Automated Marketing: Drip vs. Nurture

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference. Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients

Yes, Virginia, there is a difference.

Earlier this week, I was interviewed by a reporter doing an article on nurture campaigns and, as I had been in so many conversations before, was surprised that she did not differentiate between drip and nurture marketing. In fact, I know many seasoned marketers who also do not follow separate protocols for these two disparate approaches to marketing. So, while you may well disagree with me, here’s how I see it and how we develop campaigns for our clients.

Blast
Blast campaigns are not automated, though you might well schedule a blast to deploy automatically. A blast email is a single event—think of your weekend sale, your newly released demo, or your new YouTube video. You’ll send out a single email making this announcement. Let’s suppose, however, that you have a podcast series and each episode posts early Monday morning. Now, we’re talking automation.

Drip
Drip marketing is designed to keep you top of mind when your recipient is ready to enter or reenter the sales funnel—gentle reminders. These emails or direct mails are of a similar design and usually based upon a branded template or theme. The message is general and is sent to a general list. Of course, personalization and segmentation will ensure that your message is targeted and better received even when using a general list, but the message is sent on a predetermined schedule. We often refer to this as the passive path.

Think of the drip-irrigation system, from which this campaign style acquired its moniker. The water drips at a consistent rate regardless of whether or not the plant is thirsty. Drip, drip, drip. Your campaign should do the same.

In order to determine the frequency of the drip, or touch, you will need to test or survey your audience. If you are a nationwide pet food supplier, you might find that twice a week is the right pace. If you’re selling enterprise software, perhaps it’s more like once every two weeks. The span of time in between drips does not change the definition or purpose. You are regularly pinging your constituents with a cue describing an existing relationship and providing information that, in the long run, will contribute to their buying decision.

Eventually your recipient will receive a message from you—either at exactly the right time or of the ideal offer—and they will engage—click to watch, download, or take a test drive. Now it’s time to get your nurture campaign involved.

Nurture
Unlike the drip campaign, the nurture campaign fires off at will each time your recipient engages. When you send a drip event offering a preview of your new video and the recipient clicks to view, your nurture campaign should automatically deploy a message thanking them for viewing the video and offering up a link to something that nudges them to the next step in the purchasing process. Perhaps this is a white paper or a demo. It might even be a meeting with a sales person.

To build your nurture steps, give consideration to your current sales process: You acquire a lead, qualify the lead, nurture the lead by providing additional information as needed, and at some point close the sale. It’s critical to sit with your sales team and discuss their current process for closing sales. Along with management and your creativity, you should be able to architect a campaign that is a digital (or, if direct mail, a physical) representation of the sales team’s approach. Here’s a rough sketch of what that might look like:

  1. Acquire a lead
  2. Welcome the lead – for your first touch, consider a blast email that simply proves deliverability. If the email successfully makes it to the inbox and/or is opened, clicked, or not deleted, shuttle the opened and non-deleted emails to your drip segment (until such as time as they too engage and become a member of your nurture segment) and the clickers to your nurture segment.
  3. Qualify the lead – this might be an email that simply provides links to your social-media accounts, a YouTube video, a resource download, or high-value areas of your website.
  4. Auto-respond appropriately to the lead – With each specific type of engagement, automatically send a prepared message (called an auto-responder) that acknowledges the engagement, thanks them for the engagement, and offers an accelerated engagement (the next logical step in the sales process). For example, if they watched a video, now might be the time to offer them a white paper on the same subject. For someone shopping for dog food, you might offer them first a video on the benefits of this brand, if they watch the video, the next auto-responder might be a coupon on that brand, if they do not redeem the coupon, the next auto-responder might be a coupon with a higher-value discount and more urgency (shop until midnight tonight and get free shipping). If they still pass on the coupon, consider a video on another brand.
  5. Rinse and repeat. For each engagement, respond appropriately, and offer an accelerated engagement acting as a nudge in the right direction – your shopping cart or offline purchase.

If you’re using a CRM, each event can and should contribute or deduct from your lead score. For instance, if a lead unsubscribes, you can deduct from the lead score and if they open the email, follow you socially, watch the video, download the resource, or visit your website, you can add to your lead score.

We call the nurture campaign the active path because your recipients are actively engaged.

Automated and manual monitoring of your engagement in blast, drip, and nurture events is important. It ensures that you do not continue to email messages that are missing the mark and enables you to move drip recipients into the nurturing path at the appropriate time.

Recipients in the nurturing path that show no signs of life should be kicked back to the drip campaign and those in the drip campaign who are without a pulse should be retired so as not to adversely affect your sender reputation.

Turning Email and Social Synergy Into Opportunity

In marketing — as in candy bowls — chasing too much opportunity can produce nothing more than paralysis or, at best, a dilution of the effort when it’s spread too thinly.

Too much candy isn’t good for you. As appealing as that big bowl of M&Ms looks right now, you know that if you get even get close to it, you’re going to regret it.

The same can be true in marketing. Working with a marketer who is merging three email programs into one campaign management application, I realized very early that there was huge opportunity for synergy of content as well as cross-selling and promotion between the three brands. The marketer was very excited about the possibility of managing the programs in a true CRM-driven fashion. That was only possible once the programs were generated off the same database and integrated at the subscriber level. Until now, the best this marketer could do was run separate promotions with similar offers, then try to compare the impact on revenue and unsubscribes after the fact. There were never very promising results.

With everything managed in one solution, the field is open for new approaches. A quick diagram of the combined customer base by brand showed a very slim overlap between them. At first glance, that feels like all upside — what a great opportunity to expose each brand to new, known audiences. It’s a big bowl of untouched delicious chocolate!

Synergy situations like this do create opportunity. That can be very exciting. But before you get too swept up in dreaming big, consider how important it is to prioritize those opportunities. In marketing — as in candy bowls — chasing too much opportunity can produce nothing more than paralysis or, at best, a dilution of the effort when it’s spread too thinly.

Consider these factors to help prioritize the opportunities before you:

1. Permission. Never assume permission. Period. First, it may be illegal depending on the countries where you market. Second, it’s bad marketing. There’s plenty of cross-sellling opportunities along the existing permission grants that you own today. At the same time, encourage subscribers to sign up for more types of messages from other brands in your preference center.

Lest you falter in your steadfastness, take this tale to heart: We had one marketer recently suffer a big drop in sender reputation and inbox placement. We traced the high complaints to a few campaigns promoting retail partners. Even though it was the marketer’s brand, template and “from” line, subscribers thought the messages were actually from the partners. Complaints were very high, even though the partners were trusted brands themselves. Subscribers knew they didn’t sign up for email from those brands and didn’t stop to check to see if it was a cross-promotion. They just clicked the spam button. Even if you own the partner brands, don’t assume your subscribers know that. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to gain permission and earn it with every message you send.

2. Audience profile. You don’t have the time or resources to tackle every possible cross-promotion opportunity, so focus on the two to three that have the right criteria — reach, revenue and strategic importance. The latter is sometimes hard to gauge, but it usually involves business drivers, high-value customers or high-visibility projects. Balance those factors out in a spreadsheet so that you have real science behind your discussions. Make sure that every test has an actionable learning so that you can continue to improve and optimize.

3. Brand affinity. Just like in social marketing, customers who already trust you are the ones most likely to take your advice on cross-promotional purchases. Therefore, segment not just by permission status but also by the likelihood of brand affinity that will encourage cross-pollinization of the brands. For example, free online members may have a very low brand affinity and thus are least likely to welcome cross-promotions. Paid members who have purchased recently or have more than one product will be more likely to welcome upsell offers (and not complain).

4. Sales channel preference. A factor that became more important than we initially considered is sales channel — e.g., those who purchase in-store versus online. Not only are there demographic differences between the two, but there are also differences in the way email is used. For example, in this case email wasn’t very successful at encouraging in-store customers to purchase online, but it was effective in generating store traffic. Seems obvious now that we see the results, but of course the magic is in the discovery.

5. Customer life cycle. This is perhaps the most important factor. I’ve found time and again that marketers are way too confident in their assumptions about how interested consumers are in their offers. In fact, you have to start way back in the life cycle for cross-promotions, just as you would with new prospects (which, of course, many of these people are). Nurturing has to start with discovery and exploration. Too many times marketers hit prospects with offers well before they’ve established credibility with them or before they even acknowledge their own needs.

What have you learned from your efforts to create new revenue and customer satisfaction opportunities through data integration? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section below.

A ‘Back-to-Business’ Email Optimization Checklist

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

1. Put on the proverbial tie. Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your email look with a template minirefresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and calls to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them, including the following:

  • small image, link or headline additions requested by the brand, product or sales teams;
  • the multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages;
  • that extra banner at the bottom of your emails promoting a special event that never seemed to go away;
  • a bunch of social networking links that no one has clicked on (usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they’re more appealing and inviting); and
  • extra legal or other language in the footer.

2. Insure against failure. Take a quick look at two key engagement metrics this year: unsubscribe requests and complaints (i.e., clicks on the “Report Spam” button). First, ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Then, take a look if the unsubscribe and complaint rates for your various types of messages (e.g., newsletters or promotions) are erratic, growing or steady?

If erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new lifestage and are now uninterested in your content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited for your brand and/or content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities.

3. Turn frequency into cadence. Back when everything reached the inbox, being present was enough to earn a brand impression. So, many marketers just broadcast often to be near the top of the inbox. People are now fatigued from inbox clutter, however, and are employing more filters as a result. Being relevant and timely trumps volume. Subscribers visit their inboxes expecting to see timely messages tailored to their interests. On the other hand, repeated reminders about last week’s sale may turn them off forever.

4. Adopt a new attitude. Gather new information about subscribers, and use it to test content or segmentation strategies. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. To get higher participation, make it fun by featuring the results of the poll on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share. Or keep a Twitter tally of response in real time.

5. Arm yourself for the crush. Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the email transit way also fills up as marketers promote their fall offerings and gear up for the holidays/Q4. Just like in any rush hour, the more email traffic, the higher the likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered.

Make it a habit to check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings — it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data. If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your email service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics such as my firm’s free email reputation service SenderScore.org or DNSstuff.com, another free email reputation service.

Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95th percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of “delivered” (i.e., the inverse of your bounce rate). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of delivered email is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox, according to a study by my firm. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics if you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

6. Make new friends. You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices, then regularly link to those websites in your own messages as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of experts and potential referrals back to your business.

These might be tasks already on your to-do list. Do them this week and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.

What’s On the Minds of Email Marketers

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood – or utilized – by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.
 

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood — or utilized — by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.

Two questions came up repeatedly (perhaps you struggle with these issues, too, and will share what you’ve learned or offer other questions that challenge your program’s success):

1. What can email practitioners do to keep up with their brethren on the social marketing side, who seem to get all the attention and new resources these days?

Just because social marketing hasn’t killed email (all the dire predictions are well dismissed by now), it doesn’t mean that email marketers can rest on their laurels. You have to continue to innovate and improve the experience for subscribers. Email marketers must prove that the channel can grow revenue in order to get more funding and resources.

First, the solution is in smart segmentation, intelligent content strategy and the discipline to match message cadence to the needs of different subscribers. Automation and triggering technology is readily accessible from most email broadcast vendors. Be careful, however, because just sending more and more messages won’t build long-term revenue opportunities. (It might generate revenue in the short term, which is why too many marketers fall into that trap.)

Email marketers must send more of the kinds of messages that subscribers value — e.g., post-purchase offers or reminders; information that helps to make renewal decisions; or tips on how to improve productivity, lose weight this summer or look good in front of your boss (or kids). Try the following three ideas for improved results, higher customer satisfaction and more executive attention:

* Segment and customize content that’s regularly consumed on mobile devices.
If you don’t know what this might be, ask your subscribers! Optimize your mobile rendering by trimming out images and unnecessary links. Streamline your content by sending shorter bits of info more frequently than one longer message.

* Treat customers and prospects differently. They have different relationships with your brand. Even simple segmentation can make a huge difference in relevancy and response — and lowering spam complaints.

* Send fewer generic messages and product announcements in favor of custom content based on customer status, product ownership and recent activity. For B-to-B marketers, acknowledge products customers already own, and celebrate things like anniversaries and renewals. For B-to-C marketers, sitewide sales can be effective, but only if they’re perceived as being somewhat unusual and unique. Customize sales for key segments of your audience, even if that means just changing the subject line or which content is at the top.

You can’t earn a response if you don’t reach the inbox — something that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. Mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and corporate system administrators are using reputation data pulled from the actual practices of individual senders to identify what’s welcome, good and should reach the inbox versus what’s “spammy,” unwelcome, and should go to the junk folder or be blocked altogether.

This creates both friction as well as opportunity. Email marketers must keep their files very clean, mailing only to those subscribers who are active and engaged. And to be welcome, they must create better subscriber experiences. Sender reputation is based on marketers’ practices and is the score of your ability to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response.

2. How do I break through the clutter of the inbox?

The inbox isn’t just more crowded, it’s fragmenting, becoming more device-driven and crowded. Only the best subscriber experiences will break through. The number one mistake email marketers make is forgetting about subscribers’ interests. It’s not about sending out “just one more blast” this week in order to make this month’s number. Do that too often and you’ll soon find your file churning and possibly all of your messages blocked due to high spam complaints (i.e., clicks on the Report Spam button).

Focus on building long-term relationships with your subscribers. Change your metrics to measure engagement and subscriber value, not list size or how many people bother to unsubscribe. What drives the business is response, sharing and continued activity.

Defy internal pressure to abuse the channel by sending only what’s relevant. Work hard to customize content and contact strategies to meet the life stages and needs of each key segment. Ensure that your email program contains content that’s right for the channel. Don’t duplicate with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make each channel sing with some unique and powerful value proposition. If you can’t think of one for each channel, then you probably don’t need to be in that channel after all. Tie your business goals to subscribers’ happiness and success. They’ll reward you with response, revenue and long-term subscription.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual event and my chat session! For everyone, let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.