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The Five A’s of Social Integration with Email (and Beyond!)

I’m not going to waste your time. After all, you may be a marketer, but you’re also a consumer, so I know you’re busier than ever.  You’re out there communicating cross-channel, juggling that mobile device with a Starbucks in your other hand, catching bits and bytes of the barrage of business and consumer information like a true cape-wearing superhero on espresso.
Masked
So, let’s get right down to why you’re reading this.  Your email program is working well, for the most part.  All email and web systems are go (or at least in motion). But even with everything aiming for the sky, there’s always that competitor (or, villain, if you really want to embrace the superhero analogy) out there doing something that keeps you awake at night. There’s that voice in your head that asks, how do we save Gotham and put more life into our consumer lifecycle?

So, let’s adjust that cape and explore how social integration offers five key ways to strengthen your email and cross-channel strategies across owned, earned and even paid media.

Acquisition
The journey begins with the acquisition of a consumer opting in to an ongoing relationship. That can mean setting up an account, opting into email, signing up for SMS communications or even catalogs and direct mail. How can social help? A lot.

Start by integrating your call-to-action for acquisition across social channels. Have a Facebook page? Integrate a tab for email sign-up. But don’t stop there. Let consumers know about the value of your email program within social stream content. Expand the message across your social networks to reach different segments. Use Pinterest contests as an acquisition channel. Post to Twitter feeds about the exclusive email content you have available. Start with a strategic direction that supports your key goals and cross-promote to acquire interested parties.

When you have the consumer at your doorstep ready to opt-in, consider providing social login as one option – and be sure to reinforce the consumer value, i.e. that it’s an easy, fast-track method of registering for a program that will bring them defined benefits.

The value of adding social data to your marketing efforts can be mighty. Social login harnesses a validated email address used in a social channel, meaning better data and list hygiene, which translates into stronger deliverability on day one. Sites like TripAdvisor, ShopYourWay and AirBNB have made social login the standard, lifting consumer expectations for streamlined, integrated experiences.

Amplification
Social can also amplify and build on key messaging, as well as generate new content to leverage across channels. Today, consumers are empowered to contribute and share a treasure trove of user-generated content. TripAdvisor recently reported that one-third of their 150 million reviews were written in 2013.  The study also found that more than half of respondents worldwide want to look at reviews before booking hotels, with 80 percent of respondents reading 6 to 12 reviews prior to booking.

User-generated content, such as reviews and social commentary, and the sharing of this content, provides a halo of messaging amplification with minimal effort and cost.  Sharing is soaring. Marketers that enable consumers to share messaging across the journey are amplifying messaging with valuable and trusted earned media impressions.

A very straightforward tactic is making a share function available to post content (products, promotions review content) directly to social networks. Amazon and many others enable sharing post-purchase and at other key points. Discover Card’s long running influencer referral campaign, tapping StrongView’s Influencer Marketing solution, amplifies program messaging via referrals to generate qualified acquisitions. Sharing is a natural extension of good content – people want to pass it on.

Activation
At the end of the day, it’s all about activation – getting the consumer to convert and take action. This can mean clicking to purchase the tights to go with a favorite cape, submitting review content, voting for a favorite look, opening or clicking on an email, participating in a Pinterest promotion and more.

Social integration across the lifecycle provides a boost to ongoing consumer engagement and activation. Think about TripAdvisor and the emails they send telling me my friend likes a certain resort. I most certainly open those emails, since they’re relevant to me and related to my personal network, ultimately peaking my interest in similar vacation experiences. And, when my superhero friends share the latest cape styles on Facebook and Pinterest, of course I want to take a closer look.

Advocacy
Key influencer segments are active in the social sphere sharing their input on products, services and experiences. These valued consumers are stepping up to be a voice for the brand, delivering incredible value, relevancy and credibility. Tapping social sentiment provides an opportunity to drive segmentation strategies focused on advocates, encouraging them to share their enthusiasm. For example, Yelp is in the business of reviews and the Yelp Elite program targets key contributors and influencers to cultivate ongoing relationships. Many brands focus on influencer segments that will help amplify positive messaging and contribute powerful user-generated content.


To encourage advocates, many marketers are identifying loyalists and advocates and offering them unique experiences and incentives to engage in key actions. Online reviews is one content area where advocates (and non-advocates) have a strong voice, and boosting the advocate voice is crucial. Blogs are another channel to encourage advocates to help promote your brand. Identifying and cultivating advocates fuels positive, highly relevant user-generated content.

Attribution
Last, but not least, superheroes need to quantify their results. How many buildings did you leap over? How are social efforts adding value? What is the impact across channels? The key is to stay nimble and continue to look at social impact as new initiatives are deployed and the space continues to evolve.

A starting point is assessing all the data points you can reign in across all channels. Next, determine measurable goals to drive towards and begin to measure against them. Put a stake in the ground and learn as you go, since social channels are ever-evolving.  Social may not be as predictable as email performance, but it can be used in tandem to enhance aggregate cross-channel results.

Flying with the Five As
So, cape or no cape, marketers today need to take a leap and determine strategies to integrate social tactics across the customer lifecycle. Social integration can make your consumers heroes.   So put a jet pack on your cross-channel marketing by following these five As of social integration:

  • Acquisition – Gain access to more customers and valuable data attributes
  • Amplification – Boost message reach via social amplification
  • Activation –- Drive conversion action!
  • Advocacy – Identify and cultivate strong advocates and influencers
  • Attribution – Give credit where credit is due by outlining goals and measuring channel contribution

Let us know if you are considering any new initiatives that fall into the five As of social integration – or if your marketing program has already taken flight, share your success stories and lessons learned!

Posted by: Catherine Magoffin at 9:53 AM
Categories: social, social integration, email

Custom Email Marketing Reports: A Huge Step Toward Better Results

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

The challenge for email marketers has always been to send the most effective message at the most effective time to the right group of people.

For most of the past two decades, the limiting factor in this optimization was technology. It was simply too difficult to create content, segment lists, send messages at key times, and report on the numerous variations that resulted. The tools have, of course, progressed over that time, but the marketer's vision exceeded the tool's capability - until about four years ago.

That's changing. Today's leading email service providers allow more personalization and reporting capabilities than an email marketing team could possibly exhaust.

For example, most leading email service providers (ESPs) have a method of sending triggered emails based on lifecycle events on an ongoing basis that can accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of content variations.

Traditional email marketing teams and reporting methods cannot handle this level of complexity - and they shouldn't try to. Eighty percent of the benefit to be gained from such personalization can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort.

So, the challenge for today's email marketer is not how much can my software handle, but rather how much can my team handle and what efforts will result in the maximum return?

In other words, I believe email marketers know what types of changes will drive better performance, but they don't know which segments to focus on and apply those changes to.

The answer to that question comes (in part) from the skilled application of custom reporting. Knowing where to apply your efforts requires you to know where the opportunities lie.

I believe that email marketers have been able to get away with generic, high-level reporting for a long time for a few reasons:

  1. The set of things that can be directly measured from an email are limited: delivery, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, and forwards. These interactions are easily measured, so it's easy to focus on them.
  2. Email performs better in return on investment (ROI) terms when compared to other channels. This could be because an email is usually given full attribution of any conversion it generates, or it could be because emails actually perform better - it's tough to tell for sure. Because it performs better, however, email marketers haven't traditionally been challenged to create better reports.
  3. Email marketers don't have the skills to report at a more detailed level, historically due to the limitations mentioned above. As a result, the custom report simply wouldn't get made, or the email marketer would rely on a separate team (business intelligence, analytics) to manage the process.

The problem with traditional reports is that it is difficult - if not impossible - to identify opportunities with a report that has only email metrics, is based on single sends, or templates and is unsegmented.

Here is an extremely simple framework to build and use a custom report that will help identify opportunities in your current programs:

1. Identify the Question to Be Answered
What additional information would help you identify a specific segment that is being underserved or a trend that is hidden in the aggregate? Would it help to know how previous purchasers respond compared to those who have not purchased yet? How about whether the people that joined in December were more likely to convert from email than those who joined in January?

Traditional email marketing reports fail to be helpful, I believe, because they don't answer any specific question.

One thing to remember: Your experience with your company will help guide you to a question that helps, but you may not get something valuable the first time. That's fine. Keep trying until you do find something interesting.

2. Build a Report That Answers the Question or a Similar Question
Be quick. Leverage the new reporting capabilities available to you. Learn how to use them.

If you can't answer the question you're asking because you don't have the skill level, find someone who does, or increase your skill. As an email marketer, you'll need to be able to use these kinds of reports regularly.

If you can't answer the questions because of the technology, answer a similar question. For example, say you're question is "Do men convert more often than women leading up to Valentine's Day?" but you don't have access to conversion data. Instead, find out which segment has more clicks, and use that as a substitute, albeit a poor one (it's better than nothing). Also, follow up and find out what needs to happen to get conversion data.

3. Implement a Change, Test It, and Iterate
Don't just report. Once you've identified an opportunity, act on it. Create a test to show whether the change improves performance.

Don't let history, mindset, and lack of skills prevent your team from finding those hidden email marketing wins. Start building custom reports that answer better questions and drive results.

The challenge for email marketers has always been to send the most effective message at the most effective time to the right group of people.

For most of the past two decades, the limiting factor in this optimization was technology. It was simply too difficult to create content, segment lists, send messages at key times, and report on the numerous variations that resulted. The tools have, of course, progressed over that time, but the marketer's vision exceeded the tool's capability - until about four years ago.

That's changing. Today's leading email service providers allow more personalization and reporting capabilities than an email marketing team could possibly exhaust.

For example, most leading email service providers (ESPs) have a method of sending triggered emails based on lifecycle events on an ongoing basis that can accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of content variations.

Traditional email marketing teams and reporting methods cannot handle this level of complexity - and they shouldn't try to. Eighty percent of the benefit to be gained from such personalization can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort.

So, the challenge for today's email marketer is not how much can my software handle, but rather how much can my team handle and what efforts will result in the maximum return?

In other words, I believe email marketers know what types of changes will drive better performance, but they don't know which segments to focus on and apply those changes to.

The answer to that question comes (in part) from the skilled application of custom reporting. Knowing where to apply your efforts requires you to know where the opportunities lie.

I believe that email marketers have been able to get away with generic, high-level reporting for a long time for a few reasons:
The set of things that can be directly measured from an email are limited: delivery, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, and forwards. These interactions are easily measured, so it's easy to focus on them.
Email performs better in return on investment (ROI) terms when compared to other channels. This could be because an email is usually given full attribution of any conversion it generates, or it could be because emails actually perform better - it's tough to tell for sure. Because it performs better, however, email marketers haven't traditionally been challenged to create better reports.
Email marketers don't have the skills to report at a more detailed level, historically due to the limitations mentioned above. As a result, the custom report simply wouldn't get made, or the email marketer would rely on a separate team (business intelligence, analytics) to manage the process.
The problem with traditional reports is that it is difficult - if not impossible - to identify opportunities with a report that has only email metrics, is based on single sends, or templates and is unsegmented.
 
Here is an extremely simple framework to build and use a custom report that will help identify opportunities in your current programs:
 
1. Identify the Question to Be Answered
What additional information would help you identify a specific segment that is being underserved or a trend that is hidden in the aggregate? Would it help to know how previous purchasers respond compared to those who have not purchased yet? How about whether the people that joined in December were more likely to convert from email than those who joined in January?
 
Traditional email marketing reports fail to be helpful, I believe, because they don't answer any specific question.
 
One thing to remember: Your experience with your company will help guide you to a question that helps, but you may not get something valuable the first time. That's fine. Keep trying until you do find something interesting.
 
2. Build a Report That Answers the Question or a Similar Question
Be quick. Leverage the new reporting capabilities available to you. Learn how to use them.
 
If you can't answer the question you're asking because you don't have the skill level, find someone who does, or increase your skill. As an email marketer, you'll need to be able to use these kinds of reports regularly.
 
If you can't answer the questions because of the technology, answer a similar question. For example, say you're question is "Do men convert more often than women leading up to Valentine's Day?" but you don't have access to conversion data. Instead, find out which segment has more clicks, and use that as a substitute, albeit a poor one (it's better than nothing). Also, follow up and find out what needs to happen to get conversion data.
 
3. Implement a Change, Test It, and Iterate
Don't just report. Once you've identified an opportunity, act on it. Create a test to show whether the change improves performance.
 
Don't let history, mindset, and lack of skills prevent your team from finding those hidden email marketing wins. Start building custom reports that answer better questions and drive results.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:00 AM
Categories: email, email marketing reports, results

Meeting The Challenge Of Today's One-Eyed, Flying Consumers

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

Today, the true challenge for marketers is driving engagement and conversion across every imaginable variety of consumer, including the one-eyed, flying shopper. The common theme with consumers is that they’re incredibly distracted, moving fast and looking for a clear, very personal, present-tense value proposition to inspire action.

As one of these distracted, on-the-go consumers, I can share personal examples of one-eyed, flying conversions. These experiences with Amazon.com happened months before Jeff Bezos announced Prime Air back in December, conjuring up visions of delivery drones aimed at my doorstep. Even before that act of sheer marketing genius, I was an Amazon one-eyed, flying shopper. Cue the science fiction music . . .

One-eyed shoe shopping

Like many humans, most days when I wake up the first thing I do is access my mobile phone or iPad to tune into the world’s happenings. This past winter, during one pre-caffeine session and before I had even inserted my contact lenses (and was thus legally blind in my left eye), I happened upon an email from Amazon.com with an array of shoes that enticed me.

Before I knew it, I was searching, selecting and buying boots on my mobile -- all with just my one good right eye and before I had even made it into the kitchen for some caffeine. I had become an early morning, one-eyed shopper.

Flying and buying

Another early a.m., I boarded a plane to spend a day in the sky, aiming east. Shopping from my mobile device via airplane WiFi, I searched the Web for backyard fire pits, headed to Amazon, and quickly found a great option at a great price, with star-filled reviews. I purchased right then and there in the air. I had arrived at a new shopping height, literally and figuratively. Two days later, the fire pit arrived and has since provided some quality marshmallow-melting time.

Consumer demand at new heights

Recent stats show 65% of emails are opened on a mobile device. And, while a small subset of consumers may actually be shopping without their contact lenses or from an airplane, the majority of mobile consumers are flying through their days at faster paces and with more distractions than ever.

As marketers, the opportunity and challenge at hand is offering consumers cross-channel experiences that are positive, fast and frictionless. Amazon sets the consumer bar higher every day by doing three things incredibly well and consistently:

Make it about me: Deliver personalized communications that lead me down the conversion path more quickly. Paying attention to clear consumer value and WIIFM (what’s in it for me?), tuned to my precise needs and wants, is the only way to drive action with most consumers. And it has to happen in the here and now -- mobile-centric interaction is driving the need for hyper-relevant messaging and impeccable timing. This speaks to data that fuels interactions meaningful to every “me” out there, in whatever their present tense may be.

Make it fast and easy: Once I’m heading down a path to action, make it fast and easy for me to access the information I need, complete my transaction and move on. This speaks to the need for optimized content and experiences across all channels. Data and automation enable an understanding of the state individual consumers are in, delivering value by getting them closer to what they want when they want it -- and of course they want it now.

Lead and exceed: Setting expectations high and delivering on them is key. With the rapid improvements on user experiences, consumers expect organizations to keep innovating to improve on consumer experiences they may not even imagine yet, such as delivery drones and mind-reading (in the form of predictive shipping that anticipates what I may purchase before I hit the “buy” button, as Amazon recently announced).

As Amazon pushes consumer expectations to new heights, is your organization tuning into the needs of your one-eyed, flying shoppers in the present tense? We’d love to hear more in the comments.

Posted by: Catherine Magoffin at 12:00 AM
Categories: consumers, engagement, email

Measure Better -- Segmentation Analysis Applied to Email

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Segmentation analysis is just a fancy way of saying "don't generalize."

Many email marketers pour over open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates daily, hoping for that subtle yet undeniable improvement, fretting over any drop in engagement or lack of improvement.

Unfortunately, these same marketers are most likely measuring everyone's engagement from a single mailing and comparing it to everyone's engagement from the previous mailing, or the previous weekly, monthly, or quarterly average.

This method, while useful for a quick glimpse of performance, gives the marketer only a vague understanding of what actually drives engagement and conversion.

Did the users who didn't click on this email not like the offer? Was it not big enough? Was the email unappealing? Was it sent at the wrong time of day?

All of these things can affect whether or not a user clicks or converts. More often than not, however, there are more impactful factors involved. Does the recipient trust the brand? Is she in market for the product? Did she purchase the item being promoted or another item that serves the same purpose recently? Each of these factors could cause a recipient to simply ignore the message, no matter how great the offer or awesome the creative.

So how can a marketer know that the increase in performance on this message is due to the offer or creative instead of the recipients' current needs?

One answer is by conducting segmentation analysis.

Segmentation Analysis -- The Basics
Imagine a crowded Peet's Coffee (way better than Starbucks, in my opinion). You're trying to sell some women's yoga pants. You have a good supply, enough for everyone in the store.

You shout, "Hey, I've got yoga pants! Who wants some? $39.99 each, normally $45. Act now!"

Let's say there are 1,000 people in the store, and 20 people decide to buy some pants. Sweet! Fifty others asked about the pants, but decided not to buy.

So, you saw a 7 percent interest rate (similar to click-through rate) and a 2 percent conversion rate. Cool beans.

But imagine what it would be if you measured differently. Imagine if you added a simple level of segmentation to your analysis.

When you look at your sales more closely, you see that 18 females and two males decided to buy. Turns out there were 500 females and 500 males in Peet's at the time (this is a mega Peet's, and a popular one at that). So now you discover that, although your conversion rate for the entire population is 2 percent, your conversion rate in the female segment is 3.6 percent (18/500) and your conversion rate in the male segment is 0.4 percent (2/500). Obviously, the female segment performed much better.

Imagine now that you look further into the female group. You're going to use a psychographic segmentation this time. You're going to ask all the women to identify themselves as sedentary, active, or extremely active. Then you're going to see who purchased based on those groups

Here's what it looks like when you're done:

  Total Bought Conversion Rate 
 Sedentary 120   0.8 percent
 Active 300  10  3.3 percent
 Extremely Active 80  8.75 percent

So it turns out that extremely active women were very responsive to your offer and your pants. Cool! Not to be forgotten are the active women. What are these two groups looking for? Is it different? Finally, is there something the sedentary women were looking for that they didn't see? What about the men?

Ultimately, the objective with segmentation analysis is to get a better understanding of who responded, and how the differences among these groups can help you better market to them in the future.

You must avoid analysis paralysis, of course. You can slice the data 100 different ways, but you only need to go as far as will help you test a treatment to drive better results. Bottom line: Conducting segmentation analysis in your email campaigns can help you understand how and where to focus your marketing efforts to achieve maximum campaign performance.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 1:43 PM
Categories: segmentation, email, measure

3 Tips for Maintaining Customer Engagement in the Inbox

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Open rates and click-through rates give us a quick idea of how an individual email is performing. We can easily fall prey, however, to the belief that a falling trend in these metrics is indicative of problems within individual emails, rather than the program as a whole.

To maintain and improve email performance, we need to consider how we can build long-term customer engagement with our emails. Here are three ways to do just that.

1. Build and Deliver on Expectations

The brand/subscriber relationship is like any other relationship; it’s a good idea to go slow, be consistent, and earn trust over time. In personal relationships, someone dealing with an inconsistent friend or partner will perceive that person as untrustworthy and avoid developing a deeper connection. In the same way, email subscribers will avoid engaging with brands that have inconsistent email messaging strategies by ceasing to read or act on the brand’s emails, unsubscribing, or even complaining.

To help create consistency and foster trust, a welcome/onboarding email program can reliably set expectations about what, how, and when your brand will email subscribers. Consistent from names, subject line structures, and content will also build expectations in a positive way. It’s OK to make changes, but avoid changing everything around in every single send (imagine how hard it would be to process a brand’s email if it had new templates for every email).

Of course, consistency is not enough. If you’re consistently annoying, that won’t help you build engagement. That’s where tip number two comes in.

2. Be Useful, Always

Why should subscribers open your emails? To earn your subscribers’ attention, your brand’s content needs to be useful. "Useful" content could include special offers, details about new products or services, or information about a recent purchase.

Leverage technology to make your emails even more useful to your subscribers. Personalize your content based on purchase history. Send offers and highlight products based on an individual customer’s category affinity. The value of increased customer data is realized when you use it to become more relevant, and therefore more useful, to your subscribers.

The most advanced email marketers leverage several data sources to add relevancy and usefulness to their email messaging. But even the best of the best can improve their programs with tip number three.

3. Ask Your Subscribers What They Want

The most basic email program has the fewest possible levels of subscriber preference: you get the email or you don’t get the email. To increase engagement from your subscribers, allow them to craft their own preference levels.

Offer different options for what, when, and how subscribers can receive your emails and other communications. Perhaps one subscriber is best served by weekly promotional emails, alerts by SMS only, and absolutely no emails about credit cards. Maybe another subscriber wants daily emails, alerts by emails, and special offers by email. Later on, that subscriber might want to switch to alerts by SMS and email. Can your program accommodate and respond to those individual preferences? If not, increase engagement by increasing your ability to collect and respect subscriber preferences. One size does NOT fit all.

Implement these three tips in your email programs and your subscribers will begin to trust your brand, rely on your useful communications, and feel like their preferences are being heard and respected. These three things will go a long way in building lasting customer relationships that are reflected in strong engagement levels that expand beyond any single email mailing.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:00 AM
Categories: tips, customer engagement, engagement, email, inbox

Responding to Changes Like Gmail Image Caching

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Recently, Google announced that Gmail will now serve all images through its own proxy servers. This is good news for users-the change removes the need for a user to click "display images" and provides a more secure experience. However, the change caused a stir in the email marketing community.

As others have pointed out, Gmail's new feature could actually benefit marketers by allowing more users to see email creative in its full visual glory by default. The downside is a potential hit to the ability to track total opens, the ability to push updated images in the inbox post open and the ability to track device and onsite behavior based on an email open.

A similar reaction occurred when Gmail rolled out inbox tabs last summer. Then as now, users saw the change as positive, yet marketers panicked.

The panic makes sense. Change is scary. By the time something like Gmail image caching comes along, we as marketers have optimized our behavior to the status quo, and every new campaign is a struggle to move the needle a few percentage points based on that status quo. Then something changes and we lose the ability to track behavior (for a small subset of our audience) by device. Or Gmail inbox tabs drops our open rates (for the first 24 hours after send) through the floor.

Yet change is also inevitable. You can't control it. The trick is to separate superficial change from true change and learn how to respond appropriately without losing sight of your true objective.

A superficial change is change that captures attention immediately, but doesn't actually mean anything.

For example, say that out of 100 people, 80 have a job, 10 don't have a job and have been looking for less than a year, and 10 don't have a job and have been looking for more than a year. If we say the unemployment rate is equal to the number of people not employed over the number of total people, then the unemployment rate is 20 percent.

If we then change unemployment rate to mean the number of people who are not employed AND who have been looking for less than a year, then our unemployment rate changes instantly to 10 percent. It's not valid to say that unemployment was cut in half; we just changed the way we measured it. There was no true change.

A true change is a change that is not necessarily noticeable immediately, but has real meaning and lasting impact. For example, more and more users begin to open emails on mobile devices. At first, no noticeable changes in open rates occur. Eventually, as users learn that opening emails from certain brands on a mobile device is pointless (since the experience is so bad), open rates begin to drop slowly. As the number of people opening email on a mobile device increases, that drop in open rates grows.

The rising number of people opening on a mobile device is a true change. It represents an actual, physical change in mindset and behavior. However, it's important to note that true changes like this don't aren't always apparent in the metrics right away -- some take time to appear.

In my opinion, Gmail image caching will turn out to be a superficial change --one that alters your metrics in the short term but not your performance. For the subset of your audience that uses a Gmail interface, total opens will be lower, you won't be able to track device specific attributes and you won't be able to do some fancy image loading in the inbox. But it won't affect your offer, it probably won't affect your targeting too much and your creative is likely to be more effective now than it was before. The core elements of a campaign remain unaffected.

Gmail inbox tabs seem like a somewhat more substantial change. Now, Gmail interface users are likely to see your email in an entirely new area: the Promotions Tab. Open rates are likely to drop, as are the number of engaged users. But is this a true change that will have a lasting effect on the way users engage with email?

Maybe. Some clients saw a drop in unique opens, but never saw a commensurate drop in unique clicks or conversions. For many, the change forced marketers to deal with the fact that the group of users who were opening occasionally and stopped were less interested before the tabs were included. The subscribers that drove the majority of the conversions were still engaging. The change forced the marketer to ask why the former group wasn't engaged in the first place.

Was this a segment that wasn't being identified and marketed to directly? What were the qualities of this unengaged group? Prior to the inclusion of inbox tabs, these zombies (not dead, but not alive either) stayed in the list, pulling down the metrics for the campaign as a whole. All the Promotions Tab did was highlight the presence of the "zombie" subscriber group. The Promotions Tab, in this respect, is a superficial change - one that did not meaningfully alter the underlying factors that determine a campaign's impact.

Obviously, not all changes are superficial. As Wikipedia and Internet access grew, the need for printed reference materials drastically decreased. This was a game-changer, and Encyclopaedia Britannica recognized it and decided to stop printing encyclopedias. That's a true change.

So when change occurs, remember to pause and consider if it's a superficial change or a true change, and respond accordingly. Thinking a change is a true one when it is only superficial can lead a marketer to take unnecessary and even harmful actions.
It's critical to understand the truth behind the numbers and the hype, recognize potential effects and anchor back to the objectives of growth and revenue before executing any shift in marketing strategy.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:00 AM
Categories: gmail, email, inbox tabs, image caching

100 Years of Email Marketing Success with These 2 Timeless Tips

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

‘Tis the season of marketing predictions. Now that 2013 is over, what will 2014 bring? Next year, once 2014 has passed, the question will become: what will 2015 bring?

While I respect the importance of looking ahead and thinking about what's next - and the natural tendency to do so around January 1st every year - too many marketers are still missing the strategies that are core to effective campaigns. These strategies will make email marketing effective not just in 2014, but for the imaginable future. Here are the two most important evergreen strategies that will stand the test of time.

1. Make Your Messages as Relevant as Possible

The more a message triggers the motivations a customer has at any moment, the more likely that customer is to take action. This was true when the first billboard was rented in 1867, it's true now, and it will be true in 2114.

Relevance means understanding:

  • Customer history
  • Customer profile information (age, geographic location, etc.)
  • Current customer needs
  • Current world context (weather, stock prices, etc.)

Being relevant means leveraging all of that information intelligently to present your goods or services and communicate how can they help that person in his or her specific situation at the moment.

Advances in technology allow us to be more relevant, but they don't force us to be. Marketers must still focus on driving relevance for new tools, channels or approaches to have any meaning.

Note: This doesn't necessarily mean you should make your email marketing messages as personalized as possible. It's possible to make your emails too personalized. For example, an email that says, "Hey, we noticed you came into the store or Oak Ave, looked at those 38 in waist dark wash jeans, then decided against them. Would a $5 coupon change your mind?" is much too personal, almost creepy.

Put another way, compare the two following scenarios:

Scenario A: Your significant other gives you a book for Christmas that you've had your eye on. He says, "I thought you might like this."

Scenario B: Your significant other gives you a book for Christmas that you've had your eye on. He says, "I went on your phone's browsing history and noticed you look at this book four different times over the past month. I thought you might like this."

No matter how desirable the result (the book), the presentation matters. Scenario B is too personalized.

2. Know Where to Reach Your Customers

In the 1950s, Brownie Wise was responsible for marketing a product to family women who, at the time, were primarily responsible for the home. Rather than simply placing the product in another shelf at another store, Wise knew that her customers' opinions were largely formed in the very homes they managed. So she came up with a new strategy, one that was largely responsible for the growth and long-term success of her company-Tupperware.

It's not enough to have relevant messages. A marketer must know which channels are the most influential for their customers. This was true in 1950, and it will be true in 2150.

These days, it seems like every year brings a new potential "channel" for marketers to leverage-Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Many marketers are attracted to the sheer newness of each new channel, throwing messaging in as quickly as possible. But it's not the newness that matters. What matters is your customers' use of the channel.

It's not the oldness that matters, either. With each new channel, a slurry of proclamations herald the death of this or that "old" channel. Email marketers are fond of poking fun at all those who have repeatedly proclaimed email as dead, but are we equally contemptuous when someone suggests that radio advertising or direct mail are dead?

While the percentage of total marketing spend has decreased in those channels, they remain. Why? Because, for some customers, that's still the place where they make up their minds. (A client recently revealed that their catalog sales are still their number one source of revenue. If you worked with this company, would you try to convince them not to mail catalogs, just because it's "old"?)

So enjoy the reviews of 2013. Enjoy the predictions of 2014. But then get back to the task of sending relevant messaging in the channels where your customers are influenced most.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 11:27 AM
Categories: email marketing, tips, email marketing success

Seeing Green: Get More From Your Emails This Holiday Season

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

Want more out of your email marketing programs this holiday season?  As we are in full swing, there are a number of low-hanging-fruit opportunities to increase ROI of your email initiatives. We can also use the end-of-year holidays to envision opportunities for your next big campaign.  So let’s get down to it. Here are some advanced approaches to holiday email marketing:
 
Home in on the buyer’s contextual state. Consumers are not all alike. Working parents may shop before work and from their devices – which is an opportunity to adjust the time of day the email is sent, while keeping these individuals engaged with mobile optimized messages.  Then there are last-minute shoppers who are more likely to need inventory status and reminders of what specials are still running (e.g., when free shipping ends, if they can get free gift wrapping in store on Christmas Eve).  Similarly, you may have a group of early birds who purchased this year well before Black Friday. These individuals may be more receptive to additional holiday messaging before the rest of your audience – which is a great insight for your next big holiday campaign. Target those who purchased early this year with more messages, earlier on.  In short, knowing your buyer’s contextual state presents a unique opportunity to message differently – and to get that extra hit of revenue from your holiday email marketing efforts.
 
Use engagement to drive the campaign experience.  Whether it’s email opens, web pages visited or purchases made in the store, use the customer’s interactions to modify her campaign experience as it progresses. This will require you to develop a handful of campaign paths that address key actions or milestones.  Some tactics can still happen in 2013. For instance, if your customer made a purchase during a “today only sale,” send another “today only sale” email later that same week to that individual.  Other tactics will need more planning – such as Radio Shack’s approach to change the email creative at the moment someone opens the email, so the consumer is always aware of the most current deal or inventory status.  Dynamically rendering content at the moment of open could be an interesting test to execute, and continue to drive sales after the holidays.
 
Use mobile marketing to connect with the consumer during key moments of consideration. David Baker’s recent Email Insider, “Holiday Weekend First View,” reports that 68% of smartphone owners will use their devices to shop this season. Knowing that your customers are connected with their mobile devices, here are some ways you can target them via applications, SMS and mobile-optimized email to support the consumer buying cycle:

  • Special deals for social media check-ins
  • Detailed product information when someone scans a SKU from your mobile app
  • Real-time shipping status via text message
  • Geo-targeted deals while in-store
  • Email receipts during in-store check out
  • Post-purchase feedback and other suggested products via mobile app

While many of these tactics will require planning beyond 2013, consider using knowledge about consumers’ mobile usage to better capitalize on important buyer moments and enhance their shopping experience.
 
As we march toward the end of 2013, I wish you many profitable approaches to holiday email marketing!

Posted by: Amanda Hinkle at 12:00 AM
Categories: email, email marketing, holiday emails

What A Workout! A Cautionary Tale Of Transactional Messaging

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

Lately I’ve been noticing more and more examples of poor cross-channel marketing and just downright bad customer service when it comes to digital transactional messaging.
For example, this week I signed up for a membership to an online personal training/ fitness organization, where I get paired with a personal trainer who develops an exercise and meal plan for me and provides encouragement.  Getting started on a fitness regimen before the holidays sounded like a good plan to me!

To begin, I completed a questionnaire asking about dietary and workout preferences. A triggered email stated that my trainer would review the information and deliver my personalized plan within 48 hours. Exciting! In the meantime, I downloaded the company’s application to my smartphone.  When I tried to log in, I was met with an error message: password invalid.  Thwarted!  Okay, I ditched the app and went to log into the website.  Same error. What was going on? I tried resetting my password, but kept getting the message “Error: Reset code invalid.” I couldn’t find a phone number on the website, so I was relegated to emailing the company for help.

What I got back was an auto-responder saying that they were looking into my issue. In the meantime, I also received an email that my meal plan and workout program had arrived.  Ooh, the temptation! It was like dangling a carrot. The plan had arrived but I couldn’t access it. I was more anxious than before!

One day later, I got an email saying that I needed to follow up my request for help at a specific link -- which led to a page where I needed to log in with my username and password. I emailed back to tell them that I couldn’t log in, and they finally replied with a password reset link. Eureka!

The techie in me wanted to know why the reset link originating from their support desk worked while I couldn’t reset the password myself, but I let it go -- and instead focused on the personalized plan in front of me. I also wanted to learn more about the personal trainer with whom I’d been paired, so I clicked on the link to her bio.  "Oops something went wrong. We're looking into the issue and will have a fix soon."  Sigh.

After clicking the only button on the error page, "Return Home," I was transferred to the website home page and noticed I had been automatically logged out. I tried to log in again, and you guessed it: my password was invalid. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Marketers have to satisfy the consumer’s demand for precisely targeted and relevant messaging.  Taking in factors such as the consumer’s context and motivators are becoming more important to doing this effectively. So where should you start?

Know the Present Tense Context of Your Customer

Your customer is poised to interact with your brand in a variety of ways, via a variety of channels. As in the example above, the customer’s next interaction can change moment to moment based on a number of factors. This is the present-tense context of the customer.

Being aware of this context enables you to respond precisely. It requires listening (taking in interaction and context data) and understanding (modeling the customer state). You must augment prior static models of the customer lifecycle with dynamic processes that continually reassess the customer state.

Act in the Now with Present-Tense Marketing

A marketer’s understanding of customer context should not be static, but continually evolving.  In my case, the brand should not ask me to log in to view my meal and workout plan when my password isn’t working.

In addition to customer data, marketing and technology systems -- as well as external contextual data -- will be necessary to execute present-tense marketing programs that can truly meet a customer where she is.

Create Messages that Address a Customer’s Movement and Growth

Acknowledge and address the customer’s current state – but don’t stop there.  Plan to send messages in accordance with the natural progression a recipient takes through the customer journey. What should and/or will she do next? This will create a true 1:1 relationship and is the key to a “fully baked” present-tense marketing program.

Food for Thought

At the time of writing, I still cannot click to find out more about my trainer, for fear it will invalidate my password.  And I am unable to log into the smartphone application, which would make calorie-counting during the day much easier to manage.

This is an excellent example of why marketers should strive to meet a customer exactly where she is in the present moment. Take this as “food for thought” that can seriously impact your bottom line.

Posted by: Amanda Hinkle at 12:45 AM
Categories: transactional messaging, email

In the Inbox, Out of the Spam Folder: 6 Tips to be Seen This Holiday Season

As we enter the busy holiday season, email marketers will ramp up send volume, experiment with different offers and push the limits of their databases in an effort to earn a bigger share of the lucrative holiday consumer spend.

Marketers are justified in increasing send volume and varying content in order to drive more purchases during the holiday season.  Most shopping occurs during this period of time, so it makes sense that your customers are more likely to buy more often. But this extra email marketing effort must be tempered by the threat of spam complaints, unsubscribes and ISP bulking.

Here are six ways to make sure your increased holiday email marketing effort doesn’t go too far and have negative consequences.

Respect Volume Limits
ISPs will block and bulk brands that send too many emails, especially if they start sending much more than the ISP is accustomed to seeing from that brand. It's OK to increase your volume, but try not to increase it more than 30% over your normal volume. (For example, if you normally send 4 times a week, don’t increase to more than 5-6 times per week for the same number of recipients).  

Practice Good Email List Hygiene
Make sure your feedback loops on unsubscribes and complaints are solid. Make sure it’s easy for someone to unsubscribe from your list. Monitor the messages that cause the most unsubscribes, and adjust your content to make sure you are maintaining relevance for your subscribers. Quickly respond to any issues from any ISP.

Also, investigate suppressing contacts from your mailings if they have not engaged in a certain period of time with your emails. If possible, investigate limiting volume for those users (e.g. once a week instead of 4 times a week, or high-priority emails only, such as Black Friday, instead of all your emails).

Be Careful with Subject Lines
Avoid automatic blocking and user complaints by creating compelling subject lines. Don't fall back on tactics like using all caps, inappropriate punctuation (e.g. ten exclamation points) or trigger words or phrases (e.g. Click here now! Free, free FREE!!!).

Remember that if your subject line doesn’t get an open, your emails become more likely to be bulked. Also remember that a subject line that doesn’t match the content inside the email is more likely to cause complaints.

Mind Your Creative
Make sure you have a good balance of images to text. An email that is all image and no text will raise the wrong kind of attention from ISPs. Also, make sure your code is clean of unnecessary attributes and HTML tags. If you normally create your emails in Word, that's bad. Word adds a lot of unnecessary junk to the code, and spam filters look for that.

Leverage and Respect Your Reputation
You'll find that the best defense against the spam filter in the holiday season is the reputation you've built up over the year. A sender with low complaints can send many times a day with no problem if they've been doing so all year round. Also, be sure you are using one of the many sender authentication methods available (e.g. SPF, DKIM, DMARC, etc.).

Measure Your Deliverability
Last but not least, invest in a tool that allows you to measure inbox deliverability and bulking. Pivotal Veracity and Return Path are two options. These will allow you to proactively identify and react to any issues that arise before they become much larger issues.

Staying out of the spam folder is essential to a successful holiday email marketing campaign. If your emails aren’t seen, it doesn’t matter how good your subject line, offer and creative are, since your recipients won’t have the opportunity to respond. The tips above apply to any time of year, but it’s especially important during the holiday season when volume rises and success or failure is amplified.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 2:25 PM
Categories: inbox, holiday, holiday email