Showing posts with label email marketing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label email marketing. Show all posts

Friday, September 30, 2016

Black Friday for Political Email Marketing

A post about balancing 1st amendment rights, ISPs and direct mail ROI.

Fun exercise. Look at your personal email(s) this morning + later today. Because today is 9/30, thus the last day of the month and quarter, many of your are going to get a spike in political emails. 

Question is, will you see them in your inbox or will they be sitting in your spam folder?
I'm referring today as "Black Friday for Political Email Marketing," because political campaigns FEC fundraising data they'll need to report on, and the race to 11:59pm is both a sign of a campaign's strength, and much needed infusion of cashflow needed for the remaining weeks before the November election. 

Inbox vs. Spam: For campaigns having an email go to a person's inbox versus spam is a night and day difference. A message not being delivered, or being delivered to spam could be an indication of an individual's preferences and past email behavior with the sender. Read on...

Balancing 1st Amendment Rights; Email vs Classic Direct Mail:
Like many communication teams when done correctly email has a tremendous ROI. This is especially true when compared to expensive mail pieces physically mailed to homes (even factoring in bulk mailing cost reductions). Direct mail does have one advantage, if you send it, the USPS will very likely deliver to a person's mailbox. Doesn't matter if you're sending to as many people as possible, or if the content is mudslinging, the 1st Amendment protects you. 

While the 1st Amendment allows you to do the same in email, the guarantee it will end up in an inbox is not guaranteed. It may end up in a spam folder. Unlike residential mail, there is not second mailbox the USPS sorts your mail into that acts as the equivalent of spam folder for emails. 

Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL Treat All Marketing Emails Equally:
This is a blessing and a curse. For the consumer, this provides protection. For starters they can hit the spam button on any message. This is bad for marketers. For example if a person with a email address hits "spam" other messages that marketer is sending to other email addresses have a lower chance of being delivered. Send a message that doesn't resonate, or is unsolicited, and the odds of this activity occurring grows. There's no option like this with physical mail, and no repercussions if the consumer wants to stop receiving such messages. 

Because ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, etc treat messages the same, the rules other marketers must abide by also apply. Doesn't matter if you're a bank sending monthly statements, a retailer sending weekly sales, or an online casino. For political campaigns this means the same best practices need to be followed. Examples include, ensuring the recipient has opted into your email (wants to receive messages), has an ability to unsubscribe (typically a link in the email's footer), and the frequency of emails is active enough to keep the political campaign's sender reputation strong, but not so frequent that a ISP flags messages as spam. 

Challenge for Campaigns: Email is about balance. Think of a high performance engine, you can increase the RPMs and power to a point. With some enhancements to the engine, you can push the RPMs further. Eventually you're going to either add on some additional engine enhancements, else you risk blowing the engine if the RPMs go to high. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road, and campaigns do not want crucial emails for fundraising and local appearances ended up in spam. 

Bigger is Not Always Better:
The size of a large email database only has value if it was grown organically. These recipients signed up, and gave approval to get messages. However, not everyone interested in a candidate signs up, and communications a campaign might want to send to a person's physical home may not have an email address associated with it for follow ups. Two ways additional names are typically emails, list rentals and what I'll call "mysterious thumbnail drives"
  • List Rentals: These recipients may or may not have opted into your list. Often these emails are sent third party, about your candidate, on behalf of another respected politician. The benefit is these lists, in theory, are well-maintained and have an existing relationship with the email recipient. Assuming the message is on point, and the recipient likes both the sender and your candidate (subject of the email), effective results will follow
  • Mysterious Thumbnail Drives: Remember the 2014 election? What about 2008? Injecting old names (variety of sources) that align with your candidates party is a tactic that occurs often. In situations where a campaign has a 3-5 month window before a primary, getting large organic lists where people opt in is a challenge. Here's the problem, besides the fact an opt-in didn't occur (protected by the 1st Amendment to email, but not typically allowed within an ESP's Terms of Use), that thumbnail drive isn't likely current. The emails on there might have been valid in the past, but there is no certainty they are valid today. If you send emails to accounts that haven't been opened in significant time (ex person abandoned the account, died, etc), the ISP may view you as a "spammer" and penalize other sends. The way you combat this is having enough opens and clicks elsewhere in the list to balance. 
^^ going into a bit of a gray area in the above, but that's the pragmatic answer that balance 1st Amendment rights, Terms of Use of ESPs, and quality expectations by ISPs.

Running email for a political campaign is hard. It's often a several month contract through a primary with an opportunity to continue if the candidate wins. That's not a lot of time for innovation or sophistication at the candidate level. Think back to the engine RPM example. Grow the program, find the upper limits, don't overheat the engine, and make enhancements when appropriate.

Back to the original scenario. Last day of the month. You're going to get a lot of email from candidates. Did you get the email in your inbox or did it go to spam?

If spam, do you know why, or how to fix it? 

I do :)

Follow Me: @KeithHanks

Keith Hanks has an extensive digital marketing background with lead generation and e-commerce websites. He regularly presents to various V-level and C-level executives. He has worked with retail, professional services, home services, financial services, legal, hospitality, healthcare, technology, and entertainment. Keith has an MBA from Providence College and a Bachelors from Bryant University with dual majors in Marketing and Computer Information Systems. All opinions expressed are his own.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Email Marketing Budgeting Cheat Sheet

For most companies there's hidden ROI waiting to be found in 2017 Email Marketing Budget Allocations.

Innovative. Game Changing. Transitional.

^^ These are all terms that should come to mind when you think about your 2017 Email Marketing Budget. I've long written the tools available to marketers are years ahead of how they are being used. That's a good thing. 

For most companies there's hidden ROI waiting to be found in how they allocate their 2017 email marketing budgets. Here's a cheat sheet of items to review and consider.
  • Current KPIs vs. Future KPIs: YoY stats are a marketers friend. It makes for a nice visual to senior management and provides logic for email campaign decisions. There's a problem, what if some of those KPIs are outdated to measure success? 
Easy litmus test, if your organization places a premium on email database list size, pause. Pause because the names at the top of the list need to be cherished, and understood. The names at the bottom of the list, beyond pumping up the size of the email list, may provide no incremental value -- and in some cases might even create challenges delivering your message to the high value names at the top of the list.
  • Campaign Effectiveness: Invest in understanding how your email program functions in the current state. From email acquisition paths, to segmentation, to automated email messages designed to 1) improve customer journey, and 2) provide a lift to your KPIs. Consider allocating a percentage of your budget (and team's time) to email campaign audits, strategy development and testing email creative.
  • Integrations (in-house): Related to personalization consider what data you have in-house on an individual. How is it keyed? Example would include email address, customer ID, etc. Now think back to your full email list... How is this in-house data being used with the high value top of the list email addresses? How can it be used better? When possible make this data bi-directional. Yes, we want to have this data incorporated into the email campaign -- we also want the meta data associated with email interaction being shared back to these in-house data sources. Invest in strategy and whiteboarding customer journey enhancements with various stakeholders. 
  • Integrations (3rd party): Whether you call it omni-channel or multi-channel, today's Email Service Providers have a wealth of flexibility with integrating with 3rd party programs. If there isn't a widget, plugin, or application available to configure between the 3rd party and your ESP, there is likely an opportunity to use the ESP's API functionality to architect such connections. The term "API" makes some people nervous, don't let it. These integrations will bring your data to a new level and allow for better client brand interactions. It can also take a process that is burning lots of $$$ and/or manual hours to complete and make it automated -- both a great long term investment, and a chance to free up time in the day-to-day to focus on other performance opportunities within the campaign.
  • Deliverability: You sent X-number of emails, Y-number opened it, and Z-number converted. Many organizations are too weighted on X and Z. Worse, many are taking on more risk than they may be comfortable with, boosting X-number of sends up knowing it'll produce a higher Z-number of conversions (though with diminishing returns on the additional emails sent). What's missing, Y-number opened. Invest in auditing and understanding Y-number opens. Understand not only who is opening (automated + personalization opportunity), but how the opens are performing across the various ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and Microsoft (Hotmail, MSN, Outlook, etc). This is the least sexy part of email marketing (see 2016 Email Deliverability Trends We Can't Ignore). View it like an insurance policy -- allocate budget here to hedge for a rainy day. If you have pressure to send a massive email to X-number of people, fight for this type of insurance. That big email a month from now could cause people the following week with a Gmail address to not get your email (not good for Z-number of conversions for those emails). Invest in auditing your email lists, confirming email authentication is present and proper DNS records are in place. Also confirm the leading spam filter companies not blacklisting your emails (whether for past sending reasons or false positives). Again this more like insurance, think ROI hedge -- heck in certain cases this can be viewed as an IT / Security budgeting item and not a marketing budget item. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Non Profit Inbox Placement and Considerations

During my 10-years in Digital Marketing I've come across my fair share of interesting questions. One that seems to be often recurring is how Non Profits function when provided the same tools as for profit organizations.

In some ways a well run Non Profit has a tremendous advantage in Digital Marketing, brand loyalty. At the same time they are too often behind in marketing technology by as many as several years when compared to a similar size for profit.


A new study by the nonprofit marketing firm EveryAction finds that 1 in every 14 fundraising emails sent goes directly to a spam folder—a total that could be costing your organization thousands of dollars yearly.

I wrote about this topic in 2015. View: Donation and Petition Abandonment: How Nonprofits Can Use Retail Marketing Tactics to Drive Engagement

At the time I was noticing the challenges some political agencies where having with Email Deliverability. The cost of email is so much lower than the cost to print and mail a flyer that even if there were five potential emails for a person the ROI was there. If any of those email addresses responded positively the agency's data team could go to work. Unlike a flyer, there's not analytics to tell if you read it, no analytics to tell if you started filling out a donation form, but abandonment the process.

The challenge then is the same today, while there is a 1st Amendment right to send a physical mailer that USPS must deliver, the same is not true with email. This is where data hygiene and list churn vs aquisition come in. Yes, you can send all the email you want, but there's no USPA equivalent that is required to deliver it. Send to an old AOL address that hasn't opened in 5+ years and don't be surprised if you best openers and clickers on AOL don't receive your message that day.

My Take:

  • Non-Profits have several unique opportunities borrowed from the B2B marketing automation industry that they can take advantage of. 
  • Specifically, associations regularly host large meetings and conferences. Some host webinars. 
  • All of these are opportunities to get updated information, and confirm you have a current email address. 
  • A retailer would kill for this opportunity to collect and update data. 
  • Put the extra effort to make the registration and data collection process simple and analyze the data.
  • Look to scrub email non-responsive recipients. Ideally 1 year with no opens is a fair cutoff, but some organizations go closer to 2 years.
  • Consider incorporating a "winback campaign" to prevent someone getting to the 1 year mark. Examples could be an automated drip of messages at the 90 and 180 day mark. Bonus, if you have resources to allow a phone call to be made, especially among associations where the email address is an important member, or there's a donation lose at risk. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Repost: 2016 Email Deliverability Trends We Can’t Ignore

Content originally posted on 6/30/16 at

Newsflash, email marketers: ESP tightening and new Canada anti-SPAM regulations are taking effect soon that a savvy email marketer will not want to ignore. With Google and Microsoft both updating their DMARC, or email authentication, policies on July 1, 2016 deliverability rates could take a hit for those who aren’t in compliance. (Hint: if you don’t know what that is, take a peek at this article ASAP.)

Deliverability is not always a high priority email topic. If deliverability is good and nothing is urgent, it’s not uncommon for a marketing team to view it as a deferrable topic. That decision can be rationalized.

When proactively focused, email deliverability can be used as a great position of strength. While the topic has often been secondary, regulatory changes (CASL) and non-regulatory industry standards (DMARC), may require elevating email deliverability to a necessary audit–and deeper incorporation in email operations.

For many email marketers, there’s no reason to sound the alarm. In fact, this can be an opportunity to justify trimming up things that can lead to better open rates and KPI performance. What’s happening in email marketing during 2014 – 2016 feels remarkably similar to SEO in 2010 – 2012.

A History Lesson
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” – George Santayana (1905).

If you study history—whether war, politics, or financial markets you know the truth of this statement. In 2010, SEO was the wild west, and for several years industry standards were posted by Google, but were weakly enforced. Many marketers viewed this as PR scare tactic—if not a “Boy Who Cried Wolf” scenario—during this lax period.

Suddenly in 2012, Google’s proposed SEO best practices were strictly enforced. Marketers and premier brands that spent years ignoring the warning signs saw their top rankings for non-brand terms take a plunge from the first page on Google to the 10th overnight. A fraction of the SEO industry went into a panic, while others were vindicated for following best practices and watched their competitors disappear.

What It Means for Your Program
You know your data. You know where the opportunities are and what the blind spots are. If your campaign is judged by “list size,” this is your chance to make the argument to stop. So much about CASL is about list hygiene and permission.

Here are some next steps to consider:

  • KPIs to Elevate in Importance: Acquisition rate, churn, actives, at risk, and winbacks
  • KPIs to Decrease in Importance: List size
  • Data Hygiene Cleanse: Good investment with changing industry standards. Also may be necessary for CASL compliance.
  • Audit & Monitor Deliverability: Review how your IPs and domains are performing with the various ISPs. Make adjusts to strengthen branding and authentication as needed. Have a plan in place to monitor performance.