Advanced Email Strategies to Boost Response Rates

John Harrison from Yesmail led this discussion. Among the measures the experienced email marketers in this group look at are Open rate, click-through, opt-in rates, channels they came through, time spent of site, net gain or loss of subscribers, what do the campaigns do to opt-out rate of a contact stream.

Conversion metrics typically used include new registrations, downloading a PDF, or whatever the objective of the campaign was. It all depends on the goal. Another organization has used inferred means, such as purchases over time. People who have more interaction with their email have been shown to have higher value.

Some have used email to test messaging for direct mail marketing. Intuit, for example, matches customer registrations (about 70 percent of purchasers register) against their email and direct mail history, to see whether people have gone online to purchase or purchased in a store.

Generic rental lists of email addresses typically have bad response rates. If companies have advertised with a magazine, however, renting that subscription list may be better. It’s important to scrub against your house list to be sure you’re not spamming. The key is to create a value proposition that causes them to register to become part of your house list. If it costs $200 per customer to acquire a customer through other marketing channels (e.g. TV or direct mail), a list rental may be cost-effective. It will never match the performance of your house list.

Email Strategies – John listed several subject areas to consider. We didn’t get to all of them, but if people have ideas to add in the comments, I know others would be glad to hear them.

Contact/Frequency — Ranges may be 3-5 times per month at max. Companies centralize management of the list to prevent various marketing groups from contacting the same people. For people who have requested a specific category of updates, they can get more than the basic rule would allow. Others are once per 30 days unless they have opted in.



Subject Lines — From address and Subject Line are overlooked elements, and should be user-friendly and tied to your brand. Purpose of the From address is brand and recognition. If you do that right you can have more flexibility with the subject line. The only purpose of the subject line is to get someone to open the message.

Creative — Gerber, for instance, does a series of Baby Center emails based on pregnancy phase, sending emails during each week letting expectant moms know what to expect. Petsmart created a Pet-of-the-Month contest to integrate into its email messages.



Emerging Media — Widgets branded for Desktop, RSS, SMS, Mobile delivery, social networks. Adoption of RSS is slow, limited mainly to geeks. Email is a glue that holds other channels together. It’s one thing that everyone “gets.” Even the social network sites have email notification options. That’s one reason they work well, because those who aren’t constantly living in Facebook get alerts through email or by text message.

Time to market/getting an email out the door — Political campaigns are great at timeliness, whereas some businesses can take weeks to take advantage of a timely opportunity.

Frost & Sullivan Keynote II: Martyn Etherington, Tektronix

Martyn presented on “Maximizing & Measuring Your Return on Consumer and Marketing Investment: How to avoid Marketing’s Growing Relevancy Crisis.”

A recent Journal of Marketing study of 167 companies found that “CMOs don’t have any measurable effect on a company’s financial performance.”

Why do marketers spend such a large percentage of their time justifying their position and their budgets? They lack relevancy in three constituencies: The customer, the channel, the business.

Martyn told his personal story with Tektronix, a 60-year old company from Portland, Ore. and how he’s been transforming the marketing function.

What problems were they trying to solve? When he came in, Marketing was spread across the organization, with over 100 “strategic objectives” and 4,000 activities that weren’t well linked. Couldn’t measure anything except dollars spent. No success criteria and no accountability. Marketers had no idea of the business situation, order targets. Little or no discussion about the customer, and a wall between Sales & Marketing.

Martyn’s Get Well Plan

  • Strategy Alignment – distilling 100+ objectives to 20, and defined success criteria
  • Organization Alignment – Centralized organization and responsibility – “One throat to choke”
  • Operational Alignment – Measurement & accountability became a mantra

Changing Philosophy to think like a customer. Begin with an understanding of how people buy, and their decision stages. When does it switch from a Marketing conversation to a Sales conversation?

Changed from Activity Based to Outcome Based marketing, based on four questions:

  1. What outcome are you trying to achieve?
  2. What strategic objective does it support?
  3. How will you know when you’ve achieved it?
  4. How can you make it better?

Sales Alignment Challenge: “What will it take for us to get an A on our year-end report card?”

How many leads should marketing provide? Assumed business source ration of sales:marketing is 80:20, which implies about 5 leads per account manager per month

How much should a marketing lead cost? Set a target of $400 cost per lead. Changed marketing mix to reach that target.


  • Marketing costs have declined both in absolute and relative terms
  • Productivity has increased
    • 50 percent more efficient and effective
    • Now responsible for repositioning/segmentation
    • Now started to track customer SOW (share of wallet) and NPS (net promoter score) – growth metrics
  • Measure their business contribution

Lessons learned:

  • Building an accountable marketing function frequires a philosphical change, not jsut a tool set
  • Change is hard and will take time. Two-thirds of the employees who were there at the outset have been replaced.
  • What you measure gets better; don’t measure it if it isn’t actionable
  • Fact-based decision makeing empowers people
  • Always focus on wher eyou are going, you can never go back
  • Review and adjust

Audience Q&A

Q: Did they measure lead quality as well as lead volume?

A: 80 percent of all leads go untouched by sales. That’s a national figure, and it was roughly the same for Tektronix. He had to work with sales leadership to get sales follow-up.

Q: Why did you have to replace 85 percent of team? Skill set mismatch or attitudes?

A: Both. Some “cancers” needed to be removed, and Marketing had been a “dumping ground” for people who didn’t measure up in other parts of the business. Others voluntarily left because they didn’t like the new accountability culture.

Observation: Not having worked in the for-profit sector, it’s interesting that there seems to be a hierarchy in many companies:

  • Operations
  • Sales
  • Marketing
  • PR

I’m sure that’s not a revelation to many, but it just struck me anew listening to Martyn. PR typically doesn’t get respect from Marketing, Sales blames Marketing for poor-quality leads, Operations blames Sales for not making targets. It’s much healthier if the groups are working together as a team to meet organizational goals. It seems it really does come down to numbers, and if you can prove contribution you get more respect. Thus, Katie Paine’s work on measurement for social media as well as PR is important.

I still think the social media ROI won’t be hard to show, particularly because the “I” is so ridiculously low. It also will provide valuable customer insights, hearing exactly what they are thinking about your company. This whole presentation and discussion does emphasize for me, though, that we need to look at ways to track social media benefits. If you can document that the benefit is at least x, and that x is significantly greater than the investment, then you can make a good argument that the real value is much higher.

For example, one idea I got from a fellow attendee yesterday was on how to measure podcast listenership. When you subscribe to a podcast, those episodes are automatically pushed out to the subscribers. But you don’t know whether the segments actually got played on the iPods or computers. Did the subscribers really listen?

The suggestion from Douglas White of MindComet is to have a “highlights” list as a PDF that accompanies each segment. When people go to the sited to download that take-away, that tells you a rock-bottom minimum number of people who actually listened, because they took that next step. And if you have links within that PDF to the ordering function on your site, you can prove contribution to sales or lead generation.

Doug asked me last night to serve on his panel on user-generated content, which will be later this morning. I’m also on a panel about blogging this afternoon. Should be a busy and fun day. I’ll be blogging about both sessions.

Update: Kevin’s notes on Martyn’s keynote are here.

Frost & Sullivan: Using Social Media to Drive Demand

Michael Masnick, President and CEO of Techdirt, is leading this session exploring:

  1. Blogs
  2. Social Networks
  3. User Generated Content (YouTube, Flickr, etc.)
  4. Twitter
  5. Wikis
  6. Virtual Worlds (Second Life)
  7. User Reviews
  8. Employee Communities

Our key take-aways will be:

  1. A framework for understanding blogs & social media in terms of how they can be used to drive demand
  2. Case studies on a few different ways to engage with new media audiences
  3. Examples and insight into what works and what doesn’t in the social media space

There was a significant discussion over whether or not to respond to negative comments. One participant said his company’s blog is to provide a forum for customers, and that they don’t respond on the blog. Someone else raised a question: If an issue surfaces through the blog and you address it, why wouldn’t you go back and do a blog post to let everyone know that you had resolved it?One of our participants mentioned that his employer, TD Bank has a Facebook group or application. I’m not sure whether I’m seeing the one he’s mentioned, because it may be limited to Canada. Its competitor RBC has a sponsored group, too.

There was a lot of discussion about ROI and metrics. From my perspective, the key is making the “I” part of the ROI equation as small as possible. Train employees to engage as volunteers. Get customers involved. Provide the platform for them to have discussions. With little expense, it makes the return (much of which may be hard to quantify) easier to demonstrate.

When we broke into roundtables to work on case studies, I was with three consultants so my employer, Mayo Clinic, was the only organization left. So I had the benefit of Kevin Hoffberg, Ginger Conlon and Anne Smith Rainey (from Publicis Modem) giving their advice based on what we’re doing. Kevin is blogging their recommendations for Mayo Clinic, as well as those from the other groups for U.S. Bank, Pfizer and Armstrong.

Frost & Sullivan Breakout: Online Marketing

In an era in which overall marketing spend is projected to be flat, this Peer Counseling breakout session moderated by Kevin Hoffberg gave us a chance to share ideas on how online marketing will claim an increasing share of that slowly growing pie.

Here are my notes from the session. I’d welcome others who participated in the conversation to jump in with additional clarifications or comments.

Rick Short mentioned CIC Data as a way to monitor and measure word-of-mouth in China.

Intuit uses Bazaar Voice to see what customers are out there saying about their products, and incorporating that user-generated content into the Intuit site.

Cara Shockley from says linking to support groups (supporting the support groups) has been an important strategy. User communities can be a huge marketing advantage. Jim from Eloqua calls it a source of strength. You’re not just buying a product, you’re joining a community. This is Wikinomics…letting people who are your users add value.

Financial services company have had a fear of transparency because they are worried about getting flamed. There’s a big difference between an official corporate blog and understanding what people are already saying about you. The conversation is happening, so you need to at least monitor. The representative from Union Bank says they are informally getting into commenting on some other blogs, but not ready to jump in yet. Advanta, another financial services company, has started a social site called ideablob.

For a software company, half the revenue is from support. So having communities could cut revenue. They don’t want to aid these non-paying communities. Why not create an on-line knowledge base by subscription? If you don’t support customers with an online community, those communities will spring up, and your support team will lose. This is a lack of vision that could lead to a Wikipedia-esque alternative replacing the software company’s World Book.

Check out Quicken online , and their Facebook page.

One of the keys in blogging and liability for companies is that if you don’t moderate comments, you don’t bear the responsibility for what’s posted. is a QuickBooks product, and now they went with a free version of their entry level QuickBooks product. They developed a Just Start contest for would-be entrepreneurs encouraging people to quit their jobs and start small businesses. This could have tie-ins for financial services companies, so making some of those connections could build.

Peter from Intuit mentioned Genesis measurement services as a possible integrated service.

Please do add your comments, and continue the great conversation we had this morning. Feel free to add links to helpful resources in your comments, and particularly any case studies of things your organization is doing.

Change in Plans

“Wait a sec… I think I just… Yeah, I just had an idea.”

Lloyd Christmas, Dumb & Dumber

A funny thing happened on the way to Phoenix. As I was sitting in the airport in Rochester, Minn. I had finished a post previewing a series on using Facebook for qualitative market research, and promised that my next few posts would flesh out this concept step-by-step. But some First Class brainstorming on the flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix has caused me to think more expansively. I have some more details to work out, but as I do I will return to that concept of Facebook Focus groups as part of the the broader framework.

So here’s a review of my Sunday travel experience, and a look ahead to the Frost & Sullivan conference, from which I plan to be blogging.

  • Goofy TSA moment: It might not be exactly a TSA responsibility as much as a general transportation regulation issue. As I disembarked from the tiny plane that had made the puddle jump from Rochester to Minneapolis, most of the passengers were gathered around the door where the luggage that had been checked planeside (mine included) was about to be delivered. The area was packed, and I didn’t want to block the doorway, so I set my laptop bag in one of the chairs just inside the waiting area near the gate. The gate attendant noted that I had broken the plane of the doorway (as Marion Barber, III just did to give the Cowboys a 14-7 lead over the Giants), so as I popped back in she said, “Sir, since you left the gate I’m going to need to have you show me your boarding pass.” Me: “You’ve got to be kidding.” Answer: “I’m NOT kidding. Regulations say that when passengers leave the gate area, they need to show their boarding pass.” This wasn’t a big deal. I pulled it right out of my coat pocket and it was quickly resolved. But to the extent that devotion to regulation enforcement has trumped common sense (she knew I had been on the plane, and watched me walk up the ramp and set my laptop bag 18 inches outside the gate and step back in), it’s a sign that Mark Steyn is right. If we’re entrusting our security to aggressive enforcement of the gate regulations instead of, say, the porous borders through which the next 9/11-type terrorists could enter, that’s a losing proposition.
  • Upgraded Seating. What led to my first-class brainstorming was being in, well… First Class. I had just gotten notification that I had achieved Silver Elite status with Northwest Airlines based on my travel for 2007. Our Carlson Travel group assistant had noticed that I had been booked in a middle seat, and sent my assistant a note saying that with Silver Elite I could book premium seats at no charge through anytime before the flight, and had changed me to aisle seats. I’m still not sure exactly how I ended up in First Class. If anyone can fill me in on how this Silver Elite thing works and what I need to do to have the best chance of getting upgrades, I’d welcome the explanation, because I’m really new at it, and it was nice to not be crowded, and to get an omelette instead of Pringle’s.
  • Spiritual Social Media. Because my first flight was at 7:15 and I didn’t arrive in Phoenix until 11:20, I didn’t get to go to church. I watched a John Piper sermon on my video iPod. I’ve written previously about how I appreciated what Dr. Piper and the Desiring God Ministries team have done with podcasts through their radio without radio initiative. Now R.C. Sproul, another of my favorites, also offers his daily radio program as a podcast.

After Dr. Piper’s sermon (and finishing another good book I’ll be reviewing soon), I was in a great frame of mind for heavy-duty brainstorming. I look forward to sharing those ideas as I refine them further. Meanwhile, the Frost & Sullivan conference is about to begin, in an hour or so, so it’s time to hit the showers after having gone for a run here at the Wigwam Golf Resort & Spa. It’s a really nice place, and the weather is fantastic.

My next few posts will be about what I’m learning here. I attended another of these Frost & Sullivan events last July and blogged about it. I expect this one will give me lots of material, too.