Monthly Archives: December 2013

How to properly time email marketing efforts

How to properly time email marketing efforts

Many factors play into the success or failure of an email marketing campaign, and timing is certainly one of them. Merely having an email contact list is not enough for businesses that want to optimize the effectiveness of their marketing strategies, and according to a recent report from iContact, creating a detailed timeline for when to send out promotional emails is one of the best ways to increase customer conversions and improve sales.

IContact emphasized the importance of sending emails to customers at a particular time of day to evoke the best response. When it comes to recipients who work 9 to 5, a midday email can receive the most exposure as employees are typically past their morning rush and transitioning into the afternoon. For a general audience, however, the 5 p.m. to 8​ p.m. slot has been shown to be the most effective, as people get home and check emails one last time before shutting down the computer for the night.

While daily emails might seem like the best option to maximize visibility in customer inboxes, iContact reminded email marketers not to overdo it. Sending emails every day at the same time can become bothersome for many customers and can appear overly automated. Instead of sending a daily email, marketing specialists should try to limit their distribution to Tuesday through Thursday, which are considered to be the most productive days of the week. With too much work piled up from the weekend on Monday morning and a mad dash for the door on Friday afternoon, few inboxes will remain open for very long on these days. 

Marketers can't afford to anger customers
Although it may seem harmless to send promotional emails at any time of the week, mistiming distribution can result in bad news for a business trying to retain loyal customers. According to a recent KissMetrics infographic, both bounce rates and abuse reports tend to skyrocket on weekends and in the early mornings. However, these times were also shown to see increased click-through rates and open rates than other slots.

Where businesses tend to lose customers is by oversaturating customer inboxes with too many emails. KissMetrics found that between one and  four emails per month is the optimal range for companies to send out promotions. More than this and customers become more likely to ignore emails completely or even unsubscribe from a newsletter. 

Email marketing is a necessary tool for holiday business

Email marketing is a necessary tool for holiday business

As the holidays grow closer, people of all ages are starting to wonder what they want to give their loved ones as gifts. Fortunately for retailers, this is a large market that can be easily attracted from the safety of their own inbox. A well-planned business email marketing campaign could mean the difference between a holiday sales rush or a fiscal flop.

According to a recent report from Internet Retailer, many email marketers have doubled their output from November to December in an effort to draw more buyers to their stores online and at the mall. After signing up for the email lists from 843 of the top 1,000 online merchants with available newsletter registration, Internet Retailer saw 3,559 emails in the first 12 days of the month. Despite not providing any shopping history or unique customer information, the news source saw an average of 6.88 messages from each business.

"Open rates have increased by about 20% from the norm," Melina Ash, co-founder and chief merchandising officer of NoMoreRack.com told the news source. "We've seen a particular increase in traction when we release door busters." The holiday season is a busy time for retailers around the globe, but this applies especially to the world of ecommerce."

How email marketers can get more from their efforts
While the Internet Retailer study showed that many online vendors are opting for heavy volumes of advertising to reach more customers, a recent report from MediaPost suggested that email marketing needs support from other aspects of business in order to reach its highest potential. The advantages of using email as a marketing tool are undeniable – by including brand names in confirmation emails retailers saw a 7 percent sales increase this past quarter – but businesses cannot overlook other important factors such as well-managed inventory and fully-prepared IT.

MediaPost referenced an Experian Marketing services Q3 benchmark survey that found consistent increases in the volume of email marketing rose by 12.7 percent from last year. Despite the spike in marketing efforts, click rates on ecommerce channels fell 57 percent, a figure that has businesses scratching their heads. MediaPost pointed to a lack of preparation on the part of retailers who do not have enough extra inventory for their online stores or IT departments who can't keep up with the increase in web traffic.

Before barraging customers with email offers and updates, retailers need to make sure they have their business fundamentals in place.

Do’s and Don’ts for Using an Auto-Responder

Photo By: Danard Vincente (Flickr)

Email auto responders are an important business tool… as long as you’re using it correctly!

Dos and Don’ts for Using an Auto-Responder

You know them well; we all use them: email auto responders. They’re an incredibly handy tool for any businessperson, unless you annoy the heck out of your recipients with them! The concept of an email auto responder is a great one; you need to let your clients know why you haven’t responded to their email. Clients get annoyed when they receive an email auto response, however, because they want your reply to their email right away. It’s a double-edged sword, so here are dos and don’ts to soften the email auto responder blow.

DO: Explain Why Your Customer is Receiving an Auto Response. It bears repeating. Your customers are going to be slightly annoyed to really ticked off that they are receiving an auto response to their email. You deserve a vacation, especially around the holidays, but customers don’t always see that. They want your attention and they want it now! So, make certain that you explain to your customers why they are receiving the computer-generated reply. If you’re going on vacation, tell them; if you’re on a business trip, tell them; if you’ve given up email for lent, tell them! Most customers are reasonable, and if they know why you can’t give them your undivided attention at that particular moment, they’ll simmer down and be patient… but only if you do the next do.

DO: Include the Dates You are Out of the Office. You’ve simmered down your customers by letting them know that you’re on a much-needed vacation, but you also need to say how long you’re going to be gone. This is important for two reasons. First, your customers are simply going to want to know, whether it’s their business or not. Second, your customers need to know when you’re returning so they can assess whether they can wait for you to address their concern, or if they should contact somebody else within your company. Oh, and third, it’s polite – plain and simple. Include the dates you are going to be out of the office in your auto response email.

DO: Include Alternate Contacts. So, let’s assume for a moment that you are going to be gone for an extended period of time and your number one client needs something addressed prior to your return date. This will be a disaster if you don’t include an alternate person who your customers can contact during your away time. You’ve most likely delegated some of your responsibilities to various colleagues anyway; make certain that you also designate a person in your absence to aid your customers who cannot wait until you return. Include your alternate contact’s email address and phone number(s).

DO: Say It All Concisely. I harp on this all the time but don’t write War and Peace in your out of office auto response. Remember, your customers are mad you aren’t in to help them, don’t make them see red – unless it’s Red Sox red! – by writing a four paragraph diatribe on why you aren’t around! People rarely read past the first few lines of an email, so keep your auto response reply brief and to the point. You’re out of the office from x-date to y-date on a business trip; contact such-and-such at email/phone if the need is immediate; otherwise, you’ll respond within x-amount of hours upon your return. Boom! Done!

DON’T: Use a Vague Return Response Timeframe. I love it when I manage to write a good segue into my blog posts, and I did it here! You’ll notice the last line of my sample auto response above gave an anticipated time your customer can expect a return response. This is important, because your customers know when you’re returning to the office and they’ll automatically expect your response to be the minute you get in on your return date… not always realistic! Don’t further annoy your customers by saying you’ll get back to them within 24 hours. Give them specifics. If you’re returning on Jan. 2 and plan to reply to all of your emails that day, tell them you’ll reply by business day’s end Jan. 2… and then make sure you do it!

DON’T: Use Generic and Annoying Verbiage. Thank you for your email… I am currently out of the office… I am unable to respond to your email right now… ugh! What’s wrong with these statements? Let me tell you. Thank you for your email, or any derivative of that, wastes space and is even insulting in some cases. If a customer just went off on you in his or her email, he or she is not going to want to receive a “thank you note.” What’s wrong with the other statements and derivatives of them? Thank you, Caption Obvious. Your customer just received an auto reply. Enough said!

DON’T: Respond to Your Emails While You’re Out of the Office. It might be tempting to just handle a few emails while you’re in the airport waiting for your flight or sitting in your hotel room waiting for your significant other to get ready for dinner, but don’t. Why? It’ll save you time when you get back to work! That’s your favorite client and you really want to keep him or her happy! Because your customer might reply to your reply and, guess what, get another auto response email. Don’t forget, you’ve got your auto responder turned on, so every time you get a new email, it’s going to send out auto response.

DON’T: Forget to Turn the Auto Response Off. Another segue! Whoop! Whoop! And when you get back into the office, grumbling because you had a wonderful time and don’t want to go back to work, do not, whatever you do, forget to turn off your auto responder. It might be tempting to leave it on for a couple of days while you get caught up, or you might genuinely forget it’s on, but do whatever it takes to remind yourself to turn it off the minute you turn on your computer. Your customers know you’re back and they’re going to get really angry if they get an auto response two days after your return.

5 predictions for email marketing in 2014

5 predictions for email marketing in 2014

The peak of the holiday shopping crunch is upon us, and some marketers may still be in the midst of planning their holiday promotions and making sure their messages send to their email marketing lists without a hitch.

If you're using email marketing solutions like automation, however, and have your campaigns already mapped out and set to launch, perhaps you're ready to take a wider view of your email strategy and reassess your approach for the coming year. Here are six predictions for email marketing in 2014, so you can plan ahead for the challenges.

1. Mobile takes center stage
Companies can expect the ongoing trend of email reading on smartphones and tablets to gain more traction among consumers next year. In a column for Customer Think, LeadFormix co-founder Shreesha Ramdas predicted that mobile will become the primary platform marketers think about when they try to reach their customers via email.

"Going forward, best-in-class companies will design and time emails primarily for the mobile. Companies that frequently run email marketing campaigns will turn to responsive design email templates," Ramdas wrote.

2. Marketers continue to integrate email and social media
The benefits of a multichannel marketing approach that links email campaigns to social networking sites have been much discussed this year. In an online environment where consumers are plugged into a variety of platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram - in addition to email, the strategy helps increase engagement and get a unified sense of a firm's brand out to customers. Ramdas predicted that 2014 would see an uptick in the number of marketing emails that include "share" and "like" buttons, as well as icons that link directly to companies' social media pages.

3. The inbox becomes more dynamic
On the technical side, responsive email design – the layout technique that leverages HTML5 coding to create messages that adapt to different types of screens – will go hand-in-hand with the mobile craze. In a post for ClickZ, Return Path Vice President of Professional Services Margaret Farmakis predicted that this advanced design strategy will put increased emphasis on the email inbox itself as a center of dynamic customer experience.

"An email message's ultimate goal was to drive an action away from the inbox to a more interactive, content-rich experience like a website or landing page. … HTML5 is fundamentally changing this by making the inbox a dynamic place where consumers can experience content directly," Farmakis noted.

4. Copy gets more concise
In fact, the visual elements of marketing emails may begin to take a more central role. In a social media-obsessed age, everyone is a source of content. Ramdas suggested that consumers have become "text-weary" in the current digital climate, and as such, conciseness will likely become a key virtue for email marketers, both in subject lines and the copy in the body of the email.

That's not to say that written content will become less important. Rather, the new challenge of email copywriting will be to frame an offer to near perfection, using as few words as possible while still communicating a sense of the company's brand to its email contact list.

5. Privacy and CAN Spam compliance grow more important
In the whirlwind that has followed revelations of the National Security Agency's cyberspying programs, consumers have grown more insistent on the privacy of their data. One of the most common fears among consumers is that the information they give to companies will be used in ways they didn't authorize. As such, it's essential that marketers build trust between themselves and their readers, and this means making sure that emails are in compliance with CAN Spam regulations.

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Create an engaged email marketing list

Create an engaged email marketing list

When marketers talk about building an email list, they generally mean something beyond the initial acquisition of a set of email addresses. Companies' email lists shouldn't be static. Rather, they should be constantly growing as more people sign up to receive high-quality email content and promotions from brands that excite them.

Creating that kind of growth and energy isn't a simple proposition. It requires an active, hands-on approach, as marketers need to implement multi-pronged strategies for encouraging signups so that more customers are being added to their lists than are unsubscribing. Sticking to a few best practices can help ensure your email marketing list expands rather than contracts.

Craft exclusive, useful content
One particularly effective way to encourage signups is to offer information, offers and content via email that aren't available elsewhere. This means not only differentiating yourself from your competitors but also making sure your messages don't simply repeat copy from your website. In a post for Business2Community, business expert and blogger Alex Strickland discussed how appealing exclusive content can be to potential customers.

"By providing those on your mailing list with information not available on your site, your customers are more likely to read each message, and begin looking forward to them," Strickland wrote.

Design your site to promote signups
Of course, contacts who sign up to your list organically are likely to do so from your website. As such, it's key that you optimize your landing pages for the purpose of growing your email list.

Small business writer Megan Totka recently wrote in a column for Small Business Trends about the effectiveness of using a blog page as a way of drawing in email subscribers. She recommended including a feature box prominently on the page so that readers can easily provide the company with their email addresses. Furthermore, offering some kind of free download – a whitepaper or eBook, for example – in exchange for email addresses is likely to encourage signups, Totka noted.

Get simple
At all costs, avoid making the email signup process unnecessarily complicated. In a post for iMedia Connection, Act-On Software Senior Writer Monique Torres noted that page-loading delays as short as one second in length have been shown to lower conversion rates by 7 percent. She also pointed out that asking for too much information is likely to generate resistance from customers. Instead, require only the minimal data for email list subscription – name and email address – unless you're specializing the content in such a way that requires a greater set of information.

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Get inspired with these examples of email marketing innovation

Get inspired with these examples of email marketing innovation

Marketers are likely to be sending higher volumes of promotional messages to their email contact lists during the busy month of December, and let's face it: Ideas can run out relatively quickly, especially as exhaustion sets in. 

At such a time, there's no shame in looking to competitors and businesses in other sectors for examples of how to keep the creativity flowing in your email marketing campaigns. Rather, it's often necessary to take a cue from other companies, as it can help marketers stay abreast of the latest trends in their field. Here are a few of the most instructive examples of creative branding in recent email campaigns, as well as developments of relevance to marketers.

Trader Joe's emphasizes relationship
During the holidays, it's generally assumed that consumers are looking for a great deal. Shopping lists are long, and prices can add up quickly, so it's natural for people to jump at the opportunity to cut costs. After all, steep discounts are what Black Friday and Cyber Monday are all about.

Trader Joe's, however, took a very different approach to its Cyber Monday email promotions. According to Practical Ecommerce, the natural foods grocer sent out an email promotions that didn't focus on sales or prices. Rather, the company took an informational approach, reminding customers about the availability of its Fearless Flyer shopping guide, which helps shoppers navigate Trader Joe's products relevant to the holidays. It also opened up two-way communication by including an invitation for recipients to email the company and write about their favorite items they bought at the store in 2013.

"The lesson here may be that holiday marketing is really an extension of the marketing that you do all of the time. If you are building customer relationships in July, those customers are probably going to shop with you during the holidays," Practical Ecommerce noted.

Uline goes back to basics
While the holiday shopping rush is naturally focused on consumers, that doesn't mean that only B2C companies find success in offering promotions this time. B2B firms are also reaching out to their business email lists in an attempt to capitalize on the shopping-centric season. 

Practical Ecommerce noted that B2B retailer Uline, which specializes in packaging for businesses, recently sent out an email to its clients that offered a 40 percent-off promotion on one product, corrugated cartons. The strength of this email, the source suggested, is its simplicity: It highlighted a uniform discount on a single item, and even its layout was streamlined. Furthermore, the offer extends through January, so it's more tailored to the needs of business owners and company buyers, who aren't as likely to get caught up in the one-day Cyber Monday craze.

Facebook blends email and social media
Email marketers are aware by now that social networks are their friends rather than their enemies. In a column for ClickZ, LiveIntent Chief Operating Officer Dave Hendricks noted the benefits of Facebook's Custom Audience tool, which allows companies to market to email contacts who spend time on the social media site.

"Your email addresses are valuable beyond your first party newsletter-based email campaigns. If they aren't reading your emails, you can use Hash IDs to find them on an increasing number of custom audience platforms that support this standard," Hendricks wrote.

Google prioritizes intent
While marketers remain friendly with Facebook, Google is likely to be a bit less popular: The Promotions tab it recently added to Gmail means marketing emails may be less likely to get a look from recipients. Hendricks pointed out, however, that the development presents an opportunity rather than a stumbling block, as it allows for more intent-driven email opens.

If you stay aware of trends like these and think about how to take advantage of them or incorporate them into your own email campaigns, it's hard to imagine running out of ideas.

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Draw in customers with engaging, relevant email content

Draw in customers with engaging, relevant email content

Although email remains a more effective marketing tool than Facebook or Twitter, the current online landscape is informed in many key ways by social media. Users go to their favorite networking sites to share practically every detail of their lives, from important events like getting engaged to more everyday occurrences – what album they're listening to, for instance, or the healthy breakfast they made themselves that morning. On these social platforms, people follow other users who post content that is relevant to them in some way, whether it be from a friend with similar interests or a business that specializes in products they might use.

It's natural, then, that when the customers on your email contact list read your messages, they want to feel that information of value is being shared with them. Far from overshadowing email, social media offers marketers lessons in how to effectively frame their promotional campaigns to create engaged customers.

Email engagement on the rise
Marketers will have to work hard to achieve that goal, of course, but research suggests that consumers are becoming more and more willing to be won over by marketing emails. Epsilon's Q2 2013 North American Email Trends and Benchmarks report revealed that 51 percent of email list subscribers were active during the second quarter of this year. 

Just over half may not sound like much, but it represents a steady increase from previous quarters. Email activity registered at 50.1 percent in Q1 2013 and and 49.9 percent in Q4 2012. Meanwhile, the overall email open rate in Q2 was 28.5 percent, an 11.5 percent increase over the same period in 2012.

These statistics come as positive news for marketers – but the need to stay vigilant and active in promoting engagement among email list subscribers remains pressing.

"Engagement is not a linear process; it's a continual loop that requires a lot of work, but yields loyal customers with higher lifetime values," noted Judy Loschen, Epsilon's vice president of digital analytics.

The yin and yang of the subject line
There are many tools at your disposal as you bolster your efforts to create a more active customer base. It's always a good idea to perform simple A/B list tests on promotional messages and vary certain factors of the email's design and content between the two segments. One of the most crucial email components to experiment with and perfect is the subject line.

Shuba Srinivasan, a marketing professor at Boston University, spoke with CRM Buyer about the importance of subject lines as a determining factor in consumers' first impressions of the brand.

"They need to be inviting enough to not give away the whole email, concise enough that they fit on the screen of all devices and clear enough that people know why you're sending an email," Srinivasan told the news source.

Consider spending some extra time with your subject lines in an effort to achieve the kind of delicate balance that Srinivasan outlined: If you give away too little, you could risk customer confusion, while a flat or strictly informational subject line might result in boredom and disengagement.

Be smart about segmentation
The "likes," retweets and other interactive components of social media make a wider set of consumer information readily available – and often, marketers can leverage that information to create more narrowly segmented email marketing lists.

In a column for Business 2 Community, Krista Bunskoek from email marketing solutions vendor Wishpond gave a helpful example of how marketers can utilize social media data.

"Your business includes online movie rentals. Segment your movie product emails to targeted Facebook fans who like movies (or even get more personalized with particular genres of movies)," Bunskoek wrote.

With analytics tools that process information from social sites, any marketer should be able to implement strategies like this one.

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Aim for a low unsubscribe rate in holiday email campaigns

Aim for a low unsubscribe rate in holiday email campaigns

Black Friday is now behind us – but the holiday shopping season has just begun. Important as the day after Thanksgiving is for retail sales, companies can't risk putting too much focus on that one 24-hour period and thereby downplaying the crucial weeks leading up to December 25. Email marketing plays a vital role in attracting the kind of customer attention that will result in conversions for your brand.

As such, it's key that marketers implement techniques that will help customers stay engaged with companies' content and promotions rather than unsubscribing from their email marketing lists. Consider these simple tactics as you bolster your efforts to keep unsubscribes low and conversion rates high this holiday season.

Understand why contacts unsubscribe
Although the need to discover the root cause behind customers' choice to opt out of your emails may seem obvious, it's an often-overlooked necessity. Alexis Anderson, director of marketing and partnerships at email marketing firm PureWow, recently told Mashable that she's seen a connection between high-volume email campaigns and increased unsubscribe rates.

"We can map spikes in unsubscribes back to large email campaigns – it's a natural transaction in email marketing, and we're able to easily and accurately plan for it," Anderson told the news source. She went on to point out, however, that this is a relatively common occurrence in email marketing, and the benefits of reaching a large base of customers often make up for the loss of contacts.

In order to get a clearer, more micro-level grasp of why people in your email database unsubscribe, it may be necessary to retrieve and analyze more personal information from them. Mashable noted that marketers can build a brief exit interview into the opt-out process. A simple, multiple-choice answer set can help you get a better understanding of whether customers are unsubscribing due to too-frequent emails, irrelevant content or other factors.

Engage as early as possible
It's likely that customers who unsubscribe from your email list during high-volume sends feel that the promotions and information being offered simply don't apply to them, so when it comes to making sure your newly acquired email contacts see your brand as a source of relevant, engaging content, there's simply no time to spare.

Cassie Lancellotti-Young, vice president of client optimization and analytics at email marketing solutions provider Sailthru, spoke with Mashable about the importance of sending engaging content to new email contacts from the moment they're acquired.

"Even the best marketing programs fall victim to this issue," Lancellotti-Young told the source, although she went on to note that it's "mission-critical for marketers to develop compelling onboarding series that go well beyond just the customer's first week."

Given how busy email marketers lives are during the holidays, it can be easy to forget to employ strategies that pay this kind of individual attention to new contacts. In an effort to fend off quantity-over-quality syndrome, marketers might consider developing holiday-themed email onboarding campaigns for customers who join their firms' email lists during the month of December.

Take time to reflect
Similarly, it's vital to apply the same levels of conscientiousness and targeting to your December emails as you employ throughout the rest of the year. In a column for Business2Community, Vocus Marketing Strategist John Hayes argued that marketers should reflect on the quality of their emails during the busy holidays.

"Ask yourself why you are sending your subscribers each email. If it's because you believe they will be engaged by your offer – hit the send button. If not, it's time to go back to the drawing board and plan something better," Hayes wrote.

If you implement strategies like this, you may find relevance comes more easily than you thought.

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jimjoseph

An Interview with Marketing Guru Jim Joseph

One of my favorite parts about being in the marketing industry is how many great people you get to meet. Although I haven’t had the pleasure to meet Jim Joseph, I have been following his career, blog, tweets and articles on Entrepreneur.com for a while now. He is one of those people you think you have known for years. He is knowledgeable, relatable and one of the hardest workers I know. It was honor to have him answer some of my questions!

How do you balance your career as an NYU Professor, contributor for Entrepreneur, author of an award-winning book series and President of Cohn & Wolfe?

I actually get asked this all the time! For me, it all works together. Writing and teaching keeps me on the pulse of what’s going on in the marketplace which only makes me better at my day job. It’s also super helpful with recruiting and new business to have a voice in the industry so it all feeds upon each other. Plus I get up insanely early every morning and write like the devil before I go to the gym!

What brand do you think takes marketing to the next level?

I constantly highlight Starbucks as a brand that takes it to the next level both in terms of its product marketing as well as its brand marketing, which are two distinct streams for them. You can consume the brand in entirely distinct ways from the products which from an industry standpoint is inspiring. The brand has risen to an emotional space in people’s minds, becoming a beacon in communities and tackling social issues. Whether you drink coffee or not.

Your recent blog post on prank-vertising and viral videos was very interesting. Do you think some brands are pushing the envelope too far?

The only way to know if a brand has pushed too far is to read consumer reaction and measure results. Many are offended by putting consumers in precarious positions and then filming it, which I understand. It gets people talking though, which isn’t so bad as long as it results in sales; although, honestly, I’ve always tried not to offend in the process.

What made you want to enter the world of marketing?

I knew as a kid that I wanted to be in marketing, although clearly it took some time to figure out what it meant. I’ve always been more fascinated by the TV spots than the actual programming and the print ads more so than the articles. I always wanted to know how they knew to put it all together. I guess it all started when Farrah Fawcett did the “and I told two friends” commercial….

How do you think social media has changed the world of marketing for brands?

Social media made marketing a multidimensional relationship. Suddenly on a mass scale we hear what our consumers are thinking and that influences other consumers. Consumers can take control of a brand and brands are embracing that. It’s made it all so much more engaging as the lines of marketing disciplines have completely blurred. And from a personal perspective, I feel like social media has connected those of us in the industry beyond what an occasional conference could do back in the day.

Thank you, Jim Joseph for answering my questions and sharing your knowledge with our blog. It has been a pleasure!
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