Archive for the ‘Email Marketing Technology’ Category

Me: Coffee please.
Barista: Would you like Espresso, Americano, Cappuccino, Macchiato, Mocha, Latte, or our new Frappuccino’s??
Me: Erm, Just a coffee.
Barista: A Drip? Grande?
Me: ? just a coffee. please.
Barista: A Grande Drip Americano?
Me: I just don’t know. Do you do Tea?
Barista: ?
Me: It’s ok, I don’t want one now. ..  I’m off to the pub.

The paradox of too much choice is that although clearly some choice is better than no choice, too much choice causes paralysis which leads to no choice at all. The need for extra information to assist an educated choice becomes overwhelming, so a reduction in decision confidence leads to a decision not to act at all. A classic 2000 supermarket study involving choice of exotic jams showed that although more shoppers were attracted by 24 varieties of jams in one stand, only 3% of them bought any of the jams displayed. On the other hand, 30% of the shoppers who stopped by the stand that offered only 6 varieties of jams bought some jams.

This flips conventional marketing wisdom for internet advertising on its head and compounds the theories that ‘TV industrial complex tactics’ practised by generation X are ineffective. We can’t continue to expect that when faced with a universe of unlimited options, consumers will apply some complex mathematical formula in their head to ascertain the merits of all choices and optimise the very best, even if overall having those choices are in fact better for them. Instead they avoid a decision altogether because they are unable to handle unlimited choices, there’s a defined limit to what they’re able to cope with. Barry Schwartz talks about the paradox of choice in this video.

 But with the exponential growth of communication, punctuated by the transcendence from TV marketing’s one to one, web 1.0’s one to many, and now in web 2.0, the social & viral internet paradigm of many to many, how do you combat information overload and limitless choice? Dave Allen in his book Getting Things Done talks about combating information overload by emptying your mind of open loops through total organization thus achieving a Zen like state of ‘mind like water’. Tim Ferris in his best seller ‘the 4 hour work week’  takes a more aggressive approach, suggesting adoption of disciplined, information overload reducing tactics where amongst many suggestions you only permit email delivery twice daily to efficiently deal with communication in bulk and reduce distraction. And Seth Godin eulogises about making your products stand out, to be remarkable like a ‘Purple Cow’, segregating your message from the average masses. All of these approaches are practical solutions, but more importantly they anticipate the prevailing wind. Therefore it is with welcome arms that yesterday Google announced the launch of Priority Inbox for its web based email service Gmail. An inevitable evolution towards reducing the white noise of limitless choice in your inbox.

In essence, Google has developed a complex set of algorithms that can analyse a user’s email behaviour, and rank emails depending on their perceived importance. Users will see their messages separated in to three categories, with emails deemed important and unread bumped to the top of the inbox. Messages that have been “starred” by users as a way of denoting importance, or something that they still need to action will appear next, with all other emails appearing at the bottom of the inbox pane. So in essence, Priority Inbox is a refreshing solution to email overload. This changes the dynamic of your inbox, instead of priority being given to a date stamp, priority is now given to relevancy. Halleluiah.
See techcrunch.com article for more information on this.

My colleague Philip Storey, Creative Consultant at eCircle recently gave his thoughts on how Priority Inbox will affect brands and email marketers in this great Econsultancy post ‘Gmail Priority Inbox: implications for email marketers’ .

It’s easy to arrive at the obvious conclusion that this will harm commercial email, but this would be embracing marketing strategies in their traditional form which are no longer effective. See Seth Godin’s talk on this topic here. A heartwarming conclusion is that those mailers who will suffer with this new development are the generic mailers, who’s tactics have thus far been to interrupt, shout loudly and to repeat mail en masse. We saw this when adverts interrupted our favourite TV show again and again until the program wasn’t worth the interruptions, so we switched over, or off. In terms of email, those same exploited, brow beaten consumers have already snubbed this approach by unsubscribing, complaining and junking. That’s because those customers are not your customers or prospects, they’re irrelevant, so they ignore you or complain. The development of Priority Inbox speeds the demise of those brands who have failed to make the necessary adaptations to emerging marketing trends. Rather than attempting to push unremarkable, mass market offers to the early and late majority, priority inbox commercially forces email marketing brands to engage their super fans, the innovators, early adopters or ‘sneezers’ who will happily spread your brand merits for you. These individuals will tell their friends and create highly lucrative, many to many communication which happily sells your brand for you. So priority Inbox can be the economic agent that heralds the rebalancing of the inbox by reducing consumer choices to definitive, tolerable levels through behavioral accuracy, making your message count only if you’re prepared to respect, understand and listen to your customer.

Me: Beer please
Barman: Usual sir?
Me: Yes please.


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When to email? The million dollar questionThere are a lot of ‘groundhog day’ questions within the email world, none more so than “when’s best to send an email?” – day and time. There are of course a number of opinions and suggestions, mainly depending on whether your audience is B2B or B2C.  For example, for a B2B audience, apparently Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are the prime emailing days, based on the fact that people are recovering from the weekends on Mondays, winding down on Fridays and clearly out of the office on Saturdays and Sundays.  Then you should obviously avoid sending on bank holidays, school holidays, Easter, over Christmas and New Year, and so on.  For B2C email marketing, the advice is very different, as people tend to be checking personal emails in the evenings, on weekends or during their lunch breaks and of course over seasonal holidays if the offers are relevant.  It really is a bit of a lottery and totally depends on the nature of your business.

Some of the answers I’ve heard have clearly been with said prospect in mind, yet there’s a new and more recent response that, whilst it sounds brilliant in theory, I’m not so sure. Apparently, you should send an email based on when somebody last opened or clicked within an email. Sounds great, but has anyone ever really sat at their computer waiting for an email because that’s when they last interacted with that specific brand ….”oh dear, it’s late, not having that, delete!”

I would suggest a far better approach is to work based on the logic of what  your business does and, without question, implementing a clear testing process (which should be ongoing, results will change).  Have a read of Mark Brownlow’s blog here

By definition, a blog is a web site that allows users to reflect and share opinion. The above is obviously my opinion and I’d be happy to hear others. Any thoughts or insight others care to share? Has anyone tested sending based on recipient interaction with any success?

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Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m notoriously ‘thrifty’. I see myself as abstemious with my finances, most everyone else thinks I’m tight. It must be my Scottish ancestry. My underlying logic is; if I’m buying a packet of cereal, for example, then why pay twice as much for Kelloggs as for the ‘own brand’…it’s probably the same stuff inside the packet anyway. It is a bit more difficult to justify this same logic with higher value items (electrical goods, clothing, furniture etc) but I will generally trawl the internet and find the best offer I can and feel better about myself afterwards, knowing that I’ve got the best ‘deal’. This is why it came as no little surprise to me, and some astonishment to my wife, that I recently bought one of the more expensive models of car in its category. Sadly, it isn’t a mid-life crisis sports car, it’s an MPV and I went through similar thought processes as I would do when buying say a pair of jeans, but I still ended up spending more money than I’d imagined I would at the beginning. How and why did this happen?

I started-off the process with my normal mentality; ‘how much do I want to spend and what’s the best I can get for my money?’ However, as my research progressed and the more cars I test-drove, the more it became apparent to me that adopting my normal ‘Scottish’ approach was not the right way to go about making a high involvement, lifestyle purchase such as this. I had my family’s safety to consider. There were practical aspects to take into account, such as inside space and economy, the age of the car and after sales service. The list was endless…

Then it dawned on me…the way I normally approached making purchase decisions was completely the opposite way that I should approach buying this car. I should work out what was most important, what I wanted to achieve from buying this car and try to work out the ‘deal’ backwards from that. Initially this made me feel nervous; I’m used to having a budget and either sticking to that or paying less than I’d budgeted for. However when I thought more pragmatically about things I realised that I wouldn’t sleep soundly at night knowing that I’d bought a clapped out, 3rd hand Vauxhall Zafira when I could have bought a newer, safer, better loved model that would last me longer and come with a proper service history and support plan. In the end my wife and I found our ideal car – a Mazda 5, should you be interested- and it has been absolutely brilliant. Suffice to say that I still got a ‘deal’ from the salesman at the dealership and haggled for days to get it, however I ended up spending a lot more than I’d originally budgeted for. I appreciate that it’s not like the Mazda 5 is the Porsche Cayenne (although they compare much more favourably in terms of economy, reliability and holding their long term value!)…

So why would I share the story of my recent car-buying exploits with you? Well, it occurred to me recently that this is quite a good analogy for how it seems that email marketers choose an ESP. There are the first kind who always want the best price, irrespective of anything else (functionality, reliability, service etc). There are the second kind (the majority) who want a good all round package of the right product/provider at the right price. However, there has been a trend recently of clients coming to me having completely flipped their search criteria on its head. This third, newer kind of buyer says, ‘I’m here and I want to get to there by the end of the year, how are you going to help me do this?’ For example; email marketing contributed £5 million in sales in 2009 and we want it to contribute £10 million in 2010, plus we want to increase the size of our active database by 25% in the process…provide a proposal for how you are going to do this. This buyer recognises not only the power and potential of a good email program, but also the hugely disproportionate increase in sales that a small increase in spend can generate. I guess it is the old ‘speculate to accumulate’ mentality in action.

I’ve heard it said by one of our competitors, that the worst question that you can ask of an ESP, without understanding anything about their offering/company/system is ‘How much does it cost?’ and I’d have to agree.

So often people make their selection of ESP based on the wrong criteria as Tamara Gielen suggests in this article. Over the past few years, I’ve heard people say ‘we don’t want to pay for support, because we won’t need any’ or ‘we really like your system, but can’t justify the prices’. Increasingly, my response is ‘have you thought about what you are looking to achieve and what you want to get out of your email marketing strategy and partner?’ For those people who tell me that they just want to send the same email to their whole database once a week, and want a cheap, reliable way of doing this, then I’m generally happy to refer these people to one of the basic, entry level systems that are so readily available out there (the no frills VW polo, if you like – get’s you from A to B). For those people who appreciate that they should be getting more out of their program/partner, but can’t always justify the cost or effort then sometimes eCircle is the right partner or sometimes they’ll go elsewhere to a cheaper provider- this is a bit like buying a VW Golf, but potentially buying it from the wrong dealer. However, those of you who really want to take things to the next level and really develop your strategy, understand your customer base and drive both retention and acquisition as a result, you will end up with the right vehicle for that (hopefully eCircle). That is not to say that you won’t be able to negotiate with your ‘dealer’ once you’ve found and test driven the right piece of kit. You might also spend more than you originally expected, however, if you end up being as happy with your email marketing partner as I am with my Mazda 5, then you’ll have approached your review in the right way!

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I watched Location, Location, Location last night, a programme that always makes you feel like you’re £50,000 short for the house you really want!  Enough to stir thoughts of how can I, where can I …damn it. Acton isn’t too far from Chiswick anyway! This has absolutely no bearing on this blog whatsoever, it’s just reminded me that I need to ensure eCircle are ALWAYS involved in all ITT/RFP/RFI processes.

Without doubt, your more experienced marketing staff are used to the ESP review process, you know, what to look for, questions to ask, companies to see… However, it’s fair to say there are a good few that don’t necessarily know and, sometimes, talking to a host of ESP’s can end up causing confusion on what’s important (again, that’s sometimes, not always).

At this point, I wanted to get some numbers in, so I typed ‘number of marketers employed in UK?’ into Google.  Unsurprisingly, a whole lot of rubbish came up, yet there was a number given on a jobs website which stated that over half a million people are employed in Marketing the UK.  How easy was that?  But how many of those half million know what to look for when selecting an email partner and is there enough advice out there to help them?

Number of UK marketers

There are probably a good 20 to 30 points that people offer as consideration when choosing an ESP, yet I would say that these estimated 500,000 UK marketers need consider 4 key points:

  • Local vs. Global
    • What is their market presence?
    • UK only or experience in multiple countries – global ESP’s will benefit from far greater infrastructure
  • Number of clients/experience
    • Is having 1,000 clients a good or bad thing (see support section below)
    • Is there a wide range of companies/market/sizes covered?
  • Size of support team
    • What is the client per support member ratio? Be sure to check this per individual country (for the record our client:staff ratio is 4:1)
    • Is support via a named Account Manager?
    • Is there a helpdesk option available for those minor issues?
    • Any doubt on this, go visit their offices – meet the team!
  • Services
    • What services are offered beyond email delivery?  Data insight/management, email engagement programs, customised reporting, consultancy
    • Do they work with other best of breed partners?

There will be times when ESP’s offer so-called quick wins/tactics/statements, usually based around a non-relevant feature or cost, yet stay firm and concentrate of the above mentioned 4 key areas. Such features can always be deployed via an aggressive roadmap and you most certainly get what you pay for, just ask Rafa Benitez.

Despite having offices across Europe, namely in the UK, France, Italy and – most recently – Spain and The Netherlands, eCircle are still often referred to as a German company. If that is to be the case then please be reminded, as my dad said during World Cup ’90, “Son…those Germans are damn good!”

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How often have you read an article and thought ‘I’m going to forward this on to xxxx’/I know someone who would be interested in this…’? Using the forward to a friend (FTAF) functionality within your email program is an ideal opportunity for growing your database.

Due to this years’ economic climate, data acquisition has been much less of a focus for many companies, with efforts being placed on optimising the potential of existing databases through retention models and organic growth. Using FTAF as a simple call to action within your regular newsletter, means that for no additional cost you are facilitating the action for an existing customer to help you grow your database through their network of friends, family and colleagues. Examples of campaigns we have worked on have seen significant results of more than 2000 new subscribers within 2 weeks!

Using FTAF as a link/call to action within the template allows you to measure the performance of the campaign and respondents, whereas simply forwarding cannot be tracked in the same way. With FTAF you can use this information to build loyalty programs for customers who are interacting through a variety of offers such as sneak previews of new product ranges, fashion collections, voucher offers etc…

Despite the low cost and ease of implementing this solution, there are many companies, retailers in particular, who are still missing the opportunity of including a FTAF link, or perhaps are using it but not in the most effective way.

The busiest time of year is about to begin so I thought I would take a couple of examples of companies with target groups of women in the 18-40 range, who are highly responsive groups for purchasing in the run up to the Christmas party season and are more than likely to forward articles on to their friends if you provide them with the tools to do this.

Oasis F2AF

1. Oasis: In the top right hand corner there is a clear call to action with a FTAF button. Remember that many customers don’t have the time to open all their emails and more often than not use the preview pane, so don’t forget to get your strongest messages in the top section of your email. Oasis is also making good use of the image below the navigation bar, where there is a clear call to action that the Christmas collection is now available.

Once I have clicked on the FTAF button, I am taken to a fully branded Oasis page where I can fill in up to 8 friend’s contact details, plus I can enter a personal message which increases the personalisation making my friend(s) far more likely to engage with the brand.

Dorothy Perkins F2AF

2. Dorothy Perkins: Despite having great content and a clear call to action at the top of the email with a Free Delivery and Discount Offer, at no point is there any link for me to forward this email to a friend. In this email they are talking about new shoe and dress collections plus a focus on Breast Cancer, all things that I would want to share with my friends, but leaving me to use outlook to forward on to my friends gives Dorothy Perkins no visibility of my behaviour or the network I am sharing this with.

Avon F2AF

3. Avon: They have done really well with their re-brand over the last year.  As with Oasis, they have a clear call to action with a Refer a Friend button in the top right hand corner of the email and this takes me through to an easy to follow page that again allows me to personalise the message I am sending to my friends. One minor point is that it can be off putting to have too many cells to fill in; I suggest 5-8 fields as opposed to 20 as shown here.

Clarins F2AF

4. Clarins: A very popular brand when considering Christmas presents for friends and any female family members (in fact I do know a few guys who don’t sit too far from me that will consider treating themselves to a few Clarins products!). They are using the FTAF button, but it sits below the fold of the email – so my attention isn’t drawn to it as soon as I open the email, or if I am viewing it in a preview pane. However, it’s good to see they have a fully branded FTAF page and the option for a personal message.

So to summarise… As you can see there are some brands who are spot on with their use of the FTAF and others who are completely missing the opportunity. Where does your company sit??

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. By using FTAF you can identify your loyal base and bond with them, they are more likely to continue to share with their friends if they feel they are getting something in return from the brand
  2. Remember a friend who has been recommended is more likely to convert to being a real customer
  3. Make the customer journey as easy as possible. Many ESP’s offer FTAF, but as a standard this is non-branded. Make sure you brand your page to increase loyalty
  4. Remember to thank your customer for sharing the message with their friends
  5. Using FTAF is great as a quantitative measure, to track individual customer behaviour, however don’t forget to use your own blogs, communities etc… as a qualitative measure to see what people are saying in the public domain about your brand.

If you would like further information on using this solution, or examples of live campaigns, don’t hesitate to comment or give eCircle a call.

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