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Archive for May, 2010

Red signal on the train Network.I have the rare luxury of finding a seat on the Twickenham to Waterloo train early on a Sunny day in May. To take advantage of this incredible stroke of luck, (did everybody sleep in today?) I’m tinkering on my Dell laptop while two other brusque and slightly portly, important looking business men do the same. A quick survey of my surrounding commuters reveals 7 out of 10 are plugged in to mp3s or iPods, and out of the three remaining, two are chattering very loudly (perhaps causing the others to plug in) and another opposite me is sound asleep, or perhaps dead, I’m not sure. Considerately, I can’t hear the ugly hiss of someone’s tinny Britney album, as everyone has their headphones turned to a respectful level. Only one is reading the Metro, a stark difference to a couple of years back when everyone would bury their heads into the latest breaking news about Big Brother or some other daily digest of brain garbage.

This all got me thinking of how quickly trends come and go, which is topical to my visit to the iMedia Agency summit last week in Brighton. I enjoyed the conference and met some great people, but the prevalence of organisations, start-up or otherwise in the social media sector was particularly eye opening. Obviously it’s no surprise that social media is an engaging topic of discussion, but the number of sector representatives all jockeying for position as the next potential Facebook did seem reminiscent of some kind of bubble akin to the email sector’s early days.

The great news from an email suppliers point of view as there was only one other email supplier at the entire event, which based on the fact that email has become an integral part of any good marketing plan was fantastic but of course, I guess it depends on why this was the case. The truth is that even though email remains one of the most effective marketing channels, of the variety of blue sky businesses which launched into the space 10 years ago, few remain. This is certainly true in context of those suppliers who managed to get through the steep learning curve of delivering sustainable long term email strategies for brands, avoiding the gold rush at the cost of the consumer or brand and only for the benefit of their brow beating investors.

Man walking next to train tracksWhat remains in the marketplace is a group of companies orchestrating healthy competition centred around delivering quality products, services and value to win the commitment of well informed brands who don’t suffer hit and run tactics or the bad practices of those companies who have long since floundered. To this day this presents my biggest obstacle at eCircle; how to re-educate the masses that the bad practice email legacy they may have seen 5 years ago is not the norm and that you can create incredible customer value leading to sustainable profits relatively easily. It’s a rational response if you’ve had your fingers burnt, but with the evolution of common sense in email marketing it’s a ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ strategy. Rather like saying from now on everyday I’m going to get up at 4am, walk the 13 miles to work in all weathers, because when I used the train last I didn’t get a seat, people had their music on too loudly and the portly man next to me died.

Now where’s the common sense in that?

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Fifa World Cup 2010 LogoWith two weeks to go until the opening game kicks off, anticipation for the 2010 Fifa World Cup is building, St George’s flags are appearing on cars, England replica kits are flying off the shelves and generally the football lovers amongst us are getting just a little bit excited. 

The World Cup comes around every 4 years (and if we’re lucky, we qualify!) and whilst the last tournament seems like yesterday, in online terms, 4 years is a lifetime.  In 2006 had you heard of Twitter?  Were you even on Facebook yet? Did you have a BlackBerry? It’s fascinating how much things have developed and moved on since the last World Cup in 2006 in terms of online marketing and social media.  According to paidContent:UK brands and sponsors are turning away from traditional advertising to online fan communities and social networking channels to build brand awareness.  Even Coca-Cola has launched three flagship ads to run exclusively on social media sites which has got to say something about the power of online.  One World Cup blog site claims that the World Cup is going to set new records for online marketing and will be the biggest story to hit Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in the history of all 3 sites.  Take the new Nike World Cup advert as an example (which, incidentally, is a little piece of genius, video below if you haven’t seen it yet).  Since it was put on YouTube just 10 days ago, almost 9million people have viewed it.  Nike must be laughing all the way to the bank.  And the World Cup is said to take Twitter by storm across the globe.  Ironically though, England players have apparently been banned from posting comments on Twitter or Facebook during the World Cup!

Take a look at the latest Nike World Cup advert here:

In addition to all the hype of the World Cup turning to the online world, the vast majority of us Brits are apparently planning to watch the World Cup, online at work. Heaven knows what that’ll do to our companies’ networks!

The FA are a client of ours and not only is anticipation of the 2010 World Cup building, but so is the anticipation of whether our bid to host the 2018 World Cup will go our way.  So why not show your support and back the bid yourself!

Finally – with apologies to our Irish, Welsh and Scottish friends – for those of you who are interested, I’ve compiled a list of the main online sources of information and conversation for the tournament (with a focus on the England team!) as follows:

So with the help of a plethora of online tools, you don’t have to miss a moment.  I for one am counting the days til England’s first game on June 12th. Here’s to a truly fantastic tournament. COME ON ENGLAND!

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Testing 3-2-1Okay okay, I know that the old testing call often employed on stage by some stand up comic testing their microphone is ‘Testing testing  1,2 3,’ , but let’s take it for granted that I haven’t mistakenly written a Stand Up Comic Checklist, and that actually I want to say a few words about the importance of testing in email marketing.

Ultimately, testing is a key plank of any strategy to optimise your email marketing (or indeed any form of direct marketing) so helping narrow down creative alternatives (for example) you go from three to two to one ( 3,2,1..get it?).

Why is it important to test?

The simple answer to that is it helps you discover what works. With email, by testing the subject line and/or images of your email campaign, you can easily adapt the email to the preferences of your recipients. By showing recipients what they prefer to see, you increase the click-through rate and maximise the response rate of your campaign.  Simples!

But I’ve worked with clients who , when I’ve suggested testing, have come back with the standard responses of “ we’re getting good results as it is” and “we can’t afford to test”.
So let me  try and dispel  these issues:

“We can’t afford to test”

I would suggest that as an organisation you can’t afford not to test.
A MarketingSherpa article by Anne Holland proved, through survey results, that testing increases ROI. The responses show that “in every case more than 50% of marketers improved ROI (even if only moderately) by testing.”.  So by not testing , you are not going to maximize your ROI

“We’re getting good results as it is”

This may be true at the moment, but as the world we live in changes, so does how consumers interact with the messages you send them. You can put money on the fact that your competitors will be aiming to look at what you’re doing and improve on that and get even better results. I have yet to see a  case where when you start to compare like for like campaigns, there isn’t some form of degradation of results over time if no test learn and refine strategy is employed.

Some other issues are seen in an article written by 8seconds , where they highlight a survey by eROI that shows that 37% of email marketers do not test their email campaigns.

The survey also highlights the main reasons behind this, these being:
•    I don’t know how to test (32.84%)
•    My campaign timeline is too short (27.36%)
•    Platform doesn’t have testing capabilities (13.43%)

Testing ResultsSo what should you be testing ?

First of all, let’s not go crazy and try and test everything. As I highlighted some time ago, it’s important to keep things simple and not to lose sight of the wood for the trees!

Phil Storey’s blog gives some ideas about what to test , and as an email marketing creative it gives some great pointers.

So in terms of what you should be testing in an email, here are some ideas,  in some order of increasing complexity :

•    Subject Line A/B test frequently
•    Broadcast time at least twice a year
•    Offers/Incentive at least twice a year
•    Creative test at least twice a year
•    Multivariate testing of creative elements in email templates at least twice a year

(You can find  more Best Practice here)

Multivariate Testing & Optimisation allows you to test multiple variables at once, and in realtime. Essentially this approach allows you to test multiple creative options.

We’ve come across  8Seconds Optimizer that provides  this Multivariate Testing & Optimisation

Essentially it optimises the images (calls to action, offers, promotions, header images, banners, buttons, etc.) in your email. 8Seconds shows different images to different recipients that open their email and measures statistically and in real time which image is the most successful in terms of clicks or conversion. 8Seconds Optimizer automatically shows this best image (or combination of images) to the next recipients that still have to open their email at that moment in time.
The first people that open the email will be the testers so that remaining people only see the optimised version. Very clever!

So what are the Benefits of Testing

Innovation – Testing allows you to understand what actually works and removes the mentality of “we’ve always done it this way”

Behaviour – Your email marketing will be based on solid customer behaviour as opposed to gut instinct

Speed – this can all be done real time!

ROI – it pays to test

But remember, what you optimise in June, may not be what works best 6 months later – so be prepared to go 3,2,1 all over again.

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Not too long ago I posted on online advertising taking over offline advertising.

Yes perhaps it will still be a while before online can fully convince old offline marketing strategists but there are some companies out there helping my cause that online marketing can improve a brands performance.

Recently I came across a company in the US called www.vizu.com. One of their key products is called Vizu Ad Catalyst system using brand lift measuring real time the performance of brand advertisers campaigns.

I am convinced that more and more similar companies will also spread across the European online marketing space encouraging brands to use all online channels alongside their traditional marketing methods and therefore continuing the growth path of online ad spending even further. Another clear sign to me supporting this thought is the growth of online video ads…still comparably small in terms of overall spending yet growing very fast and enabling brands to use all kind of web ad formats to broadcast their advertising spots.

Econsultancy recently wrote an interesting blog post regarding how well the two channels can complement each other, so even if you’re a traditionalist, surely it makes sense to combine the two channels together at the very least?

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When clients ask me to redesign their email creative to increase click-through and conversion, I often find that they are quite surprised at how much time and effort we invest into fine-tuning call to action text links and buttons.  There are brand colours to abide by, right? So text links and buttons have to stay in those styles in order to keep the brand police happy. Well, on face value that sounds like a fairly sensible approach, especially if they’re not particularly important. But what happens if you start to challenge these simple elements of your email creative? The potential is huge.

You see, with any computer interaction or usability theory, there’s rarely a simple answer.  Words such as “I have read numerous white papers that suggest that red generally works best for buttons, so let’s just go with red buttons everywhere”, or “we’ve got green buttons on our website and they convert better than any other colour on there”, all sound reliable, but they’re nothing more than assumptions.

Assumptions are often where a piece of work like this starts, so they’re not completely useless.  They help to spark conversation, which leads to ideas – ideas that then develop into hypotheses. Before you know it, you’ve got a variety of things to test.

The title of this blog post refers to three colours that I find most commonly used for a call to action. These colours all perform differently based on the sector, brand, proposition, content and so on. This is why you need to test, to see what works best for your brand. Green is associated with ‘go’, so is seen to be a positive action colour. On the other hand, red is obviously associated with ‘stop’, so provokes a reaction too. What is interesting, is that amber or orange is perceived as a colour that suggests something is about to happen and often out-performs all other call to action colours in tests.

Remember that what works for your brand on your website or affiliate campaigns, might not work as well in your email campaigns. When you are trying to interrupt someone in their inbox to convert a browser to a buyer, users are in a different frame of mind, so every call to action needs to work as hard as it possibly can. If you get it right, you could see click-through rates shoot up by as much as 10%, so there is great value in reviewing this area of your email creative. This is why we spend time making sure that these visual signposts are absolutely spot on for our clients. Sometimes simple A/B tests each time you send a mailing can help you find the strongest solution. With email creative that is designed very well already, you would do well to invest in some usability or eye tracking tests to really understand how your audience interacts with your emails.

Don’t be complacent. Start challenging every call to action in your emails and you’ll quickly see the benefits in your results.

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Any email marketer will tell you how effective the email channel can be and you’d think that the three main UK political parties would be using the channel to entice voters ahead of this week’s general election in a big way.  From my experience, however this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Being in the email marketing industry I was curious to find out how easy the sign up process would be and what messages I’d receive from each party once signed up.

So how did the UK parties score on collecting email addresses and supporter information at sign up?

Labour –  On Labour’s official site they have a clear option to ‘Sign up for campaign news’.  On my laptop this is slightly below the fold so this could be moved up to make sure it’s seen by all.  You simply fill in your email and then are taken you through to a landing page where they cleverly capture more data – first name, last name and postcode. A short privacy statement is given so I know what will happen to my address.  All in all they seem to have got the sign up process sewn up but they should include an option to capture an email address on every page – it’s missing on their ‘Our policies’ page.

Liberal Democrats – The Lib Dems have included a ‘Sign up for Email News’ option on every page of their website. On some pages however it’s above the fold and others it’s shown below the fold. Perhaps they tested different locations to find a place that worked best on each page to attract the most sign ups? It can sometimes differ page to page so you should always test this. At sign up they also capture more data but not too much to put you off. The thank you page which is displayed after is well designed and encourages users to go back to the site.

Conservatives – On the Conservative’s website you are given the option to ‘Sign up for David’s weekly email’.  Using his name provides more of a personal touch and by stating the email frequency helps to control expectations . Subscribers need to know if you will send daily, weekly or quarterly. In addition to collecting – email, first name, last name and postcode they also asked for a mobile number. The Lib Dems did this too but the Conservatives win on this occasion by telling the subscriber what their mobile number will be used for with an incentive that the texts will be free – ‘We will send you free text alerts if you provide your number’.

Ok, so that’s the sign up process but how good are their email marketing messages?

Well, I only received an immediate welcome email from the Labour Party thanking me for signing up. Seven days later… i finally got a welcome email from the Lib Dems – too little too late in my opinion but at least they sent me something, unlike the Conservatives who promised me a ‘weekly email’. Nothing so far..

You’d think after the success Barack Obama had using digital methods as a means of engaging with voters that the UK’s parties would have learnt a lesson.  All the parties do seem to have embraced social media each having their own Twitter and Facebook sites however collecting supporter information and communicating directly via email doesn’t seem to rank that highly in my experience anyway!  But will the email marketing results be reflected in Thursday’s poll? Let’s just wait and see…

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