Converting Your Social Media Triple-Fs: Friends, Followers and Fans

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

I’ve heard many gurus, marketers and publishers brag about their social media followers. They’ll say things like, “Isn’t it great … I’ve got 10,000 fans on Facebook” or “I have more than 15,000 followers on Twitter.” Then I’ll ask them how many free e-newsletter subscribers they have. And they’ll reply, “I haven’t had time to build a list yet. I don’t have an e-newsletter.”

Well, in my opinion, they’ve won only half the battle …

It’s fantastic that they have a following on social media—people who seem to be interested in their messages (posts) and their overall philosophy. They can certainly cultivate these relationships to assist in their marketing efforts. However, I remind these gurus that the “fans” are following them. It’s a passive relationship. And there’s an awful lot of background noise in a news feed that can distract their fans.

If you don’t have fans’ email addresses, then you cannot have one-on-one communications with them. Building and cultivating a list is a fundamental business strategy for sales growth.

In the publishing world, a list (email addresses of free or paid subscribers) is sacred. It’s one of the most valuable things you own. You protect it and treat it with care, because your list is your financial bread and butter. It’s made up of people—customers and subscribers—who can make or break your business through their purchasing power or lack thereof.

Your list is also your leverage—what you use when reaching out to other synergistic publishers and friendly competitors to do reciprocal JV (joint venture) swaps and revenue share deals.

So, if you’re an online publisher, guru or business owner who has social media followers but no list, you’re at a disadvantage. Initiate a plan to capture your fans’ email addresses immediately and get permission to open up the personal lines of communication.

I recommend that you make a special conversion effort to encourage social media followers to give you their email addresses, or, as we say, “opt in” to receive your marketing messages.

This typically involves creating strong promotional copy and a lead-generation landing page (also know as squeeze page), where the goal is to capture the email address of the friend, follower or fan.

The offer should be something that will resonate with your fan, such as a useful and relevant free bonus. Some popular examples are a whitepaper, e-newsletter or e-alert subscription, audio download, bonus video, webinar or teleseminar..

Some marketers also offer coupon codes or gift certificates in exchange for an email address or the option to be in a “VIP club,” where you’re the first to hear about special offers.

Freebies will vary based on what you have to offer in exchange. Ideally, this is something that has a perceived value and is immediate and relevant. You run the campaign for a two-week period at a time, mixing your conversion messages with your regular, organic daily posts. It’s ideal to drive traffic to specially coded pages so you can track traffic and conversions. You can also make sure your sign up box on your website’s home page is up and ready for stray organic traffic. Then you monitor email sign-ups and website traffic (via Google Analytics), to ensure list growth and traffic source referrals.

Aside from captivating copy, many variables come into play to make sure the effort is successful. These include making sure email collection fields are at the top, middle and bottom of the lead-generation landing page being used, as well as in a static (fixed) location on your website. There should also be links to your privacy policy and an assurance statement alleviating any concern about email addresses being rented or sold to third parties.

It’s also critical to clearly disclose before users submit their email addresses that opting in to receive your freebie also gives them a complimentary subscription to your e-newsletter (if applicable), along with special offers from time to time.

Finally, you should follow up with a series of autoresponder (targeted messages) emails welcoming your new subscribers, reminding them how they signed up, offering strong editorial content and special new subscriber offers.

These emails facilitate bonding; validate that the correct email was sent; ensures that the user is aware of the sign up; helps reduce false “do not mail” reports, email bounces and general attrition; and most importantly, improved life time value.

So before you get enamored with your Facebook following, realize that to monetize these names takes a conversion strategy. Once you start building your list, you’ll add a whole new value to your businesses valuation.

The Email Hierarchy of Needs: Deliverability is the Foundation

If you’re not getting the most of your email messaging, you might not be asking the right questions. How many times have I been asked “What’s the best day of the week to send email”, “What’s the best time of day to send email”, “What’s the best Email Provider”? These questions are much less important than the big questions. “Is my email getting to my subscribers?” “Can my subscribers read my email on their device”? “Do my subscribers want my email or are they hitting ‘spam’?

If you’re not getting the most out of your email messaging, you might not be asking the right questions.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked, “What’s the best day of the week to send email?” “What’s the best time of day to send email?” “Which is the best email provider?” These questions are much less important than the big ones: “Is my email getting to my subscribers?” “Can subscribers read my emails on their mobile device?” “Do subscribers want to receive my email or are they hitting ‘spam’?”

Many times companies want to run before they walk. There are times when first to market or a beta version of a product is more important than getting it perfect the first time. However, if you take that approach with email messaging, you better make sure you have your fundamentals squared away first. What does it matter what time the email is sent if it gets sent to the “spam” folder anyway? It doesn’t matter what email provider you use if you keep mailing outdated lists.

The foundation: Deliverability and inbox placement
In the end, none of your email messaging efforts are going to make any impact if the subscriber doesn’t receive the email. The first barrier to overcome in email marketing is deliverability. Email services, ISPs that provide email services and the software on which subscribers view emails have an arsenal of anti-spam tactics they use to keep your email from getting to subscribers. In a world of spammers, phishers and corporate network admins trying to increase productivity by filtering distracting emails, the odds are stacked against you that your email message will be delivered to your subscribers. There are a number of factors that contribute to your deliverability and inbox placement, including the following:

Sending platform
This is the reason marketers use email service providers (ESPs) instead of sending emails via Outlook or Gmail. Brands also use ESPs instead of letting their developers with no email experience say, “we’ll build it.” Email delivery is complex.

The configuration of the mail transfer agent, the proper processing of bounces and unsubscribes, the feedback loops necessary to track and opt out spam complaints, and the proper throttle rates per domain takes a team. This is where the question “what is the best ESP” becomes interesting. All successful ESPs must have this piece down to a science. The first question I ask an emerging ESP is how many people are on its deliverability team. If the answer is “we all just pitch in” (that’s a real answer I received once), then I stay away.

Your data
The single most important thing you have control of to optimize deliverability is good data practices. This means list hygiene and validation to eliminate malformed and undeliverable email addresses. It means opting out subscribers who ask to be unsubscribed. It means regularly mailing your entire list, having clean and transparent opt-in practices, and keeping your database clean and centralized to allow you to target subscribers based on their actions and preferences.

Your creative
A terrible email message alone won’t land your message in the spam folder, but it certainly won’t help. Email can be marked as spam for a combination of things: content, IP reputation, from name/domain, etc. If you’re spamming people, your email won’t get delivered, even if your content doesn’t have “FREE” or “Viagra” in it. If you send emails that people open and click on like crazy and nobody ever hits “this is spam,” you can say free (almost) as much as you want. Most companies are somewhere in between. Test prior to sending. Usually one “free” won’t kill your deliverability.

Of course, this overly simplifies the complex issue of email deliverability to some basics tenants. Spam filters are updated regularly in an attempt to thwart the efforts of spammers. Companies will have the most success getting their emails delivered by respecting the permission and preferences of their subscribers, as well as working with a reputable ESP that has a deliverability team to tackle the technical aspect of bounce handling and email send settings.

Gosh, I’ve Missed You!

Are you giving up on your subscribers too soon? A new study shows how win-back campaigns are re-engaging subscribers long after many of us have given up hope. Also known as re-engagement, lapsed-customer or reactivation campaigns, this staple of your automated drip campaign is designed to nudge dormant subscribers back into the buying funnel

Are you giving up on your subscribers too soon? A new study shows how win-back campaigns are re-engaging subscribers long after many of us have given up hope.

Return Path just released a new study on the effectiveness of win-back campaigns—well beyond the point where many marketers would typically relegate the subscriber’s name to the archive directory. Also known as re-engagement, lapsed-customer or reactivation campaigns, this staple of your automated drip campaign is designed to nudge dormant subscribers back into the buying funnel. While Spider Trainers believes you should Celebrate Unsubscribes (opens as a pdf), this new study shows we shouldn’t be too hasty.

In another study, Strong View found that 50 percent of marketers say they plan to include a win-back campaign in their marketing, and yet our informal surveys have found less than 5 percent of our clients have considered such a campaign.

One challenge marketers face is updating our understanding of the point at which we can consider a recipient disinterested, and it’s important to note marketers label inactive differently than email applications, mostly because we have different data points.

Email applications may define an inactive subscriber as a mailbox holder who has not logged in for a year, but depending upon your business model, you might not consider a recipient inactive unless they have not engaged with your brand for the past two years. Gmail now also cordons off marketing emails to the promotion tab, and thus, the time lapsed before the email is read has extended—according to some studies, by as much as seven days (or more). If your Yahoo!, Gmail or Outlook subscriber does not engage with your campaign, it’s more likely the email application will treat future messages as spam, and less likely your subscriber will see future messages, win-back or otherwise.

The disparity between what we consider inactive and what email applications consider inactive, and the extended time it is taking for our recipients to read and engage, both can contribute to a deteriorating sender reputation. With such high-stake risks, we must carefully balance the long-term negative effects of continuing to email to the disengaged against the potential gain of the small few who reactivate on their own.

A better solution is: Consider win-back campaigns as not just a message to throw at our list every now and again, but rather critical components (yes, we think you should send more than one) to each drip and nurture campaign we build and the type of messages we deploy before we celebrate unsubscribes.

Sidebar:
Win-back campaigns with subject lines such as, “Gosh, We’ve Missed You!” were found to have increased open rates.

According to Return Path, on average (across email applications) 12 percent of subscribers read a win-back campaign email and 45 percent of those read subsequent messages within the next 57 days. If you haven’t deployed a win-back campaign, perhaps it’s time you did—but, before you consider the success or failure of your campaign, remember to give it ample time. Like so many other things, re-engagement seems to improve with time.

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?

How Much Is Your Email List Worth?

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank

Every good direct marketer knows the top company asset is the customer database. Almost anyone with marketing experience can turn that data into revenue. I say “almost” because there is still a social media movement trying to prove that direct mail and email marketing is dying. It’s doubtful that anyone in that group could create and execute an effective plan that delivers sales and profitability. But, for the rest of us, the people who understand that customer relationships are about the quality of service, a solid list is money in the bank.

Direct mailers are very good at creating detailed plans that project sales and profitability down to the penny. When shifts in external factors like weather and politics affect sales, adjustments are made to keep the company operating in the black. Executing a direct marketing campaign requires a significant investment, making careful management necessary to corporate success. Customers and prospects are segmented, monitored and measured every possible way in an effort to increase lifespan and lifetime value.

Email Marketing Is Different
The investment required for email marketing is minimal when compared to direct mail. Returning a profit is so easy that marketers are lulled into complacency. When the revenue to cost ratio is that good, why invest additional resources in making it better? After all, there are always other areas that need more attention.

Email marketing can do so much more than generate revenue and profits. In the right hands, it increases customer loyalty and reduces operating costs. Emails offer the opportunity to create a personal connection that is unavailable in any other marketing channel. They can be used to economically provide high quality service on an individual level. Capitalizing on this requires in-depth analysis that begins with the value of email subscribers.

How Valuable Are Your Email Subscribers?
There is a direct relationship between the quality of your email marketing program and the value of your subscribers. Programs that build relationships using personalized promotions, education and service create substantially higher value subscribers than pure-play promotional campaigns. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because better investments always yield stronger returns.

The first step in creating high value subscribers is analysis. How do the customers and prospects that participate in your email program differ from the ones who don’t?

Compare purchase history, time from first entry to purchase, times between purchases, average order, lifetime value, lifespan, number of orders in specific time frames and any other valuation information available. Segment customers and prospects as needed so you will be able to consistently evaluate the results. Seasonal, discount, and hit-and-run shoppers significantly skew the results. The information accumulated here is the benchmark that will be used to gauge the effectiveness of new campaigns.

Next, catalog all of the emails sent to each segment over the last two years. Include all available results so new emails can be compared to historical data. If you haven’t been segmenting subscribers, or segmented them a different way, capture the information that is available and move on. Don’t waste resources trying to analyze something that doesn’t have enough data to provide clear results. When finished, you’ll have a good idea of the current value of your email subscribers.

Creating a New Email Marketing Program
The analysis you’ve done tells you what has happened in the past. If you are happy with the results, keep on doing the same things. But, if you want more:

  • Look for gaps in your email marketing campaigns. Do they include personalized emails? Are the transactional emails optimized? Are you sending educational emails that teach subscribers how to use products and services?
  • Are you emailing often enough? Test sending emails more often to a sample of your subscriber list. If response increases without a significant jump in opt outs and spam reports, roll it out. Well targeted emails that provide value to recipients are rarely rejected.
  • Use your email marketing to improve customer relationships. Invest time in understanding your customers’ problems and creating solutions. The more problems you solve, the less likely they will leave. Email is an excellent tool for creating unbreakable bonds because it is effective, efficient and economical.
  • Measure everything on a regular basis. The better your data, the easier it is to improve results. Consistently digging through the data provides insight into how your subscribers behave. The more you know about their tendencies, the easier it becomes to create campaigns that motivate them.

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.

Email Marketing is the Sticky Stuff of Digital Conversations

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Email marketing is no longer one size fits all. It’s part broadcast, part transaction-driver, and part loyalty and engagement aid. In fact, because of this diversity of roles, email has become the glue by which marketers start and nurture conversations with subscribers and customers.

Glue? Is that good? I think so. Because email marketing communicates with your eCRM database and connects marketing campaigns with data at the individual subscriber level, it’s become a powerful way for marketers to connect across customer touchpoints, even other channels. It’s become “conversational glue.”

Consider this glue to be a series of messages that nurture and engage consumers over time. Marketers already aim to do this. They create content and messaging that reaches customers and prospects over time, with a purpose that’s meaningful to customers. Most likely, the conversation component (i.e., each individual message) drives an action or interaction with the customer. While not every email needs to drive a click to be effective, if you’re engaging in conversation it must be a two-way dialog. This means the timing of the messaging and the content encourage higher response.

There are many ways that marketers collect data in order to customize experiences. Consider what you have at your disposal: past response data, online forms, surveys, sales teams, competitive analysis, social communities (including comments on your blog) and web analytics. Understanding the key drivers of response will help you focus on the things that matter most. For example:

1. Post-purchase triggered messages, like those from Amazon and Williams-Sonoma, encourage suggested follow-up items. That alone isn’t a conversation, so turn that post-purchase request into a conversation by offering testimonials from others who have purchased the follow-up product. Provide helpful tips from your product experts or merchandisers, or even invite the customer to join a product-owner community.

You can still suggest related products, it’s just not the sole purpose of the communication. A colleague received a “personal” follow-up from a sales associate she met during her purchase at Neiman Marcus. Now that’s a conversation starter!

2. Sign up for a B-to-B event and what do you get? An invitation the following week for the same event — sometimes at a better deal. An order confirmation or download receipt isn’t a conversation. This period of anticipation — post sign-up and pre-event — are actually great times for conversations. Engage participants with experts by sending provocative insights to be shared at the event, and collect feedback in advance that you can use during the event to tailor the experience. While you do that, offer help for hotels, travel, networking, etc. Wrap the conversation around those helpful informational messages.

How do you do this? It starts with data. If you don’t have a campaign management tool integrated with your database, you need to prioritize the data elements that will power the most relevant conversations and import that data to your email marketing tool. That data isn’t as timely or rich, but it will get you on your way. Perhaps it could even help you make a business case for better segmentation and campaign management tools. Create the content up front so that you know the whole conversation. But if subscribers aren’t engaging, don’t keep talking. Allow those who aren’t interested to drop out of the series.

Test everything — content, images, offers, presence of navigation and secondary offers, cadence, timing, and message length. Even subject line testing will help you improve results and guide your segmentation going forward as you learn more about your audience.

Successful conversations require a deep commitment to subscriber interest. Let’s be honest: Self-interest and business pressure often result in low relevancy for subscribers, the very people you’re trying to engage in conversation. Often there’s a disconnect between a marketer’s desire to have conversation and a subscriber’s willingness to converse. Select your opportunities carefully. Marketer must become advocates for their subscribers, and not just for altruistic reasons. Relevancy improves response and revenue.

Don’t forget to include your landing pages in the conversation. Continue to offer ways to respond, interact and provide feedback. Social elements can help here as well. Think of landing pages as a continuation of the conversation.

What are you doing to start and nurture conversations? Let me know how you’ve successfully improved engagement and response by posting a comment below.

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.

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Why Good Email Gets Blocked as Bad

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

There’s no shame here. Every email marketer gets blocked occasionally, even if you have permission or generally follow best practices. The best defense is good offense: Be knowledgeable on the root causes of blocking, respect subscribers and measure inbox deliverability.

This is no tree in the proverbial forest. If your messages don’t reach the inbox, they won’t earn a response. It’s not something that happens to “that other guy.” In fact, about 20 percent of legitimate, permission-based email marketing messages and newsletters never make it to the inbox, according to a study by Return Path earlier this year. (Full disclosure, I work for Return Path).

Any lift in inbox placement goes right to the bottom line. All your metrics (e.g., opens, clicks, page views, conversions, ad revenues, etc.) will rise concurrently. The good news is that marketers can absolutely impact how messages are treated by ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail, and corporate system administrators.

Do not delegate inbox deliverability — a very important step to ROI — even if you delegate delivery. Your email broadcast vendor or ESP can’t do this for you. It’s a shared responsibility. A good broadcast vendor will operate an efficient delivery system, give you full reporting that includes actual inbox placement (Note: this is NOT your bounce rate) and help you follow best practices. However, no vendor can control your message content, frequency and acquisition practices. The buck stops with the marketer or sender.

You need the following four things to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response:

1. A solid infrastructure. For either an in-house system or a vendor, check frequently to be sure you know that your infrastructure is sound (e.g., proper reverse DNS, MX records, authentication and volume throttling) and your bounces are managed properly. Make sure you fully understand the metrics used in reporting as well.

2. Low complaints. There’s a penalty for irrelevancy in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other channels. It’s called “complaints.” A complaint is registered every time a subscriber clicks the “Report Spam” button. It only takes a few complaints to get all your messages blocked at Yahoo, Gmail or corporations (which use many of the same data sources). Subscribers complain when they’re not happy or interested in your messages, even if they’re customers and gave you permission. They complain even when they claim to love your brand.

Yikes! Imagine what would happen if Yahoo or another major ISP blocked all your messages for the next 30 days (the length of time many deliverability failures take to correct). Revenue would drop like a brick and you’d be under the spotlight to explain why your mailing practices earned such a wallop.

Relevant messages have low complaint scores. It’s the single most powerful factor in a good sender reputation, which dictates if your messages reach the inbox and earn a high response. It’s up to marketers and publishers to engage subscribers with every message rather than assume an opt-in gives you license to send whatever you want whenever you want.

Increase relevancy by developing a subscriber-focused content strategy. Address the editorial needs, buying cycles and life stages of your subscribers. New subscribers may welcome more email than long-time subscribers — or the opposite may be true. Tailor messages for subscribers who are up for product or service renewal, have recently purchased, visited a particular section of your website, abandoned their shopping cart, clicked but didn’t convert, downloaded a whitepaper, or haven’t opened or clicked in the last quarter.

3. A clean file. Keep a clean list by doing the following:

  • Be sure everyone on your email marketing file really wants to be there. Offer choices and make it easy to unsubscribe and change preferences.
  • Try to win back fatigued subscribers who are ignoring you early in the relationship. If you see a customer hasn’t opened or clicked in the past 90 days, you may have an opportunity to re-engage.
  • If someone hasn’t opened or clicked in 12 months, take them off your file.
  • Only accept subscribers from legitimate sources — e.g., your own website, partners you vet carefully and publishers with high sender reputations. It may be nice to have a large file, but it’s always better to have a file that’s more responsive and engaged.

4. Good reporting. You can’t manage or optimize what you don’t know. Track complaint data by signing up for all ISP feedback loops, and quickly remove those subscribers who complain. (Detailed instructions can be found here.) Be sure you actually know your inbox deliverability rate, by campaign and message type. This is not your bounce rate (typically 1 percent to 5 percent), but the actual number of messages that reach the inbox. You must seed your campaigns to get this data. If your email broadcast system or vendor isn’t reporting this to you, ask them for it.

What are you doing to better manage inbox placement as part of your response metrics? Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.