Pour Up Some Advocacy - How Whiskey Companies Are Going Beyond Loyalty

I'm more of a walking man than a wax man. How about you?

I was traveling last week (hence the dearth of posts) and had the chance to read a good article in OMMA: Bottom's Up. The article discusses the Maker's Mark ambassador program.

A particular paragraph stood out to me as exemplifying a key differentiator of this program:

"This self-selections process [for brand advocates] seems to have built an influential base, whose value isn't based on how much bourbon they buy, but how they identify with the company [my emphasis]."

At first I thought - is that really that big of a change?

We all have relatives who cling fiercely to their own proclivities. We know Aunt Sarah only puts Bombay Sapphire in her martinis. But Aunt Sarah was never much of a brand ambassador. Knowledge of her preference rarely goes beyond the family dinner table (and rarer still beyond her death-clutch of the martini glass).

Aunt Sarah isn't much of a brand ambassador. But the Maker's Mark program goes beyond loyalty - it's about advocacy. They not only want consumers to buy Maker's Mark - the company is giving ambassadors a reason to tell their friends to buy it as well.

Great, But Not For Me

While the article stirred up admiration for a great program, I was also surprised that it roused some personal brand loyalty and advocacy as well.

You see, for years now, I've been a member of Johnnie Walker's Striding Man Society. I don't know why or how I started, but I've been receiving their emails for several years.

The really odd thing is that I don't drink Johnnie Walker all that much. I make Jack Daniel's-esque paychecks, after all. (However, JW samples will be accepted by mail or in person. Just sayin'.)

But I've become adhered to the brand and I have some ideas why. Here's what the Striding Man Society does right:

  • Exclusivity: Anyone can sign up to join, but the emails always feel kind of exclusive. Design heavy in black, white, and gold give off a luxurious feel and events are often limited to only Striding Man Society members.
  • Active: Speaking of events, there are enough to feel special, but not too many to where you feel like it's another cattle-call (I'd guess maybe 2 per year in major cities). I've been to a couple events and they are a blast. Educational, slick, professional, and usually free. No complaints about any of that.
  • Aspirational: Sure the website and emails celebrate each label, but they've done a good job of positioning the Blue Label as the all-star. I can't afford it now, but you can be damned sure that my father-in-law will some day receive an engraved bottle for Christmas. And that act will make me feel like a true success. That's good marketing.
  • Classy Benefits: Check out the CTAs in the buttons on their "Labels" page. Even the more plebeian Red Label has a clearly defined benefit (versatility), while other labels highlight complexity, intensity, luxury, rarity and balance. It's subtle, but ubiquitous: each label gives the buyer a reason for purchase, something to justify the cost.

Loyalty Is Just Step One

Brand loyalty is often a lifetime association. So, done correctly, it can easily mean millions for the company that does it right. (After all, how much has Aunt Sarah spent on Bombay gin, right? 'Nuff said.)

The Striding Man Society isn't perfect (please don't rely on visuals in email - with images disabled, your emails are useless), but it has fostered some type of adherence, even in this brand propagandist.

More than loyalty, though, it and Maker's Mark are really shooting for brand advocacy. Loyalty is just about your personal brand choices; advocacy indicates loyalty pushed to others in your personal circle. This is truly powerful stuff (and totally apropos in a social media world).

I tell my friends about JW articles in the email newsletters. I bring them with me to JW events. I forward on opportunities for customized labels. In other words, I take this out of just loyalty (my personal buying habits) and into the social space of advocacy (influencing others).

In a way, Johnnie Walker is like my Chicago Cubs. While I can't always afford to get inside the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (or that smooth, squared bottle), I still cheer just as loud. Here's to more strides in brand advocacy and more success all around.

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The Best Way To Kill Your Email List In 2009

Tough economic times increase the pressure on marketers to hit their goals for open rate, click throughs, conversions, and new email subscriber acquisition. Some marketers believe renting email lists is a way to reach these goals.

MarketingSherpa reports in their new 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide that 29% of B2B marketers plan to increase spending on third-party list rentals (compared to 23% planning cuts). In this free excerpt of the report, their experts weigh in on this development:

"Pressure to meet numbers has always been a problem for email. It forces marketers to send too many emails to too many list members - the 'batch and blast' mentality that has eroded the trust of consumers and business[people] over the last 10 years...and that's not necessarily good for the long-term health of the medium."

(If you are interested in this report, you can get more information at the end of this post.*)

And yet, later in the excerpt, they report that 66% of consumers would be much more or somewhat more likely to subscribe to an email list if the company guaranteed not to share their information with other companies.

So, in this next year, we can expect to see businesses engage in an activity that decreases customer trust and engagement with that very business. A lot of marketers could kill their email list in 2009.

List Rental's Influence On Relevance

Let me be clear: companies who use rented lists are inherently and unquestionably going to deliver content that is less relevant than what the subscriber signed up for. Period.

Lowered relevance equals lowered trust. The customer will trust both companies less - after all, one sold her information and the other delivered spam. Unless she agreed to receive third-party emails (and a default checked box does not mean agreement), she will likely unsubscribe and refrain from doing business with either company.

Lack of relevance is one of most complained about email marketing practices. From a recent eMarketer article: "'There is a substantial gap between what marketers believe is relevant to the consumer, and what the consumers rate as valuable,' said Lori Connolly, director of research at Merkle."

List rental is the toxic waste of online customer relations. It poisons everything it touches.

Marketing In A Recession

A recent Merkle study, as reported in that same eMarketer article, said that about one-third of respondents said "they had stopped doing business with at least one company as a result of poor email marketing practices." That's almost the same percentage of B2B marketers who expect to increase their spam through list rental in 2009.

List rentals equal decreased relevance. Decreased relevance equals decreased trust. Decreased trust during an economic slowdown equals a serious threat to your business.

Loren McDonald from MediaPost's Email Insider explains:

"Consumers with a growing concern about the future of the economy and their own pocketbooks with increasingly choose to do business with companies they trust and may be less likely to risk their personal data and inbox space on unknown entities or those for whom trust is questionable."

You can't afford to kill your email list during this economic downturn. But building your own list, building trust, and staying relevant can avert this disaster.

What do you think? Am I totally off-base? Or do you have a list rental horror story to share? Feel free to use the comments section below.

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(*The Email Benchmark Guides are one of my favorite resources. It's a little pricey, but if you put the knowledge therein to use, you will likely save much more in the long run. Here's a link if you want to purchase the new version: MarketingSherpa's 2009 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide.

Yes, I'm an affiliate, but I was singing their praises long before I signed up and I wouldn't be an affiliate if I didn't believe in their work. Plus, as an affiliate, I can occasionally get you discounts on their reports - yet another reason to subscribe.)

9 eNewsletter Improvements You Cannot Forget

In early April, I promised to give away free enewsletter advice. I am happy today to report back on the communication of a non-partisan, civic participation non-profit. They asked me not to mention them by name, so the organization will hereafter be known as "the client." And, this client's enewsletter was far better than at least 90% of what I have seen, so first, congrats to them! With this post, it is my goal to suggest new tactics and options for this particular client, but I hope that the advice will be useful to your company or organization as well.

The simplest way to tackle the client's enewsletters will be to break it down into its separate parts. I think the content over all is fabulous - personal, informative, and (mostly) on message. I am really impressed by the client's enewsletter and only have some humble suggestions.

Would these suggestions work for your non-profit or company enewsletter too?

The "From" Address

The two things that matter most in terms of improving your open rate are the "from" address and the subject line. The client uses the President's name and a general, but branded, email address, i.e. From: John Doe <administrator@YourOrg.com>. Using the organization's most recognizable name is good, but you cannot rely on all recipients remembering that name, plus using a title (administrator) in the email address is less inviting. I would recommend something like From John Doe, YourOrg CEO <John@YourOrg.com>.

The Subject Line

Many recent studies have shown that mentioning your organization in the subject line gets a better response. Couple this with the conventional wisdom that a subject line should be less than 50 characters and you are left with little space to work with. The client (understandably) tried to include the most information it could into the subject line.

While I risk sounding crass, the subject line is not intended to inform, but to entice. Which is a more exciting subject line: "Conference 1, conference 2, and conference 3" or "The 3 conferences you can't afford to miss"? I recommend Copyblogger for some great advice on headlines. (If your searches for subject line advice are not producing, try using "headlines" - the same logic applies.)

The Body

The body of the client's enewsletter was great. It was a two-column enewsletter with the main section on the left side. The President's letter came first, followed by news items decreasing in size and importance. The smaller right column was used for a table of contents, interview/feature, event notices, and other various opportunities. In terms of priorities, this is spot-on.

(Forgive an aside: I once worked with [not for] a great organization that had an enewsletter problem. The problem was that the mission was broad, the workers valued, the issues timely, and the cause just. Hence, everyone thought everything - especially their thing - was the single most important thing for the enewsletter. And the enewsletter became a mangled amalgamation - a Frankenstein formed by committee. I don't think that's what happened in this client's case, but it could be. If so, my prayers are with you.)

I mention this because the client has great - albeit a lot of - information. I would encourage the client to cut as much from the body as possible, despite its worth. While the information is good, it feels like a Thanksgiving dinner - a lot of juicy, heavy stuff. I don't know what I should eat first and I get lost in the gravy. If most people spend less than a minute with your email, think about how much they would be ignoring. It's time to break up the emails, sending more per month with less information. The benefit is two-fold: your audience is reminded of your work more often and they consume more of your information over time.

Dynamic Content

The client has a vibrant mission at both the national and state level. But when someone from Florida gets information about your Alaska chapter, it risks being a deterrent to reading. Your audience wants messages tailored directly to them.

While this client is restricted by their email vendor from sending dynamic content based on the recipient's interests, for instance, they can lay the ground work. Create a profile page and encourage the audience to add at least their state and maybe a couple of interests. Then pull those results into an excel or CSV file and subsequently upload it to your email or CRM system (the system should match and de-dupe, but read up on it first). While you may not be able to cut the state-specific information from the general enewsletter quite yet, this will allow you to send other state-specific emails that are bound to have great results.

Images

The client used images frequently, but not overwhelmingly. Plus, I tested the enewsletter with images disabled and there was no problem - they were not big enough to inhibit readability. Well done!

Tangential Information

Always try to organize your information in some simple way. I have worked with many groups who wanted to toss in a bunch of different information at the bottom of the email (Frankenstein by committee, again), but this encourages readers to ignore it. Use bolded call-outs to delineate topics and break up the text. You can often group emails issue catagories, local action, or action type ("Please help today!"). This will draw the reader's eye and make clear any requests.

Tangential Information (Right Column)

A right-hand column is a seemingly perfect place to list second tier or tangential information. However, you risk banner blindness. The client is stymied in this case due to their email vendor, but I would encourage others to experiment with using a pull-quote style - adding a box inside the main text rather than a totally separate column.

Anchor Text

This client was better than most when it came to anchor text. But even the small percentage of links that shows text of "here" or "more" or "click me" are wasted opportunities (this client did not do this often, but you get my point). First, search engines use anchor text to determine what your article is about, so get in the habit. But even if this is solely enewsletter content, people are going to notice underlined words in blue. This will result in more clicks, plus your metrics results will be easier to read on the back-end.

The Gist

More and more emarketers are realizing that email is still one of the best ways to reach potential supporters and it continues to provide the best ROI possible. Non-profits are especially poised to take advantage of this considering the emotional responses they can provoke and (usually) the lack of funds. This particular client's content is great and yours probably is too - but don't stop there.

Take-Aways

Here are a few final thoughts:

  • Continue to test. Even with most rudimentary systems and email vendors, you can almost always figure out a way to test. (Once, when my system did not allow A/B testing, I rigged it to send the "A" email to everyone whose last name began with a letter A-M and sent the "B" email to people with surnames from N-Z.) It can be crude and take a little time, but wouldn't it be nice to explain to your boss the insights you were able to garner from your list?
  • I'm serious about the subject line - practice, test, repeat. Some of the most successful emailers spend as much time on the 10 words in their subject line as it takes to write the entire email. How much do you spend? (Think about it like this: not everyone will read your email, but everyone on your list is likely to see the subject line. What would you impart about your mission even if they didn't click? Or how could you make your message irresistible so they would have to open it?)
  • Send less more often. Sometimes this isn't possible. If your organization has a tradition of monthly enewsletters, every staff member will want to be featured in it. Instead, sell them on the opportunity to toute their content in a separate email. Pare down the giant monthly enewsletter and start sending tidbits more often. Emails are snacks, not Thanksgiving dinners.

I'd like to extend a hearty thank you to the client! They do great work and I know their success will continue. I hope I was able to help them and possibly some others of you out there. I hope these suggestions help!

Keep The Design Simple - 3 Easy Ways To Improve Your Email Campaigns Today

This week, I am doing a series on three easy ways to improve your email campaigns. There's no rocket-science here, but the basics are often over-looked. On Monday, I posted about making your emails personal and on Tuesday I posted about making them targeted and relevant. While content is important, we can't forget email design either. Here's a viable candidate for the mistake most often made by well-intentioned marketers: they over-design and don't do enough usability testing. For instance, have you ever opened an email only to be greeted by one huge white box with a red "x" in it? No Sweat makes some great all-union-made clothes, but their enewsletter is one big image. And images are disabled automatically by most email vendors (including Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and AOL - that's a lot of your email audience).

Secondly, don't forget the preview pane. Most Outlook users only view your email through their preview pane and this has two major results: emails viewed through the preview pane without enabling images do not count as opens and the preview pane blocks most of your email's content.

Hence, advise your boss to relax a little when it comes to open rates (especially you B2Bers) and remember to design with the preview pane in mind. If your audience only sees the first 2-4 square inches in the upper left corner of your email, make them important!

I used a table of contents to good effect in a former job and we increased our open rate substantially because readers knew from the preview pane whether they wanted to read the full content of the email. And take special care to craft really intriguing subject lines and headlines.

Keep your logo prominent and small so that they know it comes from a trusted source if they can see the image and so it doesn't take up too much valuable space if they can't.

The art guys in your office are probably really good at what they do, but don't forget that marketers are responsible in the end. Use their talents but don't let them dictate what goes where. In my personal experience, I have found art directors very understanding and willing to work with me, once they understand the limitations imposed by the medium. (After all, they want their work to be seen too!) This article from 2005 still has relevant material about blocked images and preview pane hassles.

If you found this series useful, consider subscribing to OnlineMarketerBlog. I never spam - you'll just be sure never to miss an important article. And if you are already a subscriber, thanks! Feel free to forward any post to friends or co-workers.

April Giveaway: Free eNewsletter Help

In this sixth full month of the OnlineMarketerBlog, I am presenting my first contest. During April, I am auctioning off enewsletter content and strategy assistance for the winning company or organization - all completely gratis. I will review the company's last few online communications, their website, their mission, and their current communications strategy. I will then present whatever I think will best promote the company and communicate their story to their members or customers - probably along the lines of 1-2 emails they can use and a write-up of the corresponding strategy.

If you're interested, email me at ireallylikerobots [at] gmail [dot] com. I will need the URL of your business and a brief description of your online efforts thus far. The deadline for entering the contest is Tuesday, April 15.

Judging the winner will be highly subjective, but I will take several factors into account, including mission (doing good for the world: good; corrupting America's youth: bad), need (non-profits over multi-national corporations), and friendliness. The content and strategy I write will be yours to use or not use as you choose. Everything will be free, with no strings attached. All I require is that I be allowed to write about the process. (Note: I have no problem "blinding" your company if you desire, but I will need to roughly describe it, at least.)

I will work on your enewsletter and strategy during the last half of April. I intend to deliver the final product in early May. (The work will occur during my nights and weekends, so please be a little flexible.)

You know my history with online communications from my About page, as well as recent posts about Threadless and Moosejaw. I know my stuff and I'm excited to put it to work for your company. Email me and let me know how I can help. Let's have some fun!

(And if you like what you've read here, please consider subscribing to the blog via Feedburner. Thanks!)

Streamlining The Message: Obama and iMedia Connection

I was thinking this weekend about some comments I made late last week to an iMedia Connection story. Brent Rosengren wrote an article about the presidential candidates' emails, claiming that many failed for various reasons. While I don't disagree with many of his arguments, there are also some obvious holes. Here's an excerpt of my comments:

One call to action in an email is the most effective way to ellicite response. The more offers you have, the more confused readers become...

The Obama campaign was wise to streamline their message. (Besides, they send out other messages that allow other types of engagement. A donation ask after big wins builds momentum and makes readers feel like part of a movement.)

Feel free to read Why the Presidential Candidates Flunked the Email Test and let me know what you think. My full comments can be found at the bottom of page four.

Rosengren is correct in his assertion that you shouldn't send recipients irrelevant content. But it's also important the remember that each of these emails is part of a larger campaign. That campaign is going to be offering different information or asking for various assistance over time.

I believe it's wiser to look beyond the one-off emails and scope out the lifecycle of the supporter throughout the campaign. (It goes without saying that this extends beyond politics. Any time you are asking someone to do something, it is a campaign of sorts.)

You wouldn't walk up to someone and ask for money. Likewise, you want to spend a couple of emails developing a relationship - giving access or information are great ideas (and often over-looked). Create some trust, build their belief in your work, and then see if they can contribute financially. That is the recipe for success.

Holiday Solicitation Emails, Part 3

I have covered the look/feel and the content of holiday solicitation emails in my last two posts. I would like to use this third and final post to discuss frequency, directness, testing, and metrics. Frequency:

Holiday emails should (obviously) go out prior to the holiday in questions. For most examples this means November/December. You can start even earlier if you are collecting funds that will need to be spent prior to a holiday project. Heck, even the occasional "Christmas in July" usually doesn't hurt. Just do not only ask for money and do it all the time.

One oft-overlooked feature of this is cultivating a list in the first place. You should be building trust, providing value/a service to your readers throughout the rest of the year. If you do, and can prove that your holiday campaign is worthwhile, you will succeed. If you ignore your list until December, forget it.

When you are cultivating your list throughout the rest of the year; how often should you send emails? It depends on your mission, your audiences involvement, and the resources you have to devote to it.

  • Mission: What is your purpose and how does your communications plan fit in? Daily Candy and Very Short List deliver terse, daily emails. But if the Red Cross started doing that, I would definitely unsubscribe. Most importantly, send emails when you have something to say and keep it in line with your overall mission.
  • Audience: How often does your audience want to hear from you? How does your email fit into their lives? Devote a couple of months to testing this. Consider this example: Split your list in two, and then start the first group with frequent emails (say, four times/week) and gradually decrease over two months to just one email every two weeks. Compare this with the other group which you start sending emails to slowly and build up to four times/week over the same amount of time. Because this is over the same time period, seasonal reading habits won't effect you. Plus, by splitting the group you negate the variable of how the frequency was changed (build up or slow down) and can focus on your audience's interaction with your content. How did they respond when they got more frequent emails vs. less frequent ones? A short testing period usually produces clear trends.
  • Resources: Writing, editing, proofing, coding, and testing emails takes time. Plus, your writer needs to read enough or be in enough meetings to know what s/he is talking about. Are you willing to devote the time and staff costs to that? Do not budget in 2 hours/week and expect e-communications gold. You get out of it what you put into it.

Directness

I was at a birthday party many years ago and someone said, "I want a corner piece of cake with the giant frosting rose on it." That stuck with me. What gumption! What nerve! I'd never have the temerity to utter those words. Ha, that's what I thought.

Solicitation emails are not rude. It is not impolite to ask for money. The faster you get over that, the more successful you will be. You are giving donors the opportunity to invest in your mission. This is probably the most important thing I have learned about development over the years. I hate to bury this key message in a long blog post, but I delight knowing only the most committed reader will find it. So, congrats!

Ask for the piece of cake you want. As long as you can justify that you will use their money wisely, most donors appreciate pluck. Besides, they are used to people kissing their asses all day long. It is a nice break for them to meet with a confident, knowledgeable person such as yourself. And I guarantee that you will take home more money than the ass-kisser. Repeat this mantra: Ask for the piece of cake that you want!

How are you going to pass if you don't practice?

I mentioned it before, but it's worth mentioning again: Test, test, test. Test anything, even crazy ideas. You never know how people engage your emails and the information you garner could be invaluable.

Some ideas: test tiny changes to your subject line, left and right alignment for an image or informational box, whether a table of contents helps open rates (because it pops up for users with Outlook), the effect of the email coming from a man vs. a woman, etc. This is a good article with three great ideas. (I especially love the third one, coming from politics and all...)

One thing to mention: do not include so many variables that one might effect another. If you test six different things all at once, you cannot reliably say which variable had a given effect. Be patient and test little by little. At one company, we tested whether including our company name in the header effected open rates. The difference is a matter of 20 characters or so, but we wanted to see the difference. (I'm sorry, I don't remember the outcome of that test. Anyway, it depends a lot on your audience - "industry standard" is a misnomer.)

How reliable are metrics?

As a co-worker is apt to say, "Metrics only matter when you have something to compare them to," and it's true. Did you know that when individuals view an email in their Outlook preview pane that it does not count as an open? All HTML emails (emails with images or hyperlinks) contain a 1x1 pixel image that is the equivalent of an invisible picture. Images in your email are actually located on the sender's server. When you open an HTML email, images are pulled from the sender's server, trigger that 1x1 picture, and that is how they know the email has been opened - because that tiny image has called out to serve up the "picture." (If you have ever opened an email with red "X"s all over it, those boxes are images that have not yet been downloaded, so you know it has not counted as an "open.")

This is just one example of a misleading so-called fact. Sure, most folks properly open emails, but it is not as solid a figure as most people think. There are many, many examples just like this one. I deal in metrics in my day job and there is a lot you can discern from them. But you should also have a healthy distrust of assumptions based upon them.

Thanks for reading

As an overall supplement to this three part series, please see this article. It sums up what we need to do to create trust in a relationship marketing environment.

I hope this series has been helpful. This is in no way a definitive list of everything you need to know about online solicitation emails. It would be foolhardy even to attempt since this game (the strategy, mediums, abilities) changes so quickly. However, I hope these tips sound reasonable because they will increase your bottom line. This may be a new venue or method for this transaction, but the philosophy behind it goes back much, much further. Good luck and let me know how it goes!

(If you liked this series and do not want to miss out on future posts, subscribe to the blog. Thanks!)

Holiday Solicitation Emails, Part 2

This is part two of a series where I write about those emails that come into your inbox each holiday season asking for money. I'd like to see your organization get its share of cash. Here are some tips to do so. Today, I'm focusing on content. Be sure to stop back tomorrow for part three (or have it sent to you by subscribing via Feedburner). What should I say?

I know, I know, you have so much important stuff to say because your work is SO important. Put on the brakes. Approach this content as you would a date. Don't try to get in a proposal on the first pass. Go slow and build up the reader's engagement (i.e. read the content, then research the website, then check the citations/facts, then they will open the checkbook). This isn't to say you should be un-emotional. Emotive triggers are meant for solicitations. Just be wise about how much and how soon. Marketing is about relationships.

A word about priorities: If you have 15 priorities, they're no longer priorities; it's a laundry list. Be prepared to rein in upper management if necessary. Sometimes they approach a donor list like it's an ATM. Convince them with the relationship argument: Do you want to risk list burnout or cultivate a long-term affiliation? (I will write more about the appropriate email frequency in tomorrow's post, so don't forget to subscribe to the blog.) This summary sums it up:

[B]adly targeted, irrelevant business emails irk customers, don't generate sales or satisfaction, and can tarnish customers' perception of a once-trusted brand...Because of [Hewlett Packard's email newsletter's] emphasis on deep customer research, relentless testing, and continual improvement, "Technology At Work" influences over $100 million in revenue and saves millions more in defrayed customer service costs.

Well done, Forrester.

How should I say it?

Ensure the tone fits with your group. Peta and Greenpeace can be a little more cavalier than the Center for Responsive Politics. If your group rabble-rouses, the email should incite. If you are engaged in serious debate or advocacy, your reserved tone will come across as staid in a smart way.

One action to rule them all

If you are composing a holiday solicitation email, you are asking for money. However, keep in mind for this email (and the many others throughout the year) that you should only have one main action or "ask" per email. Even for holiday solicitation emails, various staff member may approach you. "Can't we ask them to send the email to their friends?" "Can we encourage them to join our MySpace/Facebook/Flickr/del.icio.us/etc. groups?" "Can you include a mention of this article?" Enough.

I'm not saying that your audience is dumb, but they don't have a lot of patience. They are rushed. They would appreciate being led. So lead them. Leave all the periphery actions people want to include in other emails or at least buried at the bottom.

I also recommend using a friendly URL (www.commoncause.org/donate) rather than a bunch of junkCommon Cause email with arrow small (https://www.kintera.org/site/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?c=dkLNK1MQIw...well, you get the point). Also, give your donation link its own paragraph and make it bold. This will draw the readers' eye. Check out how Common Cause got it right. Notice the two stand-alone links to the donation page, plus two links in the upper-right box and another at the end of the email. Sprinkle links generously - you never want your reader to need to search for them.

Gauging success

Set a fundraising goal and keep your audience informed of the progress. (This harks back to Howard Dean's bat as I mentioned in yesterday's post.) This will not only help you measure success, but it will galvanize your audience into completing a task. Many of us must finish a task and many of us like to know that others are contributing as well. Be honest about your progress and you are more likely to succeed.

Be polite

Just because we are in the crazed internet age does not mean you can neglect a proper salutation and a "thank you" or "sincerely" at the end. It sounds so basic but I have seen prominent organizations send out emails as though they were talking to a friend rather than asking for money. We do not trust rude people as much as polite people and they will only donate if they trust your stewardship.

Finally...

Here are 10 more tips that I found useful. Feel free to send me solicitation emails you think are wonderful successes or horrible failures. And tune in tomorrow when I finish off this series with suggestions regarding sending frequency, list management, and a quote about cake. Yummy.

Holiday Solicitation Emails, Part 1

A friend suggested that I post about holiday solicitation campaigns. Not to sound prideful, but I have done a lot of these campaigns - both online and offline - and seem to be pretty good at it (the checks have come in, at least). I will outline what I think are good things to keep in mind; less of a definitive checklist and more a list of handy tips/opinions. Five important notes:

  • Most of my experience is in the non-profit/advocacy/political realms, so give proper weight to a particular tip depending on your industry.
  • This game is always changing. What works online (or offline for that matter) is not static.
  • I will meld as much as possible the online and offline strategies. They are similar, obviously, because the goal is to persuade someone to give. Some of this will be evident (i.e. message length will effect your number of pages in direct mail - not the case with email). I will attempt to point out if a tip is applicable solely on the online channel or in direct mail (DM).
  • If you find these tips useful, subscribe to this blog (see the gray box on the right side) so you don't miss part two and three.
  • Forward this to your development department. It can't hurt.

Timing:

Ideally, you would have started this process at least a month ago (sorry, I had just started the blog then). Give yourself a month to plot out the strategy, meet with the decision-makers to get their support, do several drafts, etc.

One email does not a campaign make. Since email doesn't cost anything, send out several (as long as you have new content and something to say). However, do not send out the exact same email twice unless you segment your list to suppress any people who opened it the first time around.

I like a strategy of one email per week for four weeks. It gives four touch-points - enough to highlight several aspects of the work you do, yet the campaign is short enough not to drag on.

Font:

Let's get granular! Your choice of font should be decided by 1) your conventions - keep things consistent, and 2) how your organization should be viewed. I recommend serif fonts (Times New Roman, Garamond) for a professional portrayal and sans-serif font (Ariel, Verdana) to seem down-to-earth. (Sans-serif is easier to read online, but decide for yourself depending on your org.)

Shoot for 12 point font. While your eyes may be spry, more mature adults have worse eyes and more in the bank. You do the math.

Some folks prefer the antiquated look of Courier - reminiscent of typewriter days of yore. These are usually people who also enjoy multiple font colors and garish backgrounds. We're not selling used cars folks, we're selling ideas and those are worth money. Like your Momma said, don't go out looking cheap. (And if you even think of using Comic Sans, heaven help you.)

Overall Design:

  • Small paragraphs are easier to scan than long ones. If this isn't the first blog you've ever read, you probably know what I'm talking about having seen what is out there.
  • Vary your sentence structure - no bunches of complex sentences or tons of semi-colons.
  • Short, emotive sentences are good. Remember that you have about 1.2 seconds to snag the reader or your email goes into the trash.
  • Bold and italics are OK, but only here. You need to communicate quickly and that means occasionally grabbing eyeballs. However, chose your emphasis sentences (or words) carefully and don't go crazy.
  • Is your logo visible across the top or in the upper-right corner (save the left for your salutation)? The eye and brain of the reader are able to discern in a split second whether s/he is affiliated with your organization and trusted org emails get read. Everything else is trashed.
  • Check what your email would look like with images turned off. Is some text still above the fold (high enough to be read in a standard computer screen)? Needless to say, do not rely on HTML images to communicate your message. It may look pretty, but what's the use if no one sees it?
  • White space is your friend. If you stuff in a ton of text, you end up looking like harried Ralph Nadar rather than classy Frank Sinatra. Go for classy.
  • Put your graphic designer on alert. You may want to show the incremental increase of funds from week to week in a visual form. See Howard Dean's bat for an example. You could have them put together different images for each week of the campaign prior to its launch if you know they will be busy (i.e. closing a magazine issue) or they can gauge it from week to week in respect to the money coming in. Either way, give them some advance notice.

Tomorrow, I will cover content and then Friday I will wrap this up with tips on delivery. I hope this is helpful and I hope this post does not sound like I know all about raising money online. I just know I'm pretty good - not necessarily the best. Use the comments section to send me your own suggestions or links to helpful articles.

eNewsletter Winners and Losers: Moosejaw vs. CoolHunting

I'd like to start a semi-regular series, "eNewsletter Winners and Losers." Email is the original Web 1.0 killer app having been around almost a decade (that's from the advent of HTML emails, not just plain text). Some companies really focus on communicating to their consumers. Yet other people and companies still make horrendous mistakes when it comes to communicating online. And like I tend to say, online marketing is easy - especially considering how badly some folks screw it up. The first winner: Moosejaw

Moosejaw 350

Moosejaw sells camping gear and clothes. I loathe camping, so why do I subscribe? Let me count the ways:

  • Consistency - I can count on the email arriving every single day. That implies some damn good efficiency.
  • Personality - The author "Trapper" has a distinct voice and allows us into his world.
  • Simplicity - Total time reading takes out of my day: less than a minute.
  • Humor - Have you read many eNewsletters that have made you laugh out loud? Really? Name one.
  • Reason to return - One trivia question each day with the answer given the following day. Nerd heroin.
  • Branding - eNewsletters flow right into the website.
  • Smart design - Header image is narrow enough where you can still see text above the fold with your images turned off. Short, simple, to the point.
  • Inclusion - Recipients feel like they're on the inside track of the company through special offers, sales, advanced notice, etc.
  • Knows their audience - Hot guys and girls show off their goods and they have MySpace and Facebook sites.

I'm hesitant to give any advice since Moosejaw sets a gold standard of sorts. The hard-line marketer in me wants them to discuss their products more (hell, you don't need to be a marketer to come up with that). But, then I wonder if that would mess up their vibe. They also lack a cohesive story, though that's not always a requirement (and Trapper's day-to-day trials with "the Girl" may fill this need). Also, their eNewsletter sign up is as good as invisible in the upper-right of their homepage. But seriously, sign up.

 

The first loser: CoolHunting

CoolHunting 350

Wow, where to begin? Actually, it's not that difficult since there isn't a lot in here. I know the picture to the side is small, but you'll get the gist. At first, I thought CoolHunting was some sort of shopping site, but I can't figure out why products are listed - they're neither ground-breaking nor on sale (though that may say more about how I shop online). But there's also a bunch of other crap on there as well. I can't figure out the pattern of why they post what they do.

Update: After grabbing my magnifying glass and scrolling to the bottom of the page, I was able to find an "About Us" link. They only feature "stuff they like" (hey, that's their prerogative) and feature products at the intersection of art, design, culture and technology. Wow. Well, let's talk a little about your design and technology.

  • In their November 4 eNewsletter, I counted 26 links along the left-hand side. No explanation is given as to what these things actually are, neither in the name of the link or otherwise. They're sorted by day which I don't care about in the least (I'm shopping - what do I care about the day you put it on your site?).
  • You may be looking at the screenshot I posted to the right and thinking "why is there all that white space on the right side of the image?" You'd be smart to ask. If images are disabled, a full two-thirds of their eNewsletter is blank. Specializing in design and technology, eh?
  • There are three links across the top: Contact Us, Unsubscribe, and Advertisement - Click here! The contact bit is good, but do you really want to advertise the unsubscribe bit at the very top-center? Why use up your prime real estate for rejection? And "Advertisement - Click here!" is priceless. Your marketers should know that putting "click here" anywhere in an email is an invitation to be listed as spam. Maybe your alt-tag should be something like the advertiser's name so, you know, I kinda feel like checking it out. Just a thought.

I'm trying to imagine the meeting at CoolHunting where they discussed what their priorities were for the eNewsletter. Or maybe they just threw the task to the intern because who really cares about emails? I can't even fathom the reasons behind the decisions they made, much less the lack of actual testing. I hate to be 100% negative, so I will say that their website is nice-looking, at least. Pretty slick, offers video, and engages visitors with "reader finds."

Round-up: Moosejaw knocks it out of the park. I'm not saying I'm the best in the biz, but I can write a mean eNewsletter. But I read Moosejaw in awe. CoolHunting, on the other hand, isn't using the basic best practices or testing from the looks of it. What a wasted opportunity.