5 Key Questions and Focus Areas in Email Marketing for Small Businesses

Social, local and mobile marketing are changing the way content is delivered to consumers. With animated images, countdown timers, live social media content and rendering for different screens, email marketing has become fancy too.

While small businesses usually find it easier to adapt to the changing digital marketing landscape,  they also need to balance speed with limited budgets and do not always have the insights from bigger agency partners.

With the limited budget and resources, might it be sensible for small business to re-evaluate where to focus on some of the key email marketing areas?

Here’s looking at the 5 key areas in email marketing – D.E.L.T.A.:

1 Design
2 Email Content
3 List
4 Testing
5 Analytics

1. Design
More and more emails are being viewed on mobiles and smartphones. Coding your emails for mobiles and tablets is already becoming a norm.

There are various posts and articles on how-to code the emails for mobiles, one of my favorite one is here.

Key Questions: What percentage of your email views are from mobiles? How has that changed in the last 6 months?
Focus Areas: Can your brand communication make do with skinny email templates? Could a good mobile ready email template, that has room for small images serve your purpose?

Here is how the twitter emails look:

But you might say, that’s twitter, it’s inherently a 140-characters content, isn’t it? Which brings us to the next point.

2. Email Content
Content is  the heart of your emails and often the most time consuming activity that gets completed only near the deadline.

Key Questions: What is the reason your emails exist? What type of email communication can suffice your need?
Focus Areas: Emails are scanned not read. At best you have 2 to 5 seconds for you to grab the reader’s attention. Can your brand communication make do with a twitter-like email that has highlighted words, bold headings, links that readers can quickly click-through if interested and large call-to-action buttons?

For example, CopyBlogger sends very short emails for their Internet Marketing for Smart People series. The email itself is pure text; it’s four to eight sentences long, with one link that takes you to a post, that’s all.

3. List
Every email marketer will tell you that you should segment the lists and send personalized content.

An event marketing company, for example,  may carve out a slice of data and create a list of past delegates who have opened the email last 3 times so that a special discount email can be sent to them.

While this is a great practice, unless this data is fed back into the central repository, it might remain as a hanging piece of knowledge in the email marketing vendor’s system.

Key Questions: How will your campaign data feed into your central CRM repository? What percentage of your email readers also are on your social media?
Focus Areas: Personalize emails with data from social media, past email and website behavior. More importantly, get readers to reply, irrespective of the list, or segmentation.

In most cases replying to an email gets you in the safe senders or contacts list and improves email delivery. If one of the metrics to measure readers’ engagement with your brand is email click rate, then replying is an even bigger sign of it.

4. Testing
Do you know which words in the subject line were “hot” last quarter? Is A/B testing a regular part of your email sending process?

Most standard email marketing systems have subject line and content testing features at no extra cost. This is one feature that should be your BFF.

Many marketers want to reach the inbox at a certain time, expecting that their marketing messages will be read at that time or near about the time the email lands in the inbox. However, readers’ habits are changing.

Since the time I have started recording TV programs I have hardly watched anything “live”. I record the ones I want and watch them at leisure. More and more people want to read emails at a time convenient to them and not necessarily when the email arrives in the inbox.  Some “star” it in the priority inbox, others “flag” it  while many, like me, file it in folders for later reading.

Key Questions: What time are your readers reading the emails? What words in the subject line are “hot” for your business?
Focus Areas: Is the frequency of email more important for your business than the time it was read? How often should your messages reach your audience so that it serves your brand better?

5. Analytics
Time spent on site, and number of pages seen by the visitors are not the typical benchmarks one sees in Email marketing.

My experience, in a B2B environment has been that readers who take the trouble to open the email in an increasingly cluttered inbox, click the links and visit the website, are highly engaged. I have seen them spend more time on the website than social media visitors. But this could be different for your business.

Key Questions: What are my key email marketing metrics? What email marketing benchmarks can I measure my campaign against?
Focus Areas: What percentage of your email list has never opened your emails? What does this mean for your business and how can you get these people interested?

As a digital marketer I understand the need of rendering the email in 10 different mobile email clients, but as a consumer I  very happily read the eight sentence text emails of CopyBlogger as well as the simple email feed of the long blog posts of Avinash Kaushik.

Sometimes the mere fact that so many options are available can overwhelm digital marketers. It’s important to step back and re-evaluate how best you can use the new opportunities and at what point they are needed for your business.

(This article was published on iMediaConnection.)


Digital Marketing – Some Thoughts

There a comes a point in the time, for every blogger, when his/her frequency of blog posts start to dwindle. This is not that time for me! I’ve just been busy! 🙂

Actually, I have been thinking of expanding this blog’s topics to digital marketing in general. I have a lot to share on topics besides email marketing (topics like short fiction and poetry – but that’s for another blog!).

Recently the nice people at  Customer Research Frontiers got in touch with me for my thoughts on digital marketing.

Here is the gist of my  mantra for marketers:

1] Own the CRM

I keep saying this at forums, presentations and seminars. What is the heart of digital marketing? It is not your SEO, SEM teams, its not your Brand communication strategy not even the user interface or content.

The heart of marketing these days is your CRM. Till the time the marketing department does not have a handle on this typically IT owned and operated asset, you cannot bring the best of integrated marketing to your brand. I would say that this is the start of all the best practices.

Who is your customer? What is his email address? When was he online last on your website? Which channels did he come from? Has he ever responded via phone? What is his demographic data? How many times has he read the newsletter? Did he ever use the promo code in the store? Has he re-tweeted anything? Is he an FB fan?

In my personal experience, I have received a an email about a store opening in my locality, read an ad in the local daily, and also received a direct mail. I have gone and shopped with my loyalty card in that store. The only way any of these activities can be measured if they are all fed back to some CRM database that connects my email with my loyalty card and POS data to the overall spends on the PR and direct mail.

The data about the customers is so huge and evolving so fast that marketers, IT departments and CRM systems, all need to keep pace with the market. It’s not a small feat. Its easy to get lost in the data, but slicing and dicing the data, segmenting the customer is where the insights will come from. Owning the CRM is a start towards getting more insights.

2] Eat analytics

Another best practice is to eat and breath analytics. Even simple website analytics can give excellent insights.

Take a simple example. I did an analysis on who are the most engaged audience on Juvlon’s  website  (I work with them). I looked at the amount of pages a person viewed on the website and the time spent on the website. I compared this amount for visitors coming from various channels, from social media sites, from blogs, from email newsletters and from display ads.

The people who came from our newsletter spent the most amount on the website in fact they spent about 30% more. For a person to share his email address, open the email, read it and click and visit the website – is no small task. More marketers need to respect the amount of time a visitor gives to you via an email channel.

3] Put a content team in place.

If you don’t have one already, it’s time you had a website editor/chief editor/content editor role in your organization. If yours is a clothes or fashion selling website get someone who can write and edit and understands fashion. If you sell plumbing equipment online, get someone who understands that. If you sell Cruise vacations online, get someone to write about the experience of a cruise.

This may not seem like a very “Integrated Marketing” related best practice, but what’s important is that you need to have the right content for the right channel. Where are you most likely to find your audience? Is Email a better channel for you or Twitter? Are the book readers more likely to be on FB or on LinkedIn? Which channel reaches out to what type of audience and what the readers look for differs. A tweet needs a different voice a newsletter more content, while a blog is far more time consuming – hence the content team.

Why are Digital Marketers in India uneasy?

India has no concrete spam law nor a clear data privacy law. Email phishing and cyber fraud cases are rising. Here are a few news articles in the last few months on email scams in India:

December 2011: India is amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. AFP reported: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot.

January 2012 BBC reported: ‘Spam capital’ India arrests six in phishing probe.

April 2012 BBC reports: Spam – India leads world in junk emails.

I read 3 articles the last 3 weeks, in main stream media that makes the digital marketer in me uneasy. If you are a digital marketer, read the signs.

Raghu Raman in his article “Shaping opinion via spam” in the Mint says, “India needs a robust cyber defence strategy to stop this new ‘weapon of mass destruction’.”



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Email Marketing The Unsung Hero

I made a presentation on 13th April 2012, at the 8Th Marketing Conclave hosted by IAMAI. The topic was Email Marketing an Unsung Hero. Here are the slides of the presentation where I talked about some email examples, best practices and some new apps around email.

What is DMARC? Email Authentication Simplified

Google made a big announcement on 30th January 2012. Well, it wasn’t just Google, the announcement actually came from fifteen leading email service and technology providers, that they are all fighting spam and phishing together, in a big way, by forming a new email authentication standard. If you are in any way connected with digital marketing, or email marketing here is a short post on what how and why of this important development.

Who has formed this new standard?
It is formed by DMARC.org. DMARC stands for Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance.

The founding contributors include:
Receivers: AOL, Comcast, GMail, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail
Senders: American Greetings, Bank of America, Facebook, Fidelity, LinkedIn, Paypal
Intermediaries & Vendors: Agari, Cloudmark, eCert, ReturnPath, Trusted Domain Project

Why is this needed?
To combat email fraud. It’s easy to fake an email. How can readers know if the email was really sent by their bank? How will Gmail know if the bank really sent the email? Email fraud is a big concern for everyone. Unfortunately India is right on top of email spam. This is a very important and good development for us.

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Wednesday 18th January 2012 will go down in history as the day Wikipedia and many other websites’ pages went black intentionally to protest against two bills in the USA, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Wikipedia says that be bills are problematic because:

  • Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites.
  • These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites – including ones like Wikipedia.
  • The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech.
  • Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a free encyclopedia edited by thousands of volunteers across the world. It is one of the sites with most traffic on the Internet. If they were to police links, we would not get the amount of information we do today.

This reminds me of my favorite poem By Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Ironically SOPA and PIPA are actually well intentioned causes. They are intended to protect the rights and freedom of creators of content, the copyright owners.  But the larger question is how are we to control the dissemination of information? Technology allows us freedom that was not available to us previously. Who will police this deluge of information and in what manner? Is it even possible to police such large content? At what point do we need self-regulation vs government threat?

India is also asking websites to police the content. In December 2010, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked social websites like Google and Facebook to ensure that uploading of derogatory material online is stopped. Sibal has said that the content posted on some of the sites was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country. In that sense Kapil Sibal is being called the human SOPA of India, but SOPA and SIBAL stand for different things.

SOPA wants to protect the rights of content creators but by telling everyone to keep a watch on every link. Sibal on the other hand wants to impose his diktat on what should be our freedom of speech.

Everyone has the freedom voice their concern, debate on what someone said, including Mr. Vinay Rai who has gone to the courts alleging criminal negligence by Google, Facebook and other companies for not removing objectionable material from their sites. Read about him here.

We are dangerously close to losing our sensibilities as to how hurt we should be if someone writes inflammatory content. When should your freedom to get offended subdue my freedom of speech? When should my endeavor to stop copyright violation become my responsibility that will be a punishable offense?

These are very human questions and not as much legal. There will be courts and laws to guide but they will not settle the disputes. This must emerge as an issue that gets resolved sensibly by a mature society. Without such sensibility all Internet will be just illegal content full of venom and all of us will be up in arms against each other.

A healthy self-regulation like that adopted by the Advertisement Industry is the need of the hour.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements.

This is something the SMS industry in India has failed to do and has done too little too late. I recently changed my mobile operator and my number. Even before I could share my new number with my friends and family I was inundated with spam SMSes. The Do-not-Disturb registry kicked in only after 7 days and till then I continued to receive Spam. How is that remotely sensible?

Is it any wonder that SMS as a channel in all probability will show signs of slowdown?

I am a digital marketer and know the power of email marketing. However I know how bad everyone thinks email marketing is. I work with the team at www.juvlon.com and we have been making several attempts to bring the big email marketers together for a common cause – to self regulate and wage war on SPAM.

India has no SPAM laws. A report published recently cited India amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. (Read AFP: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot ). The situation may get worse before it improves. There are “email lists” up for sale everywhere, the same list are sold by agencies to multiple clients. I have heard stories of harassed customers receiving many emails on the same day from different companies. His name was perhaps on such list which was sold over and over to many companies.

Email is not invasive. At least not as much as SMS is. Plus Email providers sort out the junk email cleverly so the average reader does not feel the impact of the problem. When someone like Kapil Sibal becomes a victim of some clever phishing scam or becomes fed up with incessant emails, Marketers might suddenly find themselves scrambling for cover. This has severe implications for legitimate email marketing service providers and Email Marketers. It won’t be long before a DND like situation emerges in the Email Industry and the government turns around and puts demands that may not be well thought out on marketers as well as service providers.

Sure, we will find ways to delay and muddle any anti-spam laws, but prevention is better than cure.

So be it SOPA SMS or SPAM the answer to a sensible system of policing is to have laws that give overall guidelines and are supported by self-regulation by the industry leaders.

This post was published on Pluggd.in

Digital Marketers: What’s the ONE thing to do this year?

I think the most typed words in January are “Happy New Year” and “Trends”. Come January everyone is predicting what to expect in the year ahead.  I have read some interesting advice and trends on what to expect in digital marketing this year. I found an interesting report which makes for a good sensible reading. I recommend it for digital marketers. I have also complied is a list of 5 good articles you may want to read on the trends in 2012 for Digital Marketing.

My recommendation to you? Just do ONE thing. I promise you it will have a massive impact on your marketing efforts.

But first here is the gist of popular trends on what to expect in 2012:

  1. “Expect more facebook apps and mobile media” –The 10 hottest media trends for 2012 (iMediaConnection.com)
  2. “If you don’t have a mobile website, get one NOW” –Hot new marketing trends for 2012 (FirstPost.com)

  3. “Showing ROI will be top of mind for marketers” –Top 10 Digital-Marketing Trends For 2012 From (CMO.com)
  4. “Multichannel Marketing will dominate” –Top 5 Marketing Trends for 2012 -(Marketingprofs.com)

  5. “Brands should analyze their own CRM data” –2012: The trends every marketer should be aware of (eConsultancy.com)

While most reports are for US / UK, I read an interesting post from Medianama on why SMS or text messaging will decline in India this year. The rise of SMS Spam may have moved users away to BBM (black berry messenger) while IM chats, and mobile social networking are also getting popular by the day. The impact of the Do Not Disturb Registry on large companies has been to increase their communication via email. Did you know that, Email Marketing still generates the highest ROI (in the USA) for every dollar spent amongst all channels? In India too, Email Marketing is growing by leaps and bounds. I work at Juvlon.com and we are reaching a higher volume benchmark every single month.

If you are a sensible marketer you already know that your heart of marketing is your CRM database. Behind the mountains of online and offline purchase data, loyalty points system and CRM servers is the data about your customer or prospect. It can be a name of customer, with her physical address or her loyalty card number. In short anything that identifies your buyer uniquely. This unique identifier in the online world is the email address. I call it the most important address on the Internet. If there is one thing you should concentrate on in the digital marketing space in 2012 it is this:

Build your Email List.

I am not saying that because I am an email marketer. I am saying this because it is the one thing that identifies your user in the digital world; and by build I mean, BUILD not BUY.

Why is this simple data point, invaluable? With email you can

Talk to the consumer directly via email marketing. Even simple personalization in the email, anniversary or birthday wishes builds a dialog with your reader.

This channel is two way. Consumers reply to emails. You will be amazed at what insights they have and communicate happily, if you are listening.

This builds a dialog, loyalty, brand equity like nothing else can.

It’s not rocket science, does not need huge IT investments, and in fact is probably lowest in costs compared to say your banner ads.

You can measure effectiveness immediately. You will know who opened who clicked instantly. You can even check your Open Rates against published Benchmarks in India and abroad.

Did you know visitors who come to your website via email spend 30% more time on your website?

The key with having your own email list is that it helps you start engaging the customer, if you have her permission. Don’t spam. It will only spoil you brand reputation.

Email is ubiquitous. If you are a digital marketer, your consumers are online. It’s highly unlikely that they don’t have an email. Compare this to an FB or a twitter follower.

So yes, while you balance, SEM, SEO, Banners ads, affiliates, social media and all other channels, if you do just one thing your marketing efforts will reap huge rewards.

How should you go about doing that?  That’s a separate discussion. There are tools, techniques, advice on how to gather email data of your customers. That is the task that you should concentrate on.

So, my advice to digital marketers in India in 2012, is to do just this ONE thing: “build your email list”.