As Director of Strategy and Research at the Communicator Corp, James is responsible for the global client services division and he is a member of the senior management team having been with the Communicator Corp since its incorporation in 2003.
His passion is email. James loves helping people learn more about the channel and seeing how their knowledge and results develop over time.
As he has been sending email marketing campaigns since the late 1990’s James has developed a wide range of knowledge and experience, but he relishes the fact that as the channel continues to evolve it gives him a chance to continue to learn.
At the Communicator Corp James works hard to ensure that industry leading consultancy is provided to his clients and that he helps them achieve their objectives from the email channel.
James is a passionate advocate of email and mobile marketing, and with his work at the Direct Marketing Association he is keen to see email becoming a truly integrated marketing channel.
Regular readers will know that the DMA Client Email Marketing Survey is an initiative undertaken by the Email Marketing Council and, more specifically, the Email Benchmarking hub, to complement the National Email Benchmarking Report. The report provides email marketers with valuable research into the state of email, the latest challenges effecting the channel and perhaps more importantly insight into the opportunities of tomorrow. We are now collecting data for the 2011 survey and would really appreciate it if you could spend ten minutes completing the survey.
As email has evolved as a channel, so has the role of the Email Marketer. You now need to integrate your email campaign with your social strategy, check how your email is going to perform when viewed on a mobile device, remove recipients who haven’t opened in the last 6 months – the list goes on and on.
With so much to think about it is often easy to forget the basic principles that lead to successful emails campaigns;
Rule 1:- Promote Sign Up
Adding new people to your mailing list is one of the email marketing “quick wins” so make sure you have time to check and review the sign up process and that you promote subscription wherever possible.
Rule 2:- Set and Meet Recipient Expectations
When recipient’s sign up for your email communications make sure you accurately set their expectations about what they can expect to receive. Then all you need to do is ensure your emails meet their expectations.
Rule 3:- Maintain and Refresh Data
Ensuring that the data you hold on each recipient is up to date is vital to sending them relevant communications. Utilise Preference Managers within your email campaigns so that recipients can update their personal information and tell you about changes in their preferences.
Rule 4:- Build a Relationship
Due to the cost effective nature of email, it is possible to talk very frequently to your prospects and customers. Use these frequent communications as a tool to build a relationship and encourage the recipient to purchase rather than simply trying to sell to them at each stage.
Rule 5:- Deliver Valuable Emails
Developing messages that recipient’s value is an important element of building a successful email program. Reminding recipients they have left a product in their shopping basket, highlighting complimentary products in an order confirmation email and welcoming a new subscriber are all important elements of a successful email program. These valuable emails not only improve the customer experience (and drive additional revenue) but they enhance your email brand value.
Rule 6:- Utilise Results and Data
One of the really great things about email is that you learn something about your audience and campaigns every time you press send. Make sure you utilise the valuable information you are gaining to improve future campaign performance.
Rule 7:- Add Email to the Customer Journey
Email can be used to save cost within your business, so make sure you take the time to add it to your customer journey. Automated emails to remind the recipient about a booked appointment or confirm when a service is about to run out can save the cost of more traditional marketing messages.
So next time you are focusing on the finer details of a campaign, make sure you take the time to think about the basic principles of email marketing. Often the biggest returns will come from getting the basics right.
Since 2007 I have been working with the DMA’s Email Marketing Council and specifically the Benchmarking Hub to produce the National Email Benchmarking Report. The report surveys leading UK ESP’s to provide companies involved in email marketing with a reliable series of benchmarks to aid their planning and campaign management. A whole host of information is covered within the report and a quick look at any ESP’s reporting will show a whole load more metrics about your campaign’s success than you probably ever thought possible – but what does it all mean?
Open Rates – Perhaps the most popular email metric of all and certainly one that leads to two very common questions; “what is the open rate?” and “How does it compare?” The open rate is usually calculated as the number of people who have opened an email divided by the number of emails delivered.
Open rates are often not the be all and end all of a campaign’s success as there are a number of factors that affect their accuracy. In order to understand that we need to understand how the open rate is tracked.
Open rates are tracked through the use of code in a tiny invisible image within the email which report back to the sending software when that code is displayed. The key word here is “image”. In order for the email to be recorded as an open, images need to be enabled when the message is viewed. If the email is read without images enabled then no open information will be recorded. Conversely if a recipient is skipping through their inbox, they may display an email in their preview panel without reading it – if images are enabled this will report as an open even though the recipient didn’t open the message.
However as the above factors are always constants, if you look at the trends behind your open rate it can provide some valuable insight into your campaign. A declining open rate might indicate that you need to refresh your subject lines, whereas an improving open rate might highlight that your emails are increasing in relevancy to your audience.
Open rates provide an indication of the success of an email campaign – but need to be looked at in conjunction with other metrics.
Click Rates – This is where things start to get more interesting – especially if you are including specific calls to action within your email campaign. The click rate is usually calculated as the number of people clicking links within your email divided by the number of emails delivered.
Click rates are tracked by code that is assigned to each link in the email. This code then reports back to the sending system when the link has been clicked. As a result, click rates report on specific actions completed by the recipient within the email campaign and don’t have the ambiguity of Open Rates. This means that you can use your Click Rate as a very good indication of how relevant your email was to your audience.
Click data (the raw data behind the click rate) can be used to provide further insight into your recipient’s activity. Looking at this information will enable you to see exactly which links within your email were relevant to your readers. When you know which bits of information the readers were most interested in you can then use this to inform future campaigns – targeting recipients who clicked on specific links with further information of interest based on the link they had clicked.
Click Rates show how relevant your content is and how many recipients you have driven to a particular website – but for many businesses that doesn’t show the complete picture. That is where conversion rates come in…
Conversion Rate – If the role of your email is to drive a specific action on your website (making a purchase, completing a form, downloading software etc), the conversion rate is a vitally important metric to review. The conversion rate is usually calculated by dividing the number of people who have completed the action by the number of emails delivered.
Conversion rates are tracked by code included on your website that report back to the sending software when an action has been completed by a recipient of an email campaign. Like click rates, this means that only specific action is reported on making the conversion rate an accurate metric.
In my opinion for the majority of campaigns the conversion rate is the most important metric for the marketer to consider. This is because it shows what percentage of your recipients completed the thing that was most important to you i.e. made a purchase etc.
When you know your open rate and click-through rate, these become levers you can use to influence the conversion rate. For example, if you are achieving a conversion rate of 1.5% from a click rate of 9.5% you can assume that doubling the click rate will result in double the conversion rate!
This week I have watched with interest as one of my colleagues on the Email Marketing Council asked a discussion board about innovation in email. So far the group has remained fairly quiet.
So when it came to writing this blog piece I thought I would challenge myself to come up with some innovative ideas that you might want to apply to your existing email program. This is definitely outside of my comfort zone as I always like to make recommendations that are backed up by cold hard facts and metrics but here goes…
Innovate your email program
1. In the retail sector, how about sending emails out to let recipients know that their local store no longer has a product in stock but it can still be ordered online if they are quick. This could be based on products they have browsed for previously. This would have been very useful for me just before the Christmas period!
2. Depending on the products you sell and the time of year, it might also be an interesting idea to revise the online check out process and ask if the product is being purchased as a gift. If it is, why not use “Send to a Friend” functionality to send the recipient of the gift information / instructions about their present. This not only adds value but also helps you to collect data on the end customer.
3. In the hospitality sector why not collect data on all attendees at the event rather than just the organiser. In this way you can quickly grow your email database and send targeted emails to gather information on food choice and post event feedback.
4. Because I never seem to have enough time to plan my holidays as well as I would like I never seem to find out about a local event until I return from the holiday. Personalised emails could be used to let holiday goers know what is happening before they actually arrive at their holiday destination.
5. I am increasingly seeing examples of shopping cart recovery emails (an email to tell a recipient they have left a product in their shopping cart) but what about adding a second cycle to these messages. For instance if the recipient still hasn’t purchased 48 hours later, send an email to let them know how they can get help with their order or reminding them of the benefits of your service?
6. Moving away from campaign ideas, perhaps you could find out exactly what system your recipients receive their email messages on i.e. Outlook 2003. This information could then be used to tailor your content accordingly, for example sending video content just to those people where you know it will work correctly.
7. Local government or utility providers could give each customer their own email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). This could remain with the property and ensures you always have the correct email address for the property.
8. In the B2B sector you could ask your subscribers to create a folder just to put your businesses emails into (and provide instructions on how to ensure your messages filter into the folder). In this way your company name and industry expertise will be easy to find whenever your customer or prospects need it.
Hopefully my eight “ideas” above will have given you some food for thought. What innovations are you planning on adding to your email program this year?
The chances are you have made a mistake before, I know I certainly have. Only last week when conducting an email workshop with a client I miss spelt a word– I can only hope it served to help people remember that part of the session better!
Given that you are reading an email marketing blog, I think that it is safe to assume that you may have made a mistake with an email campaign before. I know I have made a couple over the last ten years! In my early days I managed to get the personalisation on a campaign wrong, so everyone in the mailing list received the wrong surname in their personal greeting. This was made much worse due to some very unusual surnames in the database.
Anyway, the point of this post isn’t to talk about how many mistakes I have made, instead I aim to highlight that everyone makes mistakes but it is what you do next that is crucial. If you react to your mistake in the right way, it can help you deliver a very successful campaign.
So what mistakes can you make and how can you react to them?
Mistake 1 – Assuming your mistake is the single biggest disaster to affect an email campaign – EVER
Email is an incredibly powerful medium, but once your have made a mistake it is important to try and put it into perspective so you can think clearly about turning it into an opportunity. Think about your campaign and where the mistake was made – A mistake in the subject line will probably have been picked up by 50% of your recipients, a mistake in the body of your email and that figure is likely to drop to less than 25%. Remember that even those people reading your copy are probably not reading it so intently to pick up on a typo. Did you notice my typo in the first sentence of this paragraph?
Mistake 2 – A broken link Sometimes despite all of your testing (and that of your colleagues) an email goes out containing a broken link. Email Service Providers have evolved their tools so this is no longer such a big problem as most solutions provide an interface for changing links in dispatched emails. If you can’t do this then you have a couple of options.
Firstly you could do nothing, after all how many people will have really seen the link?
Secondly, if you want to turn this into an opportunity, you could email only the recipients who clicked on the link i.e. the people who were interested (but know there is a problem) and send them an email with the correct link. How good is that? A highly targeted campaign looking after the people you know had an issue.
Thirdly, if you want to go big you could target all recipients sending them the correct link and admitting your mistake. This approach will help to make your business / brand / email campaigns feel human to the recipient. Additionally, with clever copywriting you might just pull in some extra readers to follow the link. After all, the link could have been broken due to over demand, maybe the email was sent too quickly for the new product to have been uploaded to the website. Hopefully you can see how a mistake can actually be an opportunity.
Mistake 3 – People getting the email in error If mistakes occur when choosing your audience segment, sometimes a recipient might receive one of your emails in error. What do you do?
Again, sending an email to acknowledge the mistake will make your business / brand / email campaign appear human and will almost certainly generate additional open, click and conversion activity. However with this mistake it is important to understand exactly what has gone wrong. If the recipient has subscribed but received the email in error i.e. I should receive the weekly email but I received the daily update then there is an opportunity to apologise, but perhaps use this opportunity to promote the different email subscriptions the recipient can subscribe to. However if the recipient has received multiple copies of the email then your recovery message will need to be different.
Today, I have focused on what I consider to be the most common mistakes, nonetheless the approach of putting the mistake into perspective and then trying to turn it into an opportunity is good advice whatever the mistake.
Assuming my assumption that everyone makes mistakes is correct, it would be good to hear other people’s comments on this post. Go on, I dare you to share your mistake and what you did to recover from it.
Remember- no one wants to make a mistake, but it’s how you react to the mistake that makes all the difference.
You may recall last week we started looking at testing and my recommendation of ten mistakes to avoid. Well this week I am going to continue with this theme and look at the remaining 5 mistakes that we should all look to avoid with our testing.
However before we get started, lets take a second to remind ourselves of the five mistakes we discussed last week:-
Mistake 1 – Not Testing At All
Mistake 2 – Not focusing testing on the big things that are going to make a difference
Mistake 3 – Not having a hypothesis to prove
Mistake 4 – Not testing with a robust data sample
Mistake 5 – Forgetting to keep a control group
Mistake 6:- Don’t draw your conclusion too quickly
Because we are often working against the clock, it is easy to fall into the mistake of drawing a conclusion from test results too quickly and deciding to use a particular subject line because it generated the best open rates within the first 6 hours of an email being sent.
This is a mistake because often the people who open the email quickly are the ones who will always open your emails. If you were looking to increase open rates this is going to come by engaging those people who don’t typically open your email. Allowing enough time between conducting the test and analysing the results is crucial to improving understanding.
Mistake 7:- Don’t forget to measure and use what you are testing
I feel almost stupid writing about this mistake as it does sound ridiculous that people would test but not measure success, but I have seen it happen. Without having agreed metrics to measure your test against it is impossible to determine the results of the test and therefore draw any conclusions for the future.
The other common mistake along the same lines is to conduct a test and then forget to share or use the knowledge in the future. Either not building what you have learnt into future campaigns or using the knowledge gained but failing to document why. I have spoken to businesses that send their messages at 10:00 on a Friday morning because they tested it, but don’t now have access to the results to support that decision.
Mistake 8:- Testing too many elements at once
When you want to make big improvements to your email activity quickly it can be useful to test different elements at the same time. This has the positive effect of dramatically changing the results of your campaigns. One word of caution however is to not make the mistake of testing too many different elements in one go. This is a mistake as it often incredibly time consuming or impossible to then work out what elements of the test were successful and what elements weren’t. In essence although you have improved results, you don’t have the knowledge to help you understand your audience and inform future campaigns.
Mistake 9:- Allowing technology to determine success
I am aware that many technology systems will run a test and automatically send emails to the remaining recipients based on agreed success criteria. This saves you the trouble of logging in to check the results, but it is a mistake. Only you can really understand what has been learnt from the test and decide on the right approach for the future. As an example, the subject line with the highest open rate might be determined to be the most successful, but this doesn’t necessarily take into account the fact that the other subject line generated greater click through rates and conversion levels or that the first subject line also created a lot more questions or complaints.
It can be a big mistake to not take the time to determine the results of the test yourself.
Mistake 10:- Don’t forget to transfer the insights from testing to other marketing channels
It is easy to think that the results of testing an email are specific to the email channel, however this is a mistake. How a recipient interacts with your email will tell you a lot about what they are interested in and how they feel about your business and brand.
I would always urge marketers to share the insights that they learn from their email testing and apply it to the other marketing channels that they operate. For instance, using subject line test results to inform pay per click bidding, or the layout of your email to inform the content of a landing page or printed catalogue. It can be a mistake not to share your email insights across the other marketing channels.
Testing is an incredibly important part of any email program and should be scheduled as part of any marketers email activity. Avoiding the mistakes made above will help to improve the value of your testing and therefore email activity even further. It would be great to hear about other readers testing experiences (good and bad), so please let me know yours.
A quick search on the Internet for “Email Marketing Test Results” brings back numerous case studies and reports detailing how businesses have improved the success of their email campaigns thanks to testing. Nonetheless, I suspect that there are at least as many businesses that are yet to see the value of testing in their email programs, not least because testing can be a very difficult task. To help with this, I thought I would share with you 10 common mistakes I have seen businesses make with their email testing so that you can avoid them and improve the results of your own email tests.
Mistake 1:- Not Testing At All
Many marketers fail to do any element of testing because they think it is too difficult and time consuming. This all too common mistake can have a dramatic effect on the success of your email program. Your own email campaigns will only be as effective as the knowledge that powers them – the more you know about your recipients the more powerful and successful your campaigns can become. Email testing is all about gaining more knowledge about your own recipients. Understanding what makes them react, ultimately gives you the knowledge to build a relationship with them. Not testing at all is a big mistake that should be avoided.
Mistake 2:- Not focusing testing on the big things that are going to make a difference One resource that is limited for all of us is time. With this in mind, don’t make the mistake of not prioritising your testing plan. Make sure that you build up a testing plan that focuses first and foremost on the things that can make a big difference to the success of your email program. If you are looking to improve brand awareness and therefore open rates, testing a single word change in a subject line is likely to deliver small improvements whereas testing frequency and day of send could deliver significant improvements. Prioritise your tests to focus on the big wins first.
Mistake 3:- Not having a hypothesis to prove
I have seen many people test their email campaigns without having a hypothesis to prove or disprove. Your hypothesis gives your testing direction and meaning. For example testing to prove the hypothesis “More prominent placement of calls to action within my email will improve click through rates” gives your testing far more shape than simply testing with the aim of improving click through rates.
Mistake 4:- Not testing with a robust data sample
Ensuring that you have a robust data sample for your testing is imperative as failure to do so will leave all of your tests results in doubt. One common mistake I have seen is selecting a sample size that is too small. In my opinion anything less than 5% is going to be too small.
Alternatively, some businesses don’t select their data at random. This creates a problem as the group you have chosen aren’t representative of your whole database i.e. the first 5,000 people in the database already have a long term relationship with you whereas the last 5,000 people in the database are just starting their relationship. Make sure you don’t make the mistake of not using a robust data sample.
Mistake 5:- Forgetting to keep a control group
Don’t forget to keep a control group that don’t receive any elements of your email testing program. This group of recipients are important for you to be able to categorically prove your hypothesis. I have seen email marketers forget to set up a control group and then had their test results dismissed on the basis that they couldn’t prove recipients wouldn’t have acted in that particular way as a result of the changes made in the test. For example if you are looking to prove the hypothesis “A Welcome program will reduce the time it takes recipients to make their first purchase” a control group of recipients who don’t get the Welcome Program emails is imperative.
I know I have promised ten mistakes, so next week we will look at 5 mistakes people make with their testing once they have hit dispatch.