Using Print Ads to Drive Email Subscriptions?

email agency advertising

Those of us who work exclusively in the digital world sometimes overlook the potential of print for driving traffic online, especially for organic search hobbyists like me. That was my mindset until I recently experimented with buying print ads to get people to the Indiemark website. I ran an ad in a local, affordable business publication and saw a dramatic increase in both website traffic and email subscriptions.  I’ll admit it: I was surprised.

It’s not usual for offline marketing to direct people online. Radio ads come complete with URLs these days, and what kind of self-respecting business would do a direct mail campaign without including an email address and website? You can also be quite strategic about it, as demonstrated by this Coffee News case study published by MarketingSherpa.com.

But of all the ways to do it, print ads seem to be a good choice, especially for us, and as the numbers below illustrate. Although these numbers are from an article published in 2012, they are still telling:

Research from Jupiter Research that looks at the influence of offline channels on online search found that 67% of online search population is driven to search by offline channels. Of that percentage, 30% come from print ads. Even more impressive is the fact that print advertising topped the list of offline media sources that led to a purchase, with 30% of search users who opened their wallet and bought online coming from a print medium.

We can drive traffic from offline to online in several different ways, but it seems paid print ads are a definite channel to consider. For me, spending the money to buy ads in a print publication in order to get people to my website—well, it seemed counter-intuitive and I wasn’t sure it would work. I got my answer though, and we’re enjoying a healthy bump in subscribers and leads as a result.

Has your business successfully used print advertising to drive leads or email subscriptions? If so, I want to hear about it!

- Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (the folks behind IndiemarkBlackBox, Formswell and Email Critic). Connect him everywhere, here.

Are Curated Email Newsletters Right for You?

curated email newsletters

No one can possibly sort through let alone digest all of the information that comes our way each day. But it is the Information Age and we need to keep up with the latest news and developments. That’s why we subscribe to blogs and newsletters or in the first place, right?

So if we need all that information yet we don’t have time for all of that information, what is the answer? The answer is, the curated email newsletter—a newsletter not of original content, but of content you deem worthy of putting in front subscribers.

For the recipient, the curated newsletter can be a blessing, saving them from sorting through all kinds of emails and searches to find up-to-date information. Plus a well-curated newsletter will include information they might not have come across on our own! It’s like news you can use in a nutshell. Curated newsletters can keep us informed and save us time, all at the same time. What’s not to like about that?

As for the curator of such an email newsletter, what’s not to like about pulling together content rather than creating it? Again and again, studies show that B2B businesses struggle with content creation.

With a curated newsletter, on the other hand, you’re seeking out content that’s shareworthy, which can certainly be a lot more efficient than creating content from scratch. Not only is that a huge time saver for your team, but think about the brand impression you make when you go to that kind of trouble for your audience (assuming your curating only the best stuff). That’s the kind of goodwill marketing any brand can benefit from, but especially in the B2B world where people are so challenged to keep up with news.

There are obvious benefits of a curated newsletter but, truth is, I’ve always been a huge fan. One of my all-time favorites is Hacker Newsletter, which we’ve featured before. Simply read the testimonials to see how much people appreciate the time saved by it. Another favorite, which is not tech or marketing related, is Next Draft. Where else can you find an article on turkey bowling alongside an article on the Supreme Court’s pending hearing on free speech online?

Is your business producing a curated email newsletter? If so, let me know in the comments section. I want to check it out and perhaps feature it. And if you have any suggestions for others on how to get started with this kind of newsletter approach, post those comments too.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (the folks behind IndiemarkBlackBox, FormSwell and Email Critic). Connect him everywhere, here.

The Rise and Rise of Niche Email Marketing Products

Niche Email Marketing Products

As email grows in complexity and effectiveness, so do the technologies and services that power it. But the email service providers (ESPs) and even the in-house solutions can’t be expected to provide for every need an email marketer might have. Yet the need exists, and in a game that’s sometimes measured in half a percentage point, every little detail counts.

Enter niche email marketing solutions. Nimble and savvy businesses are popping up to fill the voids others can’t, by providing hyper-focused solutions that help companies improve on even the finest points of their email marketing campaigns or operations.

BlackBox

It’s not just the email marketers who need some specialized products. Even the email service providers need a little help now and then, and niche email products can offer it. Consider BlackBox, a product we first launch nearly four years ago. BlackBox helps ESPs find potentially problematic customers, before the damage is done, by allowing ESPs to preemptively score the level of permission in their senders’ lists and manage those senders more effectively. It reduces risk, expedites new customer vetting and improves email deliverability.

FormSwell

On the other side of the fence are the email marketers, who are doing more with less as email gets more complex but budgets stay the same. Several products stand out as big solutions to little problems. Only think of all the little pieces necessary to a full-blown email marketing campaign. One niche product stands out, even though it’s still in beta: FormSwell is an easy way for email marketers to create powerful email signup forms without coding or cumbersome integrations.

EDMdesigner

Another favorite niche product of mine is EDMdesigner, for creating custom, responsive email templates without coding. Even though most people view their emails on a mobile device, not many emails work well on the small screens. It takes responsive design to make emails look good no matter the device, but that requires some special skills—and a lot of time. EDMdesigner takes away the need for the skills and makes it easy, to save you time. Best of all, like FormSwell, it’s available for integration into any SaaS system.

Subject Line Gold

This last one is defines the spirit of niche email products because subject lines are so often overlooked. Seriously, one of the most important pieces in getting your email open is usually written in a last minute, haphazard way. But Touchstone’s Subject Line Gold is may take away any excuses around bad (i.e. ineffective) subject lines by making it so easier to analyze subject lines.

ESP Integrations

In addition, ESPs are providing even easier ways to create and access niche email products, for example MailChimp’s Integration Fund. The future is bright and niches are popping!

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (the folks behind Indiemark,BlackBox, FormSwell and Email Critic). Connect him everywhere, here.

All Hallows’ Email

halloween-email-marketing

As an email marketer, it’s easy to be narcissistic, sending out self-serving emails rather than subscriber-centric ones. But as it’s Halloween this week, I think it’s a good time to ask yourself if your emails are a trick or a treat. Because, like the kids showing up expectantly at your door, everyone would rather get the treat.

Emails that trick

Your emails are a trick if they are—as mentioned above—self-serving, all about what you want to sell and not about what your subscribers or customers might need/want to buy. They’re a trick if they show up too often. They’re also a trick if you’re using shady “opt in” techniques, adding people to your list without getting an actual opt in. Then they’re a trick because your emails are showing up in the inboxes of people who didn’t even ask for them.

Emails that treat

Your emails are a treat if they are subscriber-centric, moving the emphasis off of what you want to sell and on to what they want to get, to offer useful information anticipated by your audience. They are a really nice treat if they’re targeted and relevant, using segmented lists and other advanced email techniques to make sure you’re doing right message/right time marketing.

Put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes

Put yourself in your subscriber’s shoes for just a few minutes and look at your email program objectively. Look at the From name, subject line, Preview Pane, preheader text, body, call to action, design, the works. And ask yourself, would you want to get emails from your business? Would you want to get them as often—or infrequently—as you do? Would you be intrigued/engaged enough to open emails from your company?

Act like you’re doing this in person

This isn’t just about being nice by handing out treats. There are multiple benefits to this approach beyond making subscribers happy, because any time people want to get your emails, you win in multiple ways, from better engagement to more sales to improved deliverability. But even if there weren’t, remember that I am of the “just act like a decent human being” school of thought, meaning I think you should be putting the subscriber first no matter what. Just because you have the anonymity of email doesn’t mean you should act any differently than you would if you were addressing that person in person.

Maybe this week, in addition to handing out candy to kids in costumes on Friday night, you could hand out a little candy to the folks on your email list too, offering them email that’s a treat, not a trick.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (the folks behind Indiemark, BlackBox and Email Critic). Connect him everywhere, here.

What’s Tripping Up Our Efforts to Make Email More Personal?

email personalization

Remember when email personalization meant all you had to do was include the subscriber’s name in the subject line? It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Now that tactic fails to impress the savvy (or cynical) even through it’s still effective.

Today, personalization can mean sending emails based on opens or clicks, website behavior like browsing or buying, emails triggered by abandoned shopping carts, and far, far more sophisticated tactics.

Being able to compile all of that data into one single view of each customer and deliver laser-targeted relevant messages as a result, now that is modern personalization.

But…most of us are still not there yet (unless we’re a big huge brand like Amazon, of course). Despite all of the talk about and desire for that level of personalization, many are still tripping along the path—not running smoothly along. Why? Oh, a couple of reasons.

Silos…still

I can remember reading about the evils of silos of data decades years ago, and not much has changed. Our data still exists in silos, and we still struggle to get those isolated pieces of information gathered together in an integrated and usable way. Marketers have access to plenty of data that could enable personalization, but it’s stored in too many different and disparate places. According to eMarketer,

Senior executives polled in North America said their companies were using an average of 36 different data-gathering systems and vendors—and some used more than 100.

The same report says executives are trying to get data sources integrated and streamlined, but they lack that single customer view and the personalized messaging it could offer if they did have it, in part because they lack the resources to make that kind of integrated, digestible data happen. They’re working on it. But they aren’t there.

Rushing it…and getting it wrong

Obviously, personalization is not something you wake up one day and decide to master, and this is another thing that trips us up: Rush it, get it wrong, and end up looking stupid. If you’re going to do personalization, you need to do it right rather than right away because otherwise it’s not personal. As David Baker has so eloquently points out, personalization shouldn’t be rushed for fear of it going awry. It can be complicated and complex. Take that into account. (Of course, it can’t ever be as bad as the world’s worst email.)

Is it worth it? Of course!

Many are still tripping over technologies trying to get personalized messages into our subscribers’ inboxes, but it is worth it. Although results depend on your industry, study after study shows personalized messages outperform those that aren’t by a wide margin. For example, according to MarketingProfs recounting the performance of emails in 2013, “Personalized promotional emails sent during 2013 had 26% higher unique open rates and 41% higher unique click rates than non-personalized mailings.”

Yeah, we’re still tripping. But as long as we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, learn and improve, we’re going in the right direction.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is Founder of Email Industries (the folks behind Indiemark, BlackBox and Email Critic). Connect him everywhere, here.

The Dark Side of Willy Nilly List Building

The Dark Side of Email List Building

A purchase does not imply consent for ongoing email marketing communications. Nor does an event registration. So why do so many organizations insist on adding names to their in-house email lists based on a consent that any transaction automatically implies, rather than ask for explicit, permission?

I’m from the “just act like a decent human being” school of thought. That means I think companies should act like real people and only email those folks they know that actually want to hear from them. They ought to let thoughtfulness drive the bus, not shrewdness or email legislation loopholes.

However, that’s often not the case, and businesses grow lists without real consent because list building continues to be a numbers game in the email marketing industry. Despite all the cries for permission-based email, all the best practices around opt-in, all the hand wringing over cluttered inboxes and email-weary consumers, there’s still a tendency to go for quantity over quality.

This approach might grow list size, but it won’t necessarily grow sales and in fact, has three serious consequences:

  • Negative brand impact
    No way am I the only one annoyed when I make a purchase or register for an event with a company new to me, and suddenly I’m on the receiving end of daily email messages. Just because I bought that drill or signed up for that webinar does not mean I want a long-term relationship with a brand. It only means I wanted the drill for a project, or the education promised by the webinar. When I get emails from a brand like that, I immediately have a negative feeling about that brand. It might not be a conscious feeling but trust me, it’s there. And each new email reminds me of my negative feelings about that brand.
  • Lower deliverability
    A lack of engagement at the inbox can lower an email deliverability rate as ISPs use lack of engagement to judge whether that email is wanted or spam. If brand X sends me emails on a regular basis and I open a lot of these messages, the ISPs know I want to hear from brand X. On the other hand, if that brand continues to email me and I don’t open the emails, that is an indication that I consider brand X spam or at least or low value. That lack of engagement can cause an ISP to no longer deliver emails from brand X to some inboxes.
  • Spam complaints
    Some people will report email as spam rather than go through the unsubscribe process. They don’t realize (or care) the repercussions of doing so. They only know they don’t want to get emails from a certain organization any longer—or never wanted them in the first place—and reporting them as spam is seen as a quick fix. And nothing good comes from spam complaints.

It’s simple; if you plan to send me email, just make your intentions clear and give me options. I suspect we’d hear fewer consumer complaints about email if more companies acted like decent human beings, because a lot of unwanted email would cease to exist.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is the Founder of Email Industries and Publisher of Email Critic. Connect him everywhere, here.

The ROI of Email is Immeasurable

Email Marketing ROI

I just had a prospective client reply to a newsletter we sent them in 2010. That’s four years ago, folks. And I bet you have some old emails in your inbox waiting for your attention too, emails you haven’t deleted because you plan to get to them—someday. The oldest email in my inbox right now is three years old. I purge emails on a regular basis, yet I haven’t moved that one to the trash yet. Obviously, I still have every intention of opening it and dealing with it, just not any time soon.

Ditto for promotional emails and newsletters: Just because I don’t open and read them right away doesn’t mean I won’t. I have folders and filters for things I want to read during downtime, and I set those emails aside until I get around to them.

I’m not unusual in my ways. Rather, I’m a typical email user. For the marketer, sending an email might be instantaneous but that doesn’t mean our reaction to it is, which raises the question: How do you really measure the ROI of email? Most metrics are based on looking at email reporting soon after a send, but does that give you the real picture of an email’s performance? Just because a recipient doesn’t open and respond to an email within a set number of days or hours does not mean that message had no value.

There are several ways an email can indirectly influence ROI:

  • As already mentioned, an email can sit in an inbox or archive for a very long time until the recipient is ready to interact with it. (Note: That this is another reason for giving lots of attention to your subject line. Making the subject line descriptive and compelling can increase the longevity of an email inbox because the subscriber can remember the reason for keeping such an old email at a glance.)
  • Email marketing can influence brand and even customer loyalty without being directly tied to other. A subscriber might not respond to an email but that doesn’t mean the favorable feelings toward your brand weren’t more firmly entrenched in that person’s mind.
  • An email can drive an unintended action, such as a purchase at a brick-and-mortar store that’s not traceable back to a message.

You might say old emails never die. They just don’t make it into your email reporting.

When you’re considering the ROI of your email marketing, keep in mind this infographic showing the ROI of your mom. Like moms, email can give us many benefits we might not even recognize let alone measure. But that doesn’t mean we don’t do it. It just means we need to allow for a little wiggle room when we want to quantify that ROI.

About the Author: Scott Hardigree is the Founder of Email Industries. Connect him everywhere, here.

The Unforeseen Benefits of a Brand Refresh

New Indiemark Logo

We craft, test and deploy a lot of emails, for our customers and for ourselves. That’s why I’m embarrassed to admit that our brand has sat virtually unchanged for almost four years.

We were not at DEFCON 1 exactly but if not for the growth of BlackBox, a cool abuse-prevention product we sell to ESPs, who knows when we would have gotten around to sprucing up our image. Once we made the decision to create a standalone website for BlackBox We then decided it would be best refresh our website and retool our logo. Heck, we even re-skinned this blog.

It was fairly painful experience but it ultimately became a great opportunity to reflect on our company, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve evolved, which surprisingly provided us with crystal clarity into who we were, where we are going and even how we were going to get there.

Probably the biggest and most intangible benefit of if this exercise is also the hardest to describe; essentially we reconnected with our own brand, we become intimate with it again, maybe even fell in love with it again. Whatever it was it was incredibly valuable. I strongly encourage all entrepreneurs and thinkers to do a deep dive into brand-self-discovery, you will not regret it.

How We Became A Leading Full Service Email Marketing Agency (Despite My Best Efforts)

I never intended for Indiemark to be a “full service email marketing agency”. Nevertheless managed email marketing services, outsourced email marketing, full-serve or whatever you’d like to call it is now a large part of what we do every day, despite my plans.

THE BACKSTORY

I’ve been neck-deep in email marketing since the beginning. Fresh out of college, nearing the end of the dot-com boom, I was hired as a full-time email designer. When the bubble burst I started my first business. I called it an Interactive Agency although for the most part we simply produced promotional emails and corporate websites. The work (and burden of first-time business ownership) was exhausting but it was rewarding in almost every way, except income. A few years later I co-founded a list company which was largely focused on email list management and brokerage; where my income far outweighed most other perks of ownership.

I had spent 10 years immersed in all things email. I had seen it from both sides. Having grown and sold both companies I felt very fortunate and at the same time unfulfilled. You see, I used to be one of those “I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed” types. This personality trait certainly has value in the world of business but it has its dark side too. Suffice it to say that I put revenue and exit strategies ahead of almost everything, including my own health and happiness. I would do it differently next time.

It was the beginning of The Great Recession. Time for me to start a new company; only this time revenue would not be my only driver. Instead this new venture would grow, or die, based on its own merit. I would also put reasonable limits on my expectations to ensure healthy balance in all things and by default the company’s longevity. I just needed to figure out what my new shop was going to offer exactly.

THE PLAN

I knew early that what would become Indiemark would be email-centric but given my directives and timing I felt compelled to own a niche and that niche I decided was going to be Professional Email Marketing Services. To that end, I pledged that I would never sell technology, data or any service that fell outside of my definition of email services. Instead tIndiemark would only provide a tight clustering of offerings like consulting, creative and integrations. You know…projects. I was confident that these mechanisms would ensure that we would the best (if not the only) company in our class.

As it turns out my niche was still very small in 2008. Few companies were seeking dedicated email experts at that time, especially ones that weren’t bolted onto an Email Service Provider. But as the industry and email marketing grew so did Indiemark. Slow but steady. Needed advice on your email contact strategy? Seeking a kick-ass email template? Wanted an integration between your CRM and ESP? Had deliverability issues? We were your guys and we were good.

Sales were good too. Largely, I believe, because we were ESP-agnostic and we never resold anyone’s email deployment solutions which allowed us to make a lot of non-competitive friends, like ESPs, consultants and agencies, most of whom became great partners for us.

We were content with one-off projects and often working behind the scenes. Our reputation was growing, it was simple and pure, and my corporate dream was becoming a reality. Then things started to get complicated.

THE PIVOT

Normally pivots are intentional. Not here. Thanks to our partners we had plenty of repeat business albeit sporadic. So if not for two outside factors I doubt I would have considered skipping down the down the full service path.

  1. The investments we had put into list building and organic SEO began to payoff. The leads rolled and it seemed to happen overnight.
  2. The email marketing industry, which was already killing it, completely blew up. Email was officially crowned as the undisputed leader in marketing ROI. From tools to tactics to teams, almost everybody stepped up their email game and budgets.

This put us in front of a variety of new and motivated prospective clients. And they were all direct clients too, no intermediaries here. But working with direct clients is a mixed bag. On one hand the expectations of direct clients tend to vary dramatically; they may also require more education and handholding. On the other hand their projects are typically larger and often more challenging and way more more fun.

However with increasing frequency our direct clients indicated that they wanted more form us. A lot more. I didn’t see that coming.

Should we take a deeper dive into client engagements? I resisted. “It’s sticky”, I said. I suppose that’s because I wanted to keep things simple but that simplicity was only an illusion.

I ultimately realized that we were already giving our clients a lot love and attention, maybe too much in some cases. I mean even if it was a project and even it was sold through an agency; it’s hard for us to limit our output just because the budget isn’t there. Far too often we were giving our time away, and as a services company, time is all we have. If we were to be successful as a full service email agency things were going to have to change.

THE CHALLENGE

Keep in mind that “full service” means different things to different people. For us, it’s simply an À la carte custom selection of our service offerings which are rolled up into a package of sorts and tied together with the promise of ownership.

For example, to one small brick-and-mortar retailer client we’re the equivalent of a part-time contractor whereby we do absolutely everything related to email marketing but their program is still small therefore the engagement is limited; but she’s come to depend on the revenue we help drive. While for one growing B2B technology company we’re comparable to an in-house team who runs an increasingly sophisticated program; they’re intense and smart. And for one large online retailer we simply augment their in-house team with creative and technical services coupled with a dash of high-level strategy here and there.

Fundamentally the difference between project-based work and a full-service engagement is intimacy. Nearly all of our full service engagements require that we get very close to our client’s marketing programs if not their business as whole.

From our client’s perspective, this mix-and-match, full-service approach almost always yields better results and costs less. However it created new challenges for me and my team. Unlike one-off projects, which are often produced in a vacuum or directed by the client, we now have to take near complete ownership of the success of our client’s long term email program. It’s a huge responsibility and takes a lot of time. We quickly learned that the way approached these full-serve engagements had to change.

THE ANSWER

After a few failed attempts at merely repackaging our offerings we ultimately took a page from the playbooks of our ESP friends, who provide software-as-a-service. In the end we found a way to morph our standalone services into a service-as-a-service model which allows us to be far more efficient and provide the client with predicable billing without a term commitment. Initially our hourly rate took a big hit but due to the improvements in our production, coupled with the previously-unknown joys of recurring revenue, our top and bottom lines were soon happy and healthy but maybe more importantly everyone is currently fulfilled.

It took me a while to come to realization that I didn’t need blinders to stay to the course. I simply listened to our customers and then found a way to give them what they wanted.

This experience has also opened my opens to the concept of Thoughtful Monetization. For example we now sell a data product that helps Email Services Providers to preemptively identify potentially harmful mailers, we call it BlackBox.

And let’s face it; the email marketing space, like many other modern industries, is insanely dynamic. Between the consolidation of many of our reseller partners, the great tech tools that are now available to everyday marketers, and the ever-growing sophistication of the same, I’m not sure we’d still be around if I’d stayed solely focused on projects.

Don’t get me wrong projects and partners are still a very important part of our mix. That’s the nature of the beast and how we prove we’ve got the chops but I’ve learned that just because it’s our main thing it doesn’t have to be our only thing.

About: Scott Hardigree is the Founder of Indiemark and Editor of Email Critic. You can connect him everywhere, here.