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  • signaltonoise 1:23 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , email marketing   

    Sometimes More is Less 

    The Consumerist reminds us today of just how smothering companies can get when they abuse their email privileges with customers.  They point out this web comic by Brad Colbow that walks us through several stages of email frustration.

    Email Frustration

    Sometimes, in all the excitement of having a prospect opt-in to receiving communications, organizations can get a little carried away by OVER sending information.  Whether it’s event reminders, registration confirmations, invitations to visit their new social network…colleges and universities have also been known to smother their prospects with too many emails.

    Automating communications – while certainly efficient – can be dangerous if you’re not careful.  In the case of Brad’s cartoon, the poor soul didn’t even leave his computer before he was bombarded with messages.  It may seem like the stuff of cartoons, but this does happen in real life too.  This is why email marketers are always asking themselves, “How frequently should I send emails to customers?”

    And just as there’s no set answer to the “best time of day/week” to send email question, the ideal frequency will vary as well.  But marketers across a number of industries have found that, generally, sending a low volume of triggered emails can have high returns.

    The key (as always) is to keep things relevant and direct.  Avoid all the noise of sending too many confirmation emails or too many follow up emails.  After all, if they ignored your first few emails, what are the chances they’ll read your next (almost) identical email?

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  • signaltonoise 1:23 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , email marketing   

    What you can learn from your recipient’s email address… 

    Chances are if your email recipient is using a Compuserve email address there may be some challenges in getting your message read.  It could have something to do with the ISP or it could be that their email address is telling you something about them as an individual.

    Not long ago, I spotted this illustration on The Oatmeal which jokingly analyzed “What your email address says about your computer skills…”  In summary, anyone not using their own domain or at least a Gmail address is a luddite while those that do possess either their own domain or Gmail address at least know their way around the internet.

    This made me wonder…is there any truth to these statements?

    Now, obviously The Oatmeal cartoon is a bit of satire at the expense of those that aren’t exactly on the bleeding edge of technology. However, can a person’s email address really reveal some secret about them that will help you connect with them?

    We all know that each ISP has its nuances when it comes to what they will tolerate from an email delivery standpoint.  ReturnPath conducts regular studies on non-delivery rate by ISP.  The most popular ISPs tend to be the toughest when it comes to blocking email.  And Gmail seemingly has the highest standards of those surveyed.  

    Is it simply that Google holds its product to a higher standard or is it that the average Gmail user is more discerning over the type of content they will allow in their inbox?  According to ReturnPath, “Most of the major drivers of poor inbox placement rates are the direct result of marketing practices, not technical ones. These include complaints, which spike when email is unexpected or undervalued by the recipient and spam traps, which are most often found on lists that are old or have been built with poorly sourced data.”  So there could be some truth that level of sophistication on the part of the recipient could play a big role in what’s perceived as SPAM.

    But what else can you learn from a person’s email address?  Let’s assume that you’re in the early stages of building a relationship with a prospect and you haven’t gathered much information about them besides their email address (which they hopefully provided to you)…what can that email address tell you about them?  

    First, it can tell you how you may want to approach the design of your email.  There are a number of third-party providers out there that keep updated lists on some of the nuances between various email clients/providers and how they might render your HTML emails.  Here’s one example.

    Second, you can use the email address to get a general sense of your audience’s profile based on their ISP.  Now, you want to be very careful about making broad generalizations and hopefully over time you’ll gather a specific profile in your CRM for each contact, but analyzing some of the differences between ISPs could be useful if you don’t have much else to go on. Here’s why: demographics.

    A quick search on Quantcast reveals some interesting demographic differences (and similarities) between some of the major web-based email services.  Here are a few quick snapshots comparing AOL, Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail.

    AOL.COM

    GMAIL.COM

    YAHOO.COM

    HOTMAIL.COM

    So whether it’s due to audience perception or bias, or actual statistics, it’s evident that not all email services (or recipients for that matter) are created equal.  There are some important distinctions between ISPs that may be worth considering in your email campaigns to prospects.  Again, the point is not to make broad generalizations using this information, but rather to use this as an extra data point when considering how to tailor your messaging and outreach to early-stage prospects.  Happy hunting…

     
  • signaltonoise 1:21 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing   

    Email Lists: Build vs. Buy 

    Each year, institutions spend A LOT of money on buying lists of prospective students built around desirable traits (such as test scores, geography, demographics, etc.).  However, when it comes to email marketing tactics, it’s become pretty clear that in-house lists yield better results than these rented lists.  The reason?

    Quite simply, with an in-house list that you build on your own you’re marketing to people that have already expressed an interest in your institution.  

    Across industries, marketers agree that email marketing is most effective when you send relevant content to recipients that opt-in to receiving communications from you.  This week, MarketingSherpa’s chart of the week lists the most effective tactics in order:

    Rented lists are clearly not viewed as being effective.  So why do institutions keep spending money on renting/buying lists?  Perhaps it’s because the market for education is different?  Students take tests so that they can get into a college?  So naturally, they’d want to hear from my college, right?  Wrong.

    We recently did an analysis for a large undergraduate school on the East coast and found that their success rates with homegrown lists were not only better than with rented lists, but WAY better:

     

    Both in terms of view rates and click through rates, the in house lists won every time…and on average they were far better than the average rented list of names.  Why?

    In today’s world, many students have already come up with a short list of colleges well before that first email hits their inbox.  The schools who get their emails read are generally the ones that the student seeks out, not the ones that purchased their name.  

    So what are you doing to make sure students are seeking you out and opting in?  Are you still relying on list purchases to spread your message?  Is it working?

     
  • signaltonoise 1:20 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing,   

    Email vs. Social? It’s not an either/or choice. 

    Email is dead. Long live email.

    It’s been a common refrain since marketers first jumped on the social media bandwagon.  But does all the hype around social media really spell the end for email as a marketing channel?  We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, “Of course not.”  

    And this week, two separate reports seem to confirm that email is indeed alive and well in this age of social media.  

    First, Brendan Regan reports on the FutureNow blog on a MarketingSherpa survey that finds buyers still want the basics when it comes to email marketing.  He writes, “[I]f you are executing well on “the basics,” you’re in a much safer place and can confidently experiment with all the new “bells and whistles” that you could put in your marketing emails (e.g. video, social networking, fancy graphics, etc.).”

    According to Regan’s assessment of the report, email respondents also de-prioritized features like:

    • more interactivity
    • more graphics
    • advanced customization
    • less content
    • advanced delivery timing,
    • and social networking links.

    Perhaps these email recipients didn’t get the social media memo?  Or, perhaps it’s marketers that are misreading consumer cues? Because according to another report by econsultancy, many marketers are looking for ways to enhance their email campaigns using various kinds of social media.  MarketingVox reports, “The report found that more than a third of companies (37%) are using email to encourage the sharing of content on social networks, and just under a third of companies (31%) say they are planning to do this. A fifth of companies (21%) are using email to promote customer ratings and reviews, while a further 26% have plans to do this.  The research also found that 28% of companies are using video content in their emails, as marketers increasingly use email to build customer engagement.”

    One thing is clear.  Email is still very much alive and relevant as a marketing channel.  But there are two forces that seem to be butting heads.

    On the one hand you have consumers saying they’re not interested in social media tie-ins to the email campaigns they receive and on the other you have marketers rushing to combine social media with email.  

    Why the disconnect?  Are email and social media a match made in heaven (like peanut butter and chocolate) or an unholy union (like bacon and vodka…yeah, it’s real)?

    What do you think?  Vote here.

     
  • signaltonoise 1:18 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing   

    4 easy steps to addressing top email marketing challenges 

    The Chart of the Week today on MarketingSherpa reveals some interesting information about some of the challenges facing email marketers in the year to come.  Perhaps most noteworthy is the fact that relevance remains at the top of the list.

    Thankfully, many emarketers are on board with the idea of relevance, and recognize its importance, but many recognize that it’s an on going battle to stay relevant with their subscribers.  In fact, a recent eMarketer report showed that about 2/3 of all unsubscribers do so because they viewed the content they were receiving to be irrelevant. 

    Second on the list of challenges was the fear that email is competing with social media for recipient time and attention.  However, a recent Nielsen study published in late September actually found that increased social networking activity actually increases email usage…how’s that for synergy!?  

    So how do you stay relevant and address some of the other challenges noted by MarketingSherpa?  A few basic tips include:

    1) Manage your opt-ins/opt-outs.  The best way to stay relevant is to make sure your recipients actually WANT to receive your emails in the first place.  

    2) Keep it personal.  If you know you have students that are interested in engineering, why not send them information about your engineering programs instead of sending them the same generic email you send everyone else?  Leverage the information you’ve captured through inquiries and conversations to segment your database and deliver dynamic content to recipients based on their likes and dislikes.

    3) Make it readable.  Even if you think your message is relevant to recipients they’ll tune out if they can’t even read it.  Sometimes following a few basic design guidelines can help readers spot the content they’re most interested in.

    4) Capture interactions.  Ideally, you’ll want recipients to take action on the emails they receive.  Having a strong call to action in your content is key, but then what?  Where you direct your readers must also be compelling and relevant, and prompt them to take action.  If you’re directing readers to learn more about your programs, are you providing them with an easy way to submit their inquiries?  Are you then following up on those interactions in a timely manner with a prompt/relevant response? Are you leveraging your interactions across other channels to inform your email outreach to constituents? 

    This is where having an integrated database can help boost your email marketing activity and make it easier for you to track interactions throughout the funnel and get a true ROI of your email marketing initiatives.

    The above tips are relatively simple once you have the right processes and technology in place, but should go a long way in helping you address some of the major challenges associated with building a quality email marketing initiative.

     
  • signaltonoise 1:16 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing, ,   

    Boost Email Conversion: Design Like it’s 1999 

    When it comes to maximizing conversion on your email campaigns many of you are familiar with some of the the basics:

    • Provide strong, relevant content to your email subscribers
    • Create a compelling call-to-action
    • Manage frequency to avoid list fatigue

    However, while content is king, design also plays a critical role in enhancing your email marketing efforts. This week there were a couple of interesting articles that remind us that design matters a lot. As reported by MarketingVox, a recent survey of the top 100 internet retailers found that horizontal navigation bars, emails with fewer links, HTML coding (vs. images) and special tactics to highlight sales, seasonal specials and featured departments work best in emails.

    One question that comes up quite a bit is how to best design emails. MediaPost’s Email Insider included a great piece yesterday that reminded readers to design for preview panes and don’t forget about your landing page design (it’s kind of critical part of the conversion puzzle).

    Finally, when it comes to design basics, the most important thing to remember is that many email clients are archaic in how they handle HTML. As such, you may want to remind your web designer (who you’ve probably tapped to design your emails) to design like it’s 1999. There are resources all over the web for best practices, but Dennis Deacon at Smatterings offers a few concise tips:

    Layout with Tables

    After several years after migrating to using <divs> and CSS to layout web pages, it was awkward, but necessary to revert back to using tables for layout. This to ensure the greatest compatibility with the many email clients used. You should first use a “body” table at 100% width, especially if you plan to use a background color or image for email. This should be followed by a “container” table that will hold the content of your message. The width should be limited to around 600 pixels. You should think of your email message in terms of sections, with each section hosted within a table, with each table stacked on top of each other. A note on nested tables: you should limit the number of nested tables as much as possible. Some email clients have difficulties in rendering multiple levels of nested tables. In the example below, the green stacked tables are nested 2 levels down.

    Use CSS Sparingly

    Though some email clients can understand CSS instructions, you should limit CSS to simple text formatting. Also, CSS should be implemented in-line, not embedded (within the <head> tag) or from an external style sheet. In fact, at least one email system formats text using the <font> tag, and places in-line CSS as an attribute within the <font> tag. Example:

    <font color=”#000000” face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sansserif” size=”4” style=”FONT-FAMILY: Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;FONT-SIZE: 14pt;COLOR: #000000;”>

    Use Tables for Backgrounds Colors & Images

    If your design includes background colors or images, consider using tables to implement. The <body> tag is frequently stripped on attributes by email clients. Also, make sure your design does not require (is only enhanced by) a background image. Many email clients do not support background images.

    Place Your Key Message Prominently

    Many people scan their inbox for messages to read or delete. Each email client handles HTML emails differently, even dependent on the platform. Email applications, such as Outlook, provide a preview pane that can be sized and laid out as the user sees fit. This can produce unwanted results, as the main message of your email is more than 200 pixels down the screen and not seen. To improve on this, place a textual statement that presents the key message of the email at the very top of the page. Example:

    Using this method also benefits users of email services such as GMail, that display the first few textual characters of each email next to the subject:

    Use Alt Text in Images to Repeat Your Message

    Most designed think graphically. Therefore, many designers may be horrified when they discover that most email applications and systems have images turned off by default. You can still get your message out, but you’ll have to leverage the image’s “alt” attribute to repeat the message. This way, the message is isplayed in text and not lost. Example (compare with the screenshot above):

    These are just a few tips to get you started.  But implementing these simple tactics should help you see big improvements in conversion.  Have any other tips you’d like to share?  

     
  • signaltonoise 1:12 pm on September 15, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing,   

    When bad emails happen to good people 

    Let’s face it, few activities are more nerve wracking for marketing professionals than sending out email campaigns. There are a huge number of variables that could impact your email marketing and make all the difference between a successful campaign and a not-so-successful campaign. Did you send to the right list? Are all your links working? Is your landing page up? Did you proofread it? Did you get someone else to check your work just to catch all the mistakes you missed after the first time you proofed it? Did your designer remember to use inline CSS?

    And let’s not forget the actual development of content and design!

    All too often marketers (myself included) have fallen victim to these types of issues.

    The truth of the matter is that process is half the battle when it comes to email marketing (a topic highlighted at our users conference last year by both UCONN and FIU Business), but even the most well-planned campaigns can have their hiccups.

    One key to avoiding mistakes is to know whether or not to do your campaign in the first place. Karlyn Morissette offers some good advice today at .eduGuru on when NOT to send out campaigns.  And there are few in the higher ed space that write more than Karlyn about the do’s and dont’s of higher ed marketing in general.

    However, what if it’s too late and that send button has already been clicked?  You may want to think about an apology.

    In light of this month’s rather high-profile incidents involving email SNAFUs at both West and East coast institutions, I thought it would be appropriate to point our readers to some advice published today by MediaPost on “What Makes a Good Email Apology.”

    In the piece, Chad White of marketing agency Smith-Harmon outlines 7 tips on how to apologize gracefully via email.  His tips include:

    1. Send the apology email as soon as you can.
    2. Make it clear in the subject line that you’re apologizing.
    3. Give them a reason to forgive you.
    4. Know when to use humor and when to be serious.
    5. When it’s really bad, have it signed by an executive.
    6. Don’t make excuses. Just fix the problem.
    7. Don’t make a mistake in the apology email.

    Having an avoidable error occur is always frustrating and agonizing, but how you recover from it is what matters.  Own up to mistakes, be responsive and (more importantly) learn from them.  

     
  • signaltonoise 4:32 pm on September 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing, marketing automation   

    Good to the Last Drop 

    Not long ago I had a conversation with a client who described to me how her department used to handle inbound inquiries from prospective students. It was a two-step process:

    1) A student would request more information about the program;

    2) Someone would send the information that was requested.

    That’s it. No big deal. No pressure. Also, no follow up.

    While the program was certainly responsive to the inquiries it would receive, it was not capitalizing on an opportunity to build long-term relationships with prospects by following up with them after their initial inquiries. They simply relied on faith that prospects would review the materials that were sent and return if they had more questions.

    Unfortunately, in a world where competition is just a click away, prospective students may not simply return to your Web site after their initial inquiry. This is where planning a “drip marketing” strategy can have a big impact.

    Drip marketing campaigns rely on multiple points of contact between an institution and the prospective student, and allow you to build awareness of your programs over time. Rather than flood prospects with information all at once, you provide a constant drip to help grow their knowledge of your offerings over time.

    Imagine if instead of the two-step process described above, the school took this route instead:

    1.  A student would request more information about the program;
    2. Someone would send the information that was requested;
    3. A follow-up is sent to the prospect to make sure they got the information they needed, and to see if they’d be interested in receiving related information as it becomes available.
    4. OPTIONAL: If the prospect agrees to ongoing communication, you then deliver relevant content related to their program of interest as it becomes available, thus keeping an ongoing dialogue with the prospect.

    Which school would you rather attend? The one that just answers your question or the one that answers your question and then offers suggestions on other topics that may interest you? With the addition of steps 3 and 4, you’ve gone from simply answering a question to becoming a resource.

    PLEASE NOTE: the key to a successful drip campaign is permission. Prospects should opt-in to receiving future contact, and be offered an easy way to opt-out of ongoing communications. For more on this, make sure to review the latest CAN-SPAM provisions. However, by at least offering a follow up, even if they decide not to opt-in to future communications, you’re one-step closer to qualifying this individual and you’ve made it clear to them that you hope to serve as resource.

    One of the major tenets of permission marketing is the notion that marketers should strive to turn strangers into friends and friends into customers. Sometimes you get lucky and you become instant friends with the people you’re trying to reach. Oftentimes, however, you need to cultivate your relationships with prospective students over a long period of time. Drip marketing is just one way to do that.

     
  • signaltonoise 4:31 pm on September 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: email marketing   

    Email Send Times 

    Perhaps one of the most overlooked steps when it comes to email marketing is the timing of your campaigns.  Obviously, the ideal time and day to send a campaign will depend a number of variables, including (but not limited to):

    1) Your audience

    2) The time of year

    3) What you’re offering

    The “best” day and time question continues to haunt marketers across industries and it seems like the answer changes quite often.  For example, a couple of years ago, ClickZ published a report on a study which found Friday to be a particularly good day for Open Rates. The following year, reports were published stating that Wednesday was the best day. 

    So clearly, any advice on best day/time to send should be taken with a grain of salt.  The answer is that it’s all relative. 

    However, there are ways to determine which days and times work best for your organization by running your own A/B tests, and paying close attention to your campaign results and your Web site analytics.

    Hunter Boyle, Managing Editor, MarketingExperiments, recently conducted one such experiment to try to get at the “best time of day” answer, and while his results are interesting (he suggests Emails sent before 9 a.m. dramatically lift clickthrough rates for executive audiences) what’s even more interesting is how he conducted his experiment and some of the findings he came across accidentally. 

    Here’s a link to a recent interview with Boyle conducted by MarketingSherpa.

     
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