Delivering on Email: Lessons Learned

For those who didn’t attend ClickZ’s Delivering on Email conference last week in Boston, I thought you might want to review some of the highlights. First, however, let me relay what I took home as the overarching theme of the event: Email messages are becoming more numerous, more dynamic, fancier, richer, and faster and easier to implement and track. Of course, that’s mostly good news.

But the bad news that goes along with all this is that inboxes are becoming fuller and response rates are therefore going down, down, down…

Message received. Loud and clear.

I’m not saying it’s time for any of us to hang up our email hats. Not even close. There are still plenty of double-digit response rates to be gleaned as well as lessons to be learned.

But it’s certainly something to keep in mind.

There’s not much you can do about other people’s messages, but you can control your own. And there were plenty of good tips at the conference to help you not only streamline your efforts, but also build, develop and maintain lasting relationships via email. And when it comes to breaking out of the box (so to speak) and making your messages stand out amidst the masses isn’t that what it’s all about?

So with that in mind, what follows are some of the most valuable lessons learned quick, but worthy tidbits from some of the general sessions that took place. A synopsis, if you will, of top ways to get and keep that top-of-mind awareness.

First, let me say for the record: According to Geoff Ramsey of eMarketer in his “Stats, Trends and Projections” session (in which he partnered with fellow stats and research guru Rick Bruner of IMT Strategies) average email response rates are indeed going down. Yes, they once did (back in the glory days) average 10-15 percent, but the average is now down to 5.3 percent, I’m afraid. And sinking.

Nick Usborne of Yellowbox offered part of the solution to this in his “Understanding the Email Experience” session. He made it crystal-clear that your customers/prospects truly have all the power. They can delete your messages if they don’t recognize your name. They can go to online privacy centers such as enonymous and Ncognito to keep you away. So you’d better be darned sure that you’re not only respecting their choices but giving them plenty of choices as well.

As in when they sign up to one of your free newsletters, for example. Ask them if they’d prefer to subscribe in HTML or text. Don’t just send them HTML because their email program can receive it. Again, it’s their choice. Give them what they want, along with true value and immediate replies to their queries and feedback, and they’ll be your customers for life.

The “Conversion and Retention” panel offered up even more solid suggestions for maintaining that customer loyalty we all crave so desperately.

First directive: Take baby steps (so to speak, considering one of the panelists was Preston Bealle, CEO of BabyGear.com) when communicating with customers in the beginning. If you’re driving them to a page for the objective of collecting information that will enable you to communicate with them down the road, don’t ask for their life history. Ask for their email address and only the most relevant information.

Remember, you’re a stranger to these people, and they’re not going to feel compelled to fill out a long form just because you’re asking. Increase your lead sign-ups by only asking for the basics and by offering coupons or the like as incentives. As the relationship develops with every follow-up communication thereafter, you can ask for more information each time.

On the B2B front, Dave Stone of Hewlett-Packard claimed that HP has expanded its relationship with product owners because of its newsletter, which is heavy on worthwhile content and personalization. In fact, the newsletter is not just about promos; it also contains maintenance tips, feature stories and ideas, as well as new product information. And the positive feedback that HP has gotten back from customers attests to its effectiveness as a relationship-building device.

In his session on promoting new products and events through email, Gordon Paddison of New Line Cinema held an enormously entertaining session. (What else would you expect from a movie company VP?) Paddison said that New Line managed to create cost-effective viral e-campaigns by starting off with banners. For instance, to promote the New Line movie “Final Destination,” the company set up the www.deathiscoming.com site and created banners driving traffic there. People could sign up to send their loved ones an emailed “death postcard” featuring text along the lines of “Having a great time. Wish you were dead…” and offering an animated rendition of various methods of demise. All in jest, of course. And although it may not sound like it, the demos for these were really quite funny.

Best of all, due to the viral component, the end result was that tens of thousands of people ended up seeing the promotion for the movie. And although movie theater ticket buying is hard to measure against these online promotions, it obviously had a positive effect based on sales during the weeks of the campaign. (Gordon Paddison has a fun job, I’ll tell ya.)

Tom Kuegler’s “Customer Service and Inbound Email: Part of the Marketing Puzzle” presentation was fast-moving and informative. Stressing the importance of replying quickly to customer service questions (24 hours should be the max and an hour or two should be the target), Tom said an autoresponder is essential, but not a generic autoresponder like a lot of companies use. Instead, he said, the reply email message should provide a customized incident/tracking number and should provide the customer with a system to check on the status of his or her inquiry. That should take place immediately after the question has been posed so the customer feels the company considers the inquiry important and is addressing it. Then a customer service rep needs to get back to him or her.

Kuegler also identified the importance of reaching out to the customer at least three times to develop that all-important relationship. The first and second communications, of course, are noted above. And the third should be in the form of a follow-up email from a manager or executive within your company.

Well, gang, that’s all I have room for in this issue. No nitty-gritty details just quick bites. For the real skinny on the conference, check out Dana Blankenhorn’s coverage. As usual, Dana did a fantastic job of giving us the blow-by-blow.

Before we part this week, however, just keep this one thing in mind…

The customer/prospect/recipient RULES. Know and respect that fact, and you’ll continue to be on the high side of the averages.

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