Posts Tagged ‘User Generated Content’

As Ferris Bueller urges us, you’ve got to stop and look around once in a while, and as we near the end of the decade I’m feeling introspective. I’m also rather seasonally affected and in need of cheering up, what with the disgraceful weather, pasty skin, a near biblical attachment to my duvet and a torpid mental state despite the supposed Last Big Push at work as another sales year hurtles to a close.

So I’m pausing to take stock of email marketing at the turn of the ‘Teens’ decade. In the time-honoured tradition of men’s magazines, it’s taking the form of Top 10’s. All sorts of ‘decade’ lists are appearing right now: defining events (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Tsunami, Obama, Lehmans…), technological advances (Facebook, iPhone, Wii…), the NME’s top albums (The Strokes Is This It was numero uno)….

Firstly, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m in the digital industry and working for a company that’s grown despite the recession. Email marketing has had a phenomenal rise over the past decade to become king of communications. There’s been many key milestones (the first multipart mime email, the first billion emails sent, scheduling emails, API development, split-testing etc) but it reads as a rather geeky ESP history, so my first Top 10 is: Why I’m glad I jumped on board the email gravy train:

1. ROI is exceptional

DMA research  shows email marketing generated an ROI of $43.62 for every dollar spent on it in 2009. The expected figure for 2010 is $42.08. It outperforms all other DM channels.

Datran’s 2009 marketing and media study placed email as the top performing ad channel.

 2. Spend is increasing

More than 70% of marketers will increase spend on email in 2010, according to the DMA.

 3. It’s data driven:

I’m a closet data geek and email is the most trackable of direct marketing channels – a vast array of actionable campaign data can be used to refine approach and underpin…

 4. Advanced targeting:

Today’s email systems have evolved to allow integrations with CRM databases, web analytics and eCommerce system, with tools to allow on-the-fly personalisation and dynamic content based on preferences, behaviour and engagement.

 5. It’s universal:

B2C/B2C, cross-sector, all over the world – email’s strength is ubiquitous.

 6. It’s regulated:

Contrary to popular belief, we’re not spammers: since the Data Protection Act of 1998 and the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, email is legitimised as ‘Permission Marketing’, requiring a clear opt-in. ISP’s now collaborate with ESP’s to clean-up the industry, flush out spammers and get elicited emails through to inboxes.

 7. It’s fast-evolving:

In the past five years I’ve seen the outsourcing argument overcome, an array of new sophisticated campaign tools and a seismic shift as marketers move from a blast-mentality to a one-to-one lifecycle dialogue of targeted triggered messages.

 8. It’s a relationship tool:

Email builds loyalty and engagement when employed as a core channel in CRM strategies, rather than just a bolt-on sales tool – Welcome/nursery programmes, post-purchase transactional messages, special offers for most loyal customers and reactivation attempts for the unengaged, can combine to drive a quality relationship with subscribers.

 9. We’re getting much better at it:

Email is a bit like Marmite but people are coming round (like, don’t use too much and have it on some quality toast..) The challenges facing the email industry are well-documented: inbox clutter/junk, declining response, deliverability, lack of resource allocated to email. But as the Top 10 points above become widely accepted at board-level, we’re given more scope to help clients and collaborate on a far more effective email strategy.

 10. It’s (quite) good fun:

We have a jolly time here at eCircle Towers and enjoy the often-incestuous machinations of a competitive industry sector, as well as working with bright young(ish) things in marketing teams.

Next decade: email will not die

Enough evangelising: the industry certainly presents many obstacles and it’s definitely not plain sailing being an ESP. Many commentators, perhaps annoyed at email’s quiet ascension, are gleefully predicting the decline or even total death of email in the next decade. But just as email didn’t kill postal mail, RSS didn’t kill email and social networks like Twitter won’t bring about its demise either. Email is like a zombie, it just won’t die (Social Networks are vampires; they’re really hot right now!). It continues to innovate, integrate and complement all other forms of marketing. We’re now all swimming in one great big sociably-networked pond and email is the hook by which online marketers reel in their fish – it’s used for social alerts, invites to connect, transactions, user-generated content, surveys, and so on. I can appreciate that under-25’s love the immediacy of one-to-many status updates or IM for quick banter, but you can’t use Facebook or Linked In to send a personal and credible message (unless you are a recruiter, and that’s a dubious approach anyway).  My Top 10 Future Trends league table follows shortly so watch this space…

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Going socialForget going green: it’s all about going social. Everyone’s talking about their social media efforts – or lack thereof – and it seems that social commerce (or the business of monetising social media) seems to be scaring the hell out of many marketers who feel they’re missing the boat because they’re simply overwhelmed by the options. People are talking to their networks about how to live, eat, socialise, date, shop, vote etc.  This dialogue, otherwise known as User Generated Content (UGC), is going on right now, but opening up your brand to potentially negative feedback is pant-wettingly worrying…unless you open your arms wide to embrace and deal with it.

‘Tis the season for conferences (or Summits, as our American cousins more inspirationally name them) which are a great way to catch up with suppliers and clients on what’s hot and what’s not. I attended two in the last couple of weeks that had a seriously social slant: Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit 2009 (on Twitter: #scs 09) and Webtrends Engage Online (#wtel09).

Here’s just some of the assertions I jotted down: we’re living in an ‘enormously transformative age’ of ‘accelerated digital development’, living in an ‘Always On’ culture of ‘SO-SO’-ing (we all ‘switch on[line] to switch off’ from work) or indulging in ‘Bleisure, staying constantly connected via smartphones and doing business during leisure time (thanks to the very cool Tom Savigar, Trends Director at Future Laboratory, for those ellipses).

Taking stock of the new interactive world we live in, there are some equally bald statistics giving weight to the commercial potential for social media:

  • 70% of the digital universe will be generated by individuals by 2010 (Source: TechCrunch 2009)
  • Facebook is now the 4th most-visited website, with more than 300 million active users of which 50+% are logging in every single day. The fastest growing demographic is 35+ yrs old, people have 130 friends on average and the most prolific users are on Facebook for mobile (Source: Facebook)
  • It’s not just the under 30s who are constantly connected: 33% of 45-54 yr-olds and 23% of 55-65 yr olds are always online, a hugely lucrative demographic segment (Source: Future Laboratory + Virgin Media 2009)
  • Bazaarvoice clients using Ratings & Reviews or Ask & Answer UGC products report big increases in conversion (>10% increase for top-rated products on Argos.co.uk; 40% increase for mistergooddeal.com)

 Putting personality into your brand to create a real, human, emotional connection with consumers, is the first step to a serious social strategy.

 At the Bazaarvoice Summit, the keynote opening talk was Feel and be Felt’ Ze Frank, a frankly bonkers video blogger-cum-social-guru. He advises us to always strive to connect with consumers in an implicitly personal way to provoke a response. Achieving a truly emotional connection is tricky, but if you’re listening to what people are saying – what moves/upsets/amuses/annoys them – there should be common themes upon which to build ‘projects’ or viral campaigns which will strike a chord in your collective customer consciousness.

Take this YouTube clip of an epic water slide off the side of a house that some kids in America made,  which was picked up by Microsoft Germany for the launch of their ‘megawoosh’ website for Microsoft office 2007,…and is surely not far away from the hugely popular Barclaycard water slide ad,  which has in turn been spoofed by Specsavers, my point being of course that these companies seized on water slides because they resonate with everyone.

Creating a community for your brand of online conversations has worked for many early-adopters, either on the website itself or on a network such as Facebook or Twitter:  Topshop has nearly 500k fans who can clickthrough for the latest Kate Moss or Christopher Kane launch, and the  ASOS Community has nearly 700k profiles. Of course, as cool of-the-moment fashion brands, they have a clear identity and loyal/instant user base, but a more unlikely community success story is eSpares (spare parts) – their reviews have become a way for customers to interact and advise others how to fit spare parts properly.

Once the floodgates are open, there’s no going back, so, as Argos, EPSON and eSpares all advised during the Bazaarvoice Panel Q&A, it’s critical to have response plans in place for both negative and positive feedback, with customer service teams, suppliers and manufacturers. Respond to feedback quickly and personally – there have been examples of ‘turnarounds’ where furious customers, tweeting their spleen about a recent purchase or service issue, are spotted by an astute and nimble company representative monitoring their #tags closely, and offer a swift free replacement or discount vouchers – unsurprisingly there’s a tweet volte face and the astonished customer can’t praise the company enough.

To keep the conversation about your brand going, encourage multi-network dialogue and multi-channel distribution of content: share website UGC with your Facebook page and encourage tweets and re-tweets: keep the conversation going! Bazaarvoice also unveiled their Social Network Accelerators, similar to Social Fusion  or share-to-social email products, which ‘close the loop’ to automatically post email content to social sites. Spread the word across other online/offline channels: feature reviews in email, brochures and instore – ‘social syndication’. The Body Shop share reviews and suggestions in email campaigns to drive sales of their star products.

I spoke to one conference delegate last week who was angry with the term ‘social media’, saying social conversations and interactions are entirely organic and cannot be commercialised. But that’s not the point: it’s more a case of capturing their hearts, then their minds and wallets will naturally follow. Instead of focusing on direct returns, through really listening and interacting online, companies have a huge opportunity to use all the multitudinous digital tools at their fingertips to create a real relationship with customers. The Them&Us divide of Corporation&Consumer is blending – a natural convergence of rapid digital growth, a timeless public appetite to interact and a dissatisfaction with the previous unaccountability of Big Corporates in a recession.

Another term I’ve been hearing a lot of in the last few weeks is ‘Building Brand DNA’ (or personality). Thanks again to Tom Savigar at Future Laboratory for summing it up with the latent identities of these global brands: Virgin + British Airways, Apple + Dell. I like to think my company, eCircle, has a very different ‘DNA’ to our more American Corporate competitors too! But if social media is integral to building brand DNA, and brands now reach far into the digital stratosphere, how on earth are we to measure and optimise, as all good marketers ought?

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