All About Email - The Last Word in Email Publishing

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Where is it?

I was recently asked to review the eMedia strategy of a part catalogue, part online retailer. The company had been surprised by the growth of sales online, and was considering an investment in strategic thinking to maximise this new revenue stream.

So I went to their site and, as I do on these occasions, tried to sign up for their email newsletter. I am a veteran at sniffing out well hidden sign up pages, but this time I was really tested.

Eventually I found it (I think), hidden at the very bottom of the long home page, under the guise of Join XYZ company. I say I think, because I still have no idea what I signed up for, or joined, for that matter. No confirmation email, no promise of a forthcoming email newsletter, nothing. It asked me for a lot of personal information as well, information I was reluctant to give out without knowing why.

My conclusion, which I sent on to the client, was that an emedia strategy would be a good idea, as they clearly had none.

In order to maximise the potential of a site of this kind, you need to understand the mentality and differetn types of site visitors you will get.

Some will be there to buy, and will be regular visitors - for now we will put these to one side, and focus on the others - the ones you never know about.

Casual site visitors should be identified and captured - an email newsletter is a great way to do this, so make the sign up very prominent, and incentivise it - once captured, you have the opportunity, through smart communications, to convert casual visitor to regular, regular to customer.

If you do not know who they are, you may never see them again, and you can do absolutely nothing to influence their behaviour..

Do not ask for too much, or irrelevant information when they first sign up - it can be very offputting. Ask for key data - name, email, location, and perhaps a checkbox list of options which will enable you to personalise your communications to them - sectors they might be interested in, for example.

And make sure you sell them the benefits of signing up and remaining a recipient of your newsletter on a regular basis.

Once they have signed up, they should immediately receive a thank you email - and don't be shy of adding some concise marketing message into this.

Do not ask for their physical address - these people want electronic communications, not posted ones, and people hate typing in their address needlessly.

Identifying site visitors gives you the chance to secure their custom - so don't hide your sign up forms - make them the focal point of your homepage.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


In the ever increasingly loud place that is email, to make yourself heard is getting harder. After a weekend away from the office, someone's inbox will be full of junk, spam, and a few valid emails. More often than not they simply delete the lot.

What do people look at? Sender ID and Subject line are the two key factors that determine if people notice and read your email - so follow the golden rules - do not sacrifice functionality for creativity.

Sender ID must remain the same - sender IDs are what get you onto whitelists, into address books and most importantly get you instantly recognised by recipients. So give some thought to getting the right sender ID when you start a campaign.

Subject lines are getting harder. Subject lines need to change each time, otherwise recipients will assume you are sending them the same email time and time again. If you are publishing a periodical newsletter, then you are on safe ground - you just need to change the date, and the constant of the title will help recognition.

However........assume you are not publishing a regular newsletter. You want to use an eye catching, engaging and action prompting subject line. You need to remember that most of the good words have already been taken by spammers, meaning that if you use them your email may get filtered or blocked. It is not easy to strike the necessary balance.

Nowadays, subject lines are a skill in themselves. they need careful thought. A good one will work wonder for your open rate, but a bad one may result in many bad things, not least of which could be you being blacklisted as a spammer. So think first!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Comparing statistics

Clients often ask about their statistics.

Why is my open rate so low? Why have so few clicked through to our offer? Why did 9 people unsubscribe?

Quite often you sense that they are disappointed by the statistical measurements of their send out, and it is not unusual for them to blame you!

Problems of this nature should never occur. The responsible email publisher will always brief their clients at the start of their relationship.

Email is different to other media - recipient statistics are based on the behaviour of the entire audience - not on a supposedly representative sample and then extrapolated.

So, assuming (for the moment) there is no margin for error, email statistics provide you with a true and global assessment of audience behaviour. You simply do not get that with other media, where stats can be manipulated to give you the answers you want, rather than the real picture.

So yes, Mr or Mrs Client, sometimes you may not like what you see with email statistics, but there is good news too - you have a quantitive level on which you can base future performance targets. So if open rates are, say, 27%, you can look closely at why you think that might be, and work to improve that.

Taken in isolation, a single set of stats from one send out are useless.

To make stats work for you, compare and contrast from semd out to send out. Adjust aspects of content, delivery timing, subject line and other behavioural factors. Analyse their impact.

So what about that margin for error? Yes, it is true that email stats are not 100% accurate. Email publishers simply cannoy develop technology rapidly enought to kep pace with browsers, recipient hardware etc, so accept up to a 10% error factor. But.....the margin of error is reasonably constant, thus ensuring that comparisons of stats on stats are valid.

So explain to your client; it is not about the absolute numbers, it is about trends and interpretation.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The little things

Attention to detail is what defines the gulf between good and great.

A good email is one which gets consistently high delivery rates, a great one is which recipients read as a priority and respond immediately to any calls to action, whilst busily telling their friends and colleagues about it.

An email is like a house - a good strong framework, built on solid foundations, will enable it to provide shelter; innovative, attractive and well presented design and furnishing make it desireable to live in. Similarly with email, you need the skills of a builder, architect and designer to produce the ultimate email communications. Each will bring specialist knowledge which the project manager will meld together to ensure the finished product is something people eagerly anticipate and respond to readily.

The pursuit of excellence is about recognising that marginal increments count. Each small change or improvement will bring another marginal percentage of readers into the fold. Your goals must always be 100% delivery, 100% readership, 100% response and 100% retention - any the planning, design, writing and production need to aim at that goal. Each tiny detail can ove you closer to that goal. Acceptance of anything less will lead to lower delivery, readership, response and retention than you want.

Post send out audits are your greatest intelligence - so use them. Try and understand reader behaviour in the context of your email, and implement solutions to improve next time. It's the little things that can make the big differences.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The real cost

I am often told that email is cheap. Yes, well, I suppose that is true - much in the same way that food is cheap, clothes are cheap, or advertising is cheap.

What it really means is that it can be done cheaply - but not necessarily effectively for either you or your audience.

What is undeniable is that email is extremely personal and direct - the most visible form of communication between you and your audience, so perhaps doing it on the cheap isn't such a good idea.

I have advised many potential clients that they would be better off ceasing their email newsletters and marketing send-ours rather than doing it cheaply. There are easier ways to disengage and progressively disenfranchise your audience than by sending them a series of shoddy emails. One email calling them idiots should do the trick!

An audience is a valuable thing - it will have cost time and money to create, and it should stand to reason that it will cost time and money to engage and develop. It does not matter which medium of communication you plan to use, the most important thing is to communicate well and grab and hold their attention.

Success in email is about marginal factors and marginal percentages (I'll talk more about this soon), and the knowledge, experience and insight required to get those marginal factors right comes at a price. Mistakes come cheaply, and it does not take many mistakes - often only one, to switch off an email audience.

So if you do use, or plan to use email to communicate with your audience, don't skimp when it comes to design, content and strategic planning - and that's just for starters!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Frequency and Follow On

How often should we communicate? It's a question we hear all the time from clients who use email.

The answer, as a general principle, is simple - as often as you feel it will be of benefit to you and your audience, but what does that really mean?

Communication leads to relationship development, turns interested parties into stakeholders and builds and manages customer relationships.

But of course, it is not that easy, and there are no general standards - each email communicator must assess the unique circumstances in which they are operating and adjudge an initial optimum frequency.

Regularity is important; that does not mean there is no room for additional, ad hoc emails, but if you promise your audience a regular communication, they know what to expect, and they will expect your email. The frequency of that regularity should be based on the value of the information you are transferring; low / zero value information will lead to fall-off in readership rates, higher unsubscribes and very low responses to any calls to action.

If your emails are more direct marketing based - special offers etc - then frequency needs to be based on the value of those offers. Measurement and analysis of initial send-outs will provide you with the clues you need to see if your audience want more or less from you.

Frequency of communication is a critical factor for audience engagement and retention - if you are not heard, you will slip off the radar, and if you talk too much, many people will only listen to some of what you say.

Monitoring and evaluating statistical reports is the best way to assess audience response. Do not overlook the importance of this.