Archive for the ‘Email marketing’ Category

Percassity Perspectives

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Latest edition of my company newsletter.

Issue 5, October 2010 This edition’s news round up takes a look at the potential of transactional emails, the BBC’s take on social media monitoring and court action against the UK by the EU data protection authorities. We also write on how old-style email campaigns waste marketing resources, and look at some low cost CRM technology solutions for SME’s.

When to stop flogging a dead horse

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

There’s a strong tendency when planning a data selection for a forthcoming campaign or programme to pull as much as possible in order to maximise the reach of the activity and corresponding response. This is nearly always self-defeating however, and not least when it comes to using every record meeting your selection criteria, regardless of how long ago it was collected or when any kind of response was last received. Even if such data is not obviously out of date, there are many reasons to exclude it from ongoing activity.

Although this is likely to be an issue restricted to email activity rather than relatively more expense direct mail, it’s still applicable to both. The greater cost involved with DM creates a natural incentive to fine-tuning selections ahead of launching a campaign. Even so, it’s extraordinary how poorly targeted such activity can often still be, with the obvious parameter of data age not taken into account.

The seemingly next-to-nothing cost of email though makes it easy to think that that there is no impact to using all available data, but as we all know (albeit don’t necessarily acknowledge) this is not the case. Diligent email marketers will of course remove bounced email addresses from their lists in order to maintain a clean database and eliminate records known to be no longer active (although not always, see Email bounces and database updates). And it goes without saying that opt-outs and unsubscribes must be removed in order to maintain privacy compliancy. Other than that, if you’ve got a usable record, use it, right?

Well, an obvious effect of taking this approach is to actually diminish your percentage open rates, since the opens that you do achieve will be diluted by all those disengaged recipients. Now you might be thinking that this is just damned lies and statistics, since the overall number of opens isn’t changed by the total number of recipients. If you’re monitoring these metrics however, they will be giving you a false, and unnecessarily pessimistic, impression. It will be much harder to achieve improvements due to the dead weight of of those recipients who are never going to look at what you send them.

Continuing to market to an artificially inflated list also obscures the number of people you’re actually reaching. The absolute open and click rates are crucial of course, but continuing to hope that non-responsive recipients will at some point come to life again may mask deeper issues with your database. Perhaps you should be looking for fresh subscribers or prospects via external data acquisition or increased social media activity to encourage opt-in. (Don’t just rush out and rent a list though – see the point on Data acquisition in my recent post How to take advantage of a recovery.)

How then should you go about honing your list selection when preparing a new campaign? Well obviously it goes without saying that your activity should be carefully targeted at individuals meeting relevant criteria across role, industry, interest, behaviour and so. A quick and easy way to eliminate the unresponsive element of your database however is to apply a filter I and others often refer to as “recency” (accepting this is a made-up word!). This is by no means rocket science, but takes a little discipline and good data management. Put simply, those individuals in your database that have not responded or interacted in any way for a defined period of time, usually 2-3 years, should be excluded from activity going forwards. Even if their email address is still in use they’re simply never going to respond and are just skewing your results as discussed. The minuscule possibility that they will respond in the future is just not worth the negative impact of continuing to include these recipients in your activity.

The trick here of course is the ability to effectively determine who these non-responders are. You will need the outcomes of your email and other direct activity to be fed back to your database in order to readily make a selection based on these criteria. As well as email opens and clicks, you should also take into account website log-in if applicable, event attendance, purchase (obviously) and any other behaviour you can identify and track. Increasingly, this might include social media activity, such as Twitter or Facebook. It’s quite possible that lack of actual response to email doesn’t mean lack of interest, but you need to demonstrate this, not just make an assumption. The ability to make this part of your selection criteria clearly needs to be a “production” capability, built-in to your marketing operations, and not a hugely labour intensive task for every campaign execution.

It’s worth noting also that the lack of response to marketing activity could itself be used as a trigger for some other kind of follow-up, particularly for high value contacts. If a past customer or senior-level prospect has stopped responding, a quick call using a low-cost resource (i.e. not an expensive Inside Sales rep) to check their status could be worthwhile. Maybe the contact has left and been replaced, changed roles or allowed your company to fall off their radar. You might be able to re-engage, but if not, move on.

Recency should be a field in your database that is constantly calculated based on all the criteria outlined above, which can be readily included in a selection. Just to make the point, this is completely different from “last edit date”, which can often be set when a record in a database is merely viewed, regardless of whether a real change was made or activity performed by the contact. Implementing this simple addition to your campaign selection will have an instant, positive effect on your marketing metrics and save you from flogging dead horses.

Alternative approaches to subject line personalisation

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Over coffee with a client’s VP of Marketing last month, we came up with an idea for customising (or customizing!) subject lines in email marketing. It’s well known that subject lines are a key determinant of open rates and every good campaign should involve the testing of different variations to establish which one  performs best. Considerations often revolve around personalisation or length (with regards to whether shorter or longer is better), but we got to thinking that quirky or straight might also have an effect.

Some people, we concluded, might quite enjoy an email subject like “Have lunch on us whilst we talk about our stuff!”, whereas others may prefer a more serious tone along the lines of “Learn the benefits of our products over lunch”. This could be tested over a sequence of campaign executions and the individual open rate for each recipient recorded to see whether they tended to respond better to one type of line or another. This implied preference could then be recorded within the email or marketing database and utilised as a customisation parameter in future activity.

Of course any number of other factors could influence an individual’s open rate so ongoing monitoring and adjustment would be needed to ensure peak effectiveness. Just an idea though, and I set it free here for your consideration. If you give it a go, let me know how you get on!

Email bounces and database updates

Friday, August 28th, 2009

Commencing an engagement earlier in the summer with a company for which I had previously worked, I was issued with an Exchange account for internal communications whilst on-site. Not surprisingly, my external email address was the same as it had been when I was employed there, since it adopted a standard format comprising my first and surname together with the company’s domain. What did surprise me though, eighteen months after leaving the company, was the steady stream of emails I began to receive from lists to which I had been subscribed before I left.

Now perhaps I should have diligently ensured, before moving on, that I had unsubscribed from these lists or informed their senders of my change of address. The reality though is that this is often harder than it seems, between keeping track of the lists to which you have subscribed and knowing how to advise your new details. It’s usually not the highest priority when moving on either.

These emails sent to my old address would certainly have been bouncing back to the originator for quite some time. The failure, or conscious decision, by these senders not to process these bounces and use them as an opportunity to update their databases is astonishing. Across the entirety of their databases and subscriber lists, given the rate of decay of business data, these senders must experience significant volumes of email delivery failures.

Just as with spam, it’s tempting to dismiss such considerations on the grounds that the cost of continuing to send to dead addresses is minimal, the effort of doing something about it substantial and the overall impact negligible. This is not the case however, and persisting in sending to bounced addresses can lead to deliverability issues and represents a missed opportunity for database management.

Repeatedly sending to non-existent addresses and incurring the bounce back messages this generates gets noticed and can lead to being placed on spam offender lists. This could cause all email to be blocked by spam filters with obvious dire consequences for campaign effectiveness. You may not even know that here is a problem, except for the rather disappointing response rates.

Failing to update marketing databases with bounced addresses also means that the opportunity to track the fact that the record itself may be invalid is also lost. If other activity is being driven from the database, such as DM, then significant cost can be incurred sending to contacts who are no longer there. Acting on email bounces also offers the opportunity to proactively update the database. If an individual represented a high value contact (someone in a senior position or a frequent purchaser), perhaps it’s worth a call to establish where they’ve moved in order to re-establish contact or identify a replacement?

I’m not complaining that I’m receiving some of these emails again, and it may even be to some of the senders’ benefit in the end. But the likelihood of this situation arising is tiny and the potential negative impact significant. There’s no excuse for bad practice.

Salesforce.com, analytics, email marketing and financials – it’s all in the cloud

Monday, April 13th, 2009

The Salesforce.com customer conference in the UK this year took the form of CloudForce, a complimentary day of sessions and vendor showcases, held at London’s ExCel exhibition centre last week. It’s no revelation that Salesforce.com have long since moved on from simply being a salesforce automation developer. Today, they position themselves as “Force.com”, promoting the benefits of cloud computing – multi-tenanted, internet based computer platforms – that obviate the need to install software. Indeed, the “no software” message, and attendant logo of the word “software” with a line through it, was repeated at every opportunity. An amusing moment came when Paul Cheesbrough, CIO of The Telegraph Media Group, made reference to “your software” when joining Salesforce.com CEO, Marc Benioff, on stage during the main session. “Your platform I mean,” Cheesbrough quickly corrected himself, “there is no software.”
“Thank you,” replied Benioff.
“I saw it in your eyes!” quipped Cheesbrough.

The AppExchange platform that forms part of Saleforce.com offers a plethora of opportunities to expand the functionality of the base product. However, the ready integration capabilities of Salesforce.com and the Force.com application platform enable new possibilities, some of which I thought noteworthy. Force.com is particularly interesting, as it opens up the platform beyond Sales and Customer Service management to one that allows developers to create their own applications running on the Salesforce.com cloud infrastructure. To developers, Force.com represents the opportunity to deliver solutions based around the software-as-a-service ethos, without having to build the delivery infrastructure themselves. Adopters of these solutions, for whom not having to install software and maintain their own IT infrastructure is appealing, gain access to applications meeting their requirements that might not otherwise have made it to this delivery mechanism.

One such example is a complete accounting application from financial software developers Coda, called Coda2go. Based around their on premise solution, Coda2go runs entirely on the Force.com platform and integrates closely with Salesforce.com itself. I wrote recently about the considerations of integrating sales order processing within the sales and marketing “data ecosystem”, where I made reference to the point at which an Opportunity is closed and an order booked. With Coda2go, this process, together with resulting invoicing, is practically a one-click undertaking. Once the Opportunity is ready to be booked as a sales order, which would typically involve manually switching to a different system, all of the order details are picked up from Salesforce.com, transferred to Coda2go, invoices created and the rest of the accounting process put in train. I can’t speak to how good a financials solution Coda2go is, but this looks pretty neat!

Closer to marketing home, Cognos (now part of IBM) and QlikTech were offering Salesforce.com enabled versions of their analytics solutions. As well as enabling more sophisticated analysis, visual representation and dashboards than native Salesforce.com, these solutions will work across multiple data sources, holding out the prospect of unified marketing and sales reporting and analysis. Joining marketing data such as campaign execution, response and leads with converted opportunities and closed deals, the nirvana of true, operational marketing effectiveness reporting comes a step closer. Of course a variety of process implications still need to be considered, but at least data visibility is improved.

Finally, and firmly within the marketing realm, a couple of email campaign solutions and a data collection system caught my eye. Genius.com and ExactTarget both offer solutions for creating and despatching marketing emails with all the features you would expect, including HTML templates, personalisation, tracking and reporting. Naturally, this is integrated with Salesforce.com in terms of data management and reporting, making straightforward but relatively sophisticated email marketing very easy. Clicktools allows the creation of surveys, landing page and forms, enabling rapid generation of marketing response mechanisms, as well as questionnaires and so on. Between all of these solutions, it seems possible that best-of-breed marketing campaigns consisting of outbound email and rich landing pages with response tracking can be created relatively easily and inexpensively, without needing full scale and costly marketing automation solutions.

So, there you have my quick round-up of highlights from CloudForce ’09, all without reference to meteorology or having my head in the clouds. Doh! Too late.

Can we learn permission marketing from Generation Y?

Monday, March 30th, 2009

This week saw the annual IDM Lunch taking place once again, an opportunity for members to meet, catch up and discuss current issues over lunch, followed by a keynote address. The calibre of the speakers is always high and this year was no exception, with “worldwide business and technology strategist and best-selling author” (according to the IDM) Don Tapscott occupying the slot this time.

Tapscott’s presentation set out to highlight some of the reasons to embrace rather than disdain “Generation Y”, to whom the Internet is second nature. Rupert Murdoch described them as “digital natives”, against those of a slightly older disposition for whom the Internet arrived at a later stage in life and therefore making them “digital immigrants”. This generation are “bathed in bits” and have a completely different approach to media consumption and social interaction. This of course is characterised by Facebook, Twitter and My Space, but also, critics assert, lack of attention span, insularity and general dumbing down.

Tapscott rejects this description though, and as a Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, among other roles, and having recently completed a $4m research programme in this area, I guess he should know what he’s talking about. The general thrust of Tapscott’s counter-argument was that far from leading to the atrophy of the skills needed in modern business, online technologies foster them. The collaboration, team work and leadership engendered and developed online create individuals far more likely to be effective knowledge workers in the future.

Tapscott also highlighted the attitude of Gen Y to email and a memorable way of characterising it. Email is regarded as a more formal means of communication than instant messaging or social media sites; in other words, something for the oldies to use! Though not a new observation, Tapscott’s research turned up the following gem: when asked when email would be used by today’s teenagers, the response was “when writing a thank you letter to my friend’s parents for having me to dinner.” The art of letter writing may well be on borrowed time…

You can enjoy the rest of Tapscott’s observations in more detail by reading his latest book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, so I won’t dwell further here. The other element of his presentation which interested me though was actually his opening gambit. Demonstrating that great minds think alike, as I had suggested this only moments earlier to my neighbour at the table, he asked for a show of hands as to how many Twitter users were in the audience. Of perhaps the couple of hundred delegates, about a third professed to using Twitter, which was a little higher than I might have expected from a relatively senior audience. (Although given the IDM’s strap-line “Digital, Direct, Data”, perhaps this was just the digital contingent.)

Now, I confess I’m not on Twitter, though it’s on my list of things to do. This result however, somewhat supports my assertion that few of the people I’d like to speak do use the service, making my presence a little futile. However, I’m not closed off to it, and I was only recently enthusiastically assured of it’s great utility by an industry colleague (you know who you are!). In view of the upcoming generation ensconced in this technology though, marketers surely need to take these channels seriously, and start learning how to use them to the mutual benefit of organisations and those they wish to influence. This is a similar situation to the early web, when companies built websites with a limited understanding of what they hoped to achieve. This has the danger of being self-fulfilling, but the web didn’t turn out too badly!

What interests me, to bring this back on topic, is the operational implications of these technologies. How can they be effectively integrated into marketing processes, measured and justified? Or is this counter to the ethos of Web 2.0, where such mercenary and quantitative thinking is counter culture? It would seem a shame if so, as Twitter’s “follow my Tweets” approach strikes me as the ultimate in permission marketing. Where’s Seth Godin when you need him? (Well, try here, here or here!)

Executive email cut-through

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Another thought sprang to mind whilst at the marketing research focussed Insight Show this week, as I find often happens when the mind is stimulated by presentations and sales pitches. There were several suppliers offering mobile-based research services, and one who suggested that executive response was improved through the mobile channel as senior managers are more likely to have a high quality mobile experience device like a BlackBerry, on which they might be motivated to spend a few minutes participating in a survey during downtime whilst travelling, perhaps.

At the same time, like me, you’ve probably been receiving an increasing number of emails that contain a “Read this on a mobile device” link (next to “If you can’t read this click here”) at the top of the message. I think this is pretty neat; as good as the BlackBerry is, it’s inability until recently to properly display html formatted emails is both a fairly unforgivable deficiency but also an email deliverability road block, as such emails can’t be read easily, if at all. A link to a mobile screen formatted version of the email viewable in the web browser is ideal for such recipients, allowing them to view a rich, if abbreviated version of the message. I’m always checking email in the coffee queue, which is a good time to get a marketing message to me when I’ve got a minute or two spare, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Another trick to try out when the opportunity arises.

Customising business to business email

Friday, November 7th, 2008

Last night I attended the IDM Business Performance Awards 2008 presentation at the Kings Fund in London. Although the winners and featured case study was consumer orientated, consisting of a travel agent and their digital agency, I got to thinking how some of the techniques could be applied to business to business email activity.

A particularly neat aspect of the email creative being deployed to previous customers, encouraging them to book another holiday, was to use images from their previous destination or locations in which they had expressed an interest. In digital medium, this ought to be relatively straight forward of course, simply dropping the relevant graphic into the email at the point of broadcast based on a database variable. Despite how easy it might be, I’m not aware of too many people doing this kind of thing.

In a B2B context though, what sort of similar creative customisation could be undertaken? I use the word customisation deliberately, to distinguish from personalisation. The latter is the insertion of elements specific to the individual; a personalised salutation or use of a job title is an obvious example. Customisation is a broader alteration of the creative execution, usually based on a segmentation, thereby grouping a set of individuals together.

Everyone is familiar with personalisation, and to my mind it’s casual overuse in email subject lines such as “Simon, how are you tackling the pressures Acme Software faces?” I tend to avoid this type of personalisation, as it just seems like trying too hard. However creative customisation of email from a software company, along the lines of the travel example above, don’t immediately present themselves. A picture of the box the CD comes in, depending on which product the recipient browsed? Mmmm, I don’t think that’s going to win an award!

Instead, how about a creative customisation based on the industry of the recipient. A subtle image depicting their industry, be it a production line, trading desk or retail outlet conveys an appreciation of the recipient’s world helps show that as marketers we’re paying attention. The subject could even be customised to make reference to the industry as well. Corny stock photography needs to be avoided of course, but that’s not my area of expertise! I haven’t had the chance to try it yet, I’ll let you know when I do and do share your own experience too.

10 tips for collecting email addresses

Friday, April 25th, 2008

A nice little piece on collecting email addresses featured recently in Netherlands-based data provider Computer Profile’s email newsletter. Some of the suggestions are fairly obvious or easier said than done, but I liked the point on making sure that registration/sign-up forms are as simple as possible. The point they make, that you can always learn more about contacts in the future, is entirely true, and it’s something I’m hoping we’re going to start doing soon. In addition, form auto-completion techniques, as we recently implemented (see previous post Address to impress – smart web form data collection), also help speed up the form completion experience, together with data quality improvements.

Why it’s important to integrate your database and email marketing

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

We use external email service provider eMarket2 for all of our email marketing execution in EMEA, whose web-based, template-driven self-service SalesTalk system is very easy to use for the creation of standardised HTML emails. Using a provider like this has lots of benefits, not least deliverability, as they take care of black lists, spam honeypot addresses and other considerations. Contrasted with the uncertain deliverability of our email marketing in the US, it’s seems to be working well for us in EMEA.

eM2 would of course very much like us to utilise the database functionality of their system as our primary marketing data repository, but this just doesn’t fit in with our wider requirements and workflow. As such, we need to ensure a good level of integration with our Onyx system to maximise efficiency and the best-in-class data management. Again, eM2 have an application programming interface (API) which they’re keen for us to utilise for this purpose, but the idea of trying to initiate a project of such sophistication in the midst of the prevailing SFA review isn’t compelling! So, I’m putting a slightly more ad hoc process in place involving batch data transfers and overnight updates, all of which should be automated. Why go to this effort in the first place though?

  • Email lists should be refreshed from your marketing database for each piece of activity, ensuring it reflects the most recent data and appropriate selection possible. This is particularly important for observing opt-outs and avoiding emailing old or invalid addresses, which affects your spam ratings.
  • It’s important that all outbound activity is tracked in your marketing database in order to build up the touch history of your marketing communication. Pulling emails lists directly from the database is likely to be the most efficient means of achieving this.
  • Delivery results, including bounces, opens and click-throughs should be returned to the database as part of your tracking. Bounces are crucial for flagging out of date addresses and individuals that have moved on, together with the spam considerations just mentioned. Opens and clicks let you track the behaviour of your recipients, which can be utilised in future activity. For instance, you could differentiate messaging for individuals who previously opened a message or visited a landing page.
  • Depending on your unsubscribe mechanism, it’s also crucial to ensure that opt-out requests are fed back to your database in a timely manner.

With these processes in place, operating largely transparently to our marketing programme managers, I’m confidant that email marketing effectiveness will improve over time.