The New Basics for Email Strategies

This second part of a two-part article on email strategies will show you some things you need to avoid doing. It will also explain how to set goals for your email campaign, and how to rally your entire organization around those goals.

The first part of this article dealt with three factors which will enable you to increase your ROI in terms of your customers performing your intended action. It also gave advice on keeping them from unsubscribing to your emails. The three factors are to avoid overfocusing on creative design; monitoring your ROI; and avoid giving irrelevant content. These three things will ensure that you keep your subscriber list, and achieve your set goals for your email campaigns. I also mentioned customer relations management and the relationship between marketing, and customer service.

This article will deal with some more factors that you should watch out for and talk about setting benchmark goals for your email campaign. I’ll also discuss how to make sure that your entire organization is aligned with your email goals. 

After that we will look briefly at some things that are rapidly getting important in terms of deliverability. We’ll also cover how to avoid being blacklisted. Some of what I am writing about touched on in a few articles written by Al Diguido over at the ClickZ network, so I am presenting them with my illustrations and my personal experiences along with some things I picked up from email campaigns of some major (and some not so major) websites last year.

Note that this article is not about deliverability, and it is not about getting your emails opened. It is assumed that your emails are opt-ins (more on that later), and that you successfully get past all the spam filters that the email providers throw up. This article will be useful for web sites that have high open rates for their emails, and get a lot of unsubscribe requests from their users.

It is basically a list of strategies that high income generating web sites will use this year. If you don’t do anything else, you will at least be on par with top email strategists the world over.  All the factors I will cover need to be continuously happening; there are few one offs, and most of them have to become habits before they begin to show meaningful effect.

The first thing we will look at is whether outsourcing is necessary for any aspects of email campaigns, ranging from copy to delivery. One of my favorite ezine consultants is Michael_Katz  (in terms of content only, not deliverability). I learn new ways of making copy interesting simply via his own emails and podcasts. Outsourcing for all stages of your email campaign is quite expensive, and if you are a small operation, it may not be feasible. 

Assuming that your in house staff is sufficient to handle every thing that comes up may be dangerous, however. The technical aspects of email deployment (setting up a mail servers, security, and so on) can only be handled if you have full time system administrators who have experience with mail server software. Again, in terms of cost, only if you have a major operation would you be able to set up your own servers and have your own server administrators.

Apart from the technical aspect, there is creative (we will also look at the next level after creative in this article) and then copy, and finally deliverability. To reduce the work load and cost of your operation you can set up a dedicated email server if you have a large mailing list, and have your own in house creative and copy. Delivery can be also be outsourced to a third party (like postmaster direct or aweber) assuming that you can handle all of the above (especially if you have a large list).

But doing it in house will be inefficient in terms of cost and time management. If you outsource, you can skip all of the technical staff and put the money in customer relations management. Establish a list of your needs and get a vendor that will fill them. 

However, depending on your core strengths as an organization, you may be able to handle all the aspects of your email campaign in house. Next we will look at interactive design for your email.

Creative Design or Interactive Design?

This is not really an either/or situation. The wonderful thing is that you can have both a beautiful design, and at the same time an interactive design. Interactivity is what the Internet is about. If your site does not have interactive features (blogs to comment, forums, polls) you will reduce your users’ flexibility.

On emails creative design has always been the priority, but now interactivity has to take its place in email campaigns. How do you increase interactivity? Interactivity is about dialogue — communication between you, your user and other users. A great way to increase this communication is with Q and A; another way is to send polls through emails. The really creative writer is now finding ways to create interactivity with the subscriber.

This will make designing the “creative” more than just a graphics task. More intense programming and coding will go into “interactivity,” making it compatible for users’ browsers and ensuring that the code is not stripped off before it enters the mail box. More likely than not, there will be some links back to the interactive content and then some copy to encourage users to click on said links.

currently its almost impossible to find anyone who does anything serious about interactive email design, so it’s a wide open field. A lot of designers should look at it as the next level of “creative” (web services for email clients perhaps).

Content is King; the Customer can Depose Him

No matter how good your content is, no matter how you design your interface and arrange your email campaign, if you do not consider particular needs of the customer, even your good content is in danger of becoming irrelevant and in some cases bad for you. There are three things we will look at that can ruin your relationship with your customer, and will ensure that he or she will unsubscribe from your email. The factors are customer service, after sales customer service and email, and what Al Diguido calls “pushing,” which simply means sending emails that are not relevant to that particular subscriber. We will start with pushing and work our way backwards to customer service (CRM) during sales and after sales.

Do you want to ensure that your subscribers unsubscribe from your list? That’s very easy to accomplish; just keep pushing your emails to them like direct mail letters. For good meausre, flood their boxes without getting feedback by asking about their opinions, demography or preferences. Keep that up and someday, your email will become the victim of the unsubscribe button.

Cleaning your list is quite important since it ensures that anybody whose email address was added to your database by a third party actually wants to receive your email. You should also have a verification page for all your first time subscribers! Feedback will ensure that you get important information about your users that will enable you to make real time decisions concerning micro segmenting your data base for better mail marketing. That means you will be able to direct specific emails to specific segments of the market. Feed back will ensure that your spam complaints are kept to a minimum, and in certain situations, your unsubscribe button can be the best form of feedback as well as the best form of protection you can get for your product.

When the Unsubscribe Button Becomes Your Best Friend

During a convoluted case of online fraud detection which I did for a friend, I subscribed to a website in order to make queries about their products and services; after the successful sting on a particular individual, I clicked on the unsubscribe button for the web site’s (boring) newsletters. I didn’t need the newsletter any longer and I didn’t want any clutter in that particular box.

Unfortunately for me (and for them) they didn’t respond to my unsubscribe request, and kept sending (unsolicited) mail to my box. Effectively, this is spam. In regard to that newsletter, I’m considering either clicking on the “report spam” button, or simply reporting the company to a blacklist site.

What did they do wrong? They didn’t take feedback, they didn’t unsubscribe me when I requested, and they send me spam. There are worse things than losing your subscriber, one of which is being considered a spammer by a block list or an email service provider. The repercussions vary from civil suits to criminal prosecution – and no, “they” don’t hate you, and it’s not a conspiracy; you caused it by not unsubscribing your users on request. The unsubscribe button not only keeps you from getting blacklisted (temporarily in most cases), or possibly thrown into jail (only reserved for severe offenders); it also gives you a rather belated opportunity to offer your customers superior service.

A $10 a month site was rapidly losing relevance to my needs; they offered great content but I had neither the time, opportunity or desire to participate fully in their programs. I sent my unsubscribe request. And they gave me great service by offering me one free month, after which if I still felt like it I could sign back up for their service.

I participated in their service and kept the subscription for six more very active months! Their CRM (customer relations management) was great. They have made me a fan for life! Even if I unsubscribe it will only be for seasons I feel I may be unable to use it.

In personal relationships arguments lead to opportunities for higher levels of bonding between couples. The same thing happens in sales relationships; conflict actually leads to an opportunity to build higher levels of trust, so customer relations does not have to be a pain for websites. With an above average response time and an excellent service you can use unsubscribe requests to offer your users new stuff such as free e books or downloads if they stay on and tell you in detail why they want to leave.

Never Do This

No matter what you do, never buy a list of email addresses from a third party. Spamming will not become a small issue; it will actually become a bigger deal than it currently is. Please take it for granted that buying lists (no matter what anybody says) is spamming.

I used to think it just reduced the user experience, but getting one server’s public IP tagged as a spam source and one email campaign charged with “spamming” by block lists (specifically Spamhaus) have made me realize that “only the paranoid survive” is a statement of fact and not an opinion. Never buy or rent a third party list; build your own opt-in list or get referrer sites to link to your subscribe page (get a recommendation from a reputable site).

A Quick Word on Sale and After Sales

Your marketing promises on email must match the service you actually provide. Customers will opt out of any email service that does not deliver on its promises; no amount of CRM can repair broken promises.

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