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

Email newsletters still excel at customer retention and cross-sales

With all the recent noise about new online communication tools such as user-generated content and pushing content through RSS, we shouldn’t forget that some tried-and-true tactics aren’t going away any time soon. Take the the opt-in newsletter, particularly one that is customized to a recipient’s specific interests and tastes.

I challenge you to name an online tactic as powerful as a well-done opt-in email newsletter to draw visitors back to a web site or drive sales across a company’s complementary product offerings. This technique truly has legs.

Sure, it’s easy to see where email newsletters work in categories such as online fashion apparel and leisure travel. After all, is there anyone who hasn’t opted-in at one time or another to a travel site’s “hot deals” email?

But a truly enduring marketing tactic has the ability to surprise us — to show up and shine where we’re least expecting it. The email newsletter certainly has done this for me.

To my knowledge, one of the most effective opt-in newsletters around is in a category of services that no one ever wants to use. That category is healthcare.

Private Health News provides private labeled emails that a hospital or other care provider can use as a way to deliver news about its own offerings. What makes this newsletter so effective is the the fact that consumers truly appreciate receiving it. That’s due to theses two factors:

  • The content is customized
  • The content is trustworthy

Consumers sign up for it by visiting the site of the provider (let’s say it’s “General Hospital”), and then selecting topics of interest. This customization makes the newsletter unique to each households’ needs, with a selection of over 25 health topics from Blood Pressure to Breast Cancer, Sleep Disorders to Stroke Rehabilitation.

When the newsletter arrives, it reports the latest research, originally seen in articles from over 350 prestigious healthcare publications. The publications include the Journal of the American Medical Association and Lancet. Interspersed with the news — which, mind you, is tailored exactly to a recipient’s current health concerns and interests — are brief bulletins and ads about General Hospital events and offerings relevant to that topic.

For instance, along with a Men’s Health article there might be a notice of a free prostate cancer screening held at the hospital in three weeks, along with a link to the place on the General Hospital site where you can sign up or get more information.

I first met Dan Ansel, the president of Private Health News, six years ago at a healthcare marketing conference in San Diego. When he described his fledgling product to me, I immediately saw how this was the part of the puzzle I was struggling to deliver to my healthcare clients.

Dan’s product was a way to ensure that the valuable minority of consumers who visit my clients’ sites — and care enough about their families’ health to be proactive — can receive, every month, several excellent reasons to come back for more information. In other words, it was a way to retain prospects and patients, and to cross-sell to them wherever appropriate.

Has it worked? My experience and those of my clients says it has. What’s more, Dan has made sure to periodically survey newsletter readers, to get the user’s perspective on its effectiveness. Here are a few of the results of his latest survey, which had a sample size of 10,157 newsletter subscribers:

  • 99% consider the health information in their newsletter valuable, with 25% saying it was “very valuable”
  • 75.6% have the health issues to which they subscribe or are making decisions for loved ones with those health issues
  • Respondents are making healthcare decisions for an average of 3.3 people
  • 67% indicate a new awareness of the provider’s services as a result of receiving their newsletter
  • Over 13% have used these services because of that awareness

That last metric is the one that always blows me away. Every time the survey is conducted, more that one out of every ten people surveyed said they used a hospital’s services because of awareness they gleaned from the newsletter.

If only half of those people are telling the truth, that means over 600 individuals in this relatively small sample went to the provider of the newsletter for a possibly very profitable high ticket item, all thanks to an email newsletter.

I’ll be returning to the wonderful marketing double whammy of customization and credibility in future examples of online marketing excellence. But I’m not sure any other online technique I’ve encountered has the same high level of ROI as this surprising opt-in newsletter that sells people services they would prefer to never think about getting in the first place.

Attention B2B marketers: Your prospects are tired of white papers

In working with clients who sell to other businesses, I and my team are witnessing something I can only characterize as white paper fatigue. Remember when a truly well-written white paper that you could download from a corporate site was, although never truly a novelty, at least a welcome way to consume important information? Me too.

And it still is to some extent. I still find their contents valuable. The trouble is I’m spending less time reading and more time scanning. Therefore, the white paper has come to represent for me a workaday chore, not an opportunity to learn. Clearly others are in the same camp, because the offer of a white paper, when posed on a site or packaged in an email, is not as measurably compelling to our clients’ prospective customers as we have observed in the past.

There is an alternative, and I’m pleased to see it’s quickly on its way out of the “novelty” category of web site offerings. I’m talking about the audio white paper. AKA, the podcast.

Recent research reported in suggests that the B2B audience is not just receptive to white paper content in this format: They want more of it. Here is an excerpt:

The respondents [in this survey of business and IT professionals] were actually enthusiastic about podcasting — and wanted more. Nearly 60% said business and tech information in white papers or analyst reports would be more interesting as podcasts, and 55% said they would be more likely to use the information if it were delivered in podcasts, rather than as reading material.

This same report showed how these are not just early adopters (from a statistical perspective) but are a growing base of business people who like podcasts, and use them both personally and professionally. This is encouraging news for companies who are seeking new ways to engage their target audience. 

As often happens with quickly emerging media trends, the challenge now becomes meeting this exciting opportunity — quickly — with content that truly takes advantage of the medium. Have any of my readers found strong examples of podcasted (and video!) white papers? I encourage your comments.


Make email copy long enough to tell the story

Legend has it that President Lincoln was asked how long a soldier’s legs must be to qualify for his Union army. His answer: “Long enough to reach the ground.” Whether this is true or not is unclear, but the truth behind it can be applied to a subject of heated debate: The copy length of marketing emails.

Melinda Krueger’s latest column addresses the debate with an extremely well-reasoned approach. She writes:

Use as much copy as needed to give readers all the information they need without a preconceived notion of what the “right” amount is. In some cases, you will get fewer clicks but more conversions (sales, donations, leads) from more copy-intensive e-mails, as they deliver more pre-qualified buyers.

She goes on to provide great tips for breaking up longer email copy to make it seem less daunting. Her point is right on, though. Don’t fret over the length of your email copy. Instead, make sure it is optimized for clarity, brevity (to the extent possible) and excitement.

Finally, don’t forget to test, test, test!

Want more people to use your tricycle? Take a wheel off.

There was a time when a micro site designed specifically to be viral absolutely required a “Tell A Friend” link, to facilitate its contagion. Today, especially with a young audience, this rule is frequently broken. I have a couple theories.

The obvious one is the anti-marketing factor. When you’re communicating to a jaded audience that wants to feel like they’re doing something spontaneous, make the pass-along more difficult.

Take the recent viral campaign waged by SanDisk. It’s to promote their latest alternative to the ubiquitous iPod music player. Talk about David versus Goliath. They’ve taken a shot at felling the giant with, a site that positions the act of listening to a song on anything other than an iPod as the stuff of rebels and iconoclasts.

The campaign includes outdoor and print ads driving folks to the site. The ads appear most notably in the alternative weekly The Onion. This graphic is a screen cap from the site.

Click to expand the cartoon

Most of the ad units are small, and effectively intriguing and edgy. Little but the web address is on them. This cartoon ad is an exception, in that it gives a few more details about why visiting the site might be rewarding.

And what rich rewards await you? The main one is the promise of feeling like an Apple Mac owner in 1984 (how the tides turn, with the Apple iPod being the status quo of portable listening devices!).

Keeping with a less promotional marketing approach, there is only one link in whole site (as far as I can tell) to the SanDisk site, and that’s a link to a dealer locator tool. It allows you to investigate and perhaps buy “The Alternative” — the Sansa e200 MP3 player.

So: To make the site feel right to the audience, take away a helpful feature.

My other theory is that this audience — those under 30 — are far less likely to find the “Email a Friend” helpful in the first place. This market segment would just as likely pass the link along via instant messaging (IM), in the course of an online conversation, or through a personal message (PM). Less likely, it might show up on a social networking page or a personal blog (as I’ll get to in a moment).

My point is that all of the sharing strategies mentioned above require either the typing of a simple, five-letter domain name, or more likely, the cutting and pasting of that web address. Cake.

A youth wasted on generating content (that the press has creatively dubbed “user-generated”) has taught even the least swift of this target market to pass along something without the aid of an email form. The very use of the form may scream of yesterday’s media.

The big question remains: Will this be passed along? And on a macro level: Can anyone not of this demographic create something compelling enough to want to share? These statistics tell the story. The site has a Google Page Rank of zero, and, although MSN has found over 5,000 links to it, Google and AOL showed zip. Goliath can sleep safely.

When is an email click-through not a click-through? Think “unsubscribe”

When is an e-mail click-through not a click-through? When they’re telling you to kiss off!

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since I had lunch with my friend and long-time career doppleganger, Medlina Krueger, and she told me about her latest email metrics discovery. It was a way to take into account the click-throughs that people register from your emails when they are in fact clicking through to unsubscribe.

She described it, and it made perfect sense. Melinda’s formula in many cases would take meaningless data and actually tell us something. Specifically, it measures the power of a specific offer or message to cause a segment of your email audience to decide that enough is enough.

She was thinking of calling it the DI, the Disaffection Index. Personally, I thought something a little more dramatic was in order for a metric that could enter the email lexicon. I suggested, because it measured their very last click-through with you, the LCI — the Last Click Index.

She thought otherwise, and DI it remained. Do read this article, and the other articles and advice that Melinda provides as MediaPost’s “Email Diva.”