Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Letters: Salesforce, fundraising tip & transactional messaging

Tuesday, 31. March 2009 by Anna Billstrom

Questions from the overflowing mailbag…

Changes in requests from different people in our team means different database structure (and this tidbit: Salesforce doesn’t allow outer joins!).- friend at dinner tonight

That sucks. Beyond a redesign (on MySql) and an ad-hoc query software, I don’t know what to tell you but this is the 4th non-profit I’ve heard of who has taken advantage of Salesforce’s 10K free-to-non-profits deal, and subsequently been bitten somewhere in the a$$ by restrictions. Note, negotiating is not dead with some of the smaller end ESPs, and it’s never too late to relocate your mail services.

Why doesn’t anyone write about trigger/transactional emails anymore? – Ben at MailChimp
Personally, I’ve never understood those fickle bloggers. Is it not discussed because it’s not sexy? Because its old news? Because nobody asks (I really don’t think most marketing departments use them- prove me wrong). I think, for the audience, this is a battle in their workplace they are just tired of fighting (promotional vs. lifecycle). So, in arguing for more at your place of work, make the conversation about ‘lowering costs’ versus ‘revenue’ and you will win that argument.

How can I share this cool article about fundraising with email marketers…

From this twitter, started a covnersation with Tyler of Involver about how their tool works- you embed a little image of the video- but more importantly, there is a follow-up call to action after it plays, and deep links to the video for sharing, plus a little chiclet to share it out. Case study by a client at Stanford regarding its relevance to non-profit spheres, too. He saw a 23% lift in fundraising over the year, and 51% of it was online. Interesting (if long- scroll to end) post.

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.

From Free to Paid

Monday, 02. February 2009 by Anna Billstrom

Don't Spam
I taught a quick session on “Don’t Spam: Lifecycle Email Marketing Strategies” at She’s Geeky, an un-conference. I went over some basic studies on email marketing behavior, common intervals, and the common life-cycle vs. promotional arguments. I asked folks what was going on in their organization. It seems that, due to the economy, email vendors are turning off free services to their non-profit and other “Cinderella Deal” clients.

For one of my audience members, the choice was to simply go to another vendor. I told her about a few (Constant Contact, MailChimp, MyEmma), and we discussed improvements to her current fundraising schedule. Her non-profit would have to pull in more funds to cover the cost, so it was an unpleasant reality.

For another audience member, the email was so tied in with the online services, that it would be a fundamental shift to change vendors. For a struggling start-up that uses email as a functional part of their application, not just as a marketing channel, I can see the frustration.

What to do? For many Web 2.0 companies and start-ups, start with keeping a fully tested suite of templates that degrade properly across email clients, and hosting your own IP for sending mail (note: with a clean bill of health). In my experience few outsourced email providers (ESP) can handle the demands of truly robust online service company. This is beyond transactional and lifecycle emails, and should be managed by web developers that understand email and can work with the functionality of email. Especially if it’s core to the business, it shouldn’t be outsourced, and not for a fee. I have a suspicion that the “free” was used to reel in the client just so at this point in time the client would have no other option but to continue for a steep fee.

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.

Thoughts on My Social Media Talk Last Night

Thursday, 06. November 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Last night we huddled in the gorgeous office space of McCann Worldwide in Jackson Square, San Francisco, and talked for hours about social marketing. It was intense, fun, and a little exhausting. Presentation will go up soon, but until then we have a “handout” online, at the SF WoW Blog. I met some fun people and heard about some exciting projects. A couple of highlights:

- Gentleman asked me what my “personal social marketing strategy” was. I couldn’t stop with a oneliner: “Wish I had one.” Ended up talking about following your passions, reaching out to people you find interesting, keeping up with commitments, and always exploring new tools.
- Co-presented with Janet Fouts who just amazes me with her knowledge of all of the tools and uses of Twitter. She is my Twitter Queen.
- Standing outside afterwards, on our way to favorite tapas place, Boccadillos on Montgomery, I was bemoaning how I’d miss all of our conversations planning the talk, and Janet looks at me and goes, “I think this is only the beginning.”
- Showing the Seesmic video, and the hushed silence as the audience was taken in by the drama of it. And then when I was checking in with Rebecca (event organizer) afterward, about whether that was a good add, and she goes, “That was so social marketing.”
- Mary Choy freaking out about mood pencils. You just never know what part of the presentation will stick with people!
- Realizing in the Q&A period that we really hadn’t focused on the FaceBook strengths, despite diving into a case study earlier on. Twitter just dominated.
- Some really good and pointed questions in the wrap-up, about choosing a good blogger, the approaches, and how much time to devote.

Breaking Into Social Marketing

Wednesday, 30. July 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I’ve had a few meetings lately, mostly with friends, on this whole “social marketing” thing. How do they get into it? Why do it? Which application should they pick? I thought I’d write up a quick list of things I’ve been repeating:

1) Find the popular kids.
It’s high school, I know, but there are mavens out there and they can make your job a lot easier. For a friend who works in a software platform company, I told him to find his highly networked colleagues, and where they’re posting. Twitter? OK, then join twitter and plurk for a while, find out if it’s worthwhile.

2) Mix work & play
I setup two Twitter accounts- “advent_in_email”, and “banane”, and tried to separate them between work and play. Well, my personal one had a lot more followers, and I couldn’t keep my twitter accounts straight, so now I follow a policy of mostly work but some play in my twitter comments. I have to admit I enjoy the personal posts of those I follow as well. So it’s a brave new world of mixing work & leisure.

3) You’re not a stalker!
There’s this fear that people are stalkers- and you’re not- though each platform has a different way of following, and for some it’s far more personal than others.

4) Does it really work?
I refer people to Jeremiah Owyang’s Web Strategy blog, the “social networking” category, quite a lot, when they start asking questions about business justifications for social marketing. He has a ton of posts and he actually meets with these companies and asks the hard questions. Zappos is a poster child for social marketing, and there are various case studies I’m posting all the time on companies doing it right.

5) It’s such a time investment!
You can be strategic in the use of your time. It’s getting easier and easier each week as more applications are developed to centralize this stuff, too. Lately, an account on Digg, Flickr, and Twitter, with FriendFeed as a reading location for you, will pretty much accomplish a bare bones but effective social marketing campaign. Set aside an hour, keep it frequent (3-4 times a week) and you’re good. I also suggest not doing everything at once- join one platform, get used to it, join another, get used to it, etc.

6) Blogging is so time-consuming
Yes. I’m a writer so it’s not that stressful for me, but as a writer friend told me the other day, “for some people writing is like doing taxes.” LOL. So if you’re not a writer, I’d create a blog that was just a set of links, every day, basically your “digg’d” articles, and blogs you read. Or just use your blog as a living resume. No need to write your deep thoughts each day. Blogs seem to be getting phased out, so it’s not an end-all solution for many companies.

Me on Twitter
Me on FriendFeed
Me on Digg
Me on Flickr

More Reading:
Social Media ROI
Web Social Architecture
I Want to Believe (that Twitter is useful…)
The Online Participation Factor, by Justin Korn, and more interesting perhaps is his quantification of participation during a 24 hour process: FriendFeed Followers: Lurking or Participating?

Social Networks: Same ole, same ole

Wednesday, 09. July 2008 by Anna Billstrom

There’s been a lot of posts on social networks- as well as a general anxiety by email marketers that their specialty, email, is dying. Well, to me it’s “same ole, same ole”- don’t worry about social networks, but that’s not an excuse to ignore them.

For anyone in online marketing nowadays, it’s very important to understand the usefulness of social networks. Since 1997, I’ve seen the job listing, “Community Manager,” and it’s up there with “web strategist” in my lexicon of titles that mean nothing. But now in the bevy of social networks, you actually may need someone to represent your company on all of those sites, and field comments, and generally … gasp… manage the community. Maybe you don’t, but you could also hire an affiliate marketer who is very savvy with social networks, or part-time blogger who can do some email copywriting. You need to understand the different channels and tools in the online marketer doctor’s bag of tricks.

Is it going to take over? Where does that anxiety come from? The feeling that some new channel is out there, and it’s going to monopolize the online time of our customer- away from clicking on our emails and buying stuff? I’d worry about that as soon as Facebook- as a kind of Granddaddy social app- figures out how to make money. Until then, I see it all as “same ole, same ole.”

For many of these sites- like Twitter- they are wrangling with issues emailers have had all along, essentially, a lot of live data with real-time requirements. Is Twitter, as a one-to-many, viral design, much different than transactional emails for any large online system, such as Fantasy Basketball during live draft? Because it’s got a new name doesn’t mean it’s new.

Coming into these social networks with a background in email- and OLAP database design- I see a lot of growing pains, but I also understand that email, its nature, essentially, is fundamental to the success. Not just because email sends you their passwords, but more and more email accounts are being used as the online database for internet users- storing you core social relationships. That means that people will consider their Yahoo and Gmail as an online presence- a kind of virtual wallet or passport. Just saying those phrases reminds me of various startups that failed and succeeded, trying to get customers to trust the Internet. Oh well, that’s another post!

Social Marketing: Bike Shop

Thursday, 05. June 2008 by Anna Billstrom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s Your Competition? Inbox or Vertical?

Tuesday, 06. May 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Do you compare your emails solely to direct competitors, or other email in your consumer’s inbox?

Take the consumer’s perspective. On a Monday, they will have a serious 30-100 piece-thick stack of emails from everyone under the sun. If they are comfortable with online purchasing, that number will increase the years they’ve been doing it. Will he or she discern your offer compared to your competitor? Will he or she really weigh the pros and cons of each offer?

A more likely scenario, that I as a consumer do each morning, is to sift through my email checking for personal stuff. When I’ve depleted that, I check out the from addresses. Response could be: “Oh, here’s one from REI, that’s nice.” I don’t say: “Oh, REI, let’s compare that to the offer I got from SportsBasement yesterday, and the Activa direct mail catalog piece I got last week.” In fact, if I get a nice one from MINI-SF, I’ll definitely open that over REI, over Kodak (sorry client), almost over anything else.

Sure, it’s a debate of WalletShare vs. MarketShare. As email marketers, we have to consider marketshare. It’s a cruel reality, and with the frequency and amount of messaging by all corporate retailers (my vertical), it’s just a reality- as is educating colleagues on the realities of email marketing.

So we go to the old metrics of competition – it’s not simply on an offer level- it’s on design, copywriting, segmentation & targeting, personalization, all of those elements that make an email personal and relevant.

Competing against a single, or small, set of competitors has the danger of:
- Missing out on huge opportunities in new readers and customers
- Missing out on new design, techniques, and technology
- Missing out on the element of effortless innovation. If you’re always using your neighbor as a yardstick, you’re suffering from a strange form of inferiority. From what I’ve seen of retailers, too, they have a lot to learn in the world of email marketing, so doubtless the one you’re competing against has a lot of other issues.

Mini: A Little Too Much, Too Soon

Monday, 21. April 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I am seriously interested in buying a Mini (tired of the trials of having a ’93 Civic!). So I am ripe for a conversation from MiniUSA on how to get going in the sales cycle. And, I’ve created an “ideal Mini” on their site. That’s a very cool feature. You determine all the bells and whistles of your dream car.

But they sent me an email this morning that was a joke, in that it missed so many opportunities.
First, it was just too fast on the sale in my experience with the email frequency. Until this point I’d gotten little weak missives, almost cult-like adoration about the car, like I’d already purchased a MIni. Then I get this, which looks like a funnel to the retail, dealer channel. Click through to talk to a dealer or financier. I’m the kind of person who is a little afraid of the hard sell (especially in the car world) so I’m going to postpone the salesperson as long as I can.

Regardless of my personal sales threshold, this was the first customized email from them that recognized my “age” in the sales cycle. And it tries to foist me off onto real people. The better message would have led me through a series of more and more education and information into the final purchase stages. Let’s also get into the nitty gritty of the webmail design and technique of their messaging. I don’t doubt that they had a very good ad agency help with creating hate emails, but as I saw flaws with their contact strategy, also, there are issues with the way they created the email:

First, the images-off version shows alt text “Copy 1″ and “Copy 2″ – whoops! Then, when you turn images on:

You get white text on black. That could easily have been created in HTML so the main copy shows in images-off. We know light text on black is generally a bad idea, since some webmails don’t draw the background colors, but I believe that’s been straightened out by now- and if you use light-ish colors, at least ones that will show on top of white, you solve most of the problem.

Also, it’s just not a lot of graphics and photography to merit an entirely image-only email. The logo, yes, the car, yes. That’s about it. Which leads me into the image of the car…

A nice touch would have been to send me personalized information
- a picture of the car I created
- my name, and some non-skeazy personalization about my “ideal car.” Absolutely no personalization here, despite me telling them one of my dreams! To buy an oxygen blue 2008 Mini.

It’s almost sacred being the repository for someone’s dreams (ok maybe I’m reading a lot into this) and here they treat it rather cavalierly. They could really do *so much* with this email, leading you into the sales cycle of car-purchasing, which I’ve already expressed interest in. It’s a very qualified lead, and instead they botch it by just showing me a link to talk to an agent.

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