By Michael F. Carmichael
June 7, 2012
With more than half a million clients worldwide and counting, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve gotten email that down at the bottom said it was powered by Constant Contact.
There’s also a pretty good chance that you’ve heard their radio ads about how they can make your email program more effective and “professional.”
Do you even have an email “program”? Or is someone from IT or Marketing charged with trying to get email messages out to your customers but you really don’t know what’s being said, who those emails go to, whether they’re opened or responded to - in short, whether sending email yourself is worth the staff time.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, the group that used to be concerned just with marketing materials that went in your physical mailbox, there are some basic stats about business email:
As with tweets, shorter subject lines are more effective. Sixteen to 27 characters is the slightly more effective range.
Personalizing the subject line (“Michael! Have we got a deal for YOU!!”) is less effective by a 2:1 margin over not personalizing. So much for the theory that says everyone responds favorably to seeing his or her name in print.
Recipients are four times more likely to actually open the email if the subject line is not personalized.
On the other hand, it’s OK to personalize - or not - the contents of the message. They tie in effectiveness.
With all of that in mind, Ron Cates, Constant Contact’s director of new market development, has a more specific take on how to get the word out to current - and potential — customers. Cates travels around the country - and now around the world - to spread the word about doing effective email marketing and integrating it when appropriate into a variety of social media.
Cates, a six-year veteran of the Waltham, Mass., based company, was originally one of Constant Contact’s first customers after it launched in 1998. He was doing marketing for a small nonprofit, signed up with Constant Contact to help with an email campaign and “business went through the roof - so I’m probably the biggest fan,” he says enthusiastically. “I was helping a local YMCA with a fund-raising campaign, used Constant Contact, and had the biggest success in the history of the YMCA.”
Staying ‘top of mind’
“Everyone from sole entrepreneurs to pretty big companies use Constant Contact to stay top-of-mind. Today, there are so many things competing for our prospects’ or customers’ attention that having permission to get in front of them on a regular basis helps engage them, create customer loyalty. It reminds them that they did have a really good experience with you at some point.”
“Everyone has a restaurant that they really love, but forget to go there sometimes. That’s why email reminders are so important,” Cates stresses.
Metrics for success
So, if you decide to have an email campaign service such as Constant Contact help you build relationships with your customers and turn prospects into new customers, how can you know they’re doing a better job than your IT folks? Cates explains, “We can tell you how many were sent and to whom. If any of them didn’t get delivered we can tell you which ones and why. We can tell you who opened it, what time of day, what day of the week, who clicked on what, which links were most popular.”
But wait, there’s more! “With one button you can make a new list of everyone who clicked on something so it’s a really good way to delineate your list and do targeted marketing in the future. If anyone opted out we can tell you which ones and tell you why they did. Maybe they’ve moved to Alaska and don’t come to your restaurant any more - or maybe it’s because we send to their email box too often.”
Coaches can help
All of that measuring and effective email management can pay off for Constant Contact customers. “Every person who uses Constant Contact can have a personal coach for free,” Cates explains. The coach can help them know how to set up specific links within a message to measure effectiveness, make content suggestions and generally improve the overall quality of email messaging.
More reasons for seeking professional help
Staying top-of-mind is a phrase that keeps popping up when Cates talks about why email is an important marketing tool. He suggests that being top-of-mind is important, particularly for the nonprofit sector, as a way to remind recipients of what the sender has accomplished. Returning to his experience with the Y, Cates says that talking about what the money raised during a recent fundraising appeal has done on a personal level, such as “We taught Suzy how to swim today” or “We provided daycare for this family that couldn’t have afforded it otherwise,” shows donors - and potential donors - measurable results.
Having the capability to provide instant gratification - in the form of being able to acquire something or donate funds - can be an important component to marketing-based email. It can also be tricky to set up. Commercial email providers such as Constant Contact can handle those services and usually at a lower service cost than doing it yourself. Cates says his company not only works with PayPal, but also with other major credit cards and even links to participating Amazon stores for product fulfillment.
“If customers have an Amazon storefront, that can be included right in the email,” Cates explains.
Don’t ask too much
However, Cates cautions, “if you send a lot of ‘ask’ email then people tend to ignore you. It really has to be a lot more about what makes you different. It’s showing off your expertise and your experience, rather than asking the recipient to buy something. So many of the emails you get in your inbox say ‘buy my stuff’ that your eyes glaze over and you stop opening them.”
The rise in social media has resulted in people wanting to have a more human aspect to their email, Cates says. He recommends that “writing in your own voice” - rather than in ‘corporate-speak’ - is increasingly important to building a relationship with the recipient.
Frequency - as the DMA noted earlier - can be critical to the maintenance of that relationship. Cates is well aware of the benefits of knowing when to send and when not to. As an example he says that he’s “an avid tennis player. I go into my tennis store all the time. They know me by name, they know my favorite racquet, they know my shoe size. They could send me an email every week that was purely promotional - new strings, new racquets, new shoes we just got in - and I would think that was really great. If you went in there one time ever, three months ago, to buy a can of tennis balls and you started getting this kind of stuff every single day or every week you’re going to think they’re spammers and going to hate them.”
The answer, he continues, is to “have multiple lists. One is more for prospects who have a weaker relationship. Maybe they get mail once a month and it’s an article about how to improve your forehand. They know you sell tennis balls so you don’t have to hit them with promotional emails, you just have to stay top of mind.”
“The stronger the relationship the more often you can send and the more promotional content you can deliver.”
Whether in “real life” or in email marketing, it’s all about relationships.