- What did you promise me when I subscribed?
- Do you have any ways of doing business that I don’t know about?
- What’s something newsworthy?
- What value will my wife get from your service?
- How are you different from the other guy?
- Tell me a story without a price tag at the end.
- Where have I been on your website?
- What did I recently click on or open?
- Lend me some of your expertise.
- Does this work with other products?
- What’s the next obvious step for me?
Have you tried sending some emails with a very simple plain text approach? It could work.
I’ve done it a bunch of times – in fact, I send plain text every day and my recipients love it.
- I give them a straight forward subject line, nothing tricky so they know what’s inside the email.
- Then I write in an honest and open way so they know exactly what I’m talking about.
- It is a very familiar approach, because they receive a lot of emails in plain text.
- They sometimes even answer me, because I’m sending from a real person.
The best thing of all? They read it – and communication has occurred.
Use behavioural data in email to create segments without asking for preferences.
A few years ago I heard a tale of a record label that used behavioural data inside email to segment their audience. This particular label had a whole load of subscribers who were just plain old boring no-data-given-and-had-no-conversation-with, subscribers.
The label had been sending emails that had content about all of their artists. But to make more of their list, they wanted to get in depth and be more specific with each of the artists.
The usual way to do this is to do a survey, or create a preference center where people would click a button and show their interest in something. But this isn’t a great way of getting action. Let’s admit it – surveys are boring and nobody wants to fill one out unless they’re getting something for it.
So they devised a plan to find out what subscribers wanted to hear about, and how to take them on a journey without asking for more specific information.
Using Clicks To Infer Preferences
The best way they could think of to understand true preferences was to watch people. Not in some sort of creepy ‘behind the bushes’ watching – but the way marketers do it. They stalked them using data. Specifically they tracked subscriber click behaviour.
Firstly they sent out emails that were general in nature – lots of artists in a single email. Depending on what a subscriber clicked on, they then used that data to infer that the artist the subscriber clicked on was the artist the subscriber was interested in. Makes sense.
Taking that data, each artist was then assigned a segment of people who had clicked on information about them.
Getting Deeper with Preferences
Getting deeper in, they would then send more specific news to each artist’s segment. The subscriber would only receive information about that particular artist and be encouraged to take an action – be it downloading a song, buying tickets, or something else that further showed their interest in the artist.
This was repeated several times.
Each time an email requesting action was sent, the list of subscribers in each segment would be segmented.
Those who showed most interest in a particular artist would then be filtered out to a smaller, yet more active group. From here, the label would invite the most active subscribers to be a part of their street teams. Street teams were a select group of people who had the most amount of buy-in.
The label had created a group of subscribers that much more highly motivated to share the artist’s latest news, promote events and gigs, and generally be ambassadors of that particular artist.
A rare success
The promise of big data seems to be that you can do anything you want with it. While this is possible it seems only some of the largest organisations have the resources to use these vast amounts of data to their best extent.
But for many others using data in simple ways and thinking in more creative fashion about existing can help push forward your lists, grow your engagement, and get those successes you’re after.
I’ve been telling people lately that I’m on a journey to sign up to at least 500 travel and tourism related email lists – and for those who aren’t in email marketing, the question often comes back, ‘But what are you going to do with that?’ Unfortunately the question comes back from people within the industry too.
Here’s a few reasons I’m collecting emails, and what I think it can help with.
I’m easily bored.
My trip in to work each day takes anywhere up to about 45 minutes. I’ve got to do something on the bus. I couldn’t imagine sitting on the bus staring out the window not being productive for that time – because it’s prime time. 45 minutes twice a day means I have a bit of time where I can do admin, hobbies, and other things on the second laptop I carry. I want to stay occupied and keep my mind sharp, so doing something on the bus is a big reason. I previously started a micro business on the bus.
To understand what people are doing
I want to know what other people in marketing are doing because marketing is about testing, trying new ideas, and learning from those ideas. Email marketing is so easy to conduct primary research on – from the point of view of being able to just sign up and away you go.
There’s also habits and flows over time. As I can see across the industry, I’m able to see what people do over time, and really understand what the overall behaviours are of marketers.
— Andrew Beeston ✉️ (@niphal) January 10, 2017
It’s not my normal industry
I usually manage clients that are telcos, banks, and retail. Getting a different view of marketing from an industry I’m not usually working in means there’s new ideas, new perspectives, and potentially new things to take in to my existing clients. At the same time I’m an outsider, so being able to see the patterns of behaviour over time, and thinking through ways that we are doing marketing means I can generate new ideas of my own. It’s great for stimulating the brain.
I like travel and tourism. It has so much potential to be interesting, and actually when I started I thought the content would be far more interesting than it is. There are so many more opportunities to do interesting things and be interesting to customers. The travel/tourism emails are largely oriented towards discounts and events – and I get that, because travelling cheap is almost everyone’s #1 priority (okay, travelling with good value is probably).
Instead of sending emails from Brand X, some businesses send marketing emails using the from as a person’s name. In the pursuit of higher open rates and higher click throughs, this can help to appear more friendly, personal, and encourage consistent reading and opening.
It can be a really effective method of communicating – after all, people want to know there is a human behind the interactions with your business. They want to know that if they respond then their email won’t just fly off into the vacuum of unchecked email where it will be forever lodged between a viagra spam mail and a desperate prince of Nigeria offering you millions of pounds for just a little help.
But there can be a problem with sending these ‘personal’ emails from a person. They can actually come across as more impersonal, more transparently not actually from a person if they’re not done well.
Still – it may be something you want to try and do, so I’m going to outline the minimum you need to successfully introduce and continue using a person as the email sender.
What you need to get started
Here’s what you’re going to need if you want to send from a person:
- A real person.
- An introduction to this person.
- A different way of thinking about email.
- A way of interacting with this person beyond just email marketing.
1. A real person
This may sound silly but having a real person, a person who works within your business, is actually something that shows transparency and that there can be a ‘relationship’ between the reader and the sender.
So before you start sending emails as Grace or Greg, make sure that person exists.
Make sure also that this person has a hand in writing the emails, and is involved in the process. If you’re going to be sending on their behalf or if they’re going to be the person sending then their voice is important. Their voice lends authenticity to the interaction. A voice that isn’t theirs can come off as fake, and disingenuous.
2. An Introduction
Just like a normal conversation, if you’re going to have a conversation with a subscriber you need to introduce yourself.
It can be really simple – just like a pilot does on an aircraft, “Good morning everyone I’m Captain Smith, I’m going to be your pilot today”.
It’s not hard to introduce people with a quick little hello, and by way of introduction let the subscriber know that they can interact, talk back, and what place this person plays in the whole business.
“Hi, I’m Grace the customer experience officer at Brand X – I’ll have a hand in each email you receive, and at any time you have questions please don’t hesitate to just reply directly to the email – I’ll get it, read it, and respond as necessary.”
Now it’s not an amazingly hard email to write, and it isn’t in very ‘marketing’ language but it is an introduction. If you’re going for authenticity then this is a way you can be more authentic.
Once you’ve made your introduction it’s possible for you to start sending emails from that person.
But what are you going to send?
3. A different way of thinking about email
Batch and blast is dead. Long live batch and blast!
Whatever you call it – sending an email that’s just impersonal, a list of images and links without personality, or sales sales sales emails, is not a part of sending authentic email from a person. That’s why it might be that you need to sit and think again about the way you’re putting emails together.
Fundamentally, if an email is coming from an individual to an individual, then you should be able to do more than just ‘catalogue’ emails.
Here’s a few ways that you can send personal, authentic emails:
- Customise your emails to the behaviour of your subscriber – if you can find something they are interested in you might like to show them you’re aware of who they are.
- Send plain text emails.
- If you are able to, devise a series of emails around experiences, or a semi-social interaction.
- Have an email take-over, where instead of your brand sending it’s an individual for just a period of time.
- Send small social style updates, an image and short description like Instagram could work. Keep the brand visible but low-key.
- Answer common questions that people have sent in via email or on social.
4. Interact beyond email
It’s not enough to just have a single way of communicating. If you’re wanting to be authentic and have a way of sending people messages from a person – then let them interact with you beyond just receiving an email from the person who sends.
A few ways you might like to help the authenticity is to:
- Feature this person in social channels
- Create a true 1:1 interaction by having account managers be the people who send the emails (with a managed process of course).
- Give out the person’s contact details
The thrust of having an individual represent you in the From address, is that you want to be more authentic, open, and accessible. If you’re willing to change the way you approach email from a ‘blast’ mentality to a 1:1 relationship mentality, then you can really change the way subscribers interact, and feel about your business.
I’m on a journey to sign up to as many tourism and travel related email lists as possible. Email marketing is an inexact guessing game, and I want to know how other people are guessing. I’ve just passed 300 lists – is not that many in the grand scheme of things, but I thought it was worth putting down a few things that I’ve learnt so far.
As a part of my process I am keeping a log of part of the sign up process, including the frequency/timing of the first two emails. The lists are mainly from Australian tourism/travel businesses as this is my geographical reference point (I live in Sydney).
Here’s a few statistics and feelings I’ve gathered so far:
- By and large the sign up experience for tourism/travel has been poor.
- Of businesses surveyed 20% did not have an email list available via their website.
- Of all businesses with subscription, 57.7% have sent an email since I subscribed.
- On average the first email comes 6.14 days after subscription.
- On average the second email comes 10.86 days after the first email.
There’s a lot more to say, but it’ll have to wait for further posts ;)
Change your customer’s experience with your emails by becoming your customer
Marketers are so caught up in the day to day activity of performing the marketing function for their business, that it seems they rarely take time to experience their own work as a customer. It’s usually not that hard to do so, sometimes it costs money – but it will really change the way you think and act with your emails.
Become The Customer
If you want to do this well, take the following question with you, “Is this step about me as a customer or them as business?”
That question will help you analyse how you experience your own journey, and start refining it to be more about the customer and less about you.
You might like to:
- Buy your product under a different name or email address
- Subscribe to every other business in your industry and watch how they treat their customers
- Subscribe to emails for industries that should be good at customer centric language (non-profits, travel/tourism).
- Sketch the user journey on paper of what really happens when someone subscribes
Become Subscriber Centric in your Language
Stop talking about yourself or from the point of view of your business and switch up your language to be more about your customer. Helping the subscriber realise it’s about them and not you (though it’s really both) gives them a sense of buy in, or engagement.
Think of changing:
- ‘We’ to ‘You’
- ‘Thanks for subscribing’ to ‘You’re in for a treat’
- ‘Contact us’ to ‘Get in touch’
- ‘We’re having a sale’ to ‘Grab a bargain’
- ‘Subscribe now’ to ‘Let’s connect’
Language can be tricky, but making the change and being aware of your customer more may provide you with new and exciting ideas for communicating a message to them.
The more I interact with new marketing techniques and colleagues about the targeting of subscribers and customised experiences in email, the more I think, ‘Wow – marketers are a lot more advanced than I thought.’ There’s really great techniques coming out of ESPs, and people have a lot of great opportunities to do big things with their data and marketing.
The more I interact with businesses as a customer – the less I think this is true.
So while at work I’m thinking about the integrated marketing cloud, and all the amazing opportunities it has to offer – I prefer in the short time available to me between work and family to think about what everyone else is actually doing.
Here’s one thing that continues to strike me: businesses of all sizes don’t do the fundamentals well.
A perfect example of this is when a central marketing office manages multiple brands and doesn’t, or can’t differentiate between email subscribers under one or the other brands.
Let me show you how this often plays out.
I’ll use a recent example of an interaction I had with a couple of brands.
I visited the campervan rental business Maui Australia website, I found their subscription option and put in my email address.
I successfully subscribed and went on my merry way.
A short time later, I visited an entirely different campervan brand Britz.
Being acutely interested in knowing more about their brand I of course signed up to their email list. Here’s what I got in response:
Here’s where things start to go wrong for the potential subscriber. What he or she doesn’t necessarily know (and doesn’t really care about) is that in the background you have a single company that owns these two businesses. They have likely got the same people working on the marketing and communications for both of these brands and more.
In other words the process of subscription has been built for the needs of the business, not for the needs of the subscriber.
It’s not that hard to fix
For whatever reason, the email setup has been put together with a single subscriber list across all of the web properties owned by the managing company. The most simple way of fixing this is to have discreet subscriber lists between all of the sites. In that way, any person interested in both brands or more can subscribe to both brands.
I once met a man who was running a small business in a well-to-do part of town. He imported and sold beautiful homewares from provincial France that you could not find anywhere else in Sydney.
After 15 years he had built up a great business that supported his lifestyle and allowed him to live in comfort. It was a success. There were always customers in the store, people browsing and asking him questions about this or that product. Half of the names of them were entirely foreign to me, not being a French speaker and all.
He didn’t have huge aspirations for growing an empire, and he wasn’t one of those people who constantly posts about leadership on LinkedIn. He was just a regular small business owner in Sydney, making sales and building relationships with the people who came in.
I visited his store a few times looking for gifts for my wife, when one day I had finished meeting a client nearby and decided to pop on over. When I arrived there was no store. The shop was empty. There was no notice in the window, so I realised he must have gone out of business. Disappointed, I headed off and that was the end of it.
A few months later, I was visiting a potential client in the same part of town, just a few blocks away from where this French homeware store had been. It was in an out of the way spot, off the main street, with little around but houses and one or two businesses. We chatted about getting their business up and running with email marketing, as they had just begun the journey of retail.
After finishing that conversation and heading back to my car I looked up and realised I had actually parked outside another new business. To my surprise it was a French homewares store. I went in to the store, and noticed the same man who had owned the old French homewares store on the main street – but he had a new setup, new building, and an entirely new set of customers. That is he had no customers.
I asked him what had happened? With some sadness he said his landlord had raised the price of the old store so high that it was unaffordable. He had no choice but to pack up shop – and get out. To add to that, he had very little time in which to do it and the landlord would not allow for him to leave a sign in the window indicating what had happened.
So here he was, after 15 years he had been forced to relocate away from the main street, with such a fast turnaround that he wasn’t even able to let people know that it was happening. No doubt many people had made the same assumption that I had – that the store no longer existed and he was out of business. With no sign and no indication otherwise, this was easy to do.
Given that I am always thinking about email, I asked how he had contacted people. He had put an ad in the local paper, and was thinking about putting signs up in the village centre showing where the new location of the store was.
But what about letting people know with a little email?
Well – this is where he was most disappointed. After 15 years of building his business, he said he had not collected a single email address to keep in contact with people. He knew a lot of his customers by name, and had built a relationship with them in person – but never had he bothered to think that he would ever need their email address.
So he had no way of directly telling his best and most valuable customers he had moved.
It was obvious that his business was suffering. No longer a busy store, no foot traffic, and no sign to previous customers that he had moved. He said he had to basically build it up the retail business from scratch again.
If only he had collected any email addresses. Over the period of time at even a couple of email address a week he could have made a significant change to the way that an unexpected move affected his business. Notifying people of his business, keeping up relationships and continuing to grow would not be as big an issue had he done what was right for his customers.
Fortunately he had a wholesale business that was supporting the transition, and had promised me that he would start collecting email addresses because he realised that to reach people where they were, he needed to find a more reliable way of communicating at a distance.
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” ~David Ogilvy.
The father of modern marketing David Ogilvy showed how headlines are like gateways. Each person who reads them decides wether or not it is worth continuing on, or abandoning the rest of the content beyond. Subject lines in emails behave in a similar way. They’re vital to draw people in with an initial statement, and create a promise of what is to come if they continue reading.
Keeping subject lines meaningful and readable is one of the most important aspects of putting together an email message. So it’s no surprise that I was surprised to see the following headline in a recent email:
“This month we’re talking… Regeneration – Why, in 2017, travel is the most valuable form of education;8 Ways Tourism Has Positively Impacted Our World;What Happens When You Return Home? The Cycle Of Travel.;This is Thailand’s dreamiest national park and nobody seems to know about it…;Machu Picchu was the bucket list experience I never knew I needed;Why, for me, travelling is all about what you eat;This is what I learnt from the people who call the Mekong River home”
Sure that’s an extreme example of subject line length – and it’s likely you’ll not be writing subjects like that out of habit. What is clear though is the same with a lot of questions when it comes to email marketing. What works for your subscribers is being clear, straight forward, and communicating value. Back the promise of your subject line with the content within the email, and treat your subscribers with respect.