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FlowersMy sister recently got married.  It was a gorgeous day: sunny, beautiful venue, stunning bride, dashing Naval Officer husband and groomsmen, verrrrry stylish bridesmaids (well, apart from me who was 6 months pregnant at the time and ever so slightly rotund in a very snug dress!) and the champagne flowed.  The photographers snapped away in the background, and – as all good wedding photographers should be – we didn’t even notice that they were there!

However it was the process of sharing the stunning snaps after the big day that impressed me so much.  I only got married 5 years ago, but I was struck how much things had moved on in terms of showing off the proofs and circulating the photos, post-wedding.  In ‘my day’ (circa 2005), we met the photographer (word of mouth), he took the snaps on the day, we met him afterwards and showed us the proofs, we chose which ones we wanted, he gave us a set of colour and black and white prints, plus a CD of the set, and off we trotted to choose which ones would adorn our fireplace/mantelpiece/sent to the family.  Job done.

My sister’s wedding photo experience was entirely different!

Firstly they found their photographers through a long and extensive search online, checking recommendations and web reviews, reading their blog, checking out their portfolio online and basically doing thorough research.  The photographers were booked, then turned up at the bride-to-be’s house as we were all getting ready in the morning, spent the entire day snapping away discreetly, and off they went well into the evening festivities.

The new Mr and Mrs Phillips were then – in less than a week! – sent a sneaky peak of some of the better shots from the day, via email, as a little teaser. The photographers told Hannah specifically that these were the shots to put on Facebook before too many amateur shots are tagged of them to ensure the newlyweds were able to showcase some amazing photos to their friends and family.  Of course the shots were subsequently forwarded via email to close friends and family to enjoy, shared on Facebook and generally admired by all their internet-savvy mates.  (And WOW were they worth sharing!)

The following week (and we’re talking less than two weeks after the wedding day), the photographers had put a simply stunning montage of ‘part one’ of the wedding onto their blog site (I know I’m biased but I have to say they are some of the best wedding photos I’ve ever seen).  The link was duly emailed around between friends and family and – again – shared on Facebook for all and sundry to enjoy.  The blog received loads of hits and comments from proud rellies and friends, and the photographers were able to gather a huge amount of glowing testimonials for the fabulous piccies.  An invaluable way of the photographers gathering feedback from both clients and their friends.

Blog posts ‘part two’ and ‘part three’ were shared in the following week, and less than 6 weeks after the wedding took place, all of the photos were posted onto a secure part of their website, password protected of course, and the bride and groom were able to share the link – via email of course  – with their guests.  In turn, the guests could send a link, again via email, of any of the shots to their own friends and family to encourage them to buy the photos.  Amazing!  So amazing that another sister of mine has booked them for her wedding later this year.  How’s that for a recommendation?

This is such a far cry from the process my photographer went through for our wedding just 5 short years ago.  I can’t imagine how much things will have developed in the next 5 years, exciting times indeed.

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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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Fresh foodFoolishly I fell victim to the Apple / iPad marketing campaign after the launch in January and recently invested in the world’s most expensive handheld toy. Aside from relieving me of some of my hard earned cash, it has brought one ray of light to my life… Ocado. I have to say I’m a huge fan. I dabbled in home delivery back in the early noughties but somehow it just didn’t seem that convenient. Browsing the isle on my 56K dial-up didn’t quite float my boat and I returned to the chaos of Saturday morning shopping at Sainsburys. Then along came the iPad and its wonderful App store, along with a passionate recommendation from a colleague about how good the service was. Within a couple of taps and a flick and found myself able fly through my weekly shop in record time and to top it all off, get it all delivered 24 hours later within a 30 min window early enough to catch me before we both went to work… Fantastic!

Having been so thoroughly convinced of the merits of Ocado I was delighted to receive an email informing me that they would pay me up to £400 in vouchers for recommending their wonderful service which I had already been gladly recommending for free. Sounds good .. well this is where the excitement starts to wear off. Determined to get my free vouchers I started searching their email for a link, button, anything I could click on to get me through to the point where I start recommending. Let’s be frank anyone like me, who loves Ocado probably doesn’t spend a lot of time reading the details in such an email. Eventually I found a link at the top of the page (Ocado logo) and did eventually read the text in the email .. (I mean as if you’re actually supposed to read that stuff).

1. Log into your Ocado account.

2. Click on the ‘invite-a-friend’ link at the right of your homepage (under your basket).

3. Invite your friend to shop with Ocado.

“Its that simple” they say. Well I’m not so sure that is what we would call simple in today’s world where you can order your shopping from a handheld flat-screen device that you carry round your empty cupboards. In fact, considering I was at work and didn’t know my username and password, it wasn’t simple at all.

Having been so impressed by Ocado and wanting to continue my newly found loving relationship with them, I felt compelled to write them an email.

“Dear Ocado, blah blah blah, love what you’re doing etc etc, changed my life… However you could make your email a lot easier to use, and here’s a few suggestions… all the best , Simon”

Well as a replying customer who is not only saying how much he appreciates a company’s service, but also someone who is taking time out to impart some of his highly respected knowledge and on top of that is gagging to give them a few more customers, I’d say my email to them should have been pretty high up their priority list.

Well I bet you can guess how this little story ends.. No reply, no recommendations and one newly found customer who already feels a tiny bit disappointed. Nonetheless, I’ll keep shopping for now.

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Email working with social.I’ve written recently on a variety of sites about the life that is still left in email marketing – (see for example Social Penguin). With the variety of marketing channels that marketers have to contend with to reach the customer’s ear, are we missing a trick with the importance of the email address?

J-P De Clerk talks about email being his ‘interaction hub’. ”Skype sends me a mail when I missed a call or when someone left a message. Twitter does when someone sent me a DM. Facebook sends me emails when I received an invitation to be “friends” or a mail. LinkedIn friendship requests and group updates: it’s all in the inbox. FriendFeed connections: inbox. StumbleUpon messages, Digg friends, YouTube subscribers, Delicious, comments on my blogs, statistics, social media engagement data: it’s all coming via email. No wonder my email client is my RSS reader as well.”

A Clickz article talks about how the inbox is destined to become the personal dashboard of many

”The integration of social, mobile and e-mail has already begun to settle inside the inbox. Gmail lets me update my status on Facebook, send a tweet, update my blog, and write an e-mail to my mom – all from the same interface. Yahoo integrates with IM and its “What’s New” tab shows status updates from a wide variety of services. Even a beta version of Outlook 2010 integrates social networking. Facebook and MySpace have announced plans to provide primary inboxes as part of their communities. All of this is now accessible everywhere from PCs to iPads to smartphones.”

Even my own blog and Twitter accounts supply me with news about individuals interested in my thoughts.

Jonathan Macdonald of This Fluid World spoke with great engagement at the eCircle conference in Munich about the focus on the individual or citizen as he put it and that focus does need to include an understanding how they lives around using the technology of today

It seems that we are witnessing a real opportunity for the email address to be the key to the many disparate and yet connected channels that today’s consumer (for want of a better word because being a consumer is just one of the mind sets individuals can be in at any one time) logs in and out of repeatedly and frequently during their day (and indeed night).

Client marketers or their communications agencies can create a master key to each of these channels, and use that in conjunction of a better understanding of a ‘consumer’s’ mind set and the channel they are using at that point to ensure that not only the right message is sent at the right time, but also though the right medium.

Of course there are many challenges on the way – such as multiple email addresses, privacy issue and obviously understanding our customers or potential customers better.

But then Rome wasn’t built in a day

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waving handsI spend a significant part of my day opting-in to email newsletter programs. I do this partly because I work in email marketing and want to keep abreast of what clients/prospects are doing and partly because, as a frugally-minded consumer, I like receiving all the special offer emails in my inbox. As a result, I see loads of different welcome emails and programs. Some are excellent, some not so excellent.

This is a topic that had been addressed hundreds of times, including some excellent articles here email-marketing.mailinmanager.co.uk, stylecampaign.com and www.campaignmonitor.com. Despite the fact that this is widely regarded as intrinsic to any good email marketing strategy, I’m surprised how seldom companies get it right! More often than not, I’m sent a plain text email (sometimes not even straight away), telling me that I have subscribed to a company’s list, nothing about the company, what communications I should expect to receive and when I should expect to receive it.

Some basic things to consider when conceiving your welcome email program;

•    Double Opt-in: Minimum legal requirements aside, best practice always dictates that you ask individuals to confirm their subscription. Usually this is done by a simple link click.

•    Real-time: Send the confirmation/welcome emails straight away – an email hours/days/weeks after the initial point of subscription is pretty shabby.

•    Set Expectations: Tell people what to expect from you and when to expect it, don’t just send them a plain text email thanking them for subscribing and telling them that you’ll ‘be in touch soon’.

•    Don’t Miss an Opportunity: The point of subscription is be the ideal time to incentivise an individual to purchase/book, forward to a friend, share to social etc…test different HTML creatives (not simple text versions) to maximise the potential of the welcome email, whatever your goal.

•    Ask for Information: The initial point of subscription is also the ideal point in time to ask someone what they are interested in, how often they want to hear from you and when they want to receive your info. This is a good opportunity to drive them to an edit profile page or preference centre.

•    Consider the Drip-Feed Approach: The best welcome programs in my opinion are those with a tiered approach. Maybe one email to confirm subscription, a thank you email laced with interesting info and teasers of what is to come, a follow up email after a day/week and another email thereafter. The best programs are educational and set expectations, not simply sales messages. Another interesting approach is to split up articles or user information over this series of triggered emails, so the recipient engages with the info and looks out for their next message in their inbox.

•    Treat Fresh Subscribers Differently: If you have a good welcome program, keep them in a separate ‘pot’…let them receive the full lifecycle of your welcome emails before they start receiving newsletters/ad hoc campaigns.

A bit of thought, aligned with creative/technical work and testing can lead to the kind of initial contact strategy that will start the relationship as you mean to continue. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!

Other related articles can be found below;

http://e-commerce-marketing.suite101.com/article.cfm/benefits-of-automated-welcome-emails-to-email-marketing-campaigns

http://anythinggoesmarketing.blogspot.com/2009/04/top-10-triggered-b2b-email-marketing.html

http://www.getelastic.com/writing-welcome-emails/

http://www.ecircle.com/en/resource-centre/best-practices.html

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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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