Effective Email Marketing Programs

Effective Email Marketing Sometimes
Requires Wearing Out the Welcome Mat!

By John C. Stewart

Sometimes I can write a column in a couple of hours. This one took me more than three days to complete. I think I started it and re-started it 3-4 times. The intent of the column was to share with readers my personal experiences as to how I learned to use effective email marketing to boost participation in my industry surveys as well as to dramatically increase the sales of products and services that we provide to the printing industry. So finally, here we go…

As many of you may know, I am currently the executive director of the National Printing Research Council (NPRC). I was formerly the founding executive director of the National Print Owners Association (NPOA). Both positions required substantial marketing efforts on my part, all directed at attracting new members and soliciting participation in various indusgtry surveys and studies.

I relied heavily on aggressive direct email campaigns to promote and encourage participation in these surveys, as well as to direct visitors and members to association websites where we maintained bookstores and provided various links to other helpful sites. In an average month, we typically mailed out 60-70,000 emails. Some recipients receiving 4-6 emails a month while others, because of the lists they were on, only seeing 1-2 emails.

As I noted previously, the primary objective of most of our emails was (and still is) to direct visitors to visit our website. That’s definitely where the action is – our bookstore, or mini-reports, and news about our latest research. One important note that I want to stress – no matter how valuable our content and no matter how frequently we change it, we would never get folks to visit our website as frequently as they do without the constant and large-scale use of email blasts.

An Aggressive Marketing Tool

First, let me state that I believe aggressive and effective email campaigns are one of the most under-used and under appreciated marketing tools in our industry.

Second, I believe that the ability and willingness to send out one or two thousand emails every week, or at least every two weeks, can prove to be a very powerful, effective and yet inexpensive marketing tools at your disposal. Note that while I said “inexpensive,” I did not mean to imply that an aggressive email campaign won’t take time and commitment on your part.

Good, effective email campaigns may not require a bunch of money, but they will certainly require some time and dedication on your part. You will need to spend at least one or two hours a week towards your email efforts. And your efforts also require a long-term commitment on your part – not just a flash in the pan effort that ends up with you saying, “I tried it for a couple of months and nothing happened.”

Ok, I can already hear a few of you saying something like, “Hell, that’s way too many emails and my customers would yell and scream if I sent them something once or twice a week.” Generally speaking, folks who spout those types of statements typically don’t know what the hell they are talking about. They’ve probably never tried a regular, consistent email program, and generally speaking, they’re rarely able to back up their claims with hard cold facts. Most of these people give off negative vibes all day long and I hate to be around them! <g>

“Hell, that’s way too many emails and my customers would yell and scream if I sent them something once or twice a week.”

I can only imagine the number of readers I have already turned-off by the comments above. Nonetheless, I make my living consulting and valuing firms by being brutally honest and not telling folks just what they want to hear! I do recognize and accept the possibility that by the time I get to the end of this article, there may only be 3-4 readers left! <g>

Email Marketing Programs

Heavy reliance on direct mail

We rely almost 100% on email to conduct surveys as well as to promote the sale of studies we publish.

As many of you know, I have been publishing statistical studies dealing with profitability, wages, bindery operations and pricing of offset and digital printing services for 30+ years. In the last ten years, we have relied heavily (almost 100%) on large scale email campaigns to encourage participation in these surveys as well as to sell these studies after they are published.

Although I used the word “campaigns” to describe the mailing efforts above, let’s make no mistake about it…. They are really blasts or huge torrents of hopefully effective email messages being sent frequently to as many prospects as possible, and sometimes with only one or two days between one blast and the next! The bottom line is that I send out a lot of emails.

I may send out 8-10 different emails over the course of 20 days to the same basic list of approximately 4,600! – All that effort just to promote and encourage participation in one single industry survey. And you know what? Very, very few of the email recipients complain or ask to be removed from our lists. Unfortunately, even when I send out at that frequency and volume levels, it may still not be enough to get the responses I need.

As an aside, I also have access and use an email list of 34,000+ printers as well. The price for me to use that list is incredibly low… so low I would be embarrassed to share it publicly. However, you also get what you pay for, and I know the list is less than perfect with lots of entries I would prefer to delete but simply don’t have the time. I also do not have the reporting tools available to me with this list as I have with my current email marketing program.

Using GetResponse

I currently use an email marketing program called GetResponse to design and mail my emails. I formerly used MailChimp. I can’t even remember why I switched from MailChimp to GetResponse – probably a temper tantrum on my part! There are now many additional choices as well. However, if you’re going send emails out to customers and prospects you must, however, use one of these types of email marketing programs.

Don’t think you can do this on the cheap and copy a mailing list of 800 to 1,200 customers into the addressee line or CC portion of your email program and send out a blast. In fact, you would be lucky to send out 40-60 via your email client without quickly having the entire mail rejected, returned or declined. Each mail server establishes limits as to the maximum number of emails they will allow you to send out at one time. Plus, that number changes daily to keep you from getting comfortable with a specific number.

If you attempt to use your personal or company email address to mail out large quantities of emails you take the risk of quickly being denied service and be identified as a spammer. Not only will your email be returned or blocked, but you take the risk of or your email address being blacklisted in the industry.

If you’re going to become a frequent email marketer (which I strongly encourage you to do) you are going to have to spend a modest amount of money to do it RIGHT!

My Costs and Experiences

I don’t tend to shop on price alone. There may be cheaper alternatives, but I can tell you that I currently pay $75 monthly for GetResponse. That amount allows me to maintain various ‘campaigns” or lists containing upwards of 10,000 email addresses. I can send out an unlimited number of emails to that list every single month. I maintain more than 22+ separate email lists within GetResponse, representing a myriad of breakouts – past survey participants, purchasers of various studies, association members and various listserv subscribers 

Many of the email addresses I maintain on Get Response are duplicated across various lists I maintain. In reality, the actual number of unique email addresses is approximately 4,600 in size and the statistics that I provide below are based upon that number.

GetResponse has many, many tools and features that I never use, but it also has many features that I love. I can create an attractive and effective email blast using existing templates they offer, or I can create a custom maker with my own artwork, graphs, photos as well as special links and buttons. I can also test these mailers by send it to myself numerous times, especially to check if the links are working properly.  

Sample Templates

GetResponse provides me with hundreds if not thousands of templates you can use to promote products and services. For better or worse, I tend to design my own.

GetResponse provides both pre-designed templates for various groups and organizations plus maintains an “art/photo” gallery. I also maintain my own gallery of artwork within GetResponse and I can pull or select from more than 100 photographs, charts and banners almost instantly.

Library of Stored Art and JPGs

I am constantly adding artwork to my Get Response library, including jpgs of various report covers and studies.

If pushed or in a rush, I can design a mailer from scratch and have it ready to go in 30 minutes or less, especially if I am using a format or template that I have used previously. I change the headlines, the subject lines and possibly change the colors a bit, and I can send it out immediately to 4,600 recipients. GetResponse also allows me to schedule that mailing for some time and date in the future. So, I can design something on Thursday, but decided that I want it sent out at 6 a.m. on Monday! Pretty neat!

AB Tests and Other Features

Another nice feature is that GetResponse allows me to conduct various AB tests using various subject lines. I can come up with two subject lines that I would like to test. How does it work?

Let’s say that I have a list of say 4,600. I tell the program to send out the email with subject line A to a fixed number or percent of the total list – say 10% or 460. It will also send out 460 emails with subject line B as well. After that, everything is pretty automatic.

The program measure the response rate (based open or click rates– your choice) for each of the two subject line over a duration of time that you have selected (2 hours or 2 days). Then it automatically sends out the email with the winning subject line to the remainder of the list (3,680 emails) and provides you with hard data as to the final results as to opens and clicks. Although I have used AB testing, I will be candid in saying such testing is ideally suited to email blasts involving 20-50,000 recipients than it with the size of lists I use.

What I have come to appreciate, more than anything else, is the ability of GetResponse to provide me with some valuable statistics. As you will see below, I can check almost immediately after sending out 4500 or so emails exactly how many were actually opened, how many folks clicked on one or more links, how many folks unsubscribed and even how many complained.

Another really neat feature of GetResponse is not only does it tell me who opened my emails and who didn’t, but it also allows me to follow with emails to each of these groups. You can send a simple “thank you” note to those who did open an email, and you can send another email follow-up email to folks who didn’t open the email and make them a special offer. You just have to use your imagination as to how best to use these tools.

Sample Open and Click Rates

In the first 20 days of November (2017) sent out 14 unique emails to approximately 65,000 emails. I don’t even know how many more I will send out for the remainder of this month. In addition, I have also used my 3rd party vendor to send out 150,000 emails to printing firms during that time as well.

Let’s take a look at three recent emails I sent out using GetResponse and and look at the response rates reported:

Campaign #1 – Emailed 11-14-17 – 6th or 7th promotion sent out to encourage participation Color Digital Printing Pricing Study. The subject line for this mailer was simple – “Check-out Sample Digital Pricing.” Not very creative, but folks want to know about pricing.

A 37% Open Rate - Fantastic!

A 37% open rate is pretty good in anybody’s book. The click rate is outstanding, and much higher than I have ever experienced in the past.

More data on response rates

Another outstanding open rate of 33% in our effort to encourage participation in our latest digital pricing survey.

Campaign #2 – Emailed 11-13-17 – Another promotion sent out to encourage participation Color Digital Printing Pricing Study. Subject line was only two words and very direct – “Deadline Alert.” Note that Campaign #1 and #2 were sent out back to back on Monday and Tuesday of the same week to the same list of approximately 4,460 printers.

Email Response Rates

This GetResponse email dealt with my recent experiences using a standing desk; from the statistics above, at least 256 readers actually clicked the link and read the column I had written.

Campaign #3 – Emailed 11-10-17 – A special promotion to get folks to read a recent article written about “Standing Desks. Note, once again, the excellent open rate.  Titled simply, “Standing Desks – Are they for You?” – this emailer generated an equally good open rates. 

Note that I will gladly trade 2 tenths of one percent (.002%) of unsubscribes (11 in the case of these three mailings) in order to get 4,500 emails opened and read.

Size Really Does Matter

If the above comments about GetResponse sound like a commercial they certainly were not meant to be. I have had issues with the company, but I have issues with everyone. I suspect that most of the more frequently mentioned email marketing programs out there offer either equivalent features or possibly even better ones.

Make no mistake about email marketing – It is indeed a game of numbers. While it is hard to beat really great subject lines or good content for the messages inside, it still comes down to list size – Size does matter. The bigger your list, the greater your response rate will be in terms of sheer numbers.

If you have the opportunity to purchase a list of businesses in your market area don’t make the mistake of being cheap and trying to eliminate emails to save a few dollars. Do some testing first.

Next to list size, is the frequency you use the list. Based upon my personal experiences, I don’t think, within reason, that you can wear out your welcome or turn folks off because you mail to them every 2-3 days. You should try, at the very least to send emails every single week!

Mailing out to a list of 2,500 or 5,000 once a week, possibly twice a week on some occasions, would not be too much in my book! On the other hand, if you can only put on your “creative” hat once a month or every two months I would honestly suggest that you find another approach to marketing your business.

Email Lessons I Can Share 

Below are just a few of the lessons I have learned from my email marketing campaigns. And yes, I am still learning.  There’s lots to learn when it comes to effective email marketing. Some of the lessons I have learned include…

  • Open Rates – Most people (a large majority) likely will never open up a specific email that you send them. No matter how clever and well written the subject line might be. However, many of those who will not open the email you sent them today will indeed open the very same email if you send it to them tomorrow. That’s life.
  • Click Thru Rates Even Worse – No matter how small your open rate is, the click-thru rate on links that you offer will be far smaller still. Sometimes, though, the subject line is so good and the message inside so clear and compelling that you will even amaze yourself with the open and click rates you find. Special note – If you’re going to have them click a link, you better make sure it is worth their time – offer something of true value, and don’t boast about your neat, online ordering system.
  • Time of Day -The actual time of the day the email is sent as well as the actual day of the week it is sent is probably important, but no one on earth seems to know the correct time or day. Some folks say Fridays are a bad day to email. My experiences are the opposite. Some folks say early AM delivery is best, but Get Response actually tracks opening times of your customers and they can adjust the time each specific email is sent based upon the open rates of each specific email recipient. This is a standard feature of GetResponse. A pretty neat feature, but I rarely use it.
  • Great Subject Lines – lots of opinions in this area as well. But let’s face it, good marketing efforts typically start with a great headline or in this case a great subject line. Learn to steal good subject lines. Look at the list of 30-40+ emails you received this morning and just check out the subject lines that seemed to attract your attention the most. I recently read that, “three words or less” constituted the most successful subject line. “Deadline is Tomorrow,” “We’re disappointed,” or “Counting on you.” I will grant you, however, that limiting subject lines to three words can be stressful! Sometimes, you just have to go longer! There are certain words you definitely don’t want to use in subject lines. These are considered Spam Trigger Words. Go here for more details: https://www.simplycast.com/blog/100-top-email-spam-trigger-words-and-phrases-to-avoid/ Something I learned just the other day – don’t use exclamation marks in your subject lines.
  • Unsubscribe Requests – With each mailing you send out, it is possible that at least a couple of recipients will submit an unsubscribe request – Maybe they hate you, or maybe they had a bad day! Whatever you do, don’t get upset, don’t take it personally and don’t allow a miniscule percent of recipients (the unsubscribes) to alter your long-term objectives. My unsubscribe rates is less than one-tenth of 1%. I can live with that. 

Conclusions About Emails

I accept the fact that a large number of the emails I send will never, never be opened, even with a very effective email campaign. I will also tell you the good news and that is only a very small number of recipients will actually unsubscribe as a result of sending them “too many emails.” I used to take “unsubscribe” requests personally, but these days I figure it is their loss, not mine!

If you’re not already conducting regular emailings at least once a week then shame on you. They are easy, fun and they can be very satisfying when you start seeing the results of your efforts. Whatever you do, however, make sure that your emails are either offering legitimate news, savings or discounts or the sites to which you direct them offer the same. Please, please don’t direct readers to a boring site. Make sure it offers something of true value as well.

I think my next article is going involve a random visit to 8-10 websites and report what I find.

Happy holidays.

John Stewart
Executive Director, NPRC