Santa is coming! OK, so it’s not quite time to get my Christmas albums out, but it’s definitely time to start thinking about your festive marketing strategy.
It really does pay to be organised with your email marketing, especially at the festive time of year. So, with the coming months leading up to what will undoubtedly be the busiest time of year, you should be taking a serious look at adopting responsive email design – it could mean the difference between a customer converting or deleting!
Responsive Email Design aims to provide your recipients with the optimal viewing experience, with easy navigation no matter what device they’re using; smart phone, tablet, desktop etc. It works by responding to the end user’s environment and uses adaptable images and layouts to automatically stack, shift, or hide, fitting to the device the email is being read on.
We know that mCommerce is on the rise, with more and more people purchasing on the go. In fact, it’s said that by 2017, 25% of all online retail transactions will take place on a mobile or tablet. With this in mind, you should be aiming to make your customer journey as smooth as possible, with email which guide them to purchase no matter what device they’re using.
So why is this most important at Christmas? Well, more and more people are on the go over the festive period – rushing around buying gifts and moving from party to party, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you make it easy for your recipients to read, click and convert whilst on the go. Looking at the Communicator Multi-Channel Retail Report of Christmas 2012, we found that 82% of brands researched sent emails which weren’t responsive, during the Christmas period. With 41.2% of all emails sent being opened on a mobile device, it makes little sense that a lot of these emails weren’t optimised. It’s a competitive time of year so you’re going to be battling for your recipient’s attention; make sure you make it easy for them to purchase from you or they’ll go elsewhere!
Communicator’s Responsive Email Design Guide can be used by anyone who’d like to build a responsive email template, giving you guidance on how to create an email using a responsive template and allowing you to get the best out of your campaigns.
Our findings last month on the Obama campaign caused a lot of debate but the bare facts of our analysis still stand – had Obama’s team optimized for improved open rates, their send volumes would have dropped and their all-important donations would have followed.
Open rates remain a widely used and hugely misleading measure of performance and engagement in the email industry. At best they give you an idea of a campaign’s performance in isolation but at worst they lead email marketers to focus on optimizing the wrong strategies for their email program.
Here we discuss how to identify if maximizing open rates is holding you back and how to go about identifying the strategies that will have the biggest impact on your results.
The open rate paradox
Using EDS Analyst we examined the relationship between open rates and total unique opens for the top 200 email senders by list size in the US for 2012.
We were confident that, like the Obama campaign, there would be an inverse relationship between rates and totals – so as rates increase, totals decrease and vice versa. We call this the open rate paradox or to paraphrase a popular sports trusim: rates are for show, totals are for dough.
Each dot on the graph below represents a single sender and we picked out some well-known brands as reference points.
Sure enough, the graph shows that for most large senders, there is an inverse relationship between open rates and the total number of opens – the higher the open rate, the lower the number of total opens. Rates are for show.
It’s also no coincidence that nearly all of the brands with the biggest lists (orange dots) also have highest number of total opens because they are sending more opportunities to open.
Although opens don’t directly correlate to revenue, even the most avid fans of open rate maximization would agree that the more people that actually open your emails, the more engaged your database and the more revenue or conversions you are likely to generate. Totals are for dough.
Keep it simple – focus on just three strategies
If your goal is only to improve open rates, then your strategy is simple: halve your list by suppressing your less active subscribers and watch those rates soar… and those total opens plummet! But if your goal is to increase total opens, then the bell curve in the graph above helps define three clear strategies:
Has the biggest impact on totals and can be improved independently of the other two.
Increase send volume: Significantly increases total opens for relatively little effort (low effort to gain ratio).
Optimize for rates
Increases total opens but requires the biggest effort (high effort to gain ratio).
Most brands are clustered towards the lower middle of the curve because it’s the easy place to be. By and large, they all put a similar amount of effort into their program and use the same undefined strategies.
The outliers, however, go above and beyond in one of three ways – those to the right have very high open rates, those to the left have high send volumes and those at the top are combining high send frequency with very big lists to produce massive send volumes.
In effect, this is the three different strategies implemented to their extremes.
Of course, there are limits to the effectiveness of each strategy and these are defined in the graph above by the orange line to the left (frequency cap) and green line to the right (optimization cap).
These boundaries exist because for any given list size there is point at which diminishing returns kick in for both frequency and open rate. And, as the big empty space to the right of the green optimization cap shows, it’s very hard to send a large volume of email while still achieving a high open rate.
So the basis of a successful email program is to continually grow your list while finding a balance between increasing send volume and maximizing open rates with better offers, targeting, subject lines, etc.
And you find that balance by ignoring your open rates…
Define your strategy by ignoring open rates
To illustrate the effect these strategies have on an email program, we have created a simple optimization chart, below. The green curves represent the impact of send volume on total opens and the brown lines represent the impact of open rate on total opens.
Each intersection represents a hypothetical 10-hour unit of resource, as a means of comparing the effort required to implement each strategy. As you get closer to each cap, the effort required to improve your totals with your chosen strategy increases exponentially.
Imagine your brand is the star in the middle of the curve and you want to take on your leading competitor, the lightning bolt.
If you use open rates to define your strategy, then you focus your resource on maximizing those, route A. Your open rate may now be much better than your competitor’s but they are out-mailing you, so they are still creating twice as many opportunities to buy or convert.
If you choose to increase your send volume, ‘route B’, then your open rate drops but your total opens more than double. However, as you approach the frequency cap, the impact of your strategy diminishes and you still trail your competitor.
If you use totals to define your strategy, then you take ‘route C’, which balances resource between increasing send volume and maximizing open rates. Your open rate drops but you are finally creating more opportunities to buy than your competitor.
Smart email marketing is not just a case of increasing send volume indiscriminately or of only focusing on ever tighter targeting. There is a balance that exists for each brand, you just have to find your own sweet spot.
Total opens the key to optimizing your program?
In this instance, we have highlighted the open rate paradox using total opens because that was the data available. However, we’re confident you will find the same inverse relationship in your own campaigns with total clicks and, more importantly, revenue. And in the end that’s the only metric that matters!
The election season is upon us. And it is important to both the DMA and the Email Marketing Council to ensure this is as widely publicised as possible as the work of the EMC requires a full council and one that is as widely representative of all constituent stakeholders as possible.
Over time we have had members that have been very active participants, who for whatever reason have stood down and the election time lends itself to be the perfect time to bring new members to assist with the work of the council. Two such recent members that have stood down are Denise Cox of Newsweaver and Simon Bowker of Teradata/eCircle both of whom have contributed to numerous projects and outputs in their time as a council members and I’d like to extend my personal thanks to them both for their efforts and valuable contributions over numerous years.
Immediately post-elections the council must align its outputs and objectives for 2013-2014 in line with the DMA’s business plan and the initiatives from the Chairs of all of the DMA councils which include; putting the foundations in place for greater cross-council collaboration and supporting development of the value chain and improving the customer journey.
The Email Marketing Council has some objectives that are on-going including the updating of the Council’s Best Practice Document, the production of White Papers all of which are designed to help the membership and support our desired goal to champion email as an essential part of the greater marketing mix and an effective direct marketing channel.
In short there is much work to do and those with an appetite for helping should consider standing and getting involved as proactive council members – now is the perfect time to get involved. I consider us to be an accessible council as we maintain an open door policy to observers that wish to attend our council meetings as well as encouraging active participation to the work of one of our hubs. If you have previously considered standing for election and for whatever reason have not done so historically then I would encourage you to reconsider, but do so quickly as you do not have long at all – the closing date for entries is this coming Friday 22nd March at 5:30pm.
The website to register as a candidate can be found here, if you have any questions please contact either myself or Georgina Lippa (Project Manager, Media Channels) directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or via telephone: 020 7291 3317.
Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.
For some marketers the very mention of future legislative framework changes and the mind immediately begins to wander. Add to that the words ‘Data’ and ‘Protection’ and it could instil fear, uncertainty and possibly a fair amount of doubt. The fact that the EU is involved is likely to add further concern. Such themes or topics as data portability, the right to be forgotten and how personal data is defined impact directly on many of us in marketing and these proposals are just too big to be ignored.
The DMA has put itself at the very forefront of the debate and led a cross industry working group bringing together many other industry bodies including; IAB, IMRG, Federation of Small Businesses, COADEC and other bodies. This initiative has been led by the team at the DMA along with lobbying efforts on multiple fronts headed by the Director of Public Affairs, Caroline Roberts. All DMA members have been both asked for input into the information that went to the Ministry of Justice at the start of this year which was submitted in September, the DMA’s Chair Scott Logie chaired a meeting with government late in October.
This is possibly the single biggest issue facing all DMA members, irrespective of channels used to communicate to customers, which is why at the Email Marketing Council level there have been discussions on the impact and we plan to use this blog to collect some of our thinking on the various elements of the proposed legislation.
This is where you, the readers of this blog as email marketing constituents come in – as elected representatives we want your input. As with any elected group, we have our thoughts and ideas which we’ve debated and discussed at council level. The proposed legislation presents some very evident challenges for email marketers. What we, as a council agreed to do is post a series on the key themes over the coming months which debate some of the key points – each written by one of our council members. Specifically debating a subsection of the proposed regulation along the lines of; here is what the EU’s proposal says and here is what it could mean for email marketers.
I am proud to serve a very active council and such a vibrant interest group as email marketing. The council has been active on a number of fronts and this blog is itself very well-read. The discussion and debate from within the email industry (which is you!) is what makes this an exciting and dynamic industry to be part of. I’d therefore urge and encourage all stakeholders to provide feedback on the forthcoming blog posts – I’d love to hear your thoughts and feelings on these themes. You are of course also welcome to contact either me directly or any member of the DMA team.
Richard Gibson, Chair Email Marketing Council and Director Client Services, Return Path.
Using an abandoned basket email to recapture lost sales and improve website conversion is becoming increasingly popular with website owners keen to optimise conversion in their basket or cart process. For those of you who are unclear on how these emails work, here is a quick explanation.
Your customer visits you website and starts the process of purchasing something from you. However, at some point, before the sale is complete, the customer leaves.. An email is then sent to the customer, encouraging them to return and complete their purchase. These abandonment programmes can range from a single email sent shortly after the basket was abandoned, to multi stage programmes spanning several days. Websites that use them, find they improve conversion, so they are becoming a “quick win” conversion tool.
One of the most common questions from ecommerce businesses, planning this type of campaign is “when is the optimum time to send an abandon basket email?” It’s one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions. It could depend on the type of business you are, and the products or services you are selling. If you are selling small low value consumables, people might make up their mind within hours, but if you are selling larger value items such as investments and holidays, you might need to give your customers a little longer.
To discover the optimal time to send your emails, start by looking at your response data. This will give you an initial guidance as to the length of the conversion window (in time). Look at the customers who abandon their baskets, and track the delay between abandonment and subsequent re-visits and purchase. This type of response curve analysis will give you a good idea of when most people return (is it hours, days, weeks) and it is around this time that your first email should be set up.
I say “start” with response data, as this isn’t all you should rely on to indicate the optimal send time. Abandonment emails are no different from any other type of email marketing, especially in regard to testing. Your data analysis will give you the initial guidance on timing but it will be your testing that will give you the greatest insight for improvement. Once you have established a benchmark for your first email (based on analysis or your customer knowledge) it is important you try sending emails at different time points after abandonment. These can be in addition to your benchmark email, and although earlier emails will inevitably pull some revenue from the benchmark email, it will give you a good idea when the ideal times are likely to be.
So, in short, if I were to choose some “must do’s” for basket abandonment emails, they would be;
• Analyse your data
• Choose your benchmark
• Test to optimise the process
Most importantly, never stop testing!. It is easy to think the process is as optimised as its going to get, but the environment changes around you. Customers change, the economy changes as do the actions of your competitors. The only way to stay on top of all of that is to test, test, test.
Over the years I have implemented automated programs and experienced the extraordinary results they can deliver – from cost saving and improved engagement to higher customer satisfaction levels. However marketing automation magic cannot be conjured up through software alone, and I would argue that the magic is not in its ostensibly “fast and easy-to-implement” software. I think the magic comes from within the tests and learnings within your existing email programs.
When driven by a solidly built customer-focused relationship marketing strategy, marketing automation can be a profitable lead generation and management device combining insight, processes and technology that helps to scale your lead management program. Sure, it can be super speedy to get up and running (ask any software vendor); it can include seemingly cool social behavioural insights and of course it can show results quickly. However getting there is anything BUT speedy, cool and quick (ask any revenue-focused marketer). One of my favourite no-nonsense blog posts last year is from Marketing Profs.: “Planning, detailed execution, and a thorough analysis are key to success. It’s not magic. You can’t just snap your fingers and “poof”― all your marketing campaigns and drip sequences have been put into place.” I couldn’t agree more.
So how do you create Marketing Automation Magic?
Try looking inside your long-running email marketing program. For some time now digital marketing mavens have been foretelling the demise of email marketing in favour of social sharing routes and yet, email is the very foundation and channel by which marketing automation is powered. Need convincing? Take a look at these statistics: Twitter sees about 140 million tweets per day. Email? 188 billion messages. And according to data from Forrester’s Q1 2011 North American B2B Technology Marketing Tactics and Benchmarks Online Survey, email marketing still ranks fifth in a range of 21 tactics that marketing professionals deploy to attract, engage, and persuade customers along the buying lifecycle. Therefore, understanding the behaviours generated by your past email newsletters and by analysing test and learn program results, marketing automation implementations can deliver real results quicker.
You’ve probably been sending monthly email newsletters regularly and have a wealth of information and learnings dating back years. Don’t treat your marketing automation implementation and your email marketing activities as mutually exclusive. Use the vast knowledge and insight sitting in your existing email marketing tool. For example, knowledge of the right format that drives the best results is just one of the insights that should be drawn into your marketing automation plan. If you have been advancing your email marketing program over the last couple of years, you already have insights to drive best-in-class automation:
Mobile usage across your customer base
Social interactions and behaviours
Website behavioural metrics
Timing and content insights by customer segment
Revenue generators by content segment
An excellent case study is Citrix’s Anti-newsletter Strategy that employed learnings from their email marketing program and applied them to their automation program. What they learned from their quarterly email newsletter helped drive success in their automation efforts.
There’s no doubt there is a change afoot in the email marketing industry. Despite all the best practice mantras (“must segment more”, “this year we won’t look like spammers”) it is becoming plainly clear there is a divide growing between those who have stuck to their New Year resolutions and those who have not. Email is becoming the strongest digital media channel deployed by the modern marketer, but to make the most of it, you need to know more than how to push the “spam now” button.
The email channel has arrived with many businesses now acknowledging the importance of the channel to their business model. But despite the importance of the media, there has not been uniform treatment when allocating budgets..
This has been borne out in the recent DMA email benchmark report, that concluded there are “two classes of email marketer; those sending simple campaigns and those splitting lists into multiple segments” concluding ”A major divide has opened”.
The “haves” and the “have nots”
The latest Marketing Sherpa email benchmark report backed up this class system, but seemed to suggested the reason for lack of budget was due to some marketers not being able to justify (or measure) overall ROI. It also suggested that the segment of marketers who were investing liberally were in a “strategic phase of maturity” where they could measure ROI and segment effectively. Unfortunately the research also revealed only 36% of the companies surveyed measure response by list segment and just33% measure revenue per email .
So it would seem that those organisations investing heavily in email marketing, are those that are best able to measure its ROI and effectiveness, and are best placed to know is value. So, how do you get your email marketing to the strategic phase? And what moves can be made to pitch for extra budget to drive the revenue the email channel can really generate?
Measure email’s influence across multiple channels
Trying to convince the board to allocate more budget to a media that is cheap, that you don’t need to invest much money in to get a return, is tough.
As email marketers, we’ve probably all sat round tables where we have discussed spikes in call centre activity and website traffic following an email campaign. The problem is proving these increases in activity come from email. If these revenue streams are not attributed to email (at least in some part), the budget for developing the media further will never be available.
So, mirroring the findings of the Marketing Sherpa report, if you want achieve more budget for your email campaigns, you need to make sure you are measuring its true value.
The value of Influence
I know it’s a bit of a contentious subject in some circles, but the value of email communication moves far beyond the last bit of revenue that was attributed to the last email sent (and last click). it’s the measurement of that value that provides the greatest challenge for the modern marketer. Over the last couple of years I have noticed that when you directly relate a person’s revenue value, against their open and click behaviour, they relate very closely. So closely in fact, that in some instances 80% of online and offline sales will come from the customers who are regularly and recently opening and clicking your emails. An interesting thought; this means someone who opens and clicks an email, is worth more than one who doesn’t. Factor that one into the equation when working out the value of your email list, and you soon see the people who open and click emails are worth far more than those that don’t (10+ times the value is not uncommon).
Segmenting for Influence
If the recipient is reading your emails, they can be influenced. If they can be influenced, you can encourage them to buy more. And that’s the important difference; if you are only attributing last click revenue to the email channel, it will be reflected in a restricted budget. If you can attribute email’s influence on overall sales, you are more likely to get the money to achieve the greatest returns from email.
Why is this important now?
Thanks to the global economic slowdown, there will be less money in the customer’s pockets and the fight for conversion will be a tough one. Thanks to channel migration, (offline to online) online sales have been growing for several years, sometimes in the face of reducing overall sales. This growth cannot continue and soon it will be back to the slog of battle for market share. Email will be a key weapon in the marketer’s armoury and your strategy and tactics will either be pulling customers from your competitors or they will be pushing them the other way.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Karin Von Abrams’s* perspective of the DMA benchmark report;
“Time, effort and insight can partially compensate for lack of financial resources. But companies that don’t find either time or money to devote to their email campaigns may soon face the consequences. It probably won’t be too pleasant at the bottom of a two-tier email marketplace.”