How to make email count
Two Questions to Build a Business-Relevant Context for Email Metrics
An integrated digital marketing strategy is certain to include an email component. Email is still one of the most effective ways to create or maintain a prominent place in the minds of your customers or subscribers.
A question that is always top of mind for email marketers is how to make the email investment count toward the overall results that are expected from the digital marketing effort.
As with most digital marketing tools, email gives you access to a wide array of metrics. The variety of numbers can become a burden. There is a temptation to create complex reports that aim to impress with a considerable number of metrics, charts, tables and timelines that claim to interpret and explain every aspect of an email campaign to whoever is paying for the report.
The idea behind this post is to propose a business-friendly way to evaluate your email efforts so you understand their purpose and how email is helping you reach your goals.
Metrics with a context
One way to ensure that your email reports are clear and understandable as part of your marketing effort is to provide them with a solid, business-directed context. The numbers themselves do not provide a context that is business-friendly. They reflect only the activities within the email channel, not their meaning within a proper business-context.
Weekly or daily numbers can be evaluated on their own against a benchmark: sometimes the open rate may up, or down, or the bounce rate may have moved in some direction one week, and then back down again. It is important to understand the mechanics of why these movements may be happening, but the answer to those questions does not provide a business context for the value of the email marketing effort. It focuses on the measurement of the activities in email channel delivery. Not its business contribution.
We are trying to look beyond reporting email activities that are internalized departmental reports. We are trying to look for business-relevant meaning for email metrics.
Building a business-relevant context for email channel metrics
At its most basic level, email marketing is a two-way communication channel with a customer or potential customer. With that in mind, one can begin to evaluate the effectiveness of the email effort by establishing how well the channel is working as a communications tool.
For example, within that context, the metrics need to answer one question:
Is our message reaching customers?
The answer, yes or no, needs to be supported by the reporting and the benchmarking within the account. This is the difference between reporting on activities within the channel as if they mattered on their own, and establishing a useful, business-relevant context for the email channel.
One question is not enough
The answer to the question, is our message reaching customers? Encapsulates the business needs, the reason to use email, and the method for evaluating its success. But one question, though powerful, isn’t enough to create the context needed.
Since we are trying to establish the effectiveness of the email channel as a communication tool between existing and potential customers, another question needs to be added:
This second question establishes the necessary understanding for the business-context events that email is generating. If your report says that most customers are ignoring emails by not opening them, then that requires specific actions to resolve. If the report says that most customers are looking at the messaging and doing nothing with it, then that points to a different area of improvement.
The power of business-context metrics
The answers to these two questions establishes the usefulness of the email channel as a communication tool within a business-friendly context.
Naturally, to support the answers to the questions you have to have a well-connected metrics system that can deliver the kinds of relevant numbers that can be used to build answers to these questions and supports items like segmentation, data transfers, Google Analytics tracking, etc. Most email systems like MailChimp, Klaviyo, Aweber and SendInBlue, to name a few, provide the activity numbers that can be used to support the answers to these questions.
Following this approach puts a common floor under email efforts and provides a simple way to evaluate, on their own, whether each activity within the channel has a good chance to succeed or not beyond what the activities numbers may say. The numbers are no longer talking email-speak. They are now talking business-speak, and by doing so, can effectively communicate their results to other groups in the business that will appreciate the effort and provide insight that can help, in the end, improve the way to make email count.
Here are 6 checkpoints you can use to evaluate your current digital marketing strategy and establish whether it is still on track. Most of the time, Digital Strategies require adjustments over time. Messages may need to be refreshed. Images may need to be changed. New challenges may have appeared in the competitive landscape that need to be addressed. There are many changes in your business environment that require adjustments in your digital (and offline) strategy.
Here are 6 important signs you can track that will tell you what kinds of changes are needed:
An important thing to note is that, as you can probably tell from the descriptions above, each tactic of your digital marketing strategy supports the business and all have internal links to one another. Understanding these links, and learning how to manipulate them to improve results over time (via testing and changing tactics and elements within them for optimization), will lead to overall better results for your digital marketing spend. It will also lead you to make reasonable decisions about the future of your spend, and which channels really help you connect to your customers at every stage of your product/service life cycle.
A thorough, impartial Digital Marketing audit is a good place to begin so decisions can be based on data, balanced by the knowledge and experience of your staff and your customers.
I have just finished reading Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. I recommend the book for digital marketers, although, of course, it isn't a 'transactional' book, like most digital marketing books that sell you 'Ten Ways to Increase your Profits RIGHT NOW.' It is a relational book, discussing one single topic from several angles and bringing a very interesting polemic out into the open. Mainly, what kind of a world are we building with these 'social' tools on the internet? Mr. Lanier believes, as should be obvious from the title, that the direction the software world has taken is not conducive to a human world where dignity, individuality, choice, and critical thinking are valued. He believes that social media platforms, and almost all advertising-driven platforms, are complicit in the process of dehumanizing people.
He is right, of course.
This is not to say that his arguments are without problems or that one should uncritically accept everything that Mr. Lanier discusses in his book. For one thing, this is a shorter book where only one side of the argument is heard. Mr. Lanier does not offer possible counter-arguments to his own positions. This is usually a red flag when it comes to reading these kinds of books. However, in this case, it isn't a 'showstopper.'
The reason it isn't a showstopper with this particular book is that, as internet readers, we are submerged in a constant flotsam and jetsam of discussion about the goodness or 'badness' of social media networks. There are arguments floating back and forth about this topic all over the place, in part because it is the fad right now, and in part because there are genuine causes for alarm.
The noise of the discussion disguises whether we have a real problem in our hands or not. However, cutting through the noise, which this book might help you do in your own mind, is a solid first step toward acquiring a 'beginner's mind' to the problem that can help you evaluate and re-establish your own opinions about it without having to refer to endless websites to check what you think.
Mr. Lanier's discussion, and the fact that it is presented in a book form, allows the reader to acquire well-presented arguments for paying attention to aspects of internet-life that most users simply gloss over, in the same way that you gloss over the view from your window after you've looked at it over and over after a few months, or years. You are used to it, and you don't see it as a threat, so your mind ignores it.
Mr. Lanier's position is that, on the internet, there is no such thing as 'the view is not a threat,' because, by design, the internet as it is growing and shaping up as of this writing, is a danger to the kind of human development that encourages independence of thought, creativity, choice and individuality. The claim is that the organic growth of the current social media platforms, and the decisions these platforms make about how they are going to 'monetize your data' create a format that is mentally and socially toxic and that it is likely to tear down the interactions that individuals have used to create community over time without replacing them with anything that can provide similar results. Instead, replacing them with money-driven, transactionally-oriented, interactions that replace 'free activities' like friendship with money-intermediated activities like 'friendship on Facebook.'
This is the same as if a soda company executive would state that their main competition is the municipal water supply and that they wish to replace it with a constant supply of 'paid for' cola dispensers in the home.
Some people would jump at the chance to replace their water supply with this kind of service. To others, the idea may seem repellent. Mr. Lanier falls squarely on this latter camp.
Mr. Lanier's biggest contribution to the discussion is his ability to explain what an alternative to the current model might be, and, without going into all the details (his is not a policy book, but a polemic), he gives enough of a reasonable explanation to make it plausible to consider alternatives to the current, advertising driven model.
As a digital marketer, the advertising-driven model provides me with several advantages that are quite normal when it comes to diffusing a message through the noise of every day life. You get access to a tool that allows you to scale. The efficacy of the messaging, of course, is derived from the quality of the message and the budget behind it: the ability to repeat it over and over again for a relatively long period of time to create a mental habit in the eyes of the viewer, who is perceived as a passive recipient.
Once we stop looking at the viewer as a passive recipient, then we have to decide what kind of message has the best 'optimized' chance to successfully break through the barriers of attention. This messaging is usually of a 'negative bent,' and has been used for years on television commercials for products such as deodorants, fresh-breath mints, and the like: you have a problem, we sell a solution. Or, we've made up a problem and we are selling you a solution.
With social media networks, the ability to modify the perceptions of the viewer, and create some sort of addictive behavior independent of the individual's choice, are the elements that Mr. Lanier points out and that, as marketers, we should be concerned about so we can make decisions about our own desire to employ such tactics or not.
As marketers, this is our choice. Are we willing to make everything we do entirely transactional in nature, like our fictitious soda company executive, so we can intermediate it via a financial transaction to a third party, which in part could be manipulating our minds to make decisions they like?
You only have to look at magicians to see how the human mind can be manipulated into using concepts that the magician chooses them to have. That's an okay thing to do for an entertainment show, one that has a beginning, middle, and end, but do we want a world where every relationship we have is manipulated in this manner by individuals unknown to us (at least with the magician, he is on stage playing with us and it is an unwritten contract that we provide consent to have our brains scrambled during the act, do we give that kind of consent to social platforms every day, and every hour of the day when we use them?).
A revealing detail in all these discussions is that social media executives seldom allow their children to use the tools, and platforms, that they have created.
I think that the answer to the kinds of questions Mr. Lanier poses, and the kinds of questions that we, as marketers, pose for ourselves, lies squarely on this particular detail in the lives of the executives of Facebook and the other platforms.
Mr. Lanier's book is a solid read, flawed in places, but solid nonetheless and a good way to maintain a 'beginner's mind' on topics that otherwise would fly past us on our day to day activities. Reading it is the equivalent of catching your breath after a long run up a flight of stairs.
Learning from my clients...
The work that I do allows me to come into contact with different types of companies in terms of products and organization. It is a point of pride for me to learn about the clients' business, their interests, goals, and particularly, their ways of working.
My clients find me when there is a need for structure and organization in their digital efforts. They've likely already had consultants telling them to put money on every channel, particularly social, and watch the results 'roll in' into the future. There's of course Google and Bing, and, depending on the type of product and customer, Instagram and some of the other, less well-known networks.
Their efforts look coherent, but they are not. Most of the time, once you look into them, you see that their messaging is 'off' in some networks and 'on' in others, while the timing of the messaging has fallen apart under pressure to keep up artificially urgent schedules.
I've learned that one of the most important messages my clients give me is that the stuff they've been doing does not seem to be working the way they thought it would and that they do not understand why this is the case.
This is the main reason why, when I engage with a new organization, I have some questions that need to be answered to make the engagement worthwhile for the client. Particularly as to what's been tried in the past and whether it has worked.
Sometimes, clients will tell me that they've already spent all their budget on this or that network effort and that it did not render any results worth looking into. Usually, the Network is to be blamed for the failure.
In those cases, it is helpful to look back and understand precisely what the client sees as 'unworthy' about the effort, and perhaps learn from the first attempt at attacking a particular network. A good post-mortem for a campaign is a way to open everyone's eyes as to what a success will look like in the future.
I like to guide those efforts with management and with the relevant members of the organization.
My clients find that those discussions open the way to more structure, improved marketing within their limited resources and that the work that we do together improves their odds of success.
And those are some of the things that get me out of bed in the morning and keep me interested in working with multiple organizations.
Just replace the world 'pinball' with the words 'digital marketing' as you listen to the people describe their experience. I am sure you'll be able to relate to the discussion. I enjoy explaining digital approaches to business challenges as clearly as this video talks about pinball. Enjoy.
Understanding Customer Loyalty as Confirmation Bias
A business can understand customer loyalty as a manifestation of the positive side of Confirmation Bias. This bias is inherent in people's mental model, and is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories.
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects.”
— Francis Bacon
You can think of confirmation bias in a negative manner, as a way to prevent you from understanding the world correctly by blinding you to a proper understanding of the evidence in front of you. And you would be correct to look at it in this way. In the real world of contradictory ideologies,
Confirmation Bias is the mental approach that allows two people with opposing views on a topic to see the same evidence and come away feeling validated by it. Unchecked, it can create a dangerous thought bubble that isolates and destroys your ability to relate to the world.
In the context of this conversation, however, we are looking at the positive side of Confirmation Bias. (The technical term for this use of Confirmation Bias is Apophenia).
Looking at the Shapes of Clouds and Mountains
Confirmation Bias has a positive aspect to it. It has to do with patterns and reassurance. The mind is designed to seek patterns in the world and it will create and sustain them automatically, often from evidence that does not support such patterns. For example, people who see figures in the shapes of clouds are using a form of confirmation bias to ‘trim’ what they see to belong to a category of things they know about (sheep or cows or whatever object is on their minds at the time). The trimming process removes whatever elements in their mind would interfere with the creation and maintenance of this mental image. The ‘mental trimming process’ is reinforced via confirmation bias to make the image become clear in their minds, even though it does not exist in the real world.
In the case of looking at the shape of clouds, this is a very mild process and does not involve confrontation. Someone else may disagree with an individual about the shape they see in a cloud, but this will likely not become cause for a duel to the death. However, It is possible for one person to transfer to another person the ability to see the same object in a cloud by telling them about it in a cooperative manner. By describing the shape of the cloud in terms of the elements of the object desired, one person can ‘make’ the other person see what they believe they see in the clouds.
The same process also happens when viewing the shapes of some mountains. People describe shapes and can transfer this description to another person’s view of the same mountain so they both ‘see’ the same thing, even though it is clear ‘the thing’ they are looking at is not really a part of the mountain (or the cloud) in the least.
Triggering Confirmation Bias To Create Customer Loyalty
To apply Confirmation Bias within a customer centric Digital Investment Plan, a business can add a ‘crazy’ element to their marketing approach. By committing a potential and/or existing customer to perform this ‘crazy’ action, the business triggers Confirmation Bias, as the individual will be naturally driven to justify their action to others.
The elements of the Digital Investment Plan come into play to create and maintain the justification details that a customer can use to confirm their beliefs about the action they have performed.
The trigger for confirmation bias can be a story told about the product and its details, or a story about how the product fits in the customer’s world. In other words, the trigger can be a real thing or a story that organizes the world into a shape that helps explain a little part of the world.
Depending on the type of customers in the business target audience, the elements may be 'crazy' or they can be as simple as a higher price than average to trigger a justification discussion.
By designing the Digital Investment Plan from the start to include these triggering elements, a business can run effective campaigns to create confirmation bias driven discussions between customers and non-customers, establishing a high probability of getting loyal customers to stick with the product while at the same time having them advocate the product (in the same way that people share their description of the shape of a cloud) with others.
Confirmation Bias discussion from Science Daily
Pareidolia: Seeing Faces in Unusual Places
Being Amused by Apophenia
What is Digital Customer Investment?
Principles Behind The Digital Customer Investment Approach to Customer Centricity
The term Digital Customer Investment (DCI) separates its concepts and objectives from more commonly used concepts like Digital Operations, or Digital Marketing, or Digital Solutions. Any of those phrases carries with it a strong direct transactional intention that bleeds into the activities defined for Digital Customers. This pre-defined intention can act as a prison preventing innovative thinking in digital customer investment. To open a perspective to different approaches that are customer-centric in nature, I have defined digital customer investment along the following principles:
A properly applied Digital Customer Investment Marketing plan will support most of these principles from the start and use them as the basis for the creation of the messaging, measurement and implementation of the plan.
See if this sounds familiar:
Going forward, we need to drill down into the customer priorities and engage a deep dive into our big data storage. This action will attack the issues we have found in customer satisfaction, which have not been addressed by our previous representatives. Our stakeholders are concerned about the lack of action in this matter, and want everyone to have a clear idea of the end of play situation we want to create, as well as the leverage we can bring upon the customer to deliver the new numbers that our growth planning requires. Fortunately, our thought leadership research group has come up with a set of actionable ideas that allows all of us to get in the tent and get a group aha effect going, so we are all clear on the end result we are trying to obtain, as quickly as possible.
Once you catch your breath after reading the paragraph above, you may appreciate the importance of verbal clarity when it comes to creating a plan to improve customer value recognition inside a business.
This is why the Digital Customer Investment Plan is called precisely that. It has a purpose that is easy to understand. It does not take a lot of energy on the part of a team to 'get' the objectives the plan provides and the methodology it uses. It should be self-evident. This accessibility, once the plan is created and agreed upon, allows the team to spend its energy focused on the things that matter, and not in getting into endless meetings to discuss 'what it all means' and 'what we are trying to do.'
Organizations that are small or medium sized may find this transition simpler because their focus on the customer may be more accessible to them, with fewer layers to work with and fewer years of history 'of how things are done around here' to work through.
Recognizing customer value may seem obvious, but it can become fragmented because individual areas of the organization view customer value through their own internal lenses. Accounting may view customer value in one way, while sales views a customer in a different, sales-related way, and of course, marketing views the customer in its own particular way.
Over time, this fragmentation sets in and prevents a clear view of the customer as someone who does not attend all the meetings and does not understand the internal history behind this or that decision. This is one way that organizations lose touch with their customer base.
Once this behavior sets in and is organizationally valid, the interests of the customer become secondary to the interests of the individual departmental groups laying claim to the 'real' value of the customer.
The integrated Digital Customer Investment Plan is designed to avoid these issues before they become chronic.
A few years ago we met a founder during one of our engagements. He had placed, at strategic locations throughout the company, several sayings and perspectives that, he hoped, would blend into a cultural view of where the company's principles stood and what were the overall lines that the company culture would not cross.
One of the lines we read was the title of this post: "It's not our money, it is the customer's money."
The sayings and their positioning made us ask: can you drill a customer culture or do you teach it?
At its most transactional level, Marketing is based on repetition. Most everyone who has been exposed to television commercials can recite a jingle engraved in their minds by sheer repetition from watching their favorite programs on television. Over time, the jingle has stuck, which is great for branding in the most transactional sense: you remember the brand that created the jingle (if it is mentioned in the jingle, which it should be). However, does remembering the brand also mean that you remember the culture associated with the brand? And, if you remember the jingle, does it help you select a product from a shelf, be that a mental shelf or a physical one? Or does the marketing simply becomes part of the mental furniture of the individual and is not brought up as part of the decision-making process for the product at the time of purchase?
Drilling a customer-centric culture and applying it to your marketing needs brings up the same questions. You need a certain level of repetition to make the marketing message stick. However, how do you add the elements of a customer culture to your repetitive message so that these elements will 'activate' at the point of purchase, so the customer, when faced with the decision to purchase a product, will consciously bring up the marketing information as an argument in favor of your product, vs. the competition.
What is the combination of messages that has the best probability of success most of the time in terms of getting to a conversion?
The solution isn't to simply repeat the same phrase over and over again and hope that it sticks in someone's mind. That only leads to the superficial, transactional element of remembering. To go deeper, you have to add a sense of purpose to the activities that your company performs. This demonstrates to the customer that you know what to do with the money that they are about to give you. If they agree with this purpose, and if they see it implemented clearly throughout the organization they can see, then, it is more likely that the repeating message will stick in the mind and is used as a definitive argument for generating a purchase.
The combination of messages we are looking for is precisely that: a purpose-transactional combination that, when added together over time, creates a bridge between the customer's action of paying for a product, and the satisfaction they derive from receiving it from your company. This satisfaction, which includes the satisfaction with the product or service purchased, translates into the kind of loyalty that enables people to advocate for your brand and turns them into something more than just a single transaction on a spreadsheet.
It makes your customers a partner in the purpose that animates your company in the first place.
The Monday Thought
HOW TO KEEP YOUR COMPANY FEELING SMALL AS YOU GROW
In the lifetime of a business, managing the startup culture as the company grows can be risky. The company culture begins to strain because the elements that make a startup feel intimate and coherent begin to spread around the organization. Decision-making processes stretch beyond their initial, intimate boundaries among team members. Branding decisions now cannot be made on the fly, but require careful consideration now that people are actually paying attention outside of the initial confines of the startup hothouse environment.
As new people are added to the team, the feeling of 'this is our little company' does not seem to spread to the new hires, who come to the company (justifiably) filled with the expectations associated with an established, salary-paying organization. New hires make demands that 'older hands' may resent as they went through the process of building the initial company without a safety net, a process that new hires can no longer participate in.
Here are 5 ideas that you can apply, as the manager of a department or even the entire company, to maintain the startup feeling as you increase sales and grow your staff to keep up with the needs of the business:
These suggestions are a place to start building a company that will have a high probability of remaining productive if these principles are followed and if they are re-evaluated on a regular basis. As with any living organization, ideas can become obsolete and the only way to time proof them is to re-evaluate them against the needs of the business on a regular basis.
Sources Consulted (Highlights):
Open Plan Offices:
Entrepreneurial Spirit as You Grow
Don't treat your team as a family
Daniel Loebl is an experienced Marketer focused on expanding the recognition of customer value inside a business and keeps a 'beginner's' mind approach to business problems.