Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ecommerce retailers need to bring a 'singular focus' to email messages.

Optimizing ecommerce emails to make the most of contact lists

Writing the perfect business email can be difficult, especially for ecommerce companies. Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar stores, online shops can't hope to grab revenue from passersby, so in many ways, email is the prime way they bring in business. How can you create a dynamic ecommerce email?

Finding your message                                          
A big mistake many online stores make is  trying to cram too much information into one email. Considering the fact that ecommerce operations are likely to send out more than one communication ever, there's no need to fill individual messages to the brim. Instead, Practical Ecommerce suggested that marketers find a "singular focus" for every message, which is especially important during the holiday season when inboxes become slammed with offers, discounts and news from across the Internet.

According to the news source, emails that showcase a "singular focus" tend to feature one call to action, one category or one item per email rather than advertising many different sales at once.

These messages can be aided by the use of images and graphics, which Practical Ecommerce claimed can perhaps communicate brand or product information better than words. 

"Notice that leading online retailers – from Amazon and Walmart to the Gap and Zappos – all use large and attractive graphics in their email marketing campaigns," the news provider wrote. "These are companies that spend a significant amount of time and money optimizing, and they all use great graphics."

Knowing your customers                                   
That said, seeing success with narrowly focused messages means really understanding the members of your email marketing list. If you don't take their needs and desires into account, you could end up promoting an item or sale that is virtually meaningless to them. Accurate targeting can reduce bounce rates, spam reports and unsubscribes, Practical Ecommerce writes.

Targeting customers isn't all about content – it also requires ecommerce marketers to meet consumers where they shop, which increasingly is on their mobile devices. In fact, a recent article from Forbes asserted that instead of first creating an email marketing campaign for desktop devices and then optimizing it for smartphones and tablets, retailers should put mobile first. Giving consumers the opportunity to shop from wherever they happen to be offers ecommerce players an opportunity to increase revenue over the long term, especially as this trend appears to be a new normal.

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Should I Be Using Images In My Emails?

Is a picture really worth a 1,000 words? Yes, it is. This is why I want to talk about using images in your emails. It does not matter how good of a descriptive writer you are, words alone will not grab your reader’s attention quite like words and images will. It’s a simple fact: In today’s world, people want to take all of 2.5 seconds to see what you have to say… you see what I did there? SEE, not read. So, when crafting the email marketing campaign for your next big blowout, think imagery alongside verbiage.

Make a Connection

You know how you “Ahhh…” when you see those first baby pictures of a newborn, or, if you’re like me, a tear forms in your eye when you view photos of the game four ending play to the 2004 World Series – 86 years, people! 86 years! The reason you get all warm and fuzzy at the picture of a puppy or kitten is because you make an immediate emotional connection to the image. Photos stir emotions, solicit reactions, and make connections. So when adding images to your emails, you are making a connection with your current and potential customers by stirring emotions and soliciting reactions.

Make the Right Connection

When soliciting a reaction, however, it is always important to ensure your images solicit the right one. We talked about email marketing mistakes in my last post and how you don’t want your marketing campaign to end up in everyone’s spam folder. Along with that, you don’t want to use images that will bring about a negative reaction. You’re using images to connect with your customers – create a bond, if you will. Don’t use images that will turn them off, offend them, or break that bond. You should definitely use images in your emails, but it’s even more important to choose the right ones.

Why? What Difference Does it Make?

Think about how often you hear in the news how so-and-so’s latest advertising campaign was controversial, offended people, was pulled, and the company apologized publicly. You hear this pretty much every day, and that is why your images should be well thought out and tasteful. Email marketing is no different from any other type of marketing and it can offend just as easy. Unless you’re a nonprofit soliciting donations for an atrocity, your images should send a positive message, not a negative one. If they don’t, you’ve lost a customer. Remember, using images in email gets people’s attention, so think about the attention you want your images to get.

Images That Work Best

Your emails are intended to reach out to your customers, but that won’t do you any good if your customers don’t know who you are. Using images of you and your employees where applicable should be your first rule of thumb. In fact, images of people are always a good route to go because, again, you’re soliciting a reaction. People seeing images of happy people benefiting from your product will want to buy your product so they will benefit, too. Can we say super models advertising beauty products? That is a classic example of how imagery impacts marketing.

Secondly, images applicable to the product or services that are the subject of your email are also important. If you are telling your customers about your latest and greatest food item, use colorful, artistic, vibrant pictures of the dish. You want people to see your creation, get hungry, and run out to try it. If it isn’t that cut and dry, say you are a roofer and, well, pictures of roofs aren’t that exciting (no offense to all the roofers out there), think a bit outside of the box and use images that will still get attention. Maybe pictures of the pictorial roofs of classic architecture would make a splash. Better yet, grab your camera, go out, see what inspires you, and snap it!

I’m Not a Photographer

Neither am I. Although I believe I am at times! Which is why using the innumerable resources available to you is important, because no matter what, you need images in your emails – no excuses! There are plenty of online websites that license, or allow you to use them free with proper attribution, a gazillion different photos of just about everything on earth. You are going to find something you can use in your emails on one of these sites.

If you’re not a photographer, but you know someone who is, have him or her take pictures for you. Or get permission, grab, and scan printed photos and graphics you already know and love. Whatever you do, understand this: Should I be using images in my emails? Yes, you should because pictures do speak 1,000 words. They connect with your audience, they solicit a reaction, and, thereby, the action you desire from your customers.

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Email myths? Throw them out!

Beware these marketing myths!

It seems that everyone has advice for organizations and businesses looking to turn their email contact lists into revenue-driving, engagement-boosting workhorses. However, not all of these Internet marketing suggestions should be followed – or even believed. 

In a recent article for the Nashville Ledger, Lori Turner-Wilson of Guerilla Marketing identified a number of digital marketing myths to help businesses avoid making bad decisions and boost their email marketing list success.

  1. Older doesn't mean less tech-savvy.  While millennials have been characterized as the individuals who understand new digital channels while Baby Boomers aren't as up to speed, this is not always true. According to Turner-Wilson, the average age of active social media users is over 40. For email marketers, this should be the green light for adding social buttons to their communications.
  2. Be targeted. Generating high rates of opens, clickthroughs and other traffic is, of course, a goal of marketers. However, these numbers don't always tell the whole story. All traffic, Turner-Wilson pointed out, is not good traffic. Some of it is just a waste of time and money, ultimately slowing down progress.
  3. Mobile, mobile, mobile. Whether businesses want to accept it or not, smartphones are increasingly being treated like miniature computers, allowing current and potential consumers to look up directions, find contact information and check out products. If organizations' emails aren't optimized for their eyes and mobile screens, a large opportunity could be missed.

One of the biggest myths, however, may also be one of the most hyped business strategies in recent year.

Big data equals big success?            
The term "big data" refers to the use of large swaths of customer information to identify useable insights and trends. Sounds perfect for email marketing, right?

In a recent article for ClickZ, Stephanie Miller explained that big data does not mean "big marketing."

"Often the most effective uses of big data are not bigger marketing, but leaner, more efficient marketing," Miller wrote. "The biggest challenge now is to wrestle big data down into actionable insights. Understanding the full experience means managing data from many sources, in many formats …  and often in real time."

For email marketers and organizations, this may mean wrestling a bit with current strategies to excise the fat and find a way to send out messages that are highly tailored toward customers, rather than industry myths.

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spam

5 Email Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

This is not what you want customers thinking about when they see your marketing email in their inbox.

I probably don’t have to write this blog. All I need to do is call upon you to think about how you feel when you receive spam email. You get angry. Don’t even open it up. Tag the sender as a spammer. Curse and swear. Report them to the FTC. Well, there you go. There’s five reactions all rolled into one email marketing mistake – the recipient’s perception of being spammed. But that’s not the only email marketing mistake to avoid, so I’m going to write this blog!

Permission, Permission, Permission

When the Internet first took off, businesses got the clever idea of adding anybody and everybody to email lists and then “blasting” people with marketing emails. Criminals also jumped on board, blasting victims with false advertising and phony sales tactics. As you can probably imagine, and most likely remember, people got pretty angry every time they checked their inbox and found it filled with unsolicited emails. Congress took note and enacted the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which made sending unsolicited emails illegal. So, the number one email marketing mistake to avoid is sending email marketing campaigns to customers who have not given you permission to do so. Before you do anything else, make certain that you have received the blessing of every customer on your email list to receive marketing emails from your business.

Professional, Professional, Professional

Aside from sending an email to every single customer you’ve ever had, another common marketing mistake is to make the assumption that email is less formal than other types of business marketing tools. Even though times have changed and we all have casual Fridays now, this does not mean that you should ever send out anything unprofessional from your office, including your email marketing materials. Keep it professional, and more importantly, clear and concise. Ensure your email is free from spelling and grammar errors, and make certain you don’t use text speak or instant messaging icons and abbreviations. This is still a professional campaign, even though you are sending it electronically.

Location, Location, Location

Okay, maybe not a physical location, but in the process of keeping everything professional, another critical email marketing mistake to avoid is sending the promotional campaign from an unprofessional or personal email address. This will not only confuse your customer, as they will recognize your company’s name but not necessarily John.Doe@PersonalEmail.com, but also tangle your personal and professional accounts, thereby causing further communication to your customers via your personal email address. Make certain that you are marketing from your business address. If you don’t have one, get one. And, by all means, make sure the email name is professional. Nobody is going to open an email from SuperSalesMan@YouKnowYouWannaBuyFromMe.com.

Computers and Smartphones and Tablets, Oh My

Our fourth mistake is thinking that every one of your customers is going to be reading your marketing email from their desktop or laptop computer. These days, nothing could be further from the truth. In the spirit of keeping things professional and concise, you must also consider that a majority of your clients are checking their emails throughout the day from their smartphones or tablets. Simply put, don’t create a graphic masterpiece that can only be viewed on a mega-sized computer screen. You need to format your email marketing campaigns to be compatible with all receiving devices, including the smaller screens of smartphones and tablets.

Accessibility, Accessibility, Accessibility

Okay, sorry, I’m probably driving you crazy with my repetitive subtitles, but I’m on a roll here, and when I speak of accessibility, I’m not just talking about the device your customer is going to read your email on. I am also talking about making the information you want your customer to notice immediately accessible within the body of your marketing email. Do not bury critical information, such as links to your company website or the specific sales page that you are promoting. Keep that information on top and quick and easy to find. Why? Because no matter how much your customers love you, they are not going to read through a 500-word email to find out exactly what it is you’re selling. Nope, they want to read a few lines and have an immediate clickable link to move forward, so make certain that happens.

These are just five things every business owner must keep in mind when preparing an email marketing campaign. There are more, and I’m including links below if you want further information. I cannot understate the importance of everything I’ve discussed in here, but perhaps the most important gauge in avoiding email marketing mistakes is you. Before doing anything, think about how you would receive your email if you sent it to you. If you’d get mad and tag it as spam, you’ve just made the biggest email marketing mistake of all.

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Data can be leveraged to help drive email efficacy.

Optimize email databases with consumer-driven strategies

Email marketing lists have been helping businesses and organizations reach out to new customers and connect with existing ones for years now. While it may be tempting for experts to predict its replacement – and many have tried, pointing to social media – the marketing channel has proved not only resilient but a workhorse, producing results and driving revenue.

That being said, not all business emails are created equal. Some drive click- and open-rates higher, while others spur customer attrition as recipients abandon the email distribution list. So, in this atmosphere of uncertainty and high stakes, what strategies can marketers adopt?

Who are you sharing the inbox with?                       
New technologies have enabled advertisers and businesses to accumulate an increasing amount of data on existing customers and target markets, which allows them to segment and speak to specific groups' needs and desires. This has proven successful, yet a recent article from MediaPost asserted there is more data to be leveraged that could give firms a critical competitive edge.

According to the news source, marketers are now examining head-to-head engagement, which refers to how recipients behave when multiple promotional emails share the inbox. These don't have to be from direct competitors - marketers are focusing on anyone clamoring for shoppers' attention. These comparisons can help businesses discover what tactics work with consumers and which are more successful versus those used in other emails. MediaPost used the example of a "winback" campaign to demonstrate the effectiveness of this strategy. 

"Just look at the winback messages your subscribers are getting, avoid the elements that aren't engaging them, include the ones that are, and hone your winback campaign from there," MediaPost explained. "By starting from a proven concept, you'll generate more revenue sooner, but you'll also learn things about your subscribers that can apply beyond the email channel." 

Be creative with how content is delivered                     
Just because marketers are using email to deliver messages, that doesn't mean those communications need to be solely in text. Images and videos are effective and increasingly popular ways to connect with consumers. 

In fact, a recent study by The Relevancy Group found that embedding video in email messages increased clickthrough rates by 55 percent and the amount of time subscribers spend reading an email by 44 percent, daze info reported.

To optimize email marketing lists, businesses and organizations may want to seek out experienced marketers and data specialists to take their content to the next level.

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Improve your email lists to boost customer happiness and higher clicks.

Create engaged customers with dynamic email mailing lists

There are many components to creating an effective business email marketing campaign that both improves client engagement and benefits companies' bottom lines. One of the most important of which is a high-quality email distribution list. These lists depend on elevated customer relationship management (CRM) strategies to maintain effectiveness. So, how can firms go about supporting their targeted email lists?

Analyze each lead for content clues             
According to a recent article from MediaPost, exercising good CRM practices when it comes to email marketing lists requires businesses to evaluate individual lead sources. In addition to partnering with qualified and reputable email list providers, firms should investigate where additional leads are coming from. For example, where do they have links to their list sign-ups posted? Are these only on company-controlled spaces such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn? Or are they also featured on affiliated websites?

"So if you perform this evaluation, you will automatically identify the sources of any risky leads and eliminate those sources, as well as identifying your best-performing lead sources and subsequently increasing budget to those sources," the news source explained.

Customize content                            
While marketers may craft content strategies for their email marketing lists' preferences and needs, the article posited that companies can become even more hyper-tailored to consumers' desires. One tactic that can be used involves contouring sign-ups or initial emails to allow recipients to indicate the types of messages they would like to receive, such as promotions, discounts, special events and industry news.

In this way, businesses can boost the effectiveness of their communications as well as the likelihood that specific messages will be opened and acted on. Because the messages being sent to specific inboxes are dependent on recipient feedback, customers will start to keep an eye out for missives from a company, the news source wrote.

"That's the kind of email that stands out in the inbox. That's the kind of email that wins on the email-marketing battlefield," asserted Media Post. "Don't you want to score a victory? You can do it as long as the customer experience is at the core of every engagement, from acquisition through customer lifetime. Because good lists make for happy customers."

You have the leads, you have the list – what's next?
While email marketers are unlikely to succeed without quality lists of leads and customers, they similarly will find it hard to get ahead without finding a way to creatively engage with those addresses.

There's a danger for email marketing messages to become stale. In order to prevent list attrition, firms need to identify methords in order to keep content fresh and new. Business 2 Community recently offered several suggestions for marketers to change up their communications.

One strategy to power creativity is to subscribe to other businesses' list. In this way, firms can see what industry leaders and competitors are doing to figure out what tactics customers like and which are likely to leave shoppers cold. Furthermore, marketers shouldn't limit themselves to lists that are specific to their industry. As the news source explained, "There is no reason why a travel agent cannot learn a trick or two from a restaurant chain or an insurance broker. We are all in the business of selling, after all."

Consumers are and should be businesses' greatest source of inspiration. With that in mind, when asking recipients which communications they would like delivered to their inboxes, companies can also solicit feedback on topics and products. Tailoring content and structure to what they want, like and need will help any company spur greater customer loyalty and thus improve bottom lines.

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What You Need to Know About Facebook for Business

Facebook business pages should a part of all marketing plans.

A couple of blog posts ago, I talked about the importance of making sure your business looks good on LinkedIn, the business social network. Now let’s talk a little bit about using Facebook for your business as well. Social networking is one of the best ways to market your business these days, and businesses should network on all avenues possible. Sure, Facebook was initially created to be a personal social networking website, but it’s opened itself up for business pages too, and there are a few things you need to know to keep your business on top with Facebook.

Networking Reach

According to Facebook’s website, “Over one billion people Like and comment an average of 3.2 billion times every day.” You can’t buy that kind of publicity. Well, you can, but imagine the cost! Think about it, if that many people are on Facebook every day, interacting between pages, liking, and commenting, your business has access to that many potential clients… but only if you have a Facebook page.

Build Your Page

So, get that page built and up and running. Facebook makes this step easy by guiding their business members through the page building process once they’ve signed up, and the same rules apply as the ones I talked about in my LinkedIn post previously. You need to build a page that is engaging, exciting, and enticing to people. Build a page that tells people a lot about your business, and include plenty of multimedia to keep your visitors on your page.

Keep it Fresh

Once you get potential clients on the page, you have to keep them coming back. You can’t expect anyone to return to your page if all you have on there the same information about your business that you started with. Potential customers won’t come back and they probably won’t Like your page, which is key to keeping your Facebook business page on top. Stay active on your own Facebook business page, constantly adding comments, posts, and multimedia to keep your visitors engaged. If you don’t have to time to do this, hire someone. This type of marketing is truly worth the investment.

Promote, Promote, Promote!

Facebook business page users have known all along that you can promote your business on the website and app by housing contests and promotions. It used to be, however, that you couldn’t house the promotion directly on your Facebook page. This made it difficult for some users who didn’t want to route their promotion through a third-party app, such as another website. In August of this year, Facebook announced that business pages can now run promotions directly on their Facebook pages, which is great if you have a Facebook page and not an actual website.

Stay on Top of the Rules

If you do decide to use Facebook for your business, and, better yet, you decide to use it to run contests and promotions, make certain you know Facebook’s rules; otherwise, you might find your page blocked. For example, if you’re running a contest and asking your Facebook followers to name a new dish your chef has created, it’s okay to have them submit their ideas for the entrée’s name using the proper mechanism, such as Liking the product’s post page; it’s not okay to have them tag their picture in association with the entrée.

Be a Social Butterfly

The key to any Facebook page success is interacting with other Facebook users, so don’t just sit there and wait for people to visit and Like your page. Don’t just sit there and wait for them to enter your contests, either. Get “out there” yourself, and promote your Facebook page and visit other Facebook pages relevant to your own. Be active and Like and interact with other Facebook users. Remember, this is social “networking,” so get out there and network as much as possible.

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Avoid over-regulating email communications.

Avoid getting lost in the process of creating business emails

Not all business emails are created equal. Depending on the talent and insight of marketers, as well as the sophistication of their email distribution lists, companies may either find success or watch their communications fall flat.

However, for firms just beginning to engage with the highly effective marketing medium or those that just can't seem to get their messaging right, there are a number of commonly made errors for which they should keep a look out.

Getting too lost in the process                
It's easy for marketers or businesses to get wrapped up in the process of writing the so-called perfect copy for email communications with consumers. There are numerous details, including subject lines, calls to action and general messaging, that can trip up any firm and have staff members laboring for days.

A recent article from MediaPost offered some remedies to help workers avoid these traps and navigate around problems. For example, the news source asserted that the continuous tweaking of subject lines isn't going to move operations to a new level of success. Instead, companies should focus on the foundational pieces of the message before playing with small linguistic items.

Furthermore, it seems that new trends are cropping up every week, promising to transform already successful email marketing lists into gold mines of data and sales. But MediaPost warned businesses to avoid getting swept up in the hype.

"Flavor-of-the-month issues like symbols in subject lines and Gmail Tabs can pull your attention away from the core activities that drive your success," the news source explained. "Stay focused on the work that keeps your doors open. Let others rush in and make the early responder mistakes. Then, act on what they have learned."

Over-regulation of communications
While it is helpful for businesses be consistent with their email messages, this doesn't mean that they must stick to the calendar without deviation. In fact, sending customers surprise emails can actually help boost open and click rates, as unexpected messaging can create an air of mystery.

However, this doesn't mean firms should completely turn their backs on normative practices. Business 2 Community explained that certain etiquette remains highly valued by recipients, including stating a clear purpose, brevity, short sentences, proper tones and perfect grammar. By starting with the basics, companies can build  foundations that serve customers and help them succeed.

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How can marketers avoid being labeled as "spam" and a "promotion?"

Spam vs. promotions: Can both labels be avoided?

While laws such as the 2003 CAN SPAM Act define what spam is as well as the rules and regulations businesses must follow when sending messages to their email distribution lists, consumers have an even less forgiving idea of what constitutes such communication. This requires companies to use a highly critical eye when determining which business emails make the cut and get sent out.

What do consumers not want to see?              
Sometimes understanding what irritates recipients, causes them to consider a communication spam or turns them off from reading a message can be more helpful than looking at the best example of what they do like. In a recent article on ClickZ, the source cites two of the worst content tactics, "batch-and-blast" and "spray-and-pray." While the terms are different, the underlying problem is the same: The email is not personalized; it doesn't engage with recipients and it certainly doesn't seem to understand anything about the audience.

This is an especially large problem in a society where personalization is becoming the norm. Analytics are enabling companies to track consumers shopping preferences and target ads to them directly. However, by choosing to mass-email potential shoppers, businesses not only risk damaging their reputations, but also hurting their bottom lines and having their attempts at communication marked as spam.

Avoiding the "spam" label is complex       
If it weren't complicated enough for marketers and organizations to avoid violating regulations or being tossed out by recipients, Google's recent changes to its messaging provider Gmail have thrown an even bigger wrench into the process. While Gmail is only one email provider, a report from AYTM Market Research revealed that 60 percent of individuals use the host as their primary email account.

Google's three tabs – Primary, Social and Promotions – seek to make it easier for account holders to access those emails they most want to see. But where is the line between "promotions" and "spam?" And how can businesses return to the "primary" folder?

Legally, any email message that is properly formatted and offers recipients the ability to unsubscribe is not in violation of the CAN SPAM Act. Under the new Gmail system, any communication that offers an unsubscribe button will go to the Promotions folder, creating another problem.

Will anyone see marketing emails?
One of the worries marketers have espoused following the changes is whether people will even bother to look under the promotions tab.

"The short answer is 'who knows,'" The Business Journals wrote. "The changes are so new that studies have not yet been conducted; however, it will be surprising if this new layout does not decrease the number of people who see and therefore open marketing emails. One thing is certain: it looks like there is no getting away from the promotions tab."

Companies such as Groupon and Gilt Groupe offer one unique example of how marketers can avoid the "black hole" of the promotions tab, Businessweek wrote. The two businesses are simply asking their email marketing lists to prevent them from being lumped in with other ads by dragging their communications from the promotions tab to the primary tab, ensuring this is where their messages go from thenceforward.

Regardless of the manner in which marketers and organizations decide to best appeal to consumers in light of these new changes, they should always prioritize the "opt-out" feature. The last thing businesses want to do is build ill-will among recipients by continuing to send them unwanted messages. This is a sure way to be sent straight to the spam folder in people's inboxes.