Superheroes (or Superheroines) possess extraordinary or superhuman powers and are dedicated to protecting the public.
Email superheroes, however, are those that know how to leverage the power of technology and time-tested communication strategies to serve the community around a company while simultaneously impacting every facet of a growing business.
Nearly every week at least one social media pundit publishes research about the pending death of email. We have seen it before and will likely see it again. They claim that social media is far more personal and potent, much less intrusive, and, in short, simply better than email in every way.
But most businesses, from home-based operations to Fortune 500 mega-corporations, continue to invest in email. That’s because it remains one of the most effective ways to communicate important information and support critical business objectives — from driving website traffic to selling products.
– Some superheroes are faster than a speeding bullet. Email marketers use automation techniques to outpace the competition.
– Some superheroes are more powerful than a locomotive. Web professionals use powerful list acquisition strategies.
– Some superheroes seem to be everywhere they are needed. Internet businesses focus on engagement (the new key to deliverability) and providing value with every message.
SPENDING MORE on Email
According to Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 Email Marketing Benchmark Survey, nearly two-thirds of marketers are expecting their email marketing budgets to grow in 2011. In fact, 10 percent of the more than 1,100 marketers surveyed say their companies’ email marketing spend will rise by at least 30 percent. Perhaps even more impressive: Just 4 percent of those surveyed anticipate any cuts whatsoever to their email marketing budgets.
To become an email superhero one must first master acquisition; build a list of recipients that really want to receive your messages. And the best way to remove that barrier to success is by building awareness through any number of online opportunities.
For example, aligning email with existing social media marketing (by promoting availability of exclusive email content on Facebook and Twitter) and search marketing campaigns (by including reference to email subscription availability on landing pages) creates a consistent experience for users and maximizes the opportunities for acquisition. Conversely, those publishing a weekly newsletter can use the various sections of that newsletter as individual items in their social feeds — publishing the most read item, the most shared item or the item with the most comments on Facebook or Twitter, along with an invitation to subscribe to the email list.
Much of the success of any acquisition campaign comes as a result of making the initial offer appealing. Merchants might want to provide a discount code after prospective customers successfully sign up to an email list, while information publishers might provide a free whitepaper or download in exchange for an email subscription from a qualified recipient. Just posting an offer by itself in your Twitter stream is typically not enough. Proceed with caution; understanding an audience and what compels them is vital — as it must be at least a zero-sum scenario for the prospective recipient. Ask yourself: Is the value of this product discount equal to or greater than the prospective recipient sharing their private contact information?
Much more comes into play when it comes to acquisition. Those charged with email list building see firsthand the many moving parts required to attract even one new subscriber. Taking an informed and measured approach from the start will serve these marketing campaigns well in the future — from using popular form design and development techniques (Review the December 2010 edition of Website Magazine), to leveraging existing customer intelligence to identify prospects currently in your control.
Aspiring email superheroes can also minimize significant hurdles by directly addressing trust and privacy concerns (perhaps by considering the use of privacy and security seals from Verisign, Truste, Trust Guard, ValidatedSite or WebSafeShield) and developing a greater understanding of consumers’ content demands (more on that below).
There are many more effective ways to maximize email list acquisition. John Murphy, President of Chicago-based email marketing service provider ReachMail, suggests revisiting prior buyers or prospects currently available in your database. Often, small businesses have captured email addresses in their accounting systems but fail to market to them. Murphy also suggests implementing a refer-a-friend promotion.
“Make a compelling value to your current customers and let them do the selling for you,” he says. “If you sell a membership, offer at least one month of dues in return for bringing a friend in. Make sure that your offer is generous enough to entice current customers or you won’t have much pickup.”
New email prospects can come from anywhere; so be everywhere and focus on providing value before the consumer ever signs up.
TEXT TO SIGN UP
Email service provider Delivra unveiled a new feature that allows marketers to offer email subscriptions via text. Users text a keyword then receive a return text message asking for their email address, along with a confirmation email — making for a rather innovative double opt-in process for acquisition. Delivra is working with Connective Mobile to provide the service.
“Subscribers are able to act on their interest when they are eager to get information, such as at an event, trade show or convention,” says Neil Berman, president and CEO, Delivra. “Email marketers benefit by having the email automatically added to their list without the additional work of entering email addresses into the system.”
Today’s businesses have a problem — too many employees doing too many different things, and all at the same time. But when we understand the underlying essential processes occurring within our businesses and a few key performance indicators, we can plan the use of email accordingly and then designate manpower and resources to the areas that will produce the greatest possible return. Email superheroes do that through automation.
There are really just two types of automated email — triggered and sequential. Triggered emails are sent when a user takes a particular action. Sequential emails are sent to customers on a predetermined time frame — they sign up and receive an email, then receive an email every following week, for example.
Triggered emails are very effective for Internet retailers. If a consumer buys a gadget from your online store, your email marketing system should be sophisticated enough to recognize that and send an email (triggered by the purchase) containing suggestions for gadget cases, gadget resources, related products or purchases made by others who bought the same gadget. The challenge is to ensure that the integration between the shopping cart and the email marketing system is accurate and up to date.
Sequential emails are ideal (if not essential) for information publishers and service providers. If a service was purchased, the provider might consider setting up a sequential email campaign outlining how to get the most from the features of the service. Or, information publishers could set up a finite, email-only weekly content series centered on promoting a book.
The benefits of automation are not just for the senders, however, but also those on your staff receiving messages from customers. Parker Software’s Email2DB is an email parser and message processing automation solution that extracts data from messages and integrates the information with your business database. The solution is useful for those processing e-commerce orders, answering support tickets or Web response forms, or replying to any sort of form-based message.
BEST TIME OF DAY TO SEND
Email marketers are constantly talking about the best day of the week to send emails but no one seems to agree. And despite all the discussion, one important point is often overlooked: What time of day is best for visibility? Recent data from email service provider ReachMail shows that open rates can vary dramatically throughout the day, and the data are different on weekdays and weekends. This information is invaluable to email marketers, who can schedule their email campaigns to appear in subscribers’ inboxes at the time they are most likely to read them. ReachMail compiled data which indicates points during the day that e-mail recipients open new messages. As you can see, peak time on Wednesday (top) is around midday whereas Saturday (bottom) has a longer timeframe for opens.
Deliverability and Engagement
The highest quality list and the most efficient email system in the world means little if the messages never arrive in the inbox of the recipient.
Improving deliverability is no longer solely the charge of IT, as most email service providers have built in the ability for the clients to add Sender ID, SPF and DKIM automatically (within a few clicks), improving deliverability in the process. These are still valid means to determine the quality of a sender’s reputation and history. But times have changed. ISPs are now using more data to determine if an email is worthy of delivery.
In the past, ISPs considered the number of invalid addresses, volume of complaints and text and link cues that might indicate that the email was unsolicited. While the system worked for the most part, it can be improved. Today ISPs also consider the number of recipients that open an email, the percentage of those that open an email and click a link, and even how many of the emails are forwarded to others. All of these factors contribute to the success (or lack thereof) of email deliverability
Google is taking this one step further by placing the best performers in the most prominent position as part of its Priority Inbox offering, by which Google’s algorithm makes predictions on what emails are important to the receiver based on email history. Emails that are regularly opened and/or responded to will be sent to the Priority Inbox and, according to Google, the determination is made based on “who you’ve emailed and chatted with most and which keywords appear frequently in the messages you opened recently.”
While using engagement data is now an indicator of reputation and a factor in deliverability, there is a long list of other necessary tactics and techniques to improve existing rates. Perhaps the most important is sending from your own IP address. An IP address is the way ISPs can tell who is sending email and who is doing it right or wrong. Should your ESP use shared IP addresses, you risk sharing your reputation with a sender that may not have the same high standards as your own.
Using built-in authentication (i.e Domain Keys, SPF and SenderID) provides clear proof to ISPs that you are sending email from a domain with a positive reputation. A qualified ESP should also provide marketers with a means to check spam scores and provide reports on deliverability metrics as well as feedback directly from the ISP.
Ready to Hero-Up?
It’s time to take your rightful place in the great hall of highconversion marketers through email. Information publishers, e-commerce merchants and retailers, and service providers focusing their attention on the Web are those using email every day to great effect. While social media has provided new ways to engage with our consumers, email remains one of the most powerful — and measurable — ways to increase awareness, build branding, sell product and, of course, communicate with our top prospects and loyal customers.
But remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Let these superhero strategies — improving business processes through automation, practical promotion for list building, and ensuring more email gets delivered, opened and clicked — guide you toward success.