Jan 31, 2007

Email Marketing Tips for Web Designers and Agencies

I just did a guest lecture at the Art Institute of Atlanta. It was for Aarron Walters‘  excellent Findability class. Always an honor to be invited to speak there.

These students aren’t kids. They’re mostly professionals who are already working at agencies, or run their own agencies. So the pressure’s on to show them something they don’t already know.

Most of my lecture was about how they can sell email marketing services to their clients. I thought I’d post some of the highlights here on the blog…

Things your clients should know before they get started:

  • CAN-SPAM: You can get sued for spamming, even if you are not a spammer (see Yesmail and Kodak)
  • The "junk button" is your enemy. Many of your clients will know about the little "report spam" or "this is junk" buttons in email programs. But they don’t realize
    those buttons are linked to feedback loops, which can get them reported
    for spamming (or that roughly 10% of people click it, even though they opted-in for your list!). One really easy way to avoid getting FBL reports: include your client’s company name in the subject line, so that recipients instantly recognize the sender (see: the inbox whack-a-mole game). Don’t try to come up with jazzy or exciting subject lines. Tell what’s inside, don’t sell what’s inside.
  • Avoid Abuse Complaints: When you send your first email campaign to your customers, don’t just assume they remember you, or want to hear from you. Don’t just send a full-blown newsletter or promotion out of the blue. Send a polite reminder of who you are, and politely ask them if they’d like to receive email newsletters from you. Make it very easy to unsubscribe. This will go a long way towards reducing spam complaints.
  • Campaign Reports are not perfect. Teach clients how open tracking works, and why they should take stats with a grain of salt. See our recent Small Business Open Rate by Industry Study
  • You don’t have to send that much. If you have nothing useful to say, don’t send anything. Don’t feel pressure to send emails every single week or month. You’ll burn out fast.
  • Start by putting together an email marketing calendar with your client. Makes you look way more organized, makes things more consistent, prevent last-minute campaigns (and mistakes), and give you more time to prepare post-campaign reports and analysis.

Things agencies and creatives should know before they get started:

  • A good client is concerned about CAN-SPAM rules. But if they ask too many questions about the rules, and want to know about any "loopholes" or "special exceptions," something is fishy. Run away.
  • Be especially wary of any client that uses the word "BLAST" a lot. As in, "fax blast" or "I would like to blast an email to a bazillion people." It may not mean they’re evil, but it definitely means they’re inexperienced. Teach them how email marketing is more of a relationship thing, not a "blast them to smithereens with emails" thing.
  • Learn how to spot a dirty list. Did the client just export their entire Outlook address book? Did the client just export their Goldmine database of "prospects"? Did the client leave a fishbowl next to their cash register, to collect business cards for a free sandwich? Those are not opt-in lists. Did the client scrape emails from websites? Ask questions about their list, and make sure you comply with MailChimp’s terms of use, CAN-SPAM, and perhaps most importantly, common decency.
  • Types of campaigns and clients we have the most trouble with in terms of spam complaints: 1) Real estate agents, because they tend to get lists from local networking organizations and chambers of commerce, and assume those people gave them permission to "blast" them email newsletters; 2) Tradeshow exhibitors who send email invitations to all attendees, but with no mention whatsoever of the tradeshow, their booth number, etc. In other words,  "Who the f— are you people?"

Royal F-ups To Avoid
I ended by sharing some real-life abuse desk horror stories I’ve gone through over the years. I think I’ll post them in more detail here very soon.

Since this was the Art Institute, they had some film students videotaping the entire thing. They say there will be a podcast soon. Maybe they can send me an edited version, where lasers shoot out of my eyes (hint hint)?