondness for Hyatt because they remembered him.

As with all things marketing, this could turn out poorly for the marketer if recipient’s recollections bring back unpleasant memories, but that’s simply a marketing risk we take every day.

The next time you send out a marketing message, consider if you’re wasting personalization on a simple greeting and see if it’s possible to take it to the next level by including something memorable, important, funny, or, well, personal, that can actually connect with your audience.

Use Market Research to Tie Brand Awareness and Purchase Intent to Sales

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc.  But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

For years, I’ve been saying direct marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement.

Direct marketers are good at measuring the things they’ve traditionally measured—response rates, cost per lead, cost per acquisition, etc. But they’re not good at measuring the effect that their communications have on the non-responders; when, in fact, the effect of consistent branding in direct communications is what makes direct marketing powerhouses like Omaha Steaks and 1-800-flowers.com top of mind when consumers are ready to purchase (not to mention Amazon).

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it.

And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

That’s where market research can help.

Consider the following word equations in light of how awareness contributes to sales for the top direct marketing companies:

Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + need = purchase intent
Top of mind awareness + brand reputation + immediate need = purchase

So it follows that if we can monitor awareness and reputation over time and index it to sales, then we can quantify the effects of those elements on sales revenue.

Start by surveying your prospects blindly—either through mail, email or search ads using relevant keywords. Offer an incentive that’s consistent with your product offering, e.g., “Save $$$ on cell phone accessories.” Ask respondents the following questions to determine the levels of unaided and aided awareness:

  • Which brands first come to mind when thinking of “category X”? (unaided awareness)
  • Which of the following brands (list) have you ever heard of? (aided awareness)

Get a better picture of the respondents’ product usage by asking:

  • Which brand(s) within category X do you “regularly” purchase?
  • Which brand is your favorite?
  • Which brand did you last purchase?
  • How often do you purchase this type of product?
    (Light, medium, heavy user?)
  • What percentage of “category X” purchases that you’ve made (within a certain timeframe) were “brand A”? (your share of customer)

For those who have used your brand, quantify purchase intent with the following question:

  • The next time you need this product, how likely are you to purchase “brand A”?

Next, index awareness levels to sales to sales revenues. Be sure account for category sales within the same time period. Your actual sales may have gone down, but the entire category may have gone down as well, and you may in fact have gotten more than your previous share of the category sales.

As you track these metrics over time, you will be able to quantify what a point of unaided awareness is worth in sales revenue. It’s one tool that will help you understand the effect that your communications have on sales beyond the responses that you can count directly.

Cheat Sheet: Is Your Database Marketing Ready?

Many data-related projects end up as big disappointments. And, in many cases, it is because they did not have any design philosophy behind them. Because many folks are more familiar with buildings and cars than geeky databases, allow me to use them as examples here.

Many data-related projects end up as big disappointments. And, in many cases, it is because they did not have any design philosophy behind them. Because many folks are more familiar with buildings and cars than geeky databases, allow me to use them as examples here.

Imagine someone started constructing a building without a clear purpose. What is it going to be? An office building or a residence? If residential, for how many people? For a family, or for 200 college kids? Are they going to just eat and sleep in there, or are they going to engage in other activities in it? What is the budget for development and ongoing maintenance?

If someone starts building a house without answering these basic questions, well, it is safe to say that the guy who commissioned such a project is not in the right state of mind. Then again, he may be a filthy rich rock star with some crazy ideas. But let us just say that is an exceptional case. Nonetheless, surprisingly, a great many database projects start out exactly this way.

Just like a house is not just a sum of bricks, mortar and metal, a database is not just a sum of data, and there has to be design philosophy behind it. And yet, many companies think that putting all available data in one place is just good enough. Call it a movie without a director or a building without an architect; you know and I know that such a project cannot end well.

Even when a professional database designer gets involved, too often the project goes out of control—as the business requirement document ends up being a summary of
everyone’s wish lists, without any prioritization or filtering. It is a case of a movie without a director. The goal becomes something like “a database that stores all conceivable marketing, accounting and payment activities, handling both prospecting and customer relationship management through all conceivable channels, including face-to-face sales and lead management for big accounts. And it should include both domestic and international activities, and the update has to be done in real time.”

Really. Someone in that organization must have attended a database marketing conference recently to get all that listed. It might be simpler and cheaper building a 2-ton truck that flies. But before we commission something like this from the get-go, shall we discuss why the truck has to fly, too? For one, if you want real-time updates, do you have a business case for it? (As in, someone in the field must make real-time decisions with real-time data.) Or do you just fancy a large object, moving really fast?

Companies that primarily sell database tools often do not help the matter, either. Some promise that the tool sets will categorize all kinds of input data, based on some auto-generated meta-tables. (Really?) The tool will clean the data automatically. (Is it a self-cleaning oven?) The tool will establish key links (by what?), build models on its own (with what target data?), deploy campaigns (every Monday?), and conduct result analysis (with responses from all channels?).

All these capabilities sound really wonderful, but does that system set long- and short-term marketing goals for you, too? Does it understand the subtle nuances in human behaviors and intentions?

Sorry for being a skeptic here. But in such cases, I think someone watched “Star Trek” too much. I have never seen a company that does not regret spending seven figures on a tool set that was supposed to do everything. Do you wonder why? It is not because such activities cannot be automated, but because:

  1. Machines do not think for us (not quite yet); and
  2. Such a system is often very expensive, as it needs to cover all contingencies (the opposite of “goal-oriented” cheaper options).

So it becomes nearly impossible to justify the cost with incremental improvements in marketing efficiency. Even if the response rates double, all related marketing costs go down by a quarter, and revenue jumps up by 200 percent, there are not many companies that can easily justify that kind of spending.

Worse yet, imagine that you just paid 10 times more for some factory-made suit than you would have paid for a custom-made Italian suit. Since when is an automated, cookie-cutter answer more desirable than custom-tailored ones? Ever since computing and storage costs started to go down significantly, and more so in this age of Big Data that has an “everything, all the time” mentality.

But let me ask you again: Do you really have a marketing database?

Let us just say that I am a car designer. A potential customer who has been doing a lot of research on the technology front presents me with a spec for a vehicle that is as big as a tractor-trailer and as quick as a passenger car. I guess that someone really needs to move lots of stuff, really fast. Now, let us assume that it will cost about $8 million or more to build a car like that, and that estimate is without the rocket booster (ah, my heart breaks). If my business model is to take a percentage out of that budget, I would say, “Yeah sure, we can build a car like that for you. When can we start?”

But let us stop for a moment and ask why the client would “need” (not “want”) a car like that in the first place. After some user interviews and prioritization, we may collectively conclude that a fleet of full-size vans can satisfy 98 percent of the business needs, saving about $7 million. If that client absolutely and positively has to get to that extra 2 percent to satisfy every possible contingency in his business and spend that money, well, that is his prerogative, is it not? But I have to ask the business questions first before initiating that inevitable long and winding journey without a roadmap.

Knowing exactly what the database is supposed to be doing must be the starting point. Not “let’s just gather everything in one place and hope to God that some user will figure something out eventually.” Also, let’s not forget that constantly adding new goals in any phase of the project will inevitably complicate the matter and increase the cost.

Conversely, repurposing a database designed for some other goal will cause lots of troubles down the line. Yeah, sure. Is it not possible to move 100 people from A to B with a 2-seater sports car, if you are willing to make lots of quick trips and get some speeding tickets along the way? Yes, but that would not be my first recommendation. Instead, here are some real possibilities.

Databases support many different types of activities. So let us name a few:

  • Order fulfillment
  • Inventory management and accounting
  • Contact management for sales
  • Dashboard and report generation
  • Queries and selections
  • Campaign management
  • Response analysis
  • Trend analysis
  • Predictive modeling and scoring
  • Etc., etc.

The list goes on, and some of the databases may be doing fine jobs in many areas already. But can we safely call them “marketing” databases? Or are marketers simply tapping into the central data depository somehow, just making do with lots of blood, sweat and tears?

As an exercise, let me ask a few questions to see if your organization has a functioning marketing database for CRM purposes:

  • What is the average order size per year for customers with tenure of more than one year? —You may have all the transaction data, but maybe not on an individual level in order to know the average.
  • What is the number of active and dormant customers based on the last transaction date? —You will be surprised to find out that many companies do not know exactly how many customers they really have. Beep! 1 million-“ish” is not a good answer.
  • What is the average number of days between activities for each channel for each customer? —With basic transaction data summarized “properly,” this is not a difficult question to answer. But it’s very difficult if there are divisional “channel-centric” databases scattered all over.
  • What is the average number of touches through all channels that you employ before your customer reaches the projected value potential? —This is a hard one. Without all the transaction and contact history by all channels in a “closed-loop” structure, one cannot even begin to formulate an answer for this one. And the “value potential” is a result of statistical modeling, is it not?
  • What are typical gateway products, and how are they correlated to other product purchases? —This may sound like a product question, but without knowing each customer’s purchase history lined up properly with fully standardized product categories, it may take a while to figure this one out.
  • Are basic RFM data—such as dollars, transactions, dates and intervals—routinely being used in predictive models? —The answer is a firm “no,” if the statisticians are spending the majority of their time fixing the data; and “not even close,” if you are still just using RFM data for rudimentary filtering.

Now, if your answer is “Well, with some data summarization and inner/outer joins here and there—though we don’t have all transaction records from last year, and if we can get all the campaign histories from all seven vendors who managed our marketing campaigns, except for emails—maybe?”, then I am sorry to inform you that you do not have a marketing database. Even if you can eventually get to the answer if some programmer takes two weeks to draw a 7-page flow chart.

Often, I get extra comments like “But we have a relational database!” Or, “We stored every transaction for the past 10 years in Hadoop and we can retrieve any one of them in less than a second!” To these comments, I would say “Congratulations, your car has four wheels, right?”

To answer the important marketing questions, the database should be organized in a “buyer-centric” format. Going back to the database philosophy question, the fundamental design of the database changes based on its main purpose, much like the way a sports sedan and an SUV that share the same wheel base and engine end up shaped differently.

Marketing is about people. And, at the center of the marketing database, there have to be people. Every data element in the base should be “describing” those people.

Unfortunately, most relational databases are transaction-, channel- or product-centric, describing events and transactions—but not the people. Unstructured databases that are tuned primarily for massive storage and rapid retrieval may just have pieces of data all over the place, necessitating serious rearrangement to answer some of the most basic business questions.

So, the question still stands. Is your database marketing ready? Because if it is, you would have taken no time to answer my questions listed above and say: “Yeah, I got this. Anything else?”

Now, imagine the difference between marketers who get to the answers with a few clicks vs. the ones who have no clue where to begin, even when sitting on mounds of data. The difference between the two is not the size of the investment, but the design philosophy.

I just hope that you did not buy a sports car when you needed a truck.

Gamification: Game Playing? Or Game Changing?

Direct marketers have known for years that involvement devices in direct mail draw the reader in and often result in higher response rates. A couple of recent articles about “gamification” and the fact that the Super Bowl game is coming in a few days, got me to thinking about how direct marketers can seize the “gamification” phenomenon. Here are five ideas about how you can use our cultural obsession to play games to

Direct marketers have known for years that involvement devices in direct mail draw the reader in and often result in higher response rates. A couple of recent articles about “gamification,” and the fact that the Super Bowl game is coming in a few days, got me to thinking about how direct marketers can seize the “gamification” phenomenon. Here are five ideas about how you can use our cultural obsession to play games to boost response.

Two recent articles are worth noting for direct marketers. One article was about playing games. The other about gamification.

On one side of the coin, games are used to reduce stress by people who play on mobile devices. In this case, an eMarketer report said that 50 percent of mobile gamers spend up to 30 minutes daily playing games to reduce stress. Others use games to pass time.

On the other side of the coin, offices are using gamification to increase productivity, which reportedly increases stress. In office settings, gaming processes—gamification—engages users to solve problems that improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness and learning. An article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The ‘Gamification’ of the Office Approaches” noted how productivity inside offices can be tracked and measured in points, fostering competitiveness and excellence.

Gaming is all around us. Millions scratch off lottery tickets or pick random numbers, and casinos are often packed.

In a few days, the biggest football game of the year—the Super Bowl—will be played with millions watching, and a lot of money wagered, as it becomes a national obsession for several days.

Let’s face it: We’re a culture who loves to play games and keep score.

For direct marketers, we can use our cultural obsession with games for a marketing advantage to increase response.

Whether you use offline direct mail with tokens or other involvement devices, or online channels, gaming techniques that are vetted as being legal, can be a good way to perk up your results.

Here are five ideas:

  1. In direct mail, if you mail your prospects or customers frequently, add a game that builds over time for purpose, more interaction and anticipation of your mailing.
  2. For any channel you’re in, use games to create customer loyalty so your buyers return again and again.
  3. In social media, check-ins and badges using mobile apps are like games, and they get your name in front of the friends of your fans.
  4. Encourage people to play a game that requires completing surveys and gives information about themselves for use in nurture marketing programs.
  5. Let your prospects and customers track their game scores, but as a direct marketer using sophisticated marketing automation software, you can turn the tables and score your customers to determine who is most likely to come back and buy again.

Finally, if you’re stumped with generating ideas, get your staff together and play games to get the ideas swirling. Ideation meetings that include games often bring out unexpected creative ideas.

Bottom line, use the principles of gamification to reinvent and re-energize your direct marketing approach. By becoming familiar with gamification techniques now, you or your staff may identify the next big sales game changer.

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.

My 9 Insider Tips to Build Your Email List For Low or No Cost!

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel. 

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, corporation or online publisher, the power of the lead is critical in growing your business … and your email list. Leads, also known as prospects, are typically the entry level point of the sales funnel.

A popular business model by many online publishers is to bring in leads at the “free” level (i.e. report, e-newsletter, webinar, white paper, etc.), add those names to their house list and typically over the course of 30 to 90 days (the bonding time) that lead will convert into a paying customer. This practice is known as lead generation, name collection or list-building efforts.

Today, I’m going to share with you some proven online marketing methods I’ve used and had great success with at some of the top publishers in America. And bonus … many of these tactics are low- or no-cost. Here’s my list, in no particular order:

Power eAcquisition Polls. In my last blog post, I wrote about using polls for lead generation. Incorporating a poll on your website or having a poll on another site is a great way to build your list. It’s important to spend time thinking about your poll question—something that is a hot topic, controversial and relevant to the locations where you’re placing your poll. You want to pull people in with your headline and make the poll entertaining. Your answers should be multiple choice and have an “other” field, which encourages participants to engage with your question. I’ve found this “other” field as a fantastic way to make the poll interactive. Many people are passionate about certain subject matters and won’t mind giving you their two cents. Then, to show appreciation for talking the poll, tell participants they are getting a bonus report and a free e-newsletter subscription (which they can opt out of at any time). And of course, make sure to mention—and link to—your privacy/anti spam policy. After you kick off your list-building efforts, make sure you start tracking them so you can quantify the time and resources spent. This involves working with your webmaster on setting up tracking URLs specific to each website you’re advertising on. It also means looking at Google Analytics for your website and corresponding landing pages to see traffic and referring page sources.

Teleseminars or Webinars. This is a great way to collect qualified names. Promote a free, relevant and value-oriented teleseminar or webinar to targeted prospects. You can promote it through several organic (free) tactics, such as LinkedIn Groups/Events, Facebook Events, Twitter, online press releases, affiliate marketing/joint ventures. Remember, this is for lead generation, not bonding. So your goal is to cast a wide net outside of your existing list, create visibility and get new names. Your value proposition should be actionable, relevant information that your target audience would find useful and worth giving their email address for. The trick is to promote the event in as many places as possible without incurring advertising costs; then your only costs may be the set up of the conference call (multiple lines, 800#) or webinar platform. And, in case you were wondering, I have been involved with teleseminars with non-toll-free numbers and response rates were not greatly impacted.

Co-registration. Co-Reg is another way to collect names, but involves a nominal fee. Co-Reg is when you place a small ad on another publisher’s site after some sort of transaction (albeit a sales or lead-gen offer). So, for instance, after someone signs up to the AOL Travel eNewsletter, a Thank You page comes up with a list of sponsors the reader may find interesting, as well—other free e-newsletter offers. The text ad is usually accompanied by a small graphic image representing the sponsor. The key here is to pick publishers and Co-Reg placements that are synergistic to your own publication and offer. Another important note is to make sure you follow up quickly to these names so they don’t forget who you are and go cold quite fast. I suggest a dedicated auto responder series for bonding and monetization. Co-Reg efforts can cost you around $1 to $3 per valid email address.

Frienemy Marketing. This includes JVs (joint ventures), affiliate marketing, guest editorials, editorial contributions and reciprocal ad swaps (for leads generation or revenue sharing). This tactic is extremely effective and cost-efficient. The key here is having some kind of leverage, then approaching publishers who may want your content or a cross-marketing opportunity to your current list (note: This only works if you have a list of decent size that another publisher will find attractive). In exchange for content or revenue share efforts, you and the other publisher agree to reciprocate either e-news ads or solo emails to each other’s lists, thereby sending a message to a targeted, relevant list for free. Well, if you agree on a rev share, it’s free as far as ad costs, but you are giving that publisher a split of your net revenues.

SONAR Marketing. I’ve written about this many times, but can’t stress it enough. Content is king and you can leverage it via what I call “SONAR.” It’s an organic (free) online strategy that works with the search engines. It’s a comprehensive method of repurposing, reusing, distributing and synchronizing the release of relevant, original content (albeit text, audio, video) to targeted online channels based on your audience. SONAR represents the following online distribution platforms:

S Syndicate partners, content syndication networks and user-generated content sites
O Online press releases
N Network (social) communities
A Article directories
R Relevant posts to blogs, forums and bulletin boards.

SONAR works hand-in-hand with your existing search engine marketing (SEM), social media marketing (SMM) and search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.

Search Engine Marketing. It’s a shame more marketers don’t see the value of SEO or SEM. In order to drive as much organic traffic as possible to your website, you need to make sure your site is optimized for the correct keywords and your target audience. Once you optimize your site with title tags, meta descriptions, meta keywords and relevant, keyword-dense content, you need to make sure you have revised your site to harness the traffic that will be coming. That means adding eye-catching email collection boxes to your home page (and it’s static on all your subpages), relevant banners and obvious links to e-comm webpages. You don’t want to miss a single opportunity to turn traffic into leads or sales.

Smart Media Buying. To complement your free online efforts, you may want to consider targeted, low-cost media buys (paid online advertising) in the form of text ads, banner ads, blog ads or list rentals (i.e. e-news sponsorships or solo emails). You’re paying for the placement in these locations, so you must make sure you have strong promotional copy and offers for the best results possible. High-traffic blogs are a high-performing, low-cost way to test new creatives. I like BlogAds.com network and you can buy placements a la carte and search by genre.

Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. You must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management, which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

Viral Marketing. Make sure you have a “forward to friend” feature in your e-newsletter to encourage viral marketing. It’s also important to have a content syndication blurb in your newsletter; this also encourages other websites, publishers, editors and bloggers to republish and share your content, as long as they give you author attribution and a back-link to your site (which helps in SEM).

The following, in my personal experience, doesn’t work for quality list building …

Sweepstakes and Giveaways. You’ve seen the offers: Win a free TV, iPhone or similar in exchange for your email address. This gets the volume, but the leads are usually poor quality or unqualified (irrelevant). The numbers may look good on the front end, but when you dig deeper, your list is likely compromised with deliverability issues (high bounce rates), inactives and bad emails. This is because the leads are not targeted. The offer wasn’t targeted or synergistic with the company. With lead generation efforts, it should be quality over quantity.

Email appends. According to Wikipedia, email appending, also known as e-appending, is a marketing practice that involves taking known customer data (first name, last name and postal address) and matching it against a vendor’s database to obtain email addresses. The purpose is to grow one’s email subscriber list with the intent of sending customers information via email instead of through traditional direct “snail” mail. The problem with this, in my direct experience, is that on the front end your list initially grows, but these names are not typically qualified or interested. At one company where I worked, we tracked a group of email append cohorts over the course of a year to see what percent would “convert” to a paying customer. Nearly 75 percent of the names dropped off the file during that year and never even converted. Email appending is a controversial tactic, with critics claiming that sending email to people who never explicitly opted-in is against best practices. In my opinion, it’s a waste of time and money.