Surviving Email Errors: It’s About the Perception

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Let me start this article with an admission: I hate typos. Further: I make typos. Unfortunately, I also subscribe to the premise that to be considered a professional, you must sound like a professional. Yet, in this day of electronic, casual-communication devices used for texting and chatting, the boundary between business and personal communications has been blurred, and I believe we have become less sensitive to typographical errors and more receptive to text shorthand, even when the type of correspondence calls for something far more formal. As this casual style edges into our business correspondence, and marketing messaging, we run the risk of causing harm to both our and our brand’s image.

Despite my abhorrence for the misspelled word and my dependence upon editors to ensure I toe the line, my writing is seldom (perhaps never) perfect, and I suffer great angst on the occasions when I find a string of badly ordered letters hidden in plain sight within my writings.

Undaunted, my quest for the perfect content continues, and with good reason: The Web Credibility Project conducted by the Stanford University Persuasive Technology Lab found that typos are one of the top factors for which a website’s credibility is reduced. If this is true of websites, surely the same can be said about other content we marketers produce, including emails.

According to a University of Michigan and University of Maryland study on grammatical evaluation and social evaluation (opens as a pdf), in general, homophonous grammatical errors (e.g., your/you’re) affected judgment and readability more severely than typographical errors (e.g., teh) or hypercorrections (e.g., invited John and I), but all typos have shown to have a negative impact on how you and your organization is perceived, and how receptive your recipients will be to a message with a typographical error. Typos imply carelessness and irresponsibility, especially when you are creating content on behalf of your clients.

When You Err
Many marketers believe that when a typo makes it through, they should immediately issue a correction or apology, but this is not always the best response. You need to keep the gravity of the error in perspective and resist the urge to panic. Take an objective look at the error and evaluate how egregious the error. If the error is statistical data or other numbers, it’s likely more important to address it than if the error is a typographical error such as teh. Likewise, if the error occurs in your subject line, this alone can adversely affect your open rate, so sending out a second email with a new subject line may be appropriate. On the other hand, sending a second email might well be more than your recipients will tolerate, and the correction email could be marked as spam or elicit an unsubscribe simply because it came so closely on the heels of the first. A balance must be reached.

If you find that you’ve made a mistake in your email, take a deep breath and:

  1. Assess the damage. Evaluate the impact of the mistake. Ask yourself questions such as: How many emails were sent? How does the open and click-thru rate compare with other emails of the same type? Was the typo offensive? Will the typo cause a negative perception of our brand? Will the typo cause your customer harm or lead to misinformation? If the typo is a pricing error or incorrect date, it may have a far-reaching impact on your company, in which case a correction is mandatory.
  2. Choose an appropriate response. Once your assessment is complete, work with your colleagues and management to draft an appropriate response, one in step with the gravity of the error. If you do decide that sending a second email is called for, follow these tips:
    • Act quickly. In many cases, a speedy follow up will be seen before the original email.
    • Be upfront. Write a subject line and preheader text that gets directly to the point: You are making a correction.
    • Apologize, without excuses. Take ownership of the error, be frank, and say you’re sorry. Don’t belabor the point with excuses that may well come off insincere or seem as though you want to blame everyone but yourself. Use words such as “correction,” “oops,” or “we apologize,” so your recipients immediately know why they are receiving a second email so soon.
    • Improve the offer. If the typo is concerning an offer on which you cannot deliver, offer them something better.
    • Mind your brand. Be brand consistent, but self-deprecation or humor can be a good approach.
    • Reach out socially. Use your social networks to further acknowledge the error (especially effective with humor) and offer ways your constituents can reach you with questions or support needs.
    • Vet programmatic solutions. In some cases, and depending upon which email automation solution you use, hyperlink errors can be fixed programmatically. While you cannot change the text of the email once sent, be sure to speak with the support team to glean options for fixing the underlying link. If the typo is in the form of an incorrect image, you may well be able to swap the image so that any unopened emails will display the correct image. If the email has been opened but is later opened again, the new image should appear there as well. In this case, a correction will only need to be sent to those recipients who opened the email before you corrected the error.
  3. Monitor analytics. Once assessed and addressed, your email software should be able to provide you with ample analytics about how things went. Keep a close eye on the open, click-through, and unsubscribe rates—these are the best places to discern the level of damage done.

We all make mistakes in our content, but it’s important that we learn from them and learn to avoid them. Here is a collection of tips that may help you avoid the need for an apology altogether:

  • Write your email content in Word and use autocorrect, spell check and grammar check. It won’t be perfect, so don’t depend on it solely, but it can highlight possible areas that need a closer look.
  • Printed emails are usually easier to proofread and pass around for others to review.
  • Read the text aloud, preferably to an audience.
  • Have a child read the text aloud to you. Children are more likely to read exactly what they see since they are typically unfamiliar with the content.
  • Read the text backward, from end to beginning.
  • Send draft emails to a select group on whom you can rely to read the content carefully and thoroughly.
  • Reread and proofread each time you make changes. Many typos are injected after content has passed through proofreading and while you are making on-the-fly and last-minute changes. Resend your draft email to your test group after all last-minute changes have been completed.

It’s one thing to make the occasional error, but quite another to consistently send emails with errors. Each error will erode your customers’ confidence and thus, damage your reputation and this can be a lasting impression. When asked of their perception of companies who send emails with errors, people use words such as “careless,” “rushed,” “inattentive to detail,” “incompetent,” “uneducated,” and “stupid.”

Your email typos might find their way to the inbox of a charitable person who is willing to overlook your error, or to someone simply too busy to notice, but odds are a customer, colleague or [gasp] your boss will notice and will assume that you are careless or uncaring—neither of which is ideal for your continued employment.

If you are sending SMS messages or posting to your social media, you’ll find that these mediums offer a bit more forgiveness, and what might seem like an apology-worthy error in email is a simple snafu socially or in text messaging. Though the formats are forgiving, there is still a call for professionalism, so resist with all your might the urge to use text shorthand in any type of business message, regardless of the vehicle.

Your content sets the recipients’ expectation, establishes you as an authority, and validates your knowledge of the industry. Typos can change this perception in a heartbeat, especially when repeated. Take the time to ensure your content is error-free and you will continue to foster a positive relationship with your recipients—and look brilliant in the process.

As a matter of record, my worst typo was a caption for the photo of a three-star general’s wife, where I noted that she was a “lonely lady rather than the “lovely lady” the client described. What’s yours?

How to Create Win-Back Emails That Actually Win Customers Back

Effective win-back programs are the simplest way to increase revenue and profitability. Once the acquisition costs have been reclaimed, retained customers are the most profitable segment in a company’s database. I often wonder why every business doesn’t have an aggressive campaign in place

Creating and implementing effective win-back programs is the simplest way to increase revenue and profitability. Once the acquisition costs have been reclaimed, retained customers are the most profitable segment in a company’s database. I often wonder why every business doesn’t have an aggressive campaign in place.

The typical win-back program consists of an email or two that declares, “We want you back!” with no acknowledgement of the recipients’ buying history or relationship with the company. It’s as if the marketers think that changing the subject line and mentioning that the customers have been missed is enough to make people come running back.

Generic win-back emails come from B-to-C and B-to-B companies. The first example is from 1800PetSupplies. There are three mentions about wanting the customer to buy again. The first is in the subject line. It reads, “Psst! Come Back for 25% Off Your Entire Order.” The two other mentions are in the body. They are, “We Miss You! Come Back & Save 25% Off Your Entire Order!” and “We Miss You! Come Back & Save!” There is something missing from this email. While you are thinking about what it could be, let’s look at the second example.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek sent an email that looks like it might be designed to win subscribers back. The subject line reads, “Welcome Back Rate – Save 88%” but there is no other mention of wanting the recipient back in the email. The message is personalized with [insert name here] technology, but there is nothing about the subscriber’s history.

What Is Missing From Typical Win-back Campaigns?
People stop buying, subscribing or donating for a reason. Knowing why they left is the first step to getting them back. The typical win-back campaign is missing the personalization that entices people to come back. It’s very hard to convince customers that they were missed when you don’t recognize them.

Creating personalized emails designed to engage recipients’ requires detailed analytics and business rules that insure the right message is delivered. How much more effective would the 1800PetSupplies email be if it mentioned the recipient’s name and pets before noting that she was missed?

Information in an individual’s buying history can be used to create detailed emails designed to bring people back. Win-back campaigns that limit selection criteria to last purchase date can do more harm than good. Customers who leave because of service issues respond negatively to “we want you back” messages that don’t acknowledge the problem. The best win-back programs are designed to speak to individual needs. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start the win-back campaign as soon as the first order is fulfilled or donation is received. Customize the marketing message to include follow-up information from the first transaction. A soft win-back approach keeps people from leaving.
  • Separate people who have had issues from everyone else. Winning back an unhappy camper requires special care. The investment in TLC will pay off because people who have negative experiences resolved to their satisfaction are more loyal.
  • Build the program from the ground up. Adding some personalization to a generic campaign doesn’t deliver results like creating one designed to optimize reactivation. The better the foundation, the higher the return.
  • Develop a multi-level program. It is much easier to retain a satisfied customer with a recent transaction than one that has been dormant for months. It also costs less. Save the big incentives for the last resort.
  • Continuously test and improve. People are easily trained to wait for the best deal. Include activity patterns and seasonality in your segmentation so the big incentives aren’t offered when your customers are already scheduled to buy.

How to Make Subject Lines Work Overtime

Emails are a series of components working together to motivate recipients to act. The subject line has always been a front-line player. Its ability to capture attention in a flash is critical to getting people to open the email for more information. The best subject lines are the ones that stop people before they can move along to the next message. This isn’t an easy task because today’s hectic lifestyles are filled with distractions. The only messages that get through are the ones that hit the target for an immediate need or are from trusted sources. The best messages combine trust and need

Emails are a series of components working together to motivate recipients to act. The subject line has always been a front-line player. Its ability to capture attention in a flash is critical to getting people to open the email for more information. The best subject lines are the ones that stop people before they can move along to the next message. This isn’t an easy task because today’s hectic lifestyles are filled with distractions. The only messages that get through are the ones that hit the target for an immediate need or are from trusted sources. The best messages combine trust and need.

The challenge for marketers creating email messages is creating trust and targeting needs. Trust comes with time. If your customers and prospects are consistently treated well, they will trust you. Targeting needs is much harder. Even the best analytical minds cannot predict with a high level of accuracy all of your subscribers needs at a given time. Missing the mark by a few days is the difference between a sale and a lost opportunity. Google is working to change that. The Gmail field trial that is currently running changes the email marketing game.

The enhanced Google search delivers a personal experience. The results are delivered from the web, Google Drive, Google Calendar and Gmail. This extends the life of emails exponentially for companies whose subscribers haven’t achieved InboxZero. Emptying the inbox every day and reaching the goal of InboxZero is elusive to most people. They try, but the best they can do is take care of the most pressing messages and leave the rest to another day. After all, there are more pressing demands than deleting messages most of the time.

When your subscribers search for products or services featured in your messages, they will be reminded of your email. Having a subject line that includes the search terms increases the likelihood that they will open your email and breathe new life into the campaign. This means that your subject line has to work overtime to deliver a better return. In addition to motivating people to open the email now, it needs to give them a reason to open it later. For example, if your business sells sunglasses, the subject line of “New Styles Just Arrived” becomes “Just Arrived – New Styles from Oakley, RayBan and Gucci.” When a recipient uses Google to search for “Oakley Sunglasses,” your email will appear with the detailed headline.

The same rules of engagement for subject lines still apply. The only difference is you want to add high quality keywords that will target recipients when they are searching for items or services you are featuring. The following subject line best practices have been adapted to help you capitalize on the new opportunity:

  • Put the most important information in the first fifty characters to capture attention and create a sense of urgency. Use the space after the first fifty to add targeted keywords.
  • Make the first two lines in the email consistent with the subject line. This is a good place to provide additional information and emphasize the keywords.
  • Avoid spam triggers in the subject line and first two lines of the email. Otherwise, even if the email happens to make it past the spaminators and into the inbox, Google will most likely ignore it.
  • Be your brand’s self. Your customers trust you, so create subject lines that make it easy for them to recognize your company.
  • Test, test and test. Don’t rely on other people’s experiences. Test to see what works best for your company.

The field trial is in progress now. If your subscriber list has a high volume of gmail users, you may want to start testing now to find the best ways to capitalize on this opportunity. Knowing Google, the senders who get opened the most are more likely to be at the top of the results. Shouldn’t that be your company?

Landing Pages: This Worked, That Didn’t

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action. Today we are reviewing emails and their landing pages from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.”

Nothing derails an email conversion faster than the wrong landing page. Good emails tell a story to the recipient. It may be the story of a sale, how things work or what’s going on. Whatever the story, it needs to flow continuously from beginning to end. Any break introduces distractions that can divert the participant from the preferred action.

Every component of an email has a simple purpose: Move the person reading it to the next step. The purpose of the subject is to motivate the recipient to open the email. Once opened, the content should be a continuation of the subject and provide information for the next step.

Today we are reviewing emails from two companies that offer home improvement items for this edition of “This Worked, That Didn’t.” The emails—found in the Email Campaign Archive—are similar in content and creative, but very different in execution. The challengers are Build.com and Rejuvenation.

Both emails have a do-it-yourself subject line. Build.com uses “Make Your Outdoors a Masterpiece” and Rejuvenation has “Update a Hardworking Bath with Lighting, Hardware, and Accessories.” Recipients gearing up for home improvement projects would find the subjects appealing.

The Rejuvenation email (Image 1) has a photo of the beautiful bathroom. The copy at the top of the photo reads: “Hardworking Spaces: Bathroom Simple, warm, practical – a rustic bath will stand the test of time.” A button under the copy has a link to “Shop Bathroom.”

Clicking on the link takes the potential buyer to a landing page (Image 2) that continues the story started in the email. The same image is featured in the email and on the landing page. The headline on the landing page, “Time-Tested Bathroom,” is consistent with the copy from the email. The copy following the headline says:

For a bathroom that stands the test of time, consider borrowing design ideas from that other hardworking space: the kitchen. An apron-front sink and butcher-block counters stand up to just about anything, and will only get better with age. Burnished metals with a timeworn patina suit this understated aesthetic perfectly. Try a pair of Kent wall brackets in Antique Copper and beaded mirrors in Bronze finish for warmth and sparkle.

Featured products continue the story immediately following the copy. This is an excellent example of using an email to move people from their inbox to the shopping cart.

The build.com email starts out well too. It has a photo (Image 3) of an exquisite house with a sunset backdrop and beautiful lighting. The copy tweaks the subject line into “Make Your Outdoors an Oasis.” The button at the bottom of the image reads, “Get Started,” creating an expectation of additional information on how to get this look. There is another link at the lower left corner that is barely visible. It reads, “Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting.” One expects that the link will take you directly to the lighting used at this house.

The beautifully crafted email takes a surprising turn when you click on the Get Started link. Instead of information on how to create the look or the products used, the landing page is the company’s outdoor department (Image 4). The first thing you see is a lawnmower. Scroll about halfway down a very long page and you’ll find information on how to light up your night. Before you get there, you pass a video on grilling and the segment on indoor living outdoors. Only the most dedicated email recipients will search the page for the information they’re seeking.

The Sea Gull Outdoor Lighting link is also disappointing. Instead of going to the product page, the potential customer is taken to the outdoor department. Getting to the featured item requires choosing from thirteen outdoor lighting links or doing a site search. There is nothing easy about finding the items featured in the email. A search of “Sea Gull Outdoor Light” yields 2,606 products. Good luck finding the ones featured in the email.

The winner of the landing page challenge is Rejuvenation. To insure that your emails are always on the winning side:

  • Make links take people to the page they expect to see. If you don’t have an appropriate page, either build one or change the email message.
  • Keep the path from first click to checkout as short as possible. The longer the path, the more likely people will leave.
  • Tell a continuous story. Continuity keeps people moving forward. A good story answers questions at the right time and removes all resistance to completing the final call to action.

Learning From the Best (and Worst) Email Marketers

Following best practices is one of the quickest ways to get a high quality marketing program started and to improve one that is in place. The things that consistently motivate people to act in one channel or industry will work in others. Watching what competitors and non-competitors alike do provides insight and inspiration for connecting with your customers

Following best practices is one of the quickest ways to get a high quality marketing program started and to improve one that is in place. The things that consistently motivate people to act in one channel or industry will work in others. Watching what competitors and non-competitors alike do provides insight and inspiration for connecting with your customers.

Email marketing is one of the easiest channels for gathering information on what people are doing to inspire their customers and prospects to act. Subscriptions to most email programs are free, so the out-of-pocket cost is minimal. The downside of subscribing to a magnitude of newsletters and promotional emails is a full inbox that has to be filtered to find the best ideas. Subscribing to an email archive provider is an alternative that will save you time while providing access to a multitude of ideas. [Editor’s Note: The Who’s Mailing What Email Campaign Archive is one such service, offered by one of our sister publications in the Target Marketing Group, that provides research and data for The Integrated Email.]

Whether you compile your own or use a provider, look at what is being done to capture the recipient’s attention. You have a few characters and nanoseconds to make recipients decide they want to open your email. Everything has to fit together to make it work. Your customers use a variety of devices and tools to view their emails. You want your return address, subject line, and opening blurb to scream “open me now” at first glance regardless of the device or tool.

Looking at how others use copy and graphics to motivate people to act can help you find new ways to inspire and tactics to avoid. When you have historical data at your fingertips, you can start identifying the things that work best. Repetition of the subject line or special offer typically means that it worked well and the company wants to replicate the success. The exception is when the same subject line or offer is barely changed email after email. This usually indicates that the email program is in auto mode with little testing to see what has the best success.

In addition to seeing what works, reviewing archived emails also shows opportunities. A review of your competitors’ program and content will show where they are leaving holes in the information provided to customers and prospects. Fill those holes and your business will attract market share.

Every component of an email has one simple purpose: To keep the recipients moving forward step-by-step until they reach the end. The final action you want them to take is the objective of the email. It may be purchasing an item, completing a survey, or any other activity you choose. The perfect email is the one that makes the most people fulfill its purpose.

The components of an email include:

Subject Line
The subject line needs to lead strong and provide a reason for people to open the email. The best subject lines capture attention with the first words because some devices or tools only show a few characters.

Return Information
Use the return information to let people know who the email is from and why they should care. Your loyal customers will be more likely to open the email even if the subject line is unappealing when they know it is you.

Opening
The opening line is often shown when people skim through their emails. Apparently email marketers pay little attention to this because I routinely receive emails that appear on my mobile device leading off with “if you have trouble viewing this email click here” or “view in iOS out|view as web page.”

Graphics
Emails that are primarily graphics open in most email client inboxes with red Xs in place of those graphics. Use a good combination of text and graphics in your emails so there is something for people to read when the graphics aren’t visible. Use alternate text for your images to provide information that will motivate people to download the images.

Copy
The words you use make all the difference in an effective email. Invest in a good copywriter that knows how to speak to your customers in the language they understand with words that motivate them to act. It is money well spent because it always delivers a higher return on investment.

Call to Action
What do you want people to do next? If you don’t tell them, they’re less likely to do it. People have been trained from an early age to follow instructions well. Use that training to get them to take the next step.

Follow-up
Give people an opportunity to respond directly to your email if they have additional questions. Provide a call to action for questions that includes a link, an email address, and a telephone number. This allows them to choose the method of communication that fits them best.

12 Reasons to Fuse Direct Marketing and Video Marketing Now

Tried and true direct marketing formulas + online video = your next powerful marketing opportunity. Blending direct marketing sales approaches with online video, where 40 billion videos are watched monthly, can showcase your products and services, build trust, close deals, and raise money. Here are reasons to fuse

Tried and true direct marketing formulas + online video = your next powerful marketing opportunity. Blending direct marketing sales approaches with online video, where 40 billion videos are watched monthly, can showcase your products and services, build trust, close deals, and raise money. Here are reasons to fuse together the power of direct marketing with online video. Today we begin with the first 6 reasons.

1. Now is the early stage for the blending of DM disciplines and online video. While DM and video have been around for years, many marketers have yet to blend the methodologies together. The Deep Dive: Early adopters have been using video with streaming words and voice-over, interviews and product demonstrations. But the next stage of successful video uses proven direct marketing copywriting techniques and call-to-action in video script writing, and uses DM design techniques that will move production values to a higher level.

2. Online video use and views are exploding.

  • In just one recent month, 181 million U.S. Internet users watched 43.5 billion videos averaging over 22 hours per viewer.
  • Over 84% of internet users watched an online video.
  • Americans watched over 5.6 billion online video ads. In fact, online video ads are 38% more memorable than TV ads.

The Deep Dive: According to comScore.com, a global source of digital market intelligence, online video viewing was up 43% from Dec. 2010 to Dec. 2011 This video is a summary of comScore’s findings about the explosive increases in online video viewing during the past year. (By the way, we’ll show you, in an upcoming post, how you can drastically improve upon their really distracting audio quality for about $30.)

If you’re not incorporating video in your marketing strategy, you’re out-of-date.

3. Consumers’ attention span is shorter than ever, and it’s not likely to increase. People will give you a few seconds to watch a video. Engage them quickly, and they’ll stick with you long enough to get your message across and prompt enough curiosity to check you out more. The Deep Dive: Does this strategy sound a lot like using a compelling teaser on an outer envelope, or a strong subject line in an email? Of course it does! So, set up your video strategy properly by getting the viewer to opt-in to watch more of your future videos.

4. Websites with video are perceived as having higher importance. When you add videos, you attract more in-linking domains than with plain text. The Deep Dive: Video inclusion on your social media or blog posts has been shown to triple inbound linking. The following chart is from a well-respected seomoz.org blog post that goes more deeply into this topic. http://www.seomoz.org/blog/what-makes-a-link-worthy-post-part-1.

5. An inbound marketing strategy may be a challenge for a traditional direct marketer to accept, but video has the power to draw prospective customers to you. The Deep Dive: Video on blogs and posted YouTube can be shared on social media and will draw traffic to you. This is a far more powerful-and less costly-marketing strategy than pushing your unsolicited message using outbound marketing strategies.

6. Online video analytics are amazing. Post your video on YouTube and over time you’ll see not only how many times your video was viewed, but second-by-second you’ll see retention levels and discover at what point you lost your viewer. You’ll see demographic information. You’ll be smarter so much faster that your head will spin. The Deep Dive: If you’re a traditional direct marketer, you surely love numbers. With video, you get a lot of data to crunch that will make you smarter and your selling more effective.

In our next post, we’ll reveal six more reasons why you should fuse direct marketing and video marketing now. In the meantime, comment below and tell us your video marketing successes or what you’d like to read in future blog posts.

How a Dirty Mind Can Help Save Your Creative

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be. He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well-for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet. The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions. … Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be.

He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well—for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet.

The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions.

According to a post on his eulogy, one class “was merely given phone numbers to call for interviews. The students discovered people who were blind, who had AIDS, who were in great distress—all assembled by Charlie for the exercise.”

“Typical Charlie,” I thought as I read it.

For another exam, he loaded the entire class into an Econoline van, drove them to the front gate of New York’s Attica state prison and told them to go in and get quotes from lifers.

The final exam for my interviewing class was a quote scavenger hunt that included having to find, phone and quote people who were obscurely referenced—maybe by just a name or nickname. This was before the Internet.

My exam also involved getting a quote from Buffalo, NY’s then mayor Jimmy Griffin, a man legendary for physical altercations with reporters.

I aced that exam. For example, I knew Mayor Griffin would get increasingly agitated by the calls from Charlie’s students and would stop accepting them, so I made sure I was first.

Charlie called his interviewing class “boot camp for the terminally over privileged.”

Just before he died, I met him for lunch during a trip back to Buffalo. After we shook hands, I produced a copy of iMarketing News, the dot-com trade newspaper I had launched for DM News.

“Everything you taught me is in play in this newspaper,” I said. “Your name’s not on it, but you’re all through it.”

He died in 2000 from unexpected complications from what was supposed to be minor surgery. He was 58.

I think of Charlie often, especially when circumstances arise that he warned us would come about.

In fact, I thought of Charlie recently and how he would have chuckled when an email arrived from the Obama team with “Michelle” in the “from” line.

“Sometime soon, I want to meet you,” said the subject line.

Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

One of the simplest but most enduring lessons he taught me was that the best editors have dirty minds. They can help avoid publishing embarrassing copy with unintended meanings.

For example, I once saved a reporter from including a line in her piece about a football practice bubble that had been “problem plagued since its erection.”

If a Charlie Adair were on team Obama, he would have told them that subject line in the “Michelle” email sounded like something from a pornography spammer.

Everyone can use a Charlie Adair on their copy team-including you. That guy or gal on your team with the dirty mind could mean the difference between a sale and a giggle.

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.