Tag Archives: email marketing

Speaking Your Customers’ Language

I ran an all-day customer workshop recently with one of our customers, a rapidly growing online retailer.  There were seven of us in the workshop altogether; myself, three colleagues and three key people from the customer (one technical, one commercial – the founder, in fact – and one marketing).  The meeting went well and we covered a lot of ground, however one of the things that slowed us down a little early on (and I have come across this in the past) was the fact that we weren’t always talking about the same thing, even though we thought we were.  Specifically, we were using certain terms (‘personalisation’, ‘data quality’, ‘inactive’ and even ‘spam’) however some assumptions had been made about what each of these terms meant.

The first reason I bring this up is that it reminded me of the importance of having a common understanding of the terms and language that we are using every day, especially in an industry such as ours where new terms are being created (and forgotten) on a rapid and ongoing basis.  Using the above example to illustrate the point, we very nearly spent a substantial amount of time discussing the relative merits of the different data integrity tools on the market – those which help ensure your email data is accurate, correctly constructed, current and so on – when in fact the customer wanted to discuss how best to qualify the value of different contacts dependent on the recency and nature of their last contact.  For him, ‘data quality’ was a value term, not a measure of the likely accuracy of an email address.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, but I do think it was critical that we were able to find a common understanding earlier in the conversation as it saved us all a lot of time.  Another example might be personalisation, a popular term at the moment throughout our industry.  I’ll bet if you ask three of your colleagues what they think personalisation means, you’ll get three different answers, even if you limit the context to email marketing.  The reason why this is important is that it’s all too easy to make the assumption that everyone agrees on the definition of a term (especially one like personalisation) and a lot of time and money can subsequently be spent (wasted?) pursuing separate goals.  Getting this kind of thing right up front is critical.

The second reason I think this is important is with regard to speaking your customers’ language.  This mattered in the customer meeting I talked about earlier (aside from the ‘data quality’ discussion, their technical attendee talked about all email marketing campaigns as ‘spam’ as a matter of course, which took a while to get my head round!) and it is even more important when as marketers you’re communicating with your customers.

Understanding and using the kind of language that is familiar and accessible to your customers is critical to successfully growing and retaining a loyal customer base.  This is even more important if your customers are based all over the world and not just for the obvious reason.

Here are just two examples of companies that I think do it well.

1.    Selfridges
Selfridges is a global brand with global customers.  Everything about its brand image resonates premier quality and class.  They’ve been named the world’s best department store twice and they work hard to manage their online relationships in a way that complements this established reputation.

They do it well.  Their emails are consistently elegant, understated and easy to navigate, just like their store.  They also offer additional personalisation options to further reinforce their credentials and whilst the language is subtle, by offering next day delivery, international click and collect, complimentary returns and a gift wrap service, the overall experience is precisely the kind of thing that I would expect to appeal to a Selfridges subscriber.

Selfridges example (shortened)

2.    Innocent Drinks
From the moment I signed up to the Innocent Drinks newsletter, I had a feeling I’d be in for something a little bit different.  Having carefully cultivated their quirky image (all the way back to their Headquarters, Fruit Towers), they have since sought to speak to their subscribers on the same terms.

Whilst email marketers often limit themselves by focusing exclusively on incentives and ROI, Innocent has always aimed to take a different approach reading more like a collection of cool stuff a friend might send you on a Friday afternoon.  Although product launches or company announcements do get mentions, you’ll also find links to models of ants’ nests, the world’s poshest treehouse, odd-shaped clouds and Labradors in tutus.

This ‘tone of voice’ helps Innocent to maintain a personality that resonates well with their customers.  They take it further still by soliciting customer feedback – an oft overlooked opportunity – and better still, acting on that feedback, all of which helps them maintain a positive relationship with their subscribers (even despite some of the challenges they’ve faced in this area since Coca-Cola became a key shareholder in 2009).

Innocent Drinks example

To finish, the message here is simple.  Whatever you do, make sure you think about the language you use more in the future than you are already doing today.  You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time in the long run and if you get it right then your customers will be amongst the most loyal of all.  Good luck!

Here are some other interesting articles and posts about the same subject;

http://biznology.com/2013/05/do-you-speak-your-customers-language/
http://www.silverpop.com/blogs/email-marketing/communicate-in-your-customers-language.html
https://coalescemarketing.com/2013/10/are-you-speaking-your-customers-language/

 

What happened last month in the email world ?

The big news last month was that Gmail added an unsubscribe link to its interface. What actually happened was that Google have made it easier for recipients to find the unsubscribe link and moved it next to the senders address in the header. It used to be slightly hidden in a drop down menu and as a result many people didn’t know it was there. The Gmail unsubscribe works by using the information in the senders List-Unsubscribe header  which should be implemented by your ESP. It can be either an email address or a web page that allows the recipient to unsubscribe.

Gmail unsubscribe

Gmail unsubscribe

Google’s head of anti-abuse was quoted as saying, “One of the biggest problems with the Gmail spam filter is identifying unwanted mail or soft spam. Users are signing up for emails but then use the Spam button when they no longer want to receive these emails, sending the wrong signal to Google about that message in particular, and about that sender in general.” This is a problem faced by all marketers.

I have always advocated making your unsubscribe as visible and clear as any of your other calls to action. If someone no longer wants to receive your emails it is better that they unsubscribe than mark you email as spam. I always recommend putting an unsubscribe link in the pre-header and this is effectively just what Google have done.

Last month Google also announced they were going to pilot a spam complaint feedback loop (FBL). A feedback loop let’s senders get information on which subscribers are classifying their email as spam and take appropriate action. Unlike other major ISPs Gmail has never previously provided an FBL. Unfortunately it’s not all good news. It looks like the Gmail feedback loop is going to be more of an overview report showing the number of complaints and not the actual subscriber details. It is still in the early pilot stages so hopefully this may change in the future.

Without the big fanfare that marked its launch, Facebook has quietly shutdown its email service that gave everyone their own @facebook.com email address. The Facebook help page doesn’t actually talk about the email service being shutdown but they are just “updating” the way “facebook.com” addresses are used.  Nice spin. Any emails sent to @facebook.com addresses are now forwarded to the Facebook users primary email address.

Facebook launched its email service back in November 2010 in hopes of providing one inbox where users could send and receive emails and messages. In 2012 they automatically changed everybody’s email address on Facebook to be their new @facebook.com address which people didn’t find amusing. I suspect that nobody was using the email service so they decided to try and force people into using it. Never a good idea.

In the war between Google and Facebook I think it is fair to say that Google has won the email battle without having to muster its troops. The social battle is still raging and Facebook are well entrenched and holding back the advancing Google but the eventual winner is anyone’s guess.

 

You’re beautiful

Believe it or not, “you’re beautiful” were the words that I uttered when I was doing some last minute online Christmas shopping for my wife. Not because she is (although for clarity she certainly is), but because when I was buying some beauty products for her from online beauty retailer feelunique.com I had some beautiful email experiences.

This is clearly a company that sees the value in email, so let me share some of the experiences that made me gush out loud.

They understand the importance of data collection

When you first arrive on the site you’re presented with a well-crafted home page. Centre stage above the fold is a clear call to action to subscribe, reading “STAY IN TOUCH for beauty news and offers”. At this stage I simply wanted to move on and buy, so searched for the Kardashian product range that was top of my wife’s gift list. Each page thereafter, not only showed me the products, but included the call to action to subscribe, which is so often a missed opportunity.

The experience then got even better when I discovered the product was out of stock! Why? Because they used this as an opportunity to collect my email address, so they could notify me when it came back into stock. Customer experience and data collection rolled into one… and I was that impressed I still bought something else from the collection (or should that be Kollection for all you Kardashian fans?).

They use email to enhance the customer experience

The good email experience wasn’t just limited to data collection though, when feelunique.com have your email address they know exactly how to use it. I quickly selected the products that I wanted and went through to the checkout to pay. As well as entering my payment details I could confirm whether I wanted to receive email reminders when my product was likely to run out and, once the transaction was complete, I was prompted to share details of my purchase with my friends via social media sites and email. Not appropriate for my Christmas gift, but a nice touch none the less.

But now I’ve become a customer, feelunique.com is just getting started. I immediately received an email confirming my order, showing me exactly what I’d bought and where it was going to be delivered to. Customer service was top of mind here as they clearly highlighted how to get in touch if I had any questions. My next email was just as impressive; letting me know the exact time my product had been delivered. Of course, this also included details of how to get in touch if I had any problems and a call to action to start buying again. Customer experience and revenue generation all nicely tied up together!

They use email to sell me more

Now I’m officially a customer, feelunique.com are using email to help me buy even more. And much to my wife’s delight they’re doing it rather well. I’ve received emails telling me that the first product I’d wanted is now back in stock and I’ve just received a reminder that I should think about replenishing the lip gloss I bought in the first place, all perfectly times to tie in with my original purchase. As well as this, I’ve I’ve received a beauty diary and some exclusive special offers. I’ve also noticed that the brand provides a subscription service enabling you to set the frequency of the reminders you receive to replenish your products- this sounds like a great tactic to me, especially if you’re a regular user of the products they sell.

The DMA’s own National Client Email Report 2013 (www.dma.org.uk) shows that on average businesses see a return of £21.48 for every £1 they spend on email marketing. With my own experience in mind, I suspect that feelunique.com is generating a significantly high ROI for their email marketing efforts; even higher than £21.48 I think! No wonder they continue to be one of the UK’s fastest growing companies and are winning awards for their ecommerce site, product range and customer service – they’ve a really beautiful email programme and are reaping the benefits (clearly, so is my wife!) And much to her delight, I now quite look forward to being able to go back to feelunique.com to top up her makeup and my desire for seeing innovative email marketing!

 

The World of Email in January: Money, Dirty Politics, and Murder

In our January council round-up on ‘the world of email’, we were fortunately spared a review of “predictions” for 2014.  Instead, the January session was varied and exciting with all the hot news in email – a focus on the unsubscribe arena, plus other headlines involving money, dirty politics, murder and a… fridge.  Ha – try and get that lot that into a cohesive blog.

Email was under scrutiny again right from the word go, in 2014, with the revelation that a top aide to the US government was using their Yahoo email for government business – allegedly the official was orchestrating a political vendetta. (full story here.. ) This has again raised the whole question of how government staff can use personal email accounts and text messaging when conducting official business, sidestepping the public record laws.

One thing is unlikely though – that they will be using Slack, a new collaboration tool for the workplace, dubbed the “email killer” (see where the ‘murder’ comes in?). Slack ‘replaces’ internal email with real-time messaging and searchable content.  Unlike email where records would be personal to someone’s mailbox, Slack offers a kind of ‘institutional memory’ – so e.g new starters could catch up on recent history.  In our discussion, concerns were expressed that this could potentially generate a huge information overload, and email’s demise on account of Slack was deemed unlikely, but maybe we’re biased?

However in case anyone actually believes the general “email killer” myth, don’t be misled. You only had to be keeping one eye open during the festive season to know that email is still a hot commodity. In case you missed it, I’m referring to the acquisition of Responsys by Oracle for $1.5b.  Without wishing to get into predictions, it’s another reminder that multiple marketing forces are converging, again with email at the heart of CRM.

But aren’t subscribers just overwhelmed with email now?? Well Unroll me seem to think so. Their aim is to help you regain “control of your inbox” offering a way to unsubscribe from all unwanted email communications in one fell swoop.  The most recent DMA Tracking study actually showed that customers are not receiving too many emails, but leaving aside whether you think this tool is valuable or not, the data they have captured in the process does give a unique and public perspective on something that has previously been a discreet activity.

Here are the top ten companies for unsubscribes (via unroll.me)

  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ticketweb
  • Pro Flowers
  • Expedia
  • Active.com
  • Eventful
  • Oriental Trading
  • Shopittome.com
  • 1800 Contacts
  • Party City

One of the key communalities on this list (eg of flowers, tickets, and travel) is the sporadic nature of transactions.  If customers are unlikely to buy these products on a regular basis it’s logical that demand for regular emails might also be reduced.

For me, this list highlights the importance of having an email contact strategy, with recency of transaction as a vital element. It also reinforces the need to maximise other email touchpoints  – transactional email, email media, abandonment emails… in addition to newsletters.

The second list published in this report is the top “Roll ups” – those emails that people want to keep but don’t necessarily want to read all the time.  Top Roll-ups include companies like Amazon Local, Groupon, & Living Social Deals.

This list speaks directly to importance of not being too quick to remove apparently “non-engaged” subscribers from your mailings.  Engagement needs to be measured over time, and not just per email campaign. The brand proposition for these companies is clearly understood, and the customer wants to hear from these brands as they expect some value from them at some stage. Here’s the link for the full report

And finally….

Finally, here’s something that I didn’t see on even the best list of 2014 email predictions. And (Monty Python jokes aside…) it’s unlikely that anyone ever thought that the words “spam” and “fridge” would be put together in the context of email.  But, actually a fridge was indeed discovered to be sending out spam emails over Christmas, after it was compromised in a web attack.   Perhaps this is the email equivalent of cold calling?…. [sorry, Ed] Anyway –  here’s the full story.

If you’ve got any more email news to share, (no pressure to beat the fridge story) please do add your comments.

 

Let’s get engaged!

Email subscribers are expecting more and more from the messages they receive in their inbox these days, making us, as marketers, work harder – and rightly so!

Email marketing is no longer about taking a single message and broadcasting it to your entire database. Irrelevancy is the new spam and anything your readers don’t find interesting or relevant, they will delete or mark as spam and complain to their ISP.

So, as users stop interacting with your emails, what can you do about it? How can you reach these subscribers and attract their attention?

Identify Inactive Subscribers

Identify inactive email subscribersHow you identify inactive subscribers will differ depending on your business. For example, if you are emailing your subscribers more than once a month and they have not engaged with your mailings for between 3-6 months, they are turning inactive. Inactivity for longer than this and they are already inactive. For some businesses this will be shorter/longer and it really is a very personal decision based on your business rules and customer lifecycle but should always be looked at over a period of time rather than based on engagement with an individual campaign.

When you decide on the rules to use in your organisation, if you are able to, you can even go one step further and match email activity to activity with your brand or website (such as purchases or logging in) in order to create an even more comprehensive view of the subscribers activity and interest in your brand and inform your messaging.

However you decide to identify inactive subscribers, one thing is always true: If subscribers have not interacted with your mailings for a long period of time, they are showing that something is not hitting the mark with your messaging, frequency or other elements of your email programme.

Fix the problem

Fix email marketing problemsOnce you have identified an inactive sub set of your subscribers, the first thing you should do is look to identify any problems or areas of discontent that are causing this inactivity and fix the problems to minimise this in future.  This could include looking at all the elements of your email programme from the point of sign up to the unsubscribe process, and identifying particular areas or specific campaigns that could be contributing to the issues.

You can also implement a series of emails that aim to reactivate these subscribers; a re-engagement (reactivation) campaign.  Four ideas to considering when creating reactivation campaigns include:

  1. Remind the subscriber about the benefits of the website/email programme and talk them through key areas that they could be benefiting from.
  2. Give a special offer to encourage subscribers to make a purchase.
  3. Offer a survey to find out more about your subscribers and want they want to hear about from you.
  4. Prompt the subscriber to update their preferences to directly inform your segmentation strategy and allow you to provide relevant, targeted content in your mailings.

Removing subscribers

If a subscriber is not engaging with your content, product or service, it suggests a lack of interest, especially if they have not gone on to engage with your reactivation campaigns.  By broadcasting your campaigns to subscribers that are not engaging with your emails you can encounter three main problems that can damage your sending reputation, leading to deliverability issues:

  1. Increased chance of hitting recycled spam traps.
  2. Deflated engagement rates.
  3. Increased complaint rates.

Removing subscribers from your database is a decision that should be made individually for each business, and if you decide not to remove these subscribers altogether, ensure that you separate them away from your main,  important mailings using IP segmentation to ensure any negative ramifications caused by this data do not effect your key broadcasts.

However you decide to handle inactive subscribers in your database, the important thing is that you do something to either minimise disengagement from the start of the relationship by providing targeted, relevant content at the right time, or to reactivate or remove these users.

 

Goodbye “channels” – Welcome the marketing “channel of one”

The practice of creating a seamless customer experience across digital channels has been a common marketing challenge for a long while now, and integration of some offline and online channels through campaign segmentation is the norm. However, for most of us it is difficult to get a grip on every part of the customer experience.

To put this into perspective, there are typically more channels or touch points throughout a customer experience that are entirely generic and not personalised at all, versus those that are. They are not personalised by name, proposition or offer, call to action, location. None of that. This is diluting the effectiveness of a CRM strategy because we don’t have a clear understanding of what every individual experiences through every single channel. But this is changing.

Take a look at this:

Technology is beginning to bridge some of the knowledge gaps to identify non-converting prospects who visit their retail stores. Some brands have tried to patch over this marketing need with solutions such as in-store wifi, but this newer technology is incredibly powerful to marketers. The customer experience in the video above could have resulted in a simple browse and no sale. The marketing opportunities created from understanding that experience through the data collected, will help us to follow-up appropriately with the right content, at the right frequency at the right time – all with an enriched profile of that customer.

The marketing challenge is beginning to shift towards a desire to converse “sequentially” with prospects and customers through any channel at any time. Sequential messaging across multiple devices, locations and mediums. All of these could be personalised, tailored and in a defined, tested and optimised sequence:

  • In-store offers and personalised greetings
  • In-product messaging (some cars are already enabled in this way)
  • In-app messaging
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Website
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Delivery messaging

What would this list look like for your brand?

Algorithms could be developed, to enable CRM platforms to intelligently learn and adapt to the best performing sequence of proposition, content and timing. Automatically.

What does all of this mean for Marketers?

Marketers will soon be spending much less time thinking about which message to send through which channel, but more time deciding on the right sequence of messages with the channel serving as a distribution channel. I like to think of this as ‘the channel of one’.

 

Often missed part of successful email split test strategy

A mega test for sure, Marketing Experiments took 300 subject lines suggested by their readers, picked what they felt were the best ten and ran a split test.

The table of results is below. Read the original post for details of how it was run but before you do read on here for a quick lesson in email split test strategy not mentioned elsewhere.

MECSplitNotice that the top three had the same level of performance, within level of confidence. The next five subject lines, lines 4 to 8, also shared the same performance level too.

Had only the top three subject lines been tested there would have been no winner! Had the test been just the five subject lines, lines 4 to 8, there would have been no winner – in five tests.

The crucial lesson is that testing is a game of skill and quantity. A key ingredient to email split test strategy is simply doing enough tests and different treatments to discover a big gain. Doing occasional tests won’t do it.

If you are running A/B subject line tests then be prepared for several tests showing no performance improvement. Don’t get despondent but keep persevering.

As a rule of thumb expect out of ten test treatments for one to make a big shift to the needle, 3 provide some learning and improvement, 3 no winner and 3 under perform (but you’ll still learn).

When you’ve enough data to run multiple tests concurrently then it’s great to do as it accelerates learning and optimisation. However, remember your sample sizes need to be large enough for statistical significance. A 10,000 list split into ten test cells of 1000 each won’t give any valid result.

Stay on the straight and narrow with this split test calculator. to work out sample sizes and check statistical significance of results.