Email Marketing Insights
April 29, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
Subject lines have been an email marketing topic of conversation for more than a decade, yet we still don't seem to have it figured out. In speaking with marketers, the actual act of composing a subject line is often one of the last elements considered and sometimes even just "slapped" on by the email manager as it goes out the door (confessed to me in confidence by a brand…but a secret is a secret). I imagine this is true at a number of brands - you just don't know it or don't want to admit it.
Consequently, it's an effective subject line that initiates an interaction with your recipients and should receive its due. So today we are taking advanced email marketing practices back to basics, providing some insights into elements we should all consider about the subject lines of the messages we send.
1. Write your subject line first. Like writing a good story or thesis, you need to have a clear and succinct objective. Your point needs to be clearly stated, and when it comes to your email program, the subject line serves as this statement. Too often, ample time is spent on the creative and copy that is contained within the email itself, leaving the subject line largely overlooked. Your subject line is critical to driving engagement and ultimately setting the appropriate expectations for your customer.
2. Why say it in five words, when you can say it in 55? You can find all kinds of advice around the proper length of a subject line. It's anecdotal at best and should be leveraged by brands as a rule of thumb - not a definitive guide. Realistically, if you don't follow rule one, then this is really moot. If you have nothing important or inspirational to say, it matters little how many actual characters you use to express that nothingness.
There are things to consider as it pertains to subject line length though. The number of characters that render in different email clients, on varying smartphones and tablets does limit the insight into the message. So do make sure that you are conveying the most critical information at the front end of your subject line. If you are testing percent off or dollar off offers, consider placing it at the front end of the subject line to best ensure it is going to render for most (if not all) of your recipients.
3. Say what you mean. Be direct in what you are asking the customer to do - tell her what you want her to do. Leverage some sense of action verbiage to drive the engagement you are looking for. If there is time sensitivity - tell her. If she is getting a great deal - share it. Whatever you do, make sure you mean it.
I spoke with a consumer once who acted on a "Last Chance" email because she didn't want to miss out. Two days later (after she converted), she got another "Last Chance" email from the same brand with the same offer. Needless to say, she felt duped. If it really is the last chance, make it so.
4. Carry the voice of your brand. Companies and brands all have different personalities and different voices. If you have a racy or fun brand, be sure to carry that voice and character through in your subject lines. It is typically that demeanor that the customer resonates with, so there is little reason to hide it inside the message. But be sure you are true to that voice.
5. Don't stop at the subject line. This is why starting with the subject line is important - it is where the conversation starts. It introduces the main idea of your email, and you need to make sure you provide the supporting content when the message is opened. Your subject line makes a promise to your recipient of what can be found inside. If there is a disconnect between the subject and the actual content, you may see great "open rates," but you may also find that the recipient doesn't follow through with the desired behavior. Be sure to deliver on that promise from start to finish.
6. Test your subject lines in real time. Subject lines are an element that work really well at a moment in time. Depending on what each recipient may have going on when they see that email will determine whether it resonates or not - right then and there. What works for a single consumer today may not tomorrow. So developing a methodological approach to composing a subject line may not be effective in the long run.
This all may seem something of common sense to you, but it is a critical piece of your email program and its success. I am finding that many marketers are squarely focused on how to innovate the channel, loop in video, optimize at the point of open, and on and on - but we are losing sight of the basics. I still only see 36 characters on my iPhone when I am triaging my email, and if those characters are - "Today Only. In Stores Only - Try Bea" your point may be missed because 1) I am busy today, 2) I have no intention of leaving my house for an in-store only offer, and 3) I don't even know what I am to be trying. Message deleted. Opportunity lost.
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 11:09 AM
April 19, 2013 | Jai Williams
Here's an article I wrote for Multichannel Merchant:
As brand marketers place more time and effort into making their email marketing communications more effective, the importance of getting as close as possible to a 1:1 connection with consumers becomes readily apparent. The key to establishing what I like to refer to as a “real” connection with your consumer goes beyond indiscriminately dropping your consumer lists into existing marketing campaigns.
In order for connections with consumer audiences to be effective, these connections have to be viewed as relationships. These relationships have to be nurtured and constantly developed over a period of time. The best way to establish a strong relationship with consumers is through a brand’s lifecycle messaging. Lifecycle messaging at its core is more digestible when broken up into a phased approach, knowing that over the course of a member’s journey with your brand your members and brand advocates go through varying life stages. In this piece, we dive into how exactly to get there – appropriately.
The one critical moment that a brand has to establish or create a lasting impression, develop a strong brand identity, and create awareness about their brand with the consumer starts at the very beginning: with the first message. That first message should in fact be the Welcome message. This is a phase that I aptly refer to as the courtship. Using email as one of the most intimate touch points of customer interaction, let’s outline some steps in cultivating a successful welcome experience.
Step 1 – Identify the Challenge
Maybe your email marketing program has a welcome message. Maybe it doesn’t. In the event your program does in fact include a welcome program, examine just how effective it is. Does that program only consist of one message before then folding your program’s recipients into the remainder of your marketing messages?
Step 2 – Create a Solution
When developing your welcome program, be sure consider the following advice:
ü Treat Your Welcome Program as an Onboarding Process
Retailers that don’t make the assumption that their audience knows everything about their brand and offerings tend to have better performing welcome programs.
ü Develop a Series of Messages
Create a culture of learning by developing a series of messages that specifically caters to new customers. A series of succinct messaging can be very powerful in reinforcing a brand’s unique value proposition. It can also help establish and educate those members of the audience who will ultimately grow to become loyalists or brand advocates.
ü Seize the Opportunity to Reinforce Your Branding
A welcome message is an excellent way to emphasize your product offerings and cross-promote your family of brands. When a member signs up for your loyalty rewards program or requests additional information, take the extra step to ensure that the overall messaging reflects where the recipient likely discovered your brand. A hotel chain could easily accomplish this by adding its property’s brand logo in a prominent area of the message. By doing this, you’re not just welcoming the member to your loyalty program – you’re reinforcing and cross-promoting visibility of a property that is familiar to the recipient. As a retailer, this is easily done by incorporating your family of brand logos in the messaging, keeping in mind the varying or tiered price-point offerings, e.g. Banana Republic, The Gap and Old Navy (all within one family of brands, offering like quality products).
Step 3 – Acknowledge the Results
Understand and treat your metrics from these types of communications with the same level of weight and importance as you would with any other messages in your marketing program’s portfolio. Scrutinize and proactively test those items that correlate to your program’s performance and deliverability. Proactively think of ways that your team can ultimately promote cross-channel marketing for new members based on your retail brand’s visibility in different channels.
As stated at the beginning, the beauty of the courtship lies within the nurturing of the consumer relationship with your retail brand. By going the extra mile and making an effort in positioning and proactively exposing your brand’s unique value proposition, you open the door to not only creating a great experience for your new member audience – you create a lasting impression by cultivating a culture of learning and a strong brand identity. It’s a win-win. Doing some or all of these things will take the level of your programs up a notch and also create new advocates who will be invaluable in extending your brand to new audiences.
Posted by: Jai Williams at 12:15 AM
April 01, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for Figaro Digital:
Big Data. It’s a hot topic and it’s being debated by direct and email marketers alike. Some argue that the concept has been around for years (they aren’t wrong). Others have concerns about big data providing marketers with the mechanisms to flub their results. (They aren’t wrong either). Still others believe it is the solution that drives a more one-to-one experience between the marketer and the customers (and it could).
The big data discussion is becoming a very real business initiative for companies across multiple verticals. This leaves email marketers concerned about the implications this discussion will have on their channel. What will you do with the few quintillion bytes of data generated every day? It’s a good thing email is a dynamic and flexible channel, but that doesn’t mean email marketers must scramble to adapt to this unprecedented paradigm of lots and lots of data today. Do the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data spell doom for seasoned email marketing practices? Not really.
Leveraging data is nothing new – it’s core to the practice of marketing. What the big data initiative means for email marketers is access to the data they have wanted for years but haven’t been able to get their hands on. But be careful to not overthink it. The goal is to be smarter marketers, providing a more relevant and meaningful experience to the subscriber. Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of email marketing; rather, enhance your capabilities with a newfound wealth of information.
Targeted, meaningful interactions
It is the data, not the intuition, that makes marketing programmes successful. Being relevant is something we have discussed as an industry since its inception. We prefer not to batch and blast; instead, we strive to create unique and optimal engagements with the customer to drive desirable behaviours. And it is the ability to leverage data in order to make informed decisions and drive relevant offers that helps to achieve that reality.
According to the 40/40/20 rule of email marketing: 40 per cent of a programme’s success is determined by getting the right message to the right person (data); 40 per cent of the success is delivering the message at the right time (data, again). The remaining 20 per cent is how it is delivered. The creative element associated with the message – and determining the right creative envelope can also be born out of, yep, you guessed it, data. It is important to keep your focus on turning the dials that are most impactful first. After all, with all this data at your fingertips, it wouldn’t be unusual to find yourself diving down a variety of data-mining rabbit holes.
Start by leveraging the insights you gain to determine what the right message is for your audience. Years back I worked for a loyalty agency, and we always started with the ‘who.’ Understanding an audience or a segment is the first necessary step in determining an offer. If you don’t know who you are trying to appeal to, how can you ever be relevant? Once you have the audience, start looking at historic behaviour. Past offer performance will help determine what to offer (or better yet, what offers to test) to the defined audience. Next, you need to determine the proper timing of the offer. (Is it seasonal? Is there a product or buying cycle to consider?) Finally, but just as important, is identifying creative for delivering this carefully crafted message. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box and have a little fun with it.
Find the offers that drive ROI
Email marketers have been running tests, comparing results and measuring lift and incremental behaviour since before email marketing was a channel. This is a practice which direct mailers really perfected – largely because of the increasing costs to print and mail offers, but whatever the reason it drove significant relevance. With the flexibility of email, these tests are easier and more effective (and leveraged less often) than before. Get back on the testing bandwagon – strive to be a more relevant marketer. The more data consumers generate, the more relevant they expect you to be; don’t lose sight of the importance just because it is cost-effective to send email.
You need to get your testing methodology defined and implemented with the data you have access to today because as more data becomes available (and your ability to analyse it speeds up) you will need to be in the practice of testing as an organisational culture. You should also start looking more closely at your metrics for success. Be prepared to move beyond conversions to bigger concepts like ROI and lifetime value.
Keep striving for greater gains
We’ve come a long way from the days when marketers could say “I waste half my advertising dollars, I just don’t know which half.” Advances in cross-channel tracking and reporting enable email marketers to build detailed reports for follow-up. Still, most of these reports have been limited: either in detail or timescale. For example, a detailed report is given about a specific mailing or programme, but only aggregate-level data is available over a quarter or entire year. This has long been a reality of data storage limitations associated with system performance, and that is one big challenge which the big data effort is addressing. The ability to store, process and analyse mounds of information is making many reporting geeks extremely happy.
What’s exciting for marketers is the promise of a data structure that can store and make available highly detailed information on what emails/campaigns/ promotions users have received, how they’ve responded to those and how that behaviour has changed over a year or longer. How will personas and strategies change when such detailed data over such a long period is available so quickly?
So, the principles of marketing will remain unchanged as big data becomes reality. Data, and how it’s used, remains core to a marketer’s strategy.
One thing may change: analysis. As the sets of data become larger, methods of analysis beyond the experience of most marketers become necessary. I’m talking about statistical modeling and predictive analytics - the types of things quantitative analysts do for a living. Some larger organisations, in parallel with tech changes to accommodate big data, have created teams of quants to service different business units (including marketing) with this type of analysis. Marketers must learn to speak the language and ask the right questions of these people as they become a part of the marketing process.
If you’re experienced in the ways of marketing, big data shouldn’t be something that keeps you up at night with anxiety. Although you may lose sleep thinking about all the opportunities it provides for creating more relevant and effective programmes.
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 12:18 AM
March 12, 2013 | Justin Williams
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
As marketers progress rapidly toward the analytics 2.0 horizon brought on by the ability to collect and store more data, one phrase has echoed through my mind: "It's time to get mature about data."
The opportunities and problems brought on by "big data" are nothing new for marketers. We've always had to deal with information on who our customers are and what they do. Ever since we've realized that "half our advertising dollars are wasted," we've been driven to better understand how exactly our marketing spend influences behavior.
And for the past 20 years or so, we've done alright. We've built systems that track bounces, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and complaints. We've connected that with on-site behavior to understand conversions. We've linked customer data back to the email to drive dynamic personalization. Well done.
But have we begun to understand statistically how our campaigns that don't drive conversions influence behavior? Do we know which factors out of that set of customer data are better to target when personalizing? And, for these two questions and hundreds more, can we justify our answers using data and analysis?
I'm guessing that for many of us, the answer is no.
Time to grow up.
As the realm of measurement moves out of the purely technical and shares importance with the marketing side of the house, are we in marketing prepared to use this awesome capability that we're about to gain?
Here are five things you can do to create a data maturity growth spurt:
1. Ditch the single channel mentality. Email affects behavior, but so do other channels. Recently, a major company's marketing department presented the revenue generated by each digital channel to their financial leaders. When they summed all the channels, they showed $200 million generated, which made the CFO laugh, since the company had only generated $120 million.
Research the methods and new tools available that make it possible to more accurately attribute revenue and understand better how channels influence behavior.
2. Get better metrics. The fundamentals remain important, but other methods of analysis will provide deeper insights into your performance.
For example, consider building cohort analysis into your reporting practice. You'll get a better idea of how customers gained through different marketing mixes perform over a certain period of time, possibly identifying key insights in lifetime value that could not be had attributing value from the most recent purchase only.
3. Understand the stats. Statistical analysis that used to be seen only in the world of insurance and finance are now being leveraged by marketing departments to better understand big data.
It's unrealistic for most marketers to reach the same level of proficiency that these Masters and Ph.D-level quants have. But that doesn't mean a marketer can't learn enough to understand what methods are being used and how to interpret the results. Learn to speak the language of the quants; be able to ask intelligent questions that a quant can work with; and be able to understand the relevance and limitations of the results she presents.
4. Look outside to find success. Research other companies that are using data and new analytical approaches to understand their successes and failures. Attend conferences, ask colleagues, and read plenty. Identify key takeaways for your business, tools you should consider, pitfalls to avoid, and results to expect.
5. Use it. This principle is as true as it ever was: all of this maturity is worth nothing if you don't use it to test new things and improve.
"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." - Mark Twain
Grow up, and join the marketers who are always striving for the next level of data maturity.
Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:15 AM
February 21, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:
My husband is a big movie lover. He is one of those guys who can whip out a quote or scenario from some of the most obscure movies at just the right time, and then immediately follow with: “Name the movie.” After 15 years of exposure, I am pretty used to the “go-to” repertoire of films and quotes, but every once in a while he will surprise me with one I haven’t heard before.
The other day we got on the subject of the many Austin Powers movies and the classic quotes and moments that came from that series: Femmbots, Mr. Bigglesworth, I want my baby back, baby back, baby back… ribs -- and yes, Dr. Evil.
As an archenemy for Austin Powers, Dr. Evil is a pretty funny dude (though you may choose to disagree). But what if he were an email marketing consultant? How funny would that be? Can you imagine the conversations that would happen between him and any given brand? The advice would be priceless -- or at least worth “one million dollars.”
So welcome to my quirky mind as I dispense email marketing advice, Dr. Evil-style.
"Why must I be surrounded by frickin' idiots?" Email marketing, as a discipline, is not overtly complex. It requires attention to detail, regard for subscribers and the delivery of content and information that recipients want.
They may not even know they want it -- but as the marketer, you have an inkling.
What is critical to remember is that you are NOT surrounded by “frickin’ idiots” (OK, you may be -- but those people are not your customers). Customers are smart. They know that you have the ability to understand their behavior and act upon it in a very real and meaningful way. If you ignore that behavior and those customer signals, you may just be the “frickin’ idiot,” and no one wants that.
Achieving relevance in your email programs is simple in theory, but can be complex in practice. You need to find the right balance of targeting and segmentation to include the customers who should want what you are selling, while trying to weed out those who may not be interested. Using customers’ historic behavior has been a pretty common practice for years, but now recognizing behaviors that are happening right now that signal buying readiness is fast becoming the expectation.
If you are not actively looking at other channels to determine predisposition to engage with your email programs, you may be doing yourself a great disservice. A simple phone call or search on your app may be just be the trigger you need to send that ever-relevant message that drives the conversion.
“Well it's true! It's true! You're semi-evil. You're quasi-evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the Diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough." You don’t just send email – you are an email marketer, and that means something. Marketers commit to strategies, align goals and objectives and dive in head-first to achieve the right mix of promotion and value for the subscriber. If you just send email, you are the Diet Coke of email marketing.
The devil (or the evil) is in the details. Consider your audience and ask yourself if the message fits them. If not, you should refine (or test) to validate the consideration. Make sure that your subject line isn’t an afterthought. It better be captivating and stand out from the crowd. And for the love of margarine, don’t just hit the send button because you can -- if that's what you are doing then maybe your program is “just one calorie.”
"Let me tell you a little story about a man named Sh! Sh! even before you start. That was a pre-emptive "sh!" Now, I have a whole bag of "sh!" with your name on it.” Let’s face it: We don’t have a whole lot of time to grab the attention of the recipient, so you really do need to make the most of those moments. Just as you start to tune out people who talk, and talk, and talk, and talk (c’mon, you know those people) -- customers do the same. They want you to get to the point. Tell me what you want me to do and why I should want to do it, in the least amount of time (the fewest words) possible.
If you are responsible for writing your email copy, it is a great practice to write it how you want, then hand it to someone in a different department or team. Give him/her thre seconds with it, then take it away and ask what the purpose of the message was. If (s)he can’t answer your question, you need to revise. Wash. Rinse. Repeat with a variety of test subjects (never using the same person twice) until someone gives you the right answer. In essence, teach yourself the art of the pre-emptive sh!
I am sure Dr. Evil has droves of advice for the email marketing community (and humanity in general) but for now we are going to let you get back to your regularly scheduled programming…uh, day. And as Dr. Evil would say, “Boo-frickity-hoo.”
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 11:08 AM
January 15, 2013 | Justin Williams
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
The inbox is a crowded place. Your message is competing along with hundreds of others that are from people who are likely more important to the recipient than your brand. How can you break through the arena of the inbox and stand out? Use your brain, or more accurately, use your recipient's brain.
The human brain is an interesting machine, filled with paradoxical mechanisms. It's so interesting that for almost 150 years many scholars have made it their primary focus. Years of study have revealed that the human brain behaves in certain predictable ways. These cognitive biases (i.e., a brain's bias, or preference, for one option over another) give us insight into how we as marketers can rise above the noise and truly reach our recipients.
Simply put, the objective of a subject line is twofold:
1. Get attention
2. Cause action (usually an open)
Most marketers focus on the second step of the equation, but both pieces are necessary for a subject line to be successful. The remainder of this column will focus on using cognitive biases and processes to get a recipient's conscious attention.
Get Attention by Lighting a Fire (Three Methods)
Taking a common-sense approach, we can best understand "attention" as helping the human to notice those things that will aid in survival and potentially increase pleasure or reduce pain. (Many more rigid models of attention have been proposed and studied, but the above simplification will serve for this column.)
If the fundamental unit of processing for the computer is the processor, then the fundamental unit of processing for the brain is the neural network. In the human brain, this neural network is made from 100 billion neurons. Each neuron works by "firing" an electrical impulse when it's "activated." The firings of the neurons combine to create human behavior. When we think of getting attention with subject lines, it helps to think about trying to literally cause the firing of neurons in the brain.
Note: Each of the methods below will help you get attention, but can be abused and become worthless if they aren't paired with a respect of the consumer's desires. These methods function to bring your subject line from the subconscious into conscious awareness. Once it gets there, it's still your job to make the subject line relevant and attractive (see the section on causing action).
Method 1: Use Certain Emotional or Personal Words to Grab Attention (the Cocktail Party Effect)
Have you ever been at a party, having a discussion, when someone across the room brings up your name? You suddenly shift your attention to that source, evaluating whether or not more attention is required. Is someone asking for your attention, talking about you, or merely discussing someone else with the same name?
This is called (appropriately) the Cocktail Party Effect. Before your name was spoken, the conversation was just background noise to you. Once your name was said, you immediately shifted your attention. You were already hearing the other conversations in the room at a subconscious level, but once your name was said, your brain brought the conversation to the level of attention to be processed and dealt with by a more powerful part of your brain.
Just like someone at a cocktail party, your subscribers' brains treat an inbox as a collection of noise, much of which is so unremarkable that it doesn't warrant conscious attention. To rise above the subconscious, you can leverage the Cocktail Party Effect.
Use a Name
The recipient almost can't help but pay attention when her name is used; it's hardwired in her brain after decades of programming. Putting a consumer's name in a subject line is almost guaranteed to get her attention.
Two caveats to this method: first, if you use it too much, the salience (see the next tip below) will be lowered so much that the recipient will learn to ignore you, or just unsubscribe to avoid further annoyance. (Imagine someone calling your name and then giving you nothing important…eventually you'd just ignore them.)
Second caveat: you'll need more than a name to get action. A name will get attention almost every time, but it's the rest of the subject line, and the use of the name in the subject line (e.g., there should be a reason for there to be a name) that will cause an action to occur.
Use Another Trigger Word
Though less effective than a name, words like "free," "limited," "urgent," "attention," "need," etc. also cause subject lines to rise out of the fog of subconscious to be attended consciously. If you're wondering what words count as trigger words (i.e., those that trigger conscious attention), simply think about what words cause you to suddenly shift your attention to something.
Just like with a name, you need to have a good reason to use these words, and you need to use them sparingly. Overuse will cause subscribers to leave and complain, even more so than overuse of a name.
Method 2: Increase the "Standoutness" of Your Subject (Salience)
Salience is the quality of how much one thing stands out in a group. Someone with red hair surrounded by people with brown hair can be said to have high salience.
Your emails sit in an inbox of tens or hundreds of other email subject lines. Humans can only effectively evaluate one thing at a time, but they group things together that appear similar to process them more efficiently. (Have you ever had a group of three coins that you thought were all quarters, but on closer inspection found one to be a foreign coin, or a dollar coin?)
If your subject line is similar in length, structure, and visual appearance as others, it's very likely to be grouped with those others and ignored.
To stand out, you need to be different. Try icons in your subject lines. Use only two words. Use all lowercase or all caps. Most marketers grasp this intuitively after years of experience, so you should be happy to learn there is some science to back up your intuition.
Method 3: Don't Habituate Your Subscribers (Operant Conditioning)
Think of a brand that sends you email. Now imagine that each one of their emails had the subject line "Stuff from Brand X." Right after signing up, you would open, since the original interest is still there, but this original interest will quickly fade. Unless you form a strong emotional connection to Brand X, you're unlikely to pay attention to "Stuff from Brand X" when you see it in your inbox unless you've got nothing better to do (equally unlikely).
Just like you've learned to ignore the particular smudges on that stop sign right next to your house, or the number of stairs you climb to get to your office, you've learned to ignore this subject line, since it's predictable and unchanging. Your brain is helping you by programming itself to ignore things that don't provide relevant information to your life.
This is an extreme example, but I see it (because I purposely look for it) in my inbox daily: brands that always start a subject line with "XX% off..." or "Breaking News…" These subject lines quickly get marked to be archived for later processing (which almost never happens) or deleted. My subconscious brain decided that there is nothing new there for me, and I've got other things to pay attention to.
To fight this, change it up. Drastically shift the number of words in your subject line. Use all caps if you haven't, and stop using it if you do all the time. You can even make a subtle change to your from name. These small changes will cause your recipient's subconscious to say, "Hey, something has changed; I better pay attention."
Note: Each of the three methods above requires tact and restraint to use effectively. A common theme is that overuse of any of these methods destroys their effectiveness.
Before you can get an open, your subscriber must pay conscious attention to your subjects. In order to do that, you must play to the programed tendencies of that subscriber's brain.
Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:25 PM
January 04, 2013 | Jai Williams
Here's an article I wrote for iMedia Connection:
I recently went through the daunting task of consolidating my email addresses down from many to just one personal email account. Now, foolishly, when I started this effort -- yes, I'll admit it -- I was rather naïve about just how taxing it would be to just merely go through the motions of updating my credentials in multiple places. Mid-way through the effort, I found myself laughing out of annoyance, but the act didn't strike me as very funny. This got me to thinking: What other things could make email better as a channel?
If email were a physical entity and could selfishly ask for anything -- jotted down as a Christmas wish list -- what would that list contain?
A robust preference center
I'll try my best to speak in terms aside from my knowledge here. A preference center of any kind seems reasonable and basic enough, right? I've come across two types of these -- those that do the bare minimum and those that hit all the marks and set the bar high in terms of what a robust preference center should be doing. Marketing departments should make sure that any existing preference center effort is performing to its highest capability and running as efficiently as expected. So what if it takes more (from your technology department) to do more than just capture email addresses? Put forth more effort and try to hit on some or (dare I say it) all of the following:
- Communication type
- Creative samples
- Mobile offerings (SMS and cadence)
As marketers, we have to be cognizant of the old adage of "less is more." There is absolutely nothing wrong with sending less or dialing back a bit. We should be seizing the opportunity to make the most out of all of our communications -- not just sometimes, but every time.
Like many of you, I'm an active member of LinkedIn. Recently, my level of activity decreased in one of my many groups. The best communication that I received from LinkedIn was a message acknowledging the fact that my level of interactivity had decreased; thus, LinkedIn was taking the initiative to automatically downgrade my message cadence. It gave me the option to go back in and modify at a later date, should I so choose to do so. I thought this email was awesome. I'd never received anything like it before.
Progressive welcome series
I've said it before, and I'll reiterate again: People, audiences, and targets change over time. Because of this, they should all be communicated to differently. The welcome message within the lifecycle series truly serves many different purposes, some of which include but are by no means limited to:
- Onboarding new subscribers or members
- Educating the active
- Re-engaging the inactive
Done well or poorly, this type of messaging tends to be the one critical moment a brand has to establish or create a definitive brand identity with respective consumers, further solidifying its unique value proposition in the marketplace. Reevaluate your welcome messages. Are you only using one email message to communicate to new subscribers as they are entered into your database? How could you more intuitively communicate with your "new" subscribers after a certain number of days? The more effective welcome campaign efforts actively take a stake in constantly and consistently finding answers and solutions to these questions.
Effective cross-channel marketing
Granted, some brands are doing this better than others. That is partly due to a perceived consumer base with some. The flip side of this is a vested interest in measurable analytics with actionable takeaways. Mobile app Uber does this quite well, baking in a decent preference center and periodic email message offerings to consumers.
Another mobile app that I love, UrbanDaddy, is an example of a great pairing of email and mobile. It's beneficial to review your consumer base and do some level of analysis to see how best it warrants the effort. There's definitely room for cross-channel marketing in every vertical, but the effort has to go beyond following on social networks and lack-luster mobile applications.
As noted earlier, I went through an effort to consolidate my personal email accounts down from several to one. I actually do not know that email is there as a channel just yet. But I definitely see a channel offering in the near future moving in the direction of some of the first email account aggregators. Think for a moment how cool it would be to have the capability to manage your cadence and preferences from one location.
The email channel will obviously continue to grow, and we as marketers will increasingly see optimized efforts on building and sustaining reputation and relationships with consumers and subscribers. It's up to each of us to do what we can to drive programs forward and push the needle more favorably in the right direction.
Posted by: Jai Williams at 12:41 PM
December 18, 2012 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
It's the holidays, and if you're a marketer or a consumer (or likely both for ClickZ readers), shopping is at the forefront of your minds. With the rise of smartphones, mobile addiction is increasing, and the way consumers interact with email is beginning to vary. Understanding what that engagement looks like can help you find the right moment in time when your emails and offers will resonate most with your customers.
How many of you roll over in the morning, grab your phone, and check your email? I know that I am not alone in this behavior. There is a growing group of folks who are opening their email first thing in the morning, and actually converting. So let your email messages rise and shine - and wake up your consumer! How do you make this happen? It isn't actually too difficult. Here are there easy steps to letting the early email bird get the conversion worm:
1. Look at the last six months of email engagement data, isolating an audience who has opened and clicked on a specified number of email communications during the morning (rise and shine) hours as determined by their time zone.
2. Examine the behavior of this audience. Is there certain content that they gravitate toward? Are there thematic subject lines that grab their attention more than others? Are they converting or spending more time on the site than others? Get to know these folks and what motivates them. It wouldn't hurt to look at the demographic/psychographic profile of this group either - do they skew more female, parents, etc.?
3. Create content that addresses this audience specifically - and provide them with some sort of added incentive or benefit for engaging with you early in the morning. Maybe it's a 15 percent discount or free shipping for all orders placed before 9 a.m. You should test the incentive to see what best motivates your audience, but giving them a reason to pay attention to your emails in the morning is a good way to train them to expect your messages at the same time every morning.
The goal here is to create or drive an incremental behavior that would not have otherwise occurred. So be sure to maintain a control group and test the performance of the test group against it - if you are only driving conversions that would have happened anyway, it doesn't much matter. However, you may find that you are able to increase sales by reaching your customers before they get distracted by the day's activities - or offers from your competitors.
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 9:52 AM
December 13, 2012 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:
It's amazing that it's December already and time for the Email Insider Summit in Park City. Sadly, I won't be there. Thanks to a 50-MPH wind that caught hold of my car door and slammed my head, I now have the kind of injury typically sustained by football and hockey players: a concussion. At the advice of my doctor, I won't be on a plane for a few more weeks, but I will be there in spirit!
As part of the neurological assessment I endured, I was asked about words that begin with the letter… well, take your pick. Oddly enough, many of the ones that popped to mind were email-related. For fun, I figured I would carry it through the alphabet and share my ABCs of email. Feel free to share yours as well!
Analyze Your Data
There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, even if it’s "just" your email engagement information, which contains valuable insights. Don't just sit on it.
Blast is a Dirty Word
Need I say more?
Conversations Should be Had
Email is a relationship channel; you should be engaging in conversations with your recipients, and not just talking at them.
Deliverability is Still Important
The need to get to the inbox has not diminished in importance. It seems there has been some focus taken off it by some, but don't lose sight!
Evolve Your Programs
I know that if it ain't broke, you aren't so worried about fixing it, but don't let the continued growth and evolution of your programs die. Complacency should not be your mindset.
Find Your Groove
Best practices are out there for you to reference as a rule of thumb, not as the sacred grail from which to run your email programs. Find what works best for your customers and your brand.
Get to the Point
Come on, guys -- recipients don't want to read on and on about your latest offer. Tell 'em what they want to know and call it a day.
Have Some Fun
Email is a very casual marketing channel, so have some fun with it (if your brand allows for it).
Email is also a very personal channel. Don't come off as the corporate slug that no one wants to talk to. Relate to your recipients and refer back to letter "H."
Jump at Moments
Email is a quick-to-market channel, so you should seize moments that present themselves as opportune. Don't plan it to death.
Keep it simple, stupid! Yes, you need to make sure you are talking to the right people, with the right message, at the right time -- but try to keep focus and not make it so difficult to manage that you just give up.
Leverage the Lifecycle
Identifying the right moment in time to message to your customer should always be the goal. There are also obvious moments in time that lend themselves to lifecycle communications: welcome, purchase, anniversary, take your pick. And take advantage.
Your email should look great on all devices, responsive or not. Make sure messages are easy to engage with.
I know that they are not the most reliable metric, what with image suppression and all, but they do tell you which recipients actually saw your email with images on -- something of a render rate, if you will. This is still good information to have. Don't discount it completely.
Learn about your recipient through various interactions: ask questions in the email, record responses, and evolve the conversation naturally instead of trying to figure them out all at once.
Quality versus Quantity
You should want people in your database who want to engage in this conversation with you. Just because you have a lot of people receiving your email doesn't mean they care.
You know I couldn't avoid it. You have to share with people the content they want; it isn't all about what you have to say!
Segment and Target
You don't have to get down to a 1:1 level to be successful in targeting your customers. Find like-minded segments and message accordingly.
Test, test, test.
Email is an easy channel to test in; you should.
Use What You Know
Apply what you have learned about your program and your recipients' engagement to drive greater success for your program. The metrics are there for a reason; use them.
Everyone thinks they know what works for your email program. Prove it.
Work Through It
Not every challenge is going to have an immediate and obvious answer, but don't give up. Keep working toward a solution.
X Um, yeah… I have no clue.
Use it. Please.
If your program isn't successful, you have no one to blame but yourself.
What are your ABCs of email marketing?
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 9:46 AM
December 06, 2012 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for Marketing Tech News:
Just to get some necessary housekeeping out of the way: this is not going to be another article that harps on validating whether there is any staying power left in email. Don’t get me wrong, I actually think one has to pay homage to a humble beginning before being able to truly appreciate the possibilities of full potential.
Those of us who actually happen to be fortunate enough to have careers in the email channel, the ones of us who are passionate and enjoy being trendsetters, can appreciate what the father of email Ray Tomlinson was able to accomplish in 1971 and the tone of the 1981 Honeywell "Electronic Mail" advertisement which was set for being just that - trendsetting. Fast forward being cognizant of things past and what’s present, and let’s look to the future.
Oh, the days of old…
Email used to be about acquiring an address at any cost, to the tune of paying for addresses and lists. Back in the day, it didn’t matter what you did as long as you were able to show significant growth in your data lists. From the top down, volume was king because the train of thought was that size matters. Arguably so, if you send enough of anything…you might eventually achieve some variation of a desired outcome. But that was the point wasn’t it? Disregard the metrics and send to an even larger audience because someone with an office and title that’s preceded by a three-letter acronym said to do so.
This is how it is now…
What’s happening today though? We as marketers have “groomed” our audiences to be more intelligent and even savvier than they once were. Voltaire couldn’t have been more appropriate (“With power comes great responsibility.”). People have come to expect more from the companies they do business with. Increasingly because of this, companies in turn are seeing the value in behavioral triggered messaging. It isn’t just undeniably expected, but has proven time and time again to be highly relevant and to yield high return.
In today’s world, consumers want what they want, when they want it – how they want it. Look at companies like Coca-Cola stepping up and listening to their global consumers, giving them options of which types of communications to receive, which format to receive them in and wait for it – evening going a step further, setting the expectation upfront about message cadence. Ah (insert thirst-quenched sigh here) – now that’s refreshing, isn’t it?
We’re in an age where a company like Pepsi uses everything in their arsenal to reach their loyal product consumers. Launching an email campaign, follow up with giving users redemptions via a mobile app (Pepsi Loot) and then partner in the daily deal space (LivingSocial) all the while strengthening the brand’s digital footprint.
Suffice it to say, we’re not talking about the root of all evil here. But more so iterating the fact that, like it or not, the channel will always be immediately measureable and a point of entry for any account that’s created or established online via a social network or ecommerce site.
Where it’s going…
So where does that leave us? People change. Time changes and points of access and adaptability also change. With the increasing role of social/mobile, location-based content in everyday and business communications – how will email adapt to this and what form will it take in the coming years? What big things are on the horizon?
Just like many of the web bookmark or site aggregators (a la delicious), email’s future will see rise or incorporation of web-based aggregators that will enable single sign-on and a portfolio/wallet-type of email management. Developers will look to make it easy for consumers to have an online-based web tool where a user can view and update their preferences for multiple ecommerce, social and loyalty programs - all manageable from one place.
Going beyond what mobile apps are currently used for (and there are some excellent ones out there), email will be more of a focal point for the mobile app, incorporating geo-tracking and offering up mobile-optimised emails at the push of a button. Take what UrbanDaddy is able to currently do with their mobile app, make the experience even more robust by serving up a mobilise-optimised email that utilises localisation and regionally based cross-sell opportunities for an even richer consumer experience!
Imagine a mobile email app as an aggregator that allows users of multiple loyalty programmes the ease and capability to manage, organise and share their loyalty offerings with their friends, family and networks all from the comfort of one place.
At the end of it all…
Federal Express Founder & CEO (Fred Smith) was quoted in 1978 as having said, "The information about the package is just as important as the package itself." Realising that email is one of the most intimate customer touch points that exists in the customer lifecycle and being respectful of that will help ensure that email as a package – like a fine-aged wine – will continue to get better with time. For the past 40 years, we have seen it evolve and adapt to change; the sky is the limit.