Promo emails: What’s the right length … What’s too long?

email lengthI’m sure all of us receive some promotional e-mails with content that just seems to go on forever.

There’s no way that’s accomplishing the company’s marketing and sales goals.

But just what exactly is the right length of content in a promotional e-mail communiqué?

Assuming that “the wisdom of crowds” can get us pretty close to whatever that sweet spot is, looking at findings helpfully collected and aggregated by research firm and direct mail archive Who’s Mailing What! provide some pretty good clues.

WMW! tracks nearly 225 business categories, looking at the word count of e-mail messages deployed by companies active within each of them.

The average e-mail length for nearly all of the categories that WMW! tracks is substantially below 300 words.

[To compare, that’s shorter than the length of this blog post, which is around 300 words.]

And there are very few exceptions – fewer than ten, according to WMW.  In those seven categories, customers and prospects are used to encountering more verbiage in order to remain interested in the message.

The few business categories with the highest average content length (350 or more words on average) turn out to be the following:

  • Business/financial magazines
  • Newsletters
  • Political fundraising
  • Religious magazines
  • Seminars and conferences
  • Social action fundraising
  • Special interest magazines

Incidentally, the two categories with the absolutely highest number of words are social action fundraising (nearly 650 words) and seminars/conferences (around 620 words).

… Which for those two categories makes complete sense.  Donor prospects are going to need to read a good deal about a cause before opening their pocketbooks.  And people are going to need details about a seminar’s content and quality before agreeing to pay the typically high fees charged to attend.

But for everyone else, short e-mail promos are clearly the name of the game.  If word counts go much above 200, it’s probably getting a tad too long.

Tripping the E-Mail Spam Alarm

Today, it’s more than just the “usual suspect” keywords that are landing e-mails in the junk folder.

se-mMost of us are aware of the kinds of words that trip spam alarms and cause e-mails to be sent straight to the junk folder – or not to be delivered at all.

How about these for starters:

  • Cash
  • Congratulations
  • Discount
  • Free
  • Income
  • Make Money
  • Urgent
  • Viagra
  • $$ / $$$

But research done by MailJet, an international e-mail service provider, looked at more than 14 billion e-mail communiqués and found that a bunch of other keywords are setting off alarm bells nearly as often as terms like “Urgent” or “Viagra.”

… Especially when considering the business categories that are so active in e-mail communications — retail goods, pharmaceuticals, providers of personal services, and the like.

Some of the other terms MailJet has found to be nearly as “toxic” are these:

  • bdcstDear Friend
  • FedEx
  • Increase Sales
  • Increase Traffic
  • Internet Marketing
  • Invoice
  • Lead Generation
  • Lose Weight
  • Marketing Solutions
  • Online Degree
  • Online Pharmacy
  • Order
  • PayPal
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Sign Up
  • Trial Offer
  • Visa/Mastercard
  • Winning

… And there are more, of course – including various permutations of the words and phrases above.

The inevitable conclusion:  It’s becoming more difficult all the time to use the most common phrases in “subject” lines and “from” lines that’ll land your e-mail in someone’s inbox successfully.

And getting into the inbox just the first step, of course.  The next is motivating the recipient to actually open your e-mail and engage with it, which are additional hurdles in themselves.

What words or phrases have you found to be surprisingly problematic in getting your e-mails delivered to your customers’ inboxes?  How have you dealt with it?  Please share your experiences with other readers here.

A Bombshell Forrester Finding? Brands are Wasting Time and Money on Facebook and Twitter

Forrester logo

This past week, marketing research firm Forrester published a new analytical report titled “Social Relationship Strategies that Work.”

The bottom-line conclusion of this report is that brand marketers are generally wasting their time and money focusing on social platforms that don’t provide either the extensive reach or the proper context for valuable interactions with customers and prospects.

In particular, Forrester’s research has determined that Facebook and Twitter posts from top brands are reaching only about 2% of their followers.

Engagement is far worse than even that:  A miniscule 0.07% of followers are actually interacting with those posts.

Much has been made of Facebook’s recent decision to reduce free-traffic posts on newsfeeds in favor of promoted (paid) posts.  But Forrester’s figures suggest that the lack of engagement on social platforms is about far more than just the reduction in non-promoted posts.

Nate Elliott Forrester

Nate Elliott

Nate Elliott, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst, believes that brand managers need to make major changes in how they’re going about marketing in the social sphere.  He notes:

“It’s clear that Facebook and Twitter don’t offer the relationships that marketing leaders crave.  Yet most brands still use these sites as the centerpiece of their social efforts, thereby wasting significant financial, technological and human resources on social networks that don’t deliver value.”

With Twitter and Facebook being such spectacular duds when it comes to social platforms, what does Forrester recommend that brand marketers do instead?

One option is to develop proprietary “branded communities” where fans can hang out in zones where brands can be their own traffic cops, instead of relying on a giant social platform to do the work (or not do the work) for them.

e-mailEven better is to return to greater reliance on an old standby tactic: e-mail marketing.

If this seems like “back to the future,” Forrester’s Elliott reminds us how e-mail can work quite elegantly as the centerpiece of a brand’s social marketing effort:

“Your e-mails get delivered more than 90% of the time, while your Facebook posts get delivered 2% of the time — and no one’s looking over your shoulder telling you what you can and can’t say in your e-mails.  If you have to choose between adding a subscriber to your e-mail list and gaining a new Facebook fan, go for e-mail every time.”

I can’t say that I disagree with Nate Elliott’s position.

Now it’s time to hear from the rest of you marketing professionals.  How successful have you been in building engagement on social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn?  Have your efforts in social paid off as well as in your e-mail marketing initiatives?  Let us know.

Consumers complain about marketing-oriented e-mails — yet they still read them.

e-mail ambivalenceFace it, there are always going to be complaints about marketing-oriented e-mails. Just as in the “bad-old-days” of junk postal mail, consumers are conditioned to pass negative judgment on the volume of promotional-oriented e-mails that flood their inboxes.

True to form, according to a new study by global business, technology and marketing advisory firm Forrester Research, consumer attitudes about e-mail marketing are pretty negative.

Here’s what a sampling of U.S. respondents age 18 or older reported on the “minus” side of the ledger:

  • I delete most e-mail advertising without reading it: ~42% of respondents reported
  • I receive too many e-mail offers and promotions: ~39%
  • There’s nothing of interest: ~38%
  • I have unsubscribe from unsolicited lists: ~37%
  • I wonder how companies get my e-mail address: ~29%
  • It’s difficult to unsubscribe from e-lists: ~24%

There’s far less to show on the “plus” side:

  • It’s a great way to discover new products and promotions: ~24% of respondents reported
  • I read e-mails “just in case”: ~19%
  • I forward marketing e-mails to friends sometimes: ~12%
  • I purchase items advertised through e-mail: ~7%

I wasn’t surprised at all by these finds.

What’s interesting, however, is that the attitudes of consumers are actually trending a bit better than they were in previous Forrester field studies.

Specifically, respondents exhibited improved attitudes in the following areas:

  • Fewer respondents are deleting most marketing-oriented e-mail promos without reading them (~42% vs. ~44% in 2012 and ~59% in 2010).
  • Fewer respondents report that marketing e-mails offer “nothing of interest” (~38% vs. ~41% in 2012).

The percentages are also slightly better for the consumers today who consider e-mails as a good way to discover new products and promotions.  Additionally, the percentages are lower on complaints about receiving too many e-mail offers.

The bottom line on these results:  It looks as if consumers have come to terms with the pluses and minuses of e-mail marketing. As they once did with postal mail, they recognize the negative attributes as a fact of life — something that just “comes with the territory” for anyone who is online.

Click here to view summary highlights from the Forrester study, or here to purchase the full report.

What types of word terms perform best in social media?

Words that sell in social mediaEver since the rise of social media platforms, marketers have wondered if the terms and phrases that generate the best response in direct marketing also perform as well in the social arena.

One reason why:  There have been plenty of experts emphasizing how consumers don’t wish to be “sold” in their social interactions, but instead prefer to develop a relationship of give-and-take with brands.

Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot

Dan Zarrella, Social Media Scientist at HubSpot

Now we have some empirical analysis to guide us, conducted by Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist at SaaS inbound marketing firm HubSpot based on reviewing ~200,000 links containing tweets.

Mr. Zarrella found that the tweets that contain more verbs and adverbs experience higher clickthrough rates than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets.

Zarrella’s research also found that when social media posts ask for an explicit action on the part of the recipient, that tends to increase clicks and engagement.

For instance, retweets are three times more likely to happen when people are specifically requested to do so.

Interestingly, the most “retweetable” words in the HubSpot analysis turn out to be the same terms that do well in e-mail marketing and other forms of direct marketing:

  • You
  • Please
  • Post
  • Blog / Blog Post
  • Free
  • Media
  • Help
  • Great
  • How To
  • Top
  • Check Out

In a parallel research endeavor, a recent evaluation of blog posts by writer and software analytics specialist Iris Shoor reveals how much a post’s title impacts on the volume of “opens.”

In her analysis, Ms. Shoor studied posts on 100 separate blogs, using an evaluation technique that rank-sorted blog posts from the most read to the least shared.

What were the words that resulted in the most opens?  Shoor calls them the “blood in the water” terms:

  • bleeds leadsKill
  • Fear
  • Dark
  • Bleeding
  • War
  • Dead
  • Fantasy

Translation?  Negative terms are more powerful for shares than more ordinary terms (e.g., positive ones).

It’s very much like the old adage in the newspaper world:  “If it bleeds, it leads.”

That’s another takeaway from the most recent research:  What’s worked in the offline world over the years appears to be working very much the same way in the online space today.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …

Sometimes “permission slips” aren’t enough when it comes to e-mail deliverability.

Bounced-emails-undelivered-emailsIn case you’ve been wondering how much marketing e-mail actually reaches its intended targets, a recently released benchmark report from e-mail scoring and certification services provider Return Path has some answers. It finds that only about 75% of “permissioned” e-mails are actually making their way through.

That means one in every four e-mails are either hitting a spam or junk folder, or are being blocked by ISP-level filtering.

The report was based on analysis of data from Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor service, which tracks the delivery, filtering and blocking rates for more than 600,000 e-mail campaigns.

Interestingly, the delivery stats for business-to-business marketing e-mail aren’t much lower than for business-to-consumer e-mail. This was considered somewhat surprising because of company-level filtering systems like Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec that are installed at many large corporations. Presumably, they do a more thorough job of filtering e-correspondence.

The Return Path report also included a few cautionary notes for marketers:

 Many e-mailers believe that whatever gets deployed and doesn’t bounce must be reaching inboxes. But senders are notified only when the e-mail is a hard bounce – not if it has ended up in a spam or junk folder.

 Relying on rented e-mail files in the B-to-B world can be dangerous, as those files can be riddled with spam traps. Commercial entities are always on the search for new prospects and leads … but merging a good in-house list with a few of these bad boy rental lists can result in compromising the entire database.

 In the consumer sector, many marketers aren’t paying close enough attention to inbox placement rates. For example, data about Gmail shows that while many marketers are ostensibly achieving a 90%+ deliverability rate, fewer than one in five of those emails are actually being directed to the “priority” inboxes within Gmail as designated by the recipients. And you can bet that precious few of the other ~80% are getting any sort of attention at all from consumers.

More details about the Return Path report can be found here – well-worth checking out.

Personalized e-mail campaigns? Nothing personal … but it’s not that important.

e-mail personalizationIt’s been a nagging question about direct marketing for years now: To what degree does personalizing a mass marketing program improve audience engagement and action?

Back in the old days, personalization was difficult to pull off, because the limitations of printing meant that the way people’s names were inserted into letters looked awkward and even jarring – different typeface, different ink concentration, etc.

Instead of creating a positive impact that suggested a personal relationship with the recipient, the effect was often just the opposite: the ill-fitting interpolations screaming “mass mailer.”

Today, with so many marketers targeting consumers electronically versus via postal mail, personalization has become a common technique used for the same purpose: to draw the reader’s attention by making the e-communiqué “unique” to him or her. Plus, it’s much easier to accomplish.

But how is this working out in the digital age? The latest e-mail marketing metrics report from email marketing and newsletter services provider MailerMailer, LLC, issued in July 2011, uses data compiled from more than 977 million opt-in e-mail newsletters in a sampling of over 1,600 customers. It found that adding the recipient’s first or last name to the subject line of an e-mail often generates negative, not positive results.

On the other hand, personalization within the message portion of the e-mail makes it a tad more likely to lead the recipient to interact with the message.

Here are the open rates MailerMailer found based on the degree of personalization:

 Subject line personalized: 4.1% open rate
 Both subject line and message personalized: 4.6% open rate
 Message personalized: 12.6% open rate
 No personalization at all: 11.4% open rate

[MailerMailer claims that personalized subject lines perform less favorably because this has been such a common tactic used by spammers in recent years. I claims the method has been so overused, recipients now associate all such e-mails as spam.]

And what about clickthrough rates — the more important metric? MailerMailer’s findings track neatly with the open rate trends, as follows:

 Subject line personalized: 0.8% clickthrough rate
 Both subject line and message personalized: 1.1% clickthrough rate
 Message personalized: 3.0% clickthrough rate
 No personalization at all: 3.0% clickthrough rate

So another thing the MailerMailer report is telling us is that the effort to personalize e-mails may not be worth it in the end. It’s true that a slightly higher open rate may occur with personalized message content … but the clickthrough rate, which is the more important metric, doesn’t budge at all with personalization versus without it.

So it would seem that personalizing e-mails isn’t something that’s going to “make or break” your direct marketing campaign’s success rate. Better to focus on the other classic success factors: the message, the offer, and the target recipients list. You know … just like always.

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