Data. Knowledge. Power. Yours? Mine? Ours!

June 27, 2013

online surpriseThanks to a rich online experience, buyers indeed have greater purchase influence these days, but where does the true power reside?  It’s shared, really.

Marketers have made much of this “empowered customer” phenomenon.  Online, you can research and get close to a buying decision – right down to vendor, product, price and feature selection – before the seller even becomes aware of your existence.

Salesreps, just a scant decade ago, guided purchases with probing inquiries about interest, budget and other decision factors.  About 2/3 of buying and selling decisions today are salesrep-facilitated, but a full 1/3 of buying and selling is of the buyer-driven, “salesrep-lite” variety.  We can expect to see considerable rebalancing from time to time, thanks to (a) recent advances in mobile digital profiling ; (b) a coming wave of marketing technology mergers, acquisitions and partnerships, and (c) a currently proposed standard for profile data interchange currently before the Worldwide Web Consortium – the W3C.

Profiling – It Really Is All About You

dog sufing webToday on the internet, so the updated joke goes, if you’re a dog everyone knows it – as well as your breed, age, gender and preferred kibble brand. Today, your online behavior – actions such as clicking “Like” buttons on Facebook pages you visit, for instance – helps marketers (interpretive algorithms, really) make inferences about your identity including gender, age, political and social tendencies, then use that info to tailor your online experience so you see ads and content that cater to your digitally harvested “buyer persona”.  That preferences profile of you is continually enriched and refreshed based on your online and mobile behavior patterns.

Stated differently, “free” isn’t really “free”. It never really was. When you surf the web, you reveal (“lend”) bits of your identity to savvy marketers who trace your online behavior patterns to compile that rich profile of you that can be then used to tailor your online experience in such a way that your satisfaction from the online experience is improved and, of course, increases the likelihood you will buy from them.

Emerging Standards

Recently, a consortium of retail and insurance companies including Adobe, Google and BestBuy have proposed to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) a set of standards for commerce data interchange that would make it easier for us all to do business online.   Merchants, health care providers, finance firms, and consumers all stand to gain from this.

Who Goes There?

mobile surpriseAs long as you consent and your privacy is protected, all is well.  Increasingly we have come to trust certain online identity repositories curated by the likes of Google Wallet,  Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter etc.  In the broader commerce world, however, small and midsized organizations have not built, bought or hired the depth of technical ability to make sense of all that data, let alone apply it to their business or curate it responsibly.  The above-mentioned W3C Web data acquisition standard could really democratize things.

Leveling the commerce field

Larger organizations may seem more capable, but that isn’t always the case; they typically are running legacy apps (archaic programming and hardware) whose code is tough to maintain, let alone modify to take advantage of the proposed newer standards.  Fortunately, companies like AppDirectApigee and Nexaweb Technologies –  experts at modernizing all those legacy apps for large financial, trading, shipping and consumer facing companies – are hard at work on the challenge.  (Disclosure: I own a smidgin of stock in Nexaweb).

We buyers can tell who is “with it” and who isn’t, based on whether the ads that get served to us, or our repeat visits to favorite sites,  are tailored based on our browsing behavior or our location.  For example, I recently visited a jewelry website, after which my visits to other websites, including Google Search, became peppered with jewelry, wedding and dating ads.  With the recent accelerating consolidation among solution providers in the marketing automation, sales CRM, email marketing and web analytics space, those web commerce architecture elements are becoming knit more tightly.  Expect the next few years to bring an expansion of already existing analytics, buyer profiling and content tailoring solutions, more broadly affordable to midmarket and smaller enterprises with whom you regularly do business.

Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

If you consider the ability to track user behavior narrowly through the buyer / seller lens, Consider the implications.  Will buyers’ online preference profiles tailor each netizen’s digital experience so greatly that the reinforcing effect of a profile-driven, tailored on-the-fly web experience merely helps bring relevant online information conveniently into sharper focus, to your benefit?  Or, could the online experience become so digitally mutated by profile-driven content tailoring that its “echo chamber” effect distorts your online experience in ways that prevent you from viewing alternative information to consider broader options and render well-informed decisions?  Will the rich have a different web experience than the not-so-rich, based on their profiles, harvested data, and access to speed?  In other words, how much is too much?

If you broaden your focus beyond commerce and consider the ability to track population behavior to detect and help resolve anything from traffic congestion (like, say, Waze) to disease spread, then the benefits become more clear.

Shut it down if you want to

Do you know how to “shut down” your behavioral profile and surf the Web anonymously to obtain a more random, unfiltered experience? It’s possible, you know, without a lot of geekery. Tools abound, such as Google’s InPrivate Browsing feature and other tools that let you assume a random IP address (Google that boldface phrase to see some options) when surfing.  Your mobile experience can also be made private if you know how to turn off geo-location, but you’re still registered on a network when your phone is on.

This delicate balance of individual privacy, public disclosure, information gathering and sharing between big firms, security agencies and other firms is now being played out in the world headlines.  The NSA and other entities regularly approach Google, Facebook and Microsoft, as well as telecommunications companies, to obtain customer activity  information for the purposes of national security and law enforcement.

Our Best Behavior

If we marketers hew to the goal of providing a more useful, satisfying experience to you while keeping your privacy sacrosanct, that’s all to the good.  As tools become more broadly available and powerful to enable deep customer profiling and tailored online experience, you may come to expect a more gratifying relationship with your favorite brands.  After all, consumers already have heightened expectations.  They don’t want every interaction with the same business to feel like the first date.

How do you feel about the coming boom in digital profiling and data exchange?  Comments welcome here.

Other Resources

PRISM Bad, Tracking Good – Why 99% of Online Tracking is in the Consumer’s Interest (Canddi)
Death of the Active Check-in (David Peterson, CEO, Sense Networks blog)

How our Email Marketing Beats “Best in Class”

January 30, 2013

at sign dollar sign

“I loved your email!”

“Great email, thanks! ”

 – Quotes from our audience. What do yours say? 

Higher email conversion rates are “found money”, so why should you accept mediocre results from your email marketing?  At a time when email inboxes, while still hugely relevant, are increasingly locked down by users to ward off irrelevant content, the ability to get improved email results is a complex and coveted skillset – part brand journalism, part technology, part consigliere.  Our ability to repeatedly outperform marketplace benchmarks for our clients – and our own audience – underscores our expertise at leveraging that skillset.

Crushed It Again This Year; You Can, Too

In reviewing our portfolio of client sales and marketing campaigns related to events, new products, brand building, sales expansion, environmental and business development, we repeatedly find our results to be at or above “best in class” benchmarks as reported by Eloqua, a category-leading CRM software solution provider.

The free, downloadable presentation below offers a simple cheat sheet to help you monetize your email marketing, meet or beat “Best in Class” benchmarks, and turn your organization into a Fan Foundry.

Why your open rate may seem low

Like most email marketers, you are probably haunted by the question: what about the 3/4 of our list members who did not appear to “open” our emails?  Bear in mind, the vast majority of people preview email.  This doesn’t create a “hit” in the “Opens” bucket, but they still consume the first visible screen of your email.

Your results may vary from ours also based on what you measure.  The “Best in Class” numbers pictured in the presentation above represent a combination of all email list activity across many campaigns; naturally, “raving fan” lists far outperform other general interest lists and content.  Our Fan lists generally see an open rate north of 60%.

Note, too, that this article isolates email marketing from all other digital marketing we do (mobile, websites, etc.), which we measure separately.  For a sampling of some of the CRM, email marketing, Sales and marketing automation solutions we support for our clients, see this site’s right sidebar.

Dollars and Cents, Illustrated

Using the “Email click rate” data in the table on slide #2 above, you might reasonably assume that if you are among those “best in class” companies and attaining a 5% Click rate, and your annual click-through sales are $5M, then just by being our client last year you might instead have enjoyed our benchmark-beating 7.37% click-through (average) results, thereby attaining $7.37M in revenue.  Who couldn’t use that additional $2.7M?  In fairness, there are many success factors involved and your own results may vary. Here’s how.

This is How We Do It  – Year after Year (not a fluke!)

That answer to this headline is multi-faceted, but the key factors we found (see slide #4 above) were:

  • Benefits-oriented messaging (more on this below)
  • Data / list quality
  • Thoroughly leveraging marketing technology
  • Compelling content
  • Mobile-first formatting – fully half of all email opens are on mobile devices
  • Simple, “3-clicks to convert” navigation
  • Continuous refinement in all of the above areas

Benefits-oriented Messaging

Put simply, you give get.  Lead with a relevant offer, and follow up by exceeding expectations.  In practice, we found it even more effective to give, give, and – oh yes – give again, without expecting anything in return.  As one example, our success in producing the sales, marketing and digital media event series “North by North Shore” illustrates how treating even unknown remote prospects to a “friends and family” plan resulted in a tripling of the audience size and a corresponding lift in attendance.   To read more about that case, click here.

Obligatory Disclaimer

We report only aggregated results.  While our total activity reflects messaging in the hundreds of thousands, and the Eloqua study covers millions of messaging units, nonetheless we are encouraged by both the consistency of our year-over-year results and our painstaking methodology in capturing, measuring, reporting and verifying those results for our clients so that we can confidently report them here – and, incidentally, win some repeat business.

Learn More about the “How”

Subsequent blog posts (and some previous ones – see Related Articles below) will cover the other  “How We Did It” success factors in greater detail.   Use the “Keep in Touch” button (above, right) to get those updates.  Meanwhile, if you have a question, or would like to have us present our case to your organization, or to explore ways we might help you succeed, feel free to contact us.

Cheers,

Ed

Related articles


Content and Event Marketing that Fills the Room

January 18, 2013

It’s all about the Value Exchange

In 2012 I co-developed and produced the North by North Shore (#NXNS) digital media event series, and proved a few content marketing concepts along the way.  Starting from zero in April, the program attracted a capacity, on-target audience in June – just 90 days – and attained an over 90% program satisfaction index, based on survey responses.   We repeated the event in September, with a few audience driven improvements, and again achieved that result.  Another success indicator: two-thirds of all event attendees paid less than full price to attend, driven by an assortment of social promotional programs that let each attendee run their own “friends and family” plan.  Anyone who says you can’t prove the ROI of social media…well, have them call.

How did I target various micro-audiences to get these results?  We could talk about the usual suspects like speakers, topics and location, but, speaking more broadly, I attribute the success of NXNS to the use of Choice Architecture and a Value Exchange framework  in guiding program and content development.  Now with two successful events in tow, we continue to engage our audiences to tune the program further to better address their challenges and learning needs:

  • SBO – small business owner
  • PRO – career professional, practitioner, specialist or solo-preneur
  • MSO – marketing services organization or consulting firm
  • CXO – senior executive

Understanding Motivation

We Content Marketers talk a lot about the buyer’s decision journey, the buyer persona, landing page optimization, and the like.  All of this seems to assume we are adept at understanding motivation and that we use this knowledge when we develop content. Frankly, considering the repeated high demand for relevant content, I thought it would be nice just to ask the question:  how good are you at building motivation into content?  Often a simple “buy” button just doesn’t cut it.   We’ve all felt a bit pushed at times by out-of-synch content.  Here’s how to fix it.

The Value Exchange Continuum

Value Exchange Continuum

The Value Exchange Continuum

I created this graphic to help decide what type of voice to use to appeal to different target audiences.  Executives, for example, act, think and decide differently than other audiences.  If you’ve developed a buyer persona or two to help you think about the frame of reference your micro-audiences are using when they encounter your content, then you are probably somewhat familiar with these concepts.

 Keeping it Real

It’s helpful from time to time to ask: What do you want?  What do you seek? What does any of us want out of life?  If you think those questions are unnecessarily broad or existential, consider this:  Neuromarketing experts suggest that up to 90% of decisions are made unconsciously, guided by our value frameworks.

This is a job for the Choice Architect, the User Experience (UX) practitioner.  These are great people to have on your team when you are designing a website, a sign, an event, a white paper, a presentation, or just about any type of audience-focused content.

Next up (You In?)

If you like the NXNS concept and want to participate, by all means use the handy links at the NXNS site to get started as a speaker, sponsor, media partner, attendee or content contributor.  Let me know some specific event or other opportunity you might have in mind.  And if you are interested in Sustainability topics, consider attending the Sustainable Network Summit, another new event series I am co-producing.

Your Take

Do you have a content development framework that guides your content creation?  Do you have an experienced Editor on your team who is tasked with hewing to a particular point of view or tone of voice that personifies your brand?   Love to hear your stories.  If you’d like to have this case study presented to your audience, contact us.

Cheers,

Ed


Mobile Email Formatting Tips

May 26, 2011

[ 2017 update: Can you believe it?  Most email marketers don’t bother to read the manual, and the results fail.  Here is a one page crash course on the highlights of any email marketing practice.  ~Ed ]

Over half of all internet Searches are now performed on smartphones.  Smartphones represent 1/2 of all mobile phones, and tablet sales overtook laptop and PC sales years ago.  Almost everyone with an email account reads it one-handed, on the go, for at least part of each day, and some days the only device available is the mobile phone or tablet.  For many decision makers, mobile email is the weapon of choice for staying in touch.  Remember, however, that many smartphone users do not automatically download images, and a subset of users still prefer to receive only text, not enhanced formatting.  The moral: design your email messages to suit all mobile readers if you want good results.   Here are a few considerations.  As usual, I’ve included some resource links at the end of this post.

1.  Header fields (Sender and Subject)

email on smartphone

On the small screen, it’s even more crucial to clearly identify yourself and your relationship/organization in the Sender and Subject field.    Many email preview screens only display header info.  Readers visually scan the first few lines of a message before deciding which messages are worth their time.  It’s the electronic equivalent of sorting your postal mail while standing at the wastebasket.  Ever done that?  Thought so.   Effective Sender and Subject information will vastly improve your open rate.

The Sender field should ideally have a human’s name in it and/or your business name, if you are a business.     Example:  “Jane Doe | XYZ Corp.”   The Subject field gets a succinct headline (<40 characters, ideally) front-loaded to convey the main benefits to the reader.  If you have more than one subject, consider sending a separate message for each, unless you can weave multiple subjects into a single theme to fit that brief 40-character Subject line.  According to Epsilon, who have tested millions of emails for the world’s largest companies, the top factor in improving email open rates is a short, sweet, “front-loaded” subject line – one that has been a/b tested.  Mary Meeker of KPCB states that audiences prefer content that makes them feel Connected, Excited, Curious, Interested and Productive.  Do as many of those as possible in your Sender and Subject lines.

What does “front-loaded” mean?

It means your subject line or sentence leads with an impact statement that clearly states the benefit to your dear reader, whose internal radio is perpetually tuned to WIFM (What’s In it For Me).  Here’s how to / not to:

  • NOT DO: “We are excited to announce that our….”  You just wasted 40 characters and risked being unopened, deleted or spam filtered.
  • DO: “<Member perk> from <your or your bizname>: (describe your member Perk here in 1 or 2 words)”.  Like a news editor, you want an eye-catching headline. This is your one shot at getting and keeping attention.  Work it.  Pro tip: avoid punctuation [!].

Avoid gimmicks.  Example: the “re:” gimmick spoof.  The “re:” tag indicates a forwarded message – NOT one originated by you.   Gaming the audience’s inbox in this way is actually a frequent scammer / phishing tactic.  You don’t want that reputation.  ‘nuf said.

2. Top of message body: Text, not Graphics

If you follow these following 3 rules, you’ll stay out of the weeds:  (1) don’t make me think; (2) don’t make me wait; (3) don’t make me work.   We’re not lazy, we’re busy.  Save time by not placing graphics in the upper left corner of your message body.   Use that valuable piece of real estate for an impactful text message.  Shrink that image height down to no more than the equivalent of 5 lines of text, so it’s easy to scroll past and keep the reading momentum high. Get to the point quickly.  Help your readers to begin benefiting right away.

Speaking of Graphics:  Users of devices set to text-only who have clicked your juicy headline don’t want to find a blank white box with a little red X in the upper left corner.  Interrupting  busy people’s “flow” or confusing them with guesswork will result in fewer opens, clicks and conversions, and more deletes and unsubscribes.  Best practice:  lead with text, minimize use of graphics, and shrink graphics to button size, thumbnail size, or narrow banner.   If your graphic is so large that no text is visible on-screen or – worse – your Call to Action is not visible in the first screen or two, move it up, and shrink it.  If your graphic is illegible when shrunk to small-screen size, design a new one that works.

3. Navigation and Conversion

Limit navigation complexity.  Use a left-aligned, single column format, not a multi-column newsletter format that awkwardly requires a one-handed user to fumble and shake the phone to switch from Portrait to Landscape view.  Opt for using screen-width-percentage tags rather than absolute pixel width, so your messages format on the fly to fit a myriad of device screens.  Height:  If possible, limit it to just minimal scrolling (max: one additional screen’s worth of content below the visible screen of content).

4. Data Capture

If you include a data capture form, avoid multiple required fields.  Just capture the bare minimum information to advance to the next level in your relationship with the reader.  Do you really need their mailing address if you already have their email address?  If the answer is still yes, then start by asking for just zip code for doing location-based business.  QR codes are great for this purpose; NFC (near-field communication) is just starting to show up in devices and points of sale.

5.  Call to Action (CTA) links

Support your main topic or offer with both buttons and text links.   Some people prefer to click buttons; others will click text links.  Satisfy both camps.  Be sure your link supports the Subject line of the message.   Clearly state any time-limited offers or timeliness of the message to inject urgency and help people prioritize and enjoy the benefits.  Make your action button large enough so it can be reached by the outstretched thumb of those one-handed gadget-slingers.

6. Buttons and Links: Size matters (Placement, too)

Spacing of buttons and links deserves consideration.  Buttons work great on smaller mobile touch screens because they can be larger than text and reduce fat-finger misfires.  Consider separating each text and button link by at least a line of text or equivalent blank space, to help fat fingers navigate effectively and avoid those annoying misfires that send us to an errant download.  Avoid that common error by not placing links in adjacent lines.  Misfires are annoying.  Rule of finger: skip a line of text / space between links and buttons.

Equally important:  send your recipients to mobile-optimized landing pages.   Mobile-optimized means everything mentioned in this article.  Optimizing your website for mobile may mean providing alternate navigation, especially if your main website menu is of the horizontal drop-down type – another frequent cause of fat-finger misfires.  Your mobile-friendly website menu should be of the “hamburger” variety (search:  “hamburger mobile menu”).

7. Alt text tags

Many email users set their devices to “images off” to improve download speeds.  If you decide to include a graphic image, note that every graphic element can be easily given a compelling, descriptive “Alt text”  label that will still appear in a text-only message in place of the graphic, to let readers know what they’ll receive if they decide to download a graphic version or select the “display images” option.   Moreover, HTML 5 will let those alt tag fields function as live links – without downloading the graphic element – which is great for busy people who don’t want to pay or wait for graphic images to load onscreen.  Use the <Alt text> tag to help people quickly decide when and what to click. Bonus: it improves SEO!

8. Visual text/graphics balance – the 80/20 rule rides again

At least 80% of your message should be text with text links, and no more than 20% clickable graphics.  This helps make certain your full message gets across quickly even if it’s the text-only or “images off” version, and it ensures fast, successful downloads for people who want the full visual message.  Even 4G mobile download speeds are generally slower than desktop device speeds.  A good acid test is to first compose your email as a text-only version, to be sure that your entire message and action links are visually appealing, tell the complete story, and generate a response.  Once you have tested the text-only  version, consider adding a graphic element or two that visually reinforce the main message and call to action.

9. Social Media Buttons:  Share or Snare?

If you have Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other complementary accounts that might help readers get to know you better, include those link buttons.    If you opt for social “sharing” buttons, place them prominently alongside content your audience might wish to share.   Caution: while it’s magnanimous to provide social “share’ buttons so viewers can share your email with others, experience has shown that email readers generally would rather get more info themselves to facilitate a decision before they decide to share it.  With this in mind, it is actually more effective to have your social media buttons link to additional information to facilitate buying decisions.   Whichever route you choose, label it clearly. Your own circumstances may vary; it is best to A/B test the social sharing / snaring button to determine which has best effect for your audience.  Above all, don’t “mix” the buttons.  They should either be all “share” or all “snare”, to avoid user confusion.

10. Consider using cascading style sheets (CSS).

CSS can help detect and change the size of image and text to comfortably fit different sized device screens.

11.  Test!  Testing alone gets 82% more revenue!

Set up a Test list (internal users, including you), and scrutinize every aspect of your email before you hit the big Send button.  Don’t forget to just look at it in your inbox Listview, to be sure your Sender and Subject lines, and the first few lines of text, flow in an informative, non-redundant way. At Fan Foundry, we have discovered that our lifetime conversion rates exceed industry norms simply because we test our messages.   We have an 82% higher lifetime conversion rate across all client campaigns, based on comparison to performance reports from prominent email marketing software providers like Epsilon, Return Path, Lyris and MailChimp.  Does this mean that until email testing becomes more standard practice, you too can get 82% more revenue from your email marketing simply by testing?  Possibly;  try it! Here’s how.

Send a test email to your own mobile email reader – or as broad a variety of devices and email software as possible – to check for visual appeal and link performance.   Some of the more sophisticated marketing automation software products actually have this testing feature built-in.   Test a different subject line, a different graphic, a different CTA (Call to Action) button, etc.  Send each version to a subset of your target list.  Note the results.  Does one combination yield better conversion results?  After all the hard work you’ve done to create your gorgeous, compelling email outreach campaigns and acquire a faithful audience,  the few minutes spent testing gives your marketing ROI significant lift.   Wouldn’t you like to earn 1.82 times your ordinary revenue?  Well, then, test.  Conversely, if you ignore this step and send an error-laden email, don’t be surprised if people begin to ignore you and your results suffer.  Don’t be that person!  Make it count, grow your audience and build loyalty!

What has your experience been?  Any tips to share?  I’ll add them here and credit you.  Or you can discuss below, or just ask a question.



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