The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Timing is Email's Trump Card

I always get a chuckle when my email marketing colleagues push "relevance" as an industry best practice.  If we as marketing experts have to remind the common practitioner to ensure their message matches their market, it proves email marketing is an institution with bottom of the barrel admission standards.   Based on my experience, most email marketers fail not with relevance, but rather with the timeliness of their messages.   Despite the advanced timing features ESPs offer, email is treated like other mass marketing mediums by marketing executives.  If you don't believe me just ask any CEO of an email service provider about the percentage of their clients who use their timing features.   I can promise you an uncomfortable look on their face will emerge when you bring the subject up.    If the main objective of commercial email is to sell (widgets, ideas, relationships, donations, etc.) then a message's timing trumps most other best practices.  All top sales people will tell you the calendar is their best sales tool because it ensures timely follow up around specific purchasing cycles.  Top sales people know that being in front of the customer at right time is far more valuable than frequent and blanketed calls.   Therefore savvy email marketers have learned from their sales counterparts to view time as a holistic window into their customers' needs, timing campaigns according to specific dates, relationship cycles and behavior instead of obsessing over the right time of day to send email.  Below are some examples about how the savvy email marketers use time to increase sales.

 

Date Driven Campaigns

When most email marketers think about date driven campaigns, the first thing that comes to mind is a Happy Birthday email.  Although birthdays are important life benchmarks, they are just one of many criteria that can be used to build relationships with customers and anticipate spending patterns.  Other lifecycle events that are rarely used unless they are industry specific are birth, graduation, wedding, divorce, death, moving and religious ceremonies such as a bar-mitzvah or confirmation.   However since many email marketers are stuck on birthday campaigns yet execute them ineffectively I've included the following example.

 Sheryl, a marketer of plus size women's apparel took the philosophy of not reminding her customers of their age to heart by marketing around their birthdays.  She conducted market research zeroing in on the psychographics of her customers and discovered that around their birthday they felt unhappy with themselves because of the prospects of getting older while overweight.  So instead of sending her customers a happy birthday email reminding them of their age, she decided to send messages that looked much different than her typical campaigns.  Her messages contained motivational headlines such as "Older is Sexier" and "Big Girls Get Love Too!" three weeks before the actual date.  After conducting a three month test she discovered the test group was 26% more inclined to complete a purchase around their birthday with woman ages 34 to 41 spiking to 32%.  Now Sheryl has her birthday campaigns down to a science automating the timing of every message.

 

Timing the Relationship

Ask any married couple and they will confirm that relationships change with time, a fact that transcends from personal to business and business to consumer.   Companies with an extensive business history should have the ability to predict relationship cycles with their customers.   Just look to your office water cooler for example of relationship timing.  The water delivery company knows there are 40 people in your office who drink on average 24 ounces a day.   Since there are 640 ounces in a water cooler bottle and the office consumes on average of one and two third bottles per day assuming a five day work week the delivery guy knows that you will purchase roughly 34 bottles each month.  One day the delivery man comes to the office and finds a newly installed soda machine.  Based on previous experiences with other offices of this size, the water company knows to scale the order back by 20% to keep the customer happy.  Identifying these pinch points in a customer relationship is tantamount for long term success.  Just as an old and happy married couple can complete each other sentences and anticipate what the other will do so too does a successful email marketer when it comes to timing the relationship cycle of their customers.

 

Timing Behavior

From click to sales timing to triggered follow ups, timing behavior is the golden chalice of email marketing yet the most difficult to implement.  Having the advantage of knowing who opens and clicks on what and where they go after they click gives unparalleled insight into your customers however requires research and investment to parlay that data into effective behavior timing campaigns.   Steve, an email marketing manager for an online electronics retailer knows from research that if his flat screen televisions are price competitive, a website visitor has a higher probability of making a purchase within two weeks after conducting research on Cnet or other shopping related websites.  Therefore, he created a process using web analytics to entice visitors who came from Cnet to give up their email address.  If no purchase was made within 6 hours, the email address placed in an automated two week campaign with a series of 7 messages that included top recommendations from shopping sites.  The campaign yielded roughly an 18% conversion rate within the two week cycle. 

Even though technology makes it easier to implement campaigns based on timing one common thread sticks out in above examples, research.  Timing is a science that takes a combination of primary and secondary research compiled, well, over time.  Timing is so valuable in marketing (especially email marketing) that only its counterpart can shadow its importance, money!

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Do Forward-to-a-Friend Referrals Work?

The forward-to-a-Friend gimmick is a failed attempt by e-mail service providers to incorporate viral marketing tools into their applications. Because 100% of the most commonly used e-mail clients have a forward e-mail feature, people use that instead. The only thing we e-mail service providers can do to save face is to hope that the feature reminds people to use their forward button.

A recent survey to online market­ers by the Email Experience Council asked, “What is your most successful list-building tactic?” Only 6% chose “Viral: empowering subscribers to share my e-mails via forward-to-a-friend,” 9% chose “Acquisition: growing by renting lists,” and 84% chose “Organic: capital­izing on sign-up opportunities across all of my channels.”

These statistics prove that the forward-to-a-friend process is inad­equate, and a more formalized referral program is needed for success. A good program is automated, timely and usually starts where the original opt-in process ends. Once a Web site user has gone through the motions of opt­ing in, it is a perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. Ask the referrer not only for an e-mail address, but also a full name. When soliciting the referee to opt-in, always personalize the message and, most importantly, reference the referrer — this gives you instant cred­ibility and will produce a much higher conversion rate.

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Email Marketing Strategies in a Down Economy

The key to business success in a down economy is to NOT discontinue your marketing efforts. Many businesses are fearful of spending (which is totally understandable), but cutting all marketing is not the answer. Change it up!

Analysts are already reporting that marketing dollars are shifting to email – the most cost effective channel proven to have the highest ROI. During tough economic times, it’s important to think carefully about how you’re using email and make every single email count for something.

1) Fear can be an excellent motivator.
It’s a scary time for business professionals right now. There is widespread fear of job loss and budget cuts. Instead of feeding those fears, capitalize on them. Connect with your customers in a way that quells their fears a bit. Position your products and services so that they show value in tough times. Cut out whatever is not necessary and get right to the point.

2) Motivate. Motivate. Motivate.
It’s time to be creative. Think about how you can change or improve your offers to clients. Discounts are effective but they are not the only motivator out there. When every dollar counts, think of other ways you can provide value without leaving money on the table. Is there information or helpful hints you can offer that will be of value to your clients and protect your budget at the same time?

3) Partnerships
Now is a great time to team up and offer “more for your money” services.

4) Integrate email with social marketing tools.
Email is a great way to initiate contact – continue it with a posting to a Facebook Wall, Tweets, MySpace or a blog.

5) Solidify your sender reputation.
The number of emails sent will increase in a down economy. In response to this, ISPs may vamp up their throttling, spam filtering and lower their volume caps. Sender reputation means everything so check your sender score at either senderscore.org or senderbase.org and continue to follow best practices.

6) Feedback is free!
Always, always ask for feedback. Make it a goal for all of your employees. Every email should have a means included to submit feedback. Online transactions and telephone calls should also be solicited for feedback.

7) How can you help?
Most wallets are sewn shut right now. Think of ways your organization can bring value and relevance to your clients. Consider changing your offerings or pairing up your products.

8) Consider flexible terms. Make it very clear if you offer flexible payment terms, reward points or discounts for larger orders.

9) Client appreciation holds a lot of weight. Whitepapers, user tips, small token gifts, and coupons are simple and inexpensive ways to thank your clients and entice prospects. Remember that word-of-mouth is the most powerful advertising out there.

10)  Test timing.
One of the greatest perks of email marketing is that you are not tied to anything. You can test, test, test! You have the ability to determine what works best for your subscribers. Maybe one of your lists gets a great response on a Monday morning and another on a Wednesday afternoon…go for it! Try out the new Sunday-sending theory. Industry experts have reported great success in sending Sunday evening emails. With mobile devices and flexible technology, people tend to check their mail on Sundays so they know what’s in store for them the next day.

Obviously these are just some of the ways that you can leverage email to work for you in a down economy. It’s all about smart marketing!

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Where Did All The Follow Ups Go?

As published in MediaPost

I’ve witnessed a destructive trend in the last year with lead generation. If the lead isn’t hot with an immediate readiness to convert, it is often shoved aside, long to be forgotten –leaving the person who initially made an inquiry with a bad impression. When I question marketers about this practice, the typical answer is “we simply don’t have the time and resources to call every lead.” This answer often leaves me to ponder how much waste there probably is in a typical lead generation campaign. With a simple long-term follow-up strategy I am confident you can squeeze the remaining value out of your lead gen budget using inexpensive technology such as a time released email campaign or personalized postcards. Using one of these tools will the typical excuse doesn’t hold much merit. Just think about it, you spent the time and money to educate a prospect on a product or service who indicates they aren’t ready to buy only to allow a competitor to take your future sale because you didn’t follow up. Yes, these leads are tire kickers, but tire kickers do eventually buy and research has it that after these laggards are armed with enough knowledge they will buy from whoever is the most convenient and matches their purchasing criteria.

To implement a quality follow up campaign you may first need to define what a good follow up is and then determine the good times to do it. Some companies fall short with their follow up efforts by placing their cold leads on their house e-newsletter list hoping that that if they get in front of the prospect enough times they will be top of mind when they are ready to convert. This misconception only leads to confusion and contempt by the prospect since most of the time they didn’t opt into the newsletter list and the information presented is irrelevant to their initial inquiry. Cold follow-ups should be personal, friendly, have a call to action, and most important, be relevant to the prospects initial inquiry. Once you figure out what a good cold follow-up should be, the next step is to determine the time intervals to execute them. Time intervals should be based on feedback collected from your sales team’s experience with longer sales cycles. The idea here is to try to mimic an offline follow-up approach as much possible while gaining the efficiencies of an online follow-up.

Once you have developed quality follow-up messages and determined good time intervals, the next step is to test. Just as with any other campaign the follow-up campaign needs to be tested at every time interval until a sale or a death can be determined. This is easier than it sounds since you’ll be testing messages and intervals, not lists. Eventually, you will hit a eureka moment when the right combination of message and intervals start yielding maximum conversion rates from your cold leads.

Implementing a solid follow-up campaign shouldn’t take more than a few days with a good email service provider as long as its messages and intervals are well thought out. The time invested in this exercise will not only yield higher conversion rates but also greater goodwill as prospects are reminded that you care enough to follow-up.

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Referrals--Start Asking For Them

As published in DM News

A few weeks ago I had an Aflac agent in my office. After we closed a deal he pleasantly asked me if I knew of other business owners in need of Aflac’s products. As a result of the good sales experience, I gave him five referrals. Every sales person knows the value of a referral however the concept doesn’t resonate well with email marketing practitioners. Now is a great opportunity to change that. Instead of relying on an inadequate forward-to-a-friend process, a more formalized referral program is needed to ensure success. A good referral program is automated, timely and usually starts where the original opt-in process ends. Once a website user has gone through the motions of opting-in, it is a perfect opportunity to ask for a referral. Ask the referrer not only for an email address but also a full name. When soliciting the referee to opt-in, always personalize the message, and most importantly, reference the referrer. A reference to the referrer gives you instant credibility and will produce a much higher conversion rate.

The above tactic works well with new signups however tapping your existing subscribers for referrals takes a little more creativity since they are often an afterthought. Most existing subscribers have little incentive to give you a referral since opting-in is a distant memory for them. The simple solution here is to provide an incentive. Trade associations are notorious for doing this by turning their referral campaigns into contests, rewarding lavish prizes to individuals who recruit a large number of new members.

Referral campaigns and tactics are an effective and proven way to grow a list organically. The good thing is that a number of email service providers offer some sort of automated referral mechanism to help you implement such programs. However, just as anything worthwhile, growing lists by referrals takes planning, effort and tweaking to make perfect.

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