Tag: future of email

Mailchimp introduces ReplyTo, handles auto-replies for you

The team over at MailChimp introduces ReplyTo: an app to handle auto-replies which land by the thousands in the inbox linked to your newsletter reply-to address.

The service is free to all, regardless of whether you’re a MailChimp client or not. The way the service works is that it analyzes all the replies that come in, and forwards those that fit certain rules that have been set up. The other replies like standard out-of-office replies will sit in the inbox where everything lands. Read more

Future of email marketing part 3 – Interactivity

After the first (mobile) and the second (relevancy) parts of this future of email series here’s the third part centered around interactivity. Until recently the usage of email other than clicking and reading was very limited: email clients were simply too closed because of security reasons to allow any other interactivity. Luckily this limit in email marketing endeavours was lifted a bit late last year, when Hotmail introduced Active Views. It allowed a receiver to not only view and click within the email, but also use a search and calendar box and get results without skipping to a website outside of the email. This was a huge breakthrough imho: from that moment people were allowed to get a linear experience from their emails, not having to click through to websites and fill in forms here and there. Efficiency and ease-of-use were greatly lifted and I had high hopes of this new interactive email technology.

Luckily recently it has been given a boost by other brands jumping in and supporting the Active Views technology as well: Netflix, Posterous and LivingSocial have joined the ranks to provide a new email experience to their subscribers. For example Posterous will be allowing subscribers to see and respond to comments on blog posts, whereas Netflix and previously announced participant LinkedIn will be providing (and live updating) info on people’s contact and movie queue information.

Another important part of these interactive email possibilities are within the way it works with OATH authentication: email content can be expired at a given date and time. This gives a tremendous real-time advantage to marketers wanting to run timed email campaigns which last only one or two days to give people a sense of urgency, -and- show how much time is left in days and hours for a certain offer. Until recently such offers were not entirely possible in email: the run length of the offer was dependant on the timing of a subscriber receiving and viewing an email.

Is Microsoft alone with this funky Active Views technology then? Has the big Google been left out in this race to finally get email into the 21st century? Certainly not, but it has been a bit quiet lately around their new email tech called Enhanced Content. Launched a year and a half ago it allows people to see up-to-date content and browse certain items within an email, and also putting them in a movie queue in the case of Netflix emails.

After the initial cheering it has been quiet around this GMail extended technology, and no new partners have been announced either. The reasons are not clear: maybe the results were too small to push it on further to other brands or Google is still thinking of ways to expand the service.

In any case,  people these days (especially younger generations like generation Y) want instant gratification and results. They are used to everything being fast, efficient and delivering results. This is not just thanks to hardware and network technology getting faster all the time, but also people’s attention spans getting more focussed on receiving value, and not having to wait ages (minutes) to get something done.

The Hotmail team has tried to address that with Active Views:

The feature arose from Microsoft research showing that the vast majority of emails contain links, directing people to web sites or other applications, and making the experience less efficient.

“We started out by saying, hey, how do we solve this problem by rethinking email itself, so you can actually do more inside of email,” said Dan Lewis, Hotmail senior product manager.

Interactive email marketing will allow the end user to get something done faster with more pleasure: I sincerely hope that the technology will expand and many more email clients (including GMail, Yahoo and Outlook) will be offering layers upon which email marketers can build great email campaigns. After all this years just viewing and clicking within an email (only to be led to a website) is getting a bit tiresome.

To provide some extra info on reach, here’s some stats on webmail usage (worldwide) concerning unique visitors in Feb 2011:

This is from comScore, one of the most reliable internet statistics companies out there. Big numbers there, with Hotmail and GMail combined at over half a billion unique visitors. That’s quite an audience!

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Future of email marketing part 2 – Relevancy

In this second episode on the future of email marketing I focus on email being relevant, and why it will be part of email’s future. If you missed the first one about mobile, check it out here.

Even though in the email marketing industry many analists and consultants have been hammering down on not doing email marketing the batch and blast way, it is still the way many marketers ‘do’ their email marketing. To understand why that is a bad thing I refer to a recent research called The Social Breakup by Exacttarget which was described and commented on in this Mashable post called ‘Top Reasons Why Consumers Unsubscribe Via E-Mail, Facebook & Twitter‘. The number 2 reason people unsubscribe, at 49% of the total response, is that content became repetitive or boring over time.

But number 4 is important as well in this case: 25% said the content was not relevant! Wait a minute, how could that be: surely a person has subscribed and has been able to choose which subjects interest them? Reasons number 1 and 3 had to do with frequency by the way, and this should and could be easily solved with a simple frequency settings in a person’s preferences center. If you’re interested in tips on email frequency, read more on that in a post of mine over at The Email Guide.

Back to being relevant in email. The trouble but also advantage with relevancy is that it is something you as a marketer have in your own hands. Letting people sign up with just their email address and some personal stuff is not enough: what if they don’t want 8 out of 10 articles in your newsletter? Do you still want to send out that email newsletter anyway? It’s like having a 10-song cd of an artist someone likes, but on the cd itself only 2 songs are really good enough to be played more than once. A longer while ago (September 2009) the people over at eMarketer posted the results of a survey where relevancy was the number 1 reason to unsubscribe from email by subscribers. Oh dear – especially since these kinds of reasons to unsubscribe can be prevented.

Having a look at what’s relevant and not, I’ve used an episode of one of my favourite webcomics XKCD, this one is titled ‘University Website':

Even though the above is about web content and not email, it is very relevant to this post (hah!). The circle on the left represents what you provide in email communications, and the one to the right what your audience wants. The trick would be to have maximum possible overlap, maybe even one single circle for both sender and audience. Now if you are doing a great job already, have relevant content and are always able to please your subscribers then ignore this. But if not, read on: here comes the important part.

How can you be relevant? This can be done in a few ways actually, and it starts with the signing up part. When you put together the signup form for email communications, think long and hard about the content you are going to offer and in which categories it will fall. Make these categories available to the person who subscribes, even when it’s just 3 or 5 or 6 categories. This will help tremendously in being relevant with email later on when sending it out: you can segment your total database in the preferred categories and send out emails accordingly. Later on when you are more diversifying your content and email communications, have people update their preferences in a preference center: this will help keep up with changing prefs on the subscribers side, but also with new content options on your own side. Dylan Boyd has posted an excellent article on why you need a preference article on eROI here.

Besides these two ways of the signup form and the preference center there’s a third way too: constantly analyzing behaviour of your target groups. Because setting certain prefs is one thing, but actually behaving like it is another. If you are with an ESP that takes email marketing seriously, reporting and analysis should be in-depth and serious too: this will help in adjusting your sending times/days, frequency and relevant content. Imaging sending out a short newsletter containing just four articles. In this case two of the four generate huge amounts of clicks compared to the other two: this would mean great sales and conversion on your website in the end.

How can two articles be so much more successful than two others within the same newsletter? It could be the subject (even though you’re segmenting already), it could be the tone of voice or even the right angle. It depends on so many factors that it’s impossible to predict, but luckily you can learn from behaviour. Adjust the content accordingly to get maximum effect out of an already segmented email campaign: your subscribers will love you for it, and hopefully the number 1 reason for them to unsubscribe will not be irrelevant or boring content.

Subscribers are getting email smart and will be punishing marketers that do not send relevant content: this is why I think relevancy will play a very important part in the future of email marketing.

In the next episode I will take a look at interactivity.

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Email insight: making email a two-way channel

Even in the year 2011 I see quite some organizations use a noreply address as their from address used in email marketing campaigns. Reasons they mention for doing so vary from technical like ‘we can’t create or maintain an email address’ to simple ‘we don’t want people to reply’ or ‘ people don’t need to reply to this’. But hang on, you are getting in touch with people through email, shouldn’t they be allowed to respond via the same channel? Seems logical, right?

There are some examples where, at first glance, a response would not be needed or catered for. One is a notification email of subscribing for something or ordering something, another is a digital invoice or other transactional email. But then again, why wouldn’t you as an organization facilitate a reply? Imagine the amount of knowledge building, relationship building and caretaking communications you could do if it was two-way communication? It might save a lot of load on other communications channels like phone lines, forms or paperwork if people were allowed to reply on your emails. The receiver of an email would feel less ‘blocked’ when receiving an email which would not have a noreply address as the from address.

If I take a look at the first example of not doing so, which is not being able to create or maintain an email address, to me that seems as if a marketing department is not taking their email marketing seriously. On one hand you are busy running email campaigns, very probably (hopefully) through the use of an ESP platform, but on the other hand not facilitating for feedback through the same channel. It seems like putting out a lot of (marketing) messages into the wild but not setting up the correct web of response catchers to see how people respond and what they actually want from you. Being succesful in marketing means you should be listening and doing something with that feedback at least half of the time.’

The other example of ‘we don’t want people to reply’ or ‘ people don’t need to reply to this’ is actually the worst one. That sounds like ‘we’re allowed to send this stuff to you, but don’t you go replying to us!’. Customer care anyone? If an organization wants to send me their business through email let me respond to it: it’ll help them make their business better, sell more, be a better marketer and so on. Even with a simple notify email a response can be justified. How about a situation like a form that has been filled in, and someone receives the notification with the form transcript, but notice that they’ve put in something wrong. That person would like to update the form data but the form has already been sent. Replying to the notification email would be the next logical step. It would save a phone call, a wrong filled in form done right and would score bonus points on the level of professional service you provide to the person who filled in the form.

For those of you still using a noreply address: welcome to 2011. Time to upgrade, time to go two-way with email marketing. It will reward your company in so many ways that it will definitely be worth doing it.

The youth and email: a maturing relationship?

Back in the days when I was running a pirate radio station, still in high school and talked mostly about games, hardware and anything-but-pop-music, youth and email were not someting working together a lot. It was about 1997 when I got my first email address at Hotmail (see a 1997 introduction video of Hotmail as webmail here) and I didn’t actually use it much: I was 18 back then. What was I using for online communications? Mostly forums and chatrooms, and for personal stuff ICQ and MSN. Email was for when my aunt in Australia wanted to send me something or for when I needed to setup a reminder for myself (no Google Calendar back then, the company didn’t exist yet). It wasn’t essential nor added enough value for me to use extensively back then.

The point I’m getting at is this: even with all the growth in email services these days (and what you can actually use those services for), not all age groups love it. The post at DM News pointing out the fact that current youth has an aversion to email but that they will grow to appreciate it at a later stage in life is simply more evidence towards the key point that the youth values other means of online communications besides email. Now this is not 1997 anymore: Facebook and Twitter have arrived, smartphones have arrived en masse with apps like Ping on BlackBerry and also WhatsApp on other platforms and therefor the use of chat and IM like ICQ / MSN has been declining with the youth, but the love for email is small or non-existent as well.

Where does this leave email marketing? How do you sell your products and services to people who are between the age of 12 to 23, for instance? Email should not be the only channel you’re doing your marketing with, so when the youth is your target find out where they hang out and what communications platforms they use. Advertise on there, get their (email) optin from there. Andrew Lipsman of comScore noted in the DM News article that there is a new range of options for marketers: I beg to differ and will just say that the options have always been there online, just with other platforms and channels. 14 years ago those platforms were forums, ICQ, MSN and some early bird social media sites (like Lycos, Orkut or here in the Netherlands CU2): these days it is the previously noted heavyweights Facebook,  and Twitter but also BB Ping and WhatsApp. Catch them where they are: email will follow as a channel later on, don’t worry.

Scott Cohen has his own take on the youth and email called Email marketing quick take: teen adoption of email, worth a read.

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