Tip: Create An Email Newsletter Editorial Calendar
Okay, how many of you actually have time to send email newsletters on a very regular, consistent basis? How many of you just send whenever you have time, and when you do, it's a struggle to think of what to say? I bet a lot of you are in the 2nd group.
Here's an idea for you. Setup an editorial calendar for your email newsletter.
Christopher Knight has some good guidelines over at Email Universe, but you can also just keep things really simple...
Just open up your Outlook or Apple calendar program. Think about how your business performs throughout the year. Do you have seasonal peaks and valleys, where some email newsletters might help? Real estate agents can send "spring cleaning" tips to their clients in March (here's a nice example). We know a power generator dealer who sends hurricane preparation emails and checklists around July. Car dealers could send "prep your car for winter" tips in the fall. If Mothers Day is huge for your restaurant, send a newsletter a few weeks in advance, with a reminder to "make your reservations now."
If you sell software, you probably have a launch schedule for a new product or feature that you could plan around with survey campaigns, teaser campaigns, launch campaigns, and followup campaigns.
Whatever. Plan your content for the year, and set little
deadline reminders to beep at you.
For my own MonkeyWrench and MailChimp newsletters, I usually have some idea of what I want in my emails 2 or 3 months in advance (well, at least the main stories and themes). I go ahead and setup drafts for those campaigns in MailChimp. Throughout the weeks before each campaign, I usually come across an interesting article or idea that supports my own content, so I'll login to MailChimp and add some quick blurbs or a link into my campaign for later. Otherwise, I'll forget.
Hint: if you sell email marketing as a service to your clients, sitting down with them and planning an editorial calendar based on their seasonal sales and schedule would probably make you look very professional. Way better than scrambling every month or quarter to blast out a half-baked email at the last minute.
Credits: I got this idea while perusing Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days at the local bookstore. The book had a section on "setting up a marketing calendar" and thought it would be a nice trick for our small business clients who use MailChimp. The book's got a lot of other nice ideas that small business owners might want to try. Two opposable thumbs up!
Email Newsletters vs. RSS, Podcasts, Print
If you market to small or mid-sized businesses, you may be interested in this little study from Bredin Business Information:
In the study, SMB executives were asked to judge the relevant importance of different media for business management information. 83% of respondents indicated that email newsletters were either very important or important sources, putting it in a near statistical tie with print media (84%) and ahead of corporate/media websites (71%). At the bottom of the list were many of the "new" media distribution methods, including webcasts/podcasts (40%), RSS feeds (39%) and blogs/wikis (34%).
They also included the kind of content that small businesses say they're most interested in (ideas for your own email newsletters):
By far, practical "how to" information (40%) was the preferred form of content, followed by company product information (26%), management overviews on topics such as strategy or leadership (21%), company news (19%) and case studies (17%).
Other interesting stats are in their report, such as how often SMBs prefer to receive your newsletters, what day and time they prefer to receive them, and more.
CRMs and Email Marketing: A Dangerous Combination
Here's a common mistake I've seen quite a few times. A new email marketer has this huge list of opt-ins that they got from a signup form at their website. Maybe it's thousands of people who signed up for their company email newsletter. They're anxious to get their first issue out the door. They hire a designer, they create a newsletter, and they're ready to send it out to their list. So far so good.
But just before they send, they ask the sales team to go ahead and give them any "prospects" or leads they may have in the company CRM. We're talking about people they met at tradeshows and networking events 5 years ago. Or even worse, someone in the company sends them a last minute list of contacts that they simply exported from their Outlook Address Book (without checking to see if "email@example.com" or "techsupport@acme-ISP.com" is in there, too).
In their (understandable) excitement to show off their spiffy new HTML email newsletter, they just lump every contact they know (or sorta know) into the same list.
What happens next? Spam complaints, deliverability problems, blacklisting, and possibly lawsuits for breaking CAN-SPAM laws.
Here's an article at Clickz from Stefan Pollard on the subject of creating a unified permission standard across all your opt-in processes:
If you have a CRM tool with contacts and prospects who you think would really enjoy your email newsletter, you can't just add them all to your email newsletter subscription list. They never gave you permission. You'll get blacklisted on your first campaign. What you need to do is politely ask them if they'd like to receive your newsletter. Use that CRM to send one-to-one emails to them. Include a link to your newsletter sign-up form. If your initial response to this is, "but then nobody will sign-up!" you need to think about what would make your newsletter so incredibly useful, they'd be crazy not to sign up.
Create your first kick-ass newsletter, and send it to your real opt-in list. Post a copy of the newsletter to your website. Then send your one-to-one invitations to the prospects in your CRM. Note: the definition of spam is "unsolicited bulk email." If you send one-to-one emails that are personal (and not too templated) it's not spam (even though it's unsolicited). It's when you cross the line and send "bulk" email where you can get in trouble. Anyways, include a link to your first newsletter, so they can see what they'll be getting. If your content is actually useful, they'll sign up. Also, won't that make them more qualified?
Are marketers stupid or sloppy for not doing all this? I don't think so. I think they're in too much of a rush to stop, separate their lists, and do proper invitations.
Slow down. If you don't do things right from the start, you'll be wasting a lot more time dealing with spam complaints, trying to get un-blacklisted by major ISPs (i.e. begging for mercy), apologizing to spamcops, explaining to your boss why the phrase "Spam Evidence" always shows up whenever he Googles the company name, and trying to get your accounts reinstated with your ESP.
Note: when a marketer gets reported for spamming, it's not just their company that's up against the wall. Often, their ESP is accused of being a spam-friendly provider, and must shut down the user's account. Usually, the only thing that can save you from being shut down by your ESP is to provide proof of opt-in for all your recipients. For your list that opted-in using your signup form, that's easy. For people that your sales team plugged into your CRM---good luck proving they gave you permission to send them email marketing.
Real Estate Email Marketing (The Right Way)
One of the partners here in the office was recently in the market for a new home. He found a nice listing online, filled out a contact form to setup a tour, and checked out the home with the agent representing the property. It wasn't quite right, so he went elsewhere. Several months later, he's still receiving email marketing from that first agent (mostly the "I have new properties available!" variety). He never gave permission to receive email marketing. He just used a contact form to inquire about one property.
Worst of all, they never include an unsubscribe link. No, that's not the worst. I'm in the market for a new home. I asked my partner if he thought so-and-so-dot-com would be a nice place to start. "They're spammers" he tells me.
I myself have exchanged emails with someone I met at a meeting, who later became a real estate agent. Keep in mind that I never once asked about real estate. Now I'm suddenly on her email marketing list. Every time she has a new property to sell, I get an email (and I'm CC'd along with about a hundred of her friends). Sigh. One more email, and I swear I'm going to Reply-To-All.
We've seen a lot of real estate agents sign up to use MailChimp. We can break them down into two types...
A) "I want to use email as a relationship tool to help my customers (and, of course, help my sales)."
B) "I've gotta make my quota, or I'm screwed. So I just bought a list of emails, and I want to blast an advertisement for this new property!"
I'm sad to say that right now, the majority of agents who sign up at MailChimp fall under Category B, and we have to politely turn away their business. Guess that's why I'm writing this post.
But here's the thing. Part of his list consisted of about 80 people who had actually signed up at his website to receive more information about that property. Granted, they did not sign up for an email newsletter list. They were probably just expecting a one-time email response from him with pricing, availability, etc. I was about to tell him that he could contact those 80 people (because they'd surely remember him) and politely remind them of how he got their email addresses, then ask them if they'd like to receive more information now that the property was officially open for business. But before I could suggest all that, he accused me of "picking on real estate agents" and said that our human review process was letting spammers through (never mind the fact that we stopped him) and said, "Good luck with your revenue model when you finally decide to block spam." Alrighty then. I have to say that although we're not driving a different color Porsche for each day of the week, we do quite well supporting legitimate email marketers who send permission-based email.
Don't get me wrong. We have nothing against acquiring a list of prospects and contacting them. It's business. You just can't use MailChimp to email them. Jeopardize your own server, please. Actually, we couldn't recommend mass email at all for unsolicited sales. It's a waste of money, and you'll end up pissing off lots of people, and getting reported as a spammer.
Email marketing is best for maintaining a relationship with your existing customers, as opposed to acquiring new customers. Some real estate agents just don't get it.
Luckily, there are some who do get it.
Here's a nice example from MailChimp user Jodi Arnold, from John L. Scott Real Estate:
We like this because she's maintaining a relationship with clients. It's not some automated message from an MLS database. Jodi wrote it.
If you're an agent, and you've already placed a client into a home, why on earth would that client want to hear from you anymore? How would it possibly benefit your sales to keep emailing someone who has already purchased a home, and will probably not buy another home for several more years (let alone in the same market, from you)? Referrals. Stay on someone's good side, and they'll tell their friends.
How do you stay on top of mind? Occasionally send them truly useful content. Look at Jodi's email newsletter. It's got local events, commentary on local real estate news, the always popular "my house is worth..." data, and of course her closing statement of "I appreciate referrals..."
It's useful, it's honest, it's personal.
Jodi can boast a healthy sized list of local clients, a 0% unsubscribe rate, and an open rate that is double her industry average.
You might say, "this is hard work to put together content like this every single month!" You might also say, "This can get expensive fast, and what's my ROI?"
All very good points. There's no way you can put together useful content that people actually want to read every single month. Not unless that's your only job, or you have a very good team of content producers in your company. That's why we made MailChimp a pay-per-email system, with no monthly fees. So send it every quarter. Or whenever you have time. But please---only when you have something useful to share.
I'm certainly no real estate expert, but if you think you have to spend countless hours in front of a computer to get leads (instead of in front of real people), you're probably on the wrong track. You'll never get the Glengarry list that way.
It's about quality, not quantity.
Collecting Backup Email Addresses
I stumbled upon the TrueDelta website last night. TrueDelta is some kind of alternative to Consumer Reports' car reliability reports. Anyways, take a look at their enrollment form. In their line of business, it's crucial to send you periodic emails so that you can take your car repair survey. So they ask you for your email address, plus a backup email address.
Very nice idea if you send mission critical email alerts, what with all the spam filters and email firewalls that are constantly changing their algorithms to block spam. More and more people are getting their emails accidentally blocked, so having a backup email address on file is smart.
One could probably combine this idea with some kind of open or click tracker to automatically send a followup to the alternative address:
Using AJAX In Your Email Signup Forms
One thing I have noticed on nearly all of the web sites I develop for clients where a mailing list is being populated via a sign up page (that describes most of my clients), the mailing list doesn't build up very fast, even on sites getting tons of traffic. I figured the problem could be that people weren't interested, they were put off by the amount of info they would have to enter, or they just missed the link to the mailing list sign up page all together. The latter two I had the power to solve. I built a very simple mailing list sign up widget that only required an email address, and placed it on the home page of some clients' sites (http://rwoodstudio.com, http://soupstudios.com, http://hawthornehouseinc.com). Using some fancy Ajax technology the user could sign up without the page refreshing, making the process fast, and unobtrusive to the browsing experience. Once the sign up form was more prevalent and less daunting our sign up rate tripled across the board.
Here's an article that will walk you through my solution for the problem:
Thanks for the tip, Aarron!
Authentication Causing False Spoof Warnings
Email is easily "spoofed." That means you can make a message appear as if it's coming from someone else (and perhaps trick them into submitting a password, or something slimy like that). So receiving servers now look for some type of "authentication" with every message you send. Authentication is basically "proof" that "this message really did come from my server."
Wouldn't you know it, we're starting to see a few cases of authentication causing false spoof/phishing warnings from email servers.
Here's what's happening:
- You send an email campaign from Server A, to a recipient at Server B.
- Server A has authentication setup, so your email has all the proper "proof" that it truly came from Server A. You're doing everything properly.
- Server B accepts the message.
- But your recipient, at Server B, is always on the go. He setup his email account to automatically forward all his email to his mobile device, which uses an email address hosted by his mobile service carrier (Server C).
- Server C receives the (forwarded) email from Server B. But the message header says, "This was delivered by Server A," so it looks spoofed.
- Server C rejects the message.
If you send a lot of emails, you may find evidence of this in one or two of your bounce backs.
It's not a widespread issue (yet). We occasionally hear from a customer about how "My customer's email server is saying my emails are spoofed!" Don't worry. You're not doing anything wrong. The recipient is probably just forwarding to his mobile device. Ask him to just subscribe with his mobile device's email address instead of his forwarding address.
They could theoretically solve this problem, if they could tell Server C to "trust the judgments that Server B makes." Not gonna happen.
This problem will be solved once enough mission-critical emails (like travel itineraries) are lost in cyberspace. Just keep an eye on your bounce records, and see if you spot someone you know who should be receiving your emails, but they hard bounced.
If you send last-minute travel itineraries (and people are likely to be forwarding your emails to their mobile devices), or if you're a bank, and your security and reputation are critical, you may want to consider warning your recipients about this when they sign up for your emails (or at least creating a help article on your website about it).