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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Timing is everything, when it comes to email marketing communications

Our friends in the Indian eCommerce space are gung ho about the current boom ! Never before have so many Indians – both in India and overseas filled up their shopping carts and proceeded to check out. Never have Call to Action buttons seen so much action.

Which brings us to one of the most important communication vehicles these propositions ride on……….daily mailers!

Digital direct marketing communication – your one on ones with potential buyers are not as easy as ABC, but if you have been following our blog, you would’ve picked up the juiciest bits on email template best practices and set up a fantastic email template. You know the importance of deliverability and other success metrics and you are sure your recipients are definitely receiving your email campaigns….there’s just one more question you need to ask yourself…. are they reading them?

Some of the key considerations which email marketers must take into mind while creating a “read & respond” campaign are:

  • Relevance: making the content relevant to each recipient. If a recipient knows that when your brand arrives in their inbox, this email is definitely something they have expressed an interest in and want to read, they will act on that.
  • Segmentation: The best way to implement relevance is to effectively segment your database so you know what your customers are interested in and therefore what content will be the most relevant. You read a lot more on relevance on our blog soon!

You are now ready with that killer content, a solid Email Service Provider (ESP) behind you – btw choosing an ESP can be quite a task , here’s hoping you’ve done it right , what next?

Ask Usain Bolt, what the importance of timing is? No seriously, a great proposition, even with A/B split tested subject lines and creatives can turn horribly wrong if the timing is off . Common sense – nope …….experience !! ( The school of hard knocks third semester )

A well timed campaign – other criteria remaining the same - can work wonders on the open rates and further on the ROI of the campaign. Unfortunately, there is no formula or overall ‘ideal time slot’ which you can follow to achieve this elusive ‘golden hour’. There are a number of factors that go in to your decision: what time is best to hit the send button? ( btw with a good ESP – it would be the Schedule button )

Timing – Day and hour depends on the answers to the following questions.

Who are your audience?

For a B2B audience, it doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the optimum days. As we all know, Mondays are spent getting back in to the swing of work after the weekend and Friday sees offices winding down for the next weekend. Saturday and Sunday are redundant as offices are closed. Days before holidays are = Fridays and days after holidays are = Mondays irrespective of what days they fall on !

For B2C email marketing, timings are very different. Very dependant on the demographic of your audience. One can safely assume most prospects will mainly be checking their personal emails in the evenings, during lunchtimes and over the weekends. However it is best to test which brings us back to segmenting! B2C sending can be a bit of a gamble without thorough testing of your specific target audience. Homework must be done and learnings interpreted. A great ESP will be able to deliver dynamic content with different propositions scheduled at different times of a day or even different days.

Is your campaign seasonal?

For the B2B sector, marketers must avoid sending their campaigns over school vacation season, long weekends and of course the many holidays that we have !

Again advice for the B2C sector is entirely opposite. If relevant, a seasonal approach can boost additional sales and therefore revenue. Most campaigns are timed to address seasonal offers!

So much for planned marketing communication…

However, there is another aspect to timing in direct digital communication.

Timing can never be as important as it is when the ‘Prospect ‘is on the verge of becoming a ‘Paying Customer’ …many a sales person have rued their chances – having communicated a little later than they should have.

The optimum time for any recipient to receive your communication is when they have shown an interest in your brand or product. Using Automated mails or trigger campaigns, based on browsing behaviour or when they last clicked on or opened an email gives you a clear indication as to when to send the email and what content to include.

A typical scenario of such lost opportunities would be apparent in a colleague’s recent experience on a very popular online store. As he described it “ I was on my way to check out and proceed to pay when I saw this dangling banner in the right column : Sign up for our newsletter and get 10% off. I paused, thought I could save this 10% by signing up and using the voucher code. So I smartly opened another browser, signed up and waited for the voucher. About an hour later, neither my inbox nor my spam folder had any sign of an email from these guys . I gave up hope and eventually had lost all interest in buying that item at 10% higher than I could’ve”.

A simple Triggered email could have, rather, should have been used here to enable interest being converted to action at the point when the customer is most engaged.

Another cyclic practice is communication with non responders. Winning back non responders should be taken up as a part of your communication calendar and a definite cog in your wheel .

While still on timing, or should I say while there is time – it would be good to remind you to look for patterns in your open and click-through rates or other email metrics. Whether certain offers work better when sent at some time or another? Are there any influences that make your campaigns more successful, like salary days ( beginning of the month ) ? Are you responding to your customers at the optimum moment?

The only way for you to determine what works best for you is to, as always, test, test, test!

Monday, September 19, 2011

How are companies adopting email marketing in India

India is seeing a larger attention in digital marketing space as younger and older population are getting online and their spending habits online fuelled by already established online travel companies which made their life much easier. Indian online population is enjoying now the ease with which they can book their tickets, or buying things at much cheaper prices.

Email being one of the prime digital channels for companies to continuously engage with their large subscriber base, Indian companies have long attempted multiple solutions from in-house SMTP mailers to MTA boxes to Email Solution Providers (ESP) of all sizes. As the internet email regulations have evolved over time and often dictated by the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like yahoo, hotmail, Gmail and such and their continued redefinition of the rules for accepting and delivering mails to the inboxes of the recipients, Indian companies are more and more trying to use the Email Service Providers.

This has provided an opportunity for several companies to jump into providing bulk email solutions.

Some of the Indian companies have attempted to easily take some open source solutions like PHP Mailer and such and modifying or building to the needs of the Indian companies. These solutions mostly lack the authentication features required by ISPs like DKIM and speed throttling. Most of the solutions are not built for managing entire email life cycle communication and the data privacies required. Their infrastructure is not scalable and can't be separated for each of their client. This will complicate issues like IP and domain reputation. A company which has very good email practices can easily get hurt by some other company which has no good practices if they use such email solutions. Indian companies still being very slow and averse to use confirmed opt-in practices, can easily get their domain blacklisted and ISPs can soon either put their mails in spam folder or start blocking their mails.

Moreover these solutions that are not built for analytic driven marketing lack the analytic features. This makes the marketer not aware of his engaged audience by demographics, email behaviour and purchase behaviour. With no knowledge of such intelligence, Indian companies who are using such solutions are blindly shooting the mails to all subscribers, without knowing what their subscribers are doing with those emails. This can also treated by ISPs as bad senders and emails may be blocked or sent to spam folders by ISPs.

According to Reputation Authority, Indian Companies using home grown email communication platforms are sending more than 40% spam. It is very difficult for Indian email marketing solution providers to control the spam rate, as their solutions are not very sophisticated to handle all kinds of bounces, spam complaints and spam traps. Moreover there is no intelligence to analyse the active and inactive subscriber base over time.

They also lack the integration features for companies to manage their entire life cycle email communication with one solution and work with the company's portal and back end systems seamlessly.

Seeing the growth in the internet population and recent explosion in e-commerce and daily deals, several international email service providers (ESPs) have now entered the Indian market through sales team located elsewhere or in India and offering their more matured platforms to Indian companies. This is a most welcome trend.

Now there are more companies offering such solutions, the price competition is so much, International email service providers are competing with the Indian email service providers on price and dropping the account management, project management and integration features for Indian companies. When their minimum ticket size is more than 100K US Dollars per client in matured markets of USA and Europe, and they throw in a dedicated account manager, solutioning to automate the clients email communication and providing full services, the international email service providers are just providing a software tool to send bulk mails to Indian companies, with none of those needed services that are very much needed by Indian companies, as they are trying to adopt email as an effective medium.

According to Reputation Authority, even the international email service providers that are providing email platform as a tool for sending bulk email communications for Indian companies are not able to bring the spam to single digit, as they are not able to work with the Indian clients to strategise their email marketing efforts.

I see Indian companies as they trying to adopt email communication as a prime medium for their online business, is largely under served by both Indian companies who lack features and International email service providers who can't provide much needed strategy and expertise with local resources for companies to better engage their subscribers.

Email cost measured in CPM (cost per thousand) may be a deciding factor when you choose the email service provider. While each ESP may have a cost per CPM to compete, a self managed email platform may not be a single decisive factor.

Indian companies have to start looking at not only the platform, but also need to look at the expertise of the email service provider on their mailing infrastructure, security practices for their data, expertise in email marketing, though leadership, ability to do customizations, integrate their websites and backend systems for life cycle email communication and ability for managing their email campaigns.

I see some Indian companies have understood the importance of much needed services along with the email platform and are choosing the email service provider based on a broad spectrum and depth of services and expertise offered to better optimize the email medium.

I believe that most matured and smart Indian Companies are trying to stop blasting the emails to all in blind everyday and start using intelligent analytic driven customer engagement email communication in the days ahead.

This is most welcome news for the most spammed Indian Internet consumer.