Tag Archives: marketing

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.


‘Strictly’ tips to use dynamic content to improve conversion

Dynamic messaging has been with us for some time (as has Strictly Come Dancing), but very few people realise the benefits preferring to simply batch it and blast it!

Dynamic messaging isn’t just another marketing buzzword. It’s a critical stage in the evolution from mass marketing to personalised, one-to-one marketing. But it goes beyond making sure that each customer and prospect receives a targeted message via his or her preferred channels.
While proper targeting techniques are critical to the process, utilising response data is equally important.  This will help you to determine how, when and with what content you will next contact them.

For example, let’s say your data suggests that Patrick, Sophie and Susanna (if it was a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ list that is) are most likely to respond to similar personalised email offers they receive at the beginning of the month. While the end result was a familiar outcome i.e. none of them took advantage of your offer – the way they got there was vastly different.  Here’s how each scenario (or dance if you prefer) played out:

  • Patrick opens the email, clicks through to your website and spends 10 minutes browsing before leaving the site
  • Sophie, on the other hand, opens the email, and then discards it
  • Meanwhile, Susanna deletes the email without even opening it (that’s newsreaders for you!)

Now, in the past, your contact strategy might have entailed sending all three consumers variations of the same follow-up email.  However, a dynamic strategy has rules in place that suggest different follow-up tactics based on differing responses.   Here’s an example of how this could play out for you:

  • Given that Susanna didn’t even open the email, and history indicates she hasn’t opened any emails in the last six months, your follow-up with her might be via a different medium
  • Since Sophie showed she was receptive to email, a change in the offer or creative in the follow-up email might improve her response
  • Finally, given the time Patrick spent on your website, you will probably want to get in touch with him sooner than you do the others to keep his attention (given he had a short attention span during the foxtrot!)

Research indicates that leveraging segmentation and personalisation to create a dynamic contact strategy can improve email click-through rates and conversions – just read any of the DMA benchmark reports or national email surveys.

While personalising the content, creative and channel certainly plays a large role in boosting response, the dynamic aspect provides significant lift as well.

Since monitoring response and reacting to it are distinguishing elements of dynamic marketing, it’s easy to reevaluate and tweak individual messages or entire messaging funnels as the campaign continues.

This makes dynamic marketing critical when reaching customers and prospects that are especially difficult to contact and historically challenging to make convert – just like Tony Jacklin’s dancing in fact!

How the Obama campaign succeeded with low open rates

Obama Email Blogs Word Cloud

There is little doubt in my mind that email was the No.1 non-political contributor to Obama’s win in the 2012 US Presidential race.  75% of the $934 million raised by Obama was attributed to digital and nearly all of that $700 million was raised through email1.  That fact alone is phenomenal.

But it’s not until you start to drill down into the data to find out why Obama’s email campaign was significantly more effective than Romney’s that the exciting insights start to appear.

Marketing pundits from all channels have offered their opinions. Just look at the word cloud based on the top 15 blogs about Obama’s email strategy – targeting, testing, creative, subject lines – everything but the two biggest contributing factors: list size and mailing frequency.

Why have these been missed? Because it is relatively easy to get a sense of a campaign’s creative, subject line strategy, frequency and, to some extent, personalization by simply subscribing to a list. What you can’t find out is how large that list is or how much segmentation is being done. That makes it almost impossible to know how many emails are actually being sent. Enter eDataSource …

Scratching below the surface with eDataSource

So, we recently took out a subscription to eDataSource and let our analytics team loose on their web-based tool that combines active monitoring of over 800,000 consumer inboxes with a library of millions of digital marketing messages from thousands of brands. This impressive breadth and depth of reporting gave us everything we needed to find out what really made Obama’s email strategy so effective.

First up was to prove my prediction back in October that Obama would win because he was sending significantly more email to more people. Using the Federal Election Commission, we were able to attribute all donations over $250 to each campaign for the 79 weeks running up to the election. We then plotted this against the corresponding weekly send volumes taken from eDataSource in graph 1.

Donations Received vs Emails Sent

Graph 1: Donations Received vs Emails Sent

The trend lines tell the story more succinctly than any blog: the more emails each campaign sent, the more donations each campaign received. If the purpose of each campaign was to generate revenue, then it was frequency and list size that had the biggest impact on performance.

What I couldn’t predict was what we found when we dug deeper into the data – the send volumes for each campaign had a striking correlation with the probability of each campaign winning based on the opinion polls …

Obama – the President who ignored open rates

On graph 2 below, we pulled the send volumes and open rates for both campaigns in the two month run-up to the election and compared these to Nate Silver’s Poll aggregator for the 2012 election. His algorithm has correctly predicted the winner of 99 out of 100 states in the last two elections, so it gave us a highly accurate winning probability at each point during the campaign.

Graph 2: Email send volumes vs Probability to Win (Romney volumes scaled up by x15)

Graph 2: Email send volumes vs Probability to Win (Romney volumes scaled up by x15)

As Obama ramps up his send volumes early in the race, his probability of winning increases. Romney also increases his frequency at a similar rate but, because his list size is 15 times smaller, his growth has little effect on the polls. List size matters.

When Obama reduces his send volumes by 38% his probability of winning drops by 42%. By contrast Romney’s campaign grows by 180% and his chances of winning increase by 160%.

In the final push, Romney reduces his send volumes and with it his probability of winning. But his open rates improve by an impressive 14%. Obama takes the opposite approach and aggressively increases his send volumes, which improves his probability of winning.

And Obama’s open rates? They plummet by 14% to a campaign low … and he wins the election.

Obama’s email strategy? Send more, raise more

Had Obama chased open rates would he have lost the election? Well, what we do know is the best way to achieve that goal, as shown by Romney, is to reduce send volumes. Of course, send volumes don’t win elections, donations do. So we set about finding a correlation between send volumes and donations to add weight to our theory.

Graph 3: Open Rates vs Volumes vs Probability to Win

Graph 3: Open Rates vs Volumes vs Probability to Win

Graph 3 plots annual donations against annual send volumes and open rates for the Obama campaign. The correlation between send volume and donations is undeniable – in fact, they are close to an exact match. The general trend is for a steady increase over the year until a drop off at election time.

But more interestingly – and this may surprise some people – the relationship between open rates and donations is an inverse one! Or, to put it another way, the higher the open rate, the lower the number of donations.


Because, broadly speaking, there is an inverse relationship between send volumes and open rates. The more email you send, the lower your open rate is likely to be. But if doubling your send volume only results in a 15% fall in your open rates, then you will be significantly better off.

So why is revenue so closely linked to send volumes? Because people cannot engage with an email they do not receive. Replace the word ‘email’ with ‘opportunity to donate’, and “an extra email send to 1 million people” becomes, “let’s send another 1 million opportunities to donate”.

While relevance, engagement, creative, subject lines, testing and targeting all played a part in Obama’s success, they pale into insignificance when compared to the impact of reach, frequency and list size. And best of all? With email, you can optimize all of these at near-zero marginal cost.

But does it work in retail? Hell yeah!

Obama’s campaign is one of the few examples of a noted sender admitting that increasing frequency works. The data backs it up, too. But does it work outside of the rarefied world of political fundraising? The answer is “hell yeah!”

Are you being out-mailed by your competitors? If the answer is “yes”, then they are probably out-selling you as well – and we shall be digging down into the data for that particular topic in the coming months. Keep your eyes peeled.

If you want to replicate Obama’s success for your own email program, then feel free to use these strategy ideas from this post from our blog: FIVE reasons why open reach will revolutionize your email marketing.


1. Joshua Green, The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails, 29 November 2012, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-29/the-science-behind-those-obama-campaign-e-mails

LinkedIn: No greater email marketing #fail than over-writing your customers preferences

I just got this  email from LinkedIn  Subject Line “A change to your DMA: Direct Marketing Association (UK) Limited digests” – the 3rd such email I have had this week about a group I belong to.
In it they tell me that they are going to ignore my mailing preferences and unsubscribe me from the group digests of which I get 1 a week a frequency selected by ME! I have now been forced to go and re-subscribe to the weekly digests of groups that I want to hear from 3 times this week. Do LinkedIn really think that is a good use of my time?

Just in case anyone was wondering, while I am not really a FB kind of person I definitely am an UBER LinkedIn user.

- I am a paid subscriber and highly active – I post, place jobs, recommend stay in touch connect etc.
- I have several thousand connections
- I check my page multiple times a day and use it as my primary vehicle for maintaining my business network. I have my preferences set exactly the way I want them for some groups – no email, others weekly and some daily
- I get 10 or more emails a day from linked in and open about 1 in 3 on my desktop and 80% of them on my mobile
- I click on at least one a day and some days 3 or more
- I save all my emails I currently have 2900 in my Linked in folder of which less than half 1427 are “unread”
- I regularly search for old messages or invites and click on them

So how on earth can a bunch of engineers and/or too clever by half marketers come to the conclusion that they know what I want better than me?
The irony is by stopping the DMA group weekly digest, they are going to reduce the chances of me ever visiting again! I wonder how the DMA and other group managers feel about that.

I can’t understand why having gone to the trouble of asking me to set my preferences LinkedIn should choose to expressly ignore the stated preference from a highly engaged – dare I say knowledgeable – paying subscriber. Surely that is as bad as spamming after all what is so different about these 2 scenarios?

1) I use LI preference centre choose to receive 1 email a week – after 3 months LI decide to unsubscribe me for not visiting the group.
2) I use LI preference centre and choose to receive 1 email a week – after 3 months LI decide to send me daily digests or 3rd party emails from partners they think I should hear from

LinkedIn are insulting their members’ intelligence one would think that someone like me would know how to both unsubscribe or hit the spam button. So if I haven’t done either of those things, it’s probably because…I DON’T WANT TO!