It is amazing to see how many consumer email marketers still rely almost entirely on newsletters as the vehicle for their outbound customer communications. Newsletters are quite useful in B2B marketing (I read at least 10 a day), but they are a particularly poor format for consumer communications. The default newsletter is sent monthly, superficially personalized and customized (if at all), to a stale base, and has no context (time or event) that makes it relevant to the consumer.
So why, in late 2005, with so many good ESPs, agencies, consultants and client-side email marketers in the industry is this still the case?
What everyone is writing about
A quick scan of the email marketing articles that were published in iMedia Connection since the summer gives one the impression that the number one issue in our industry is deliverability and regulatory compliance (virtually every article offered advice on how to master one of these two problems). While I agree that they are important issues to resolve for all email marketers, I would argue that they are problems which can be easily solved. That’s why all the email marketing experts are writing about these topics: they already have solutions to offer. And, if you are a legitimate corporate marketer who took deliverability and compliance seriously enough two years ago when it first became a problem, it should no longer be a major problem for you.
But deliverability and compliance (and their evil cousin, spam) have been major distractions for the email marketing industry over the past two years. In fact, the industry has been on the verge of crisis due to spam, to the point at which email marketers have been focusing on little else.
What no one is writing about
What no one is writing about is that there is a massive lack of expertise in our industry. Specifically, the expertise that is required to design relevant, innovative and complex email marketing programs. Many email marketers can tell you about open rates, soft and hard bounces, do conversion tracking, mail from branded DNSs and dedicated IPs et cetera, but very few can design an end-to-end email marketing program from a strategic point of view. Even fewer can also implement a complex program so that it does not become an operational nightmare with costs far outstripping the benefits.
A lack of theory
The main problem is that there is a massive lack of knowledge and thinking about email marketing program design. Many marketers spend hours gathering content and compiling newsletters, but very few ever sit down to think what kinds of email communications will be relevant to their consumers. What personalized or customized content should they contain? And what customer actions or lifecycle events will trigger these communications? The answers to these questions will differ for each industry and for each marketer, but one thing is clear: one-size-fits-all monthly newsletters are never the answer.
The smartest email marketers have developed comprehensive email messaging matrices that plot all their email communications, the triggers and the frequency. And as the user experience becomes more relevant, more personal and more timely, so these messaging matrices become increasingly complex.
The gap between theory and execution
But even if you know how to design an email marketing program, most marketers cannot deploy their ideal program on an operational level. It is simple to deploy a monthly newsletter manually, but when you want to send millions of unique emails at different intervals to different users 365/24/7, manual email compilation and deployment is no longer an option. You need a technology solution.
A high level of technical integration is required between a marketer’s existing systems and their email tool, and often a middleware layer is required to automate the deployment of all the various event- and lifecycle-triggered messages. And the reality is that the skills to do this integration and automation work are sorely lacking in our industry. The high-end ESPs are doing their best to make their tools powerful and flexible, but even the best ones require a significant amount of technical integration to really make a program work.
So why are marketers still sending newsletters?
- They’ve been too busy dealing with spam, deliverability and compliance to think of anything else
- They don’t have the training, experience or will to design a comprehensive email messaging matrix
- They don’t have the technical expertise or resources to implement these programs so that they run in an automated and efficient way.
We need to stop sending default newsletters for email marketing to flourish and remain relevant to consumers. Start designing your program today and hire or buy the resources to integrate and automate technically.
Stephan Pretorius founded Acceleration in 1999 and is currently responsible for product development and strategy. Prior to Acceleration, Pretorious worked in M-Net Strategic Development team where he founded Oracle Online Sales in 1997. He holds a BA, LLB from WITS and an LLM from Columbia University.
What do you know about social that I don't?
Everyone thinks they know social, but the right partner doesn't just know social, they understand your broader business goals. The right social partner will work with you to define success both strategically and tactically in the context of your broader marketing goals. The right partner will value investing in growing and engaging with your community to meet your marketing, customer acquisition, and PR goals. Social marketing vendors who narrowly define social media success by the number of fans you can amass on your Facebook page are missing the point. Social isn't just about getting the "like" -- it's about long-term engagement and the conversion of likes into actions.
OK, let's get down to business. How do you measure social media ROI? (My boss will ask.)
The right partner will measure your investment in social marketing against your overall goals (not just in a silo). This partner will provide integrated metrics tied to an overall value of an engaged community member. Analytics shouldn't just focus on fan growth -- they must offer insight into the overall health of your Facebook and/or Twitter community, metrics around the key drivers of engagement (these drivers include polls, promotions, sweepstakes, etc.), and metrics on the tangible impact of that engagement on your business goals (such as uplift on email, ecommerce, online reviews, etc.). Measuring social ROI can be complicated, but return on engagement is something that can be measured, so make sure that you ask your vendor the right questions about how they approach it.
I'm scared of the risks associated with diving into social. How can you help?
Social can be scary, especially when you're talking about topics like offensive comments and images, spam, compliance, fraud, etc. When you're looking for a social partner, make sure candidates have a strong understanding of the challenges associated with the social marketing landscape and the potential threats that joining the conversation might pose to your brand. The bottom line is people are talking, and you can't avoid the conversation. The right partner will help you understand what works and what doesn't in social marketing, what tools are out there to create a workflow approach to these processes in your enterprise, and who to call at the leading platform companies so they can help you anticipate and resolve issues.
Have you ever failed with a social marketing campaign?
Having a track record of success on social isn't the only sign of a great partner. The right social partner will be able to articulate why certain programs failed (for reasons beyond technical issues, of course). Reasons for failure might include inappropriate goals, insufficient advertising support, a misaligned program (be it related to timing or content), or lack of follow-on engagement. The approach your vendor takes in articulating lessons learned from failures and incorporating these experiences into new initiatives will be more important than one who only showcases successes.
I need innovative ideas. How will you help us out-innovate our competitors on social?
Innovation is twofold: It's a combination of technical prowess and creative ideation. On the creative side, an innovative social partner will understand your market, your competitors, and your branding strategies. They will know what's been done before, what has failed and what has succeeded. On the technical side, an innovative social partner will have insight into technological frontiers, pushing the boundaries of possibility. The right partner will have both creative and technical resources in-house to deliver truly original, creative solutions. Innovation isn't a template; be sure you choose a partner that has demonstrated success with campaigns that aren't cookie cutter.
I know social is constantly changing. How do you stay on top of changes to the Facebook and Twitter platforms?
Social is extremely dynamic, so a good partner will be flexible and demonstrate close ties with the leading social platforms. In the case of Facebook, you should always choose a Preferred Developer Consultant -- a vendor that has been pre-selected by Facebook based on demonstrated excellence and experience in Facebook development. Companies that don't have ties to multiple contacts at social networks should not be considered. Early visibility into changes in service and policies, access to technical resources to innovate on the platform, and expedited resolution of technical issues are all key requirements of a reliable partner.
How will you help us scale to more than 1 million users? (Let's hope we get there!)
Most brands are just beginning to establish their long-term brand presence and invest in their Facebook community, but some have already achieved incredible results. When evaluating social partners, be sure to choose one that is able to demonstrate success in building global-reaching branded applications that have scaled to more than 1 million users in short time frames, with spikes of activity of 100,000 participants per hour. Make sure this potential partner has demonstrated success in building engagement across a wide range of technical approaches with Facebook: canvas apps, tab apps, stream apps, iframes, and social plugins.
How do I need to organize my team to work best with you?
If your enterprise recognizes the value of long-term engagement with your Facebook and Twitter communities, your social marketing team should be integrated into your organization's digital marketing strategy, headcount, and budgets. A good social partner will help you put process around your social efforts by mobilizing strategic, creative, technical, and account management resources to drive a cross-functional and effective process with your social marketing team. What's more, as your social engagement thrives, more stakeholders across your enterprise will be involved. With the right tools, you'll be able to efficiently handle ongoing community management across your enterprise.
Will the tools you provide help me to automate tasks, mitigate risk, improve response times, and stay within my marketing budget?
A good partner doesn't just offer social media strategy services. The right partner has robust, integrated, web-based tools to enable you to manage your long-term relationship and investment in your Facebook and Twitter communities. A good social marketing tool allows you to create a workflow around your social marketing efforts (supporting multiple users and administrators) and demonstrates intuitive processes to automate tasks and ensure compliance, rich media content publishing capabilities, analytics, and moderation. In other words, the right tools streamline processes and provide peace of mind as you scale your social community engagement.
How well do your tools integrate with my company's other partners (our digital agency, data analytics provider, email provider, and mobile marketing provider)?
Social marketing is not a confined effort -- it must complement and integrate with your online and offline marketing and advertising initiatives. Before you hire a social marketing vendor, be sure to ask your contact whether its tools can easily be integrated with your current marketing and advertising solutions providers -- including your email, mobile, and data analytics partners, and agencies of record.
Once you've had a chance to thoroughly screen your potential social marketing partner, make sure that you're both on the same page when it comes to your social marketing goals. One of the most important things you can do is define your goals. After all, social marketing isn't just a campaign -- it's a long-term decision to bolster all of your marketing efforts.
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Bissell: So clean, you'll eat off the floor
Ravi Dalchand, a brand manager for Bissell Canada, toted a Bissell steam-cleaning vacuum (specifically Bissell's Symphony All-in-One Vacuum and Steam Mop) through Toronto's subway corridors until he found an especially grungy floor tile. He plugged in the vacuum, cleaned the floor, dumped his lunch into a sloppy pile, and then proceeded to dine using the subway floor as his plate. Onlookers cringed as Dalchand merrily slurped marinara sauce.
The video works because of how shocking it is to watch somebody eat directly from one of the grossest floors imaginable. It's tough to watch and not immediately think, "Wow, this Dalchand guy really stands behind his product." And that, of course, is the whole point. The fact that he's clad in a business suit is an especially nice touch. We see Bissell's company brass literally coming down to our level -- and then keep going all the way to the ground. Eating off the floor is a deeply humbling activity. With this video, Bissell effectively demonstrates the effectiveness of its product, shocks people with some gross-out humor, and proves that its leaders are not above debasing themselves to prove a point.
Snoop Dogg becomes a white guy named Todd
For reasons unknown (at the time of writing), Snoop has been donning white face makeup and a blonde wig and then posting selfies and videos to his Instagram account. Snoop's posts aren't exactly substantive. Photo and video captions are either blank or simply say "Todd." Occasionally, a caption includes a #wgc hashtag to promote the White Guys Connect website (that doesn't yet exist but is talked about by Todd in his videos).
Is Todd offensive? Yep, pretty much. HBO news show "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" recently aired a great segment entitled "How Is This Still a Thing? Dressing Up as Other Races." But Snoop seems to be getting away with it the same way that Don Rickles and South Park get away with telling racist jokes. Whether you find Todd offensive or not, you can't ignore the publicity surge that Snoop is currently enjoying with this stunt. Is Todd Snoop's way of introducing a new product or service? Given his track record, probably. But nothing has been revealed yet, making Todd an effective (if not also offensive) exercise in expanding reach for the "Snoop Dogg" brand.
Denny's makes fun of Apple's mistakes in real-time
Apple's biggest event of the year commenced on the morning of Sept. 9, 2014. Considering that Apple is known for excellent user experience and design, it was particularly embarrassing for the company that the remote live stream of the event was rife with problems. The stream stuttered, stopped, glitched, and even displayed on-screen text in Chinese. All against a background of a color bar TV test pattern -- hardly the prettiest thing to look at.
Less than an hour after the color bar screen started appearing, Denny's was poking fun at Apple on Twitter with its own "Dining Schedule" set against a color bar background.
More than 3,800 retweets later, the post proved to be a popular way to take some of the hot air out of Apple's carefully staged iPhone 6 and Apple Watch launch event.
Denny's Twitter menu joke is a perfect example of great social media management. Denny's was able to identify an opportunity to poke fun at an unexpected-yet-mostly-harmless hiccup during a highly visible public event and then deploy content in less than an hour. The Denny's image doesn't even make sense -- not really. It's just a well-timed joke made by a company that's not afraid to take small risks on Twitter with the hopes of a big payoff. And it worked. So this stunt isn't exactly "epic" in the scope of its creation or deployment -- but it's an epic example of social media gone right.
Carlsberg tests the limits of friendship
You get a call in the middle of the night from a friend. He tells you that he's in a heap of trouble with a dicey poker game. He wants you to deliver 300 euros in person to prevent retribution from the unsavory players of the poker game. The catch? It's in a warehouse in a seedy part of town. And the scary industrial space is filled with what looks like scenes from the movie "Snatch." Bare-knuckle boxing, cock fighting, exploding fireballs, and crazy screaming come at you from every direction. How far would you go to bail out your friend?
This spot, produced by Carlsberg, is more than a year old at this point, but it's so effective at provoking a visceral reaction that it needed to be on this list. Because who hasn't bailed out a friend? Maybe the same friend more than a few times? While you watch the video, you live in the shoes of the awakened friend and wonder, "Would I have made it that far?" It's a haunted house, but the visitors aren't aware that they're being frightened just for fun until the very end. It's also enjoyable because, as the viewer, you're in on the joke. Yet despite the dramatic irony, when the curtain drops at the end, you breathe a sigh of relief right alongside the subject of the ruse.
IKEA pokes fun at us for our Apple love
IKEA's 2015 catalog is printed on paper. It's a book. Or, if you prefer IKEA's nomenclature, a "bookbook." The specifications are impressive for any device. It never needs charging, it has a big high-definition display, navigation is a snap, and sharing has never been easier. The list goes on, and the jokes are pretty obvious. But the jokes work so well because almost instantaneously after starting the video you begin to realize that at one time or another you probably longed with anticipation for the battery life, screen size, or some other pedestrian feature of the latest and greatest tech device. But it's all a little silly -- especially with the knowledge that today's tech will be obsolete tomorrow.
Apple is an easy target. In addition to its over-the-top presentation style, Apple's product ads have a clearly defined minimalist aesthetic, usually accompanied by modern folk music. So it's not exceptional to see IKEA making fun of Apple ads. We've seen these Apple parodies many times before. What's special about this one is that the joke is more on us than it is on Apple. Gadget junkies have a tendency to get excited about rather mundane things as long as they are presented in exciting ways. IKEA's video allows us to be in on the joke, but it doesn't make us feel stupid. And considering the production value and effort that went into making the "bookbook" video, IKEA shows its dedication to having fun with its own marketing.
"Businessman flying on paper planes" image via Shutterstock.