December 08, 2013

Optimizing Holiday Email The holiday email frenzy is in full swing as Black Friday offers clog everyone’s inbox.Email is becoming increasingly formulaic as marketers test, learn and apply lessons learned from responders. This is troubling to some creative types who don’t want to be confined by research or constrained by conventions developed by left-brain analytical wonks. But the reason email is so widely accepted, used and effective is because we have shared learnings collectively and continuously found new creative ways to illustrate our offers and craft our language. Here are seven new findings from Marketo, MailChimp, Pamorama, MarketingSherpa and the Center for Media Research who looked at billions of emails to help make holiday email more effective at engaging and converting customers. 1. Visuals matter. 65 percent of people are visual learners so communicating with images is critical. People scan email. They don’t read it. This explains the explosion of infographics. Maybe this is why video on landing pages increases conversion by 86%. Email should be visually stimulating and telegraphic. 2. Add social sharing buttons. They increase click-thru rates by 158%. People mix and match their media and share things broadly. If you make sharing easy, consumers will reward you with pass-along impressions. 3. Personalization counts. But surprisingly the use of both first and last name is 3.5 times more effective in driving open rates than first name only and twice as effective as using just the surname. Psychologically we are less casual than we think we are. People bridle at brands or strangers addressing them in too familiar a way. 4. “Freebie” tops “free” in subject lines for prompting more opens. The difference in value perception drives more than 10X more opens. Free is abused, overused and burned out in medical, retail and travel sectors. 5. Urgency matters but threats of loss don’t fly. Words like urgent, breaking, important and alert resulted in open rates way above normal. Invitations and announcements (and all the variations of these words) still trigger curiosity opens. But consumers hate being told they are missing something or it’s their last chance. These messages yield widespread ambivalence and opt-outs. 6. Thanking drives extraordinary response. Asking them to sign –up has the opposite effect. Aggressive opt-in requests are counterproductive. Similarly asking for donations and charitable actions fall on deaf ears. Aggressive fundraising language is a turn off. Email marketing is a hard working tool for all marketers. Almost half of consumers cite email as their preferred form of communication with brands. Applying lessons from on-going research insures that consumers will continue to rely on email for ideas, offers and purchases. 7. Forget Weekends. Email response is the least on Sunday and Saturday. Consumers aren’t glued to email on weekends. They actually do real stuff. Midweek --Tuesday and Wednesday – are your best bet for optimizing opens and clicks. The jury is out on the best time of day, though there are several vocal advocates for 6am to set the day’s agenda. Almost half of consumers cite email as their preferred communications mode with brands. Applying the lessons from our collective research will maintain and expand that preference.
4 Marketing Predictions for 2014 It’s the end of the year and every pundit, yours truly included, has an open opportunity to predict the future. So here’s my best guess at four critical factors that will be driving innovations, insights and interactions for brands, advertisers and marketers in 2014. Mobile Matters Most. A majority of searches, email opens and Internet access either is, or will soon, be via mobile devices. On-the-go is the new normal. Brands need to create assets that are easily rendered, clear and easy to use on smartphones, phablets and tablets. Consumers have zero tolerance for broken images or links or microscopic unreadable copy. UX design of brand assets for mobile devices is mandatory. So is design that synchs with all the mobile operating systems. Different devices are used for different tasks. Tablets are dominant for shopping and entertainment, often used at home on the couch while channel surfing or multi-tasking. It will become increasingly important to develop variations of campaigns aimed at different devices and different mindsets, since each segment uses devices with different intentions, at different times and with different agility. Hand-eye coordination is a big differentiator. Teenagers and old ladies won’t share the same expectations or the same content. Follow-Me Media. We now have the technology to track behavior across channels. We know when you open and click on an email and this data triggers the banners you see as you surf the web or scroll through your Facebook timeline. This works in reverse and in several other novel variations, which will get increasingly granular, personal and sophisticated. Some consumers find this intrusive and creepy. But as a marketing tool this version of pixel tracking allows us to efficiently follow up on the slightest expression of interest. It also allows products you looked at or clicked on to follow you around until you take a desired action. For the most part the high conversion rates that result from this re-targeting outweigh the small numbers of opt-outs. Social Goes DM. Social networks are artificially limiting viral reach in favor of pay-for-play. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and everybody else are splitting platform functionality between editorial posts and paid advertising. Increasingly, the networks are manipulating the algorithms to favor paid advertising and monetize their huge audiences. They are becoming hardcore direct marketers. Social networks are developing and evolving ad units and targeting channels designed expressly to collect opt-ins, generate leads and eventually sell products and services directly. They are positioning themselves against online publishers and are becoming savvy database marketers and eager collaborators with high spending brands. They have a direct financial interest, large segment-able audiences and considerable technical resources to easily trump sites selling both classic banners and rich media units. Expect lots of content, cadence and contextual experimentation and significant shifts in spending from online display ads to social network ads. This will dramatically alter editorial social strategies for building audiences, generating likes and using content to engage followers and fans. Brands will have to finesse network greed to reach and interact with audiences they’ve already paid to aggregate. Native reach or virility for posts and tweets will fall significantly. Engagement Gets Real. Bombarded by commercial messages, busy multi-tasking, anxious about money and either empowered or distracted by technology, consumers are skeptical, demanding and not easily manipulated. Changing behavior is almost impossible. So brands and marketers are working harder to develop segments, understand natural behaviors and find credible ways to intersect and intercept customers and prospects doing what they normally do. This requires a keen understanding of how brands are perceived and what standing brands have to enter the conversation. What we’ve learned about gaming, channel selection, devices and preferences is being fit into patterns of creature behavior and attitudes. Moms, caregivers, gamers or college students have distinct routines, behavior patterns and common perspectives, which can be identified and mapped to communications goals and activities. This emerging science of engagement strategy is being married to traditional insights about brand awareness, positioning and preference. The creative executions or campaigns that result will be measured and monitored with an eye toward validating the assumptions or models and/or optimizing consumer interaction and response. Grasping the motivations, the mental and the mechanical aspects of consumer behavior will separate the successful brands from the also-rans.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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