Direct Marketing

Zero in on the Right List

You can boost your chances of attracting subscribers to your new magazine by asking your list broker for specific information tools.

You can boost your chances of attracting subscribers to your new magazine by asking your list broker for specific information tools.

So you plan to produce a new, surefire magazine? Congratulations! But remember, to stay in business, you need to attract subscribers. This is where dry testing your direct mail can help. Dry testing–a smaller-scale direct-mail test of a market–is an adventure with any offer. But in a launch situation, everything’s an unknown: the creative, the offer, the product, the price point–and especially which lists to use. To help make that initial dry test a success, try winnowing your list by following these tips.

Because a launch mailing is almost guaranteed to under-perform, you should structure it so that you at least learn about your market in the process. The information you should be looking for can come from these questions: What is the size of my viable prospect universe? What interests are primary to my prospects, and which are secondary? What is my competition doing that I can learn from? What selection criteria are the most productive? What can I do to tailor my list markets by my package or offer?

Ask for the following tools
Once you have these answers, work with your list broker to decide what subscribers you are looking for. This will help you with the next step–picking what parts of which lists will be right for your magazine. To do this, you must ask your broker to give you the following tools.

A prospect universe analysis: When asking your broker for a list recommendation for your test mailing, make sure the broker also supplies a spreadsheet that recaps all lists. For each list, request a recommended test selection (the portion of each list that your broker thinks you should test) with a current count of how many names are available within those criteria. Make sure this spreadsheet is provided to you not only in print, but also on disk so that you can refine it as you trim the recommendation down to what you think makes the most sense for your offer. Then, keep tabs not only on what the lists total today, but what they total after the results are in and the poor performers are cut.

A categorical review
Ask the broker to allocate each list to a single interest category (e.g., crafts, sports). This way, you can evaluate your market by the importance of each category before you mail. Test a minimum of two or more lists within each category that is important to your market. By doing this, you’re really testing the category itself. If the category produces a prime prospect, it should be pursued avidly. If it doesn’t, you know that category is not as important as you thought.

A competitive review
Even if what you have is new, there’s probably a magazine already on the market today that you’re going to compete with. So what’s your competition doing that can help you to minimize your risk? Ask your broker for the sample mail pieces of those publications you feel come closest to your publication’s.

Are they all sweepstakes offers? Are they all monthlies? Are they all priced the same? This will help you set your own strategy. In terms of lists, ask your broker to find out who mails to your competitors’ names. Odds are that if your competitors’ names work for these other mailers, these other mailers have lists that will work for you.

Finally, give your broker the names of up to 10 mailers. Then have your broker give you a report showing the mailers across the top, the recommended lists down the side, and a “XXX” in the cells where one of your top 10 mailers shows up on the usage list. If the resulting spreadsheet shows that some lists are used by more than 60 percent of these mailers, odds are the list will work well for you.

Sample mail pieces
Once you’ve selected the lists you want to mail, you want to be sure you’re testing a productive selection. Ask your broker to give you as many sample mail pieces as possible for the lists being recommended. Sort them based on the look of the piece (e.g., 6″ x 9″ envelope with a brochure versus a double postcard) as well as by offer (e.g., sweepstakes versus premium on payment). Then concentrate on those lists generated from packages and offers similar to those you intend to test.

With large universes, increasingly powerful psycho-graphic selection criteria and much lower prices than most response lists, you may find some of these names so productive you will continue to use them well after your launch mailing.

Online Advertising

25 Email Marketing Tips

Make yourself valuable through email marketing

A surefire way to attract new subscribers and retain present ones is to make yourself as valuable as you can to them. You can increase your value by making your email program as user-friendly as possible.

How to do that? By improving its usability, meaning how easily prospects learn about, sign up, participate in and remove themselves from your email program.

Here’s a real-world example showing how a lack of usability can block a desired outcome:

While waiting for a flight recently, I filled out an airport market-research survey using a tablet PC. At the end, the survey invited me to sign up for email updates.

First, the survey asked me to sign up for updates without giving me a compelling reason or explaining the benefit. I was feeling a little reckless, though, so I decided to sign up anyway.

Second, once I started to type in my email address, I couldn’t find the “@” key on the keyboard. The survey-giver walked past just then and showed me where the “shift” and “@” keys were (located in a different spot than in a regular PC keyboard). These two examples violated a key tenet of usability: Don’t make it hard for the user.

The whole experience got me thinking: How can online marketers boost their subscription and performance rates by improving the usability of their email programs? Also, how do sites actually make it hard for users to sign up?

The Basics of Usability

Some online experts say content is king. Actually, content is a function of usability. Without usability, you won’t get many people to read your great content.

Think of usability as ways to make life easier for your prospects and subscribers. It breaks down into three categories:

I. The subscription process
II. Message design and content
III. Managing subscriptions and unsubscribing

Great usability requires optimum design on your Web site, where you promote your program, where you register and manage subscribers, and in your email messages, which will likely be your users’ most frequent contact with you.

Michael Gold, a principal in the consulting firm of West Gold Editorial, sees a lot of what he calls “lunkhead” thinking on Web sites and in email programs, especially in the subscription phase of the email relationship.

“I see an awful lot of lonely, nondescript boxes on homepages that say ‘subscribe to our newsletter’ and that’s it,” said Gold, whose firm works with clients to launch or renovate publications and Web sites.

“The thing we tell people over and over is at least to include a brief promo line giving a concrete, specific benefit that would drive a visitor to sign up, using the kinds of language and words they need to use in all of their promotional copy all over the Web site and links.”

Gold also sees these three common problems:

“A big dead silence” after someone subscribes. “I want something to happen right away in my email inbox,” he said. Send your latest newsletter or offer in a return email instead of waiting for the next publication date.

Overwhelming readers with too many choices, without explanations or grouping into interest or demographic categories. Not explaining whether the email a prospect is signing up for is a bulletin about new content at the Web site or a full-content newsletter.

How Do You Rank?

Want to find out quickly how usable your Web site and email program are? Try these two free methods:

1. Seek out a usability rating tool and rate your program by answering some key questions. It scores your email program using a basic set of usability factors.
2. Ask 10 friends or family members — those who don’t get your emails or use your Web site — to test your site and opt-in procedure. Have them start at your home page and monitor how long it takes to get to and complete a subscription form. If it takes more than three clicks or 10 seconds, you fail the usability test.

Usability Principle One: Keep Subscription Simple

This means giving prospects every opportunity to sign up and making the sign-up process quick and uncomplicated.

A 2002 study of email-newsletter usability by the Nielson-Norman group recommended having no more than a two-step sign-up process: one step to collect the email address and another to confirm it. The more steps in the process, and the more information required, the more likely prospects would abandon the effort.

If you want more detailed information, such as what you might need to qualify leads, you can go back and ask for it later after you have established a relationship with the reader.

Promote your email program at every customer touchpoint: online on each page of your Web site, in order or registration confirmations and white-paper downloads, and offline at call centers, on point-of-sale cards in retail outlets, at trade-show booths, in print ads, etc.
On your Web pages, briefly explain the benefit to your subscribers (“Want to get email -only deals? Sign up for our newsletter!”) and provide an address field? and link to your registration page.

List all your email opportunities (newsletters, announcements, press lists, news alerts, special offers) on a central registration page, but group them in common categories.

Keep registration/subscription to one page. Don’t force people to click more than twice at your site (not including an email confirmation if you use it.)

Limit how much personal information you request, but give prospects many opportunities to customize their subscriptions.

Provide blank checkboxes to let users indicate preferences for frequency, format (text vs. HTML), content and personalization.

Test Web links periodically and newsletter links before each send to make sure they work. For offline registrations, tailor the message to the medium.

Keep text explanations short and sweet in POS cards (just a one-sentence benefit explanation, the field for an email address and a short privacy statement). Similarly, a brief but compelling pitch from a customer-service rep can help a prospect say yes on the phone, after the initial business has concluded.

Note: Although you want to simplify your sign-up process, there are two shortcuts to avoid. You should still use a double opt-in process to avoid data-entry errors and prank sign-ups. Also, don’t precheck boxes on the registration page.

Usability Principle Two: Make Messages Meaningful

First, you have to get the recipient to open your message. Then, you must make the content relevant to your audience. If you haven’t revisited your basic message design in the last year or so, it’s time to take another look.

This principle covers both “outside” of your message (the from and subject lines) and the inside (the content).

Use your company or brand name in the “from” line, which tells recipients who sent the email.
Write a brief (six words or less is ideal) subject line that accurately represents the message’s major content. Longer subject lines are OK, just make sure each word is critical and the most important are in the first 50 characters – those that follow will get cut off in many email clients. Include the email’s title, if it has one (such as a newsletter title). If you can’t, then include your company, division or brand name in the “from” line. List it first here.

Keep HTML-format messages as simple as possible. The more gizmos you pack into an HTML message — superfluous images, graphics, sound or video — the more likely something won’t work on your recipients’ computers. Store rich-media content on the Web; limit image size and use colors that reflect your logo.

In HTML messages, use alt tags and support text around images so that readers whose by default will still get the gist of your message. Many email clients will also block alt tags, so good use of text is key.

If you offer a text version make sure the content includes links to all of your core functions and tasks. Don’t force readers to click to the of your newsletter to receive its benefits or manage their subscriptions.

Load up on relevant links. If your goal is to funnel readers to your Web site, give them many access points, such as two or three order buttons sprinkled around a promo message instead of just one, or links to related information on your site. You’ve probably got a wealth of info at your site; make it easy for your readers to find it.

Lose the generic action button. Instead of “click here,” use descriptive terms such as “Order now!” or “subscribe me!” or “Get whitepaper here.” Be explicit about the actions you want users to take.

Test each email message before you send it, in different browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, etc.), email clients (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Gmail, Yahoo!) and platforms (Macintosh and PC). Click each link; watch out for oddities and inconsistencies in the way images load (or don’t load) and in text fonts and widths.

Adhere to your users’ preferences for frequency, format and content. If you keep sending promo offers to people who signed up just for the newsletter, you’ll lose them.

However, you can promote your other publications in your messages, as long as those promos don’t get in the way of the main content. For example, add a brief product offer at the end or side of a newsletter or announcement message, or list headlines from relevant news stories in a promotional-offer message. This way, you can promote other products and services without committing readers to extra emails.

Help readers manage your information. Include a forward-to-a-friend link in messages where appropriate and a print option that links to a printer-friendly version of an HTML message. Label those functions, either with icons or brief text.

Usability Principle Three: Make Change Easy

A highly usable email program makes it easy for subscribers to update their preferences or exit the program.

Design a standard box (in HTML) or copy block (in text) that includes all important subscription data: the email address used to subscribe, your company name and contact data, instructions on how to change preferences, an unsub link (separate from the reader-preference page), a link to your privacy policy or an abbreviated statement of it and any other relevant information.

Label each action clearly and separately: “Change your address/Update your preferences here;” “unsubscribe here.”

Place this information in the same location in all messages, whatever the format. Near the end works best. Wherever you put it, do it the same way in all messages.

Dedicate a Web page to reader-preference changes. Don’t confuse its purpose with other goals or actions.

Allow readers to change their preferences by checking and unchecking boxes. List their new preferences on a separate page before they navigate away from it, but don’t ask them to take yet another step to confirm them.

Make the unsub link stand out; label it clearly and don’t surround it with extra copy or tuck it way down at the bottom of the email.

Move to a one-click unsubscribe process, maximum two clicks. You can send a confirmation email with an opt-out in case they really did hit the unsub button by accident but don’t make them confirm their request.

This looks like a daunting list, but the thing to remember with usability is that much of it results from common sense and putting the user’s needs first. If you have revamped your email program to follow many of the email industry’s best practices, you’ve already begun to boost your usability.

Now, review your web site and email messages and see where you can make them even more useful to your customers and prospects.


Developing an Effective Newsletter

Consistency is Key in Successful Direct Marketing

Everyone always seems to be searching for the next “big thing” in marketing . An approach that will bring them instant and continuous success in marketing their product or service. A veritable cure-all to inconsistent return rates and lulls in their lead flow.

Unfortunately, there is no miracle remedy out there. Certainly not one that will out-perform the one marketing method that has stood the test of time and when done with consistency and diligence, will provide you with continuous prospects requesting you to contact them and endless appointment filled days. I’m talking about direct mail.

Now, I know that you’ve probably tried many direct mail approaches in the past and may have even had a bad experience or two along the way. However, when you do a mailing with a reputable company who is willing to listen to what your marketing goals are and do their best to design a mail piece that best suits your needs, your results will be more successful.

A good direct marketer should have a wide variety of standard mailing options for you but also have the ability to do quality, customized mailers. If you are looking for something that stands out in the crowd, they should be able to steer you in the right direction.

By listening to your vision of what you believe your mailer should convey, and then coupling that with their marketing insight, they should be able to produce a mailing that will get you in front of qualified prospects. There is a very important aspect of direct marketing that you need to know though. In order to achieve real success with your direct mail, you have to do it with dedicated consistency.

I realize that if you receive a response rate that you don’t consider to be phenomenal, your initial response isn’t going to be “I’m going to try this again in another 3-4 weeks.” However, if you’ve used a reputable direct mailer who has a proven track record and provides you with all of the pertinent information in regards to your mailing, such as a 3602 Postal Statement showing that your program was mailed in it’s entirety and showing the date the mailing went out, you need to give your direct mail another try.

Because, very honestly less than stellar response rates are often not because of the mail pieces itself. There are many factors that could play a big role. Such as: timing, not knowing if perhaps another direct mailer just mailed a similar piece in that same area and the possibility of some type of postal delay. But, by having good communication with your marketing company, you should be able to work through these issues and continue on with some great mailings.

Even if you choose to mail a different mail piece than you did the first time around, having something in the mail on a consistent basis is going to prove to be your most valuable marketing tool. You would be amazed at the number of clients that I have who prefer to mail to a select group of zip codes or counties and just by rotating between those areas in a consistent cycle, their response rates improve over time.

For example, I have a large client who has a core group of 15 zip codes that he prefers to work in. He mails about 10,000 pieces per month for himself and his agents. We have a schedule set-up that enables him to mail approximately 3 of those zip codes each month to make up his 10,000 piece quantity.

What we’ve found by doing this is, by the time we get to back to the beginning of our rotation of those first zip codes, the areas that we initially mailed, have pulled better the second or third time around. Prospects that didn’t respond the first time we mailed the area, were more apt to send in the reply card the second or even third time. I think that in part, the reason that this approach works well is because, “timing is everything” and I also believe that prospects really like to see consistency also.

I’m sure the more apprehensive repliers feel a little more comfortable when they’ve seen the same card with the same reply address a couple of times. This will also have a positive impact when you contact those prospects to set-up your appointments. They’ll feel more familiar with you and the service you’re trying to provide them.

I don’t want you to have the impression that I’m advising you to beat an unsuccessful mailing program into the ground. If you’ve mailed the same direct mail piece more than two or three times to different areas and you haven’t been pleased with the response you’re getting, let your direct mailer know.

Again, communication is everything, you always want to have a good line of communication with your marketing consultant-it’s imperative to your success. And really, if you’ve done several mailings with lack-luster results, a good direct mailer should have contacted you with some ideas on how to improve your response rate. They should be monitoring your programs’ success, not just playing the role of an order-taker.

A good marketing company will have consultants that know their business well and will have iinnovative advice for you if your program is not meeting your expectations. In conclusion, first and foremost, finding a reputable direct mail company with flexibility and a proven track record is the very first step in a successful marketing program (I just happen to know the best in the business, if you’re interested!) Then once you do that, work with them on finding the best-suited mail program for your product.

If they’re the right company for you, they should offer a wide variety of mail options and a lot of helpful input in reference to the mail piece and the most effective demographics to mail to. Then go for it!

Confirm that they will be mailing your drop in a timely manner, a good rule of thumb is 3-4 business days after you place your order. Then it should be about 2-3 weeks until you start to see leads coming in. Then make sure you’re provided with all of the applicable paperwork verifying that your mailing was done to your specifications and in the time period you were expecting.

Finally, track your response rate and most importantly.don’t give up. Consistency is key to your successful marketing program. You don’t always get the big responses on your first time out, you’ve got to stick with it and be persistent and with the right guidance.It will come.

Learn how to create newsletters for your prospects and customers.

Creating an effective newsletter takes more than simply having an idea. Many companies provide newsletters strictly online and not in printed form. As a result, many prospects and customers may never receive or open a valuable newsletter.

To create an effective newsletter, you should follow these steps:

1. Have a purpose – Is this newsletter going to be for prospects? customers? or both? What is the purpose of the newsletter? Will the newsletter be a way of sharing new information or to reinforce a previous communication? Do you want the newsletter to drive a particular behavior? If so, how will your prospect/customer respond?

2. Stick to a schedule – Nothing is more frustrating to an avid reader than an inconsistent delivery schedule. When you deliver your newsletter in a timely manner every week, every month, or every quarter, you develop a sense of reliability and consistency among your audience. This speaks volumes about your company.

3. Segment your newsletter – The most effective newsletters are targeted. This means that the content of your newsletter is personalize for a particular audience. If you face multiple segments (prospect vs. customer, marketing professionals vs. advertising executives, etc.) then you may consider ‘versioning’ your newsletters to provide the most relevant content.

4. Keep your layout simple – Don’t try to be fancy. Your primary objective should be to have your newsletter read from cover to cover. Spend your time creating targeted content and over intricate design and layout.

5. Gather relevant content from the market – Ask your readers to contribute content. Solicit feedback form vendors, partners, and professionals. When the content is created by those who read it, you’ll be sure to capture the most relevant topics and information.

6. Provide a hook – In addition to providing relevant information on pertinent topics, you’ll also want to include something that readers will look forward to every month. Perhaps it’s a puzzle, cartoon, or case study.

7. List your upcoming specials, offers, and events – Use your newsletter to distribute exclusive offers. This will build loyalty and reinforce the benefit of reading the newsletter each month.

8. Ask for comments – The best way to improve a newsletter is to ask recipients how to improve the newsletter. Provide an email address or ask them to call. This is a great way to continually improve your newsletter and a great way to let your readers know that their opinion is important.

9. Write content at a 6th grade level – Make your newsletter a quick read, allowing individuals to skim, highlight, and refer back to it throughout the month. Newsletters that are too wordy, lengthy, or overly verbose aren’t as effective as those that make finding the right information easy.

10. Manage your list – Be sure that your mailing list is up-to-date. When distributing your newsletter, watch for returns. Compare your customer list with your newsletter database on a regular basis if they’re in separate files. Doing so will keep your costs at a minimum while insuring that you’re touching the right audience.