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.

Nurture Your Subscribers to Higher ROI in 2010

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

Email subscribers want only one thing from us: help. They want to be more informed, more beautiful, given raises, be heroes to their kids and make better business decisions. Given the amount of poorly targeted messages in my inbox, however, it seems many of us have forgotten this central tenet. Generic is boring; custom is compelling. Response goes up when messages engage and nurture subscribers.

The inbox is essential in 2010, but it’s also fiercely competitive. Social networks drive their businesses through the inbox, and more and more marketers are sending more and more promotions. Your message must stand out amid this noise.

Sending the same message to everyone is the opposite of nurture — it’s numbing. It has the opposite effect, driving disengagement and dissatisfaction. Too much email in short time periods will not only depress response, it’ll increase complaints (counted by ISPs like Yahoo and Gmail) every time someone clicks the “Report Spam” button. Even a small number of complaints will prevent your messages from reaching subscriber inboxes — all your subscribers, not just those who complained.

It’s painful enough imagining the slow death of your email response rates when subscribers are bored week after week. Even worse, imagine the drop in revenue if all your messages are blocked by Yahoo due to high complaints. Ouch! It’s worth taking the time to nurture instead.

The ideal is to offer subscribers what they need before they realize they need it. Luckily, you can get pretty far even without deep resources. Test a few of the following “baby step” ideas now; then integrate the hardest-working into your ongoing calendar this year. Since not all subscribers have the same value, focus on those with the highest potential.

1. Educate prospects. Many marketers have both prospects and customers on their house lists, each receiving the same promotions. Probably neither are inspired by something watered down for the masses. Never assume prospects know anything about your content, editorial personalities, products or benefits. Consider a series of messages or offers that move prospects through the sales pipeline.

2. Treat customers better. Email is a great way to treat your best customers special. Certainly VIPs are easy to find and celebrate, but also take that same approach down the line. Identify your cusp customers, and invite them to participate at higher levels while showing them the benefit of doing so. Every once in a while, just thank your customers. You’ll be surprised at the response you get.

3. Listen. Let subscribers tell you what they need through their actions. Even if you can’t overlay behavior and demographic data, use the data you have. Customize transactional emails based on purchase. After a click, trigger a context-specific email with content recommendations — which could be sponsored advertorial — or premium services. Replace static landing pages with deeper microsites focused on particular topics to capture more page views or present more detailed offers when prospects are “in market.”

4. Test subject lines. Many campaigns go out without any optimization testing. Yet even simple A/B testing of subject lines can improve response by 5 percent or more.

5. Customize by age. Watch response by vintage (the length of time the subscriber has been on the file), and determine when subscribers go “inactive” — defined as no open, click or conversion/response activity in the past three months.

Quickly send out a “win-back” campaign to those who may be on the verge of going inactive. Don’t wait two years to send a win-back. Once subscribers start ignoring your emails, it’s difficult to re-engage them.

Audit your past 90 days for a “nurture appeal.” Are you blasting or engaging? Broadcasting or customizing? Talking or listening? You’ll likely find a number of points of vulnerability where you’re not optimizing your nurture potential. The payoff is real: Satisfied customers click more, buy more, and engage frequently with advertising and offers.

Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.