Behind the Scenes: What Works and What Needs Work

The great thing about being ClickZ columnists is we get to pick the brains of other business-to-business (B2B) email marketers and ask all the questions we (and our clients) are itching to know about what’s working and what’s not.

For this column, we spoke with Sean Meehan, VP and general manager of email development at Grey Direct, and Matt Godson, regional marketing director of the Institute for International Research (IIR). We wanted to know about their successes and challenges in B2B email.

What Works

Brand names in subject lines. According to Meehan, subject lines featuring company names won hands down over blind subject lines in a test for a large software company. His feeling is readers who are well acquainted with a company’s brand and reputation have a high comfort level and interest in reading further.

E-newsletters with interviews. IIR produces over 500 U.S. events annually. It’s impossible for the company to create a separate newsletter for each conference. Instead, says Godson, it often creates a general newsletter for a vertical industry, such as marketing. Each newsletter features an interview or two with conference keynote speakers. It’s a fast, easy way to create newsworthy content and generate inquiries. That’s one way in which IIR builds its database.

Email marketing to marketing people. Godson says marketing professionals respond well to email marketing. IT and telco professionals used to be responsive, but so many have been laid off lately it’s been a challenge to keep response rates high and lists up to date.

Dynamic content. One Grey Direct client, another large software company, uses good database collection management and dynamic content to encourage upgrades among existing customers. The simple message is, essentially, “You’re using this software version, it’s time to upgrade to the newer version.”

Consistent messaging and analysis. Meehan says email marketers need to send prospects a steady stream of messages and use technology to instantly analyze the results. Otherwise, “you might as well use direct mail.”

Permission-based lists. Both experts agree permission-based email is the only way to go. IIR started with a large, compiled database of email addresses but decided not to use them without opt-in. As a result, its response rates are high and opt-out rates are low.

What Still Needs Work

Email branding. In the events biz, the promotional cycle for conferences is so short there isn’t ample creative development time for email. Godson explains, “Because of the fast and furious way the event emails are prepared, design and event branding are often secondary to the challenge of getting the information into the market in a timely fashion.” Currently, IIR’s in-house designers, who prepare all offline promotions, aren’t involved in email design (though that may change). For now, most emails are text. Godson feels they don’t take full advantage of the benefits HTML and multimedia offer. IIR is training all marketing managers in Microsoft FrontPage.

Testing. IIR has invested a great deal of time and resources testing email against print campaigns. Godson feels a need for further tests to determine why some email promotions work better than others. He says it’s oversimplifying to talk in terms of “short copy versus long copy” or to apply traditional direct mail rules of thumb to this new medium. Most of the current thinking is from business-to-consumer (B2C) promotions. Caution is needed when applying lessons learned there to the B2B arena.

Spam filters. Many Grey Direct clients read about spam filters in the media. They are concerned whether their emails get through. Meehan wants more market intelligence in this area.

Insufficient respect for email. Meehan calls email the “lonely stepchild of advertising.” It’s something clients expect to have thrown in along with other creative services. His mission: make email marketing a standalone profit center.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll talk with people from all areas of B2B email on their successes, challenges, and innovative marketing techniques. Do you have triumphs and tribulations to contribute? Questions you’d like answered? Let Karen know.

Please join us at ClickZ Email Strategies in San Francisco, November 18-19.

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