Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Interview: Eric Stockton

Sunday, 24. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I’m blogging here from the MarketingSherpa Email Summit and got the opportunity to scour the speakers’ list and choose some folks to interview. Check out other coverage of the summit on the Information & Coverage microsite. This is the third in a series of interviews for the Email Summit.

Third up is Eric Stockton, president of MarketingSherpa. Eric was the head of research at MarketingExperiments, an on-the-ground running experiments lab, and when MEC acquired both companies, he rose to become president. Unlike the other interviews I actually talked to him in person, so it’s less inline responses and more my freeform version.

First, we talked about surfing. Turns out MarketingSherpa in Jacksonville Beach has a door right out to the surf. That is very, very nice. “It brings us down to earth” Eric said. When we finally got off the topic of Pacific surfing vs. Atlantic surfing, I asked him about the reason behind having a certification course. He responded that it “fills the need” for the community, which is having something more tangible than best practices. They started with online testing, paid search, then landing page optimization. “It helps IT and marketing speak the same language,” and he told me about a company that literally had such contentious IT and marketing staffs that the executives brought both groups into certification. Surprisingly having the same way of talking about the systems, efficacy, and process was the solution to getting the groups to work together.

I asked him if he sees any trends over the last year, from the Benchmark Guide, or talking to CEOs and Presidents of companies. I gave him a laundry list of things I thought had come up in the last year- mobile becoming more important suddenly, subject lines, spam decreasing, user content and web 2.0, SEO- and he surprised me by answering quickly, “What I hear is, ‘email is dead.’ We see it in dropping open rates, the metrics/stats, customers getting smarter.” I’d written about it in June, here, commenting on a Fast Company article with same title, but I was still surprised that this was an issue. He backed it up saying that he’d heard it from a bunch of folks- as well as metrics, but generally – and that the reality is that email is actually “… diversifying into multi-platform & media, data phones, RSS. You can’t ‘blast’ any more, it’s communicating now, user generated content is a perfect example.”

He liked my next question- how he sees MarketingSherpa Benchmark Guides in the corporate structure. How do customers use them, what role do they play, and where he sees their place in general. “We find that customers think they’re great for planning for budgets, strategic planning, using in a boardroom meeting- the data points, charts, etc., and other benchmark guides too, not just email marketing, but ecommerce.” My first encounter with MarketingSherpa was when a graphic artist I know bought it for the user testing results, as a guide to email-specific design elements.

I asked him what the sexiest bit of the BenchMark Guide was- the element that he always hears about, that stands out among customers and the membership community. He didn’t even wait a beat: “Eyetracking.” Ha ha, that’s what I’d say too.

Of the many surprising answers he gave me, this perhaps tops the charts: I asked him if there were any anxieties or fears in the companies that he talks to. I feel like Eric has a great line onto the heads of corporations and their marketing executives, who may speak freely to him about concerns. Turns out that one of the top things coming up for MarketingSherpa, and this lines up with my question about anxieties, is that companies are asking how much their customer lists are worth, for mergers and acquisitions. I experienced this at WebVan, as they had acquired HomeGrocer, and in the merger one of the top things they did was integrate the customer marketing databases. Eric said, “The question I get from CEOs, or mainly CFOs, is ‘Did I buy this 5M list and now it’s not worth anything?’ And we can look at our studies and metrics and help them determine that, and we’ve finally gotten to a mature place where we can tell them that.’

He made an offhand comment that MarketingSherpa had some room for improvement, and I prodded him as to what he would do to improve it if given millions and millions (billions?) of dollars. He said that he essentially got that opportunity with the acquisition by MEC, and that their first goal was to “Help support the community of marketers, provide training, be place that has the data points, the structure, charts that help the presentations, good ideas, inspirations,” and he mentioned the new membership program, and the ‘Ask a Sherpa’ program (which is not consulting) but taps into the community of experts for one-off questions.

All in all it was a great conversation, and I had renewed respect for the MarketingSherpa think tank.

Interview: Jeff Cram

Friday, 15. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I’m excited to blog from the MarketingSherpa Email Summit, February 24-26, and, in preparation, got the opportunity to scour the speakers’ list and choose some folks to interview. Check out other coverage of the summit on the Information & Coverage microsite. This is the second in a series of interviews for the Email Summit.

Second up is Jeff Cram, Managing Director and co-founder of iSite Design. He’ll be speaking on the “Un-newsletter.” Jeff’s got a stunning January Newsletter that highlights great dynamic, community content. Enjoy- and hope to see you at the conference!

AB: Anna Billstrom, JC: Jeff Cram

AB: Could you expand on the concept of the soft-sell, and more importantly, do you have any tips to marketers who want to hard-sell the soft-sell (haha) concept to their bosses?

JC: I’d say our approach is more of a “don’t sell.” We believe that if we lead with education and value that we’ll end up with more loyal customers and build more business in the long term. With that said, there are certain businesses that need to rely on more direct selling via e-mail. It’s not an either or approach. The key is to segment your audiences, set the proper expectations up front and deliver the right value at the right time. The perfectly timed sales e-mail can be just as useful as a thought leadership piece. The best advice I can give to people selling the concept internally is to convince your boss it’s not about your company – it’s about your customers. Find ways to provide value and not be an interruption. There is a huge opportunity to establish your company as a thought leader, but it takes a genuine and lasting commitment.

AB: I love the January newsletter! I noticed it’s pretty short compared to other newsletters I subscribe to- can you speak to that?

JC: Thanks! We haven’t made a conscientious decision to keep it a certain length, but we do want it to be crisp, easy to read and have bite size content that people can immediately take away and use. We hide some of the depth to the content behind the scenes once a user clicks through to an article.

AB: Can you provide open/click and deliver metrics for this newsletter?

JC: We have a small, but engaged list in the thousands of people. Open rates vary based on the e-mail, but we hover around the industry averages (20-30%). The most notable statistics are the open to click rate, which have been rising quite steadily. We’re finding that people are clicking on multiple links and spending a lot of time in the content.

AB: Wow, that’s great.

A few years ago, I was not a fan of newsletters. I found them a waste of great content that you could pace out over a well-timed relationship with a customer, instead of all-in-one, once a month. Since then I’ve come around, but what would you have said to me to convince me they’re a good idea? So to be clear- this is not promotional email vs. newsletter, but a lifecycle of CRM/educational emails vs. newsletter.

JC: I think it’s a fair statement to say content-driven newsletters are being replaced by blogs and content that you can easily share and participate in. I agree it doesn’t make much sense to have all that content locked up in the inboxes of a select group. For our purposes, we view the newsletter as a key brand impression. I liken it to the magazine version of our content. A packaged, branded and well thought out communication that provides a great overall experience. I don’t feel RSS has the same experience, yet we want to make sure people have options on how to consume our content. Our newsletter articles are also featured on the site and available via other means. We try to leverage the same content in different ways to different audiences. The next version of our site coming out will even better incorporate the personality, content and brand that you see in our newsletter.

AB: I have a hunch that soft-sold customers and prospects have a higher purchase point, lifetime purchase, and perhaps richer general experience with the seller than simply promotionally contacted customers & prospects. I haven’t tested this out, but do you agree and (hopefully) have any stats to the same tune?

JC: I’ll reiterate that we don’t feel like we’re selling them anything. But you’re right in that we’ve seen that people who consistently find value from our newsletter have a deeper relationship with us. So if they come to us for some project work, they have a better understanding of the way we think, the value we can bring and who we are as people. At that point, they have selected us and we can skip the sales mumbo jumbo and go straight into a conversation about their needs. I don’t have hard statistics, but we certainly have had many clients that started their relationship with us as newsletter readers. People actually thank us for sending it which is rewarding in itself.

AB: How does iSiteDesign staff the newsletter, and, in a question I posed to another interviewee, who would you select to lead the effort: a PR person, a solid writer with a good “voice,” or an employee more in touch with the community, such as a customer support rep or customer evangelist?

JC: Being a small company (45 folks), the newsletter is actually led by myself (one of the owners). It helps I have a journalism background, but I think it’s important that you find a voice that is true to the company. With that said, it’s a complete company effort to produce it – which is what I think makes it so great. Staff submit bookmarks, tidbits and stories. I’ll work with select staff members to author feature stories and our creative team designs original artwork and illustrations for most of our features. It truly is a reflection of our entire team. I highly recommend that companies have an editor who above all else understands the end reader and has a point of view that is both interesting and supports the company’s goals.

AB: Have you encountered any territory wars over the real estate of the newsletter- departments or brands competing for space, trying to turn it into a more salesy pulpit, trying to wrest space from other groups? How do you contend with this

JC: Not at all. If we have a problem it’s freeing up enough of our staff’s time to contribute. We’ve been busy! More and more people are volunteering story ideas and original thoughts which is exciting.

AB: Any comments or response to the use of multimedia in newsletters?

JC: There are limitations to what you can deliver in e-mail, but we’ll be exploring with some rich media features in 2008. We want to keep things fresh for our readers. We did an audio podcast “Internet state of the union” address last year which was fun.

AB: If, or when!, you are dry for ideas on newsletters, where do you go for inspiration?

JC: We’ve got lots of ideas. Perhaps too many. If we’re short of anything it’s time. We have to continually prioritize the newsletter to ensure it gets sent out with a consistent level of quality. So far so good, but it’s not easy!

AB: A lunar campaign calendar- that’s great.

Did you go with a company that had a template, or did you build it yourself, and if so did you have internal resources to leverage?

JC: Being an interactive agency ourselves, we did everything in house. In fact most of the design work for the feature articles are custom illustrations and art. For example the Web Hero story is a custom illustration.

AB: How do you manage feedback?

JC: We have a select group of internal people that review the newsletter before it goes out. While we solicit a lot of input on content, it’s a pretty closely held editorial process which keeps our brand and voice in tact.

Interview: Stephen Wellman

Thursday, 07. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I’m excited to blog from the MarketingSherpa Email Summit, February 24-26, and, in preparation, got the opportunity to scour the speakers’ list and choose some folks to interview. This is the first of a series of interviews for the Email Summit. Check out the Information & Coverage microsite for posts from other bloggers on the Summit.

First up is Stephen Wellman- he edits the very popular INFORMATIONWEEK newsletters, that have serious tech content and a very avid, loyal readership. He’s presenting on “Building High-Performance Newsletters through Intelligent Content Selection.” I sent him over some questions this morning, and he just got back to me. My favorite comments:
- Solicit customer input
- Figure out the purpose of the newsletter in your organization (brand, community, etc.)
- Constantly test & tweak.


AB: Anna Billstrom, SW: Stephen Wellman

AB: Can you give some recommendations for companies that want to leverage content- for a series of triggered/transactional messages or single newsletters that run weekly/monthly? Do you have any general insights for leveraging internal content?

SW: Companies should build newsletters with two factors in mind:
a. How much content do they produce and
b. Which content topics do their audience/customers care most about.

As for picking weekly, monthly, daily, or real-time, that all depends on a number of factors:
1. How much content does your company’s site produce.
2. How hungry are your customers/audience for content updates and
3. How do newsletters fit into your company’s business model

For publishers, newsletters are a no-brainer. Publishers need page views and good newsletters can help provide them. In addition, they provide extra ad real estate that can be monetized over the page views the newslettters drive. But for other companies, newsletters may need to be better aligned with detailed business objectives. Some companies, like retailers, seem to have plenty of reasons for newsletters while others may need to better define their purpose.

The key for all new newsletters is relevancy. Is the newsletter relevant to its audience and does it add value? If it doesn’t, it may create more harm than good.

AB: For companies who want a strongly voiced, active newsletter and microcommunity, what would you say are the guidelines in hiring someone to create that? This came up in a meeting recently – a strong writer, a strong community activist (someone in touch with the customer base through either customer support or evangelism), or a marketing/PR person who can handle brand and image?

SW: Great question. This really depends on the goals of the newsletter. Is the newsletter a branding vehicle, a community vehicle, or a engine for thought leadership? If it is a branding vehicle, I’d say you want a marketing/pr person. If it’s thought leadership you want, you need to find a smart person with an interesting voice and perspective. As for building community, I am a firm believer that communities follow strong content. If your newsletter offers good content, it will build a following.

AB: What would you say is the biggest challenge corporations & email marketing groups have in getting an effective newsletter off the ground?

SW: Fighting for space in the inbox. Putting it mildly, people are overwhelmed with newsletters. If you expect someone to sign up for a new newsletter in this age of email fatigue, you need to convince them that your newsletter is worth it, and your product better deliver on the brand promise.

AB: Have you noticed a trend of newsletter popularity- and periods of unpopularity, or a resurgence of the acknowledgment of the effectiveness of the newsletter? Any reason why you think newsletters don’t get any respect (if you think that’s true).

SW: I think newsletters still get plenty of respect. At INFORMATIONWEEK, our daily newsletter, the INFORMATIONWEEK DAILY, is a true community engine. It gets tons of response and readers follow it religiously. They bombard us with emails even if we make the slightest tweaks. The newsletter readers are among the top influencers in the enterprise it market — CIOs, senior IT managers — and they follow this newsletter closely.

AB: Any tips or highlights you can share from the talk you’re going to give in Miami (MarketingSherpa Email Summit)?

SW: Here are three tips:

1. Always be testing — test subject lines, layouts, templates, headlines, etc. Sometimes the smallest changes can pay off big.

2. Constantly solicit input — ask your readers what they think and what they want from your products.

3. Be relevant — constantly strive to make your newsletter more valuable. Ask yourself, what would CEO X in this industry need to know today? What would their marketing staff need to know? Know your audience and their needs, and respond accordingly.

AB: Do you have any comments regarding newsletters on mobile devices, namely iPhone ( I have one, and end up testing almost everything on it to varying levels of success).

SW: We’ve had some early success with our mobile website — As for using newsletters to drive mobile viewers, I recommend you identify your mobile readers and move them over to ASCII formats. HTML doesn’t always work well on devices like the blackberry, but ASCII seems to work great. We started this a while back and it’s worked for us.

AB: Can you speak to the role of RSS in newsletters, and in general leveraging content- also, how do email marketers manage/muster/struggle with the lack of metrics in RSS?

SW: Many people claim that RSS is going to kill newsletters — I’ve heard this now for years. But from what I have seen, RSS is actually creating more — not fewer — newsletters. RSS feeds can also be turned into email newsletters, giving readers two format choices for content updates. I see RSS as an email opportunity, not a threat.

AB: Do you have any comments or tips on making key decisions on content, and managing the editorial “real estate” of a newsletter (in classic brand/corporate environment, vs. media). Selling acreage on the top and far bottom, for example, based on click traffic analysis.

SW: No size fits all. For every best practice, I’ve come across another study that contradicts. And it also seems that once a best practice takes hold, it stops working after 6 to 9 months. As for where to put content, follow your site traffic. If you have content that is doing well on your site, it will do well on your newsletter. The biggest mistake you can make with newsletters is trying to use them to fuel underperforming content on your site.

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