It’s for Me! EMail that Matters

At this time of year, almost everyone is giving and receiving gifts. Some approach this as an obligation or a chore, while others take great joy from carefully selecting gifts that seem “just right” for each person on their list. Research shows that the giver actually gets more satisfaction from a gift exchange than the recipient – which probably explains the common practise of “re-gifting”. But many of us may still have a (somewhat useless) gift that was made by a child years ago – it means something special because someone made it just for us. In my case, I have a necklace that was made for me long ago by a 3-year-old in a class I taught: I’m sure he no longer remembers me, but I remember him.

presentAnd then there are the holiday cards. Some show almost no sign of human intervention: names and addresses are all printed ahead of time. Those are my least favorite. Some include a long letter about the families adventures during the year. (Some people hate those, but I personally love to get them, especially from folks that I don’t see often.) Others have a short, but hand written note. I tend to remember the ones that include some sort of message that makes me feel that the writer was thinking specifically of me.

It was in this frame of mind that I started to notice the emails that I have been receiving from brands during the holiday season. I always do a lot of my shopping online, so there have been the usual transactional emails. And I’ve also been getting all sorts of “Happy Holidays” greetings from brands to which I subscribe. Some of them are like the pre-printed christmas cards, or the generic gift – I appreciate the thought, but it doesn’t really make a strong impact in my mind. The best of the messages I have received demonstrate that they know me, and are paying attention to the sorts of things I respond to, and when. The tone of voice sounds like a real person wrote the message. And these are the ones that I remember – because they make me feel special.

So, what are some of the best practices for making your brand emails feel special to their recipients – so that they will keep your brand at the top of their mind when making purchases?

1. Personalize the email. Sure, it seems obvious, but I am amazed by how fe emails I receive actually put my first name in a salutation line. Of course I know that my name is there because it is stored in a database somewhere, and another 200,000 folks may be getting the same email. But studies have shown that including the recipient’s name in the email subject line increases open rates, and including it in a salutation increases recall. As Dale Carnegie said way back in 1936: “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

2. Keep it simple. Remove the clutter and make the message really clear. Don’t try to communicate a lot of different ideas; keep it to two or three. And use pictures!

3. Create different messages for different people. The people who open your email messages regularly deserve a reward for their loyalty. Over time, you should be making it more and more easy for them to do business with you, as you observe their behavior over time. You don’t want to be creepy about it and say something like “thanks for reading all 14 of our last emails”. Pay attention to the sorts of things that people are clicking on, and begin to develop more of the content that people are spending time with. Develop different streams of content that can be mixed and matched. Develop automated messages that are triggered by a given behavior. Put yourself in their place and think about what you would expect to receive next – and then deliver that and more.

4. Create groups of different people and send them appropriate messages. Just as you need different content for different people, divide your email audience into groups of like-behaving people. Even a simple segmentation between people who always open and people who do so rarely will allow you to tailor your content appropriately. You may not be able to change everything, but something as simple as a different subject line can make a huge difference in the results.

Facebook’s Page Post Targeting: What it Means for Brands

Facebook recently added a powerful feature for brand page administrators and community managers: Page Post Targeting. Before this feature was introduced, the only message segmentation available to brands was based on location: posts could be geotargeted to a specific country or city. Now, commmunity managers have many more options at their disposal: posts can be targeted by age, gender, interests, and more. So, what does this mean for brands?

Messaging can become more relevant. By developing content for specific segments and subsets of the community, the brand can be more like a true friend, and talk about things they know will be of interest.
Costs for Content Development and Community Management will increase. Because a brand will be developing several different streams of content, the number of posts will increase, along with the variable costs associated with developing those posts. Community Management and monitoring costs will also go up, both because of the increase in the total number of posts being made, and because of increased rates of response and engagement with the more targeted posts.
Editorial Calendars may become more complex. If brands are already using segmentation strategies in their email communications, the same editorial calendars may be able to be adopted for Facebook. But for brands that are not already developing segmented messaging, the work will get more complex and the management tools will need to evolve. Community managers are already working with social Editorial Calendars that include multiple dimensions such as channel, georgraphy, time of day, and day of week, and will now need to add the additional dimensions chosen for segmented messages.
Interaction counts may go down, but rates may go up. It will be important that Social Dashboards emphasize interaction rates rather than sheer numbers, as each of the segmented folks will be targeted to a smaller number of individuals. However, if relevant content is being created and the segmentation strategy is working, engagement rates should increase, resulting in increased overall reach. Community managers will want to spend time with those who read the dashboards to help them anticipate and understand these changes.

With these new tools available to them, brands that are large enought to have multiple consumer targets should modify their content strategies to include a a mix of content. Some posts should continue to be developed to be appropriate for the entire audience of brand friends. Messages that reference brand values, features, and attributes experienced by all consumers should continue to be delivered to everyone. New categories of content should be developed that will be focused more on the consumer and the lifestyle connection points they are likely to have with the brand. A producer of premium meats may want to speak differently to a 25 year old single man compared to a 35 year old married one – because they will likely be using the product in different ways and have a different path to their purchase decision.

The incremental costs for adding segmented content may pose a challenge to brands and digital managers with already tight budgets. Demonstrating the ROI for community engagement will become even more essential as brands seek to gain additional funding for these efforts. The linkage between rates of engagement and a consumer’s increase in purchase intent or sales volume will becomoe even more critical to quantify.

This enhanced targeting capability gives community managers and Facebook content editors powerful new ways to increase the rate at which the brand’s friends interact with brand content. By working closely with market research and consumer insights collegues to identify the targetable characteristics of the most influential members of the community, community managers can augment their existing general content with relevant posts that will result in higher rates of engagement with the brand’s friends.

Woody Allen was talking about Your Brand

Woody Allen famously said: “80% of success is showing up”.  This is as true for brands as it is for people – the key to brand building in today’s environment is to be found by potential consumers when they are in a receptive situation. These days, each of us has an unprecendented level of control over the messages we receive. We can choose when and how to be entertained, get the news, or learn about what is happening with our friends. If we have a question, we can look up the answer. If we want to solve a problem, we can ask others who have faced the same challenge. As long as the source of the solution is credible, we usually don’t care much about where the solutions t comes from: it could be a person halfway around the world, or a brand that is in our kitchen pantry. Brand marketers need to find ways to “show up” in relevant places, with relevant content, to be successful in this evolving landscape.

We have all changed the way we consume media. Studies show that we actually consume more than ever, as the number of channels through which media is delivered has exploded in recent years. And because of this, brands are changing the way we market our products and services. Brand marketers can no longer choose the channels into which we place our messages and count on our messages being received. Brands must rely more on “being found”.  New phrases like “brands as publishers”, “content marketing”, “inbound” and “always on” are being added to our marketing lexicon to help us express these changing ways of marketing.

The premise behind these phrases is that marketers are moving away from an environment where the brand simply needed to create messages and deliver those messages to their consumers through a few mass market vehicles. Today the number of channels through which a message can be delivered has exploded to a size that makes it impossible for a brand to rely on placing its message in all the right places. We must make sure that the messages are compelling enough to be passed along to the channels we can’t afford to reach.

So how can brands be sure that they “show up”?

1. Understand your consumer’s decision journey and where they get information as they are considering and evaluating your brand and be sure that your content is in places s/he will be looking – at all stages along the decision journey, online and offline. Identify ways to “recognize” individual consumers as they interact with the brand at each stage and record each touch point.

2. Design content that will add value to the consumer’s life when they find it: make them smile, solve their problem, make their life easier. Provide consistent and relevant content at every stage in the journey, to increase the opportunity to be included in the consumer’s evaluation set and to reinforce a positive experience after purchase.

3. Identify the consumers that have entered the loyalty loop, and no longer go through the consideration and evaluation stages before they buy your brand. Develop strategies to help them advocate for your brand to others, in online and offline channels, and reward them in tangible and intangible ways for doing so. Seek to establish a relationship with them: listen to them, remember their birthday, let them get to know you – and I mean YOU, the real person(s) behind the brand, not some corporate entity. Help them to share their experience with and loyalty to your brand with others – in the thousands of channels a brand’s advertising dollars could never reach.

If Woody Allen is right, and 80% of success is just showing up, brands will be successful as they allocate their marketing resources to ensure that they “show up”.

Stop Targeting Your Consumers

Have you noticed how the language of marketing often sounds like we are in the military? In our marketing and media plans, we use words like “target” and “campaign” – it sounds like the brand is the aggressor and that the marketer’s job is to attack the consumer. I have a mental picture of a shooter in an arcade or a fair, firing at targets and knocking them down as quickly as they pop up.

As digital marketing allows brands to converse with their customers in increasingly direct ways, it is time to change our language – because words matter. What you call something influences your behavior towards it. As brand marketers, we have always sought to create an emotional relationship between the brand and the consume. Digital tools allow us to create content that is more personalized than ever before, and it is time to change our language to words that reflect a relationship.

In our personal lives, we meet strangers, who then may become interesting acquaintances, and some of those acquaintances become friends. Some folks say that strangers are just friends that they haven’t yet met. We often meet new friends through introductions by current friends. Brand marketers seeking to create relationships between the brand and the consumer should use the same kinds of language, recognizing that there are real people at both ends of the marketing communications – not “targets”, but potential friends of the brand.

A blog post by Jon Holden put it well: “Getting to truly know the people you are marketing for, and finding unique ways to tell their stories and connect on a personal level will go a long way to establishing trust and loyalty”.

So, how does thinking about our customers as friends and potential friends change our marketing plans? Here are a few ways:

  • Rather than defining messages the brand wants to send, we develop messages that our friends will want to receive: something that will be useful in their daily life, something that will make them smile or stimulate a new idea.
  • Rather than creating content for strict demographic or behavioral targets for our messages, we create content for the people who have told us they already have a relationship with the brand by signing up for email, subscribing to an RSS feed, and/or becoming a friend on Facebook or following us on Twitter.
  • Instead of creating a TV spot or video that is designed to be watched many times in one or two channels, we create a video that is designed to be talked about, passed along, changed, spoofed.
  • Our brand messages to our friends are designed with the understanding that they have a very brief shelf life, and we need many more messages. A relationship isn’t built by sending one present to a friend on a special occasion; it is built by small interactions every day, over time (and still remembering the special occasion with something special.)

Instead of “targeting our consumers”, brands need to “talk to our friends” and “invite our acquaintances” – and by creating valuable content for both our friends and acquaintances, we earn the right to be introduced to others. This allows the brand message to spread organically – to more channels, in a more credible way, than would be possible for a brand operating in the “targeting” model.

Don’t be shy. Go ahead, say “hello”.

Don’t Neglect the Digital Marketing Basics

A recent report from Pew Research is a good reminder that brands should not forget the importance of email and search in consumer communications. http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Search-and-email/Report.aspx?src=prc-headline

Highlights:

According to the study, 92% of internet users in the United States use search engines and send email. The number using social networking services? 65%.

  • 96% of those ages 18 through 29 use search engines.
  • 90% of those making under $30,000/year use search engines; that’s not substantially less than the 98% usage rate seen amongst those making $75,000/year and up.
  • 94% of internet users in the 18-29 category use email while 87% of those in the 65+ group use email.

All told, well over half of U.S. internet users (59%) use search engines on a daily basis, and an even higher percentage (61%) use email daily.

A Brief Guide to Facebook Sponsored Stories

Facebook advertising is one of the most easy and accessible advertising platforms ever developed, and according to EMarketer and  ComScore, advertisers have made Facebook the #1 publisher of display advertising on the internet. By providing a self-service platform, Facebook allows businesses small and large to develop and monitor highly targeted ad campaigns within minutes. And by creating Sponsored Stories ad formats, Facebook has created a way for brands to increase the likelihood that a brand’s content will be seen by their target audience. And by providing a “social” layer to the ad, the chances of engagement go up, since a consumer is more likely to notice the action of their friends. When combined with standard Facebook display advertising, sponsored stories can drive brand awareness and engagement beyond your existing fan base.

There are several formats for Sponsored Stories, but they boil down to two basic types: one format (the Page Post) is targeted to your current fans, and all the others are targeted to the friends of those who have interacted with your brand’s content. For the latter type, this added layer of “social endorsement” can result in higher ad performance; for the campaigns with which I have been involved, this extra endorsement provided more strength to ads for a more well-known brand compared to a less-well-known brand.

When running Sponsored Stories ads using the self-service platform, there are three formats to choose from: The Page Post, the Page Like, and the Page Post Like, with variations of each for Applications or Domains.

  • The Page Post Sponsored Story is directed to your current fans. It takes the brand’s post and delivers in an ad format to existing fans. It may seem strange to use a format like this: you may be saying to yourself: “why wouldn’t my fans just read my post in their news feed – why would I spend money to deliver my post as an ad to them?” There are two reasons: (1) Your post won’t be published at the same time that all of your fans are online, so your post will move down in their news feed as time passes. (2) Facebook uses an algorithm to determine what content is displayed in the Top News feed of each Facebook member. If a fan is interacting with your brand less often that with their other connections on Facebook, they may not see your post in their news feed at all. The Page Post Sponsored Story is a way to be sure they see your post.
  • The Page Like and the Page Post Like is directed to the friends of your fans. A Page Like story lets friends of current brand fans know that one of their connections “liked” your brand page. This story can be published when they like your page directly from Facebook and also when they use the Like box on your brand’s web site. A Page Post Like story lets them know that one of their connections “liked” on one of your brand posts.  As with the Page Post sponsored story, you may wonder why you need to pay to create an ad for this: a “like” action will show up in the news feed of their friends. The answer is the same: these ad increase the likelihood that the action will be noticed.
You can use these formats to promote a brand Page, a Place, and Application, or even a website that is external to Facebook. Ads can be generated when a friend plays a game, uses or shares an application, checked in at a brand place, liked or shared a piece of content on your web site, or pasted a link from your site into their status update. Sponsored stories only happen when a consumer takes an action, so it makes sense to run standard Facebook display ads to increase the rate of consumer activity at the same time you are running sponsored stories.
Facebook’s own guide to sponsored stories provides more detail and links to additional content for developers and analysts.

Is EMail Marketing Dead?

Brands have used email marketing for years as part of their marketing communications. For brands that don’t sell directly to consumers, email can provide a channel to establish a dialogue with consumers, and to provide content that could be shared with others, so it was “social” before social networks came along. With the rapid growth of Facebook, brand marketers sometimes ask whether they investments in building an email database and creating email content still make sense. My answer is a hearty YES! Email continues to be an important part of a brand’s social marketing strategy. Here’s why:

1. Email is still growing; consumers still choose to receive it. While many consumers are increasing using social networks for connecting with friends and families, permission-based email subscriptions continue to grow. This implies that consumers are looking for relevant information from brands. By carefully segmenting content and monitoring consumer response, brands can provide real value and information that consumers are seeking.

2. Email is a hub for brand communications. Email provides the brand a unique ability to connect the consumer to all elements of the marketing plan: the brand can send consumers to a Facebook app, share a YouTube video, invite them to an event in the “real” world. Mike Bloxham from the Center for Media Design at Ball State University calls email “the connective tissue in the media mix based on the ubiquity of its use, the amount of time people use email throughout the day, and the ability for marketers to proactively communicate with their customers through the medium.”

3. Email is relevant to the consumer. Because the marketer controls the database and can track the behavior and interests of email subscribers, the brand is able to create different email content for various consumer groups, providing the opportunity to be more relevant to each consumer. At present, Facebook messages on the news feed can only be segmented by geography and language. Facebook can now function as a “reception room” for potential consumers; it’s an easy and light format that allows consumers to easily get to know the brand. Once the consumer has decided that they want deeper, more personal contact with the brand, links between social they can sign up to receive email messages that will include personalized content that is right for them.

4. Email remains important to users of social channels and mobile devices. Nielsen studies indicate that users of social channels are also heavy users of email. ExactTarget found that 58 percent of online consumers check their email first, compared to the 11 percent who start their day by checking Facebook. ComScore reported that mail dominates time spent on mobile devices and computers.

Email is alive and well, and an important part of the social marketing strategy for consumer brands. Email is one part of the social CRM toolkit, allowing brands to build strong and enduring relationships with consumers.