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The Ever-Evolving Sophistication of eMail Marketing – Square Breaks New Ground

I often tell the story about the first client assignment I got when I first founded Flightpath back in 1994 – managing the nascent email (listserv?) list for Bon Jovi on behalf of Mercury Records.

Email marketing has certainly evolved since then but it took a very interesting new leap last week with the introduction of a new email marketing platform called Square Marketing. Yes. Square Marketing comes from the company that to date has been known as an innovator in the credit card payment space.
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Connections 2012 in Indy

Not sexy, but has good ROI. No, I’m not talking about the disadvantages and advantages of an Accounting degree. These are some of the popular perceptions of email marketing. It’s tried and true, but there’s nowhere new to go. Is that true? After going to ExactTarget’s Connections Expo last week, I’m tempted to respond with an emphatic “no.”

Not sexy, but has good ROI. No, I’m not talking about the disadvantages and advantages of an Accounting degree. These are some of the popular perceptions of email marketing. It’s tried and true, but there’s nowhere new to go. Is that true? After going to ExactTarget’s Connections conference last week, I’m tempted to respond with an emphatic “no.”
On October 16-18, over 4,000 email marketers from all over North American converged in Indianapolis for the conference. From the keynote to the panels and talks, three themes emerged that chart the course for the evolution of email. These three themes mark not just trends all email marketers should keep up with, but chances to push the envelope on their campaigns and make their medium a bit sexier.

 

Social ≠ Afterthought

 

We all know social media is huge. Businesses, agencies, and the like are trying not only to figure out the next big social network, but how to monetize it, turning “likes” into dollar signs. When it comes to email, the standard approach has been to place the icons of the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and maybe Instagram). If you find yourself doing that in your campaigns and you believe that’s all it takes to make your emails “more social,” then you’re missing out on great opportunities to do so much more with all of your channels.
Case in point, during the keynote address, speakers referred to ExactTarget tools designed to send Facebook data from a company’s FB page straight over to their subscriber database. With opt-in controls built right into Facebook’s interface, there can’t be a more efficient form of email capture and list building.
However, don’t expect users to agree to give you access to their Facebook data just because they “liked” your page. Remember to create a promotion first. As mentioned at Connections, an increasing number of businesses are opting for everything from random chance sweepstakes to video contests. As part of the rules and requirements for entering, users have to consent to sharing their email address and possibly some demographic info.
That’s just one of many examples mentioned at Connections of how marketers can leverage their social channels to improve the performance of email, especially in the email capture department. One could even see a bump in their list building efforts by incorporating an email capture form onto their Facebook page. If you’re going to do that however, you should put a good effort into…

 

Making Your Email Capture Sexier

 

Okay. So, you’re going to your favorite store’s website because the newest, greatest thing just came out. One component tucked away at the bottom of the homepage catches your attention. It reads “Sign up for our FREE newsletter!” What is your reaction? I can bet it’s not “Whoa! A FREE newsletter? Gimme!” And yet, this is what we see on so many websites.
A number of panels I attended at Connections emphasize the power of the value proposition. Put yourself in the user’s head for a second and think, “Is a FREE newsletter enough to risk getting bombarded by this guy’s email marketers?” Instead, speaker after speaker suggested to us the idea of putting forth an offer. “Be the first to get all the inside deals and sales.” “Only insiders get all the best beauty tips from the pros,” or even “Sign up for our deals and get a 20% off coupon for your next purchase”
Once your email capture efforts begin to take off, pat yourself on the back. However, don’t believe your job is done quite yet. At Connections, another emerging trend impacts the very look and feel of eblast content itself. It’s a factor a lot of us email marketers have taken for granted for years as we thought it would never change significantly: screen size.

 

Have You Met…mCommerce?

 

By far, one of the biggest themes that came up at Connections was mobile, and for good reason. Mobile Commerce, or mcommerce, is a rapidly growing sales channel. iPhones, Android phones, iPads. People are using these and other devices more and more not just to check their favorite sites, but to make purchases. Forrester’s Sucharita Mulpuru writes that mcommerce is expect to account for $31 billion, or 7% of overall ecommerce sales by 2016. And this behavior crosses over into email. Based on our case studies, one in every three subscribers will open an eblast or enewsletter with a mobile device. Even if the subscriber doesn’t make the final sale on their iPhone, it’s becoming more and more important each year for businesses to reach their customers in a way that adapts easily to that tiny, tiny screen.
Enter responsive design. According to Smashing Magazine, responsive design is “the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation.” For example, a two-column layout with 12 point fonts may be perfectly readable on the desktop. In the mobile environment, however, your readers will be squinting and going through the trouble of zooming in to read your well-crafted copy.
For years, this design approach was purely in the realm of websites and landing pages. At Connections, agencies have begun to stress the importance of bringing responsive design over to the inbox. Here at Flightpath, we’ve developed code that allows for responsive design principles to work in the email environment. Never worry again that your sales offer is falling on deaf ears because your customers can’t read it on their Droid.

 

On the Way Back to New York

 

As I stared out at the Midwestern sky through that tiny window on my plane back to LaGuardia, I thought about all the information I picked up that week. Until then, I believed campaigns were tweaked according to well-disciplined A/B testing paradigms that bring modest, but consistent results. While that’s part true, a “bigger picture” view of the trends helps a campaign not only stick out from the rest of the pack, but it pays off significant dividends later on in higher engagement, more conversions, and a “sexier” email channel.

Email Marketing: Building Your Email List

All email campaigns start with a subscriber list. With email marketing so popular, most of us are on at least a few of theses lists. You may even be wondering how to build one of your own. Of course, there are plenty of ways, both bad and good, to do this.

This is part of a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

All email campaigns start with a subscriber list. With email marketing so popular, most of us are on at least a few of theses lists. You may even be wondering how to build one of your own. Of course, there are plenty of ways, both bad and good, to do this. As I mentioned in my last post (“Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever”), federal law requires the informed consent of all your email recipients.

So, if you can’t just buy a list from marketers, what are you supposed to do? You make one from scratch. With the right tools and tricks at your disposal, you won’t just have a simple subscriber list, you’ll have a fully engaged email legion of fans for your brand.

Mailing Lists Callouts

Got a popular website? Build a mailing list component. Make it highly visible. Going “above the fold” increases the chances people will happen upon it. Also, make it easy to use. Place as few fields in the component as possible. In the snapshot below, Groupon has a large, intuitive, and simple mailing list callout. The user has to only designate an email address and a city and they’re in. No difficult questions, no invasive requests, no intimidating forms that send their users running for the hills.

By contrast, the Steve Madden mailing list below feels like you’re filling out a tax form.

Social Media and Email

There’s been a lot of talk of social media competing with email as the dominant form of digital communication. In reality, the two are better complements than rivals. If you have a Facebook fan page or Twitter feed with a lot of followers, use it as a platform to encourage them to sign up for your eblasts and enewsletters.

You can even use emails to drive your mailing lists. Include “forward to a friend” links in your enewsletters. Give calls to action to sign up for your list in your company’s email signatures.

Offline Methods

Get in the habit of bringing up your mailing list in 1-on-1 conversations and phone calls with business contacts, but be tactful. In your pitch, make it clear what special offers or value they’re going to get out of your emails. It couldn’t hurt to incentivize them with a free gift upon signing up. For networking events, put a link on your business card to your company’s email signup page.

Welcome Emails

Once you win over email recipients, make them feel valued. Send them a welcome email, thanking them for signing up. Use it as an opportunity to better acquaint your clients and future customers with the goods and services you offer. And of course, let them know what’s in store for them in terms of email content.

And Once You Get Your List…

Email represents another channel to keep the conversation going with customers and/or clients, but once you have them, don’t take your recipients for granted. It only takes one click of the “Spam” button in their email client to end the conversation for good. If you want to keep your subscribers on your list, it is also important to have meaningful, engaging, relevant content for them. Catch my next blog post for best practices on email campaign content.

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

Email Marketing: More Relevant Than Ever

With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971. Yet email still remains a highly profitable marketing channel. Here’s the reason why.

This is the first in a series of blog posts aimed at raising awareness of email marketing, its advantages, and its best practices — from designing your first eblast to deploying your newsletter to millions of customer inboxes, and beyond.

Why Email?

Facebook. Twitter. Pinterest. LinkedIn. With each new social network hitting the limelight, social media becomes a sexier force on the web. Email, by contrast, remains a largely unchanged technology since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email in 1971.

Over the decades we got carbon copy recipients, file attachments, and HTML-based emails, but that was it. No “like” buttons, status updates, or share functionality. Just some text, images, links, and a subject line.

That being said, email is a marketing channel your business can’t afford to do without.
Why? First, it’s profitable. As Felicity Evans of Smashing Magazine points out, email still has a very high ROI — an estimated $44 for each $1 spent in 2011.

Evans also reminds us that more Americans have been introduced to email than social networks. It’s simply been around a lot longer. Finally, the Smashing article makes the point that email is a unique identifier. In other words, most people have a couple addresses to their name, but are members of many different social networks.

Additionally, your email campaigns can help leverage a stronger social media presence and vice versa. “Share” buttons at the top of your enewsletter can raise visits to your company’s Twitter feed. Newsletter signup callouts on your Facebook page can bring in new subscribers for your eblasts and special offers.

Assuming you’re sold and you want your first email campaign out the door by the end of the week, where do you start? The best place to begin is logistics.

What system is the most efficient for communicating with your customers? What kind of system even sends out thousands, even millions of emails at once? The answer lies in something called an email service provider (ESP).

Finding the Right ESP

The Interactive Advertising Bureau defines an email service provider as, “a business or organization that provides the Email campaign delivery technology. ESPs may also provide services for marketing, advertising and general communication purposes.”

Deciding which ESP to use can be a daunting task. There are many ESPs out there. They vary in size, functionality, and features. Do you go with one of the big names, like ExactTarget, Constant Contact, Lyris, or Experian CheetahMail? Or maybe one of the numerous smaller ones?

It depends on what you need. If you’re a big company that already has a large email list, one of the larger ESPs might be right for you. The costs may be higher, but you’ll get additional perks. Some ESPs offer helpful features like image hosting, round-the-clock tech support, and marketing data on your customers’ viewing habits.

In terms of the larger ESPs, I would recommend ExactTarget. We use ExactTarget in campaign deployments for many of our clients. In addition to the analytics and great technical support offerings I mentioned above, they offer email automation (sending entire chains of emails with the click of a button), triggered sending (automatically sending an email when an end-user performs an action on your website), and more.

On the other hand, if you don’t need all these things, you’re operating on a smaller budget, and you only have a few hundred or thousand subscribers, a smaller ESP may work better for you.

Analytics

Detailed analytics isn’t just for your website and Facebook page. There are a variety of ways to get large amounts of data on how your subscribers will react to your email. As mentioned before, many of the larger ESPs will offer an email-tracking package right out of the box. These will usually give basic statistics. Things like how many subscribers opened your email, clicked a link, unsubscribed from your list, or hit the “Spam” button.

ESPs will also offer statistics on “bounces,” or emails that fail to reach a recipient’s email address because they were undeliverable for whatever reason. Bounce reporting is a very powerful tool as it can sometimes help you diagnose larger issues. If a lot of your subscribers use the same Internet service provider (ISP) and a lot of them suddenly bounce, it’s usually the canary in the coal mine indicating that ISP has blocked your campaigns. In a later blog article, I will detail what to do if this happens.

There are also a lot of free or low-cost analytics vendors out there that can help you get even more information on your subscribers’ habits. Google Analytics shows how visitors arriving at your homepage via your email’s links travel through your whole site. It even has conversion tracking, offering a great chance to see what percentage of sales are due to your email marketing channels.

Litmus, another helpful analytics vendor, tracks what programs and devices your users check their emails with. Do most of your customers view emails on an iPhone, or their office desktop? Do they use Microsoft Outlook, or Gmail? Litmus also gives information on how effective your campaign is in engaging your subscribers. It gives such helpful metrics as the average time your subscribers have your email open for. Are they scanning? Are they reading your every word?

CAN-SPAM Compliance

One pitfall to avoid if you’re just starting out in email marketing is CAN-SPAM. Signed into law in 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act makes it illegal to send unsolicited email, or spam. What this means is that you cannot market your services or products over email unless the recipient has opted in to receive your promotions or newsletters. This concept is also known as permission marketing.

But it’s not enough to let your users opt in. They also have to be able to opt out. Unless you are sending a transactional email (the email equivalent of a receipt), you must place a link somewhere in your communications to a page where your users can unsubscribe. It’s not just the law, but it’s also a great way to avoid customer service nightmares. Think about it. We’ve all been there. We signed up for a service on the Internet and absently left the checkbox clicked for “Please send me your free monthly newsletters and special offers!” Before you know it, you’re getting 10 emails a week that you really don’t care to read. The unsubscribe link at the bottom of that email gives subscribers who got on your list by mistake an easy way out.

Another thing that CAN-SPAM requires is an address. All your marketing emails, transactional or promotional, must contain your company’s physical mailing address. This also helps the consumer in that it shows you’re a real company in a real location somewhere in the world.

If that’s a lot to keep track of, don’t worry. Many larger ESPs have features built in that allow to automatically place your mailing address and unsubscribe link in all your emails. Some even have safeguards that prevent your email from going out unless it is fully CAN-SPAM compliant.

Next Time — Building Your List

It’s easy to see how difficult it is to send emails only to subscribers who opt in, especially if your email campaign list numbers 0 subscribers. The temptation might creep up to go out and buy a subscriber list. Don’t. None of these users have opted in. Not only would sending to them be illegal, but it will also earn you a bad reputation. Users who hit the “Spam” button on a given email address frequently enough will get blacklisted by ISPs. This means all emails you send will bounce.

Besides, there are more ethical, legal, and organic ways to build a subscriber list. In my next post, I will go over the basics of list building and list health. You will be surprised at how easy it is to generate opt ins with some of the resources you already have. Don’t miss it!