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Email Lists -- Like Toothpaste?

Michael Mayor
Email Lists -- Like Toothpaste? Michael Mayor

I’ve been obsessed with labels lately. Not as in stereotypes or the kind you affix to packages but the more mundane variety like Care Instructions, Directions or Warning Labels that are commonly found on just about everything -- except children (where they probably should be!).

Perhaps it was last month’s announcement by the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch that the winner of their 2004 “Wackiest Warning Label” (I kid you not) was a toilet brush that warned, “Do not use for personal hygiene” that started me thinking about labels.

Of course, as a member of the male species, it is my God-given right to ignore most helpful things like maps, manuals and, yes, labels. I rarely ever read labels before and the toilet brush warning is a good example of why. More often than not the Instructions for Use are incredibly obvious. And isn’t it dangerous to use anything incorrectly? My favorite example of this is a label on the back of a pump dispenser for antibacterial soap. The incredibly obvious Instructions for Use are “Put a dime-sized amount in your hands and rub briskly until dry.” Read further down and you’ll find the penalty for misuse; “Flammable until dry.” Hmm, guess you better not rub too briskly then!

So yes, I have been reading a lot of labels lately and what’s even more interesting than obvious instructions or wacky warnings is that I am starting to find a valuable takeaway for email marketers. 

It finally dawned on me that labels are there for a reason. No matter how silly they seem today, they once must have been vital to the product’s success. At one time toothpaste was new and it must have seemed like a real oddity. One day you are mixing a pinch of powder with a drop of water and the next day someone hands you a tube. I’ll lay odds that the first people to use toothpaste did one of two things; either they squirted some paste out and mixed it with a drop of water or they turned the tube over and read the back. Yet today we have such awareness of the product that we barely even glance at the tube when we brush.

Ten or so years ago the first email lists were being created and mailed. Unfortunately direct marketers had no label to read and they still don’t today. No directions, no instructions for care, no warnings. As a result, many DMers used them in the only way that made sense to them; as a substitute for postal lists. Yes, they mixed the toothpaste with a drop of water. As a result, many of today’s headaches surrounding email lists can be traced directly back to this type of misuse.

How nice it would be for email marketers to finally have both directions and warnings for email lists! Obviously we have data cards but these are more akin to the ingredients. What we could really use is the same basic use and warning instructions on email lists as on other products so that one day they become so embedded into our daily routine that reading them produce the same “duhs” as that of the antibacterial soap directions or the toilet brushing warning. Therefore allow me to take a stab at producing the industry’s very first label for an email list.

The Sell-by Date

First let me insert one label that does get read by most people, even men; the “Sell-by Date.” You don’t buy eggs after the posted Sell-by Date. If those eggs just sat around for a long period of time you’re probably in for a very bad day when you finally scramble them. The same is true of email lists. The best lists in the world are generally useless if they don’t get used on a regular basis. As I have preached for years; a stagnant list is simply a rapidly depreciating asset. So rather than a specific sell-by such and such date label, let’s go with: “Use regularly for best results”. Also, let’s add a footnote here that reads “Promote often to encourage healthy growth” so we can ensure the list remains a good size for years to come.  

Care Instructions

Next up are the Care Instructions. It’s incredibly hard to boil down basic principles of good email list management into something short and zippy like shampoo’s “Wash, Rinse, Repeat” for instance, but here goes. How about Relevance, Value, Action? It should be painfully obvious to every email marketer by now that you just don’t send a message to an email list unless you know for a fact that its content is relevant to its list members. Further, just being relevant isn’t enough. Why should the list members read it? I would hope that it’s because the message offers the list member value either in the financial or intellectual sense. Finally, the message can be relevant and provide value, but it’s simply a one-way communication if you do not request them to take action.  

Warning Labels

Lastly, the label must contain a warning. Unfortunately warnings are hardly ever zippy. Warnings are serious business and this one, in particular, needs to be serious as well. For starters, I would include: “Infrequent use may cause complaints, blocking or poor results.” However, just to be sure we are not swinging the pendulum too far to the use side, we’ll have to also state, “Overuse can cause excessive fatigue or churn.” It’s starting to sound a bit like an antacid commercial so maybe we could also add “Not for personal hygiene” to the label just to see if anyone is paying attention. Ok that was kidding that time.

So there it is; the first label for an email list. Today, ten years after the first email list was created, the newly created label already has a few “duh” producing moments, which I take as an incredible sign of progress. Let’s see if we can get the label’s “not-so-duh” pieces of information embedded into our daily routine.

Additional Resources:

Read a review of Michael Mayor's and Matt Blumberg's book Sign Me Up: A Marketer's Guide To Creating Email Newsletters That Build Relationships & Boost Sales.

Michael Mayor is president of NetCreations, the customer acquisition and data division of Return Path The Email Performance Company. He is a 19-year veteran of direct marketing and a recognized pioneer of email marketing. Mayor joined NetCreation's as one of the company's first employees in 1998, and played a key role in helping to build the largest email list management company in the industry today. He has also pioneered many of the email marketing industry's standards and best practices. Mayor is a leading advocate of privacy and is a frequent speaker at industry functions.

Return to Introduction

When Bill Gross first introduced GoTo -- which became Overture and is now Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM) – no one in the search industry took this business model seriously, except the advertisers. Despite harsh criticism for sullying the unbiased, pristine SERPs, the pay-per-click advertising model gained traction, and within a few years, paid search owned online marketing.

Logically, Yahoo should be leading the pack since it came out first and had more experience. However, Google joined the party reluctantly, ate Yahoo's lunch and continues to dominate the $15 billion paid search industry.

Google's secret weapon is continuous product improvement and fierce customer loyalty. There is no disputing the fact that once Google gained its reputation for relevancy, users have remained tenaciously loyal, despite the fact that relevancy is no longer golden. This monumental branding feat has proven hard to beat. As market share continued to rise, Google dominance became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now that Panama is fully functional, and adCenter has been established for more than a year, here is how the two platforms compare.

Next: How The Two Platforms Measure Up

Return to A Brief Industry Analysis

Reach -- Major Advantage: Yahoo

As shown in the chart on Page 1, Yahoo outscores Microsoft in search market share by more than 50 percent, so advertisers are going to spend more on Yahoo Search Marketing. Additionally, adCenter has not been running as long, so there is not much history for advertisers to rely on.

Top-Level Campaign Settings -- Advantage: Yahoo

Although Yahoo's campaign management platform is less than six months old, its years of paid search advertising experience have given it a true advantage in designing the new Panama platform.     

Panama features an interactive dashboard that lets you quickly take the pulse of your PPC campaigns. Without having to run a single report, you can see what's happening at the campaign, ad group and keyword level. You can also view trend line charts for indicators like ad impressions, costs and conversion rates across different time periods.   

Yahoo has essentially "flattened" hierarchical campaign data so you can quickly get to the data from any level. Once you decide what issues need your attention, you can quickly drill down within a click or two and take action. This is a very clever user interface.

Microsoft's adCenter has a good, clean and logically organized campaign interface, which most companies managing their own ad campaigns will find easy to navigate. For anyone managing larger, more active campaigns, however, adCenter's performance can be a source of frustration. Common repetitive tasks like updating keyword bids still take too many keystrokes and sluggish screen loads to accomplish. 

Account Structure -- Even Score

Both Microsoft and Yahoo are using essentially the same campaign/ad group hierarchy that Google has made into a standard. This is good news for advertisers because it makes porting Google campaigns onto Yahoo and Microsoft adCenter easier, and it simplifies reporting across networks. 

Next: Ad Copy and Rotation

Return to How The Two Platforms Measure Up

Ad Copy and Rotation -- Advantage: Yahoo

The advantage for ad copy goes to Yahoo simply because it allows 40 characters in ad titles, while Microsoft's adCenter (and the big-G, for that matter) allows only 25-character ad titles. While many advertisers choose to write one ad that fits all three networks, Yahoo allows clever copywriters to gain advantage with longer, and presumably better, titles.  

Yahoo offers more flexibility in managing multiple ads. You can easily turn ads on/off and set them to display on even rotation for A/B testing. Both Yahoo and Microsoft offer an ad optimization feature whereby your best ads, i.e., ads with the highest clickthrough rates, are displayed more frequently.

Microsoft has an interesting implementation of dynamic keyword insertion (DKI) that is worth exploring. DKI can make ads more relevant by inserting the user's search term into the ad on the fly. Microsoft takes DKI to a new level by allowing insertion of text into the ad title, ad text, display and destination URLs, plus two additional parameters for even more customization.

Content Targeting -- Advantage: Yahoo (Going, going....)

In a quest for more clicks to sell to its advertisers, Microsoft recently began a U.S. pilot of its own content advertising network. The pilot uses the same targeting controls for dayparting and demographics as those described below. Text ads are initially appearing only on Microsoft-owned properties with other formats and web properties to be added over time. While Yahoo currently holds the advantage in this area, look for Microsoft to start closing the gap in 2007.

Ad Formats -- Up For Grabs

Today, all the action is in text-based ads. Yahoo plans (discussed in Search Smackdown: Google vs. Yahoo!) "all kinds of ad formats," including mobile and TV. Microsoft is new to paid search, but not to online advertising. It would not be a stretch to assume it will bring its broad experience with display, video and video-hyperlink ad formats into play for adCenter advertisers.

Editorial Process -- Google

Okay, okay, we know this is supposed to be comparing Yahoo vs. Microsoft. The problem is that while Yahoo and Microsoft continue to enforce stricter editorial policies in the quest for perfectly relevant results, Google is making billions at their expense. Yahoo has quickened its editorial review process considerably with the Panama release. Microsoft reviews keywords before they go live.

Agency Master Accounts -- Even Score

Yahoo and Microsoft both offer a master console to qualified agencies, allowing them to log in once and work on any of their client accounts. Both companies offer excellent telephone support and special consulting services for their agency clients.  

Matching Options -- Advantage: Microsoft

Microsoft offers standard match type options, following Google's lead by offering broad, phrase and exact match types. However, it does not currently expand broad matches to include similar terms. Microsoft treats plurals as separate words. It is puzzling why Yahoo does not.  

Negative keyword match implementations are as different as night and day between Panama and adCenter. 

Yahoo lets you set 50 universally excluded words at the account level, and another 50 at the ad group level. This approach is straightforward and easy to manage. 

Microsoft's negative match offers greater flexibility because you can set negatives at the keyword level, but why did it set a one-byte limit on the negative word list? How many words can you fit into 1,022 characters, including spaces? IT guys will love this anachronism. It's a head scratcher for the rest of us. 

Next: Targeting Options (Dayparting)

Return to Ad Copy and Rotation

Targeting Options (Dayparting) -- Microsoft in a Walkover

Dayparting is the ability to set your bids based on time-of-day and day-of-week. Yahoo does not currently offer this feature.

Microsoft did a good job of implementing dayparting. You have the flexibility to schedule your ads and to adjust bids at different times of the day or days of the week. To its credit, Microsoft even bested search leader Google on this one by basing the time of day on the location where the user sees the ads. So if you are trying to reach a lunch-time user anywhere in the country, you only have to select a one-hour setting. On Google, for example, you would have to set your ads to run from 12 noon (EST) to 3 p.m. (EST) to reach lunch-time users in California. Kudos to Microsoft for its elegant approach to dayparting!

Targeting Options (Demographics) -- Microsoft in a Walkover

Microsoft is the only search engine to currently offer demographic targeting for search ads. If your perfect customers are 35-44-year-old women, then you can set your bids so your ads get better positions when this demographic group is clicking around. Microsoft has years of Passport and other data it is now putting to use without compromising personally identifiable information. Although Microsoft does not disclose how many searches it is able to demographically segment, we generally see better conversion rates when targeting options are turned on.

Targeting Options (Geo Targeting) -- Slight Advantage: Yahoo

Yahoo's implementation of geo targeting is intuitive and easy to set up at the campaign level. A handy map highlights your DMAs or states/provinces choices as you click each area. 

Microsoft's geo-targeting implementation may not be as sexy as Yahoo's, but it is still a solid offering. In adCenter, you implement geo targeting at the ad group level, not at the campaign level. This makes a great deal more sense to advertisers who have distinct product lines but different marketing programs state-by-state.     

Trademark -- Gold Stars for Everyone

Both Yahoo and Microsoft take strong positions to protect their advertisers' trademarks. Neither permits competitive bidding on trademarked terms, nor the display of ads that infringe on trademarks. They both take prompt, aggressive action on trademark claims. As with any trademark protection, it is up to the advertiser to report instances of trademark infringement. Affiliate marketers may not be so happy with this arrangement, especially the legit ones who have to take extraordinary steps to get their ads and keywords accepted.

Power Tools -- Advantage: Microsoft

Other than offering pretty decent keyword generation tools, neither Microsoft nor Yahoo are big on stand-alone productivity tools like those offered by Google. 

Within adCenter, Microsoft's keyword suggestion tool gives you a demographic profile of searchers, which can be helpful in many ways other than building keyword lists. On its related adlabs.microsoft.com site, Microsoft shows off early versions of tools in development, all of which are fun to look at, but none are that useful for everyday campaign management. 

Reporting -- Advantage: Microsoft, But Not For Long

The reports available in Yahoo Panama's interface are absolutely stunning. Interactive charts let you analyze many campaign performance issues online, without having to download and manipulate in Excel or other tools. That said, there are many common reports that are just not available in Panama, yet. Microsoft's reporting interface is intuitive, gives you plenty of reporting and scheduling options and runs quickly.

Relevancy Ranking -- Advantage: Yahoo

It is refreshing that PPC advertisers have something new and positive to obsess over instead of click fraud. Quality Indexing and ad relevancy ranking are now hot topics of conversation at SEM cocktail hours. Yahoo is doing an exceptionally good job of educating its advertisers on the why's and how-to's of quality improvement in its system. 

While Yahoo doesn't disclose exactly how it weights relevancy factors, it does provide feedback in its reporting dashboards on a five-bar scale, so you can see at a glance which of your ads are considered most relevant and which need work.

Yahoo's search traffic volume -- and the new Panama interface -- have kept it solidly in second place behind Google. However, with Microsoft deploying tremendous technological resources into paid search and making strategic acquisitions, it may be angling to simply take over Yahoo rather than overtake them in second place behind Google. 

Paul J. Bruemmer is director of search marketing for Red Door Interactive. Read full bio.

Matt Van Wagner is president and founder of Find Me Faster, a paid search marketing agency. Read full bio.

You flitter, you flutter. You are drawn to those with the power to increase your popularity. Taking pride in being on the cutting edge, you were probably one of the early adopters of company blogs and Twitter. You like to be where the action is, darting from one trendy application to the next. On the surface, you've created an impressive following and have successfully led your organization through unchartered territories. But when the conversation turns to ROI, your attention is quickly diverted to a new tactic.

The risks:
Every marketer understands the thrill of winning the attention of customers. But a strategist needs to understand what comes next. "One million fans on Facebook" is only important to your business if you can effectively leverage those connections to drive to a conclusion based on your goals as a business.

Consumer networks are constantly changing and highly dependent upon numerous uncontrollable variables. Social butterflies have a tendency to gravitate toward the buzz-of-the-day without considering the ramifications of "here today, gone tomorrow." Banking enterprise strategy on shaky ground, or superficially scratching the surface of what should be a deep strategy, does not promote the sustainability needed for longer-term success. Without focus and dedication, you can end up disappointing your networks, and will likely fail to receive executive support for future campaigns due to your inability to garner and prove results.

The opportunity:
With a widespread social media presence, you have breadth. But do you have depth? Consumer activity is taking place on consumer networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and it is essential to position your brand where the interaction is happening. Your curiosity and open-mindedness ensure your ability to remain on the cutting edge of consumer engagement strategies, usually out in front of your competition.

Anchoring your social media initiatives in an enterprise-wide strategy will help you strengthen your connections and add depth to your campaigns. Consider ways that bridge your vast social interests with your enterprise. Open authentication, for example, can inspire your fans and followers to leverage existing credentials they may already have from Facebook or Twitter to join your own branded online community. As trendy consumer networks come and go, your brand presence will remain.

You will gain some serious momentum when you can keep those 1 million Facebook fans engaged from one campaign to the next. And when you've shown the rest of the enterprise how it, too, can capitalize -- providing sales with new leads, or identifying customer concerns and proactively handing them over to customer service while the account can still be saved -- you will be the enterprise's rising star.

Known for your crazy antics, those around you never know what to expect next -- that's part of your allure. Fun, carefree, daring, and unconventional, you're the life of the party. You like to take risks, stir things up, and keep your name top-of-mind -- at any cost. Famously fickle, you're not in it for the long haul. When the excitement dwindles, you're already off in pursuit of your next adventure and your next spot in the limelight.

The risks:
You're the source of some of those social media initiatives that have the industry talking: social takeovers, controversial ad campaigns, contrarian blog posts, viral user-generated content contests. But when the excitement wears off, where does that leave your brand? When all is said and done, what have you ultimately accomplished?

Hiring and firing agencies, employee turnover, fighting for new audiences, customer churn, or calling crisis-central to clean up a flurry of controversy all weigh heavily on the bottom line. One-off campaigns can be a lot of fun, but unless they are part of a bigger strategy with staying power, they cannot help to build the momentum that is needed to drive sustainable ROI.

The opportunity:
Transform your 15 minutes of fame into a lifetime of value. People are drawn to you and are interested in what you have to say. After each one of your stunts, you have throngs of followers waiting with bated breath for your next move. You've got what every marketer wants: the ability to capture the attention of a crowd. But now it's time to up your game. Understanding how to extend your allure, capitalize on the attention, and offer your networks something of more substance will further elevate your success.

Sure, you have no trouble filling an auditorium. But when you can provide ongoing value, meaningful relationships, and reciprocity -- in addition to a good time -- you'll not only fill the auditorium... you'll keep your audience members in their seats!

You are beginning to embrace social media but still remain cautious, choosing to take a more passive approach to your strategy. Watching from the wings, you remain at the periphery of the action, speaking only when spoken to. You are content to sit back and listen to those in the spotlight, as long as the spotlight's not on you. When it comes to monitoring social conversation, you're all ears. There's not a word about your brand that gets by you. Yes, you've got a great start, but you have yet to realize the full potential of social media. It's time to take a more proactive role and start influencing the conversations around your brand.

The risks:
You're on a "listen mission" and are monitoring the discussions around your brand through various social networks. Instead of fueling conversations, you're merely eavesdropping on them. Consumers don't hear a lot about you, nor do they hear from you. While you're playing it safe and becoming more and more invisible, your competitors are playing to win.

Without proactively developing relationships with consumers, you risk losing them -- and the resulting revenue -- to your competitors. It is proven that engaged customers not only spend more, but they can also become your greatest advocates ( see iMedia Connection's, "Measure Engagement Not Satisfaction"). If you are not engaging your customers, who is? And what is this reactive strategy costing you, in terms of customer churn and lost revenue?

The opportunity:
Social media doesn't change your business goals; it just changes how you achieve them. No matter what your business objectives may be -- increased employee productivity, improved customer retention, reduced research costs, or more sales -- social media can effectively fuel them all. But none of this can happen without taking an active role in driving social conversation.

Going social doesn't have to move your enterprise too far out of its comfort zone. There are several social strategies that do not require a full-out shift in company culture, yet can have you trading in some of your passive nature for a more proactive approach. At Neighborhood America, for example, connecting our workforce through internal networks was our launching pad into social strategies. Within 12 months, we experienced measurable financial returns of $10,000 per employee. As our teams gained confidence in navigating the social world, we more comfortably expanded our reach externally beyond our walls.

When you're ready for external B2C engagement, an ideation campaign can keep the engagement focused around a single concept or product -- without requiring your organization to reach too far out of the box. This is your opportunity to know your consumers better than your competitors, and design products that meet their needs, improve the customer experience, decrease churn, and increase their lifetime value to your bottom line.

You watch. You learn. And then you figure out how to do it better. You are successful, but not boastful. After all, who needs words when you can let your accomplishments speak for themselves? You welcome calculated risks that are approached strategically and thoughtfully. You focus on value and results. You're already seeing your business transformed through social media, and seek to continue applying these strategies throughout your enterprise.

The risks:
Whether you're using Twitter as a customer service channel or a branded online community platform for crowd sourcing ideas, social media technology is often at the core of many your business operations. But these are typically separate initiatives, and bringing it all together is proving to be overwhelming, if not impossible.

You run the risk of spreading resources too thin and being unable to dedicate the level of attention that's needed to manage both the content and the data. But keep in mind that you are way ahead of the curve and need to proceed with extreme caution. Choosing the wrong platform provider(s) will only magnify this risk. After working so hard to jump way ahead of the curve, you can't afford to partner with someone who will pull you back.

The opportunities:
As more social initiatives are deployed, they must be appropriately managed across the entire organization. Consolidation is more critical than ever, not only to aggregate data but also to enable cross-functional teamwork that efficiently manages your corporate initiatives with consistency.

The opportunity to launch a comprehensive social go-to-market strategy brings with it the ability for your organization to capitalize on the following:

  • The power of the consumer networks

  • The flexibility of an SaaS-branded platform

  • The value of the data created

  • Your existing enterprise systems to deliver even higher value once integrated with social (e.g., social plus CRM)

Question your vendors about data consolidation and the ability to provide a central repository of all social data points. Make sure your consumer networks can interact with your branded online community solutions, and be aware that showing a feed is not true integration. You must have the ability to push and pull content from varying consumer networks so that you can leverage them as one complete platform.

This is the framework that can empower brands with large brand inventories to truly maximize their social media strategy and drive real and immediate value.

Tom Edwards is CMO and VP of sales for Neighborhood America.

On Twitter? Follow Edwards at @theblackfin. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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