The true cost of email marketing is the opportunity squandered as your loyal customers unsubscribe.
Posted Aug 4, 2003
The idea of squeezing more from your email marketing program conjures up quite a visual image. The image it brings to my mind is the twisting, turning machinations we apply to a half-cut orange as we vainly attempt to squeeze one last drop from its peel.
The same principle applies for marketers. How can they tap into the remaining juice in their email marketing programs? As an example, let's say your program has run for at least six months, and things are getting a little stale--you've hit a plateau in response. There is no simple quick fix. However, if you follow a few twists and turns, apply a little pressure here and there, sweet juices will flow again.
Increasing subscriber relevance
The cost of email marketing is not found in deployment, design, tracking, or editorial. The true cost of email marketing is the opportunity squandered as your loyal customers unsubscribe. Unsubscribes happen because readers get tired, disinterested, or just plain overwhelmed by the volume of traffic in their inbox. Rejuvenate your relationship with them. Speak to them like you know them, which you do.
You know who they are by the standard questions that you may have asked them at signup (e.g., state of residence, interests, gender, and age). You know them even better after a few transmissions of your newsletter or bulletin, because they have spoken to you through their mouse. The information available about click-through rates on articles or offers they have read begins to add to your knowledge base about their areas of interest. Increasing relevance doesn't necessarily mean personalization--it simply means that you have added segmentation to your program.
Play with the data you have collected
Look for clusters of people that seem to have similar behaviors and preferences. Then simply target your editorial or offers to these clusters by eliminating content that is less relevant, and by promoting content that caters directly to the audience cluster or market segment.
Remember that more is definitely less when it comes to relevance. Keep the reader engaged by eliminating distracting, irrelevant editorial or offers. Focus on delivering key messages that people have responded to historically. Relevance is the key to developing long-term, meaningful online relationships with your subscribers.
Play with frequency
The strength of a communication tool like an e-newsletter is its predicable, periodic appearance in a subscriber's inbox. Email is a very responsive, one-to-one media. We can send messages to readers swiftly, responding to changing conditions or issues as they happen. Best practices tell us that ideally, we should ask the respondent to tell us how often they want to hear from us via email. So how do we resolve these seemingly conflicting issues of timeliness, preference, and predictability?
One answer may be email bulletins. A bulletin is a news-, information-, or offer-based communication piece that can serve to maintain contact in between regularly scheduled, periodic newsletters. The bulletin is single-minded and responsive, but to respect the subscriber's preference for frequency of communication, we need to use bulletins carefully. Use them only when circumstance or opportunity presents itself. Do not send the bulletin to your whole email list. If you have a segmented list, choose the relevant audience first, and then deploy. The relevance of your message should balance with the elevated frequency of contact for that month. The balance between relevance and frequency should work together to ensure your recipient stays engaged, thus reducing the number of unsubscribes.
Two-way communication--the email newsletter
Marketers sometimes fail to grasp email as a two-way communication vehicle that directly allows subscribers to communicate and interact with us.
There are a few ways that the reader may instinctively want to respond or communicate when they receive an email newsletter. The first and often-most overlooked way is that the reader will respond in the fashion they typically respond to an email: by hitting the reply-to button in their email program.
Regardless of whether you have included a contact-us, more-information, or tell-us-what-you-think section in the newsletter, many respondents will just hit reply to. Which begs the question: They've hit reply because they want to engage you, and speak with you directly. So where do these emails go? Is anyone in your organization charged with the responsibility of reading these emails and responding to them in a timely manner?
If not, you are squandering the opportunity to let your subscriber know that you are listening. The subscriber is viewing this email as a two-way communication vehicle. The marketer cannot drop the ball here. You need to monitor the reply-to responses to make certain that you are respecting their effort to communicate with you.
When you mine the reply-to address looking for responses, make sure you answer the people whose comments may be critical or challenge your newsletter first. Even a quick, yet personal email addressing the sender may delight the person sending the email. They will probably remark that they are pleased to know that there is a live person behind the management of these emails. This interaction often results in a resubscribe, or provides the newsletter editor with valuable feedback.
Conduct reader polls or surveys
Another more explicit way of developing two-way communication is through surveys or polls. Create a question that is compelling and relevant, and demonstrate an understanding of your readers' preferences. The result is that they will want to share their opinions with you and other like-minded individuals in your newsletter community.
This desire to share opinions can be expressed in two ways: a reader poll, or a reader survey. The reader poll typically consists of a short question, followed by multiple-choice answers. The reader chooses one answer to the question, then is immediately delivered to a landing page. The landing page then hosts a chart or a graph, where the respondent can judge their response in relation to that of their peers in the newsletter community.
Reader polls are engaging, quick, and provide immediate response to the reader, with an editorial topic that is likely timely and compelling. For the e-newsletter editor, they provide an instant snapshot on attitudes, ideas, or preferences, which are, in turn, useful for editorial planning, or, even better, product/service development. In addition, the responses are aggregated in the chart, yet are individually assigned to each respondent. This creates another data point in the customer profiling as you continue to segment customers.
Reader surveys have similar characteristics to reader polls; yet they are more in-depth, and do not offer up immediate response. Indeed, the best strategy is to inform the respondent that in return for filling out the survey, they will receive an incentive, which can range from a coupon or offer, or simply the benefit of receiving the compiled results from the survey in which they participated.
In addition to multiple-choice questions found in a poll, the reader survey can also include check-box questions, where more than one answer may apply; scaled responses, where the reader chooses a response within a range from do not agree to strongly agree; questions that can only be answered if the reader dives deeper into your Web site--a great way to direct qualified traffic to relevant pages of your site; or short or long answer, where the reader is encouraged to type a response freely within a box in the email or landing page.
Clearly, the possibilities are limitless for the categories of questions or survey responses that you can create. However, the goals remain the same: Polls and surveys give the reader a chance to have meaningful dialogue and actively participate in the newsletter community that you have created.
These are just a few ideas for squeezing more out of your email-marketing program. Remember to always be looking for a way to sweeten your offer without souring the subscriber.
About the Author
Keith Dundas is vice president of marketing for MethodMail, the full-service strategic email-marketing arm of RareMethod Capital Corp. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.