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Increasing our Momentum with Message Systems

Message Systems Logo | Delivra Email BlogEarly last year, around the time of Delivra's ten-year anniversary, we went shopping for a new mail transfer agent (MTA) technology partner to help sustain our growth for the next ten years.  We knew that our email sending volume was only going to increase over time, but we were still surprised, in December of 2009, to see how suddenly growth could occur.  That month, with the addition of new clients plus seasonal increases in emailing by our existing customers, our mailing volume jumped by 60% over previous highs!

That dramatic increase made us feel even better about our decision, just a few months earlier, to implement Message Systems' Momentum.  Our previous MTA would not have handled that kind of rapid growth.  But with Momentum as the engine powering our email, we didn't miss a beat, and delivered a record number of messages.  In fact, we've eclipsed that monthly record volume several times since then.

Our experience with Momentum has been so positive that Message Systems featured Delivra in a recent case study!

Click here to read the entire article.

The Least Engaged Email Subscriber

The Least Engaged Subscriber | Delivra Email BlogNot long after joining Delivra in September 2008, I embarked on a research project.  I wanted to sample the end-user experiences offered by competitors to Delivra and compare those to our own subscription/profile management tools.  So I set up a brand new Gmail account and immediately subscribed it to about three dozen newsletters.

The companies I picked were those I knew to be doing business with other ESPs.  I purposely picked a cross-section of well-known brands from across multiple industries: restaurants, hospitality, consumer goods, retailers, not-for-profits and service providers.  Without listing their names, let us just say that you've heard of most of them.  They were the only senders to whom I've ever given this new address.

That was over sixteen months ago.  Since then, I've only logged into the account three times.  The most recent of those logins was yesterday.   Care to guess how many unread messages I had?

To stop marketing email takes more than just never checking your email.

Now, we've preached here before about the importance of engaging your subscribers.  To review, those who operate mail servers take an increasingly skeptical view towards messages sent in bulk but not widely read or acted upon.  For this reason, there are people in the ESP community far more experienced than me who recommend regularly cleansing your subscriber list of recipients who don't show–by their actions of opening, clicking links, or forwarding–any interest in your mailings over a long period of time.

Some of the sages giving that advice work for ESPs who handle the mail for the companies that filled my inbox with 1015 messages that I never read.  So I made a list and started tracking to see which, if any, senders had given up on me.  Surprisingly, only one company (hats off to you, ULTA) appears to have concluded that I was not interested and quit emailing me back in September.  The rest continued sending to me through 2010 in the vain hope that I might change my pattern of doing nothing with their messages.

Why, in the face of evidence and expert testimony that engagement matters, do marketers find it so difficult to let go of disengaged subscribers?  Cost may have something to do with it.  The costs of emailing an individual who has already opted-in are negligible compared to the cost of acquiring a new subscriber.  And while emailing uninterested subscribers en masse is known to impact deliverability, the methods used to by ISPs to determine things like throttling and bulk foldering are proprietary, making a true cost/benefit analysis difficult, at best.

Whatever the reason, this much I know…those senders will never have a less engaged subscriber.  They're not going to make any money off of me, and if they send to enough inboxes with similar lack of response, they may find themselves penalized by receiving systems for sending mailings with recipient activity similar to spam.

It's only been sixteen months, so perhaps some of these senders are on an 18-month list cleanup cycle?  I'll report back in a few months on whether any more of them have decided to let me go.

Another Email Marketing Lesson from the Olympics

Our own Neil Berman wrote in his recent MediaPost Email Insider column about lessons that email marketers can learn from the recent 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  If it's not too late, I'd like to add one of my own.

On Friday, February 12, I tuned in to watch the Olympic opening ceremony.  I had already read online about the untimely death of Nodar Kumaritashvili, a member of the Georgian luge team who died following a crash in training earlier that day, so I wasn't surprised that NBC opened its programming by covering the story.

But I was shocked that NBC chose to air the gruesome footage of the accident.  It was among the most horrifying, disturbing things I've ever seen.  I even tweeted my disgust with the network, because no journalistic principle required it to air the moment of Kumaritashvili's death, and the standard disclaimer about "graphic" content just didn't seem like enough here.  If you haven't seen the video, I urge you, don't.  It was that unnerving and unforgettable.

But then, on Friday, February 28, I tuned in to watch the closing ceremony, and was shocked once again.  This time, it wasn't because of the video, which NBC wisely chose not to re-air.  Instead, I was shocked by my own reaction to the tribute to Kumaritashvili that was part of the ceremony.  When IOC President Jacques Rogge referred to the tragedy in his remarks, I found myself thinking, "was that only two weeks ago?"  Because it seemed like longer to me.  In fact, I had put the accident out of my mind until being reminded of it in that moment.

And this, for me, is the email marketing lesson: people forget stuff.

I'm not proud that it only took me two weeks to forget one of the most terrible and "unforgettable" things I've ever seen.  During those two weeks, it was crowded out of my consciousness by the hundreds of conversations I participated in; thousands of emails, tweets, and articles read; and dozens of other Olympic events watched.  Given the increasingly short attention spans of so many in our culture, I'm sure I wasn't alone in letting the tragedy slip from the front of my mind.

So if I can't remember the truly horrific thing that I witnessed two weeks ago, why would an email marketer expect me to remember a comparatively insignificant decision to subscribe to a mailing list three years ago?  (I'm talking to you, ancestry.com.  I haven't used your service since 2007, but you suddenly started mailing to me a couple of weeks ago.  How am I supposed to recall whether or not I opted in to receive your marketing email?)

Permission is only useful to the marketer if the recipients actually remember giving the permission.  If you sign up email subscribers, but wait months or years to start mailing to them, don't be surprised if they forget about that long-ago transaction and complain about your email as spam (that is, if they address they gave you even remains valid after so much time).  For practical purposes, mailing a stale opt-in address is only somewhat less risky than mailing someone who never opted in at all.

The Ultimate Email Campaign

The Ultimate Email Campaign | Delivra Email BlogThe caller to our offices surprised our salesperson with the question: "Can you guys provide me with a list of 500 million email addresses?"

When you're in the email marketing industry, inquiries from would-be email list buyers are, sadly, not uncommon.  "No," came the reply from our salesperson, "that's not our business."  Usually the conversation ends right there.  But our salesperson couldn't let this caller go without satisfying his curiosity:

"What do you need with a list of 500 million email addresses, anyway?"

"Because I need to get this out to EVERYBODY."

The caller went on to explain that he heard somewhere that less than one-tenth of the world's population had an email address.  So he figured if he could find 500 million addresses, that would cover just about…everybody, or at least everybody with an email inbox.  He didn't elaborate on how he planned to reach the other 6 billion people of Earth, but my guess would be that the plan involves lots of airplanes towing lots of banners!

We had a good laugh about the naivete of our caller, who wanted to use email marketing, but clearly has no idea how it works.  He had a ridiculous goal, but he was quite serious about pursuing it and wanted to go through proper, legal channels.  And that started me thinking…

How often do even professional email marketers embark on perfectly legal, but ineffective tactics in order to try–like our caller–to reach as many people as possible, without regard for whether those people want to be reached?  Sure, things like co-registration and list rental are legal, and a business is permitted by law to email its customers (regardless of whether they've opted-in) as long as an opt-out mechanism is provided.  We've had that pointed out by many prospective customers who have questioned our Terms of Service, which are more restrictive than required by law.  But while these tactics don't carry any legal penalties, there are penalties nonetheless, involving cost, complaints, and reputation damage, which is why we require true opt-ins.

Is "legal" really all you want your email marketing to be?  Me, I'd rather be "effective," or "engaging," or better, "profitable."  Don't settle for merely not breaking the law.  Set your sights higher, and grow your list steadily, to include people who truly want to hear from you, instead of looking for the quick fix.  And rather than trying to improve results by mailing EVERYBODY, consider how in the meantime to get the best results out of the list you already have in hand.   Those things, we'd be happy to help you with!

Delivra’s New Look and Feel

During a demo of our software a few months ago, a prospective client–the owner of an agency specializing in web design–commented that he admired the features of our product, but was concerned about giving his clients access to a user interface that looked "too much like Windows 95."

Ouch.  I couldn't argue with him, though.  Delivra had added many features over the years, but we had never taken time to refresh or upgrade the appearance of the application.  As a result, the plain-brown (or, more literally, plain-blue) wrapper around our software was not an accurate reflection of the advanced features we had to offer.

That's one reason why, starting today, clients logging in to our service will see a new look to our application.  We haven't done anything crazy, like reorganize the menus, that would cause current users difficulty.  Functionally, nothing has changed.  But we've added color and contrast to the site, and made the styles more consistent with our company web site and other Delivra publications.  Our goal was to give the site a more modern and interesting look, but without affecting the ease of using the software.

 

Snapshot of new Delivra user interface | Delivra Email Blog

Snapshot of new Delivra user interface

Another change we've made with the new design is the removal of Lyris logos and branding.  There was a time when it would have been accurate to refer to Delivra as a "Lyris reseller," which is to say that our business consisted mostly of licensing ListManager software from Lyris and offering subscriptions to access it over the Web under the "software-as-a-service," or "SaaS" model.  When SaaS was a relatively new concept, that was a helpful way of understanding Delivra's offering.  But now, as we enter 2010, "Lyris reseller" is no longer an adequate description of what we do.

For starters, we've been making our own proprietary changes and additions to the software for several years.  Delivra has its own HTML content editor, its own media and graphics library, and its own API, all of which offer more features than the ListManager functions they replaced.  Plus, we've added:

  • social media integration (with tracking!)
  • our own mailing list import utility
  • email list segmentation options using engagement and geographic proximity
  • our own forward-to-a-friend application.

And our product roadmap predicts that 2010 will be our busiest development year ever!

Furthermore, Lyris is no longer our sole supplier of technology.  Our email is now being sent through Momentum, the mail transfer agent software from Message Systems, with whom we announced our partnership in June 2009.  We've also partnered with Cantaloupe to integrate email and video (again, with tracking!) through their Backlight application.  And we continue to seek out other partners who can help our clients get the most from their email marketing efforts.

Lyris technology has been part of Delivra's product for years, and our solution will surely always contain at least some Lyris DNA.  New customers who come to us after having used ListManager elsewhere will find our offering familiar and comfortable.  But when combined with our own features and contributions from other partners, it's misleading to refer to what we have as "Lyris ListManager."  That's why, starting today, it's just "Delivra," and the new user interface for 2010 reflects that.

We hope you like the new look and feel!  Be sure to let us know what you think or if there are other improvements we can make to enhance your email marketing experience.

A Delivra Announcement of Import

For the past three months, a select group of Delivra clients have been beta-testing a new import utility that was written by our Development team over the summer. We're happy to announce today that the testing was successful, and that the beta period is officially over!

The new import tool has the same purpose as the old one–to allow you to upload a CSV file containing your email addresses and associated demographic information. However, there are new features that make the new utility superior to the importer that was included in Lyris ListManager, namely:

1) Import files can use any names in the header row, or contain no header row at all. It's not necessary to include database column names in the CSV file, because the new importer lets you map the fields of your file to the right database column as well as specifying any fields that can be ignored:

csvimport2

2) Imports run in the background, allowing you to work on other tasks while your file is processed.  You can view the status of your import at any time:

csvimport3

And, receive an email when it is completed, with attachments showing any records that could not be imported:

csvimport4

3) For our clients who use subscription categories to manage list members' preferences, it is now possible to import addresses directly into those categories from a CSV file, in addition to your use of categories in profile forms or API integrations.

The new CSV importer will be made available to all Delivra clients beginning in January 2010 (and the old importer will be retired sometime soon thereafter).   But we're happy to enable it right now for any of our clients who would like a sneak preview.   Just send a request to support@delivra.com and indicate for which lists you'd like to turn on this new utility.  Once enabled, two new options will appear on the Add Members page:

csvimport1

%%FirstName%%, Be Careful with Email Personalization!

Be Careful with Email Personalization | Delivra Email BlogWhen is personalization of email content not effective at boosting recipient engagement?  When it comes off as insincere, that's when.  When it's transparent to the recipient that you're only addressing them by name because that's less work than truly making your content relevant to them as an individual.

I was reminded of this while out to dinner with my wife last week.  When the check came, I paid with my Visa card, and when the waiter returned with my receipt, he said, "Thanks, Brian."

Now, technically, "Brian" is my given first name.   It appears on my birth certificate, on my driver's license, and on the Visa card I paid with that night.  But anyone who knows me also knows that I use my middle name, "Chris" (short for "Christopher").  Not even my parents, who gave me the name "Brian" have ever called me by it–unless you count my mom yelling my full name when I was in really big trouble.

My waiter thought he was being chummy and familiar, probably because he heard somewhere that's a good way to receive a bigger tip–read the customer's credit card and address them by name.  But instead, he struck a wrong chord.  Nothing says "I don't know you, and I'm not your friend" quite like addressing someone by the wrong name.  If he really wanted to personalize the dining experience for me, he should have, you know, remembered what we were drinking so that he didn't have to ask every time he came around to refresh our beverages.

Sadly, many email marketers take the same approach to personalization.  They deliver the same email to all recipients, but preface it with "%%FirstName%%, " in the subject line or as a salutation, and believe that they've effectively personalized their message.  But that alone isn't enough to make your message truly relevant to the individual.

True personalization means knowing your subscribers' interests and preferences–whether by asking them up front, or by tracking their interactions with your emails and web sites–and using that information to deliver email content they're likely to want.  That scooter ad I received a few weeks ago wouldn't have gone over any better had they addressed me as "Chris," because I didn't care about their product.

Merging personal details into email content is only one step towards creating mailings that are relevant to the individual.  You can further divide your mailing list into segments based on their demographic data, subscription preferences, or past behaviors, and then target these different groups of subscribers with different mailings.  Or use Delivra's dynamic content tools to send one mailing, but vary the content of the mailing for each recipient according to their attributes in the database.

If your content is compelling enough that your recipients look forward to hearing from you, then you won't need to address them by name to get them to open, click through, and share your email.  And if you use their names anyway, they're much more likely to cut you some slack for calling them "Brian" when everyone else knows them as "Chris."

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