Put a little spring in your email marketing strategy

Spring is here! For some of us, spring means the return of warm weather, for others it signals a time to clean out the clutter or, a time for more outdoor activities. Successful marketers know that just as spring habits vary, so do seasonal buying patterns. Marketers should take advantage of advanced marketing tools to capitalize on consumer spending around the changing seasons. There are three areas that will help you deliver the most value to your customers throughout the year: preference data, message relevancy, and a mobile-first approach.

Preference data

Spring is a great time to gather preference data as “spring cleaning” inspires consumers to research and purchase new items as they begin purge their closets of last season’s look. Collecting information from your customers about the types of products they are interested in will enable you to accurately tailor the content you send them through the remainder of the warm weather seasons.

Message relevancy

Differences in climate and culture affect style preferences from city to city. To give your customers a tailored experience, use their preference data to delivery personalized content and product suggestions. By using dynamic content tools and filters in your marketing automation platform, you can be sure the right content is presented at the right time, to different audiences within the same campaign. Personalizing your communication shows your customers that you understand their needs and preferences, builds brand trust, and long-term loyalty.

Mobile first

With the thaw of winter, spring inspires activity and productivity – with so much to do, your customers have more reasons to be on the go. This is the perfect time of year to scale up your mobile PUSH and SMS campaigns to reach consumers wherever they are. Consider adding triggers based on location data from visits to your mobile app or visits to your site from a mobile browser. Triggering a message to your customers while they’re near your store is a powerful way to drive relevant messaging and purchase intent.

Focusing on these three core areas will help you deliver the most value to your customers through the season and throughout the year. Learn more about how our team of experts can help with comprehensive marketing strategies that will take your marketing to the next level.

Verizon to close email service: 5 steps to keep valuable email subscribers

Verizon announced that they will be closing down their email business and migrating users to AOL over the next few months. With such an impending deadline it is important for email marketers to take action and consider the following steps to keep valuable email subscribers.

  1. Create a separate segment of all Verizon email addresses in your email automation platform. This will give insight into the size and ratio of this segment compared to your overall subscribers and helps you determine your strategy on acquiring their new email address.
  2. In your email campaigns make sure to use direct language in the subject line, the pre-header and header banner requesting that users update their email address either in a preference center or for them to create a new account
  3. If possible, make sure to link both the Verizon and new email address in your data-set to ensure that they are not treated as new when receiving future communication.
  4. As part of your email campaign strategy, be sure to target those who have not yet opened the email. We recommend sending two follow up emails using the previously created banners, and altering the subject line to encourage subscribers to take action.
  5. It is important to note that Verizon service users have been advised that they will keep their @verizon.net email domain if they switch over to AOL. If the user does not opt-in to the AOL service, then their email will be shut down and will subsequently bounce – if this happens then these should be removed from your dataset accordingly.

For more information check out Verizon’s website here. If you are a client and have additional questions, please contact your manager or email us directly.

Tricky triggers: Understanding shopping cart abandonment compliance

Globalization affects retailers in a number of ways. Complying with commercial laws wherever they have brick-and-mortar stores is one such impact. Navigating through privacy rules that impact e-commerce efforts is another. There is one blind spot in particular that deserves attention — sending shopping cart abandonment emails. I am often asked, “How are abandonment emails treated under the CAN-SPAM Act? Canada’s stringent Anti-Spam Law (CASL)?” “Can I even send abandonment emails to my Canadian customers?”

But let’s back up… What is an ‘abandonment’ email anyway? In the email space shopping cart abandonment refers to a particular type of automated mailing used to re-engage an online customer. The most common example is one where a retailer notices that a customer has left an item sitting in their shopping cart, and proceeds to send a reminder with a coupon to complete the order.

To fully understand privacy compliance pitfalls with this technique, in the U.S. and beyond, we need to unpack what happens before the abandonment email is sent.

Email marketing perspective:

Abandonment messages are almost always ‘commercial’, particularly if they incentivize a shopper to complete their purchase. In compliance parlance, we call this encouraging the continuation of a commercial activity. In contrast, an order confirmation typically provides factual information abouta commercial activity. Under most anti-spam laws, particularly under CASL, marketers need to ensure abandonment messages are not unsolicited. Triggering should account for:

  1. Appropriate consent covering email marketing to new or ongoing online relationships.
  2. Scrubbing the customer’s email address against your unsubscribe/suppression lists before sending a solicitous message. (This is true under any anti-spam law.)

For more information about CASL-compliant consent record keeping and related best practices, please see the recent Enforcement Advisory Notice from the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission.

Online tracking perspective:

Abandonment emails rely on online retailers tracking their customers’ activity on their websites and tying online behavior back to the email addresses using the same behavioral targeting technologies as those used to deliver Interest Based Ads. This jump across engagement channels to remarket to customers can raise privacy concerns, so online retailers need to pay attention to their privacy compliance obligations.

Guidance covering privacy policies and practices issued by the Federal Trade Commission are informative and I encourage you to review these with your law department. If you operate outside the U.S., privacy protection laws like Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) may set out additional obligations with your cross-channel marketing efforts.

Under PIPEDA and similar international privacy regimes, cross-channel marketers will need to (i) clearly and conspicuous inform website visitors that their online activities may result in personalized marketing, (ii) offer a way to opt-out of such tracking, and (iii) obtain individuals’ prior express consent with tracking involving sensitive personal information such as health data.

Putting it all together:

As privacy protection regimes around the world continue to mature and absorb rules covering marketing, online retailers need to start adding new vocabulary to their privacy compliance lexicon.

For example, shopping cart abandonment efforts produce ‘cross-channel re-marketing campaigns triggered by an identifiable individual’s online behavior.’ While this is a mouthful to say, viewing your holiday engagement efforts through this lens will help you manage compliance risks.

Please note: Cross-Channel Marketing does not give legal advice on electronic marketing regulations or privacy laws. To mitigate risk to your business, please consult with your legal counsel on the law and your corporate policy.

Finding your baseline for better Holiday email analytics

Oh, how the time flies. We’re already into March of this young 2017, and as much as it pains me to say, it’s probably about time we begin thinking about Holiday 2017. But such is life, and if we have to do it, we might as well do it right.

So how do we start to think about “doing it right” in Holiday 2017? Well, as an analytics guy, I might be biased, but I believe the data contains the answers. While there are obviously many more factors, which you can see in our 2016 Holiday Insights webinar, data points and concepts to consider, let’s dive into a few interesting 2016 holiday marketing insights that can help you begin prepping for this upcoming holiday.

First, a quick note on the data in this post – all data is collected from a holistic study that examines a single inbox designed to mimic the “average” consumer…and since, on average, most email subscribers aren’t doing more than opening, we make sure that no content is clicked through and no transactions are recorded. We then coded each email on a variety of different metrics, some of which you’ll see below. Finally, in order to increase the robustness of our evaluations, we examine each brand within the study individually, first by calculating the overall average KPIs for the time period within the study. Then, we compare each mailing for each brand against that brand’s baseline, creating a +/- metric on a per campaign basis. Then, we average those metrics across each brand, creating a model for expected performance compared to the “typical” mailing.

To illustrate, let’s examine the following (simplified) sample table. Suppose we want to know what the “expected” impact of X for a brand’s marketing program. In the table below, we’ve gathered the open rates for campaigns that exhibit X for brands A & B.

The table also shows the long-term average open rates for each brand, and the percent change of the campaigns compared to that baseline. By averaging those results, we get a holistic “expectation model” for campaigns exhibiting X. In this sample, we can generalize to say, any campaign including X for any brand should, on average, expect an open rate that’s about 9% lower than their long-term baseline.

holiday email analytics campaign rates

Peak week’s heavy influence

I don’t think it’s an earth shattering revelation that the data shows peak week’s performance as being significantly above average, but it often surprises me to see just how much better it does than the surrounding time periods. This is easily seen in the chart below, where I’ve plotted every single mailing’s +/- revenue per email over time. I’ve categorized the mailings as “holiday” vs “standard” to see if there were any significant patterns. As you can see, most mailings performed worse than the baseline, due to the baseline being so heavily influenced by peak week, with mailings performing 2-5x better than average.

holiday-messages

What does it mean? Peak week’s impact is large enough that brands might want to consider viewing it in a vacuum, away from the days surrounding it, in order to get a better read on the overall health of their email program. Your brand should expect much better than average results throughout peak week, of course, and if the data doesn’t show that, you might be in trouble!

Holiday messages get a boost with subject line mentions

Throughout holiday, creative treatments and copy call out or hint towards specific holidays. Overall, those holiday messages generally perform better than average across all KPIs, as shown below. These results improve even further when those specific holidays are mentioned within the subject line, with Black Friday mailings seeing the largest increase when combined with a subject line mention. What’s most interesting to me, however, is how negatively Christmas themed mailings were affected when the holiday was called out in the subject line (a net 25% decline in revenue per email).

holiday email analytics rates

All of these results may arise from a case of self-selection bias, whereas we should expect a specific holiday message to do better than average simply because it’s a specific holiday theme. This concept works in a few ways:

a) If a company is giving a great offer, they might want to make it feel more “special” by creating a unique theme and selling concept around it (the holiday) .

b) If a company has decided to devote resources to creating a mailing designed around a specific holiday, likely requiring a change in the creative process / design or additional strategizing around copy and positioning, then they will likely want to attach stronger offers to make the increased effort worth it.

c) Due to the date of deployment, companies are more likely to both add strong offers and devote creative resources to a mailing because they implicitly understand that customers are more likely to engage on those days due to larger economic or societal trends and to differentiate themselves from the noise.

d) If companies are devoting good offers or creative treatments to a specific holiday (or both), then the best companies realize that they should signal this with a mention in the subject line, leading any message with a holiday mention to of course do better

What does it mean? The data highlights a particularly interesting in holiday email analytics – understanding causal effects. Sure, theming a mailing around a specific holiday might be the cause for the improved metrics, but it’s more likely that we assign holiday themes to a mailing that would have done well already. This is a much larger concept to think about in marketing, and the main takeaway is to be highly critical of any causal inference you make regarding performance.

There are bigger factors at play with subject lines than length

I have a deep-seated skepticism of any broad subject line analysis – subject lines are a quagmire of entanglements, where no single feature can ever be considered in a vacuum against any other feature. And yet, a tiny bit of Googling reveals hundreds of posts about subject lines, ranging from improving open rates with personalization and emojis to the grand-daddy of them all – shorter subject lines improve open rates.

The argument for shorter subject lines in and of itself is an entanglement nightmare, since shortening a subject line can mean creating more clarity and precision to what you’re saying or cutting off back end details that might not be important or making sure relevant data always shows up on mobile. All of these are good ideas, but they are lumped into “shortening subject lines,” despite being fixes for potentially different problems. Oh, and never mind the fact that I’ve never seen any real analysis backing up the broad idea that shorter subject lines create higher “expected” open rates (most don’t normalize the data to try to control for subject line length, and therefore likely read other confounding factors).

Our holiday study demonstrates the lack of empirical evidence behind the maxim of “shorter equals better,” showing a wide spread of outcomes at each subject line length and little discernible correlation.

holiday email-performance

Even controlling for longer or shorter subject lines versus the brand’s average shows no real pattern, suggesting that brands that radically increase or reduce their subject lines aren’t expected to see much of a change in open rate performance.

holiday email open-rate

What does it mean? Engagement in your mailings is predicated on a much broader combination of relationship building, consistency, and brand value than the subject line – especially its length. Sure, shorter subject lines might force brand’s to be more precise and clear in detailing the mailings contents, but just lopping off words isn’t the most sophisticated path to brand positioning out there, is it?

As with any sort of data-driven recap, it can sometimes be difficult to understand what our major takeaways are – after all, shouldn’t we just do what the data says? Not necessarily. The great thing about any “global” recap is that it allows for greater context around your own strategies, ideas, and performance. While the data may suggest particular things (add a specific subject line call out for holiday mailings!), more nuanced thinking might suggest deeper reasons (confounding factors!). That doesn’t mean a recap isn’t important or useful: it just means you – as a brand or strategist or tactician – have to be well informed of what the data says and what it implies. Then you can adapt your strategies accordingly. Of course, if you need some assistance, you can also reach out for help with campaign analysis or marketing strategy. And, as always, happy planning!

Interested in more strategic and tactical planning tips? Watch our webinar “Trends are dead ends: Create a clear road to success with our 2017 planning tips” for free!

Kinetic email provides much – needed boost to marketing campaigns

The volume of email being sent is growing at a rapid pace, that means consumers are wading through hundreds of emails on a daily basis. Combine that with the fact that most consumers spend just a few seconds looking at an email, and you see that marketers need to find better ways to capture and hold audiences’ attention.

One answer? Kinetic email.

Consumers access their email on a number of devices, including desktop, tablets and smartphones. While marketers have already designed emails to fit the screen of any device their audience uses, kinetic email enables them to develop content that is more interactive and dynamic. Rather than an immediate gateway to the website, consumers can explore the brand’s offerings without leaving their inbox.

For example, retail marketers can use carousel navigation to showcase color and size choices within the email. This is not only more convenient for the consumer, but cuts down on the steps to purchase.

But how effective is it?

In Cross-Channel Marketing’s Q4 2016 Email Benchmark Report, we analyzed seven brands that sent out kinetic emails in 2016, and compared the results to similar non-kinetic mailings sent by the same brands. Based on findings from our report, kinetic emails increased unique click rates by as much as 18.3 percent, and click-to-open rates by more than 10 percent.

Other findings included:

  • Email volume increased 14% percent year-over-year, while open, click and transaction rates, revenue per email and average order volumes all remained relatively stable during the same time period.
  • Fifty-six percent of total email opens occurred on mobile phones or tablets in Q4 2016.
  • Revenue per email increased to $0.08 in Q4 2016 compared with $0.06 the previous quarter.

But don’t just take the data at face value. Test email campaigns with your own audience to see if kinetic email works for you. Roll out new designs in a staged fashion, from simple to more complex, and measure the performance of campaigns with and without kinetic designs. You can also take it a step further and test based on the type of designs, choice of products, and audience segmentation. Maybe one type of messages works better for a particular audience.

At the end of the day, each consumer is unique. There isn’t a one size fits all approach. Marketers can leverage our data and insights to better understand how consumers in specific verticals respond to email, and adjust their marketing campaigns accordingly. Consumer preferences change constantly. It’s the marketers who can adapt and deliver messages that resonate that will stay ahead of the competition.

Download a complimentary copy of the email benchmark report and learn more about kinetic emails.

Deliverability: the key to email marketing – how to ensure your customers actually receive your emails

Email marketing remains a marketer’s most powerful tool. It not only produces an impressively high ROI, it’s also highly measurable. It’s not uncommon to hear people boast about high deliverability as one of these metrics. However what does that statistic ‘deliverability’ actually mean?

Statistics suggest that 1 in every 5 emails fail to land in the inbox[1] which means 20% of opportunities to connect with customers are being missed. Having great deliverability is what every marketer strives for but it is something that has been difficult for people to define. Now it’s not uncommon for words to have different meanings in different countries, the most obvious example being football.

Deliverability, like football, has many different meanings

No wonder Googling the term “deliverability” leaves you more confused than when you started. Metrics and people’s interpretation of their meaning is one of the biggest reasons for confusion around the topic of deliverability and many marketers mistakenly feel secure in their ability to reach subscribers if they have a high delivery rate. This however, isn’t necessarily the case…

Delivered vs ‘accepted’

Often what marketers believe to be a measurement of their deliverability is in reality the proportion of emails that were ‘accepted.’ An email is considered to be delivered if it does not bounce or doesn’t get returned to the mail server stating it was unable to be delivered for a specific reason. Delivery rate is a calculation of mail sent minus the volume that bounced.

Deliverability is making sure you are doing what you can to put yourself in the best position to be actuallyseen by your email subscribers. Not stuck in spam or ignored.

Inbox placement is an ongoing battle for email marketers and is effected by many factors such as CAN-SPAM, PECR, CASL compliance, sender reputation, list hygiene, authentication and blacklisting. The number of active subscribers, open and click-through rates also can influence reputation with certain ISPs such as Hotmail or Gmail. Successful deliverability depends on a combination of best practices, including authentication and email reputation.

The rules of deliverability go through perpetual change and proven techniques can prevent failures. Many people believe there is a silver bullet or a guarantee that a supplier can provide 99% deliverability rates, in reality sending mail to those who want it is the only truly proven way to get great deliverability.

Deliverability is a critical element of email marketing and something that all marketers should be considering.

Want to learn more about deliverability? Check out our ebook “You’ve got mail! Spotlight on email deliverability,” where we offer a proactive strategy for building brand loyality and improving ROI through email deliverability and optimized email marketing programs.

Read related posts about email marketing and deliverability here.

[1] Return path Deliverability Benchmark Report http://returnpath.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2015-Deliverability-Benchmark-Report.pdf

tom-corbettTom Corbett is an expert on Email Deliverability

5 marketing resolutions for better customer engagement

Engagement matters. It matters to marketers and it matters to the consumer…but what is the most effective way to improve that engagement? We sat down with Marketing Expert, Liz McLemore to get her take on the top 5 marketing resolutions to improve your marketing programs.

Resolution 1: Gain a full understanding of your data

This year, strive to get a full picture of what data you have available. In order to really know who your customers are across all channels and be able to deliver meaningful experiences to them, you’ll need to consider what sources of data are available to you, and then who needs to have access to that data in order to best leverage it. Here are a few tips to get you started:

-Collect demographic and behavioral data to get a clear picture of your customers. Combining these data types will help give you a better view of your audience.

-Perform a comprehensive data audit to figure out exactly what your data is telling you. Document everything, from the data type to how often it’s updated.

-Find a partner who can centralize your database and help you leverage unlimited data types and sources.

Resolution 2: Amp up your personalization

Your newly centralized data will allow you to better personalize the content and timing of your cross-channel communications. In order to make change executable, consider a phased approach to personalization.

-Start small, with elements of your current template that can easily be personalized, such as headers or footers.

-Enhance personalization through demographic or behavioral data, such as loyalty points.

-Move toward a true 1:1 experience by partnering with a cross-channel communications provider who can help with state-based personalization.

Resolution 3: Maintain a consistent approach

When your customers interact with your brand, they should encounter a consistent brand experience. They don’t think in channels, so why should you?

-View your brand as a customer would. Sign up for your emails, check out the in-store experience, and follow your brand on social media.

-Compare your message across channels. Is the story you’re telling consistent?

-Examine your internal operations, and work to remove silos. Cross-functional teams need to work together seamlessly in order to deliver a seamless cross-channel customer experience.

Resolution 4: Adopt a mobile-first approach in every channel

Customers do more than check email on their phones. Mobile commerce is growing, and a Business Insider BI Intelligence report predicts that mobile will account for 45% of all ecommerce by 2020. In order to take advantage of this growth, expand your mobile-first approach beyond the inbox.

-Have a well-paved mobile path. Test the look and feel of your emails on a mobile device. Make sure that your website is mobile optimized, and that the path to purchase is as frictionless as possible.

-When incorporating an SMS campaign, have a clear goal in mind. SMS campaigns can be effective ways to promote upcoming deals, cultivate loyalty, or inform, but it’s important to narrow your focus in order to best engage your customers.

-Be compliant. If you do not have a mobile expert on your team, be sure to partner with one who can ensure your campaigns follow mobile compliance guidelines.

Resolution 5: Measure effectiveness

Now that you’ve put processes and plans into effect, measure their impact.

-Work with your web, mobile, and social teams at the campaign creation stage to determine what metrics you need to measure, and why. In today’s cross-channel marketing world, it’s about more than open and click rates.

-Compare your engagement rates to industry benchmarks to gain a better sense of how your brand is performing, but remember you need to be your OWN benchmark.

-Invest in more sophisticated analytics programs to take your reporting to the next level, or seek the professional advice of experts who can show you how to separate the signal from the noise and gain deeper insights.

These five tips and more are discussed in our webinar “Trends are Dead Ends: Create a clear road to success with our 2017 planning tips.” If you didn’t get a chance to join us, you can view a recording of it here. Also, if you want more information on our 2016 holiday insights please join us for our next webinar “It’s a wrap: 2016 holiday insights, “on February 23rd at 1pm ET.

Trends are dead ends: Taking the road paved with blurred Lines

The top of the year is always a great time of reflection. As our team has been excitedly preparing for our first webinar of 2017, I’ve been able to reflect on the many changes I’ve seen happen internally and externally in the digital marketing landscape, especially those related to shifting roles and breadth of knowledge. Nearly twenty years ago, when I was first getting started, most marketers knew the four Ps (price, product, promotion and place). We used to be able to come up with ideas, execute in a couple of channels, pop a bottle, and celebrate success. Tech folks tended to develop software based on requirements developed by project managers and engineers, and congratulated themselves when a project was fully tested, and delivered on time and under budget (with few, if any, bugs).

Then came the big disruption of the digital age. And the lines between marketing and technology became blurred.

The marriage of marketing and technology increasingly requires shared responsibilities and deeper knowledge of both areas. Marketers must be much more versed in technology and how it exists to provide support in reaching distracted and elusive customers. Developers must understand fundamental marketing concepts and be open to approaching enhancements based on how a new feature would solve real-life marketing challenges. If either of these stakeholders say “that’s not my job”, and refuses to learn, the brand’s ability to provide a consistent, customer-centric experience will suffer.

Ultimately, no matter how many systems are in place, human beings—from your internal team to your audience—guide programs. That being said, personal development—from classes to reading books and blogs to networking—is critical and something you MUST make time for, whether you’re the email marketing manager or the director of product development.

But let’s be real: in the busyness of daily life, you probably can’t get away from your desk for lunch most days. However, even if you have to slot time on your Outlook calendar, it is worth it in order to foster a broader and more accurate view of your program and the industry. This curious and thirsty mindset is also a top predictor of success (assuming you aren’t born into a dynasty). Don’t believe me? The greatest minds of our time, from Warren Buffett to Oprah Winfrey spend a LOT of time on personal growth through a very simple activity…reading[i].

So how can you be a lifelong learner, build your skills and stand out from the crowd professionally? Take your growth by the reins and do the following:

  1. Attend webinars: There are webinars related to everything from how to give webinars, to specific areas including contextual marketing and testing. Tip: Try not to multi-task during the webinar, to be sure you are fully immersed in the content.
  2. Attend industry conferences: Get around likeminded people who speak your language. Be inspired and challenged by learning what they do in their own verticals, and repurposing it to fit your audience, as appropriate.
  3. Blogs, whitepapers: At least bi-weekly, take time to expose yourself to thought leadership. I get a lot of great ideas and industry knowledge from what others talk about—not that I always agree, but that’s the point: surround yourself with other ideas. But remember, you only get to know those ideas by purposefully exposing yourself to them.
  4. Internal relationship building – My mother’s example at work became my template once I joined corporate America. She got to know everyone on campus at Loyola Marymount, from professors to nuns, staff and students. It gave her a great idea of who did what outside of her wheelhouse, and expanded her overall knowledge. It has served me well to get to know everyone in my organization – in speaking with tech folks, I gain a deeper understanding of how our software works and what the plans are, and vice versa (they get more insight as to how we are actually using our technology, and what would truly be helpful on a daily basis). In your own organization, you’ll learn to navigate personalities and roles when you seek out colleagues who are communicating with your audience across other channels. Ideally, you’ll be able to share resources, gain inspiration, and build efficiencies all around.

Don’t forget – you are an important part of your company’s success and, just like your marketing programs and technology enhancements, you must also be continually developed.

I dug more into personal development and how it fits into your overall campaign strategy in our January webinar, Trends are Dead Ends: Create a clear road to success with our 2017 planning tips. My co-host was Justin Foster, co-Founder of Liveclicker, and we took a deep dive into tried and true strategic and tactical tips to help make you and your marketing programs successful in the coming year.Our webinar definitely steered away from trends and towards the basics, and being a lifelong learner is a basic for success. If you didn’t get a chance to catch it, you can view it here!

[i] Observer article, “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule” by Michael Simmons