The Un-Newsletter

the un-newsletter

So I am feeling bored by standard email newsletters. I’m not alone but I am most certainly not anti-newsletter either. The newsletter has been and continues to be an effective tool but maybe we should reconsider how we approach it?

Does your newsletter have to be newsy?

I suspect when we think email newsletter, we focus on the “news” part and envision something text-heavy and long. That’s still what many newsletters look like in my inbox anyway, and I suspect that’s the format you usually see too. But what if we undid the newsletter, to take the focus off the news part and put it where it should be: on the customer?

If we focus on the customer and why we are emailing them in the first place, we remember that a) they are busy, mobile and attention-challenged, and b) we aren’t sending them newsletters to educate them in general but to engage them. Keeping these two points in mind, we can totally rethink the email newsletter and create something totally new but still get the results we all want.

Some un-newsletter ideas to get you thinking.

I don’t have dozens of wonderful un-newsletters to share with you. That’s because most of what ends up in my inbox is just what I am suggesting you avoid: the text heavy and lengthy format. Nevertheless here are some ways you could consider un-newsing your newsletter to create something totally new that still serves the customer and engages them:

  1. Digest it.
    Rather than send a couple truncated, or worse full, articles to your subscribers, consider doing a digest instead. We do a digest of blog posts from time to time, which enables us to send a very digestible mobile-friendly newsletter. Running short of content or ideas? You can also do a digest of others’ content, or take the dedicated approach of Hacker Newsletter or theSkimm and pull together a digest with your own editorial slant.
  1. Down-and-dirty surveys.
    What if your email newsletter was intended to easily solicit and share feedback? And then you shared the answers in the next issue? For example, a brand could ask, “What is your biggest challenge to ____?” make the survey quick, tell them them it will be quick, deliver on that promise and in the next issue, share the answers. People like to know what others are going through and how they address those challenges.
  1. Drop the verbiage.
    OK, I don’t mean leave all of the words, but what if your newsletter was a comic or illustration or photos or a short video? Instead of asking people to read 500 words, you got your point across in a 60-second video? Or you hired an illustrator to do a weekly comic? Or you created a chart or infographic to visualize the information you’d otherwise use words for?
  1. Rethink the look.
    Even if you decide the text-heavy-handful-of-articles approach is still the right one for your brand and your customers, you can make it more appealing with design that doesn’t actually look like a newsletter. A great email designer/thinker can do a lot to make content easier to consume especially in the mobile age.
  1. Ask for the money.
    Often times a marketer’s email newsletters are actually too educational. Ask subscribers to take the next step logical step. After all, ‘marketing’ is the email marketing newsletter’s middle name.

In my business, I get—and send—a lot of email newsletters, so we’re pushing clients and ourselves to rethink the email newsletter and take a different approach, one that takes the emphasis off the news and puts it where it should be: on the subscriber and the sender’s ROI.

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

6 Resolutions to Improve Next Year’s Email ROI

email-resolutions

While the rest of the email marketing world goes a little crazy with predictions for 2015, predictions you as a marketer can’t control, let’s go a little crazy with the things you can control: your own email marketing program. Let’s talk about resolutions for 2015, rather than predictions.

Although email best practices abound, they’re not always adhered to. I get that. It’s easier to keep doing things the same way as before than it is to change your habits. But email is a numbers game, with little, tiny numbers adding up to big dividends.

Consider the measly 1%, a number so insignificant, it’s only a penny if you’re talking about a dollar. A 1% improvement in deliverability might mean 1,000 more emails delivered for one business, while a 1% improvement in conversions might mean $100,000 in additional revenue for another.

As an email marketer, you should constantly be on the lookout for incremental improvements you can make. You probably do a lot of things right already, and you won’t find a magic bullet that doubles your open rates or conversions. But there are a lot of things that can give you a little lift, and a few little lifts will add up.

Below are six proven yet oft-overlooked ways to improve email marketing results. Not one of these is hard to do, so how about trying them all over the next 12 months? Just repeat after me, “I resolve to….”

  1. “I resolve to…budget appropriately between email and social media marketing.” Social continues to get most of the media attention, and let’s face it, it’s a lot sexier than email! But when email delivers an ROI of $4,300 (according to the DMA), why would your focus be on the less tangible social side of things?
  2. “I resolve to…focus on new subscribers.” The past year brought us bunch of articles and posts on re-engaging inactive subscribers. How about we resolve to spend 2015 striving to get new ones? From where I sit, I think a lot of companies would benefit from putting more resources into growing their email lists.
  3. I resolve to…keep our in-house list clean.” How often does your list get a good scrubbing? Keeping bad and inactive email addresses on your list only hurts your deliverability and reputation. It might pain you to watch your list quantity decrease, but watching your metrics improve will more than make up for it. And as for those inactive subscribers, either institute a plan for re-engaging or drop them from your list. Period.
  4. “I resolve to…be CASL compliant.” Canada’s anti-spam law is so strict that it should keep you compliant in every country if you only adhere to it. I can’t promise that Norway or some other country won’t top Canada’s law in the future. But I can tell you that for now, CASL is the toughest anti-spam law out there, and complying with it is the smart thing to do.
  5. “I resolve to…do more testing.” Marketers have so many opportunities to improve incrementally just by making A/B or multivariate testing a standard practice. Why not test something every single time? There are literally countless factors you could test, including obvious ones like subject lines, preheader text, body copy, and calls to action…heck, even the color you choose for a CTA button can easily be tested. So let’s resolve to do more testing (and improving) in 2015!
  6. I resolve to…start using responsive design.” After the Thanksgiving and Black Friday numbers showed a dramatic increase in mobile shopping, I suggest all retailers start focusing more on mobile, in particular by switching to responsive design, which enables emails, landing pages and websites to be optimized for small smartphone screens, slightly bigger tablets, and even bigger laptop and desktop screens.

Not one of these six resolutions is that hard, right? And all are worth doing. Resolve to do these six things in 2015, and track your numbers. Then report back to me December of next year with your results!

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

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.