Wednesday, June 24, 2009

When should we start social media marketing?

Recently on MarketingSherpa, this question was posed in an article (Full link here):
When should we start with social media marketing?

Their response follows:
Social media is a powerful channel, but it works in conjunction with other efforts, such as email. You should get your email marketing tactics nailed down first, before you make a big social media push.

Here’s why: Engaging with customers and prospects through social media is another channel for two-way communications, like email. A well-developed email program can help you learn important things about your communication strategy, such as:
  • What types of content resonate with your audience
  • How frequently they want to hear from you
  • How to segment your audience to deliver relevant messages
  • How to convert visitors into subscribers who want an ongoing relationship with your brand
I’d like to add:

Before doing the above, make sure you have the infrastructure in place to handle a two-way conversation.

If you open a dialogue by sending an email, it’s important to have measures in place to keep up your end of the discussion. This means assigning someone to check the inbox of the reply-to address on your emails. It’s important to remember that someone may reply to your message with a question or solicitation for more information. Having an email like that go unanswered is a surefire way to lose a customer and inspire bad word of mouth.

The exception to the above is transactional emails. In those messages, be sure to include something like the following in your footer that’s linked to the page on your website with contact information:

Please don't reply to this email. We don't monitor this email address and won't be able to reply to email sent to it. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us.

Above all, ask yourself, “Why are we doing this?”

If the answer is, “Because everyone’s talking about Twitter so we may as well do it” then you need to re-think your plan. Email is a great way to stay in touch with your constituents. Shore up the points above and you’ll be well on your way to having an email program in place that will complement your social media strategy.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Don't abuse their trust

I thought I'd mentioned on my blog the importance of not taking your list's subscribers for granted, but a search didn't turn up any results on the topic. Shame on me. Guess I'm the one doing the "taking for granted" and should not assume everyone knows that.

Reading this post on Andy Sernovitz's "Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That" blog reminded me of the unique fact that email is the only form of "advertising" that people specifically ask to receive. It's so easy to create and send that it's easy to forget that your spot in your recipients' inbox isn't a right, it's a privilege. Your recipients may have asked for your communications, but only under the parameters you set forth on your sign-up page (i.e. the content and frequency you promoted).

But if you live up to the promise you made to your recipients from the get-go when they gave you their permission to send them your newsletters, you should have a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with an attentive audience. What could be better than that?!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Ask more than "So, what's your address?"

Ah, the old quantity vs. quality debate. Many folks ask themselves, “Do I want a large list or an active list?” Since I am not a mind reader, there’s no way I am going to attempt to answer that for you. But for the sake of having something for you to read, let’s discuss having an active list. One way to do that would be segment your list based upon their zip code, birthday or some other demographic information. The more relevant the information a recipient receives, the more likely they are to be engaged with the messages they receive.

Here are some steps to using segmented information:

Step 1: Ask for this information on your email sign-up page.

Before you add questions willy nilly, ask yourself what the most meaningful information is to have to market your goods or services. I met someone who sold infant clothing adorned with logos of U.S. colleges and it hadn’t occurred to him to ask for the child’s birth date to send information to parents specific to their child’s size. Think beyond basic snail mail address information.

OK, that’s swell and groovy, but what if you’re thinking, “I’ve already collected 3,245 email addresses? How do I go back and add more information about these folks?”

I’m glad you asked!

Step 2: Asking for information retroactively to segment contacts already on your list.

This MailChimp blog post has a lot of great ideas for adding information organically. The idea detailed in this post is to tell list contacts that you’re having a random drawing and will send the winner a free prize if they enter more information about themselves into your database. Create a reason for your contacts to come back to your site and tell you more about themselves.

Step 3: Creating a way for list members to update their information – preference center

Sometimes called a sign-up form, a preference center is a web page that allows your contacts to tell you more about themselves and which of your offerings they want to receive. The Musician’s Friend offers this preference center that asks for information about the contact, including birthday.

And here’s an example from Rocket Software that gives an explanation for each of their newsletters.

Step 4: Be sure your preference center is set up to allow contacts to log in and make changes. All of the above is great for collecting information up-front, but enabling contacts to retroactively update their profiles is critical. If you’re going to send out a note to your list to ask recipients to come back to your site to update their profiles (like the idea mentioned in Step 2), be sure you have a way for them to do this. It may be called an “Update Profile Form” by some email service providers (ESP). No matter the name, this is a function your ESP should offer.

Now that you've gone through the process of learning more about the folks you're emailing, be sure to tailor your content to your audience's specific interests.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Don't use ESP to pick an ESP

Recently I was talking with a prospective client about the advantages of using an email service provider (ESP) over sending an email in-house. This person’s hurdle was exporting her address book to upload it to ESP’s platform. Obviously, that’s a huge obstacle. I recommended that she begin the process of figuring out how to recreate her address book in another platform before she had to resort to manually reconstructing her address book in an excel file.

But barring any issues, like that, here are a few reasons for recommending someone use an ESP over sending bulk emails from a standard email client, such as Outlook or Yahoo! mail:

CAN-SPAM: The CAN-SPAM law became effective in 2004 and requires that email marketing messages include the physical address of the sender and that unsubscribes are processed and honored within 10 days of the subscribers’ request. This isn’t something that most standard mail clients are set up to handle, but a reputable ESP should offer list management tools that can handle this for you.

Potential blacklisting: Standard email clients are not designed for email marketing. They are not approved for bulk mailings, so your messages will most likely be labeled as ‘spam’ by other email clients as well as by most of the ISPs, which will bounce them back to you or simply delete them. Your efforts will be rendered useless since your message will not reach the intended recipients’ mailboxes and the address you sent it from will eventually be ‘blacklisted.’

Real-time reporting: A comprehensive ESP can provide several, thorough real-time reports on the number of emails sent, the number of emails actually opened and who in your address list actually opened your message; the number of unsubscribes and who unsubscribed; how many were undeliverable and why they were bounced; the click-through rates –including which links in your message were more effective and who clicked through. All this information is invaluable when you plan and evaluate campaigns, fine-tune promotions and want to distribute very targeted marketing materials.

Other benefits of using an ESP include:
  • Testing variables, such as when is the best time to send an email or a subject line, to achieve maximum results for your email
  • Most ESPs offer a tool that allows you to produce your own HTML emails, even if you don't know HTML. HTML allows you to incorporate columns, images, color, bold, italic, and other elements that are a better way to present information.

Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when picking an ESP. Here’s an article that can help steer you through the process. The last line sums up the process best: “There’s no such thing as a silver bullet for inbox delivery. No single solution or provider will be able to guarantee you perfect results. But the right ESP with the right tools and the will to collaborate on optimization will help you improve your ability to reach your customers effectively.”

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spammers back at it

It's a bit disheartening to see this story in the New York Times with the headline "Spam Back to 94% of all E-Mail." Though this story is about malicious spammers who have found a way around the McColo take down last fall that cut off spam traffic, it lumps in opt-in email messages as if they're unwanted as well. Not all commercial emails are spam!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stand out with relevant content

Making your email messages relevant is more important than ever as the number of channels by which information can be conveyed grows (i.e. Twitter, Facebook) on top of existing methods of reaching your audience (TV, radio, newspaper, etc.). Thus the need to hone in on your audience’s interests is critical.

Batch and Blast or Tune In?

Loren McDonald, VP of Industry Relations for Silverpop, recently warned that email frequency is out, behavior is in. (You can check out his entire presentation here.) He recommends using behavior-based communications to avoid low-relevancy messages, which lead to subscriber churn. What does that mean?
  • Follow-up emails after someone has abandoned a shopping cart
  • Messaging buyers who haven’t purchased in a fixed amount of time to remind them it may be time to re-order
  • Ask for more than an email address: collect birthdays, geographical information or other information that will you better identify their needs
Don’t abuse the inbox!

Just this past week, an article appeared on about “un-sexy” but successful enewsletters. Here’s the link to the entire article. This quote from DailyCandy founder Dany Levy was the key take away from the article for me: “It's a privilege to be in someone's e-mail box.” (And that is certainly how I feel about the I Send Your Email newsletter subscribers!)

Remembering it isn’t your right to that your message is in your recipient’s inbox is critical. With that in mind, thinking about what your audience wants to hear from you is a good first step towards developing a meaningful relationship with your audience through relevant messaging.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Email resolutions

I sent this out recently to my I Send Your Email newsletter sign-up list, but wanted to share the information here as well. Here's where you can sign-up for the monthly newsletter with tips and information to get this sent to you directly.

Email resolutions

It's a safe bet that we've all made New Year's resolutions at some point in our lives.  With this newsletter, I Send Your Email has decided to apply the idea of pledging to do something "the right way" to email marketing.  Below are a few things you should resolve to do to make the most of your email marketing program in 2009.  Also, with a new year, a new budget often isn't far behind.  Also included some articles to help make the case for email marketing when it comes time to allocating your marketing dollars.

With my email, I resolve to....

Make the Open-or-Delete Decision Easy: Use a subject line that tells (not sells) what’s inside the message.  Write a concise subject message with the value proposition in the first line of text in your message).

Make Your Message Easy to Share: Include functionality that lets recipients post your e-mail on their social networks.  Be sure to include your subscription information to take advantage of this expanded audience.

Leverage What You Know: Develop more targeted, relevant offers and messaging by making the most of what you know about your customers, such as their demographics and/or past buying behavior.

I could go on with a much longer list of things to think about before sending your email, but Seth Godin has already done a fantastic job developing such a list. Since I see no point in reinventing the wheel, I’ll link to his excellent checklist of things to think of before hitting the send button. 

Recession-Proof Marketing
Many experts agree that email marketing is one of the best options when allocating marketing dollars in a tough economy.  Here are two articles that support that claim.  You may want to consider sharing them with the decision makers in your life to keep email in the mix in 2009.

Ride out the recession with e-mail 
John Rizzi points out in DM News “e-mail's ability to help you protect your most valuable asset in a down economy: loyal customers.”  He also points out “e-mail marketing offers more cost-effective opportunities to surprise and delight your customers, while at the same time generating a quick sale or two.”

Tips for protecting your email marketing budget 
Spencer Kollas shares that “the Direct Marketing Association estimates that email will bring in $45.65 for every dollar spent in 2008.”  That could be music to your boss’s ears! Once you get approval to spend on email marketing, Kollas points out ways to spend your budget wisely.

Again, if you're interested, here's where you can sign-up for the I Send Your Email newsletter.