How effective is your email marketing?

effective is your email marketingEmail is still one of marketing’s greatest tactics but how effective is your email marketing? It’s easy to understand the allure of email marketing.

It’s cost effective (but not free), it’s easy to plan and execute in advance and very few people don’t access their email every single day, so in theory – the audience is engaged with the medium.

So why do so many efforts fall flat? I think we almost take it for granted. We think just firing off an email without thinking through the steps will still be effective. But the reality is, there are many elements that can make or break an email campaign at each stage of the effort.

Is deliverability impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Just because you click send doesn’t mean it actually gets into the recipient’s inbox. Here are some of the critical things to be mindful of as you develop your email.

List Quality: You can absolutely go out and buy a big batch of emails. But the best email list is going to come from actually building your own list by offering something of value that someone is willing to trade their email list for.

CAN SPAM compliance: If you break the rules, your emails will end up going nowhere. You need to be very familiar with the boundaries and requirements of this regulation.

Are opens impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Getting it into their mailbox is the first step, but now you need to get them to actually read it.

Subject line: Like the headline of an ad, your subject line is the most important element of your email. You only have a few seconds to grab the recipient’s attention and entice them to click open.

Time Sent: The e-marketing company Mail Chimp did a study and found that Tuesdays and Wednesdays had the highest open rates throughout the week. They also found that 10-2 pm local time (so you’ll have to find some middle ground if you mail across time zones) worked best.

Are click throughs impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

While it’s great to get someone to open the email, what you really want them to do is click on something – to learn more, to buy something or to ask you to contact them.

Relevance: If your list or your content isn’t pretty targeted – your content may be off target. Even the best headline in the world isn’t going to make someone click on a link that is irrelevant to them. You need to know your audience well and write to them about things they will definitely care about.

Design/layout: I don’t care how exciting your offer is – if I can’t find it or can’t understand what I need to do to get to the next step, I can’t move forward. Make sure your email design is clean, easy to read and the calls to action are very clear.

Offer/Call to Action: If the offer isn’t compelling, time sensitive and a great value – it’s not likely you’re going to get a lot of takers. This is one of the most common mistake business owners make – they don’t sweeten the pot enough.

Is revenue (or the lack thereof) impacting the effectiveness of your email marketing?

Ultimately, you are sending out these emails to make money. Short of that, it was a valiant effort but it didn’t achieve the objective.

Landing page content/design: When someone is interested enough to click on a link – you sure want them to land on a page that only heightens their interest. Great photos, testimonials, video demos and very clean design with clear calls to action are what drive sales.

Check out experience: If you actually sell something from your website – you want to avoid cart abandonment at all costs. Make sure the check out experience is simple, fast and doesn’t ask the buyer to duplicate efforts or invest too much time.

If you want effective email marketing  — it has to be a well-orchestrated machine. So take the time to think it though, invest in good tools and test, test test!

Want to dig in a little deeper?  Grab this great (and free) ebook on ways you can better answer the question — “how effective is your email marketing” from the good folks at Copyblogger.

Creative versus strategy

Creative versus strategyCreative versus strategy. For as long as I’ve been in advertising and marketing – there’s been that age-old tug of war.  Should advertising and marketing tools be creative/clever/funny/pretty or should the emphasis be on strategically driving the sales message?

As you can imagine – the real answer is both.  An ad, website, brochure, e-book etc. that is visually interesting and has a compelling message is much more likely to have impact when it comes to trial or purchase of whatever is being sold.

But sooner or later, compromises need to be make due to budget, timeframes, or other considerations.

When it comes to the creative side of the equation, your materials need to be:

Aligned with the visual brand: Carry the look and feel of your brand through everything you do.  Don’t ask your consumers to try to play connect the dots.  You should use creative elements to link each piece back to your brand.

Professionally produced: Yes, I know you can make a brochure in Microsoft Publisher.  That doesn’t mean you should.  I can use a pair of my own scissors to cut my hair too.  But I think we can agree it’s going to look better if I let a pro cut it.

Using graphics/photos that connote quality and that you do this for a living: Unless what you sell retails for $3.99 or less, clip art isn’t going to cut it.  There was a day when it was new enough that people found it cute or quirky.  But today, it just screams cheap.

Attention grabbing:  If your ad look like every other ad in the paper – no one is going to look at it.  Whether it is with words or visuals – you need to pop from the page, whether that’s on the web, newspaper or trade show booth.

Everything should be on purpose: Think through every element of your piece from font selection to size.  If you can’t explain why an element has to be there or be a certain way – it should go.

On the strategic side of the equation, your materials need to be:

One piece, one message:  If there is a universal sin in marketing – it’s that everyone writes too much.  Cut the copy in half.  At least.  You can’t possibly tell the whole story in a single ad or marketing piece.  So focus on one core message and make your point powerfully and succinctly.

One piece won’t cut it: Consumers want multiple pieces, in multiple places so they can browse, download and review over time.  They’re going to be shopping you for a while, so don’t bore them with only one thing to look at.

WITFM:  Your audience wants to know how what you sell is going to make their life easier, better, etc. They need to know you’re credible so unless your brand is a household name, you do need to tell them a little about you. But they want the focus to be on them so think 80/20 and no, you’re not the 80.

Location, location, location:  If I can’t find you, you don’t exist.  And I want to find you in multiple places.  Being found on Google and the other search engines is mandatory today. But you also need to know where else your consumers go to look for you and be there with bells on.  Don’t assume that online is the only game in town.

Most B2C marketers tend to lean too heavily on the pretty (think the Super Bowl ads) and most B2B marketers are a bit like the old Dragnet’s Joe Friday – the facts ma’am, just the facts. (Think most niche B2B magazine ads).  The key is finding the balance between the two because at the end of the day creative versus strategy isn’t an either or.  You need both.

Love advice is not good marketing advice

Love advice is not good marketing adviceAs we celebrated Valentine’s Day this month – there were many a cliché uttered in the name of love. I want you to remember that in most cases, they don’t work as well as marketing maxims. Love advice is not good marketing advice.

In fact, in general I might suggest that you shun cupid’s advice when it comes to marketing your organization. Let me give you a few examples.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder: While this may be true in human interactions, buyers have a very short attention span. When your marketing is sporadic or worse – nonexistent, you can’t expect a prospect to think about you when they’re finally ready to buy.

Trying to reach our consumers, no matter what we sell, is a little like trying to time the market. The truth is – we don’t know when they’re going to be ready to pull the trigger. We do know that when they’re ready – typically they will identify three potential solutions and explore them. That’s why marketing’s job is to keep your product or service top of mind all the time so that when the prospect is actually ready – you’re in the short set of possibilities. Absence doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll get a shot at the sale.

Love is blind: While in human interactions it’s true that appearances don’t trump love…in marketing, love is definitely not blind. How you present yourself has incredible impact on your ability to capture and keep the attention of a customer. When it comes to marketing, this isn’t so much about attractiveness as it is about consistency and being true to your brand.

Adhering to graphic standards that represent and promote your brand is vital to growing demand and brand loyalty. Consistent use of logo and brand colors begins to create a subconscious connection with your prospects and repeat customers. Pretty soon – if you’ve honored your brand’s visual guidelines you can trigger a reaction every time you use the brand’s color palette or logo. Think how we immediately associate a red soda can with Coke or a brown truck with UPS. You can create the same effect.

Opposites attract: We all know couples that seem like they couldn’t possibly have anything in common who are deliriously happy with one another. Shows what we know. But that phrase doesn’t work so well when it comes to customers. The truth is – every business has what we call “sweet spot” customers. Those people who are the perfect fit to what we have to offer. One of the reasons they’re our best fit is because they see the world in the same way we do. They agree with how we approach our industry and the specifics of not only what we do but how we do it.

Many companies go broke trying to be everything to everyone. Instead of embracing their sweet spot customers, they chase after every dollar, no matter how bad the fit may be. The result of that is almost always a very rocky relationship that ends in an ugly crash. And then, that former customer runs around town (or your industry) telling people about their bad experience. You’re far better to

All you need is love: In today’s economic times – I don’t care how much fun you are to work with, if you can’t generate results you won’t get to stick around for too long. One of the marketing mistakes that many organizations make is that they don’t put the spotlight on the results and give them their due.

There you have it. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Valentine’s Day fueled parade but when it comes to love clichés and marketing – it is definitely not better to have loved and lost. Remember — love advice is not good marketing advice!

Instead, market smart and keep those customers for life!

In marketing, you eat the pie one bite at a time

one bite at a timeIt’s the middle of January and by now most people have gone back to life as they knew it prior to January 1st. They aren’t getting up at 5 am to jog or only eating grapefruit rinds and prunes or chewing on licorice instead of smoking.

No doubt there’s been all kinds of studies done on why we both set and violate our new year’s resolutions each January. I think one of the reasons why resolutions are so seductive and yet so elusive is because they’re too ambitious. We don’t resolve to work out once a week or lose five pounds or reduce our cigarette consumption by 20%. We want to go whole hog.  We’re going to work out six days a week, lose 50% of our body mass and stop smoking tomorrow.

No wonder we cave so quickly.

I think the same logic applies to that marketing plan you wrote in the past couple months. It was a thing of beauty – with colored Excel spread sheets, infographic-like charts and a litany of marketing tactics, each one designed to make one of your specific target markets fall to their knees.

If you have the resources (time, money and people) to execute on all of that – more power to you. Go get ‘em! But if you’re the average marketing director or business owner – you are awash in great ideas but bone dry when it comes to the resources to get it all done.

I’d like to suggest a less overwhelming way to tackle your marketing for 2015.

Prune: Look at everything you are currently doing on a consistent basis and have been doing for at least twelve months. Rank them on their effectiveness in relation to your sales goals. If you can’t measure a tactic’s effectiveness – put it at the bottom of the list. Whatever tactic is last – eliminate it and direct the time and effort towards something else.

Listen: Call up five former clients who were at one time – good, steady clients. Ask them to candidly tell you why aren’t buying from you anymore.   Be ready to probe and dig a little to get to the truth. (You’ll have to overcome that Midwest nice thing). If you hear the same thing more than twice – consider addressing that issue or missing element. If you resolve that issue somehow – make sure your entire client base and past client base knows about the change.

Take your best shot: Review that marketing plan you drafted. What’s the one tactic that you believe can have the most significant (and measurable) impact on the company’s bottom line? Keep in mind – it might be new sales, or growth from existing clients. It could also be something that reduces customer erosion or returns. Whatever it is and however it adds to the bottom line – implement it immediately and completely.

Don’t worry about the rest of the tactics for now. Get this one launched and a part of your routine. Once that is done – then you can consider adding another tactic to the mix.

Monitor and measure: This is where a lot of marketing falls flat.   If you can’t measure it, how can you possibly know if your investment of time and resources Is paying off?   People give this lip service but few will spend the time or money to actually implement a measurement program. Yes, it does take some upfront costs and time to build out the tactic in a measurable way – but isn’t that a better expense than just continuing to do something because you “think” it’s effective?

Eliminate something, listen to past customers for clues to what’s missing, add one new thing and measure it all. That’s a bite-sized way to tackle your marketing for this year that will help you stay on course!

Are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Are-you-selling-what-your customers-want-to-buyAll too often, I see businesses advertising their wares…but from their own perspective. They talk about their expertise and what they DO or MAKE, thinking that’s what people are buying. Of course, that’s not what they’re buying at all.

Hence my question — are you selling what your customers want to buy?

Confused? There’s a great story that illustrates this perfectly. A college professor stood in front of his classroom, holding a shovel. He told the class that their assignment was to write an ad, selling the shovel.

The students got to work and their ads talked about the virtues of the shovel – the hardwood handle, the forged steel blade, the balance between the blade and the handle, etc. The professor let the students go on for a while and then he stopped them and shook his head. He said, “Let me tell you the secret for selling this shovel. The secret is to realize that no one buys a shovel just because they want a shovel. They buy a shovel because they need a hole.”

No matter what it is you sell – you need to figure out what’s behind that sale. They’re not buying your service or your product. They’re buying what they get out of that service or product. When you miss that – you run the risk of not meeting that need and losing a customer.

Recently, I had a very unsatisfactory experience with a company that promised to “townhouse my house.” I think the reason they were so disappointing is because they didn’t really understand what their customers want to buy.

They believed that they were selling yard services like weeding, mowing and snow removal. As long as they could perform those chores satisfactorily – they thought I’d be happy. But I could buy those services anywhere.

What I really wanted to buy was the convenience of having someone else worry about my yard and just take care of what needed to be done. I wanted the confidence they would show up when they said they would, so I didn’t have to keep calling them back. What I really wanted was the peace of mind that I could just cross all those tasks off of my list – and my life would be easier because of it.

Ultimately – because they didn’t understand what I really was trying to buy – I stopped buying. I didn’t need or want their shovel.

So – how do you go from selling shovels to realizing that your customers want to buy a hole?

Ask better questions: Don’t just ask the standard intake questions. Develop a short list of questions that will trigger a conversation about the underlying need. Listen carefully and ask enough follow up questions so you truly know the root problem you are being hired to solve.

Hire an outsider to talk to your current customers: We have that Midwest nice thing going on so sometimes customers won’t be very candid when you ask for feedback. But, when you hire a firm to do that asking for you (or secret shop you), you’ll be amazed at what you learn. We provide this service for our clients and I’m always amazed at how much we learn.

Observe them in the wild: Watching how your customers interact with what you sell can be incredibly enlightening. They might use it in a way you hadn’t imagined or for a purpose you hadn’t considered. They may have had to create a workaround because of something that isn’t quite right. If you sell your products in a retail environment, hang out in the store and listen as people considering buying your product.

The real secret to knowing what your customers actually want to buy is to never assume. Don’t be fooled into thinking you know. Do the hard work of finding out and earn their loyalty for years to come.

Big data delivers customized experiences or it’s just noise

Big Data If there is one phrase we couldn’t seem to get enough of this year — that phrase is big data.

Every day our digital activity (on the web, on our smart phones, social networks etc) creates over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. In fact, 90% of all the data in the world today has been created in the last two years.

As our phones evolve into our mobile wallets and our hub for digital tickets and coupons – they will add dramatically to the collection of data on consumer spending and behaviors.

Suffice it to say – we are leaving quite a trail. A trail that will help businesses get to know us better, anticipate our needs and provide real time service. As business owners we need to recognize this trend for what it is – both an opportunity and a threat.  It’s also what could put you out of business if you ignore it.

While you may be personally creeped out by the robustness of your data trail, the truth is – most consumers expect you to use their data to service their needs. And now.

With information literally at their fingertips 24/7 and instant access to a host of social media platforms where they can (and do) tell the world if you’ve pleased or disappointed them, today’s consumers are at the epicenter of their world— and their expectations are unbelievably high.

These consumers, especially Millennials, take for granted the idea that companies are using the data they create to tailor offerings. Here are some of the ways we need to be thinking about meeting that consumer expectation. And don’t think that if you’re a B2B company, you are exempt. Your buyers have the same expectations.

Big data needs to mean personalizing offers: Some big box retailers are using data from loyalty card holders to offer different coupons to different shoppers based on insights gleaned via analytics—in essence, personalizing pricing.

On the B2B side, your customers expect that you are intimately familiar with their buying patterns and expect you to serve up offerings that match their buying patterns.

Big data needs to mean catering to consumers in real time: Looking back over last year’s data is so 2001. Your customers expect you to be reacting to what happened yesterday and this morning. They want you to anticipate their needs based on what is happening right now. Does weather, a specific current event or financial conditions in the country influence how your products and services are used? You’d better be tweaking offers, product improvements and availability based on those real time factors.

Big data needs to mean that my customer service should be all about me: Businesses in many industries can fine-tune their customer service to individual consumers based on consolidated data from various sources. This should be heeded, especially in the B2B space – where the assumption is that you have fewer customers and those you have, you know better. In their mind – it is a given that you are tracking and responding according to their past behaviors.

It’s a fine line, of course. We’re talking a trend, which means it isn’t mainstream yet. Some people will be uncomfortable that you know so much. But that will dissipate. And among the Millennials, the attitude is almost non-existent. They expect it. So expect this concern to be somewhat generational and over the long haul, fleeting.

Transparency will be critical. You will need to explain what digital data you are collecting and why, and then assure consumers you can be trusted with the information.

Today this is still cutting edge stuff, especially for most offline businesses. But tomorrow – it will be the norm. Don’t get caught behind.