Continuing with our series of posts reviewing the potential effects of the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation, one of the areas it addresses is an individual’s “right to be forgotten” by a business. The specific wording is as follows:
“The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data relating to them and the abstention from further dissemination of such data”
This has clearly been written with Social Media in mind, for example, ensuring that Facebook users are able to completely delete their profiles if they so wish. However, the effect on email marketers and direct marketers in general could be disastrous. If somebody unsubscribes, or asks to no longer receive an advertiser’s communications, then clearly that individual’s details need to be held by the organisation in order to suppress them from future comms. Forgetting them completely, i.e. erasing all their data could have the polar opposite effect from that which the consumer is expecting! A individuals details need to be held in order for the organisation to “remember to forget”. Also, industry suppression files, which are there to benefit consumers, could be put at risk by the Regulation.
The problems do not end there. There would also be an issue with information that has already been passed on to third parties, e.g. via list brokers or through partnerships. Also, consumers risk being mis-led. For example, some data in financial services has to be kept for a specific period of time in order to meet with legal and FSA regulations.
In summary, not only does this section of the Regulation risk failing to achieve what it sets out to do, it could also damage consumer trust and increase the complexity and volume of data processing which needlessly increases the financial burden on companies.
Like many of you, I recently received an email from the DMA entitled “Find out what you’re worth”. I opened the email immediately hoping for some long awaited confirmation that I am in fact worth my weight in gold or perhaps to discover that I am being hopelessly underpaid for my job but instead I was confronted with some unexpected results from a recent DMA study relating to the value of direct marketing. The study revealed that the direct marketing industry in the UK is now responsible for 23% of all UK Sales.
Forget what I’m worth – ‘23% of all UK sales’ is a phenomenal amount! For the Travel and Retail industries the figures are higher still, where 30%+ of sales are driven by direct marketing. This reminded me of a recent comment made by the Head of Email Marketing at a major UK travel company who explained to me the enormous battle he had fought within his organisation just to get an email sign-up form included on their website homepage. With rates of success from Direct Marketing so high, it seems strange that a vital tool, such as a homepage email sign-up form would be such a struggle to implement.
You’ll be relieved to hear that the sign up form is now in pride of place on this particular company’s homepage. However, with the kind of results that the recent DMA study has highlighted, it is disappointing to hear how these types of discussions and internal hindrance still take place. As a business, your email database is one of your most valuable assets. It astonishes me that many businesses still don’t understand the value of their database and in fact the individual value of every person on that database. This brings us back to the DMA’s compelling ‘Find out what you’re worth’ subject line that caught my eye.
Earlier this year I tried the ‘What am I worth’ app, which helps consumers to calculate how much they are worth to businesses based on their online behaviour and consumer preferences. It’s a fun idea, but actually the basic idea that a single ‘consumer’ can be given this type of potential value is critical, and every business should focus on being able to attribute a specific value for their business in adding a customer to their database. (According to the app I am “worth” £525 if you are interested!)
It is really only when you know the value of your database that you can set meaningful targets for database growth and measure return on your efforts/spend to grow it. And of course it’s also helpful if you are trying to persuade your bosses to help you grow it, and to communicate that an email sign-up on the homepage of your website is a key asset not a wasted space.
As well as your website, here are some other suggestions on other ways that you can grow your email database:
Everyday email – don’t waste easy opportunities!
Your company employees each send out around 15,000 normal outlook emails a year to customers and potential customers in the course of their normal work. Adding a newsletter sign-up button to your email signatures will encourage the clients interacting with you to subscribe to your database. Don’t underestimate how much this can contribute- we’ve seen conversion rates of up to 40% with some of our clients.
• Use your social media communities
Have you integrated your newsletter sign-up with your Facebook page? Are you promoting your sign-ups on Twitter? Also are you using the tools within your email marketing tool to distribute your newsletters via twitter and Facebook directly to your followers and fans. We recommend taking an integrated approach across all your channels.
It was also interesting to see, at the end of last year, that Google started testing a new form of Google Adwords with Honda. I believe this is still in testing but the new format included a direct email subscription option, which allows companies to capture an email address opt-in via search, without the new subscriber having to visit the corporate website (and, by the way, the sign-up is pre-populated for logged in gmail users). This type of ‘search and sign-up’ technique will ultimately allow companies to grow ‘targeted’ quality databases through their paid for adverts.
In conclusion, it is great news that so much value has been attributed to the role of direct marketing in driving sales across all industries, but for Email Marketers the challenge is often convincing the rest of the business of their true worth. It’s clear that we still have some way to go in joining the dots between the value of the sales and the value of the database that drove those sales. Because we Email Marketers know we’re worth it!
Disposable email addresses, sometimes referred to as anti-spam addresses, are email addresses that people use for a period of time and then disappear causing emails sent to that address to either bounce or get automatically filtered to the trash. No email address lasts forever but these types of addresses can have very short life spans. They can be categorised into two types. Those that exist permanently until the recipient removes them, which we will call semi-disposable, and those that exist for a short pre-defined period of time or for a set number of messages before disappearing. A semi-disposable email address is in effect an email alias. For example I have the email address shill@ but also the alias sh@. At any time I can remove the alias sh@ and the emails will start to bounce without it affecting my main email address. Many disposable email addresses are unrelated in any way to your main email address as they use a third-party email service and forward replies to your main account until the address expires.
Disposable email address services
Most ISP’s will allow you to create semi-disposable email addresses. Yahoo! Mail call the service AddressGuard. Gmail and Hotmail allow you to set up alias addresses so the new address gets delivered as normal to your main account.
Some ISP’s including Gmail and Hotmail also allow you to append a tag to your email address to create a new address. For example, if your address is firstname.lastname@example.org, then you could also use email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and they would both get delivered to your inbox. You can have any text after the “+” symbol to create an infinite number of possible email addresses.
The downside of using a tag to create a disposable address is that there is no way to remove the address should it start to get spammed. It will always be valid and if you no longer want to receive anything from the address you will need to setup filters to send it to your trash. The advantage of an alias is that they can easily be deleted and the address becomes invalid and will then bounce.
If you want to create true disposable email addresses then there are many free services available such as SpamGourmet, TrashMail or Guerrilamail. Some give you the option of setting the number of messages your temporary address will receive before consuming or bouncing messages, others allow you to set a life span for the address. Some give you the option to do both.
Why do disposable email addresses exist ?
Disposable email addresses have been around for a few years now. People are very protective about their email address and are very aware that the more they give out their email address the more likely they are to receive unwanted emails and spam. The idea is that you only give your real email address to friends,colleagues and trusted sites. For everything else you use disposable or semi-disposable email addresses. You can give a different email address to every website or company that requests an email address. If you start to receive spam you not only know who shared your details but you can also simple remove the address and the spam will get consumed by the disposable address service.
How does this affect your subscriber lists ?
Semi-disposable email addresses or aliases are a standard part of email and shouldn’t really cause a problem within your subscriber list. If you’re sending relevant content at a good frequency to these addresses then the recipients will be less likely to remove the alias. Basic list maintenance such as removing your hard bounces in a timely manner will ensure that any addresses that are no longer valid will be removed from your list and not affect your reputation.
Disposable email addresses can cause more of an issue if they exist in large numbers in your lists. They can cause damage to your IP reputation and waste resources. ISP’s use engagement as a measure for deliverability. If you send to disposable email addresses that aren’t being used then the emails will likely get consumed (deleted) by the service and your level of engagement will be lower. Some disposable address services bounce emails when they are no longer used and these should be removed in the normal way.
The best solution is to stop people subscribing to your lists with disposable addresses. When requesting an email address if you tell people exactly what you need the email address for and what you are going to use if for then you are more likely to get the “real” address you are after. As a second line of defence there are services such as www.block-disposable-email.com that allow you to check for disposable addresses when the address is submitted and reject them.
It’s all about trust. If the user trusts that their email address won’t be abused then they are more likely to give you their real email address and not use a disposable address.
Developing a good email marketing strategy can be a daunting task. To help you get some perspective, here are 3 key stages to keep you on track.
Develop a customer centric communications strategy.
I know this can be a bit of an overused statement, but to make the email channel work in the modern environment of priority inboxes’ etc it is vital. Focusing on the needs and motivations of the customer as they would relate to your brand is a great place to start. If you are going to be talking to the customer and expect them to engage, purchase or become loyal as a response, you’ve got to say the right things. This can’t be done at a campaign tactical level, when the heats on to get more sales to hit target; it needs to be part of an overriding communications strategy. This strategy will set out more than just how many promotional emails need to be sent to achieve revenue objectives. To develop this email communication strategy, these are some of the key elements.
Understand how your customers perceive the brand and its products or services.
Research the motivations and needs that engagement with your brand satisfies.
Research the strengths that define your brand equity.
Define your customer lifecycle and set business rules to identify where each customer sits.
Focus the strategy on increasing LifetTime Value
Once you have got a clear idea of your customer and the stages the customer goes through in their engagement with you (from discovery to defection), you can start to plan. One key objective of any email communications strategy should be to increase revenue by increasing customer lifetime value. Now, don’t think this is purely a retention statement, it equally counts for acquisition too.
If you’re going to be focusing on lifetime value, it will have an impact on which sources you target for acquisition. Customers coming from sources that provide a low lifetime value customer should be avoided, or the price you pay for acquiring the prospect should reflect their future value. In the case of an email address, they are not all worth the same, so the first task would be to identify sources of prospect email addresses that will provide good future customer value. A good place to start is to look at any results you have from past activity, and look at the overall sales achieved over time, from those customers. The problem with email is that it is a cheap marketing medium that can be abused with little (apparent) cost implication. Good email prospect data, costs far more than poor quality prospect data, but can be far cheaper in the long term, as it produces good long term results.
Without the understanding of the customer (and you’ll only get this from the research suggested above) you won’t be able to sell to the customer what they want, how they want it. You’ll only be able to sell your product or service how you perceive it. Customer knowledge also allows you to tailor communications for each stage of the customer lifecycle. This will make your communications more relevant, more effective and more likely to meet business objectives. The strategy should be one that makes every marketing communication be seen as a positive experience by the customer, not a negative “interference” experience. Ensure you do this by following these key rules:
Define the commercial objectives for each stage of the customer lifecycle.
Develop a customer communication plan that reflects the customer research and meets business objectives.
Ensure research and testing is part of the strategy, to promote future development.
Make it part of a multi touch, multi channel strategy
In a connected world, where people are hooked onto the grid in multiple ways, touch points come via multiple channels. Just to take one example of a device, the smartphone can deliver a marketing message via email, web, social and SMS simultaneously. Studies have been suggesting recently that someone is likely to be watching the telly or walking round a store while access their phone, so the potential for cross media confusion abounds. Add this to multimedia spamming potential, and it makes integrated marketing communications essential for each channel’s success. Email has an important role to play in future direct marketing, with its unique strengths, it can only be effective as part of an overall cross channel strategy. Complimenting other channel activity, email often drives an uplift on other channels as well.
Taking a strategic approach to the email channel can bring lots more opportunity to the party, ultimately allowing customer knowledge to drive content, timing and targeting; nudging that little bit closer to true one to one marketing.
How’s your email database doing? If it isn’t growing as fast as you would like, or worse, if it’s stagnant, it’s time to cast a wider net and look for subscribers in new places.
Naturally, your homepage is the first place to start your quest. Sure, you probably have an opt-in invitation there already, but you must do more than just slap up a data field and say “Sign Up for Our Email.”
Will visitors see it as soon as they land, is it placed in the valuable real-estate known as ‘above the fold’ and do you entice them into subscribing with the benefits they’ll receive?
Beyond your homepage, you should extend a subscription invitation to everyone you connect with – customers, subscribers, prospects and browsers – and everywhere they find you, whether it’s on your website, in your email messages, in your social networks and even offline.
You’ll have to invest some time and money, but it will be worth it. A growing, vibrant database is the lifeblood of your email program. Isn’t it worth a little loving care now and then?
Finding More Subscribers in Online Places
Here are some prime online locations you might be missing:
1. Every internal page of your website, from product pages to your “About Us,” corporate information and privacy-policy pages, wherever visitors roam around your site.
2. Landing pages associated with external links, such as email or search campaigns, social network links or URLs posted in advertisements, on direct-mail pieces and other paper communications. Google has revealed that only 1 in 9 arriving on a landing actually ‘convert’ so what are you doing to capture the remaining 8?
3. Every social network where you promote your company or content. Here’s how you can attract subscribers in four of the world’s most popular networks:
Twitter: Link to your opt-in or preference-center page on your profile page, not just your homepage. Promote your latest email offer or fresh newsletter content in tweets, and include an opt-in invitation, as shown below on my Twitter profile.
Facebook: Add a tab promoting your email content on your company Facebook page. Make it the default destination for any visitors who haven’t “Liked” your page yet as seen below with Anthropologie.
Brag about your email in your wall posts. Link to a special landing page that not just features the copy you’re sharing but also has a more prominent opt-in invitation that acknowledges where your visitors are coming from and invites them to sign up.
Also, customise the copy that appears when people share your content on their walls to include a link and opt-in invite.
LinkedIn: Create a company-specific page, where you can provide information, highlight key employees and cross-post email newsletters and blog posts. Add a benefit-based invitation, and link to your opt-in page.
Post your newsletter content in your relevant groups. The numbers might be small, but you’re speaking to the very people who are most interested in your content. Go for it!
YouTube: Create a company page, and cross-post any videos you send out via your email newsletters or promos. Make a benefit-based opt-in invitation part of your company profile on the page.
4. The mobile Web. Checking email is the No. 1 activity on mobile devices. So, appeal to your mobile users in that channel. Use SMS (short code messaging) that lets users type four or five numbers to opt in to your email program.
Or, try using a QR (quick response) code that opens up a mobile-optimized opt-in page when a smartphone user scans it.
If you have a mobile app -this is also a wonderful place to promote your signup, as Angry Birds show us below.
5. Your own email newsletters. Suppose somebody received your newsletter from a friend? She’s a hot email prospect, so add an invitation where she’s likely to see it, up in the top third of the email message body. Code the opt-in link so you can track the source, too.
6. Transpromo messages. Turn transactional messages into transpromo (transactional/promotional) messages and reach out to your customers who buy, download or open accounts with your company but haven’t signed up for your messages. You already have their email addresses, but that’s not necessarily a signal to begin sending newsletters and promotional content.
Add opt-in offers to messages that are triggered by customer behaviour, such as these:
shipping notifications and related emails
abandoned-cart reminders and other follow-up emails
account and download confirmations
payment reminders and confirmations
Invite Subscribers When They’re Offline, Too
Once you cover your online locations, it’s time to go offline. Email already connects all of your marketing channels; so, you should use all of your channels to prospect for new subscribers:
1. The shipping box: One online-only retailer adds a clever little opt-in invite in each package so that it’s the first thing the buyer sees when he opens the box.
2. Your call center: Taking email addresses over the phone can be tricky, but it’s another way to connect your offline customer to your email program.
3. The cash register: Capture the address when the customer is doing the most important thing: buying something from you. This takes some investment in training and in finding which method works best – telling the cashier, writing it on a postcard or typing into a POS kiosk.
4. All over the store: Print an invite anywhere the customer’s eye might stray or where they linger. You can publish the link to your opt-in page, use a QR/SMS for mobile opt-in, or both:
On the receipt (both paper and emailed/texted versions)
On a bag stuffer
On store signs
Outside the dressing rooms
5. Paper catalogues and sales letters: It’s the same idea as posting an invite on your landing page. Even if your recipients aren’t ready to buy, they might be intrigued enough to take a small step and opt in to your email.
6. Offline ads: If you link to your website in your ads, why not mention your email there too? Once again, you can post a link or use a scannable or SMS code to avoid mistyping.
7: Be creative: No one knows your business and your customers habits better than yourself. Think about key touch points which lend themselves to growing your list, as the napkin below with US Airways.
So, be sure to give your database growth the necessary time and thought required to make the most fo all your customer touch points – you will be greatly rewarded for your efforts.
I’ve got to admit, I don’t like spam. Not just professionally, it really gets my goat personally as well. It’s not that I’m a particularly sensitive soul when it comes to email communications, but I just don’t like being sent stuff I haven’t asked for. Ok, I acknowledge that most of the downright illegal and virus laden traffic is now being successfully filtered by the great work of the spam filtering businesses and ISP’s, so what’s left to Grinch about?
Email is a powerful marketing channel, and its superb revenue driving potential is now becoming widely acknowledged. Email hasn’t got to this position by itself, it has needed to be understood and strategies carefully put together by some pretty clever people to bring it to where it is today. Some recent DMA reports show that the public now acknowledge email as a marketing channel that provides value. In anyone’s book that’s an achievement, and it isn’t as if everyone is using the same strategies. However the similar thing about all the successful strategies is they are done well, with considerable thought and great execution. So in a channel that is going from strength to strength, why am I throwing my presents out of the sleigh about spammers?
The most fundamental practice and legal obligation regarding sending someone a marketing email, is that you need to have the person’s permission to do so. I’m not going to start splitting hairs about the pros and cons of opt in opt out etc, but it is pretty widely acknowledged that the person should know what they are signing up for. But that’s right isn’t it, you don’t want anyone on your list who doesn’t want to be there, right?
And if they unsubscribe, it means they want you to stop sending them emails; so you stop, because it would be crazy to carry on, wouldn’t it?
So… why have I been sent marketing emails from a company I’ve previously unsubscribed from, with text saying “we’d like you to subscribe to our newsletter”. No thank you. I’ve unsubscribed once – isn’t that enough? Someone even sent me an email Christmas card that automatically signed me up to marketing emails!
Those are two examples from a very limited sample size. It is possible I have been very unlucky, but it does demonstrate this issue exists. It wouldn’t take long for the trust that has been built up with the public over the last few years to be eroded. At a time when we should be encouraging as many subscribers to sign up to our email communications, playing fast and loose with email permission is not the way forward. New European legislation threatens to make permission and data use more of an issue for the online marketer, we need to develop the public’s trust, not damage it.
With the revenue driving potential of the channel, it is easy to see how some could be tempted to go against the express wishes of their customers, in an attempt to drive a few extra sales. But in doing so marketers must consider the cost to their reputation.