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No Excuses For Sloppy Marketing!

by Andrew O'Halloran, Chief Privacy Officer

There are many misconceptions concerning permission-based email marketing. One of the biggest is about permission-based email marketing is that somehow good marketing practice is no longer all that important. After all, what is the point of doing market research, understanding your audience, and targeting their needs - why? - when it costs virtually nothing to send an "email blast"?

Why, indeed.

The simple answer is this: You are almost guaranteeing your own disappointment and it's highly likely you'll alienate (if not infuriate) the very same audience you were trying to pursue. A good email marketing strategy like any good marketing strategy takes effort, analysis, and planning. It also takes more than sending off an email blast.

It's too big a task for me to write about all the various email marketing strategies related to each industry or organization. So let's take just one example. Let's look at a fictitious charitable organization to see how other marketing activities impact their efforts.

Step #1: Get data.

In response to a general downward trend in charitable donations, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University embarked on a study to find out why. The study provided some surprising results that just might be useful to those of us using email marketing.

The study concluded that the top reasons "households stopped giving to charity"(in order of highest to lowest frequency) were:

1. Organization misled the public about its work
2. I didn't feel connected to the organization anymore
3. I stopped my involvement with the organization
4. My finances did not permit it
5. Organization did not recognize or acknowledge my contributions
6. Other reasons
7. Organization did not keep accurate records of my address or gifts
8. I moved to another place
9. Concerns about spending too much on administration and/or fundraising
10. Organization was dishonest about its operation or is untrustworthy
11. Organization changed its mission or its programs
12. Organization requested donations too frequently

Frankly, I was surprised by some of these results. For example, I would have thought that "moving" and "requesting donations too frequently" would have shown up higher. But in all events, it shows what happens if you move away from good marketing.

Step #2: Get more data.

If you were a charitable organization, for example, the first thing you might want to do to avoid this kind of reaction would be to solicit and to analyze feedback from your donor base. This will tell you where you stand in the eyes of your prospective donors. A good marketing approach might be to send an electronic survey to donors at regular intervals to test their attitudes toward your organization. You could, among other things, solicit feedback based on the donor's activity (or inactivity).

If your email analytics indicated, for example, that over time, certain donors were opening emails less often. This might be a signal that they are losing interest with your organization. A customized survey to these donors might provide the insight into the reasons why.

Step #3: Focus on your best responders.

Good marketing also suggests that it costs less to keep and "upsell" an existing customer than it does to find a new one. In the case of a charitable organization, the #2 reason shown above, for reduced giving was because "I didn't feel connected to the organization anymore". Note carefully, that was reported more frequently than "My finances did not permit it".

Resources are limited in every organization, and all the more so for charitable groups. This is where planning and prioritization play an important role in your marketing strategy. For example, based on the data above, the best return for a charitable organization would seem to be to focus and prioritize marketing initiatives centered around "connecting with your donor base"; or in other words, your "donor retention strategy."

Step #4: Get Data and focus on best responders.

Here is a way for our hypothetical charity to both get data and focus on the best responders. They could start by creating and sending a newsletter at regular intervals. Then, using the results of the newsletter campaign (e.g. opens and clicks) as data, they can investigate ways to improve their donor retention strategy, Possible test might include the following:

  • Tracking responsiveness and then taking action based on the level of responsiveness.
  • Tracking responsiveness based on the newsletter's content and then using that information to personalize content to individual donors or donor segments.

Our fictitious charitable organization might also find that a newsletter could serve as an excellent format to include content that recognizes donors who have contributed. That was fifth in the list of reasons why donors stopped giving. The newsletter might be used to thank recent donors in the newsletter and might include a spotlight article on some notable donors. Not only this a way to keep donors giving, it might turn out to be a way to get new donors. Donor X, who now feels good about being recognized, forwards the newsletter to friends and family who in turn develop an interest in the charity and become donors themselves. Alternatively, a "Forward-to-Friend" strategy might be another way to use the newsletter to do this.

Step #5: Use more than email.

Finally, our charity could add some sophistication to its email marketing strategy. This might address other donor retention weak spots. Our charity could add a "preference center" on their website where donors can update their personal information and communication preferences. This would directly deal with the seventh complaint (Organization did not keep accurate records of my address or gifts) and the eighth (I moved to another place); and the twelfth (Organization requested donations too frequently). By extension, if the preference center prevents postal mail from going to the wrong address, our charity would also save in mailing costs.

Good marketing practice is the key to good email results.

The point of all this that there's more to successful email marketing than shoving emails out to your prospects or customers. Successful email marketing requires heavy emphasis on the "marketing" - about understanding your audience, understanding what they want, and then using all the tools available to you to help them get it. Do sloppy email marketing and you'll get sloppy results. Do better marketing, and you'll get better results.

This entry was posted on Saturday, April 4th, 2009 at 11:11 am

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