Category Archives: Email Marketing

Techniques and tips in reaching the right audience with the right message, in a time where this “killer app” is losing some of its marketing muscle

How standard email marketing metrics fall short

When you’re trying to optimize the profits of your business, most web metrics are unhelpful at least, and deceptive at worst. But what about the world of email marketing ? Kevin Hillstrom, in his excellent Mine That Data blog, gave this example to illustrate how conventional email metrics look at the wrong things:

Say you have a list of 500,000 e-mail addresses.  You send your standard campaign on a Monday. Later in the week, you tabulate your results:

  • 500,000 recipients
  • 20% open rate = 100,000
  • Of the opens, 20% click through to the website = 20,000 visit website
  • Of the clicks, 5% convert and buy something = 1,000 orders
  • Average Order Value = $100
  • Total Demand = 1,000 * $100 = $100,000
  • Demand per Recipient = $100,000 / 500,000 = $0.20 [per customer]

He compares these finding with what you’d get if you did something called a mail/holdhout test. You compare a control group that does not get the email with a test group that does. For instance, he suggests this breakout:

  • Mailed Group = 400,000 Recipients, $300,000 spent = $0.75 per customer
  • Holdout Group = 100,000 Held Out, $45,000 spent = $0.45 per customer
  • Incremental Lift = $0.75 – $0.45 = $0.30 per customer

Much more insightful!

This is why I’m not a fan of open/click/conversion. A mail/holdout test proves the actual value of an e-mail marketing campaign. In this case, we observe $0.30 lift, whereas open/click/conversion yields $0.20 lift. E-mail marketers, why would you not want to know that your campaigns are working 50% better than when measured via opens/click/conversion?

Kevin goes on to provide other interesting observations from his years of doing this sort of testing. You can’t go wrong by following his blog, and trying his approach to data-driven online marketing.

Can you guess the winner in this A/B test?

I’ve been following the site Anne Holland’s* “Which Test Won?” for a while, and was particularly intrigued at this test, for several reasons.

As you’ll read if you take the test, one achieved a better email open rate and click-through-rate, while the other was more effective at inducing purchase.

Can you guess which is which, and why?

I guessed correctly. One would hope, given my background. You can read my rationale in the comments section, which becomes available once you vote. Don’t be disappointed; at least when I took the test, a clear majority guessed incorrectly.

Full disclosure: Sony Creative Software — and Kevin St. Angel, their director of ecommerce extraordinaire — was a client of mine in a “past life.” My policy of never talking about client work in this blog doesn’t come into play here.

It’s not that they are no longer a client. That wouldn’t matter. But since Sony has made this test public I feel free to discuss it and encourage further discussion on Anne’s site.

Good luck taking the one-question test!

* If Anne Holland’s name sounds familiar, it’s because, among her other accomplishments, she is the founder of Marketing Sherpa.

What it takes to go viral

The very thought of an online effort going viral seems like the ultimate triumph: The ROI on a successful viral campaign is huge. Take a fast, meteoric ride on the exponential pass-along curve and you’re looking at the marketing equivalent of striking it rich on a single lottery ticket. So why doesn’t it happen more often?

I see at least two factors standing in the way of an existing brand actually lighting the fuse: Relinquishing control and a sincere willingness to lighten up.


It takes a huge leap to create something and set it free. In a nutshell, that’s the dilemma of using social networks to further a brand — the potential for chaos. Once in the hands of the social graph, a concept can take on a life of its own. And with independent life comes the chance of betrayal.

No one wants to see their viral effort hijacked and distorted into mockery. Unfortunately, it’s this very tension that make viral efforts so fun to watch.


E.B. White wrote the following:

Humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.

It’s a pity, then, that something as ephemeral as humor is at the heart of a successful viral effort. But it’s true, and in the hands of a committee-driven brand team, a funny concept all too easily becomes so many frog innards. Humor is that fragile.

It was actor and director Sir Donald Wolfit who was reputed to have said on his deathbed, as a parting reassurance, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard!”

So are concepts that succeed in going viral.

This post was inspired by one that I received on Friday that is an unqualified success. I received a get-out-the-vote email from a friend in the form of a personalized video. It got the point across and also elicited several heartly laughs. Try it yourself on a friend (of the right political inclinations — it’s from

I’d also like to challenge readers: Do you know of any viral efforts that do not, to some extent, involve humor?

Why don’t newspapers tout their power to sell across channels?

One thing that separates humans from other creatures is our ability to use the same tool in different ways. The ultimate example is the computer, which has hundreds of uses. But even a doorstop can make a pretty impressive paperweight when push comes to shove. So why is it so tough to sell a print ad to serve a new strategy? I’m thinking of its use as a cross-channel tactic.

Is it that the typical ad rep isn’t attuned to this medium’s use? Or is it that the typical ad buyer wouldn’t warm to the new tactic even if it could help turn a mediocre print campaign into something extraordinary? As usual, it appears the marketers on both sides of the desk are clueless, and the consumers are the only ones arriving at the party on time.

Research done using Google Print Ads activity, and conducted by Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo, found that consumers definitely do not look at newspaper ads in a vacuum. They often use the web to evaluate and purchase. This research focused on a segment of consumer who tends to research products and services seen in newspapers. My guess is this could be a consumer looking for any considered purchase, where the resources risked by a bad decision are significant.

Not surprisingly, two-thirds use the web in their research. What was noteworthy was that of this group, 70 percent say they went on to make a purchase following the research. Although this is self-reported, it shows the pathway that many multi-channel purchasers take. (Which explains why Kevin Hillstrom is smiling broadly in the picture on his blog!)

I see three take-aways:

  • Any newspaper advertiser that doesn’t have a strong web presence is wasting money
  • Any web site that isn’t fully optimized for organic search should be considered a defective site, since researchers may not use a URL printed in an ad to do the research
  • Ad reps should be pushing harder on selling the off-line / on-line tactic, whether through unique URLs printed in ads or more innovative tactics (think mobile research), such as ShopText.

I just came out of a lunch meeting with two ad reps for a national weekly newspaper. No matter which way I probed, it was clear that they weren’t selling — and ad buyers weren’t buying — multi-channel ad strategies.

Here’s a press release on the study on the Newspaper Association of America web site. Let’s hope the ad sellers — and buyers — read the study and take heed. Consumers are waiting to google the next item they see in print.

Neurotic? Narcissistic? We knew from your email address

A recent study of 100 college students showed that strangers can accurately guess traits like openness, agreeability, neuroticism, conscientiousness and narcissism by looking at a person’s email address. The study was published in The Journal of Research in Personality, as reported today in NewScience (subscription required).

The panels’ guesses agreed most with a personality survey completed when it came to qualities like openness, conscientiousness and narcissism, and diverged most on the trait of extroversion. Addresses that gave away personality often contained full stops, numbers or a name that was obviously not genuine.

It’s interesting how much we can reveal in a few characters and numbers. However, the study did look at the email addresses of teens. Perhaps we get better at hiding our personalities as we mature. Don’t you think? Let me know, at

Financial services marketers lean heavily on direct response and email tactics

A new report by the Direct Marketing Association reveals that marketers in the financial services sector are relying heavily on direct marketing and email, and showing an impressive ROI for these tactics. Here are two particularly impressive findings from this research of U.S. banks and credit institutions:

  • They invested $13.4 billion in direct marketing advertising, which produced $178.8 billion in sales, or $13.34 returned for every dollar spent
  • Growth in email marketing within financial services companies is expected to be the greatest of all media types used in the next four years, for a compound annual growth of 22.5%

The report also showed a very small reduction in print advertising over the next four years.

What can account for this? Aside from the arguably better overall effectiveness of these media, they are also tactics more suitable to centralized control. As financial institutions continue to consolidate, these tactics become even more appealing.

B-to-B Viral Marketing Case: Powerboat sales as a window to our current economic squall

Let’s say you’re a company that mines data in a quiet niche — one not known for analytic vigor. You’ve been doing it for years and do it wonderfully. For clients who appreciate your chops, you’re a godsend. But these clients are exceptional in the traditional retail business sector you serve.

How, how do you spread the word about your super-segmented lists and dead-on business intelligence services? Intuition says you find something to “go viral” around. But that requires some degree of topical relevance, if not outright sensationalism. How do you enliven something as dry as, say, boat purchase behavior (pun intended), to give it the life necessary to grab headlines?

The answer is what Info-Link does. They periodically publish one of the more pedestrian metrics they track: Quarterly sales in bellwether states. Below is their latest Bellwether Report, available on their site and distributed via a simple but effective opt-in email:

Info-Link Bellwether Report

You can explore various sales statistics by quarter (use the pull-down). Yes, the news is depressing. But it’s undeniably informative. And share-able. What information can your business repackage in such a way that people will want to share it?

Watching your unsubscribes: Content and frequency are open to negotiation

In sales there is a belief that each objection is an opportunity. Each “no” you hear is simply a stepping stone to a sale. This attitude helps salespeople continually refine the conceptual packaging of their wares. If the objection is “I don’t have room for it in my house,” this is an opportunity for the salesperson to stress how the product packs flat, or serves a second use that helps it earn its keep.

Now consider the unsubscribe action in an opt-in email series. Melinda Krueger, MediaPost columnist and email expert, recounts a recent In-Box Insiders discussion about how approaching “unsubs” needs to be more like approaching any other type of objection (registration required for MediaPost). Ultimately it’s an opportunity for a more satisfied subscriber.

Several aspects of your unsub process should be examined, Krueger advises. Of her list, two provide a real opportunity for negotiation. These are chances for departing subscribers to come back to the fold by refining how they receive the emails:

Content Preferences — Give subscribers the options to indicate their preferences to improve relevance. These can either be positive “I am interested in silent sports” or negative “I am not interested in articles on camping.”

Frequency Preferences — Allow subscribers to reduce the volume of communication: “Send me email only once per week/month/quarter/year” (depending on your sending frequency). According to Stephanie, “offering even simple frequency options at the point of unsubscribe helps preserve up to 50% of those ‘exiting’ subscribers.”

Just as in sales, an unsub is an opportunity for a win-win with the customer. And like the classic sales objection, even when the outcome of meeting an unsub isn’t ideal, the chance to learn more about your product is significant. All you need to do is politely refuse to settle for a simple “no.”

Andy Sernovitz provides disarmingly love-filled advice to a b-to-b crowd

I’ve wanted to see Andy Sernovitz speak for several years. This Milwaukee-boy-made-good is the author of Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking. He’s a terrific dose of inspiration for any marketer facing the terrifying prospect of helping a brand “go viral.” Today he provided that inspiration — along with some excellent tactical ideas — to my city’s Business Marketing Association.

Sernovitz’s presentation clearly had a consumer marketing origin, but he did an excellent job of reminding the business marketing group that we all go through the same decision stages in a considered purchase. Whether the person is a retiree buying his first recreational sailboat or a young design engineer considering parts suppliers, we’re human first. We’re swayed strongly by the opinions of others.

We’re also moved by the creative imagination of smart marketing. Andy reminded us that we love what a brand does for us, or how it tickles our fancy.

Ah, love. Who knew there would be such a strong tie-in with Valentine’s Day?

Joking aside, here are two of his tips that are dead-on when it comes to marketing to business buyers:

  • White papers are still effective viral marketing tools
  • Email-a-colleague tools on your b-to-b web site are as well

Andy also mentioned that it was the viral aspect of YouTube that has it valued so high compared to other video sharing sites. He counted 13 ways that YouTube helps people email or otherwise share its content with others.

Online support of smart promotions can also help to get people talking. As a topical example, Andy mentioned this brilliant way that White Castle is getting people to talk about their restaurants on this day:

A great ad, cited on Andy’s blog today

Now there’s one more restaurant that you can’t get into tonight without a reservation!

CareerBuilder’s plans for grabbing and keeping Sunday’s Superbowl viewers

Like millions of other Americans, I try to catch the Superbowl every year. But I’m a marketer, so my priorities are warped. With DVR remote in hand, I often time-delay the event by 45 minutes at the outset. This is so I can fast-forward through the often painfully one-sided game (and yes, Ron, your Pats will cream the Giants), and focus on the commercials. Laptop at the ready, I hop from one web address advertised to another, seeing the latest trends in corporate integrated marketing. Less strenuous than birding or trainspotting but just as geeky, I chalk the task up to research. But with this research, drinking pale ale is mandatory.

This year CareerBuilder is whetting my thirst for — ahem — knowledge with teaser emails. As usual, they are using the spendy ad space to kick off their annual ad campaign. Something tells me there will be a cool viral microsite to go along with it, to keep the $3 million (which is the reported cost of one of this year’s 30-second Superbowl ad slots) working throughout the year. Here’s their email to me:

CareerBuilder Email From Tuesday

Notice that I turned off the graphics to help you focus on the content. Kudos to CareerBuilder for constructing an email that “looks good naked.”

I’ll see you online, CareerBuilder!

Survey of marketing tech types finds ROI strongest for search and internal email tactics

A recent survey has shed light on what one breed of marketing professionals are perceiving as good bets in terms of measurable return on investment (ROI). The tactic leading the pack is email, sent to an internal — or “house” — list. This is hardly surprising, since it is a relatively low-cost way to announce new products and deals to customers and prospects. What is more interested is seeing how both organic search marketing (i.e., search engine optimization) and pay-per-click (PPC) search marketing are viewed by these same executives compared to other tactics. Here is the full run-down:

Perceived ROI by tactic, from 3,000+ search marketing pros

Considering the search-centric executives surveyed (these were 3,186 “in-house search marketers or agency executives,” as reported in‘s ROI for Select Marketing Tactics according to US Search Marketers), it’s not surprising both are regarded highly. Both are deemed as “Good” investments in respect to the return they typically provide by one out of every three respondents, and another third (34% total) considered one of these two tactics “Strongest” in terms of ROI.

This would be a glowing assessment of search when compared with other tactics, if only PPC weren’t also deemed as “highly variable” by 28% of respondents. Considering how much control one has on the risks and rewards of PPC, this makes me wonder if that measurement isn’t the voice of a minority who either hasn’t conducted a PPC campaign or hasn’t done it properly.

The booby prize goes to online advertising (“banners, etc.”), deemed “Low Value” by 43% of the group. With opinions of online ads being this negative, is it any wonder ad networks are scrambling to sweeten the kitty with more behaviorally-focused targeting?

What is your response to these numbers?