Through the looking glass
What would you buy if you had a nickel for every marketing email you’ve ever received? A car? A house? A country? The point is that email marketing is a “mature” channel. People, especially people in technology, need to check their email continually, but they have tuned their antennae to filter what they get. Experian puts revenue per email at $0.12 in it’s their year-over-year “Q1 2013 Quarterly Benchmark Study” (2013).”
Still, advocates such as the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) claim that email marketing communications lasso something in the neighborhood of a whopping $40.00 for every dollar spent. If you’re so inclined, Entrepreneur.com has a handy email ROI calculator that employs DMA’s delusory accounting methods.
If you step through that looking-glass, you’re set. Just get together 10,000 bucks (just don’t ask a banker), send an email to, say, 30,000 people and wait for your 400 grand to roll in—like a Nigerian prince.
Yes, well targeted, appealing and convincing email campaigns do work—just ask the Whole Foods and Best Buys of the world—but do these companies really figure their ROI on email campaigns to be a ratio of money spent in creating and sending the emails to the gross sales of the products they advertise in the emails? Who would do that? Apparently, the DMA would. And I don’t have to tell you why that is.
So, the reasonable thing to do is to face facts. First, there is seldom a direct path from an email solicitation—check that, any solicitation—to a sale, unless you want to give things away, which makes email marketing easy but worse than meaningless. Some marketing people like to talk about the number of “touches” it takes to convert a prospect to a sale. But what constitutes a touch? Will six emails result in a sale? That’s the wrong question.
To me, a real touch must have meaning to your prospect. It can offer proof of the value of your technology. It can build an awareness of your brand. It can differentiate you from the competition. It can provide information that helps your prospects do their jobs better, more quickly or more easily. It can use appeals to authority (buzzword: “thought leaders”). It can create a sense of urgency—which can be a stick or a carrot. Good communicators are good at creating and integrating communications to leverage what you have to offer.
Surprise—it’s a grind.
The basics of email marketing:
- Build a list of people who you have defined as having characteristics of your target market
- Craft a message that is competent technically, effective rhetorically and unquestionably legal
- Ensure that a high percentage of your emails gets through to the people on your list
- Have follow-up (integrated communications) that creates many different paths to the sale
- Repeat, refinging and redefing your message with lessons learned
Your CRM and automated tracking solutions
If your don’t have some sort of CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system in place, you need one. Good CRM’s store lots of usable data about people, much more that a name, title, address (email and physical), phone number, etc. They include two categories of information: opportunity information and customer/contact experience information.
The first category will include what the customer has bought from you and other companies in your sector, the customer/contact size, budgeting practices—the potential revenue you see in the customer/contact. The second category is about the relationship (or lack thereof) you’ve formed with the customer contact, including marketing communications and sales touches and the nature of the response.
Current technology (and law) allows you or your email service to track how many of a set of emails are opened. An invisible “web beacon” image, which resides on your server, is embedded in the HTML of your email. When the recipient has opened the email and either has “view images” as a default (so that the email automatically reveals email images) or clicks “view images” the web beacon image is sourced from the sender’s server and this activity is recorded as an “open.” If your recipient uses a “text only” setting or view—which strips out HTML—an open is not recorded.
It’s no secret that the number of people using mobile devices to read their email is growing fast. Most smart-phone platforms are able to read HTML emails, but this is another complication in putting a number on the “opened-but-not tracked” problem. As a result, “responsive design” of emails, design technology that senses what device is opening an email, is now being used by more and more companies.
What you need to know is that there is no current technology that will tell you a recipient has opened an email but for whatever reason does activate the beacon image. This means that there is no way of telling how many of your sent and opened emails are not recorded. Estimates vary widely, from 10 up to 35 percent. The person or company that figures out how to track emails no matter how they are viewed will become very rich very quickly.
Another key indicator for email “opens” is the ability to track what are called “unique opens.” Simply put, counting unique opens means that your system records only the first time a recipient opens an individual email. If your systems people or email service provider is up to snuff, they will be able to supply you with both a total and unique-open count for each recipient.
After the open
What’s easier to do than pinpointing an “opens” number is to track recipient activities after your marketing email is opened. You should have a method for rating the prospect by his or her responses to an email. The more responses (sometimes called conversions, although “conversion” in email marketing is a fuzzy term), the higher the score of a contact. Click-throughs, forwards, submissions of forms, actual email responses and other kinds of responses can be measured. (I’ll deal with website tracking codes in a later entry). How you interpret and score these activities is up to you, but in every case, responses need to be recorded and trigger communications and sales activity on your part that continue and enrich the dialog you have prompted.