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Seven Digital Marketing Techniques to Grow Your Email List

Though growing your email database takes time and effort, when done correctly, it will house your most qualified and responsive leads. A well structured email database will enable you to boost sales with more targeted messages and offers, extend the lifecycle of any campaign and increase customer retention with regular and relevant communications.

Consider the following techniques to acquire new leads and grow your email list with success:

1. Who is your ideal lead and how do you reach them? Create a profile for your best customer(s). This should include things such as age, gender, hobbies, job function, how they shop (online or at stores), where they shop, what they read, what websites they visit, etc. Depending on the product or service you are marketing, some of the above will be more relevant than others. For example, if you are marketing a clothing line, job function will be less relevant than where and how they shop, where as if you are marketing a trade publication, job function and industry will be extremely important.

2. Analyze your competition. Take some time to find out what your competitors are doing to build their email lists. Start off by going to their websites. Then do a web search on your competition as well as relevant key words, and take note of any banners / CPC ads that appear. Be sure to click through to check out what their landing pages look like and what type of information they are choosing to capture. If they have an e-newsletter, sign up for it. This is an easy way to start receiving their email campaigns. All of these steps will help you find out what type of promotions they are running, any marketing alliances they have formed, and how they are positioning their product or service.

3. Reach your best customer. Once you've created your customer profile(s) and finished your competitive analysis, you are ready to develop your list growth strategy. Your strategy can include initiatives such as: banner ads on websites that your target audience visits, a PPC campaign, direct mail or email campaigns to magazine subscriber opt-in lists, etc. You can also approach other products or service providers for co-promotions or mutually beneficial partnerships. Starting an e-newsletter or a blog for your company are great ways to grow your list as long as your content is desirable. The lifecycle of any campaign can be extended with behavior-based trigger emails.

4. Your offer is everything! Unless your offer is relevant to the recipient, they will not respond to your campaign. Your offer will need to prompt the recipient to make a purchase or willingly give you their information in exchange for something they want. For instance, you might send an email introducing your company to a magazine subscriber opt-in list that you know your target audience reads. By including a free downloadable premium such as an industry salary guide, a list of the hottest bars in town, or a best practices whitepaper – what ever might be most relevant to your target audience – recipients will need to provide their email address and demographic information in order to download the premium. Once you've captured their information and they've opted-in to your database, you will be able to communicate with that lead on an ongoing basis.

5. Your offer is almost everything! Unless the recipients receive your email, they cannot receive your offer. Therefore, be sure to comply with email marketing best practices: include a physical mailing address, an opt-out link and a subject line that reflects the content in your email. Also, when writing your email, try to stay away from words that are flagged by spam filters.

6. Create a landing page. It is extremely important to guide the campaign recipient through the entire process. By creating a landing page on your website that mirrors your campaign's message / offer, you will encourage the recipient to fill out the form with the ultimate goal of opting-in to your list.

7. Use a lead capture form. Your landing page can either link to a lead capture form or you can embed the form in the landing page itself.
a. Since people are more prone to filling out a short form than a long and drawn out questionnaire, limit the amount of information you are asking them to provide in exchange for their premium. Besides the basic name and email address, think of including one or two other demographic questions. These questions should be well thought out to provide you with information you can leverage for future email campaigns.
b. In addition to the demographic questions, your form should include a check box giving people the option to opt-in to your mailing list and receive information about your company and future promotions. According to the CAN-SPAM Act, if people do not explicitly say that they would like to receive emails from you in the future, it is unlawful to send them commercial marketing emails.
c. If you do not currently have a way to capture leads, an easy way to do this is through your email service provider. Most ESPs will provide you with both the lead capture form and a database to house the acquired leads. They will also manage your opt-outs for you.

8. Track your efforts. If you track your list building efforts, you will be able to pinpoint which initiatives are working the best and focus more of your energy on those. You might decide that others aren't worth your time. Easy ways to track your initiatives are:
a. Web Analytics: sign up for a free Google Analytics account. This will enable you to track how many people are visiting each page on your site and which campaign they are coming from.
b. In your lead capture form, include one question asking people how they heard about you with a drop down menu where customers can select from a list of your current list building initiatives.
c. Landing Pages: create a separate landing page for each marketing initiative so you can track page visits to these dedicated pages through your web analytics account.
d. Dedicated 800 numbers: there are services that will provide you with a range of 800 numbers that redirect to your main phone number. Including a dedicated 800 number on each landing page will enable you to associate each call with a specific campaign.

Remember, even if you are accurately targeting your best customer, your campaign will only be a success if you get them to act on your offer and opt-in to your database. Be sure to spend enough time tailoring your message and the offer to the people who will be receiving your campaign.

- Yael K. Penn, Founder and Principal, Imagine 360 Marketing

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Overheard: Marketers Still Struggle With CAN-SPAM Compliance With 3rd Party List Rental

During the eec List Growth & Engagement Roundtable meeting this week, several DMA/eec members had a fascinating conversation about how to define consumer intent under CAN-SPAM as it relates to opt out for third party messages. The rules amended to CAN-SPAM which went into effect in July of 2008 say that there only needs to be one opt-out per message, and provides some guidance on the definition of the "sender" and "primary sender."

"Listen" in with me….

Arend Henderson of Q Interactive, an online consumer site that has a very large email list rental business: It's about the permission grant. If the message is from PublisherA, and the Friendly from is the publisher, along with the message header and footer – and significantly, the permission grant is with the publisher; but then the full message promotes AdvertiserB, then the opt out under CAN-SPAM should be from the sender and list owner, who is PublisherA.

Stephanie Miller (me) of Return Path, an email deliverability and performance company: The panel of privacy experts who spoke at the recent eec/DMA webinar with the FTC interpret the legislation that the opt out should be provided by the advertiser.

Arend: We interpret this as a protection of the consumer interest. We, the publisher, own the list, we own the relationship, and we care about those relationships. We believe that the opt out should be from the publisher, not the advertiser. It's our job to send subscribers messages.

Kim Santos, Reader's Digest: I feel the opposite. The opt-out has to be on the side of the advertiser. In list rental, where the advertiser is the sole focus of the message, that is what drives the unsubscribe request. If I'm a consumer, then I don't want the AdvertiserB advertisement. The subscriber wants out of the AdvertiserB messages. If the opt out is only with PublisherA, then AdvertiserB could just go rent another list from another publisher. It's a penalty for those subscribers who are on a lot of lists.

Arend: We feel strongly that the message is not from AdvertiserB. The permission grant is with us, the publisher.

Luke Glasner of Rodman Publishing: If you want to opt-out from AdvertiserB, you should be able to opt-out of those specific messages of the advertiser from PublisherA. The publisher like Rodman provides the opt out and we offer to manage the suppression file for advertisers who rent from us multiple times. Also for first time users we request suppression files - and we don't charge extra for them. Personally, I don't think list renters should charge to run a suppression file - since the person that benefits the most from reducing spam complaints is the list owner, even more so than the consumer of that email. It's not about protecting consumers from AdvertiserB in other areas of the Internet. If I walk around and see an AdvertiserB billboard, does that violate the opt-out? Does my email opt-out mean that I won't ever see an ad on the street or on TV or on a website?

Kim: No of course not, but there is so much transparency in email than in other channels. You can't suppress ads in those other channels, but in email you can. I as a publisher and someone who cares about my subscribers have a responsibility to protect my consumer. So I make sure that if you don't want to see AdvertiserB ads, you won't see them from me, ever.

Luke: I can only be responsible for my email program, not actions of every person that engages in online advertising. I do feel we have a duty to respect our readers and to give them control over their inbox. It is up the subscriber to tell me how much they want to engage with me. And it is up to me to respect their wishes. I think that email is privilege granted to senders by their subscribes not a right. Based on my experience I think that most consumers would agree with that.

Kim: What about when there are two opt-outs? One each for the advertiser and for the publisher? We often see that, and sometimes offer it.

Arend: Consumers don't think in our terms, they don't know why there are two opt-outs. They don't know who is "sender" under the law. This is why we never let the advertiser put AdvertiserB in the friendly from line. The messages come from Q Interactive, which is the brand you know and gave a permission grant to.

Luke: I will tell you what consumers do when they see two unsubscribe links. They go to the top of the message and click the Report Spam button. They won't bother to figure it out. It's not worth it to us as a list owner to work with advertisers who drive a lot of unsubscribe requests or complaints (when someone clicks the Report Spam button).

Arend: We agree. We do not work with those kinds of advertisers at all or at least for very long.

Luke: And the other side is true as well. Sometimes, the person who is sending this message and the sales person at the list owner have different agendas. If you are a buyer, be sure that the list owner can actually do what they promise.

Kim: We view this as a partnership. We want our advertisers to succeed. We had to put in an actual, official corporate marketing role so that we have an ombudsman around this area. That has helped to eliminate confusion.

Stephanie: How do you handle newsletters with multiple ads?

Kim: We treat these differently than full page email broadcasts. In this case, the opt-out is with Reader's Digest, the sender.

Arend: We do the same thing.

Luke: We also follow the same for our newsletters. An email newsletter's purpose is to provide (hopefully) engaging content to the reader. We support the newsletter financially by selling ad space so we can continue to provide our readers with newsletters.

- Stephanie Miller, Return Path

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FTC Seems Satisfied with Self Regulation...For Now

In last week's eec/DMA webinar, Peder Magee, Esq., FTC Privacy and Theft attorney for the Bureau of Consumer Protection joined DMA's VP of Government Affairs, Jerry Cerasale, and a panel of email privacy experts to discuss the latest thinking at the agency.

For now, that stance seems to suggest that the self regulation of the industry is working. Magee noted that some concepts "transcend the medium" when it comes to self regulation. "Transparency, prominent notice, use of personal data, and providing the ability to opt out easily" all are areas the FTC continues to watch.

Certification and feedback loop programs were noted by panelist Tom Bartel, CPO of Return Path, as an example of how the industry cooperates in order to make self regulation work. Especially for certification programs, "Email marketers put themselves forward voluntarily to be held to high standards," Bartel says. "Including the things Peder listed about prominence. Once they are vouched for by the third party, the ISPs can make good decisions about what to do with email from those senders.

"Participation in these programs shows marketers are willing to go way past the law, and well past best practices," Bartel states.

The FTC remains aggressive about prosecuting offenders under CAN-SPAM. Magee says, "CAN-SPAM and some of the filtering technologies have reduced the spam that consumers were getting a lot more of." He notes that the agency also brings cases against phishing scams, often initiated through email. Webinar moderator and DMA VP of Government Affairs Jerry Cerasale noted, "The FTC is the most active regulatory body in this area. Opt-in laws in Europe have not resulted in as many cases as the FTC."

Download the recording (free until this Thursday) and read the summary of the event.

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Silent but Engaged: A Powerful “Hidden” Segment Lurks in your Email Database

One of my favorite quotes in the past few years is from David Daniels of Forrester Research who often says that "sending email to people that haven't opened or clicked in a year is like flying an airplane advertisement over a ghost town." Love it. That visual really brings the point home that mailing to seemingly unengaged subscribers is a waste of time, and often does more harm than good. I have always 100% agreed with it, however I now think it isn't always true. There may actually be life in parts of those seemingly deserted towns.

Let me start by saying that I still recommend all marketers regularly review engagement and modify content and/or frequency to those that haven't opened or clicked in 90 or 180 days. This is especially important for marketers that have deliverability problems, since many of them may improve their reputations and deliverability by cutting this dead weight. Unresponsive list segments, after all, are more likely to generate complaints or to contain spamtraps. In fact, earlier this year we were able to help a client get out of the bulk folder at Gmail by ceasing mailing any names that hadn't opened or clicked there in 90 days. Now, however, when I'm asked by a client if they should re-opt-in subscribers that haven't responded, opened or clicked for months, I'm forced to add the qualifier: "it depends."

Here's why it depends. There is growing evidence that many mailers have at least some subscribers that don't seemingly do anything, but they are valuable nonetheless. Here are a few camps to consider:

1. Hidden Segment #1: Subscribers that view and read emails with images off. There may be some email marketers that are in fact too good at rendering their email titles, main stories and calls-to-action in HTML text. I say "too good" since some (maybe lots) of their subscribers don't register as an open since they never enable images – yet they are actually engaged and reading the emails.

2. Hidden Segment #2: Mobile, invisible, but engaged. Mobile, email-enabled phones now represent a majority of some company's opt-in subscriber base. If they don't render images they won't render an open, but the recipient might be eating up the content day-in and day-out, and the marketer will never know.

3. Hidden Segment #3: Subscribers that never click, or shop online, but buy from your brick-n-mortar store. These actually could be some of your best customers, you just can't tell. Certainly there is life in this ghost town. Multichannel retailers should especially keep a watch out for these subscribers.

4. Hidden Segment #4: Fans that forward your email to friends, but don't use your forward-to-a-friend link. You can't track them since they are using the forwarding mechanism of their email tool, not your trackable link. Jeanniey Mullen's recent ClickZ article highlighted the story of Burntoast Marketing in Australia that had this problem. Some of their mailings to high-quality prospects had "…clicks come from other people both within and outside the same company who were not on the original mailing list."

The bottom line is if you're not looking at subscriber engagement, you are missing out on the ability to improve your deliverability, improve relevancy, and cut the unprofitable names from your list. However, beware of these hidden, engaged subscribers and develop strategies to make them visible.

First, rather than automatically re-opting in unengaged subscribers or discarding them from your list, try reducing frequency. A recent test of ours showed we were able to get 4 times the number of subscribers to reengage by reducing from weekly to monthly mailings when compared to sending a single re-optin campaign.

Second, entice your offline-only shoppers to use a coupon or other tracking code that will help them identify themselves.

Finally, provide a number of ways that recipients can share their emails with their friends – either standard viral links or via new technologies allowing sharing with social networks.

- Chip House, ExactTarget

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The Great Email Debate Topic #2 - Single Opt-In or Double Opt-In

Be sure to vote on the next best practice: single opt-in or double. Every vote counts so tell your colleagues!

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The Great Email Debate - Topic #1 - The Opt-In Box: Checked or Un-Checked

At last week's Email Evolution Conference, the Great Email Debate sparked a ton of conversation.

We'd like everyone to have the opportunity to weigh-in on the three topics we established as best practices. This week, vote on the first topic, the opt-in box: checked or un-checked, and post your comments here.

Next week we'll tackle single opt-in or double opt-in and the following week we'll wrap up the debate with a question about keeping or deleting inactives.

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Will There Be a Huge Brawl On Stage At the Email Experience Council’s 2nd Annual Event?

Well, I hope so. It's about time an email event had some drama and excitement. I have been going to industry events for years now and they are all the same: some great speakers, some not so great speakers; lots of buffet food, box lunches and good ideas.

But this year, the Email Evolution Conference (EEC09) promises to be different; at least in one session: The Great Email Debate. In this session, rumor has it that six of your favorite digital celebrities including Greg Cangialosi, Dave Hendricks, Peter Horan, Bill McCloskey, Kara Trivunovic, and DJ Waldow, are splitting into two sides and creating a Family Feud-esque scenario like no other.

We will finally see the mud flying as this group takes on tough questions like: Is it single opt-in or double? Do you remove inactives from your list? Do you precheck that box for opt-in?

I can't wait to see some candid conversations about topics that we all face every day. I will be moderating the session, but I will warn you, I am a hockey fan so seeing some blood or a good hip check as we address these issues won't make me sad.

This is only one of the many exciting sessions planned for EEC09.

If you are not yet registered for EEC09, you should be. Use discount code JAN09 and pay only $999* for the full conference (that includes one pre-conference workshop of your choice).

See you in a few weeks!
Jeanniey

*Only applies to new registrations.

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2009 Tips & Predictions

Test, test and test again.
- Spencer Kollas, StrongMail

View your campaigns through the eyes of your recipients. Test out your from name, subject line, creative, call-to-action, etc on subscribers who are *not* in your office or affiliated directly with your product/brand.
- DJ Waldow, Bronto Software

"Focus on reducing opt-in friction by testing and optimizing preference centers and other points of data collection – new signups will be especially critical to your business in 2009."
- Nicholas Einstein, Datran Media

Predictions for 2009:
1. Preheader text will be used by the majority of email marketers.
2. More email marketers will launch preference centers, giving subscribers more control of the content and frequency of the emails they receive.
3. Marketers will experiment with videos embedded in emails.
- Chad White, Smith-Harmon

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2008 Retail Email Subscription Benchmark Study: Executive Summary

Sponsored by: Message Systems

The Direct Marketing Association's Email Experience Council signed up to receive promotional emails from 120 of the top online retailers tracked via the Retail Email Blog. Findings indicate a trend toward richer subscription processes.

One highlight of the report shows that the percentage of retailers using only a one-click sign-up from homepage method to collect email addresses declined to 51% this year from 63% last year. That shift accompanied increases in the amount of data collected from new subscribers. Research also demonstrated that the number of retailers providing sample emails and allowing subscribers to choose email topic preferences was up.

"The old adage applies here—you never have a second chance to make a good first impression," says Dave Lewis, chief marketing officer of Message Systems. "Your opportunity is to convert a prospect's initial interest into a long-term, brand loyal relationship. Your challenge is not to 'kill' that interest (and the opportunity) with an intimidating or intrusive subscription process."

This year retailers are also putting more focus on list hygiene. Thirty-eight percent of retailers ask subscribers to confirm their email address by re-entering it, up from 27% last year. Also, 5% of retailers now use a confirmed (double) opt-in process, up from 3% last year, which also improves list quality.

Retailers are also taking greater advantage of their email sign-up process to promote other channels such as direct mail, blogs and RSS feeds. For the first time this year, research indicates that retailers are promoting SMS subscriptions, social networks and widgets along side or within their email programs. While the percentage of retailers promoting those new channels is currently small, it signals a new trend which is expected to grow significantly over the next year.

"Communication behaviors and preferences have changed," says Lewis. "Virtually all of us utilize multiple channels of communication, both online and offline. And how we want companies to communicate with us depends on the nature of the message, where we're at and our personal preferences. Yet, companies have badly lagged in their ability to deliver messages through our channels of choice. So I'm very pleased to see this trend developing, even if just in its infancy. It means we're moving beyond defining 'relevancy' just in terms of the content of the message. It means we're getting closer to realizing the direct marketing mantra of delivering the right message at the right time in the right place."

Other key findings from the study include:

● After falling from 27% in 2006 to 8% last year, the percentage of retailers using sign-up incentives rebounded to 13% this year, despite growing concerns about the quality of subscribers that are attracted by sweepstakes and other incentives.

● With recent evidence suggesting that putting privacy policies front and center during the subscription process actually reduce sign-ups, only 36% of retailers mentioned their privacy policy this year, down from 45% last year.

● Despite quicker subscription fulfillments overall, 29% of retailers took 15 days or longer to honor opt-ins or failed to honor them all together. That figure was the same as last year.

Get the Full Report
Visit the Whitepaper Room to download the full 39-page report, which is free for eec platinum members and available at a discount to eec gold and silver members. Not a member? Learn more about becoming a member of the Email Experience Council.

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MAKE IT POP!: Email Takes on the Economy

We all know that America's economy is hurting and that a lot of people (even those who aren't personally feeling the crunch) are worried enough to slow down their virtual and in-store shopping trips. Retailers aren't lying down and waiting for the storm to pass, though. Let's take a look at some of the interesting marketing emails that have been delivered by retailers working to push through the slump.

Creative Sales. Many retailers have responded to slow spending by getting more inventive with their sale techniques and infusing great deals with a sense of urgency.

Old Navy's "Early Columbus Day Sale," with its 1,492 items priced at $14.92 or less, takes the cake for creativity in the sale category. Who would think that Columbus Day could feel like cause for retail excitement? It's early and limited-time, so it feels urgent, too.

Threadless also has a sweet deal with a deadline, selling Girl's Tees (usually $18) starting at just $12 until Oct 12. The urgency and the significant savings strengthen the sale.

Moosejaw's sale email generates extra excitement with its exclusivity, sending each subscriber their very own secret code that yields one of (what we must assume is) a selection of discount offers.

J. Crew and Horchow are just two of many retailers who have been pushing limited-time free shipping messages over the past couple weeks. J. Crew's include the cute seasonal touch of asking subscribers to enter code "ACORN" at checkout, and both Horchow and J. Crew have sent multiple reminder count-down emails.

Straight Talk. Some have opted to confront the economic downturn head-on by mentioning it and even joking about it.

Restoration Hardware sent a one-day-only "spend $400, save $100" voucher with a bailout theme on October 2. They may have missed the mark—as a joke, it's a bit off-color and politically-slanted. They were using current events creatively, which can be clever, but they probably should have played with something less controversial and stressful for many subscribers.

Overstock.com launched a new Real Estate service on October 2, which they introduced in a letter at the bottom of this email beforehand. In the introductory letter, they remind subscribers that Overstock.com is committed to helping subscribers save money, and the letter makes their new service seem on-brand and sincerely subscriber-focused.

Splendora also takes a branded attitude towards the economic crisis that is gutsy and dismissive, urging subscribers to check out the upcoming trends that they'll be able to shop after this "little rough patch."

Spend and Save. In line with Restoration Hardware's discount approach (but without the bailout theme), Bloomingdales, Boden and Neiman Marcus, among others, offered limited-time, "Buy More, Save More," offers (as Bloomie's called theirs). These not only encourage higher spending; they also encourage spending NOW, before the offer expires. The messages warn subscribers that their offer isn't waiting for Wall Street to stop reeling, and neither should you.

Many retailers are feeling the squeeze, and we're sure to see more and more unique approaches to email as the situations unfold.

Still spending,
Lisa Harmon and Alex Madison of Smith-Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.

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An Interesting (But Still Poor) Method to Ask for Permission

A few weeks ago, I received an email with what I would call a pretty weak subject—"NMFN's Financial Strength." Even though I was not expecting this email, I still opened it as I recognized the "from" name, John Haywood.

The email itself was pretty terrible. The only real call-to-action was the attached PDF. Attachments in a mass mailing? Red flag! Near the end of the email, in bold was the following:

"Your transmission of electronic mail to this address represents your consent to two-way communication by Internet e-mail. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and delete the material from any computer on which it exists."

A couple of things jumped out at me. First—and not really critical—"Internet e-mail"? Huh? I'm pretty sure that since the turn of the millennium, we just refer to it as "email." Anyway… Second, I'm not sure that I "received [the email] in error," but I certainly never gave John permission to email me at work.

However, I thought nothing of this odd non-permission-based email and simply dumped it in my trash folder. But, nine days later, I got this:

I immediately recognized the sender—John Haywood again—which led me to open the message. However, as an email marketing account manager, I was especially intrigued by the subject line "Action Required for Subscription Confirmation - Northwestern Mutual Financial Network." My initial reaction was that at least the subject was clear, direct, and actionable.

A FEW THOUGHTS ON THE EMAIL
1. "Thank you for your interest in News Brief…": I never indicated that I was interested! This does not count as explicit consent (opt-in).
2. Two links - Confirm or Decline Subscription: I like this part. Clear and to the point.
3. "Note: This final confirmation step….": I like that this section tells me what will happen if I "confirm" or "decline"; however, what happens if I do nothing? What if all I do is open the message? What about if I had just deleted without opening? What about if I marked it as spam? Will they count this as a confirmation? (I chose to "do nothing"—let's see what happens next!)
4. Privacy Policy: The privacy policy does a nice job of explaining my rights, but is a bit confusing. Their definition of opt-in "requires that a person or entity request to be included on an email list." Based on their own words, I never opted in!

TAKEAWAYS
1. Permission is easy: Ask for it. Make sure you get it (explicitly). Double check to ensure they were serious (confirmation). Welcome them.
2. Be explicit: Tell me why you are emailing me, how often you'll be sending, what it will look like, and how I can unsubscribe.

—DJ Waldow of Bronto Software

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DOUBLE DOG DARE: Start Your Email Program Over from Scratch

Are you happy with the structure and performance of your email program? If you wish you could just blow it up and start over, we dare you—no, we Double Dog Dare you—to consider this challenge from Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations for Silverpop:

Start your email program over from scratch. Shut the door, turn off your phone, IM and Twitter, and get out a plain, old-fashioned sheet of paper or clean off the office whiteboard. Ask yourself these questions: What would I do differently if I could start our email program over? What am I doing purely out of habit or because everybody else is doing it? What do I wish I could do but I can't because I don't have the budget or backing from management?

As you stare at the blank page or whiteboard, ask yourself these questions:

List growth: Are we focused on quantity rather than quality? Are we using questionable acquisition methods just to hit some arbitrary list-size targets? Are we still using pre-checked boxes and single opt-in because my boss couldn't care less about spam complaints, list hygiene and delivery rates?
List churn and inactivity: Do we understand how active our database is? From one-third to three-quarters of our list is likely inactive; so, what are we doing to reactivate those subscribers that have tuned us out? What programs do we have to deliver greater value to our loyal customers? What can we do to minimize unsubscribes, spam complaints and bounces?
Design and format: Are our image-heavy emails with lots of administrative information located above the fold still the right approach? Is it time to start from scratch and have an email-design professional create a template that renders well on mobile devices and in preview panes with blocked images? Should we redesign our masthead and navigation links to better correspond with the actions our subscribers want to take?
Welcome program: Is it time to chuck the text-only confirmation email for a well-designed, multi-message welcome email program?
Message types: We've been sending the same basic emails for the last two years—our "Weekly Specials" email and monthly "Close Outs." Should we blow this up and let subscribers select different categories and frequencies? Can we add a slew of new email types—birthday specials, reminders, surveys, refer-a-friend promotions, geographic-targeted messages, educational or tip-oriented emails, etc.? Can we wrestle the transactional emails away from IT and design them to cross-sell and up-sell?
Batch-and-blast: Is it time to stop whining, "How can I move to a lifecycle-, behavior- or trigger-based approach when it's all I can do to get the weekly batch-and-blast emails out the door?" Could I swap one or two batch-and-blast emails a month so I can start testing some more targeted approaches?
Metrics: Are we tracking the right performance metrics? Our open and click-through rates are doing well, but my boss doesn't seem to care and wonders why we spend so much time on email marketing. Is it time for me to tackle proving the contribution of email to lifetime customer value, cost savings and direct ROI?
Incentives: Have we gotten hooked on incentives —free shipping and 10% off? Should we test some targeted emails sent only to people that clicked on specific links and use no or reduced incentives to see if we can improve our margins?
Preference centers: Our unsubscribe page is so ugly and doesn't offer any alternatives. Can I get some design and Web resources to create a worldclass unsubscribe/preference page? Speaking of preference centers, can we continue without one?

If you take up this dare: Let us know by commenting below. Did you overhaul your email completely or just tweak it here and there? What's the first thing you would change about your program if you could? Finally: Which of these changes, if any, could you actually make in your present program? And if you have a Double Dog Dare for the eec community, let us know about that, too.

–>See more Double Dog Dares.

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Your Most Frequently Asked Questions - Answered!

From the eec's Member RoundtablesAre the basics of email marketing leaving you stumped? Don't know where to turn with your most pressing email marketing questions? The wait is now over! The Email Experience Council's Member Initiatives Advisory Committee has established a comprehensive list of Email Marketing Q&A's that will assist even the most seasoned email marketing veteran in answering some of the industry's most pressing questions.

Questions range on topics such as permission, deliverability, list rental, Can-Spam requirements, and engaging consumers. From questions such as "Can you give me a list of spammy words to avoid?" to "Do I need to get permission in order to send emails to customers?" there is something interesting for everyone.

Personally, my favorite QA is "Everyone on my list has opted in so why am I getting spam complaints?" The accompanying answer is a solid response to a question asked by many in the email world, but this issue will more than likely forever remain as one that we email marketers will continue to ask, study, and try to solve for ages to come.

By no means are the contributors to the Q&A lawyers or legal advisors but most have been in the trenches of email marketing for long enough to know the answers to the questions everyone wants to know but are too afraid to ask. In addition, many of the answers are accompanied by other valuable resources to further enhance your knowledge on particular subjects.

Not seeing your most burning questions on the list? Send them to us! We'll be continuing to post Q&A's periodically so email us your questions and check back later for the answers.

—eec Members Initiatives Advisory Committee chair Lauren Skena of Epsilon

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Help Us Educate Consumers about Email

From the eec's Member RoundtablesEmail is perhaps the most transformative technology yet devised. It has changed the way we communicate, work and shop. Yet, despite its ubiquitous nature, widespread confusion remains about email in the minds of consumers. Issues of permission, privacy, technology and volume are pervasive with regard to email in a way that simply doesn't exist elsewhere in marketing. When was the last time you complained to DirecTV about getting channels for which you didn't opt-in?

The eec has taken on the sizable challenge of educating consumer users about all things email, and we need your help.

On Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 2pm EDT, DJ Waldow and I will be kicking off the newly formed Consumer Education Roundtable. The mission of this roundtable is to help consumers separate myth from fact and become better, safer and more responsible users of email. In doing so, we aim to provide an important feedback mechanism for the email industry, to assist them in understanding consumers' challenges and opinions regarding email. (Because let's face it, it's awfully easy for email professionals to lose sight of how tricky email can be for inexperienced users).

The first project (and it's a doozy) for this new roundtable is to build the definitive website where consumers can learn key truths about email topics such as opting in and out, phishing, inbox management and other elements critical to a successful and positive email experience.

We have secured volunteers to build the actual site, but we very much need eec members to assist in content creation. Again, our first roundtable conference call will be on Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 2pm EDT, and will be devoted to determining overall features and functions for the new site, and discussing specific assignments and timelines. This strategy brief outlines our current plan for the new site.

If you have a passion for making sure consumers understand our industry, please consider joining the new Consumer Education Roundtable. We'd love to have you. To join, simply contact Ali Swerdlow at ali@emailexperience.org.

—eec Consumer Education Roundtable chair Jason Baer of Convince & Convert

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How We Improved Our Newsletter Subscription Process

Last November I wrote about The Forgotten Pages of Email Marketing, those lonely and neglected pages in your email processes that haven't been updated in two years or more or—gasp!—haven't been altered from the default template set by the vendor. Unless you routinely subscribe to, unsubscribe from, forward, etc. your emails or manually check those pages, these lapses are difficult to detect—that is, until they're pointed out to you by one of your subscribers. That's what happened to us recently, courtesy of Benjamin Fitts of CustomCardGuy.com, who emailed me saying:

"I've been enjoying your blogs and plan to join the eec later this week. The funny thing was as I signed up for your email from the emailexperience.org blog I realized you guys are committing a faux pas! When subscribing I get a nice page that tells me I should be expecting a confirmation from you shortly. The problem is that when I get the confirmation email and click the link, I get the exact same message letting me know I should be receiving a confirmation email shortly. ;) I'm sure this is just a mistake on your part but I wanted you to know how silly it seems for an organization helping us with email standards who can't get the basics right."

We immediately checked things out…and he was dead right. Our sign-up confirmation page and subscription confirmation page for our confirmed opt-in process were the same, which was definitely confusing. Because of the duplication we also missed out on the opportunity to confirm that they were subscribed and to tell them to expect a welcome email. While reviewing the process, we decided to make a few other changes as well.

Hoping to inspire you to review your own subscription processes, here are the improvements that we made:

1. Sign-up Confirmation Page. After signing up for our newsletter, you're taken to a sign-up confirmation page. It originally said:

"A confirmation email has been sent to your inbox from enews@emailexperience.org. To confirm your subscription please click on the link enclosed in that email."

We made some minor tweaks to make it clear more quickly that the subscriber needs to take an additional action. The new wording is:

"To confirm your subscription, please click on the link in the confirmation email that we just sent to you from enews@emailexperience.org. Thank you."

2. Subscription Confirmation Email. The only change we made to this email, which is triggered by a sign up, was to change the subject from "New subscription to Email Experience Council Email List" to "Please confirm your subscription to the Email Experience Council newsletter". The previous subject line seemed like it was intended for the email administrator, not a new subscriber. Plus, the new subject line again reinforces the message that an additional action is needed to complete the subscription process.

3. Subscription Confirmation Page. When you confirm your subscription by clicking on the link in the subscription confirmation email, you're taken to the subscription confirmation page. This was the element that our previous process lacked. Here's the wording we devised for this page:

"Thank you for subscribing to our weekly newsletter. A detailed welcome email has been sent to you from enews@emailexperience.org. Please add that address to your address book to ensure that you receive future emails in a timely fashion. Thanks and welcome to the Email Experience Council community."

It thanks them for subscribing, tells them to expect a welcome email and asks that they whitelist us—very concise and to the point.

4. Welcome Email. We had redesigned the body copy of our welcome email many months ago, so that copy was fine. However, we hadn't scrutinized the subject line enough. It said, "Welcome to The Email Experience Council," which was very misleading because while all eec members are eec subscribers, all subscribers are not members. So we changed that subject line to "Welcome to the Email Experience Council community!" which echoed the final line of the subscription confirmation page.

Thanks again, Ben, for helping us do a better job of practicing what we preach.

—Chad White of the Email Experience Council

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DOUBLE DOG DARE: Add an Unsubscribe Link to the Top of Your Emails

Sometimes people need a nudge to try something new, edgy or against the conventional wisdom. So here you go, we dare you—NO, we Double Dog Dare you—to consider this challenge from DJ Waldow of Bronto Software:

Add an unsubscribe link to the top of your emails where it's more easily seen. Why is it that the vast, vast majority of unsubscribe links reside (hide?) at the bottom of the email message? Is it because as consumers, we've been trained to scroll to the bottom of the email to unsubscribe? Or is it that as marketers we don't want to do anything to suggest that subscribers should opt-out? Consider the likely positive benefits of adding another unsubscribe option to the top of your emails: Would this give more people faith that the unsubscribe link would work and therefore reduce the number of spam complaints? While it would surely increase the number of unsubscribes, would you lose active subscribers? Your inactive subscriber are most likely to act on the new, more visible opt-out link, which would give you a more engaged subscriber base that's cheaper to mail and administer.

You may have a more specific business reason to make the unsubscribe link more prominent as well. For example, you may want to add the additional unsubscribe link if your spam complaints are too high, particularly if you have lots of younger subscribers (which tend use the "report spam" button to opt-out). Also, if you see your spam complaints rise after sweepstakes acquisition campaigns or during the holidays when you increase frequency, adding a more prominent opt-out link will likely reduce those complaints. I dare you to test this on a small portion of your list (and share your results).

If you take up this dare, let us know how it went by commenting below. And if you have a Double Dog Dare for the eec community, let us know about that too.

–>See more Double Dog Dares.

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AOL (AIM) Understands Email Marketing (Not!)

As I rolled into work this morning, I logged into my Gmail account to see what random emails came in over the 6-hour window of time I was sleeping. Lo and behold….a message was sitting unread in my inbox.

The message was from "AIM Member Message" and had the subject line "What's New with AIM?" If I wasn't the type of person who opens every email (if only to critique them from a best practices standpoint), I would have "junked" this one immediately. Who is "AIM Member Message?" Why not "AIM" or "AOL Instant Messenger?" If you are going to have a terrible From name, at least wow me with the subject line, right? "What's New with AIM?" Boooooooring.

Two strikes for AOL before I even open the message. But, again, I open everything. Maybe they were banking on that fact. Maybe they didn't really spend any time thinking about the From name or subject line. Maybe they don't have a dedicated team of email marketers who are thinking about email as a strategic tool. Maybe it's a combination of all three or "none of the above." Who knows? Either way, it's not a great start.

Did I mention that I can't remember ever receiving an email from AOL (not in my Gmail account anyway)? So my next question (zinger) is how did they get my email address? Followed by…why the random, seemingly out-of-the-blue email? Oh right, they wanted to tell me "What's New with AIM." Too bad I don't care or more importantly, never asked to be emailed by AIM. Good thing they put the disclaimer in fine print in the footer.

Now…to the message. On first glance, a decent design for images off. Three text links—one "Find Out More!" followed by two "Start Now!" At least the valuable disclaimer/opt-out shows up with images off.

Moving onto the message with images on, I realize there are several key calls-to-action that are now viewable. So much for a nice design with images off. First off, apparently this is the AIM Newsletter. Who would've known? What *is* the AIM Newsletter anyway? A weekly message? Monthly communication? Whenever-they-feel-like-it email? Looks like they want me to download AIM. Funny thing is that I already have an AIM account. In fact, I've had one since AIM first launched sometime in the late 20th century. AOL collects a ton of data (I assume). Shouldn't they have already known that little tidbit? How about segmenting the list…targeting emails?

Continuing down below the fold, it looks like they want me to "start using [my] free AIM Mail Account." Again—been there, done that. My AOL username dates back to the dial-up days of 1995.

Finally, at the very bottom of the email—well below the fold—I get some neat new information: Mobile AIM! Yes. I can now access AIM on my mobile device. I guess it's about time to purchase that smart phone. I've been told they are pretty cool.

Unfortunately, I'm no longer shocked or surprised when a multi-billion dollar company does not understand the basics of email marketing. In the email ecosystem, industry experts often get dinged for hammering "email marketing 101." Marketers shout, "We get the fundamentals. Show us the new stuff!" But then…we get emails like the one from AOL/AIM/AIM Member Message.

Thanks AOL for keeping our jobs easy….

—DJ Waldow of Bronto Software

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Enterprise: Great Intent, Poor Execution

I rented a car from Enterprise for the May 2008 Email Insider Summit on Captiva Island in Florida. Enterprise has been my vendor of choice for the past 5 years because of their incredible customer service and comparable prices. As far as I'm concerned they are ozone layers above the rest.

However, as an email marketing account manager at Bronto Software for the past 3 years, I've evolved into a consumer with a critical eye toward marketing—email marketing specifically. I think about email all the time and am always fascinated on how companies communicate and execute on their email marketing campaigns. Enterprise was now on the clock. So…sit back, buckle up, and read on to learn more about my Enterprise email experience.

Half asleep due to boredom, I muddled through the normal car rental stuff—license, car model/size, etc. Then, after I signed away my life (and declined the optional insurance) the Enterprise guy asked me for my email address. Suddenly, he had my full attention. Of course, I asked why he needed my email and what he would use if for. Very politely, Mr. Enterprise informed me that they send out occasional updates on Enterprise specials. Sign me up!

I was immediately impressed that not only did he overtly ask for my permission, the salesman also began to set some expectations (frequency). It would have been hard to set content expectations in that particular venue, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

When I arrived at my bed & breakfast on Captiva Island and found a wireless connection, I checked my Gmail for the Enterprise welcome message. D'oh. Strike one. No email from Mr. Enterprise. Good thing my expectations for welcome messages were pretty low. A recent study by Return Path showed the dismal results on welcome messages (60% of companies surveyed didn't bother to send one!).

The good news? The very next day, Enterprise sent me a confirmation email. Yay! The from name was "Enterprise Plus" (okay) and the subject line read "Activate your Enterprise Plus membership" (love)—clear and to the point. The message with images off was not so great, but that's a post for another day. Images on was pretty good, not great, but at least it gave me a few opportunities to activate my account. Not bad, Enterprise. My faith in their email marketing program was returning.

I figured I'd put them to the test…see what happened if I did *not* confirm by clicking "Activate Now." So I opened the email, but didn't confirm. In fact, I didn't even click on a link. Lo and behold, one week to the day later, Enterprise sent me another email. I know what you are thinking (and what I was hoping): A reminder to confirm my interest in their email marketing campaign. Nope. This one came from "Enterprise-Rent-A-Car" (makes sense) and the subject read "David, speed your way to savings from Enterprise" (okay), but the content (Enterprise Regular Email.jpg) had nothing to do with activating my account. It was just the normal Enterprise email. Actually, the call to action offered me at 15% discount on NASCAR.COM Superstore. Okay, I'll admit, I am going into year #2 in a Fantasy Nascar league, but come on Enterprise! You didn't really know that. Then…on June 10th, another Enterprise email. It was the exact same email - same subject line, same copy, same offer (Nascar.com), with a different From Name (Enterprise Plus). In case you forget, at this point, I have still not confirmed my opt-in.

TAKEAWAYS:
1. In order to grow your email marketing list, take advantage of all opportunities to ask future and current customers: Enterprise nailed this one.
2. Send a Welcome Message immediately (set proper expectations around content and frequency). Enterprise bombed this one.
3. If you are going to send a confirmation email, make sure you receive an opt-in BEFORE sending more email. Enterprise was so close, but missed it.

—DJ Waldow of Bronto Software

*Earlier this week, Enterprise sent me a reminder email about my reservation for my Connecticut trip. Hmmm.

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MAKE IT POP!: What’s Your Preference?

I was inspired by ExactTarget's recently published whitepaper, Subscribers Rule. "Subscribers Rule" is—in ExactTarget's words—"acknowledgement that we, as marketers, bear a responsibility to deploy one-to-one marketing technologies in ways that put subscriber needs first."

I went for a jog yesterday in my "Subscribers Rule" t-shirt and contemplated great ways for marketers to begin empowering individual subscribers. My starting-point pick: the Communications Preferences Center. This is the landing page on your website that allows your subscribers to control what, when, and how you communicate with them.

FIVE WAYS TO MAKE YOUR COMMUNICATION PREFERENCE CENTER POP!:

(1) Let subscribers decide what information they want to offer.
Tommy Bahama asks only the most basic details upfront, then layers in the opportunity to identify optional detailed preferences. This allows subscribers to decide how much information they want to disclose—and how much time they want to invest in the sign-up process. Asking for too much upfront can result in a lost email address.

(2) Provide clear descriptions of your content options.
BabyCenter publishes a variety of personalized email newsletters. They make it easy for subscribers to choose which they'd like to recieve by posting descriptions and examples of each publication. Content selection happens at step three of their simple, three-step registration process. BabyCenter includes an explanation around each step to help subscribers understand how providing data is to their benefit.

(3) Allow subscribers to select their preferred message format.
As more subscribers view email on mobile devices, it becomes important to ask them how they prefer to receive their emails—in HTML or Text format. The New York Times follows a three-step registration process similar to BabyCenter's; however, because they reach out to more business customers using mobile devices, they include a format preference option. I like that they include a "What's this?" link to explain the difference between HTML and Text; it's silly to assume that the general public understands the difference.

(4) Give subscribers control over frequency.
While your biggest fans might want to hear from you every day, your sunny-day subscribers might prefer to receive email from you only once a month. If you have the capability to deliver on the promise, offer frequency as an option on your communication preferences page… and, as a way to retain over-mailed subscribers, on your opt-down page, like in this Saks example.

(5) Make the experience pleasant and easy.
I like Louis Vuitton's Communication Preferences Center for its transparency and conciseness. Options to subscibe, modify and unsubscribe appear within a left-land menu bar, and each page lives succinctly above the fold. As we'd hope for a luxury brand, the pages are well-produced and attractive; the newsletter sample screenshot is a nice touch.

Tommy Bahama also presents a well-branded experience, from the design to the copy. Rather than just picking up default verbiage, they make the text paradise-appropriate: "Tell us what inspires you, and we'll create an email experience that's as perfect as a well-planned vacation."

Paradise delivered!

As ever,
Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.

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Two-Click Survey Results: What Level of Permission to You Get from Most of your Email Subscribers?

The answer…
11% –> Double opt-in (have to check an unchecked box and respond to confirmation email)
26% –> Confirmed opt-in (have to check an unchecked box, plus they receive a welcome email allowing them to immediately opt out)
22% –> Single opt-in (have to check an unchecked box)
22% –> Negative opt-in (have to uncheck a pre-checked box not to be opted in)
20% –> Opt out (are automatically opted in and have to opt out to get off your list)

Are you surprised by the results? Share your comments below.

Also, visit the eec homepage to answer the latest Two-Click Survey question:
Which channel does email have the most synergies with?

–>See more Two-Click Survey Results.

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