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Archive for June, 2011

eMarketing Part 2:  Developing Effective Processes and Expectations For eMailers

Overview
Many eMarketing channels, such as websites and pay-per click ads, have been staples of eMarketing since the mid-to-late 1990s.  Due to early abuse, direct eMailers experienced significantly lower adoption rates. 

With the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, establishing requirements and penalties for commercial email, and the benefits and effectiveness of the medium, direct eMailers are quickly becoming one of the most popular eMarketing channels. 

Yet, many marketers are being exposed to direct eMailers for the first time.   

The following article attempts to provide some insights to help marketers looking to make the most of their purchased-list direct-email campaigns and develop realistic expectations for success. 

Getting Started
Selecting A Vendor – As with any marketing initiative, selecting the right direct-email vendor can be the difference between success and failure.  This decision becomes even more crucial considering the potential legal and financial ramifications. 

In 2003, the CAN-SPAM Act established requirements and penalties for commercial email. 

Therefore, not only should you vet vendors to ensure they have the experience and proven track record to help you effectively execute your direct-email campaign, but with six-figure penalties being levied against CAN-SPAM violators – a comprehensive understanding of the act’s regulations and process compliance are a must.

Since there have been less than reputable vendors in the industry, you will want to verify vendor claims with client references and, if doubt persists, contact the Better Business Bureau.

Effective Content:  There is the temptation to abuse the capacity of emails by cramming an abundance of information into them.

Keep in mind: you only have a few seconds of the reader’s attention and during that time; you want them to decide to take “the next step” – an action beyond reading the email that brings the closer to purchase. 

The larger your email, the less likely readers will be to comprehend your key messages.  Also, dense emails tend to create large file sizes, which also deter readers from opening them.   

Unfortunately, keep it short and simple has resulted in the practice by many marketers of “yelling” at recipients. 

There is a happy medium: if you are leveraging direct eMailers to develop relationships with customers and in turn long-term revenue, utilizing content that furthers that relationship has proven to be effective. 

While it may sound hyperbolic, show recipients you care:  from a personal letter from an executive to a special offer based on their history with the company, such as incentives/rewards for first-time/long-time customers. 

Balance Your Brand:  While there are obvious opportunities within the content of a direct email to expose readers to your brand, the structure of emails pose some interesting decisions for marketers. 

A company’s relationship with its email targets and the level of awareness of its brand play a role in deciding what information to include in the “from” and “subject” lines of an email.  Since these two areas can significantly impact a target’s decision to read an email, it’s important not to underestimate these factors.

Yes, you want to establish and reinforce your brand, but if a target receives an email from Company X or entitled Company X… but they are not familiar with the brand, then the potential success of the campaign significantly diminishes. 

Launching Your Campaign
Segment/Customize:  Content and messages will resonate differently among consumers depending on their age, gender, race, income, education, etc. 

The most successful direct eMailer campaigns segment targets through specific parameters and provide uniquely compelling content to each identified group. 

Test Your Emails:  To ensure effective content and brand balance it is beneficial to test your emails. 

Prior to launching your campaign, send variations of your emails to a sample of your target list. 

By reviewing the tracking results, you can decipher what aspects of your email readers find most compelling.   

Frequency:  Frequency is one of the most-debated aspects of direct-email campaigns:  where is the balance between informing/building a relationship and becoming an annoyance?

While the line for acceptable frequency tends to be drawn somewhere around one mailer every two-to-three weeks, the more important factor and indicator is consistency. 

The longer and more consistently a campaign is executed the more data will be provided effectively analyze its strengths and weaknesses.

Evaluating Campaign Effectiveness
Collecting Data – In order to evaluate the effectiveness of your direct eMail campaign, you first must have a reasonable set of data.  As with any marketing channel, message awareness, retention and customer activity will not necessarily be immediate.

Therefore, it would be premature to attempt to evaluate a direct eMail campaign with the goal of gleaning information that will influence strategy prior to the completion of three-to-five eMailers.

In addition to depth of data there are other factors that should be considered when evaluating a campaign:

  • Type Of Products/Services – what you are offering consumers can impact the results of a campaign and in turn its goal.  This is in no way unique to eMarketing or direct eMailers, but the immediacy of the medium can lead to unrealistic expectations. 
     
  • High-end products/services are not consumed as rapidly as durables or lower priced goods and eMailers do not change this behavior.  In these instances, eMailers should be viewed as opportunities to enhance awareness and reinforce product superiority, so that your organization is front of mind when the time comes for purchase. 
     
  • Timing – as a marketer, you are aware of whether there are traditionally slow sales periods throughout the year.  While eMailers can impact how many consumers you reach and when your messages touch them during the purchasing process, they should not be relied upon to significantly change consumer purchasing patterns.

What The Numbers Mean – Once you have collected your data, you will be able to discern what percentage of your targets read your emails and how many took an additional action: activity can range from going to your website to referencing an incentive included in the mailer at the time of purchase. 

This data does not always provide a clear and concise answer to the viability of direct eMailers, but it should be leveraged to refine strategy. The following are some results that should be anticipated:

  • High Reads and Low Click-throughs – the most common explanations for this result are: the expectations created by your subject line was not fulfilled by your content; targets are interested in your product or service, but are not ready for purchase; and activity occurred that was not tracked through the eMailer, i.e. readers enter a site by entering the URL or through a search engine, or they took action offline.
     
  • Low Reads and High Click-throughs – most commonly this occurs when:  an organization’s name is included in the “from” or “subject” lines and readers have yet to develop a trust of the brand; the subject line was not compelling, but targets are interested in the content; or the parameters of your targets are too broad.
     
  • Low Reads and Low Click-throughs – there are few if any industries that have not benefited from direct eMail campaigns, i.e. with more than 1B Internet users, your target market is on the web and the information they find is effecting billions of dollars in purchases.  If you have low reads and click-throughs, review the insights that have been provided to ensure they have been followed. 
     
  • High Reads and High Click-throughs – with time, direct eMail campaigns that follow the tips outlined in this series tend to recognize this result. 

While direct eMailers will require some unique processes, many traditional rules of thumb should still serve as the foundation for developing and evaluating campaigns. 

Given time, these steps, along with the tracking data provided by eMarketing channels, will allow marketers to effectively evaluate and strengthen campaigns:  helping to establish best practices for this emerging industry, while reinforcing awareness and revenue. 

Overview

For marketers developing eMarketing campaigns and those frustrated by the results of their initial efforts, the following article is the first in a series aimed at providing information on developing effective eMarketing processes, maximizing eMarketing channels and establishing realistic expectations.

Expectations of Real-time Results = Real-time Disappointments

With more than 1B global users, the Internet has emerged as a vital marketplace for businesses of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies to mom-and-pop shops.

By 2012, they will be spend more than $40B a year on eMarketing [1] in order to create awareness amidst an already overcrowded medium (Google estimates that there are more than 200B web pages) and in turn drive leads and revenue.

Even though many industries will soon be investing more of their marketing budget online than any of the traditional methods, most are well short of developing a comprehensive and strategic approach to eMarketing:   as of 2005 almost half of SMBs did not even have a website [2] .

The complexities of creating, managing and publishing online content and the wide array of channels by which it can be communicated, combined with the infancy of the eMarketing practice provide significant challenges and too few proven processes for marketers.

The potential benefits of eMarketing, such as its reach, cost and accountability, compounded by the anxiety of investing in new approaches and the pressures for a rapid return on that spend have resulted in unreasonably high expectations:   real-time results.

While eMarketing poses numerous unique challenges, many of the rules of thumb of traditional marketing apply:   it is still a process that requires effective communication, repetition and the time necessary to build relationship with consumers.  

Successful marketers will avoid the temptation of expecting real-time results from eMarketing.   Instead, they will educate themselves on emerging best practices, work with proven and established vendors, and leverage the accountability of the medium to, over time, accurately access and evolve their strategy and tactics.  

eMarketing Tips
Since the Internet is a constantly evolving technology, eMarketing strategies and tactics must be flexible.

Regardless, there are a few principles that should serve as a foundation for any online marketing campaign.

Develop Your Brand – Through eMarketing you are most likely going to reach a significantly greater percentage of your target market than through other marketing mediums.  

Unless you are promoting a global leader, you will need to educate that new audience on your brand.

With the proliferation of legitimate and questionable information and businesses on the web, users are inherently skeptical.

Therefore, it is not only important to consistently reinforce your brand, but ensure that how it is leveraged is credible:   from the marketing channels you utilize to the online partners and vendors you engage.

Don’t Just Yell and Sell  One of the most common criticisms of online marketing is that in an attempt to “break through the noise,” marketers have resorted to yelling at consumers:   “Buy Now!” “Don’t Miss Out!” “Act Fast.”  

While the Internet is a cluttered medium, it also enables marketers to provide consumers with detailed and customized marketing.  

If marketers can leverage these capabilities to build relationships with consumers, instead of just trying to sell them, customers will be more informed, reducing burdens on sales staffs, and it is more likely that they will become long-term sources of revenue.

Leverage Internet Benefits To Develop The Strongest Strategy and Effective Tactics – One of the greatest benefits of eMarketing is the depth of data it can provide on who you are marketing to, the performance of your marketing channels and how consumers are acting/reacting..

Successful marketers not only incorporate the information gleaned from this data into strategy and tactics, but are nimble enough, when appropriate, to enact these changes in real time.

Remember Traditional Rules of Thumb – The speed, cost and capabilities of eMarketing can be beneficial to any marketing campaign.   Yet, this can be a double-edged sword if not properly executed:   i.e. just because you can act quickly, does not mean you always should act quickly.  

As with any form of marketing, standard rules of thumb apply for eMarketing.   Timing, repetition, quality of marketing vendors, and a comprehensive approach are just as important in eMarketing as they are with traditional marketing.

Because it is an emerging practice that is frequently more affordable and flexible than its traditional counterparts, there is a tendency for marketers to “dabble” in eMarketing and evaluate the viability of the online marketplace from the resulting data.

Most marketers would not place an ad in a weekly newspaper for a few months and if there were not a significant impact on business determine that marketing is ineffective for their organization.

It is equally impractical to draw conclusion on eMarketing campaigns based on a short-time period through a singular channel.  

eMarketing Channels

In order to successfully evaluate the most effective eMarketing channels for your campaign, it is necessary to understand their role and develop reasonable expectations for their impact.  

Websites – Tend to be the anchor of most eMarketing campaigns.   Businesses utilize their websites in various ways: from a basic-information source to a 24-hour salesperson/store.  

Regardless of a website’s purpose, the reality is, there are more than 100M of them and 200B pages on the Internet.

An eMarketing campaign that does not extend beyond a mere website is the electronic equivalent of placing a needle in a haystack and assuming consumers will find it.  

Pay Per Click Ads – Since users most commonly discover information on the web via search engines, many marketers employ pay per click (PPC) ads – ensuring that when words and phrases are entered into a search engine their ads will appear.

While many companies have seen benefits from PPCs, as part of a comprehensive eMarketing approach, 75% of marketers that employ them experience fraud [3] ; 80% of users never click on them [4] , 66% distrust them [5] and almost 1/3 are annoyed by them [6] .

Search Engine Optimization – A majority of website traffic comes from “organic” search engine results – those that are not pay per click ads.  

There are vendors that specialize in identifying key words and phrases that relate to an organization’s website and attaining high-ranking search-engine results for them.  

Fees for SEO can range from a few hundred dollars to mid=five figures.

Banner Ads/Portal Listings – A number of websites allow marketers to advertise on them or are designed for promotion of specific industries, i.e. portals.  

Banner ads/portal listing can be an effective, albeit sometimes costly, tactic in attracting an audience that you already know is interested in your industry or a complimentary service/product.

Since they are essentially ads on websites, marketers must realize that with banner ads and portal listings they will face many of the same challenges mentioned above in the website section.  

Direct eMailers – Are the electronic counterpart to traditional mailer campaigns.   With their numerous benefits, direct eMailers are one of the fastest growing eMarketing channels:   Jupiter Research reports that spending on email marketing will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 24%, reaching $6.1 billion in 2008.

Direct eMailers combine the most frequent online activity with proactive marketing that can be segmented, customized, updated in real time and tracked.  

Across almost every age group emailing is the most common use of the Internet.  

Unlike the other eMarketing channels that have been outlined, eMailers do not rely on users to find information. Instead, marketing collateral is delivered directly into email boxes of targets that can be defined by multiple parameters; age, sex, location, education, etc.

eMailers can be tracked so that marketers not only know what percentage of their targets read the emails, but how many take additional step, such as redeemed a special offer or clicked-through to a website.

With the numerous benefits of eMailers, along with the fact that their cost is significantly less than their traditional counterpart; only pennies per email, many organizations are viewing them alongside websites, as a must-have for their eMarketing campaigns.

[1] Forrester Research

[2] Yankee Group

[3] Outsell Report

[4] iProspect Search Engine User Behavior Study

[5] Emarketer

[6] Emarketer

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