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March 2010

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Some ABCs of Email Marketing


Deb Daufelt, Founder and President of Second Story Solutions, LLC. writes a monthly column on email marketing in the Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association's “Direct Line” newsletter. The following is a composite of three of those articles that have been printed in the last year.

Is it Time to Overhaul Your Marketing Strategy?
Learn from the past to plan for the future

Technology and marketing opportunities evolve so quickly that it's best to review your strategy and existing programs regularly. Of course, the frequency for your communications depends on your industry and marketing media. For some, annual re-evaluation may be sufficient; for others, semi-annual or even quarterly reviews could prove to be worthwhile.

Regardless, maintaining effective programs means constantly challenging all our assumptions, especially during times of tighter budgets.

How has your target market or audience changed since your last marketing program review? Do your programs support expected outcomes? Consider what the months ahead may bring: What changes do you anticipate in your customer base?

The economic downturn has changed customer behaviors, distorting the rules that govern your communications with them. Are you sending the right value message to prospects and customers? Is your communication methodology realistic? Is it still appropriate?

Explore new communication media


Communication overload is a common issue. Dial in on the best ways to cut through the clutter; understand your audience and its preferences in order to serve customers in the right channels, voice, and frequency.

Easy access to ever-evolving technology options makes choice, immediacy, and relevance top priorities. A vast array of social networks are rapidly presenting themselves as legitimate communication tools for consumer research.

At a minimum, use these channels as a listening post to understand your customers and their relationship with your company. Review how closely user comments about your site match your intended message. While your marketing materials and the social media setting are very different things, an effective marketing strategy that focuses on productive and engaging interactions should connect these environments.

Closely review your online presence - and talk to your customers
Is your marketing budget shrinking? Your Web site may be the best place to leverage resources ... if your site meets the target-market needs, matches all corporate and brand messaging, and is optimized for conversion to maximize your efforts.

Product and service offerings should be up-to-date online, and meet the needs and functionalities expected by today's users: Easy navigation, a streamlined purchase path, with graphics and layout compatible with the diverse devices and browsers used today.

Want to better understand your customers? Ask them. It's the best way to find out what they like and don't like about your marketing programs (in other words, what's working and not). If you have ample traffic, consider an online survey to test assumptions or to gather data to drive better decision-making.

If you're running a regular email program through most commercially available systems, your email lists should be fairly clean. However, if you do little testing or send email infrequently (less than once per month, for example), you may be wasting email send fees on consistent non-responders.

Ensure your list members have expressed interest in your company within a reasonable amount of time. If a recipient hasn't even opened your emails in over a year, consider removing him/her from your list or sending something special in an attempt to reengage. Segment the list into specific categories to tailor messaging to different target audiences.

Know your competition: The Numbers don't lie
Peel back the onion on your competition - you may uncover areas of opportunity. Of course, make sure you define online competition appropriately. What communication media do they use? Understand their website, messaging, budget, and promotions… across all digital channels.

Analytics are an integral part of your marketing program and must provide you with actionable information to facilitate better decision making for your company. Regularly produce a dashboard that will help you align resources as productively as possible.

Finally, make sure your team agrees that this is an opportunity to take a fresh look at your environment and opportunities. Once you have new insights into your customer base, your competitors, and your business, choosing the most effective messaging and communication media is a snap.

Your subscribers are talking - are you listening?
Communication is a two-way street ...
To run a thriving email marketing program, you need to continually ask for and respond to subscriber feedback, whether they come in the form of compliments, complaints, questions, or concerns. Your subscribers have many options today to express themselves. If you aren't hearing from them, it doesn't mean they aren't talking … you just may not be listening closely.

Even when what they're saying isn't positive, you need to know what your customers are thinking (or telling their friends) if you want to improve your program and keep it strong. You can learn quite a bit by watching how your email recipients interact with or completely ignore your email messages.

A combination of new and old strategies also helps you make sure you're holding up your end of the dialogue.

'Do Not Reply' has to go
These words simply don't belong in an email message, whether it's part of the sender name that appears in the inbox (“do-notreply@ yourdomain.com”) or a statement that reads “Do not reply to this email.”

This tells your readers that you won't pay attention to them unless they communicate with you on your terms. This defeats your other efforts to engage and build trust with your subscribers.

One way to engage is through social networks, which are growing daily in popularity and are becoming a communication channel that's not to be ignored. An invitation to your customers to engage with you on any number of social media sites must include a clear incentive that tells your customers exactly what's in it for them - exclusive offers, private sales, special information and the like.

A link that simply says “Become a Fan” or “Follow Us” might appeal to your most passionate customers, but provides little incentive to sign up for everyone else. Instead, you can test several calls to action with invitations such as “Join the Dialogue” or even “Get Free Stuff ” if it's appropriate for your business.
Feedback links
This is still your most straightforward and measurable communication link with your readers. If you aren't getting traffic through it, throw out an incentive and make it more inviting.

Can your readers find it easily or is it buried way at the bottom of your email copy? Is it inviting? Ask “How can we help?” instead of simply including a dull “Comments” button and let them know what sort of response they can expect from you.

Live help also is gaining traction and popularity. For call centers, it is significantly less expensive than a live phone operator because one call center rep can handle multiple online chats at once. For subscribers who don't work in a private office, not having to contact you via a not-so-private phone call can be a great convenience.

Your call center staff can give you the top reasons why subscribers click those links. Incorporate these issues and your responses in your regular marketing campaigns or on your website on a frequently asked questions page.
Surveys

Similarly, surveys are wonderful tools of engagement. They help you to gather data about your customer base that can be leveraged for more targeted communications, offers, or deals.

Surveys enable you to hone in on specific areas. They're a great way to engage your customers with your brand even when they're not in a buying mode. And think about the improvements you can make if you actually implement some of their key suggestions!

If you do change something because of what you learned from your readers or customers, be sure to let them know. Tell them you heard them and took action. This will go a long way in building their loyalty, engagement and trust in your brand.

Why a Good Unsubscribe Experience Is Key
Don't assume that a request to be removed from your email list is an indication the reader is dissatisfied with your publication.
Perhaps…
  • they simply receive too many emails or no longer have time to read yours.
  • they no longer need or are interested in the content you provide.
  • you send too frequently.
No matter the reason a subscriber requests to be removed, this request should be honored seamlessly and promptly.

Avoiding the Dreaded “This Is Spam” Button
Once a subscriber has decided they want off your list, a clear and easy unsubscribe process will encourage the reader to click the unsubscribe link rather than the “This Is Spam” button in some email applications. We used to think that spam-button clickers didn't know any better or perhaps clicked the button accidentally. Many email users know exactly what they're doing -- they use the button to send a message to the marketer, such as:
  • People just don't want to invest any more time on your email once they've decided they want off your list and the spam button is the easiest way off.
  • Perhaps they simply don't trust their unsubscribe request will be honored and that all they'll accomplish is the validation of their email address for future use or worse yet, sale.
  • Personally, I'm more likely to click the spam button out of sheer frustration if I have to hunt around for the unsubscribe link.
A good subscription experience is essential to build and maintain your subscriber list. How you manage the unsubscribe process is just as important, both for your own deliverability and for your customer relationships. Too many spam complaints and your deliverability to the inbox rather than the junk mail folder will be compromised.

Don't Be Afraid to Move an Unsubscribe Link to the Top of Your Email
Most unsubscribe links are buried at the bottom of the email message, often with other administrative information like contact numbers and postal address. While this is a standard to which readers have become accustomed, consider adding a link near the top of your email message. This should reduce your spam-complaint rate as readers who want to unsubscribe won't have to scroll down to find the link.

Does putting the unsubscribe link at the top make you nervous? Consider naming the link "Update My Account” or “Update My Preferences" instead. If your email format includes navigational elements or a menu, add the unsubscribe link here, too. The goal is to prevent the reader from having to look for it. Just make sure it's visible in the preview pane in plain text mode. In other words, don't make the unsubscribe link an image.

Process Unsubscribe Requests Immediately
Yes, the CAN-SPAM Act grants marketers in the United States 10-days to process an unsubscribe request. When people want off your list, that decision takes effect immediately in their minds. They'll consider anything you send after they unsubscribe to be spam and act accordingly. Email applications have come a long way; there's no excuse not to process these requests immediately if not automatically.

Build Trust in Your Brand
That lack of trust is one reason why subscribers click the spam button. When you hide your unsubscribe link in hard to read text or bury it at the very bottom of your email, you reinforce this lack of trust.
  • Provide multiple alternatives to unsubscribing to show subscribers they are in control.
  • Utilize a user-friendly one-step process that removes the name immediately and leads to a verification page, or,
  • Alternatively, use a two-step process that delivers a page with the email address pre-populated so that the subscriber need only click the submit button.
  • Don't make the user enter their email address to unsubscribe - it will result in frustration and potentially complaints.
Put yourself if your subscribers' shoes. You've no doubt experienced frustration and anxiety when attempting to remove yourself from an email list. Make it simple and painless and you never know, when the timing is right, they may rejoin your list or recommend your email publication sometime in the future.

Deb Daufeldt is Founder and President of Second Story Solutions LLC, which provides website usability enhancement and search engine marketing, as well as email strategy, design, development, copywriting and integration services. She can be reached at 303-662-1888 or deb@secondstorysolutions.com

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