Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Tea party, or note card? Social Marketing & Email Newsletters

Tuesday, 17. March 2009 by Anna Billstrom

A colleague of mine recently was very excited because they were going to get a lot more hits on their blog. They were promoting it in an email newsletter. They had actually gotten the marketing department to agree to the first paragraph of the email and the subject line, for an advertisement of the blog. This was their third announcement of the blog, to lukewarm results. Initially a hundred or so hits on the blog (from 100K or so email list). And very few stuck around.

The problem, I see, is that beyond the initial announcement, and frequent mention saying “check out our blog,” there is no reason to have a goal of moving an email list to a blog reader list, or seeming to communicate that to your readers.

For example, your sister likes you to call her when you have news, your aunt likes a nice note card, while your grandmother would be perfectly happy if you saved it up for the monthly tea party. It’s the same news- that you’re imparting- but they all want to know in different ways. If you want the best results, you’ll cater to their preferences. The blog is just one way of communicating. It’s more like the tea party (than the notecard, or the phone call) to carry this metaphor out.

So, why are people not really sticking around on the blog, from the email list? Assume the blog is fine- the main problem I see, is that those people really like emails, not blogs. They’re getting invited to tea parties, when they’d rather just get a notecard in the mail.

What you want to do is get NEW people to the tea party that are ALREADY into tea parties. Viral, social marketing – what I call “community work” – attracts those who are already into that method of communication. What you need to do is read other blogs, bring content to the attention of other readers (already into blogs), and promote on communities, thread discussions, social networks, etc., the cool content of this company. It’s a lot harder work than simply sending a note to your email list, over and over again, that there’s a blog. But the potential payoff is huge- a segment of new, interested prospects.

I see this on a larger scale- new technologies coming out, like Twitter- and marketing groups thinking they have to change or educate their existing mailing list. Mostly, because they had to train themselves. So, assume there is already a large segment of potential users who already understand this medium. Don’t take my word on it, check: and search for your brand.

Blogs can be simply another marketing channel, and the effort shouldn’t be to convert people to social media, but to find new customer segments, using social media.

Worst Thing About Email: It’s Easy

Friday, 05. December 2008 by Anna Billstrom

(By the way, I’m in Park City for Email Insider Summit, sponsored by the lovely folks at MailChimp. If you’re going to be there drop me a line or stop and say hey!)

Great post on Email Wars by Dylan Boyd, on How Agencies & ESPs Hurt Themselves, in which he is dismayed that more agencies consider “… ANYONE and EVERYONE with a pulse and a wallet [able to drive] email campaigns.” Also had a conversation with a colleague I’ve worked with for going on 7 years, on and off, about various places we’ve worked, and his assessment of the current situation: “Our email solution here has been so successful that management depends solely on email.” We both tutted that having such a money-making revenue channel ended up blinding them to other customer segments, methods of contact, and potential viable channels.

Combined with those two comments, I was explaining to someone how I did permission email marketing, and they were shocked that “…it costs money? Isn’t email free?” Again, the perception that good email marketing is free, easy and open to all (of all skill levels) is sadly not true. Don’t believe the hype.

Alongside the other comments, someone recently said (I wish I could remember who!) that “the low cost of email is our problem- that’s why the ROI is so poor.” Which does and doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, it means that we don’t make much money if it’s $.015 to the email address, and we’re sending out millions, but it does make money if you send out 150 transactional notifications and the click-through is 70%, and completed orders (for cart abandonment campiagns, for example) end up being product revenue X 105 orders, each day, minus a dollar in email costs. Even without any discounts or offers. So in a way, if it’s easy, you’re probably doing something wrong.

So in parting I just want to say, the perceived easiness of email is our problem. It brings in a lot of people who use the term “blast,” which alters consumer perception in regards to what is spam, and what isn’t. If grandpa is used to clicking “spam” button on emails he didn’t ask for, and clicks “spam” on ones he did, such as a gorgeous certified email from Eddie Bauer, despite their stellar reputation as a sender, customized content, user permissions, and top of the line, au courant policies and techniques, it makes it harder for all of us.

Bad Advice

Sunday, 16. November 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I have a Google alert on “email marketing” and it fills in the gaps between blogs I subscribe to and emerging topics on email marketing. I have to say, mostly it’s misguided people misguiding people. Here are some quotes from today’s Google alerts- didn’t link to the articles but they’re easy to find.

“How to grow your list to 10,000″ – Yes, size matters, but quality matters even more. Ten good frequent buying customers that share with you are worth the shoddiest million email list.

“Auto-responders are the most valuable email marketing tool.” Um, no. Auto-responders are a stop-gap solution to functional issues such as password verification and notifications. I personally really hate no-replies, and auto-responders, for important technical reasons, can’t truly support responses. Auto-responders are very 1998 email marketing, and in our sophisticated age of customer feedback, surveys, user generated email campaigns and having “the conversation,” they really aren’t optimal.

Under social email marketing, I got a note on “getting lots of twitter followers,” also along the lines of “more is better.” 10 great customers following you is worth 200 irrelevant followers that either never check their twitter or thought they were signing up for Mad Men.

3 Simple “what not to do”‘s for Email Marketing

Monday, 10. November 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Like my favorite show, “What Not To Wear,” here is a quick list of some things you really don’t want to do:

- Buy lists
- Use the word “blast”
- Think it’s OK to forego the test “this time”

1) Why Not to Buy Lists
This has been around in marketing for years. Telemarketing folks bought lists, and really buying an email list is no different. The customers have no connection with you. There’s no context, no entree, no reason and no relationship. Consider how they elected to get their email picked up, too. They’re not savvy online consumers. If their email was sold to you, it was sold to many people. Your email will be one in a million in their inbox. And, the relationship started from nothing. It’s a crap shoot.

2) Why Not To Use the Word Blast
A very nice gentleman, from a very good company, wrote me referring to his email campaign as “blast”. “My ESP calls it campaigns, but I like ‘blast.’” Well, the moment you use the negative, spammy words, you not only flag your project as ill-conceived, but I question your intentions, as well. So use courteous, nice, and polite terms for dealing with your customers. Especially in this Web2.0 world where everything is indexed!

3) Foregoing tests: not a good idea
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been included in a preview feed, found something, flagged it for the managers, and then heard later that “nobody caught this.” Not tooting my own horn- I’m just saying that lots of things need second pairs of eyes, especially those little electronic missives. And, it really helps to setup a webmail account with nobody in your address book so you can see your email from a prospect’s viewpoint.

Good luck & happy emailing!

5 Common Newbie Mistakes

Tuesday, 23. September 2008 by Anna Billstrom

A couple of businesses I know have sent me their very first email marketing message, usually a newsletter, and I’ve started to notice some trends and common pitfalls.

1. Not labeling their top header graphic appropriately. I received two the other day that were called “top_banner.jpg” in the alt-text, which showed more dominantly than any other writing in their newsletter, in Yahoo & Gmail. The default for Yahoo & Gmail is to not show images from new senders, so unfortunately all of their recipients saw the same thing:

2. No introduction paragraph saying 1) where you got the email 2) who you are 3) why I’m receiving this. For first-time newsletters, a basic introduction is required, and best to put above the fold, and in the beginning of the email so it shows up in the teaser text of the email’s inbox.

3. Not using an approved-of email sender. Nothing screams amateur hour more than trying to send it from Outlook/Yahoo/Gmail (see: Letters this week).

4. Deciding to send a newsletter, instead of a lifecycle, relationship, or more personalized email. Sure, this is sophisticated, but it’s actually a lot easier to do with small lists than large ones. Send a few emails to new joiners, send a link to a give-away for long-time list members. Clean our your list, add a personal note at the top “Hi Mark- good to see you last week!” or anything. This is what the large corporations are striving for, and for little list owners, this is a huge win. People won’t unsubscribe, and they’ll actually read your newsletter.

5. Finally, not allowing for feedback or follow-up. Nobody likes a one-sided conversation. Leave your twitter name, allow RSS subscriptions, have a reply-to that is *real* (I personally hate fake reply-to’s), and if they do write you, respond politely. Put your newsletters up on your blog with a comment thread! There’s a lot of exciting new social media that can dovetail nicely with your email marketing campaigns- as a small business these can be very easy to setup and manage.

Email Review: Kiva

Wednesday, 06. August 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Here is the email:

Kiva enables the Western internet user to get involved in microlending in third world countries. I’ve given Kiva gifts to family and been a Kiva lender for 5 months now. The email is one of the few I’ve received. Mostly I get little text-only transactional emails when a lender makes a payment (about once a month). This “Kiva Staff” email is very rare.

The challenge for Kiva, to me, is to visually leverage their entrepreneurs. This letter- about a young man that has an internet shop in Menin, Nigeria- could say so much by using a still photo as a link to the video, which is what that they have on the website.

More importantly- they need to address any possible confusion with the prolific Nigerian email spam, since their email could easily be scanned or grepped as that. The single-spaced letter, with no graphics, and rambly writing really connotes that. So I’d format it professionally and include graphics of the entrepreneurs. I’d also leverage some quotes from Bill Clinton or Oprah on the service to add credibility.

There is some hidden personalization, which reminds me of Dylan Boyd’s recent post on Email Wars: “When Personalization Goes… Odd,” regarding Ben & Jerry’s. They do the work of looking up my funds, but they hide the information below the long rambly letter (which, admittedly, I did read all the way through!). They should highlight that at the top with first name personalization to signal to me that they have provided news I, individually, may be interested in.

If their goal is to reach out to lenders to increase lending activity, they should definitely brand their email visually and include photos of entrepreneurs, as well as highlight the personalization efforts. It will increase email opens, reads, clicks, and of course, site engagement.

Cole Hardware: Doing It Right

Thursday, 17. July 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Cole Hardware, a local hardware chain that competes in San Francisco pretty seriously with Home Depot, which has a store in a city to the south, has some astounding customer retention and acquisition techniques.

I visited the store recently to get some paint for a project. An experienced contractor and building owner helped me pick out paint, select the best method of taping, gave me a quick lesson on some new advancements in painting, and recommended a primer and liquid sander.

At checkout, they:
- asked for my email address for their newsletters (bingo!)
- gave me a small key-chain-sized member card
- gave me $5 off my next visit (whether or not I have the card with me)
- gave me 2 free woven carryall bags (SF has a no-plastic-bag law)

Then, in the mail a week later, a hand-written note by someone at Cole welcoming me to their store.

Home Depot- didn’t have the brand I wanted, and, during my entire visit, as I wandering around their curtains section, paint section, and home decorating area, never once was I approached by a salesperson. Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything. Never heard from them again.

Nicely played, Cole!

Social Marketing: Bike Shop

Thursday, 05. June 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I love my local bike shop. I’m at the foot of the “twisty street” in San Francisco, Lombard, so we get lots of tourists, and there are lots of bike rental places, because it is a great starting point for several rides across the Golden Gate Bridge, around the city, or around the waterfront. The owner of this bike shop started it out of his basement, helping his friends repair bikes. The real biking shop district is two miles south, in a completely different neighborhood. Can a small bike repair & reseller shop survive outside of that district, with high rents of a touristy neighborhood? I love this place so I’d like it to stay- and therefore have been stopping by lately brainstorming marketing ideas.

Who Is Your Ideal Customer?
First, we talked about the ideal customer. For him, I’d focus on the “weekend warriors” and not the die-hard cyclists, which can be tough for him because he’s a die hard cyclist, bike collector, and those are his friends. But that’s not the money, and the biking community in SF is very political, so I’d steer away from polarizing personalities in the groups. Weekend Warriors (WW) are single people who work during the day but need to escape on the weekend. Who love to bike- but haven’t fixed their bike, bought one, have a plan on where to bike, etc. The towering apartment buildings surrounding his cute Victorian are full of these Weekend Warriors. Getting location and services information to them is the number one priority. He came to this conclusion too and started stocking inexpensive touring bikes ideal for tooling around the city. He’s already noticed a bump in sales.

These apartment buildings have security and won’t let you paper them frequently, so instead, do a few events to draw attention to the location. When they’re nearby, offer services that line up with their goals. Get them to remember the name and location, so when the opportunity arises, his shop is nearby and available.

F2F Events
Friday afternoon free beer & appetizers in the shop- an “open house” with notification to either patrons in the building that you’ve cultivated, or by putting a flier in the nearby laundromat, nearby bars, etc. Find the places where these folks hang out. At the shop, either pass out the little plastic tire opener that you use to repair flats with your location & name, or a map of nearby getaways, with time estimates, that are easy to do but beautiful, and tailored to the out of shape WW (ha). Also great: a xeroxed sheet showing “safe roads” in San Francisco for WW’ers. Make sure everyone who comes by walks away with the tool lever or flier in their hand – get it on the fridge! (Magnet is a good idea too)

Setup a clipboard on the counter to get email addresses – and maintain a weekly newsletter of bike riding tips and quick repairs. Refer to it during sales and other chats in the store.

Setup a weekly ride – sometime afterwork would be best. Just a half an hour or so. Make sure to wear a t-shirt or jersey with branding. Cycle through the neighborhood either coming or going to improve visibility in the target area. Have some on hand if other cyclists get cold (they will). This will be amazing visibility.

The Social Network Bit: Hash Ride
This is a more elaborate plan, but I think could get a lot of customers in one fail swoop; setup a neighborhood hash ride (credit to my sister Jenny for this idea). Our neighbhorhood, North Beach, an Italian & a tightknit, packed restaurant district. Pick a few restaurants that are local favorites (using Yelp, or word of mouth) and organize beforehand to have little appetizers setup near the doorway. Setup a route of biking to each restaurant- keep it a secret from the attendees. At each restaurant, have a little table sign pointing to the next restaurant. In this way, folks can be spread out but on the same route, and meet at the same end-up point. The combination of uniqueness of the event, co-branding with restaurants, and wearing the jerseys (it always gets cold in SF), along with free food- will increase visibility for the store and its personality, which is a fun, friendly, local resource for the neighborhood. Make sure to get the email addresses of participants so they can find out about the next fun/weird event- and make sure to maintain the newsletter!

Maintaining an Online Presence
Online networking: the WW will want to plan their weekend while at work, so make sure to use online review systems, and online social tools. Have someone- like me- sign onto these systems and promote the events via message boards on Yelp, Upcoming, etc. It’s the social organizer tools that will bring people out of the condo towers.

Ideally, setup a twitter account and follow some attendees ahead of time- get a few of the cyclists to twitter along the way, employees or friends-of-the-store (me). This can be a great promotional tool for the next Hash ride. Take photos during the ride and post to various social networks/flickr streams for promotional use.

Getting Started in Segmentation, It’s Not Just RFM

Tuesday, 22. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

A snippet from an article I wrote on MarketingProfs:

You may or may not be using the basic segmentation strategy of RFM (recency, frequency, monetary)—that is, dividing your mailing list into a few buckets based on recency in ordering or visitation to the site, the number of times they’ve ordered or visited the site, and the lifetime spend.

My issue with RFM models is that I would instead like to see each threshold between activity, and tweak it on an ongoing basis. That’s the joy of email marketing, it’s all so available and adjustable, and in real time.

The article, on MarketingProfs.

Terminology: Transactional, Lifecycle, Event-Based, Trigger

Saturday, 12. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I hear these thrown about a lot, and I was training someone the other day and had to clarify my own definitions. So here I will attempt to lay down some common usages and accepted definitions of these terms.

Transactional. These are email messages sent out from customer purchase behavior. I’ve also seen them used as general online behavior, event-based messages. “Cart abandonment,” for example, is considered by almost everyone a transactional email. Forgot your password, etc. are transactional emails.

Lifecycle. These are emails based on the recipients stage in their relationship, or life, with the company or sender. A beginning educational series of emails would be a lifecycle series of emails.

Event-Based. Based on a certain event, the recipient gets the email. They visit the site, they do some online activity, like “adding someone” on a social community, and the system drops an email to them. Basically the same as transactional- but transactional tends to be just commerce & shopping cart-related.

Trigger. I think of this as a kind of slangy term for event-based, or transactional, messaging. It was used a lot about 5 years ago, but as things have gotten more sophisticated, it tends to confuse more people than communicate. I had a long conversation with a colleague where we were both using “trigger” in different contexts. Him: an event-based email, me: as a lifecycle series.

Diving In Deeper
What word choice you use says a lot about you as a marketer. My old linguistics-anthropology teacher could tell who you studied with by how you said “shaman.” I think you can derive the same results from whether someone uses “trigger” instead of the more precise terminology. Not to be too judgmental, I’ve been using transactional for a long time, but I’ve also just been fixated on it for a while.

Back in 2001 or so, we were all excited if we could get our email systems to look at behavior and send out an email. The possibilities seemed endless, from an IT, integration, and data perspective. From a marketing perspective, most email was focused on the issues with rendering and delivery. In the last few years the segmentation and modeling of data- largely from print market and direct marketing industries- has opened up the larger world of lifecycle emails. Nurturing, and influencing your pod of customers and prospects to a final desired end state, all via the miraculous fully test-able channel of email. So now single event triggered messages, have been relegated to the transactional world, and long state, series emails all working on influencing customer behavior, including recommendations from other users, user-generated data, and social arenas, I see as having grown out of the initial trigger methods. The “blasts” of yore- another great term!- have changed to the timed releases of offers and information, to select segments.

More Reading
Email Marketing Reports: Transactional Emails
Tamara Geilen’s BeRelevant!: Triggered Campaigns: 3 Things to Keep In Mind

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