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

In praise of short URLs and one innovative provider

Like everything else, short URLs follow the rules of supply and demand. My first internet business, in the mid-1990’s, had a four-character dot-com domain name. Back then this was good but not extraordinary. Now the dot-com space is so crowded that many start-ups look like they were named by dipping a spoon into alphabet soup. Luckily there are short URL services — most famously ShortURL.com. [I was thinking of TinyURL.com, the clear winner of the two in terms of Alexa’s Daily Reach metric.]
These businesses take the sting out of a rangy line of URL characters, while helping to avoid truncation (in emails) and misspellings (when speaking the address over the phone).

As a market leader, TinyURL offers a ton of features. Maybe too many. An upstart I’ve just learned about (thank you Steve Purkiss of ProjectStars) will give this status quo provider a run for its money. For this month’s One Positive Day, consider what URLao.com is doing right.

I love URLao’s simple, clean, Web 2.0 interface. They get you started quickly and pull you in with simple explanations of their best features. Here is the language they use for them:

Private Redirect
Ensure your privacy by requiring users to enter this password before being taken to the destination.
Enable Cloaking
This option hides your target URL — when users visit your link, they will only see your shortened URL in the address bar of the browser.
Preview Target
Give your users confidence by allowing them to preview the location of the redirect. On visiting your link, the user will be shown the location of the redirect and be asked to click the link or to confirm they wish to visit the destination site.

Notice the number of features is short. Just three. It’s a wise move for an upstart player in this category … promise a simpler yet improved experience.

Short URL Example (using URLao.com)

Notice the benefits-heavy descriptions. This is even smarter. I used the last of these features when I created this short, clear URL to go to a Google Maps location of our parent company (and the home of ec-connection): www.URLao.com/FindNS. It’s a shortened version of this ungainly URL:

http://local.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&time=&date=&ttype=&q=nelson+ schmidt,+milwaukee,+wi&ie=UTF8&ll=43.043614,-87.899938&spn=0.009158,0.021114 &z=15&iwloc=A&om=1

There are other features you should investigate, such as tracking each short URL’s use. I’ve often wondered how I could easily track how many people in a short list of email recipients actually click through to the links I’ve provided. This gives me that power, while ensuring that none of the URLs are broken in the process of opening, replying or forwarding the email.

As with so many other start-ups, this one offers its services for free. That means you definitely do not want to use it for mission-critical work, or anything where online security is an issue. But for quick, smart creation and monitoring of customized URLs, I have yet to find a service better than this one.

Email deliverability issues sound familiar to direct mail pros

Recent discussions about email deliverability sound oddly familiar. Before email become a major marketing channel, Standard Presort Mail (known then as Third Class or Bulk) was the exclusive direct response medium. Mailboxes overflowed with catalogs and sales pitches. Back then this would be the case year-round, not just right now — in the protracted post-Halloween holiday season. It was inevitable that direct mailers would begin to seriously strain the postal system, using mail as something for which it was never designed. Weekly DM News reports would outrage readers with fresh tales of huge batches of mail delivered late or not at all. Delivery costs rose and delivery satisfaction fell. And thus emerged other media, following supply and demand (and abetted by Moore’s Law). These media included email. Now the outcry continues, but with this newer channel.

Fellow veteran of direct mail Melinda Krueger (MediaPost’s Email Diva) has a good post in that publication (registration required) about the influence of a dedicated IP address over deliverability. It’s a good primer to the topic of email reputation and how it is measured through the lens of an IP’s suspected spamming track record. More importantly, it helps the “lay audience” — those who think an ESP is a psychic ability and not an Email Service Provider — grasp the unintended consequences of email marketing.

Once again we marketers are using a medium for something no one considered at its birth.

Shepherd your online prospects to conversion with a strong email reminder

MarketingSherpa does a lot of things right, so I should not have been surprised to get this conversion email from them last week. It should serve as a reminder that when someone begins a conversion process and bails out, all is not lost. Note the tone and content of this case study quality email message:

Dear Jeff Larche,

I noticed you began to enroll in the MarketingSherpa 7-day Free Trial Membership, but you didn’t complete the process.

Is there anything I can do to help?

I will be happy to talk with you and answer any questions you may have. In spite of our best efforts, some people have had questions they didn’t find answered completely on our information page.

The Free Trial provides tremendous value for marketers who want a faster, easier way to access ALL of MarketingSherpa’s content:

  • Private Research Database-Search 3,000+ stats on marketing instantly
  • Creative Samples Library-Search 2,600+ real-life campaign
    samples for inspiration
  • Topical Index-52 Topics listed from B-to-B Lead Generation to Viral Marketing

Click on your choice for a Sherpa Microsite all about that topic with Case Studies, How-to Articles & more. If you activate your free trial today you will also receive:

  • 10% Discount to the Sherpa Store that can be used instantly
  • Special Introductory Rate for annual membership (that’s $200 off normal retail value) should you decide to continue after your trial period.

You can re-visit the information page, and continue activating your 7-Day Free Trial here:
https://www.marketingsherpa.com/member_trial.html

The Free Trial Membership is absolutely risk-free. You may cancel at any time during your trial and we will not charge you a cent.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to call me or email me and I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

My phone number is: [toll free number withheld here], or if you prefer, email your question to [email address withheld here].

Thank you for your time.

Yours Truly,

Hope Hopkins
Membership Services

P.S. We are currently offering a free PDF download of Sherpa’s Top 5 Case Studies on Online Video Advertising upon activating your Free Trial.

Brilliant! They emphasize the benefits of joining now, make it easy, and sweeten the kitty at every turn. This reminds me of an Alexander Pope poem I memorized as a kid (I know, I was a weird child):

Men should be taught
As if you taught them not
With things unknown
Proposed as things forgot

Great advice then and now.

Confirmation page growing in email marketing importance

A recent Direct Marketing Association study describes the growing popularity of super-simple subscription processes — sometimes just asking for an email address. But even more noteworthy is the clever twist of nailing down details within the confirmation page.

In a way this is just a semantic trick. Instead of the subscription process being a two-page “ordeal,” with Page Two saying something like: “Almost done! Now tell us what you’d like to receive in our eNewsletter,” the second page says, “Thanks for subscribing. Your first issue will arrive shortly. Now, if you tell us in the form below what content would be most welcome, we’ll be about to customize those messages precisely to your tastes.”

Such a simple change. And such a big improvement in conversion rates! Privacy assurances and transparency about how often the emails will arrive are also key to raising subscription conversion rates, according to the study.

Other findings, as described in Chad White’s blog about the report, are as follows:

  • Only 3% of major online retailers use a double opt-in subscription process.
  • Only 92% [sic] of retailers have an email sign-up form or link on their homepage.
  • More than 43% of retailers allow customers to sign up for email with one click from their homepage.
  • The subscriber’s name (31%) and zip code (18%) were the two most often required pieces of information.

What are you doing to improve your eNewsletter’s subscription process?

Make sure your mass emails look good naked

My Gmail account is set so I don’t see images embedded in emails unless I choose to, on a case-by-case basis. I just received another email today from the company that sent the one below. In both cases, I had no idea who was sending it to me, unless I remembered what company is behind the Goldpoints Plus continuity program I subscribed to ages ago (fat chance!). Can you tell me who this is? This is a screen capture of the first one I received.

With the images turned off. If you don’t see anything below this image, click on the MORE link to see who it is.

And here is what that same email revealed once I turned on the images:

Continue reading

Serving SUPERVALU customers one niche at a time

I really like the direction that Kevin Hillstrom’s One Positive Day blogging concept is taking. While I used the occasion this month to share a favorite work tool, Kevin was inviting many of his social networking and database colleagues to speculate on how to improve the online presence of SUPERVALU, a grocery and pharmaceutical retail and supply chain company.

I’ve had the luxury of a week since that July 1 post to think about my response. I started with the question of corporate mission. There are many ways to drive consumers to your site, such as an online version of the old “Green Stamps” promotion, but as Kevin states at the end of his post, you ultimately have to show something beyond raw page views. You have to add to the stores’ bottom lines, either by saving money by automating something that is now labor-intensive, or generating greater sales totals, or both.

In the comments, Ron Shevlin and another contributor mentioned how helpful it would be to create an aisle-by-aisle shopping list of items. I can understand the logistical challenge of this, since every store floor plan seems to be at least a little different, something exacerbated by the thousands of new products introduced (and pulled!) every year. This last point was made another contributor to the dialog — 10-year food business veteran Harry Joiner.

A Store-generated Shopping List

I had even wondered if something could be done with a mobile-enabled service. For instance, from your cell phone, you call or text a list to a SUPERVALU short code. Then, either through voice recognition (in the case of a voice call) or standard database look-up, you get back a list in your email box, ordered in the walking pattern of the store and complete with related specials and exclusive couponing.

Perhaps something could even be done with a WiFi-enabled version of this voice-activated shopping list device. This device would take your family’s accumulated voice lists of groceries, digitize the list into text using its native voice-recognition system, and — after it is sent via a wireless internet connection to SUPERVALU computers — the device receives and prints the final list with coupons.

This certainly would align itself with SUPERVALU’s Mission  Statement: “To serve our customers better than anyone else … provide our customers with value through our products and services, committing ourselves to providing the quality, variety and convenience they expect.” The mission statement goes on to talk about building strong communities surrounding its stores, which is the other theme of how to help this web site become a greater contributor to the store’s success.

Harry Joiner mentioned creating Ning-like online communities surrounding each of the most significant lifestyle and demographic categories. He gave some examples of how other product marketers have succeeded with this tactic.

A few community examples for SUPERVALU that spring to mind are the following: Young, growing families, single adults looking for tips on cooking for one (and perhaps even place-based events specifically for singles), and of course cooking enthusiasts.

Some value-creating tactics could be things like product-related cooking demonstrations or give-aways, or tie-ins with non-profits that the SUPERVALU business supports through its foundation. Only online community members would be privy to them, of course. One thing is clear. These communities would need to find a great deal of value on the sites.

Many companies have tried to build a critical mass among their “wired niches.” Most have failed.

And speaking of long tale strategies, here’s one that my friend Steve Ward had cooked up well over 10 years ago, and I think still has promise: An online database of all nutritional information for every product on the shelves (or as many as possible)!

Those who are striving to reduce their sodium or fat consumption, or improve their nutrient intake, could create shopping lists that tell them the exact nutritional values of what they eat.

Would this, or any of the above ideas, fundamentally change the way SUPERVALU returns shareholder value? No. Would it help the company fulfill its mission? Absolutely. But like so many online endeavors, this would be accomplished slowly and at a significant investment, one niche at a time.

E-newsletter readers hit reply: Don’t disappoint, arrive monthly or weekly, and on Mondays

According to a survey conducted earlier this year to over 300 executives at small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), Monday is the preferred day to receive e-newsletters. Although half of those surveyed had no preference, those who did reported that they would rather see them at the beginning of their business week.

The timing of email newsletters has been hotly debated since the medium first came into being. Marketers make significant investments in their creation and release, and can really stress out over things like what day they arrive.

The reason is that e-newsletters are thought to boost a company’s perceived value, either as a pure information source (for subscription-based or advertising-supported endeavors), or as proof of a vendor’s industry leadership. The research, done by Bredin Business Information, would seem to confirm this halo effect.

It reports that, “A third of SMB executives said they had an improved image of a vendor from its e-newsletters.” Whether this improved image will convert to more business was not explored. Which is, after all, what really matters. Especially since there are risks to this marketing tactic. The survey reported that if a vendor does a poor job with their emails their reputation will suffer. One out of seven reported that a poorly executed e-newsletter “damaged the sender’s image.”

Frequency of delivery was another subject for investigation. As long as the quality of the e-newsletter is good, it seems more is better — to a point.

The vast majority of SMB executives want to receive their email newsletters weekly (45%) or monthly (34%). Few want them daily (11%) or quarterly (6%).

The take-aways:

  • Design your email newsletter to arrive more frequently than once every quarter (but not daily, unless you’re super-topical)
  • Assume you’ll be most welcome if you send on Mondays
  • Make sure you truly deliver the goods

If your e-newsletter doesn’t excel, and you’re sending to current or potential customers, these readers could do far more than just unsubscribe.

Get out your yellow highlighter to emphasize your most important web copy

Two of my favorite sites use a technique to make their short, punchy web copy even stronger.

  • 37signals is a smart, irreverent Web 2.0 developer of web-based collaboration and development solutions. I’ve praised one of their products in this blog: Basecamp, an ASP alternative to MS Project. They market their products through a web site and attached blog that aren’t afraid to break with convention. That includes the way they draw your attention to important sales copy.
  • Very Short List (VSL) does the same. It’s a fun, free subscription email and web site that delivers a list of exactly one interesting product, service or web site every single day. The copy they employ to describe each “VSL” is always short and clever. To further aid in scanning, VSL highlights important points in their message.

VSL Thumbnail - Click to enlargeBoth use the technique you see in the sample graphic (click to enlarge). They use a text highlighting technique that any web site could adopt but few do. It’s a clean if somewhat “cute” alternative to bold and italics.

Is this new formatting based on science? In other words, do metrics exist to show that this technique improves readership, or helps convert readers into customers?

No. Josh Fried of 37signals admits in Copyblogger.com, “We don’t have metrics [to support our design changes]. It’s all gut.” (I agree wholeheartedly by the way, with Brian Clark, author of Copyblogger.com. He cautions in this post that listening to designers and one’s instincts can be a dangerous practice when the outcome could be a major decline in the bottom line of your business.)

So right now web marketers appear to be flying blind when they are using this technique to showcase important copy. This could be remedied.

I’ve made a point to talk to anyone I know who conducts eye tracking heatmaps to see if they’ve ever seen any evidence that this hinders or helps a reader through the thicket of online copy. And if they haven’t, would they like to give it a try?

In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts on whether this hip spin on copy formatting will prove to be more than a novelty.

In b-to-b marketing, fear and greed are all you’ve got

Years ago a mentor told me that in consumer advertising, there are many motivations for someone to act. But when you’re talking to someone about a product or service for their business, the motivations are less varied. In fact, they boil down to two:

  • Fear
  • Greed

Period.

That was nearly 20 years ago. A lot has changed, but I cannot see any evidence that this has changed at all. Your thoughts?

The collaboration technology of choice varies by marketing discipline

Today I had lunch with my friend Don Buck of Buck Marketing. He owns a list brokerage. I was explaining why I had not yet installed the program he swears by, Trillian by Cerulean Studios. It’s a way to aggregate all of your instant messaging (IM) identities into one account. That way, regardless of which system someone wants to reach you in — AOL, MSN, Yahoo, Google (Jabber) or a less popular IM account — you can receive and send through one account.

Pretty clever. But it was a solution to a problem that I don’t have.

I only have Google IM, and that’s primarily to communicate with my team members. Few people beyond my coworkers are in my Google buddy list, and I have no need for other accounts. Don said, “That’s interesting but not surprising. I find that my contacts in the email marketing industry use IM to do their work, but those in direct mail use email.”

I have a theory why. Direct mail takes weeks to plan and execute, as do most other marketing projects nowadays. Passing information via email is sufficient to meet those types of deadlines.

Email projects are usually more immediate — at least when you are in the execution stage. We’re talking lag times of days instead of weeks. IM may be the only collaboration technology immediate enough to keep things on track and still keep a record of what’s discussed (otherwise you can just pick up the phone).

Or perhaps it’s something else that turns email marketers away from their lingua franca. Perhaps those who send emails for a living can’t bear to lean heavily on that medium to manage the projects. Sort of like the guy who makes donuts every morning never wanting to sample his own work.

How does your email performance stack up to others in your industry?

Postfuture.com, an email service provider (ESP) owned by Harte-Hanks, has released a benchmarking tool for consumer and business-to-business emailers. One of the more useful findings is the comparative click-through rates by industry, ranked best to worst:

  • Restaurants: 57.5%
  • Publishing: 55.6%
  • Pharmaceutical: 23.8%
  • Travel and hospitality: 23.4%
  • Conference events: 14.2%
  • Financial services: 11.0%
  • Technology: 10.9%
  • Government: 9.5%
  • Insurance: 9.5%
  • Consumer packaged goods: 8.6%
  • Entertainment: 8.1%
  • Retail: 6.0%
  • Automotive: 5.7%

As you look this list over, it shouldn’t be a surprise that all of the business-to-business (b2b) emails are at the top. Business people are paid to, among other things, keep abreast of news and opportunities. The emails they opt-in to receive help them fulfill this duty.

On the other hand, consumers will be less willing to open a typical email and dig deeper with a click. Overall, emails in the b2b sector had clickthrough rates and open rates of 19.9% and 78.9% respectively, while those sent to consumers generated 11.2% clicks and 67.7% opens.

This is all according to Harte-Hanks, mind you.

As with any secondary research, you’ll want to use the figures cautiously. For instance, I suspect that the company excluded many unsuccessful campaigns from their findings, in order to sweeten the report. It is, after all, a report card of sorts.

What if this ESP was instead selling weight loss programs? I imagine we’d be seeing their customers, of all stripes, dropping the pounds to a degree that might make you concerned for their collective health. (Note: Melinda Krueger thought these figures seemed high as well. Her Comment below explains what she learned when she followed up with them).

But for the sake of comparison, these figures can help. Tempered with a degree of skepticism and your own email track record, they can show you how your enterprise compares with others in your industry, and with the medium of email marketing in general.