Adventures in Mobile Marketing

I don’t like list rentals.

Thursday, 27. August 2009 by Anna Billstrom


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

The Re-Send & Other Cost-Cutting Techniques

Wednesday, 15. July 2009 by Anna Billstrom

The reality is that it’s a very cheap campaign. Basically, take your email, and send it again a few days later. Heck, send it a third time.

You can see that list fatigue sets in pretty quickly. For this, you have some options:
- change subject line
- suppress openers and clickers, or those that act on the email contents
- change header text on top of creative (the text right before the main message, called different things now, by various folks.)

Some demographics will support this more than others. I’ve heard from B2Bs that rarely have any negative feedback, but they re-pitch only with conference registrations, and other once-a-year or twice-a-year notifications.

For consumer and retail, it’s been spotty. Basically consumers really need the slightest excuse to unsubscribe, and once that happens you don’t get them back. Some of my clients use this rule- only do the re-engage campaign occasionally. Then, a significant portion of your base won’t consider this as a regular technique. You don’t want them to say “stop hammering me,” essentially. But the occasional re-issue is tolerated.

It’s a great way to increase response and repurpose creative. There are also other more effective ways without the negatives:

- lifecycle campaigns. Make one creative and email according to the consumer’s lifecycle, not your marketing calendar.
- re-activation campaigns. Re-use the most popular creative to bring back lapsed viewer/engagers. Send this out after no contact in 3/6/9 months, for example.

More Reading:
The Reminder Email, Does It Work?
Killing Off Inactive Subscribers
Terminology: Transactional, Lifecycle, Event-Based, Trigger

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.

Accessing the Data (2 of 2)

Monday, 02. March 2009 by Anna Billstrom

A continuation of a post I wrote last week, “Getting Beyond Your Data Set” I describe the additional data you can use to juice up your campaigns. Now, let’s talk about how this happens.

1) Export from source
2) Transfer to local system
3) Load to email database
4) Use data to segment

Most platforms have schedulers (Unix/Linux: chronjob, Windows: windows scheduler) that can trigger a script (written in a combination of either SQL batch exporter, or Perl, or even Windows MS/SQL packages) to export the data. Then, once the export file has been created, transfer the file to the email marketing platform- internally, or hosted at your ESP. They will then have either a triggered job to load the export, or a timed operation that loads the data. Once it is in your campaign database, you can use the data for segmenting.


OK I went over that kind of fast.

Identify new data–> export file (flat, simple) –> timed scheduler to export –> transfer via FTP to local system –> timed job to pick up file –> import script to load data

- Use encryption for transferring files. Losing personal information on your customer is probably the worst thing that can happen in email marketing. Zip with encryption (password) is the lowest security, PGP is one of the more secure methods. In organizing the transfer of files with your vendor, don’t send the password in an email.
- For that reason above, I don’t recommend ever transferring email addresses, via excel spreadsheets, data files, or really any method. Create a customer key and use that to represent the unique user. You can do this in Excel, and of course in all database flavors.
- Having worked with a lot of ESPs to add data to their systems, they’re more than willing to help out and will mostly do all of the work once given an export file.
- Data files come in a few variations, commonly CSV (comma separated values) and fixed format. Data files also have a definition file that outlines the columns and data formats for each element.

Lead Generation and Email

Tuesday, 10. February 2009 by Anna Billstrom

Blog reader tweeted me about a company that was selling email addresses. We all know it’s a bad idea, but here’s a quick rundown of why:
- unqualified leads
- doesn’t pay for itself
- devalues your brand
- disingenuous relationship with customer (what would the welcome email say? “Hi! You don’t know me, but I bought your email…”)
- sadly, I’ve seen “list acquisition” projects that are mainly contributing your hard won customer list to a data farm (oh, and you pay for the privilege!).

He had a good question: what are proven ways, then to increase your email list?

Well, for one, promotional email lists are just one marketing channel in the overall issue of, how to increase awareness and activity with your company. No, I’m not going to say “grow your list” because I’m an English major and have a firm stance on using “grow” if it’s not related to aging or agriculture. Anyways…

Here are some ideas:
- Partner with a company that has the same target customer demographic (note: don’t do a list exchange, make sure their customers know what they’re getting into, see below on newsletter ad space for an example of a partnership campaign.)
- Offer freebies to “forward to a friend” related activities
- Give-aways with minimal registration involved
- Sell/trade/barter space in your newsletter for another company (see #1′s) ad space. Do the same with them, your newsletter-promo sign-up in their newsletter
- Advertise your promo emails or newsletters on your front page
- Include tasteful, minimal ads or promotions in transactional emails
- I’m a fan of face-to-face events, again teaming up with like-minded businesses that have the same demographic. Get email sign-up sheets out there, and give something in return, no matter how small.
- Well-crafted social marketing campaigns that are fun, focused, transparent and intelligent, funneled to a page on your site that allows access with an email or minimal registration, to reveal the joke/freebie/etc.
- Contests for freebies, also using social media, that require an email to register

More reading…

DMA Email Marketing Time to turn your attention to acquitention. Great tips on leveraging loyal readers. By Simone Baratt

Email Marketing Reports Building a list on more than deals and discounts. A good look at the value of a lead, especially when you use the d-word (discount). By Mark Brownlow.

Words to the Wise Negative brand building with email. The thorny topic of qualifying a lead, which yes, begins at acquisition. by Laura Atkins.

A fail & a win for Myspace, Backtype

Wednesday, 29. October 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Two ends of the spectrum on abilities to marketing online this morning. One from MySpace (Fail) and one from BackType (Win!)

MySpace Fail

Gmail - [@RecipientFirstName], want to find people you may know on MySpace? -
Yep, that’s “[@RecipientFirstName]“. All of us email marketers have to merge in a default name if the data value is a null, so here they just, um, forgot to do that and the data column field name, or the variable, or whatever system they’re using either didn’t parse the email as a merge, or printed nulls as the variable name. For MySpace’s other issues, I guess this isn’t huge, but from an email perspective, this is huge.

Win! BackType

BackType sent me a Twitter direct message, welcoming me to their feed and sending me on to their blog. That is brilliant.
You can setup an auto-responder each time you get a Twitter notification that someone is following you, and write them a note saying, “Thanks for following me, here’s some more information.” Great way to leverage the social medium and create stickiness, share, engage, have a conversation, and all that good stuff.

Note- on Twitter @justinpremick and I were discussing, follow our feeds to enjoy. Mine is @banane.

Why & How Regional Emails Work

Wednesday, 08. October 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Geographic email programs are very, very successful. They are difficult to get, as email marketers, since we can’t determine locale from email address. I’ve had discussions on discussions about matching an email list with ISP and there fore region, but the false-positives outweight the real positives. The old saw is, the massive amount of Vienna, Virginia folks who are AOL subscribers (and do not reside in Vienna). First, though, why is it worth the trouble, and lastly, how to determine geographical location.

What rocks about regional campaigns

As usual, don’t believe me, do your own test. Take a randomly selected control group, and then a targeted local group, and serve local content, and serve diffuse general content. You will see the response rate- opens, clicks, purchases- skyrocket in regional campaigns. Lately the Obama campaign has been regionally SMS’ing and emailing, anything from “call undecided states,” to “meet-up at Temple bar for the debates.” Past clients have further created regional relationships with other businesses to bring potential customers in the door with discounts, or invitationals.

I think regional works so much better than non-regional campaigns because, as consumers, we already have a host of relationships, impressions, and brand recognition with those regional businesses and locations. So when a new brand makes an association they can leverage off of all of those positive feelings, and one major feeling is trust. As all CRM customers know, if you can bring more trust into the relationship you are farther towards a successful one.

How to get Region?
This is tough data to get for an email marketer. Various methods of receiving region:
- Phone number is regionally located (see Obama SMS campaign for getting mine)
- Positive activity on regionally focused emails – you can provide an email campaign with a list of regions, and whoever clicks on X region can generally be considered interested in that region. Note, your email system has to be sophisticated enough to segment on clicked links.
- Asking for zip code (generally considered by consumers as less identifiable and easier to get) in a contest or just outright, for regional email messages
- Changing the online sign-up or registration information to get this initially

Last tip: Please put the region in the subject line. Show off that you know it, and that this email is tailored to the recipient!

Williams-Sonoma. They have targeted me as San Francisco Bay Area, but they neglected to put it in the subject line, which have really pushed me to open it.

(2076 unread) AT&T Yahoo! Mail, anna_billstrom
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

Of course regional campaigns are a travel company’s baileywick, but even here they do a kind of silly goof:

(2074 unread) AT&T Yahoo! Mail, anna_billstrom
Uploaded with plasq‘s Skitch!

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.

FaceBook, Slide, and Email

Monday, 21. July 2008 by Anna Billstrom

If you’re on FaceBook, you’ve probably noticed the application SuperPoke. Well, I’ve been superpoke’d-spammed for a while now. Other members can send you a superpoke, and you get notified by email each time. I tried to disable the email notifications a few months ago, but it didn’t work. I tried to block that specific user- didn’t work. Today, I got a new SuperPoke from a new person and before it snowballed, decided to tackle this issue.

The email SuperPoke (owned by sends looks like this, with a link to “change settings”.

That’s straightforward enough. So I finally decide to go back to Facebook and solve this problem. The “settings” page of the and SuperPoke page looks like the following. When you put your cursor in the email field, it has a pop-up with the privacy issues.

Well, now I’m just confused. For one, why are they requesting my email again? I’m responding to an email they sent me. Second, it’s unclear if I’m adding the email to unsubscribe, as some settings pages do, or if it’s for signing up for more announcements (the last thing I want). I appreciate the small explanation pane, but it’s far from clear.

So, do I enter in my email, and click the box? Or just click the box? This reminds me of other issues Facebook (& applications on the platform) have had with email.

Spring Cleaning Your Email Solution

Thursday, 24. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

In the spirit of spring- with the wacky winds and brisk air, and moments of clear sunshine, we tend to want to roll up our sleeves and fix things that have been annoying us for a long time. In email marketing, I’ve noticed that these projects have started to get underway:

Database & List Cleanup
- Shrink your database. Take advantage of areas that are no longer in use.
- Evaluate your data: do you really need it? Or is it just a one-off, rarely used item? Could it make way for more important, useful data? There’s a trend to behaviorally instead of demographically, target customers- is this your system?
- Look through your inbox and find requests for data that you didn’t have, make a list and start bumping through it.
- Check the data flow and see if all of the data points are working as planned, a simple audit of key touchpoints like unsubscription, new data, mailing list uploads, etc.
- With some simple analysis, find out when people truly become inactive in your system, and segment your campaigns accordingly.
- Do a quick review of your email list by domain, region, and browser, any kind of browser availability out there, and see if your design guidelines match up. Basically: if you’ve decided not to support Gmail, see if it’s a significant portion of your list.

Marketing Program Clean-Up
- Are there campaigns still running that really aren’t earning their keep? If you can’t justify it with revenue or customer relationship gains, time to move on. Great opportunity to experiment with new subject lines, copy, or targeting.
- Are you caught in blast-land or managing a nice lifecycle program? Time to re-evaluate the efficiency of your programs and make your life (and your customer’s) more pleasant.
- Offers that are no-wins. We may have thought this was a good idea at one time, but due to competition or consumer trends, nobody uses this offer anymore. Refresh your offer list with invigorating and new offers- and be realistic about pet projects.

Reporting Clean-Up
- There’s good complexity and bad complexity. Are your reports really singing the truth or just dragging you down into the muck? Re-focus your internal metrics and get them to speak to your goals.
- Check out old reports, and create time-lapse reporting on specific campaigns, consumer behavior or email metrics. These combinations of timely reports can give you insight you didn’t have.
- Distribute reports. I hate being the bearer of bad news, but if we’re all on the same page, it makes it easier to get the car out of the ditch. I’m loving these business metaphors.

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