Adventures in Email Marketing

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The Momentus Blog

Monday, 14. February 2011 by Anna Billstrom

Hello dear readers, sorry for the long absence. I have to admit I’ve been cheating on you with another mistress- the Momentus Media Blog! It’s a viral app development consultancy, I’ve been working with, at Momentus Blog

Guess which one was the most read (and had a running lead on the top read blog post on this site for a while…) The Oauth one, ha.

I’m also writing a lot about iOS, food & feminism on the main blog, banane.com. If I have nuggets about email I’ll post them here, viral/FB stuff on Momentus. Gavin may write here occassionally as well.

Thanks!
Anna

Thanks!

Odd Ideas That May Make Sense… From Email Campaign Monitor

Thursday, 14. October 2010 by Anna Billstrom

I’m a bit late to this article written in April, but it’s a goodie: Four odd email ideas that (maybe) make sense, by Mark Brownlow. What strikes me about this post, is that we really have to question common ideas and “best practices,” as sometimes they may be a way to get through the chatter and present our message to the right audience, at the right time, with the right content.

One addendum I’d like to add, to the mobile discussion on his post: this is yet another reason to include some meaty text-only content in your email. Mobile readers doing triage will be able to tell quickly what it is about, so they can read it at more leisure on their desktop or laptop. But if you have an image-only message, and no alt-text or copy, they’re going to hit the trash button before the image even finishes loading.

The Demise of Email

Thursday, 15. October 2009 by Anna Billstrom

Tree
This is the third time I’ve written about the death of email- and anyone who blogs in this space is all too familiar with the claims (oddly by those not in the know). Basically: email is about as dead as your social security number, your physical address, or HTML. WSJ, never quite hip to stuff tech, is scared and from their vantage, I can see that it’s a wild world of web2.0, nay 3.0 marketing out there, it’s confusing and bewildering. But have no fear, email will always be used, until something more dependable and better comes along, and, more importantly, is trusted by an evergrowing base of users.

I agree that the usage of email is shifting. More and more people are using email as a notification service, not as a message carrier. “Oh I got a note on Facebook.” or, “Oh I should visit my bill pay site.” Could other technical tools do this? Sure. But it’s not about what’s technically available to the consumer, but what they trust. More and more demographics- beyond the early adopters- are getting onto email. As many email marketers know, focusing on early adopters (as WSJ is trying to do, 3 years too late) only opens up that segment. If you are Apple or Threadless, that’s great. But if you’re selling mutual funds and radial tires, you probably don’t care about the 30-35 geeky male nerd who cycles to work and spends his money as he earns it.

I’ve noticed during the recession, that more businesses have started focusing on their email vendors, departments and employees skilled in these areas, because it is a measurable, dependable marketing channel. Is it the future of tech? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not intrinsically enmeshed in the future.

More reading:
Mark Brownlow’s Three Years And Still Going Strong; his comments at the end are great and very useful.
Kristin Gregory over at Bronto does a round-up: Best of the Blogosphere: Embedded Video and the Slow Death of Email
Bob Frady, “Never Trust Anyone Under 30″, I agree in that it says more about the East Coast constantly focusing on high tech as a youth industry (and thus I blame the dot-com bomb on them) but that’s another post.

I don’t like list rentals.

Thursday, 27. August 2009 by Anna Billstrom

chinese_parking_sign

This has come up in a few conversations on EmailRoundtable, and in a conversation between me and @LorenMcDonald, and I thought I’d put my thoughts here. I don’t like list rentals. But to elaborate, let’s talk about the various ways of (in)organically acquiring email addresses:

- For a fee, you use another company’s email systems to send your email. It’s on their system, but they send your content. All links in email go back to your site.
- Some companies sell their lists. So they actually hand over part of their customer base. You insert into your system and drop the email.
- Some companies share part of a newsletter with you, so you can insert a form, and acquire sign-ups.
- Some companies do back-end overlays of data models, to determine who in your company list, fits the model and is thus a good fit for some kind of segment.
- Some companies specialize in giving you extra data on your email list. So I have the email, they will tell me the email’s favorite flavor of ice cream.

I’ve avoided using the marketing terms for the above processes as that’s a completely different discussion.

Issues to think about if you consider any of these options
What’s the email’s provenance? How did the consumer give their permission? The minute you use that email, you are potentially a spammer, if you are unaware of how it was given. And check back a few generations.

Whatever route you take, will the customer understand the relationship? The email I used to opt-in to Zappos emails, and suddenly I’m getting Gap emails. Does that make sense? Don’t underestimate the consumer. They know how they interacted with your company. It doesn’t take a lot to be considered spam.

Are you giving over more value than what you’re being provided? If I give 100K emails to a datafarm, I need to understand that I’m providing them with value. They only exist by the customers they have, and the lists they get.

As Loren McDonald says very well in his post, If Someone Says Buy A List One More Time…”

After all, marketers who ask about buying lists could just be asking, “How can I build my list quickly, and where can I acquire email addresses?” Unfortunately, there is no easy way to build a good list quickly. If there were, presumably we’d all be doing it.

Here’s the truth: In the email world, you can’t buy legitimate email addresses. You know those $399 CDs with 50 million email addresses? Most of the addresses are probably harvested or gathered in some less-than-stellar manner. Many are probably either out of date, converted to “honeypots” by ISPs looking to trap some spammers, or otherwise undeliverable. The owners of those addresses certainly haven’t given you permission to email them.

There are many methods of increasing your email list, “organically,” a term I use just to say, it’s part of the normal process of business. It varies by company and organization, and it’s largely to do with getting out the word that you have interesting mailing campaigns, that you make it a priority to take email addresses at F2F events, strategic parts of your site, at the cash register, etc. Viral campaigns are great, and parternship marketing.

For clients who have explored the acquisition routes above, I have never seen one of them that has exhausted the organic methods. Lifecycle, “triggered” emails are probably the most unsung hero in acquisition channels. It enhances the relationship, it is targeted, and personalized, and 24×7. But it’s a little tricky to execute. I think marketers go the “easy” route by back-end data models, because it’s something they understand, whereas lifecycle emails are not one-hit-wonders but slow growth. Still, when you compare cost and response rates, lifecycles win every time. Web 2.0 companies understand this- their emails are short, text-only (or with maybe 1 image) and triggered according to user activity on their site. They notify you of social relationships- and they create a stickiness. Unfortunately retail and consumer goods haven’t launched onto this as much, they’re still in the image-heavy, HTML one-drop-a-week world, barely inching up from the “cart abandonment” email campaigns. They can go there, and some are trying, but it’s a hard row to hoe.

Reading on the topic
How to Grow A List ClickZ
Email list rental may fall out of favor DM News. Great quote from Julie Katz at Forrester:

“We saw it coming because renting names from a list can be very risky for a marketer,” says Julie Katz, analyst at Forrester Research. “Those people don’t necessarily have any affinity with your brand. Also, if the names are bad, you could get caught in a spam trap and it can ruin your reputation.”

Bulk email lists: good or bad? by Mark Brownlow on Email Experience Reports

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

Tuesday, 17. March 2009 by Anna Billstrom

brioche
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: http://search.twitter.com) 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.

I Read 1000 Posts So You Didn’t Have To

Tuesday, 03. February 2009 by Anna Billstrom

I’ve been offline for close to a month, so I’ve finally faced my Google Reader and its notation that I have “1,000 posts” unread in my professional categories. Here’s the original, the newsworthy, and the entertaining!
email marketing, twitter, and social marketing <-- divided into neat little categories.

Email Marketing
The folks at the Google blog don’t post a lot, but each one generates a ton of echo-chamber posts. 2 big things happened this month:
- Archive Email on Your iPhone
- Gmail Goes Offline.
Right, and Yahoo is working with ReturnPath on a Feedback Loop. I’m just assuming everyone knows that.

From Chad White of Retail Email blog…
- Retailers & their lack of Facebook love: Few retailers mention their Facebook pages
- The Oopsy awards! Find out all the flubs
- I was interested to find out that this Christmas we set a new volume record

Here are some interesting bits from EmailKarma
- No reply why bother at all? It’s a repost of Chad White’s no-reply post, and on my Google Reader- and Bloglines- the RSS feed says “respond to: noreply@blogger.com”. Whoops- not on EmailKarma but on RSS feed generators!
- Good old industry news, that was news to me: IBM to acquire Outblaze

Could you possibly say something new about subject lines? Yes! Mark Brownlow at No Man Is An Island introduces the Scrabble Theory.

Usually I don’t like blog posts about blog posts (like this one?) but Mark Brownlow’s insight into Kevin Hillstrom’s was a delight: Finding the missing numbers.

Yum, case studies. Oh, and failures. Schadenfreude! Return on Subscribers gives us… Email marketing fail: Inquisix

Denise Cox lines up some truly hilarious Really bad unsubscription processes.

Nostalgia machine- Tamara Gielen posted a funny old interview with a Hotmail developer/product manager: When hotmail was cool

Bronto’s Kristen Gregory writes an original, and empassioned, plea to clean up lists and other techniques for shedding the inactive: Drop your email lists deadweight without sacrificing ROI

Another Bronto-er, DJ Waldow does a nice recap of the user experience of Obama’s email campaign (OK and I’m a sucker for DJ’s posts AND customer experience posts) Obama knows email at least he’s getting there…

David Greiner at Campaign Monitor wrote the usual focused, practical web developer articles in the email marketing world;
- Track your new subscribers with WordPress and Mint
- How many nested tables are too much?
- And a shoutout to the Email Standards Project. Yay!

Brian Clark at CopyBlogger continues to write about some of the key challenges in this field. Here, he talks about being unique, being yourself, and not being afraid to be yourself, along with some great footage of Marvin Gaye singing the Star Spangled Banner.

MailChimp rocked out a few great posts:
- They laid down the law with their response to “Can I use a purchased email list?” Guffaws were heard in the blogosphere.
- Self-acknowledged 124th good newsletter idea I like the humorous acknowledgement, and it’s not a bad idea either.

OK I didn’t read the 300 or some-odd LinkedIn Q&A quesitons, but I did pick up on one or two good ones.
- Some poor soul asked for examples of re-opt-in emails, of which nobody posted an example (but me!) and lots of people sold them their services.
- Another great question: How do you describe how a blog works to a Victorian gentleman? Similar questions have haunted me at 3 AM too.

Dylan Boyd of Email Wars has such a sincere & unique voice that I easily dogeared about 10 articles:
- Is this emial’s tipping point
- on alternative email addresses: whispr: why do we want thee?
- Oooh! Failures! I love these!!! When landing pages blow
- Could new MySpace email make a dent?

Kevin Hillstrom’s Mine That Data blog is a dense chewy mass, but here are some key tidbits
- He gets a little abstract in the discussion of Business cycles.
- Very useful zip code and geographic analysis project, where readers contribute, Zip Code forensics version 2.0 is free
- Lifeitme Value and Organic Buyers

Yes, Twitter Gets its Own Topic
Alex Williams of Return on Subscriber tells me how to Track email on Twitter. It was new to me, sorry if it wasn’t to you!

MindComet at Email Marketing VooDoo lined up some pragmatic, practical tips on Leveraging twitter for your email. I thought I knew it all until I read his post, seriously.

Kaliya, “Identity Woman” reflects on I’ve been tweeting for a year now… and clicks through to fanboy’s social marketing rant, that I loved.

Kevin Hillstrom of Mine that Data writes about his newbie experience: Twitter update, 2 weeks in. Note, he doesn’t follow anyone on Twitter (at the time of this posting).

Chad White of Retail Email blog starts reposting twitterstreams, which I will of course kid him about, but I find it fun to read all the same:
- on “no reply” addresses
- about sample emails

David Armano of Logic + Emotion has a few great posts… on Twitter of course…
- he lines up an ego list, ““Tapping TWitter’s viral nature” of top twitterers, but we’re not supposed to dismiss it. Or something.
- and the reposted twitterstream, that I love so much: Priceline Rapid Response Prevents a Groundswell

Social Marketing
Of all of the Forrester blogs, I like Peter Kim’s and Jeremiah Owyang’s.
- Peter’s controversial criticism of the echo chamber: It’s Time to Transform.
- Jeremiah’s very useful research on white label communities (check out the neat graph too) Leaders in Community Platforms for Marketers

Karl Long of Experience Curve discusses whether Advertising is worth saving with a delicious photo of Billy Idol.

David Armano of Logic + Emotion has a few goodies:
- Social media experts down there with snake oil salesmen. Ugh.
- and, Wellsfargo doing it right

I couldn’t read all of Mashable’s 350 posts (so true, didn’t read 1,000 posts!), but I did pick out one or two written in the last week that I thought was new & relevant:
- SocialWhoIs helps you extend your profile on twitter/friendfeed
- Facebook’s monetization plan: polls, and lots of ‘em

Miscellaneous News Items- 12/10

Wednesday, 10. December 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Catch-up of other news that I didn’t write about while EmailInsiderSummit was going on:

Steve Isaacs at Deep Focus is handling the Flight of the Conchords Lip Dub Contest- the idea is to lipsync/dub the FotC song on their site. I heard of it yesterday, but what brought me to Youtube was watching the College Humor guys singing Hip-hop-opotomus (rap song).

RapLeaf has a Facebook plugin, and “social media screening” (free screening. RapLeaf is the tool that tells you where your users are, provided you give them emails, which I’m always a little squidgy about.

The “give a drink” app on Facebook has a real-world aspect now. Yep: Give real. You can buy someone a drink, they go to a bar and use a credit card, and it’s debited on there (or something, if I have it right- have not tested.)

Acteva, an event ticketing company, has a plug-in for Facebook too! (hence this post, as I kept reading the same email over and over again, “we have a plugin for FB…”). So you create your event in there, and then click “publish to FaceBook” and all of the event info, etc. are put there. Nice, as I know some non-profits that use Acteva.

I got a notice about the “wovel”- Firstworld, a choose-your-adventure style online novel by fellow alum Jemiah Jefferson.

Friend and fellow email marketing blogger Tamara Gielen is moving on to her own consultancy (from Ogilvy), check her out at BeRelevant!. Her blog was one of the first ones I read when getting my feet wet in the world of online marketing discussions, and her comprehension and analysis of current trends and methods is unmatched, in my opinion.

Bill McCloskey is demo’ing a new service and needs beta testers- more about it on Tamara’s site: Want to Beta Test a New Email Alert?

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.

Oh No the Sky is Falling, or, the Demise of Email… to Search?

Tuesday, 02. December 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Interesting thread on FaceBook between a few folks, namely Sarah Brown of Guru of New & my social marketing talk partner, Janet Fouts of TatuDigital. The launch of the thread was a report on eMarketer generally showing a lack of responses over email and an uptick in paid search, which these gals likened to social marketing’s final glory day as the top marketing channel.

“Consumers Opening Fewer E-Mails…Fewer consumers worldwide are opening marketing e-mails, according to a November 2008 study by MailerMailer.”

“Online retailers worldwide surveyed in July and August 2008 by E-Consultancy and R.O.EYE said that e-mail was second only to paid search when it came to driving high volume. “

Paid search! Ow, that’s gotta hurt. (smile to all of my SEO pals). A couple of things about this report:

1. Image suppression is the elephant in the middle of the room. It dramatically affects metrics, and namely, open rates. With more and more people using webmail email accounts, this increases, and the effects increase. I know I’m a broken record on this, but until analysts figure out a new method of measurement, I’m going to suspect any report on open rates.

2 This study was done prior to the holiday season. The recent onset of holiday surge emailing has nothing to do with it.

3. But the main gist, for me, is not that consumers aren’t opening emails (if that is indeed what is happening, which we can’t tell for sure because of my point #1), but that retailers are sending to them. Retailers are still not filtering out inactive subscribers. And, that’s going to come back and bite them, not just by diminished returns and low ROI, but by missing the boat completely on lifecycle emails. Retailers are using a perfectly good medium- email- and using it to have a boring conversation. “Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this? Wanna buy this?” You see my point.

Folks on our thread were talking about how they “don’t open emails” anymore, and how useless newsletters are, for their own PR. To me it’s not the demise of email, but the profusion of poor marketing- retail treating email as a cheap 4-color printing shop- instead of what many companies are doing, which is sophisticated, tailored email messages to individuals, not mass bulk mailings. When I say “tailored,” I’m not biasing this to mom & pop’s versus corporations. The size of the company has very little to do with how they address communicating to their customer, I’ve found. An example of lifecycle emails: what to send your subscriber when they haven’t opened an email in ages. Don’t keep sending them an email every week (or day!), but in a few months, send them a “do you still want to be subscribed?” email. Examples, here.

As for trends in marketing channels- I’ve seen slide after slide showing social marketing trending upwards at astronomical rates. I haven’t quite seen the ROI meet email’s- and in a broader vertical than online retail. That, I think, remains to be seen as social marketing matures.

My sources: the presentation by a Julie Katz of Forrester last year at a StrongMail seminar. Also, MarketingSherpa analysts on the future of email, from their presentation at the Summit last February. I can’t reproduce here as they were all-rights, etc.

The Reminder Email: Does It Work?

Wednesday, 10. September 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Interesting post- worth the read- on MailChimp on how segmentation is helping, or hurting, the businesses that use their service for sending email. They did a broad study on the response rates of all of their customer’s campaigns that used segmentation, including logical filters using email readership behaviors, such as opens and reads. In the final paragraph, they reason most of the negative segmentation results are due to reminder emails:

Turns out the majority of users who had A.I.M. Reports [response filter] installed were not using it to send special emails to loyal subscribers (“segment based on those who opened my recent 3 campaigns”) but were using it to send follow-up campaigns to “those who did not open my last message.” This has been documented on email marketing sites as an extremely effective tactic to generate more bookings by hotels and event organizers (Marketingsherpa: Should You Re-Send Your Email Newsletter to Non-Openers?). But when you factor in how inherently inaccurate open rate tracking is, it’s understandable that some of these followup campaigns are perceived as pesky duplicates to some recipients.

Reminder emails are a common method of milking the most out of an offer. You didn’t buy it the first time around? We’ll send you three emails reminding you that the sale will end… OK it’s really going to end… You have one more day… OK we’re extending it another day… as you can see this becomes tiresome to the customer and, as MailChimp saw, despite having nice targeted segments of relevant customers, they end up unsubscribing.

What’s wrong with a reminder?
- Extensions undermine any future messaging or urgency, customer wise up to the fake deadlines
- Meaningless reminders end up being nagging- keep it to one or two
- No rationale as to why the customer is being targeted, they don’t know why, which leads them to conclude that it’s spam and untargeted, and they unsubscribe
- Over-re-cycled content sets a precedent for cheap, uninformative content

What can you do?
Write meaningful subject lines that inform the customer where they are in the series:
1) New Sale in X Days
2) Reminder: Sale ending
3) Final Reminder

Keep the reminders at a minimum- one or two, with a final check-in that is truly a final goodbye.

Let the customer know where they are in the series. Series can be very useful and have great results, but you have to let the customer know that you’re not mindlessly re-sending the list the same copy.

Make the segmentation transparent: You can say, “You didn’t open the last- here’s a reason to open this one,” use your segmentation logic in the subject line. eHarmony did this very well recently to me, with a note from the marketing director. It was a simple text email with a subject line, “You haven’t read our emails lately…”

Personally I’m not a fan of reminders, I think they’re lazy and increase unsubscriptions. I am a fan of series emails, albeit done well. It takes more work, but it’s very effective and improves the conversation between the customer and the marketer.

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