Adventures in Mobile Marketing


A Brief Encounter with eHarmony

Wednesday, 05. March 2008 by Anna Billstrom

eHarmony got a lot of attention at the EmailSummit, so I thought I’d go undercover and share my findings. I got two sets of emails, from different From addresses: userservices, and ehsupport. That would be a problem with whitelisting the sender. One From address seems to be their long-chain, lifecycle emails. The other, transactional messages about “matches”.

Transactional Messages
eharm.JPG

7 messages a day. I grew to ignore them. This message just meant that eHarmony matched you, but it was still pending the nod or diss from the guy/girl. You can adjust the matching criteria, but not the frequency. I was inclined to unsubscribe. I’m not sure how they can solve this as they do need to notify users that the system has matched them. Such frequent contact made me think the matching system is flawed, i.e. it’s just a numbers game. Not really the feeling, I think, that eHarmony wants to posit in its members. Perhaps a daily summed up email, showing all contacts. I believe match.com and OKCupid do this. In the “email settings” menu, they provided you optins for content and 3rd party, but not for frequency. The match menu item ambiguously aske dyou whether you wanted “matches” or not- not via what medium (RSS would be nice) email or web. The preference center:
eharm4.jpg

Lifecycle Emails
I was impressed with the lifecycle emails. They were not every day- but maybe two or three times a week, and varied frequency. They concentrated on a single message and focus each time. I think this is a big issue for companies starting out on lifecycle series — Don’t try to communicate everything all in one. Tell a story. Have a conversation. What would you say if the person was right in front of you?

eharm2.JPG

The funny thing about this email is that I posted my photo immediately on 2/17, but received this imperative to add a photo on 2/24. So they’re sending based on 7 days since signing up, and not based on the content of the message- have I uploaded a photo or not. Ideal segmentation for this campaign would be, for example:

Signed up 7 days ago Has uploaded Tips on photos (for example)
Has not uploaded Benefits of adding a photo content

I wonder if I was “photo-nudged” by a match. They have this odd feature available, though I’m not quite sure what the resulting email looks like.eharm3.JPG

The Cancellation
My cancellation today took about 6 steps. Do you think that’s a little long? I do. The questions were scored, which is a nice touch, but none of them were the main reason. I also wondered if they spoke more to the marketer’s interests and not the consumers, as I found very few of them relevant. What is a refusal reason if not oriented to the consumer’s interests? If it is for the marketers, to what benefit is showing your targeting or weaknesses? They finally got to the open letter portion which had a limit of 250 characters. So they want my feedback, but not really. I wonder if they’re getting a bit too much feedback on their site?

I was trying to find a screen that would show me my refusals (I still have access until the end of the month) and came across this odd, conflicting offer. I can extend for $21, or “reactivate” for $50.

eharm5.JPG

The Buzz
I think in the world of email marketing, eHarmony is doing so many things right, but in the technical whirl of implementation and user interface design, they lost some key objectives. Keep someone retained in a positive light, and don’t inundate them with messaging. The Web 2.0 apps all have this problem- death by croûtons* – Twitter, Facebook, et. al. have all had to face the issue of over contact. Well, maybe not Twitter.

* not original

Peer Review: Images Off & Subject Line Testing

Thursday, 28. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

My review of notes & takeaways continues, from the 2008 MarketingSherpa Email Summit. One of the most rewarding moments was seeing one of my client’s reactivation campaigns in a presentation- which was a surprise- as an example of good design, for taking into account image suppression, and as an example of an email in Windows Live. The talk was by Elias Haslanger of Dell. In the past, I’ve written about Dell emails with images off- here’s a sample of one, which excels in various ways.

From his talk, these are his recommendations on managing image suppression (full slide set here):
- Email template remains intact with images off
- Action-oriented alternative text with clickable images
- Include click-to-view link at top
- Creative should balance text and images
- No background images
- Use images with discretion
- Keep it under 70K
- Test on all ISPs (webmails, clients, etc.)

Things I would add:
- Simple layout: limited images, limited bullets as images, and spacer GIFs (blank images used for layout)
- Simple, direct alternative text (lately companies have been putting whole paragraphs in there!)
- Use of HTML colors and background colors to convey brand and design (instead of relying solely on images)
- And something I learned in this talk- putting two text-only offers in the header, to push sales even if images don’t load

I received two versions of the KodakGallery email campaign that Elias snipped for his presentation, in Gmail and Yahoo. Note the differences, and various strategies we’re using:

KodakGallery Gmail

KodakGallery in Gmail

KodakGallery in Yahoo BETA
KodakGallery in Yahoo

Strategies:
- We also have a “add to address book” and a “click to view HTML”- both of which are redundant with Gmail (currently – 02/08), but in the Yahoo version you see that it’s necessary.
- We have colored background boxes to set apart some of our layout.
- Branding, and relevant offer content all in the preview pane
- We make a choice either to put headlines in images for font control, or use text, and alternative text. We’re still grappling with balancing design and image suppression requirements
- We could improve- like Dell has- and remove the link underlining with CSS (text-decoration: none) and using ASCII marks for bullets (“-” or “<" or other interesting, available ASCII characters)
- With images off, it looks like we haven't created alternative text for that main banner image, and we could add a descriptive, but it is usually a landscape, or cityscape photo. Read on for Elias' comments on this piece.

In all, our preview pane content is broken up and shown in text, which conveys a teaser to our content and an intriguing reason to either approve our images or click through to view in a web site.

In the talk, Elias used our email to show how Windows LIVE displays a "safe/unsafe" mode to messages and the link to view in a web page, as well as "add to address book." Another, thing I've seen lately, in an eHarmony email (sorry I've deleted it!) is to target your customers by their domain and email them specifically asking to be added, and how to do it.

KodakGallery in WindowsLive

When our email went on the huge screen, I didn’t recognize it as one of ours, and instead was just focusing on those darned bullet GIFs. Then my colleague elbows me, a couple of times, and pointed at the screen. Finally I figured out it was one of our campaigns, and we were joking that through the segmentation we could tell Elias’ recent un-responsiveness to our email campaigns. After the talk, Elias mentioned that what stuck out for him in this campaign wasn’t the management of design and image suppression, but our subject line.

Small Victory: Subject Line Testing
Sometimes you have a good idea, and sometimes you just have to test. We setup this very low-cost campaign with recycled content, a newsletter, and then tested about 10 different subject lines on a sample set of the total drop. The highest performing was the one shown above “Is it something we said?” (My submission was, “Hello? Tap, tap, tap”… too subtle perhaps.) then we dropped the rest of the campaign with the winner. Elias said, “This subject line made waves- people were forwarding it around.” Better words couldn’t have been heard! We replied that we were pretty amazed at the metrics that we got back from this campaign, as we basically hadn’t been expecting much, and these segments were generally write-offs. So it just goes to show that the “long tail” can have big rewards.

EmailSummit: Hallway Conversations

Thursday, 28. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

First: click over to Tamara Gielen’s photoset on Flickr of conference photos. It was very fun meeting Tamara and putting a face to an online presence! She does a round-up of conference blog posts on her blog, BeRelevant!, if you want to read more.

You know the best bits of conferences (MarketingSherpa’s Email Summit 2008) are the random conversations you have in the hallway or the connections you make accidentally- who is in line behind you at the coffee urn, or stranded with you at the baggage terminal. Here are some highlights, and interesting too in a social science element of “what people are talking about.”

- Lively discussion with Stefan Pollard, all-around expert and writer for ClickZ (great post he wrote, recently here), about that lovely conversation you have with clients sometimes about why transactional emails and segmentation work. We were chastised for talking “about work” by the other email marketers at the table, but I really enjoyed talking with him, someone who I have loved reading online.

- Another lively discussion (see a pattern?) with a fellow- who I exchanged business cards with but can’t remember!- about the implementation of CAN-SPAM and changes in the industry, as well as my favorite topic, the “anti-click” metric, when you can track folks who click through an email with images off, as in, no open record is associated with the click record.

- As I’m getting out of the plane, notice another attendant and we start talking about their RFP, big ESP vendors in the space, and others corporations that were shuffling around getting dinners out (winner of the prize of expensive dinners that trip was a $2,000 one, including $60/ounce Kobe steak. Wow. I was not the diner in that scenario, needless to say. The best deal I saw was Little Havana beer & empanadas for 3 for under $20.)

- Conversation with Dell email marketer and presenter Elias Haslanger about images off, working with creative groups on the delicate balance of managing suppression and having a great looking email, and retail email design challenges as compared to other companies at the talk. Also, of course very happy that he used KodakGallery’s emails as an example of successful examples of how to manage email suppression.

- Ongoing conversations with presenters, vendors and colleagues about managing AOL users, sender reputation, and challenges in approaching and communicating with that segment.

- The Question & Answer periods of most conferences were some of the best content, and I tried to capture them in my recaps. Sorry for blogging so late- expect a few more coming out today! I’m really glad my mom taught me to type fast enough to simultaneously transcribe, only problem now is reading my shorthand speak!

The Complexities of Email Marketing in China

Wednesday, 27. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

After reviewing my notes of Day 2 of the MarketingSherpa Email Summit I noticed that all of the sessions were consistently value-packed and intense, which has left me exhausted, and with a celebratory “last day of school” feeling. The following is a run-down of the session I was most excited to attend,
Danny Levinson, of XZList, “Testing and Segmentation Strategies of a Chinese Weekly.” Danny has written: “The Chinese email environment is much more complicated than being able to send double-byte characters.” Also, while the title was regarding using Flash in a case study- you can read 8-page PDF white paper on his site, this blog post is more about special content he included for the Summit audience.

First, he reviewed the saturation of email and the internet, as compared to what we are familiar with in the US. These rates of communication tools:
-Email is 91% in Korea, and USA, but only 55% in China
-IM, though is 70%, and US/Korea is 39% for the USA, 47% Korea

Good things about email marketing in Asia:
- Anti-spam system is standard, so easy to manage compliance (CorpEase)
- Netease is a large internet company in China with a gaming site and online portal that is very popular (correction from original post comparing it to SpamHaus- thanks Danny)
- 97% penetration of IE (no macs, mostly outlook or outlook online)
- Note from the audience that Japan is big on Eudora, but he says that it’s going out of style

The challenges about email marketing in China:
- Those pesky ISP blocks, ISC, the Internet Society of China, created the CAN-SPAM-for-China, which is called “Green Email Inbox” (I absolutely love that translation). One effect is that marketers must include the word “AD” in the subject line for all business transactions email. Hong Kong requires having the physical address in emails. Depending on regional application from where you operate, unclear as to whether it’s promotion or advertising. If your’e a subscriber, we don’t include the AD, because it’s a “closed list”, but the boundaries are very gray. For example, Danny’s regular Cathay Pacific frequent flier program transactional email, has “AD” in the subject line, and they shouldn’t really have had to.
- It’s difficult for Americans to recognize the reason for blocking, which is usually clearly stated in the bounce email, because it’s in Mandarin characters, and if they don’t have the installed language pack in Microsoft operating systems, it won’t be rendered- just shows up as empty boxes. Also, then, if you don’t understand Mandarin, which you probably don’t since the language pack isn’t installed, then it’s impossible to forward to someone who does speak Mandarin for a translation.
- There’s a general low sophistication in online sales and negotiations, and general online skills, which can be truly felt when negotiating ad buys. He elaborated on this later, in regards to ad buys. On an email development level, it’s a constant challenge to find talented skilled local folks who can then help recruit and train others for short periods of time during boom projects.

He made an interesting point before diving into the case study about how China is not ONE market, it has distinct regional language and written language differences: In email, simplified Chinese- the block style looking basic Chinese that most of modern mainland China has embraced, including Shanghai, whereas you want to use the the traditional Chinese characters- more flowerly and ancient- in communications with Hong Kong.

Basic methods of campaign mechanics in Asia:
Pay to send
Fen (roughly a cent, 100th of a RMB)
- You can buy individual emails: 1-5 fen per user
- You can use a third party opt-in list: 4 fen to 1 RMB
- Or, you can send to isp/portal users 4-6 fen per user;
In general there are issues with co-registration, and combined registrations. For B2B, it’s also more expensive. See questions & answers below for a recommendation on B2B list acquisition. This seems to be XYzine’s main offer- managing list acquisition and list management in China.

Develop Relationships
- As compared to America where the occasional business dinner solidifies things, in China, the good meal does wonders. Danny noted that he had to become a tee-totaler and vegan due to the massive amounts of alcohol and meat and pork that were constantly part of his business lifecycle. This reminded me of a book I read recently about China, where you have a 3 hour meal to ask for a reference, which, as you can imagine seems a bit over the top to American business people.
- There is a high turnover in IT staff. It’s difficult to source staff when you need it, so creating relationships and leveraging resources, connections & interconnections, really helps localize American products.

Use Publication-based Lists
Stay away from dime-a-dozen lists, better than optin lists. The publication lists can also target your demographic.

Flash Case Study
It may make you squirm, the idea of embedding flash in American email campaigns, with our diverse varieties of email clients, operating systems, and browsers. In China, though, with a consistent use of Internet Explorer, Microsoft operating system, and the popularity of web portals, Danny as able to segment out his customer list and target according to their web client, and demographics of corporate clients, tailor the offer and technology (embedded flash) to that audience. They did layout testing- leveraging known issues with preview panes in some of the web clients- to further serve the client and create exciting creatives. Flash case study PDF is downloadable here.

Some of his domains to check up with: www.xzlist.com, www.xianzai.com (“now” in Mandarin), and www.bldmedia.com. His last note on the talk returned back to his theme, “Keeping up with the needs is the best thing to do, and that is by having a good meal.”

In general I thought it was well-delivered, concise, focused, and included very valuable tips on email marketing in China.

Questions from the audience…

Q: How do we manage optin policy across countries? We have only opt-in system
A: BBS social networking very large, recommendation is to partner with them, the co-reg’s (co-registration sites). There is always the issue of “who owns the data” with co-registrations, though, and how will they market to it, vs. your marketing. You never know how they will muddy it up. Also, the can-spam in china doesn’t require double-optin, just optout. Do site acquisition, the cleanest way to manage the list without co-reg’ing.

Q: What is the email regional size
A: Guangdong is the largest, internet population. Check isc.org.cn where you can get the info.

Q: What is the distribution of the main webmails across China? Yahoo, hotmail, etc.
A: It’s hard to audit, so they all say they’re the largest, good statistic to remember: the average Chinese user has more than 5 email accounts.

Q: B2B question: are corporate users using these providors?
A: cina.com has a “VIP” area, which is fee-based, the marketer has to pay Cina, problem with emailing work email is that you may get blocked by a Chinese isp.

Q: Can you talk about the rise of pinyin as an input method in SMS, and campaigns integrating SMS and email, since the growth and use of SMS is so high? (My question.)
A: Yes- Everyone is using the Latin pronunciation of Chinese for modern devices as an input method. It’s an entire medium too- there are IM novels, mobile SMS & web-based instant messaging, and campaigns that integrate them, B2C use is great for IM, but B2B is great for corporate, mobile- and used more for point of sale interactions.

Comment from the audience: our company found a successful campaign was to SMS a demographically young engineer base with special the event information.

Q: How effective is text-based email, also her clients want more image and flash, any surveys/research on whether the simple works vs. images

A: Yeah, that’s the old question “why have such frilly subect lines in China?” that we had last year at this conference! There are lots of Chinese studies on how the sites are more text-based. Compare the Chinese sites to Yahoo.com- toolbars try to keep to 4 characters in navigations, for aesthetic reasons that he doesn’t quite get, but he trusts his designers. In regards to the text vs. HTML question, it’s a great question. He does multi-part, nobody sends text, and multi-part almost never understood nor used. Nobody understands the multi-part because it is so hard to demonstrate to the clients and users. This goes back to my earlier comment on low level of sophistication in skills. The banner ad sales are also not CPM, low sophistication again, because the folks making these deals can’t understand “pay per view.” Thus, ads are sold on a beginning and ending time frame, and manually swapped out of the page when the time ends. Remember, there’s only a 15% adoption rate for the internet in China. Their print newsletters make a lot more money because the contract negotiation is with something really tangible and that works the ad sales. Funny. Despite email marketing having a much higher penetration.

Q: How do I create a engineering B2B list?
A: Setup a microsite based on this, or access a portal- which are more popular there than here- in the US we have engadget and other vertical sites, but not like that in China. Folks really go to portals and spend all day there. Some have a business section there that would cater to your needs, so just go there and sell the ads.

Power Outage at MarketingSherpa

Tuesday, 26. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Power outage

Blogging here from MarketingSherpa Email Summit. Just a quick post to show the effects of the blackout we had (California-style). The hotel staff gave us glow sticks to guide us through the dark passageways to the bathrooms. Colleague Ursula Chan & Gavin Handley of KodakGallery is here with her really ineffective glow stick! We had about an hour of no power, which caught us at lunch downtown Miami, then back in the conference hall. What do marketers talk about when the powerpoints are shut down? Not email! It disrupted the email awards and final session, and I heard some 1 on 1 consultations were cancelled due to the darkness, but that’s all.

Celtics: Winning With Segmentation, Multi-Channel, Series Campaign

Tuesday, 26. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Just when I thought this conference (MarketingSherpa Email Summit) was too lightweight, I stepped into a great talk- a little misnamed, but regardless- very interesting. Matt Griffin, director, sales & marketing of the Boston Celtics, talked about targeted messages and a series, multi-channel campaign that really has no need for improvement (despite his own admission, see end of post).

Roughly, they have 3500 unsold tickets and have 30 days until the game commenced. They designed a series of emails to sell through in aggressive campaign.

Some high level marketing aspects of the Celtics: they have a regional marketing focus– around New England, 75 mile radius around stadium. Their profit, as tenants, is mainly around perishable, event-based items (tickets) and sponsorships- nothing else, no parking or concessions. This is a major reason why pushing to sell out games is so important. 80% of the tickets are sold online, which is quite a flip from 10 yrs ago, when it was 20%. They focus on the impulse buy.

Some more breakdowns, just in a bullet form, for their marketing, and knowledge of their customers:

  • Very emotional customer target/segment
  • Very broad demographic appeal
  • Varied reasons customers come to the game
  • Pre-defined customer clusters, clickthrough behavior is segmented out, pre-defined
  • 800,000 price points – every seat has a different value that fluctuates day to day, email marketing tests and probes price tests
  • Reacting quickly (from the click traffic) helps with the quickly shifting win/lose season with the team

I asked him about static segmentation versus dynamic. I wouldn’t think pre-defined was something to brag about. I pride one of my clients on their ability to shift around their segmentation as much as they want. He said that they shift it around every year based on statistical reports and that is usually enough, he’s found.

The case study he talked about was the 12/15/07 game against Denver Nuggets, holiday season meant not a full house, so they identified the open seats, which were in the upper balcony/loge, and then designed a 2-phase multichannel email campaign.

First phase was a targeted email to pre-determined clusters, to sell the large blocks & balcony, which are great for a group sale. Various sampling of targets were:

  • Every customer who had bought on same night as this game, Friday, which is basing it on purchase time and date
  • College domains
  • Special family offer to customers with children- Offer was hot dog + soda, drop price, create a package,
  • Anyone in past who had bought,
  • Target against key players’ alma maters such as Syracuse, alma mater of Carmelo, U-Mass, which is the alma mater of Marcus Canby, etc.
  • Survey takers got an offer, contact-us offer ticket;
  • And almost all service outbound tickets had specific Denver offers.

All in all, there were 24-36 distinct offers created for filling the stadium for this Denver game, most based on the segment and data points for each demographic.

Phase 2: Clicker conversions, multichannel. They generate a a “click list”- all of the customers that had clicked on links regarding the game, but had not purchased, and issue that list to telemarketing group. These are highly effective list calls, the sales people really like it, salesperson has the entire list available to them, on the phone, they can re-offer better offers or seats, or determine reason and follow-up or store the reason for refusal. ROI is better than email on follow-up phone calls. I asked him whether they store those responses for analysis, he answered they do, and I think that is a real key to evaluating offers and campaigns. Very impressive data capture.

The result of this effort? It was a sell-out game, Pierce told the marketing group that “the crowd really carried us,” which is something “us marketing folks feel good abou.” Score: 119-114, and it was the best game of year for this team.

Phase 3, was to follow up on the attendees, selling 6-game package, season passes and merchandise.

These series generated over 2x over standard email campaigns. Because this kind of sales drive was a near sellout, the initiative has become standard with for games with same ticket buying standards. In the league they are the best practice at doing this, Cllick Tactics is the partner.

Questions from the audience…

Q: How do you manage contact frequency, is hitting them every game? Also merchandising, surprised you weren’t doing that earlier.

A: how do we avoid email fatigue? only send out 1/4 the database, and rotate, so not more htan 2 a month from us (wow, very infrequent) learning from 2 years ago, when we “carpet-bombed”, and our consumers were getting to coupon-hunters, offer-hunting, so not conditioned to keep waiting for them

Q:Why are you not focusing on merchandise, thought that would have been done already.
A: We’re trying to get premium packages and merchandise, jersey, playoff-strip, trying to get more than face-value.

Q: Clicker-non-converters, how do you follow up with them, if you do?
A: People who click and don’t purchase, less effective leads than non-click/non-purchase leads, strangely enough. I’ve tested, and that’s how it turned out.

Q: (my questions!) Do you store the refusals from telemarketing? What CRM package do you use? And, why not do dynamic segmentation?
a: Yes, we store the refusal in database. We found that we don’t have to analyze that frequently, once a year is enough. And Archtics (from TicketMaster) is the CRM package (from the ticketing sales system).

Q: I’m a season holder, and very happy with the programs.
A: You shouldn’t have received any emails last year, we suppressed you!

Keynote from Stefan Tornquist

Monday, 25. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Tamara Liveblogging
Stefan Tornquist, from MarketingSherpa’s Email Summit, gave the keynote and reviewed some of the top findings from the 2008 Email Marketing Benchmark guide.

First, he showed the chart on “taking the temperature” on email marketing, and it showed, year over year, a stagnation of “rosy” chart, and that basically problems have gotten more intense for email marketers.

Stefan then flipped to a slide showing something we all know- “newsletters still work”- for acquiring leads, essentially.

He displayed an odd report on the percentage of false positives on the spam filter, that predominantly (61%) were flagged by a single ISP, and a huge dropoff when classified by up to 3 ISPs. ISPs examined: Hotmail, AOL & Yahoo. He finished by saying that “the score does not tell you the entire story, you should monitor ISPs.” Interestingly, this is more a concern for B2B than B2C.

I was pleased to see the analysis of opens and clicks across segmented, versus unsegmented lists, and that sometimes the difference is 2:1 more efficacy for highly segmented lists.

On copywriting, and subject lines, Stefan quoted Ann Holland that “subject lines are getting shorter”, and they are getting ‘short & punchy.’ Essentially, “the first twenty characters are going to get looked at,” of the 45 characters suggested.

The most interesting report displayed, of course, the eyetracking chart, and renewed advice to move the template around to get- move the template around periodically (every 3 campaigns) to make users click on non-content, or less interesting or focussed panels, such as sponsor ads.

He lent advice on landing page optimization: remove navigation, and surprisingly enough, repeated page testing raises the efficacy up to 400% more. 400%. Amazing.

Last slide was a review of email marketers and their judging their inside, ASP or ESP vendors and how they are “good to great.” Turns out full service ESPs win out on that category, and with 60% email marketers with ESPs “able to handle complexity.” Basically- they’re worth the expense!

Interesting quick talk, in a very crowded hall, but deemed useful by my neighbors.

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.

Certification: Data vs. Guts

Sunday, 24. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Conference

MarketingSherpa offers a certification course before the EmailSummit sessions begin on Monday. Last night at dinner, my two colleagues and I were talking about the course, and I wondered if, since we were already doing pretty sophisticated emails, segmentation, etc., whether it was going to be worthwhile. The bits I witnessed, with Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of MarketingExperiments, was chock full of great advice, methodology, and data points. More importantly perhaps is that it spurred a conversation with the same colleagues on the efficacy of one of our key campaigns. McGloughlin went through various emails very clearly into the reading flow of consumers, the issue of expectation from the subject line to the content of the email, as well as the offer.

In the presentation, MarketingExperimenets presents a formula based on effectiveness of email marketing, and the fact that they had a formula really dovetailed nicely with a book I read on the plane (and will review on here at some point): SuperCrunchers, which establishes data and regression testing in contrast to (what I term) gut marketing, or intuitive defenses of the ways and means of effective marketing. Haven’t we all seen that- someone in management or executive level saying “I don’t like that,” with no justification, data, or analysis to back it up? Frustrating.

This certification course has a lot of testing and information in helping corporate email marketing departments defend certain issues and “reasons why” we do things- short email subjects, not selling so hard (Phil hates the word ‘deal’ for very good reasons!), etc. So in this regard the certification course is very valuable. Looking forward to the email marketing internal politics session after the keynote tomorrow!

Back to the subject of data analysis in constant battle with ‘gut marketing’, what interesting to me is the fact that data analysis is not the gold standard, because, basically, learnings age. Negotiating that aging period is the real challenge. When do you have to retest various lessons you learned? When do offers get stale (i.e., “free shipping”), voice gets old, segmentation becomes complex and no longer useful, etc.

My Guide to the Email Summit

Tuesday, 19. February 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Of course to each his or her own, but I thought I’d contribute my dance card. Full session info here, schedule here. I’m going to be blogging from the Summit, so check out the Information & Coverage microsite to read a combination of other bloggers writing from the Summit, too!
Day One

8:45AM, Keynote
Talked to Stephen Tornquist briefly on the phone the other day, and in this talk he’s going to address some key points from the MarketingSherpa 2008 Email Marketing report, which should be pretty interesting, and a great way to get the highlights without actually reading the tome. (There, I’ve said it, I haven’t read it!)

9:15 AM Office Politics and Email Policy
I can tell you now that I’ll be running off to the coffee stand because, honestly, I rarely get up past 10am on Pacific Time. Grumpiness aside, some of the most challenging things in my line of work are navigating the organizational structure, so this will definitely be interesting.

1:30PM III – Managing the Vendor Selection Process
It keeps coming up like a bad penny- revisiting contract decisions and other lovely ESP evaluations. So this will be great to hit after lunch.

3:15PM “III – Effective Strategies for Mobile Email Marketing “
Since getting an iPhone I’ve been tracking various issues with it- and it opens up that niche expertise of mobile marketing, rendering on devices, and how predictions are coming true- more of our contact base is checking email on the run.

OR

3:15 PM II – Using Triggered Campaigns for Targeted Messaging

I may coin toss for this other conference at the same time: my bugaboo, besides image suppression, is targeted transactional campaigns, so I may drop in on this one to see if they’re doing anything better than I’ve seen!

3:45PM III- Serving Up Dynamic Content for Increased Loyalty and Lower Costs
Like transactional, triggered campaigns, dynamic content is a great way to hit a lot of personalization in one fell swoop. It’ll be neat to see others’ solutions to this gnarly architecture.

4:15 PM II – Advanced Testing Case Studies: Part II
I’m pretty familiar with Microsoft’s internal setup so I want to check in and see how they’ve handled some of the resources there.

4:45PM II – Conversation Starters: Engaging Customers and Prospects Through Microtargeting
I feel like I could learn a lot more from other marketers on segmentation, especially merging different segmentation styles and strategies, so hopefully this will be interesting.

Day 2:
9AM II – New Proprietary Study: How Consumers Interact with Email
You never know, sometimes these behavioral studies are really eye-opening, like the infrared laser-map study that I’ve seen in MarketingSherpa results. I’m not an early riser so getting to a PST 6am meeting may be impossible.

9:45AM I – Testing and Segmentation Strategies of a Chinese Weekly
I am very interested in Asian business, so personal interests aside, the topic looks interesting, and always getting those new segmentation strategies! Last year I did quite a bit of international data work, so it’s super relevant to me.


10:45 AM III – Data Enrichment and Synchronization Strategies
Having setup and designed many internal email marketing systems, I’ll be very interested to see how other folks do it.


11:45 II – Critical Steps for Addressing Image Blocking

I think I actually asked to give a talk like this to some conference- perhaps even this one!- so may attend to see what wins out.

Social stuff? I want to get drinks with folks that Sunday night, and Monday night is the awards ceremony. I’d like to dart down to South Beach to check out a cafe an ex-boyfriend told me about. It’d be fun to get in some salsa and good Cuban food!

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