Wednesday, July 5, 2017

BUYERS JOURNEY CONTENT - Anatomy of an Email Inbox 7-5-2017

Image result for 4th of july

Happy 4th of July. Hope you all enjoyed this mid week holiday to celebrate our independence and what it means for all of us.

I enjoyed it with family and neighbors, but am now back to work and thinking about email content as it relates to the buyer journey.

I think about and spend a lot of time writing about experiential and lifestyle selling and how to better connect with consumers and use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software and email specifically to maintain and develop those relationships over time.

Over the years, I have been involved with database marketing and have oftentimes had large databases to tap into to activate and drive incremental business. 

Customer Journey - Awareness and Consideration

Email is certainly a relationship tool, but I think many of us miss the mark in using it for awareness and consideration.  What do I mean by that?  Well, a negative example is a good way to start.  I like to pick on the home building industry for "sour" behaviors because they are an easy target!  They are a very sales and end of funnel focused and if you review just the subject lines of their emails, you can see that.  Here's a snapshot of several weeks of emails from one home builder.  As you can see, they are very focused on SELLING and not so much on understanding where a prospect is in their journey and what kind of things they might want to know.

Customer Journey - Early Funnel Content

I shared some thoughts a few posts ago about customer journey mapping and how this can help you understand the journey, but what I'd like to focus on today is how you discover and develop content specifically focused on the very earliest phases of the journey.

As part of the mapping process, it is important to ask yourself what kind of questions will people ask in the early phases of discovery and consideration.

Some questions that are relevant in this stage need to take you away from the sales process and this makes it hard to get to the right questions.  I've had many conversations with people about what content at this level means and often the responses I receive are still too focused lower in the funnel.

So let's look at some examples.

Home Building 

If I'm not really even thinking about buying a home, how might a builder get some consideration going?  

First, think about people and their homes.  Everyone lives in a home and at times may think about how that home might be better, more livable or something they don't like about it.  What kind of compelling content could help them?

Here's some topic ideas:

-  Top things I would change about my home if I could
-  How to get more out of less space
-  Popular colors for this season

Each of these has nothing to do with a specific builder or the later stages of the sales process.  However, if you had the opportunity to share this kind of content with a broader audience, either in your email database or not, would it be beneficial?  Would it help start the consideration process?  Would it make people more likely to contact you when they are further into the process?

I'd say yes, if done well.

Clothes and Fashions

This is a much shorter cycle time so the content can drive to purchase much faster.  Concepts are still the same however.  What things can get you into their consideration?  So perhaps content like:

-  Best summer swim suits
-  Summer colors that dazzle
-  Summer dress styles for every budget

Again, there is no "promotion" or offer to come in or visit a website and buy it now, but just something to put people into the thinking process of clothing and fashions for summer that could ultimately lead to a purchase from you!

You can come up with these kind of early funnel examples for virtually any industry and product.  The point is to sell but not sell, tap into an emotion and lifestyle and provide content that is of interest and useful.

And don't forget to ask them to raise their hand once they do engage with the content.  Even though people don't like pop-up windows, they do work to get people to sign up for more content like what you provided (and oh, by the way, maybe a special offer!).  It's all about the sale, its just how you get there and when that matters.  Early funnel content does matter.

Happy 4th and happy early funnel content development.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

CONTENT FOR THE JOURNEY - Anatomy of an Email Inbox 6-12-17

Content is King (or Queen)

I've been errant in getting my posts out consistently the past few weeks.  I have a good excuse however, as I've been making some transitional moves to fully set up my winter and summer homes. I'm a little backwards this year spending the summer in Florida instead of Michigan.  Some of us relaxed on the 1,200 mile drive!  Needed to do that to buy and sell properties here in Florida however.  Getting to spend some time in the home I brought my daughter up in before selling it and moving to the coast, so that has been a trip down memory lane.

I digress, however.  I have also been working on some speaking presentations and as part of that I realized I haven't said much in these posts about content for the journey.

Content for the Journey

Last month I talked about CJM (Customer Journey Mapping) and laid out the high level thoughts and steps on how to go about this process.  Of course, if you need help doing this, contact me.

What I have found, just like in writing this blog and throughout my years as a marketing leader is that creating the content is the hardest part of implementing your customer communications strategy.

You can do a great job of creating your CJM, setting in place the tools needed to executed (automation, databases, KPIs, etc.), but if you don't build your content engine, you will fail.

Content  Gap Analysis

When I did a CJM years ago while working at Sears Home Services, one of the steps and "aha moments" was after creating the map and the content plan was the work we did as our next step which was to create a content gap analysis.

We took an inventory of all the content we had and then compared it to the content we needed. The "aha moment" was in understanding where our gaps were.  Invariably, there and in other industries that I work in one of several outcomes are observed:

  • There is just minimal content - so a BIG gap
  • There is great content across the journey phases - so MINIMAL gap (you don't see that too often)
  • There is a gap in one or more phases of the journey - most common

At Sears, we found that we were missing content early in the funnel.  I have often found that to be true.  Most selling organizations where the sales function is a strong driver at the leadership level tend to err in this space.  They focus their content on end of funnel conversions and the consideration phase of the decision.

Metrics Focus

One of the reasons a lot of organizations don't develop compelling content for early in the journey can be laid at the feet of the metrics.  It is hard to justify early funnel content when leadership is focused on short term, immediate results. In my last role in the home storage products industry, I had countless conversations about widening the conversion funnel at the top versus the bottom and minimizing the "leakage" through the process. Business leaders want to see immediate results of your efforts and unfortunately content, especially that designed to build awareness and consideration does not typically drive immediate results. Instead, it drives a wider funnel that provides more conversions as you put more people into the funnel.  The important element is setting the right metrics for this type of content.  So, it is not about getting the sale, but getting the prospect to engage and take the next step (impressions, clicks, shares, read rates, etc).

Content Generation

So once you have identified your customer journey, your content needs and your gap, you can begin to develop a content plan.

If you want to learn a lot more about the importance of content to business success, I recommend attending the Content Marketing World conference held in Cleveland.  This year it is Sept 5-8, so well before the snows start falling and a very pretty time of year in the mid-west.  There are great sessions on all things content and they will provide you many ideas on where and how to create content and also how to elevate this important function within your organization to the place it belongs.

At a high level, here's some ways to begin to build the great content library you need to drive the customer journey to your benefit:

  • Build it yourself
  • Partner with media outlets who deliver similar content
  • Re purpose historical content (repetition is important and different people show up at different times, so don't be afraid to reuse good content and use in multiple places)
  • Share other's content that is relevant (with permission and proper authorization of course)
  • Hire external content providers (make versus buy decision - topic for a future blog post)

Here's a great infographic on 22 tips for creating content from copyblogger.  

It's easier than you think.  You just need to focus and build an organization that can deliver.  Most importantly, you need to understand the customer journey so you can curate the right content.

Happy content development!

Friday, May 5, 2017

CJM AND EMAIL - Anatomy of an Email Inbox 5-5-17

Happy May Day.  It is a beautiful time of year in Michigan when all the trees and flowers are in bloom. This weekend starts the annual Tulip Time festival in Holland.  I missed it last year, so am looking forward to attending this year.  I never knew the variety and colors of tulips until I experienced this when I first arrived in Michigan three years ago.

But, that's not our topic today.  What I would like to cover today is CJM or Customer Journey Mapping and how it can inform your email strategy and campaigns.  In some ways I've been doing this for years through my segmentation and customer analytics work.  We just now call it something specific and have a practice and discipline around it. The whole concept is to understand the decision funnel or journey and the content needed during that journey by the prospect with the goal of:

-  Providing the right content at the right time
-  Moving people faster along the journey
-  Getting more people to take the next steps in the journey (with you!)

There has been a lot written about this and the process and there are plenty of examples and options on how to do it, but the most important elements in my mind are:

- Think about it from the customers perspective, not what you want
- Understand that the journey starts well before they know about you
- Leverage research and analytics to understand what the customers content needs really are and what is appropriate at each stage
- Develop compelling content and deliver it in a variety of ways (including email)
- Insure your KPIs are in place and aligned to the experience and phases
- Create separate journey maps if needed for different segments and target populations (where the content needs may be vastly different)

Email, then can become an important and engaging element along this journey and a great way for you to deliver and reinforce this content to the prospect.

Below is a Journey Map I created for my RV industry clients.  As you can see this maps out the phases and marketing steps and where email fits into the journey.  This can be relatively similar for other businesses and industries although the marketing tactics may be different.

customer journey map

The point is:  EMAIL can be leveraged along most of the journey.

The next phase then of the journey mapping process is to think about your content and what aligns to the phases and how you get it in front of people.  For example, in the early funnel phases, general White Papers or articles related to your topic may start consumers down the path.  So in our RV example, an article on the "TOP 10 National Parks to See This Summer" might be early funnel content.  A comparison and evaluation of RV brands and types would be later funnel content.

Sending that later funnel content to someone who hasn't even considered RVing would not be appropriate or productive.

TOP Tips for CJM and Email

-  Build segment specific Customer Journey Maps
-  Create compelling content for each phase of the journey
-  Complete a content audit to find the gaps you have in needed content
-  Develop compelling content and types (video, audio, imagery, copy)
-  USE EMAIL to reinforce and deliver on this content
-  TEST and MEASURE along the way

Need help with your CJM?  Contact CRM Concepts to get started today.

Monday, April 10, 2017

MAIL HOST METRICS - Anatomy of an eMail Inbox 4-10-2017

Wow, time sure flies!  Here it is already April and we are into the second quarter of the year.  I'm excited to be working for this month on a speaking engagement with the Atlanta Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators on the topic of eMail marketing.  As I prepare, I am able to use a lot of the content from this blog to create a primer on what are the important elements of your email marketing program.  If you like what you read here and are interested in having me present at your event, be sure to contact me.

As part of my regular reading and preparing for this event, I came across an article from Return Path that I think is worthy of repeating and discussing.  It is important because it provides some unique and incremental metrics to our marketing tool kit that have not been available until recently.

The report is based on "global consumer data consisting of over 17,000 commercial senders, 2.5 million consumer panelists, and over 5 billion commercial email messages sent to Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and AOL users between January 1 and December 31, 2016."

What will be interesting is if the mail hosts will make this kind of data commercially available specific to our programs going forward and at what cost.  But, for this analysis, they uncover some metrics that I think are worthy of thinking about.  The report also provides some benchmark data by industry so if you can get your hands on this data for your database, would be valuable to understand where you have problems and opportunities.

What do they mean and how can they help us as marketers?  Let's take a look one by one.

SPAM Placement Rate 

In essence, they are measuring what percentage of your emails land in the SPAM email box rather than the inbox.  Now, we have to presume that the emails included in the study were from legitimate emailers, all 17,000 of them.  So given that presumption, a bit scary to know that even for legitimate email marketers the 2016 average of emails landing in the SPAM box was 13% (a little worse than the 12% from 2015).

While it wasn't presented in this data, I have to wonder what the differences were between mail hosts and what things we could do.  They do speak to some areas as marketers that we can pay attention to like content, reputation and engagement, but the reality is we are at the mercy of the mail host. I know having worked with mail hosts on black list and other complaint and deliverability issues that this is a big endeavor and one that will require some dedicated resources in your agency or team to really impact.

Read Rate

The percentage of emails marked as "read."  This definition is a bit problematic for me as I don't know if that means read one line, word, paragraph or the full thing and how they can actually tell that I am reading something without eye tracking and intrusive monitoring systems.  So, on this one, I have more questions than answers on whether it is worthy of even pursuing as a legitimate metric that goes beyond Open Rates as they propose.  Generally their benchmark rates look fairly similar to Open Rates as well, so at a minimum if we all become comfortable that this is a valid metric, it would be more of a replacement metric than something new in my mind.

Deleted Before Reading Rate

This one causes me some concern too.  Again, I ask the question, how do you know I read that and how much.  I would like to understand more about this metric.

Reply Rate

This one sounds interesting.  For sure if someone is replying to our emails, then there clearly is engagement, so that is good.  However, many of you may be sending emails without the ability to reply to them.  I also don't see that they have delineated in the study if these emails were transactional or promotional.  This could have a very big impact on the reply rate.  For example if the email is to confirm an appointment, you would expect that a very large percentage would be replied to versus a sales promotion where the company really doesn't want you to reply, but wants you to click somewhere and go to their website or into a store.  So while this metric certainly could be of interest, I don't think email marketers are focused on garnering replies as a goal in their email marketing programs, so may have limited value. This is pretty evident by the minuscule averages for this metric (0.13% in 2016). After all, if they reply, then you need to be prepared to answer!

Forward Rate

This one like Reply Rate has tiny numbers with an average of 0.03% for 2016. However, what is interesting as a marketer is if we should think of this as a goal of email.  There was a time where there was lots of functionality around the concept of "forward to a friend" that you hardly see used at all these days.  Maybe that should tell us something such as perhaps it didn't really work, so why focus on it.  In the world of opportunity costs and trying to find the highest and best use of your talents and resources this seems like a non-event in my mind.

Complaint Rate

We already get this one and certainly want to be aware of it.  The numbers are low, but unless you are really upset, do you even bother?  I do think there could be some insights in knowing the why of this metric.  That would then allow us to figure out how to change.  Fortunately, it appears Return Path has already thought about this and has a white paper to help you out.

This is Not Spam Rate

Like complaint rate, this is something proactive and rare that people do in their inbox.  I know at times when I have done so, it was typically a transactional email or one that I was expecting, not something that was part of a marketing revenue driving campaign, so again, not so sure of the validity or one that I should care about as a marketer.

For me, while these are interesting metrics to think about, really only two of them are material in terms of understanding missed opportunities:  SPAM and Delete Before Reading.  Based on the 2016 average, that cuts over a quarter of our emails off the top right away that we know aren't getting read. On the other hand, the read rate and other metrics give us about another 25% that are getting some engagement, mostly positive, but some negative.  The questions are can we push those in the middle up the engagement curve, how much are we able to impact what goes into the SPAM box and how do we insure we manage our reputation proactively to improve performance.  Certainly working with the Mail Hosts on this is important, no matter what metrics are in play.

For your own copy of the full Return Path article, click here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

WHY NOT EMAIL? - Anatomy of an Email Inbox 3/28/17

As a long term user of email marketing, it has always seemed like a non-issue to even consider that you would not do it, so I am always surprised and a bit dismayed when I come across businesses that are not including email as part of their marketing arsenal.

So what do the statistics say and why should you be using email?

There are lots of statistics about email marketing and here's some that might surprise you (or not if you are already investing in a email marketing):

- 91% of consumers check their email on a daily basis
- 64% of people say they open the email because of the subject line
- 44% of recipients made at least one purchase based on a promotional email
- There are 4.6 billion email accounts
- Email ROI is one of the highest of all marketing tactics (Direct Marketing Association says it is 38 to 1, but I've seen rates even higher)
- For 89% of marketers email is the primary lead generation channel
- Email is the preferred source of business communication for 72% of consumers

There are lots more interesting email statistics you can find, but here's the big one and the subject of this post:

Email marketing strategies are used by 82 percent of B2B and B2C companies. 

That means that there are 18% of you out there who ARE NOT using email marketing - SOUR!

With all this compelling evidence, I have to wonder why.  So, I'm putting a quick poll out on my LinkedIn and twitter accounts to see if I can find out.

Let me know what you think too - if you are not or have limited investment in email marketing, what's keeping you from doing it?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

SUBJECT LINE TESTING - Anatomy of an Email Inbox 3/16/2017

The subject line in your email is one of the main reasons people decide to click and engage with your content.  It can make the difference between great or mediocre email performance.

Email service providers (ESP) understand this and many of them build this functionality into their systems.

I have referenced one of my favorite best practices sites,, for testing before.  See some of their subject line testing results for ideas on things you can test.  Marketers are seeing small and large impacts from these tests, but done well, some have seen more than double the open rates.  So, what does that mean in raw numbers and potential revenue?  Look at the simple example below.  This spreadsheet allows you to input your own metrics and see the revenue impact possible with a subject line test.  Want this spreadsheet?  Request Now.

So how do you do subject line testing?  As I said above, most of the large ESPs have this functionality already built in.  We will use MailChimp as an example to show the process steps.

1.  Create a New Campaign
2.  From the drop down, pick A/B Testing as your campaign type
3.  Pick your list, either an existing one or create a new one
4.  Select subject line as the type of test you would like to do (here and in other ESPs you can select how many subject lines to test, however just be careful on doing too many at once unless you have a very large list since the more you split it, the more difficult to obtain valid results).  MailChimp actually recommends a minimum of 5,000 per test cell
5. Select the percentage split of how many of the recipients will receive each version of the subject line.  This will depend on how many subject lines you have, so for two split 50/50, for 3, 33/33/33, etc. 
6.  Select how long before you declare a winner.  You can select hours or days.  Your selection will depend on the size of your list.  If your list is small, you may want to leave a longer time to allow enough results to come in to have a valid sample
7.  Select the metric you are measuring.  For subject line testing, it will typically be the open rate, but you could select something else if you have full funnel metrics
8.  ALWAYS remember to personalize with the first name if you have it unless this is your test
9.  Enter in your test subject lines, from and what metrics you want to track
10. Select and populate your email content and design
11. Test and send by following the prompts
12. Review your results and add to your ongoing learning

While this is only one walk-through in how to do a subject line test, other systems may work differently including the ability to embed a subject line test as part of normal sends.  This typically works by allowing you to set 10-20% of your list to run through the test in the first wave of sending, then after reading those results, continue with the full list send based on the winning subject line.

Even if your system doesn't have robust, built in subject line testing, you can do it yourself by creating two campaigns with everything the same except the subject line.  While this is a bit more work and can be a bit problematic from a sending standpoint, it still provides you the ability to test and learn how subject lines can improve your bottom line.

Today's Tips:

-  Include subject line testing as a normal part of your email program
-  As always, use personalization
-  Read results, accumulate your learnings and continue to improve!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

COMMUNICATION TIMELINES - Anatomy of an Email Inbox - 3/6/17

How long should we communicate with our prospects?

I had the opportunity to speak at a Women in Consulting event in San Francisco last week. Our topic was Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and the customer journey, but of course email marketing came up as a part of the discussion.

We talked about what kind of emails these business consultants were deploying for their prospects and customers and what they should be doing in the context of building a strong customer relationship and improving conversion rates throughout the decision funnel.

The specific question that came up was how long should they continue the conversation.  

If you put yourself in the shoes of your customers, think about why they signed up in the first place and what you had to say that meant something to them.  Couch this in the context of their journey in a relationship with you and what information is relevant at what point in that journey.

Also important in the process is determining what you want to get out of the relationship. For it to be successful, there needs to be value on both sides of the equation.  Consider these business goals:

-  To make a connection with your prospects and build a long term relationship
-  To provide the right content at the right point in the customer journey
-  To stay top of mind
-  To improve conversions through the journey (and improve ROI and the bottom line for your business).

So, back to the question of how long to communicate.  As a marketer, we build brand and awareness, drive consideration and conversion.  These are the classic decision funnel steps.  We invest sometimes millions of dollars to do this and our goal should be to give the target customers compelling reasons to "raise their hand" as early in this decision process as possible.  This is important because it allows you to:

- Take prospects out of the market
-  Influence the conversation at an early stage
-  Become a trusted expert and partner in the decision
-  Improve conversions over both the short and long term.

Depending on your product, the buying cycle could be long or short and even if it is a short cycle commodity or necessity product, you still want them to come back for repeat purchases.

If you are not top of mind and there when that trigger point happens that pushes them to the next phase in their decision process or even circles them back to an earlier stage, you will miss the opportunity for the continued conversation and conversion.

Over the past 20 years, I have mostly worked with long decision cycle consumer products.  The businesses spent millions of dollars to build large databases of prospects and often only 1-2% actually purchased in any one period.  Does that mean there is no hope for conversion over the short term? Certainly if you stop communicating, your chances for making this happen are less likely, but what if you maintain a relevant conversation over a long time?

In working with sales teams, they often focus on immediate prospects and complete their follow up over weeks or perhaps sometimes months if they are good.  Still many of those prospects don't convert.  The sales person goes on to richer opportunities and the prospect languishes in the database. Oftentimes they are still actively or passively in the market, but just not yet ready to take the next step.  With CRM and marketing automation systems, we as marketers can impact what happens.  

I have built and replicated tests in multiple industries where simply by developing an ongoing long term communications strategy, I have consistently seen 20-25% improvements in sales from these prospect databases.  Consider a known prospect akin to a nugget of gold.  Would you throw that away and ignore it?  Would it lose value to you?  Obviously, the answer is "no." 

The answer to our question then at the start this post is simple.  I often told my teams: continue to communicate with a prospect until they buy, die or unsubscribe!  And even when they buy, you continue to communicate since then you have the strongest relationship and should endeavor to continue it. Certainly, there is a lot more to how this happens and when, but some simple best practices can get you started.

Best Practices for Long Term Communications

-  Know as much as you can about your prospects and use it
-  Always personalize your communications
-  Create a two-way conversation that helps you learn more
-  Use behavioral data to further understand your prospects
-  Create simple segments, learn from them and build them over time
-  Build a customer journey map and content needs at each stage to drive the conversation
-  Don't quit communicating unless you are asked to do so
-  Treat every known prospect as the valuable gold nugget that it is and be sure you realize the value from the investment you made in it!

If you follow these best practices for customer communication, you will not be a SOUR emailer!