Plans dominate the association business these days. Without clearly defined goals and well-developed tactics to achieve them, associations waste valuable funds and staff resources. In no other area is this truer than in marketing. How do you develop targeted messages while staying within a pre-determined budget? The answer is not always clear, but the widespread use of email marketing has helped associations expand their reach, personalize messages and lower costs. If email is not a major component of your marketing plan it should be.
The path to successful email marketing should include the steps that constitute the “Whitelist Action Plan.” The action plan is designed to focus on a major hurdle all marketers face—deliverability. Understanding your audience, branding the components of your message, getting on white lists, avoiding blacklists and creating trustworthy content are all ways to increase your delivery rates.
Back to Basics
Email is a major force in the marketing industry and the number of email users continues to rise at impressive rates. According to e-marketer, approximately 147 million people in the United States alone use email almost every day. Of those, 88 percent have personal email accounts and 46 percent have email access at work. It is hard to dispute the numbers—email is here to stay.
The result of a fast growing industry and the marketers that abused it was Federal regulation and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. The main point was to reduce misleading messages, scams and unethical marketing practices. “CAN-SPAM is a complex law that requires marketers to re-evaluate their email programs,” said Cynthia Allen, a marketing consultant for the Competency & Credentialing Institute. “Associations now have to ensure their IP addresses are not blocked because they are flagged as a spammer.”
“White” and “black” lists have emerged as a way for email providers to help customers control SPAM. A whitelist is “is a list of contacts that the user deems are acceptable to receive email from and should not be sent to the trash folder.” Too many SPAM complaints earn you a spot on a blacklist. “There are simple ways to make sure that you don’t get blacklisted,” Allen said. “The best thing to do, though, is to check some of the more common sites or work with your email service provider to periodically monitor your IP status. It just makes sense.”
Details Dominate the Action Plan The devil is in the details with email marketing. To increase deliverability and avoid blacklists marketers need to focus on four main steps.
Know your Audience
It might be the most important mantra of the marketing industry, know your audience, and it is no different for email-based campaigns. “One of the first things CCI did was to look at who the audience was and how they respond to email,” Allen said. “Our main audience is certified nurses that are tech savvy, but are usually not sitting in front of a computer all day. That was important to know before we launched into an email marketing effort.” Many associations conduct member surveys that link questions to general marketing analysis—How do you prefer to receive information from ABC association? What content is most valuable to you as a member? “We implemented a quarterly survey of new certificants and found that many had not even received our monthly e-update or didn’t know CCI even had one,” Allen said. “We immediately did an audit of the program to see where the problem was and fixed it.” Another important step is to educate recipients on how to approve a sender for delivery. Not everyone is confident in their ability to manage their email inboxes. A simple message explaining how to approve the association as a sender goes a long way.
Brand your Message
Keeping all email messages consistent with the association’s brand identity will increase delivery. Alison Chandler, marketing associate for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), said her organization benefited from keeping the “from” field and email address consistent with their overall brand. “I think it is important for the association to keep their email address and ‘from’ name consistent to make sure that members will recognize who the message is coming from,” Chandler said. “All our messages come from ‘AAAS Member Services’ and the email address is always 'announcements at members-aaas dot org.'In some cases, AAAS will send a message from the Chief Executive Officer or other staff member, but it is always matches the AAAS brand.
Take Advantage of Technology
Initially, you should select an email service provider (ESP) that can at a minimum help you track and monitor your campaigns, manage your lists and bounces, provide technological support and stay compliant with SPAM laws. Your ESP can also guide you through the maze of technology that can help you avoid blacklists and get through SPAM filters and into inboxes. A few tips can help you maximize your email marketing efforts. First, run your message through a SPAM analysis tool to see if it breaks any SPAM rules. Second, test your message with different email addresses.
“Before I send out a message, I send it to three or four other accounts that have different SPAM filters,” Chandler said. “I send to my AAAS account, Yahoo! , Hotmail, Gmail, and sometimes one or two other accounts to make sure it gets through and to see how it looks in each email client.” Finally, monitor your IP status frequently. Work with your ESP to keep your IP off blacklists. A simple Internet search results in sites that can check your IP status online. The best way to keep your IP in good standing is to have a different IP address from your ESP’s other clients. Too often, ESPs will lump clients onto one IP address so when one client is blacklisted, so are all the others.
Content is Key “It also helps to write good content. If you provide quality content, people are more likely to view your email as a valuable and trusted source,” Chandler said. It is the association’s sole responsibility to make sure the content going out to members is valuable. Building a reputation as a valuable source for information is essential to higher delivery rates. “The information has to have some value to the reader,” Allen said. “It can be as simple as an important reminder, like a voting or registration deadline, or it can be more complex like an analysis of recent research. Either way, you can’t send fluff.”
Planning for the Future
Deliverability becomes even more important as technology advances and more people rely on email and the Internet for their main source of information from the association. Taking the time to delve into the details will ensure your messages are delivered and, ultimately, acted upon.
Top 10 tips to better delivery
Always send a MIME version of the message—a combo of HTML and text—unless the recipient specifies otherwise.
• Avoid using attachments and provide a link to an online file.
• Have your ESP or legal counsel review your practices to ensure you are compliant with regulation.
• Request subscribers add marketers to a “safe-list” or “add to the address book.”
• Use a concise subject line (no more than 40 – 60 characters).
• Don’t use sensationalized headlines or overuse capitalization or punctuation.
• Accurately portray your name/organization in the “from” field.
• Avoid over use of images.
• Check the content with a spam checker.
• Test the message with dummy accounts.