six tips for leveraging (or building) a preference center

So you have an unsubscribe link, think that’s enough?  Think again.  Many people think that an unsubscribe link and a website/landing page that confirms you have unsubscribed is enough but from the standpoint of user-experience and the desire to better engage with your audience it is barely scratching the surface.

Why is it important to have a preference center? Beyond the obvious benefits of allowing you to segment your email based on what someone tells you they are actually interested in, it allows your audience to opt-down instead of opting-out of your emails.

Here are some tips for creating your own preference center:

1. Be specific.  Offering choice in communications preferences isn’t enough, be clear as to what those relevant communications will be and how will they be presented.  Four key opt-in options to consider:

Content – News, products, offers, events

Frequency – weekly, monthly, quarterly, or alerts

Channel – Email, direct mail, phone or SMS and smartphone

Format – Text-only, HTML or Mobile

2. Watch and listen.  Utilizing progressive profiling you can make informed decisions around the types of communications your audience members might prefer for those who have generically opted-in to all communications or who have not yet provide detail on the preference center. Remember, when you make those decisions use language in your email to show someone where they can manage their preferences to better tailor the communications to their needs and interests.

3. Only Ask What You’re Prepared to Deliver.  Using your preference center in hopes that one day you will offer some type of communications (for example a newsletter that doesn’t exist today) will only create confusion, add things to the preference center as they come into being, not prior to. Don’t confuse preferences with market research; your preference center isn’t to gather data on what people might want to hear about.

4. Tell Subscribers What to Expect and why they should give up personal information.  Just like #3 says only do what you say you are going to do, tell people what you are going to do!  Use hover-over text or descriptions of the types of communications so that people see the value in providing you their data and the permission to communicate with them.

5. Use Welcome and Thank-You Communications to continue the conversation. Now that someone has told you about themselves, use the info, begin the conversation the right way, with personalized content geared toward keeping them engaged.  It’s easier to keep a contact engaged than to re-engage someone who has gone quiet.

6. Make your preference center an acquisition tool.  Encourage social sharing – either after form completion in the preference center or in welcome emails.  Use your preference center as a starting point for communications, not just a saving grace when someone wants out.

 

 

happy holidays from google

Gmail has always been a bit of a quagmire for marketers, they lack feedback loops for reporting on spam complaints, they heavily filter email to the junk folder if users aren’t engaging with it and they’ve recently deployed their “Tabs” which scares plenty of marketers into thinking their emails won’t be seen in the inbox again.

Just this past week on Word to the Wise a blog post appeared confirming that Gmail has been re-writing image links in emails.  For the non-technical this means that when an email comes to a Gmail inbox (and has images) Gmail is converting the links from the original email to links to the same images but now cached on the Gmail servers.  So the first time someone opens your email and the images get downloaded it will register as an open but any subsequent open will retrieve the image from the Gmail server where it has now been cached instead of your servers (and thus registering as opens and clicks).

Big deal, you say, you only care about unique opens.  Ok, so maybe you are alright with your metrics this way, did you use any kind of dynamic content or geo-targeted information in your email? That type of information will be impacted as well, it may render properly the first time but it may not ever again.

The full impact of this image re-writing process is still unknown and Google is mum at the moment on the subject. Happy Holidays, right?  That’s exactly the present everyone was looking for…hopefully Gmail will help offer up some alternatives or information on how best to navigate the murky waters of their inboxes.

data hygiene & acquisition- where to begin

As high as 70% of a marketing database will go stale in the course of a year because of contacts changing jobs or changing roles within a company. Inaccurate data can have a detrimental impact on any business, affect its credibility, and can also lead to decreases in productivity. Maintaining a high standard for data entering your database is crucial, elements of data hygiene include:
• Enhancing, correcting and expanding a record
• Appending and validating the data
• Finding missing elements in the database
• Identifying duplicate entries

Data management begins with understanding what qualifies a record as good or bad. A good record meets the minimum requirements for entry into your CRM and make that the standard for what can enter your Marketing Automation Platform (which means that all required fields are complete and accurate), better is when this record has extra data points that allow for proper segmentation. A bad record is one that does not contain the all of the minimum required fields to enter your CRM or has incorrect/inaccurate data in those fields.

A few questions to ask yourself:
• What fields are required to create a record in your CRM?
• What explicit/profile data points are used in lead scoring?
• What other data points are good to collect and include in a record?

As you prioritize what data points you request on forms, from data providers and from those who submit files to be added to the database it is important to keep in mind the required fields should always be included and then the addition of the four explicit fields for lead scoring should follow closely behind. Everything beyond that should be considered optional but highly valuable all the same.

Once you understand what’s good and what’s bad, assess your database against those standards so you know where your gaps are. As much as I hate the idea of ‘acquiring’ contacts via purchases it is a necessary evil so here is a quick checklist to use if you plan to purchase your data:

• Complete due diligence on the list and the broker.
o Understand the subscriber experience from sign-up through inbox (if your content is being broadcast to a new audience through a system other than your own Automation tool this is important)
o Speak to actual clients, run a credit check, and confirm that the mailing address is a real office.
o Confirm opt-in and unsubscribe process and management of unsubscribes and opt-outs.
Understand what you are buying/renting
o Verify the source of the records.
o Verify the permission level of the records.
o Find out if the sign-ups are incentive-based.
o Confirm that the list is never used for porn or spam offers.
o Make sure that the vendor is CAN-SPAM, CASL or EU Privacy compliant (depending upon the region of the data you are purchasing).
Ensure the ability to Segment.
o Prevent oversaturation by segmenting by category selects, demographics or past behavior
Test. Measure. Repeat.
o Always send a small test and adjust.
o Test subject lines, headlines, offer language and placement of links.
o Ask for benchmark data on response by your chosen segments.
o Know the inbox deliverability, not just bounce rate.

spamming Canada will get tougher in 2014

On July 1, 2014, Canada will implement a significant change to the laws governing electronic communications in that country.

Canada’s Anti-Spam Law (CASL) may be less-known than the U.S. CAN-SPAM Act but it is stricter and will require much more diligence on the part of senders to ensure compliance. CASL covers all commercial electronic messages (much more than just email) being sent into Canada to Canadians, or crossing Canadian wires. The law provides for enforcement actions with penalties up to $10,000,000 per email for senders of unsolicited messages.

Unlike CAN SPAM, which covers only email, CASL covers commercial electronic messages, which is defined as any commercial “message sent by any means of telecommunication, including a text, sound, voice or image message.” Some examples of what that includes:

• Email
• SMS
• Instant Messages
• Social Media postings such as ‘tweets’
• Some voice communications

So, what does this all mean? The legislation is wide-reaching – any business that uses email or other forms of electronic messaging needs to be aware of their exposure under the legislation, as potentially significant penalties can result from violations of the Act. The three things you should know to ensure compliance: consent, identification and unsubscription options. In other words, if you are being a good sender you have express consent from the email recipient to send them email, a key caveat its that CASL does require that opt-in checkboxes (etc) not be pre-filled/pre-checked. Second, you must identify yourself as the sender and who you are sending on behalf of, this includes mailing address, contact information, web presence, etc. where necessary. To be compliant in your unsubscribe process your process must be functional for at least 60 days, must be free, should be provided in the same means as your communication (i.e. if you are sending email there should be an email address or link to unsubscribe), must be easy to do and processed without any delays.

So what should you do to make sure you’re in compliance:

1. Review your existing electronic message practices, footers, privacy agreements, subscriber preference centers, etc. to ensure they meet all provisions of the law. Privacy Policies and form collection on websites should be updated to ensure proper consent. In the case of forms, this includes moving from an opt-out (pre-checked) to an opt-in (not pre-checked) methodology.
2. Make changes as necessary and set up best practice guidelines for all internal stakeholders around how you will maintain compliance with CASL.
3. Review your current database, remove any addresses without a positive/affirmative opt-in. If you do not currently maintain an opt-in database you should consider moving that way to be compliant with CASL, consider an Opt-In focused Nurture program. After July 1, 2014 it will become illegal to email Canadian contacts who are not positively opted in.

How does CASL compliance differ from CAN-SPAM compliance? CAN-SPAM is less rigorous than CASL, so the best thing to do is be in compliance with CASL to ensure your communications are meeting both sets of standards.

For more details on CASL visit the legislation here.

Engaging Sales – An Action Plan for Increasing User Adoption of Sales Tools

You’ve spent time and money building a comprehensive marketing plan, buying fancy tools and implementing them you even bought the sales tools that go with your marketing automation platform, now what? You turn them on and run right? Not quite. Unless you have less than five sales people and they are all very very deeply involved in your marketing organization, chances are they have no idea what you invested in or why it isn’t just another shiny object for them.

Sure you can go to the Marketo or Eloqua websites and pull screenshots galore and PDF documents that extoll the virtues of the various tools you now own but Joe Salesguy may not be all that interested in reading all of those. Let’s be realistic, you wouldn’t send emails to your marketing universe that were less than relevant so why pass out generic stuff to your sales team and hope they will read it and find value? While it might sound like a lot of work to build a plan and execute isn’t it worthwhile? You bought into the Sales Insight or Discover tool-set because it was supposed to empower sales, so let’s really empower them. Here’s how:

1. Build a buzz. Prior to launch pick a small subset of your sales users for a pilot. You will want to get some of your more engaged, willing to experiment sales folks. With this you are doing two things, first you are making sure these tools work for your teams but second, and most important you are creating an internal case study. *If you’ve already launched then go fishing for some case studies, we all know how powerful they can be in a sales cycle, think of this as your own internal sale!

2. Set up in-person training time. At launch time plan to have a few in person workshops at different times (and if need be locations) so that you can connect with the sales users, explain the tools, gauge the reactions and then assist them in set up and use of the tools. Be ready to have some sample contacts/leads for them to test sending emails to, test following and watching the buying signals in the tools you have built.

3. Don’t set it and forget it. Build internal resources to support adoption of the tools, everything from an internal email nurture program to a webpage with resources, FAQ docs and samples will go a long way towards helping your users after training. These documents are definitely not one time use, make sure that the team who trains new sales users is involved so that they can leverage these going forward.

4. Reach out in multiple formats. You don’t send one-dimensional campaigns to your prospects so don’t do it here either! Engage your users with video, blog posts, emails and any other format you think might help them.

5. Track use. After you have gone through all of this you need to track the usage of the tools, listen for case studies of success with the tools (socialize those case studies!) and make sure the tools continue to be used. These tools cost money, make sure you are able to show some return on the investment.

How are you socializing your sales tools with the sales teams? How do you measure user engagement and what is “success” for your company? These are crucial questions to keep your eyes on as you roll out new software for your teams.

Data Governance – another byline in organizational alignment

As Marketers we have quickly become the holding place for so much data, from who we view as our Total Marketable Universe (both companies and people) to who we communicate with  to what those people care about.  The volume is not trivial nor is the care and maintenance of this information, however few companies have a true process and policy for the care of their marketing data.  

As we clamor for more and more data (purchase history, invoice information, etc.) we need to establish and maintain data governance policies, not just for compliance and legal reasons but also as another way to enhance the relationship between Marketing and the other departments inside of an organization.  Marketing and Sales must be aligned on what data is coming from what systems, who can fill it in and where the expectation for supplying information comes from.  Marketing and  Accounting need a good working relationship to ensure that marketers can really understand who a “customer” is and can maintain a loop between the systems to flag these people for the appropriate marketing based on their place in the customer lifecycle. IT and Marketing need a deep relationship to ensure that systems are in compliance with both internal security standards and, where needed, external compliance standards that the company is subject to.   To this end, here is a step-by-step guide to establishing a data governance policy.

  1. Create a cross-departmental committee for data governance.  Bring together representation from each group that holds major data and be prepared to explain why you (as Marketing) want and need to share information with this team.
  2. Understand who uses the system and what their goals are.  Everyone from the end-user who accesses the CRM to the Marketing Manager designing Campaigns to the Customer Service Representative who takes support calls should be considered in this process.  Understand who touches the data and at what points as well as what they need to get out of the systems.
  3. Determine what the system of record is.  If your Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) is the system of record then link all of your other data sets to it, or, if you need to maintain a few systems define the use cases.  For example, the ERP system might be the system of record when it comes to determining who a “customer” is but your MAP might be the gold standard with regards to prospects and the pre-sales process.
  4. Assess the health of your current database.  Once you understand what systems should be the standard for your various processes, establish a baseline assessment of the completeness, quality and correctness of the records in these tools.
  5. Understand what your deficiencies are; after you have established a baseline map out where you have gaps to fill and then create an action plan for fulfilling them.
  6. Fill in the gaps.  Pretty self-explainatory 🙂
  7. Build technological process to prevent lapses.  This may take the form of integration between your systems or data washing machines in an external database or even data append programs in your CRM or MAP tools, whatever it is create a process that does not require daily monitoring.  You should be able to build it, review it periodically and let it run.
  8. Build business process and reporting for exceptions.  Knowing what your problems were before you filled in the gaps and what key pieces of data are necessary for the users in each system build out exception repots that can be checked on a regular basis and reviewed for necessary corrections.
  9. Dashboards to review health at a glance, set yourself up for success by creating monitoring dashboards that show (at a very high-level) whether or not your tools are maintaining your systems as you expect them to.

How far along is your company on the path to a realistic data management policy?

don’t go blindly forward

Lately I have been hearing a lot of people talk about ways they are using blind forms.  I think this tool has either just come to light for many marketers or it is enjoying some kind of resurgence.  So, for the uninitiated, what are Blind Forms? Blind forms are a mechanism that allows an email click to translated automatically as if the recipient hit “submit” on behalf of the recipient (they are identified by their email address). Blind forms allow a known contact to be send directly to an asset/landing page/etc. without requiring data entry but still allows the same processing steps behind the scenes (such as the sending of a confirmation email or thank you email).  Sounds powerful, right? Well they are, here is a small list of the benefits:

  • It directly ties clicking a specific url inside an email to the submission of a form within your automation platform
  • It mirrors existing form actions (i.e. if you have a form submission trigger the sending of an email or adding someone to a different campaign a blind form can achieve the same end)
  • It appends campaign response to a contact record

So, what is a good use of a Blind Form?

  • Sharing knowledge with existing customers
  • Moving late-sales stage deals through the pipeline with additional nurturing

Conversely, what is not a good use of a Blind Form?

  • Sending to 3rd Parties Lists/Vendor
  • Any program with potential reach outside of your known audience (known meaning, email addresses that currently exist in your Eloqua database)
  • Opt-In campaigns (this would not only be very inappropriate but also is likely outside legal compliance

There are some caveats to the use of Blind Forms.  They are only applicable in scenarios where a URL is driving from an email to a single asset or landing page. They cannot be used to monitor traffic/clicking inside of landing pages or between landing pages.  Additionally, using Blind Forms is likely to break the way that out of the box reports in your Automation platform work.  Be prepared to do your own, custom reporting on Blind Forms if you plan to use them.  You should also be cautious about how you leverage them if your lead scoring programs are simple in that they score “form submit” vs. submission of specific forms.  While Blind Forms are an immensely powerful tool they also come with a big flashing yellow caution light because you need to consider a lot before you forage ahead in using them.

Do you have a creative use for Blind Forms that I haven’t mentioned?