Category Archives: Dynamic Content

The Emailing of a President

Obama and Romney

The 2012 presidential election demonstrated better than any previous election just how important good email tactics are to a successful campaign. Some people have gone so far as to avow that it was email that won the presidency for Obama. Whether that is true or not, one incontestable fact that emerges from the campaign is that Obama’s team spent a lot more time and effort taking advantage of the most important aspects of any successful large-scale email campaign—testing and metrics.

The Obama campaign is a testament to the power of split testing and report analysis. They tested nearly every aspect of each email, from the subject line to the content, and even the formatting. In some cases, they tested as many as 18 variations before choosing one to send out to their subscribers. “When we saw something that really moved the dial, we would adopt it,” said the campaign’s email director, Toby Fallsgraff.[1]

They tested everything from mild profanity (“Hell yeah, I like Obamacare”) to extremely terse subject lines (“Hey,” “Wow,” “High five!” “Me again”), to the downright weird (”Sometime soon can we meet for dinner?” “It doesn’t need to be this way,” “You must be at least a little curious”). They even tried “No subject,” which yielded strong results the first time they used it, but was largely ignored after that. Out of all of these, “Hey” yielded the best open rates. Perhaps ironically, or perhaps not, the subject line, “I will be out spent” was the most successful at generating donations, pulling in almost three million dollars.

Obama’s director of digital analytics, Amelia Showalter, was often amazed by which emails yielded the best results. The crew in the marketing department eventually started to bet on which ones would perform well and which would flop. Most of the time they were wrong. It became apparent to Ms. Showalter that trying to run a campaign without split testing would have been a study in futility.

When something worked, they would use it for a while, but usually the novelty wore off quickly and the crew would have to go back to testing to find the next winning Subject Line. The proof of the effectiveness of this technique shows up in the open rate results. The Obama emails had more than twice the open rate Romney’s emails.

The biggest complaint from nearly every quarter was the astounding amount of email sent by the Obama campaign, sometimes as many as ten emails per day. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, then, that more of the Obama campaign’s email got marked as spam—5% compared to Romney’s .08%.[2] It undoubtedly helped Obama that most people recognized that this onslaught of email was a temporary thing, guaranteed to end after November 6th. A retail store trying the same tactic would certainly face a much higher complaint rate. Nonetheless, Toby Fallsgraff paid close attention to the metrics throughout the campaign, making sure that deliverability wasn’t affected. This was no “spray and pray” operation.

Another unexpected hit was profanity. Dropping in mild curse words such as “Hell yeah, I like Obamacare” got big clicks. But these triumphs were fleeting. There was no such thing as the perfect e-mail; every breakthrough had a shelf life. “Eventually the novelty wore off, and we had to go back and retest,” Amelia Showalter said.[1]

Most of the news article focused on the Obama Team’s use of the A/B split testing of subject lines, but that was only part of the story. They were also using segmentation and dynamic content to make the emails more personal. “There were lots of interesting behavioral and personal markers that we used to make the content more dynamic and relevant for our supporters,” Ms. Showalter said. “[We added] language thanking people for previous volunteer service when putting out a wide call for future volunteer service, for instance. And there was a lot of personalization in the fund-raising emails, of course.”

When it comes to email marketing, Ms. Showalter acknowledged, it is best to leave no stone unturned. “We pretty much tested everything!” She said.

References:

1. The Science Behind Those Obama Campaign E-Mails, by Joshua Green. Bloomberg Businessweek, 11/29/2012

2. The Race for the Inbox, Return Path infographic

Here Comes Santa Claus

Santa and List

I noticed this morning that Starbucks is already using their holiday cups (this was written in 2012, well before the current cup controversy). Everywhere, retailers are ramping up their Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales pitches in preparation for this holiday season. While some people are grousing about stores jumping the gun on Christmas music, others can hardly wait. There’s a certain optimism in the air this year. People are ready to shop again. Last year, Cyber Monday surpassed Black Friday in sales, so expect more email competition than ever this year.

This is, for many retailers, the most important time of the year for their email to get through to their clients. For some retailers, the holiday season represents up to 40% of their annual sales. On average, it represents close to 20% of annual sales. Email sending increases during the final weeks in October and really gets going in the weeks before popular sales events, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Retailers increase their send volumes by 47% on average. As a consequence, email services such as Gmail and Hotmail also ramp up their efforts to eliminate spam by tightening up their restrictions and by requiring higher reputation scores for received mail.

So what does that mean to you? For most people, probably nothing. If your clients have been engaged in the past and you’ve never had any trouble getting your email into the inboxes, then the holiday anti-spam measures of the folks at Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo won’t matter much. But if your reputation score is already close to the edge of acceptability, you might suddenly find your email winding up in junk folders more often than it had a month ago. This also means it is very bad time of year to be experimenting with list purchases and appends. Now would be a good time to pull up your reports and look at your metrics. Do you have any problem areas? In the example below, everything sent to comcast.net is ending up in the spam folder. Since the other domains are showing good results, the next question becomes, how many of my recipients are using this service? If for instance, you are sending out 750,000 email and three are getting block by Comcast, then this isn’t much of an issue. If, on the other hand, Comcast received 500,000 of that mailing, then you better take actions to correct this ASAP.

Problem with Comcast

The sad truth is that if you haven’t been paying close attention to these metrics all along, by the time November rolls around you are probably much too late to do much to help turn things in time to help your Christmas sales campaign. Nonetheless, there are still things you can do to improve your email marketing efforts during this holiday season. Here are the main ones.

Making a list and checking it twice

This is an area where many businesses fall down every year. If a recipient opts to stop receiving email from you, sending that person your holiday specials will not be looked on kindly. In some cases, this isn’t the fault of the business, but of their ESP. Many email marketing systems require you to create separate lists for each segment you create. You create a segment of men over forty and that’s a list; you create another segment of women under thirty and there’s another list. If you are using email marketing software that requires you to create separate lists for segmentation and topic categories, your chances of resending to people who have opted out of your list are increased geometrically. You’ll need to go through those lists carefully and make sure you haven’t made this mistake. If you are using Symphonie, this isn’t an issue as unsubscribes are always respected, even across segments.

Too much of good thing

While it is unquestionably important to strike while the iron is hot, don’t overdo it. Even at a time year when people expect more sales-related emails, they don’t want to feel overwhelmed. People expect more email at this time of year, but how much you send needs to stay in proportion to your normal engagement. If you been sending notices a couple of times a week, then daily emails might be acceptable, but if you’ve only ever send a recipient one email every two months, the sudden appearance of daily emails might cause the recipient to react negatively. It is far better to send a few emails with compelling sales pitches than tons of mediocre ones. By keeping close track of your metrics, you can correct these potential problems before they occur. If your opens and clickthroughs are showing dips when they are sent too close together, pull back on the sending a bit and see if that helps.

Subject lines are more important than ever

Since everyone is getting more email now than at any other time during the year, more email is being deleted before it is ever opened. People decide in an instant whether they want to read your email or not, and that decision is based almost exclusively on the subject line. If you fail here, it won’t matter how good your content is. Like the first sentence in a story, the subject line should intrigue the recipient enough to keep reading. If you aren’t doing so already, this is good time to use A/B splits to test various subject lines for their response rates.

Make it mobile friendly

These chilly winter evenings, people won’t be home in front of their computers, they will be out shopping and visiting friends. Many of these people will forgo reading their email on their desktops in favor of reading it on their smart phones. Products like the Apple iPhone, the Samsung Galaxy phones are changing the way people connect. Everyday, more and more email is read on smart phones instead of desktop computers. If you are designing your email to be read on nothing less than 17” monitor, you are in danger of losing sales from people who find your email too small to read on their Droids. One popular solution is responsive design, which adjusts the email’s format to match the size of the screen, but many ISPs still do not support this. Even if you do plan to use responsive design, make sure that your email is legible on a phone without it. [Note: For more on this topic, see our four-part series on responsive design.]

Last minute is often too late

You may have an idea of the exact time that you want people to receive your mailings, but keep in mind that most ISPs will begin to greylist more email as the volume of email increases over the holiday mad rush. They do this to manage their loads and slow down those senders without stellar reputation scores. But if the delay is long enough, it can mean that your email won’t land in the inbox until it’s too late. Your ESP should offer a feature to stop delivery attempts if the email isn’t delivered by a specific time.  There have been cases of one-day-only sales appearing in mailboxes the day after the event. Give your recipients a few days head start.

Get personal

People are far more likely to read your email if they feel like you are talking to them personally. Don’t neglect to use your merge and dynamic content features to make each email seem like it was hand written expressly for that recipient. For more on this topic, see Personalizing Your Email Marketing.

In summary, here our checklist of things to keep in mind as you send out your holiday emails:

  • Is your reputation score satisfactory? If not, contact any ISPs that presents problems to resolve this issue.
  • If you have multiple lists, make sure all the global unsubscribes have been removed from those lists.
  • Sending more email is okay, but don’t overdo it.
  • The subject line is more important than ever.
  • A/B test whenever possible.
  • Always allow enough time between a mailing and a specific date to allow for possible ISP greylisting.
  • Personalize the email with dynamic content when applicable.

Do these things and your email should arrive on time in the inbox and ready for the season.

Happy Holidays!

Of Senders and Subject Lines

Good email practices start with the sender and subject lines. If you don’t have these in order, nothing else matters. Here are some ideas for improving your deliverability.

dynamic content in subject line

Try this little experiment: Go to your email software, be it Gmail, Outlook, or whatever, and open it. Quick, what do you see? The first thing you’ll notice is the sender. It is usually the first item on the left, or appears above the subject line, often in bolder type than the subject line. Given this fact, it is safe to say that nothing is more important than a good-looking sender address, especially when one looks at the statistics: 64 percent of small businesses executives said they decide whether or not to open an email newsletter based on the sender,1 and over 50 percent of respondents cited knowing and trusting the sender as the primary reason for opening an email in the first place.2 Even more disturbing, 73 percent of people decide to click on the “report spam” or “junk” button based on the sender’s email address alone!3 Ideally, your sender information should be personalized enough so that they see either a name or company, or some other title that has meaning to them (“Advanced Widgets Weekly Newsletter”). Ideally, your Sender name should make sense to the recipient. If the mail is a newsletter, a sender name that contains the company name and the word “news,” or “newsletter” is helpful. If your company is large enough to have different branches with different branding, then it’s a good idea make sure the domain matches the sender information.

The second thing they notice, obviously enough, is the subject line. If the sender’s address has done its job, the subject line won’t have to work quite as hard to catch the reader’s attention, but that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods yet. 35 percent of email users open messages because of the subject line. A relevant subject line is going to have a better open rate than a generic one, naturally, but what does “relevant” mean exactly? In one sense, it means a subject line that is personalized for the recipient, but when most people think of a personalized subject, the first thing that comes to mind is the dreaded “[First_Name], have we got a deal for you.” The ability to insert merge tags into subject lines has been so thoroughly overused by spammers that doing it at all is a risky proposition. It might be okay for a triggered email, such as a birthday greeting or anniversary, but even here, we caution against making a first name merge tag the first element in the subject line. Several studies report that people react more favorably to this tactic when the name is inserted at the end of the message (e.g., “Here’s a birthday coupon for you, Jim”). Others studies suggest that using the first name in a subject line at all is the kiss of death.

Dynamic Subject Line

A far better approach to subject line personalization is to use dynamic content instead of merge tags. So what’s the difference? A merge tag is simply a piece of information stored in a recipient’s demographics. First and last name, address, city, state, membership level, most recent purchase, age, gender, etc. are all examples of merge tags. Even the most basic email marketing application can insert one of these at any point in the email and the subject line. Dynamic content, on the other hand, is not a fixed piece of information, but is a form of request based on one or several variables. It is often represented in an “If/Then” format (if x is true, then do this). It can take the information in the demographics and break it down further (into age groups for instance), or combine two or more demographics to yield different results (women in California, for example).

Dynamic content requires a bit more advanced planning, but it pays off in the end. For example, if you want to offer people different discount rates based on their membership levels, you could create a logic condition that says if the customer’s membership level is gold, the subject line should read, “Here’s your 20% Gold Member only discount coupon,” while for everyone else it should read, “Here’s your 10% discount coupon for our store.” It is also possible to use more than one block of dynamic content in a subject line, so that, if you wanted to steer people to certain departments based on past purchasing patterns, or other demographics, such as age or gender, you can add these conditionals to the subject line as well. Clever combinations of dynamic content can make a subject line appear hand-typed specifically for a recipient.

Dynamic Sender

An even more powerful feature for email marketing is the ability to change the sender dynamically. As previously mentioned, the sender is the first thing anyone sees. With dynamic content, you could, for example, change the sender based on where a recipient lives. In that case, the mail could come from your West Coast representative for anyone residing in California, Oregon, or Washington; or a department store may want to assign reply duties to whichever department a recipient shops in the most.

Not all email marketing software offers the ability to add dynamic content to the sender and subject lines, but it is a feature you shouldn’t overlook. Marketers are moving away from simple email blasting, and beyond social media connectivity, with a trend toward using data to provide a unique experience for each email recipient. The business that is already doing this is ahead of the game.

To learn more about the dynamic content capabilities available in Goolara Symphonie, click here to visit the Features section of our website.

1Bredin Business Information
2ReturnPath
3Email Sender and Provider Coalition

Personalizing Your Email Marketing

dynamic content in email

Recently on the Direct Marketing News Site, Editor-in-Chief Ginger Conlon talked about the positive effect personalization can have on your email marketing efforts. “The sweetest words to anyone is their own name,” she writes. “If you have my name, and you’re a direct marketer, why don’t you use it?”

Every email solution worth its salt at least has the ability to use the first name field somewhere in the mailing. More advanced software can take this one step further by letting you control the sender and reply lines as well—an important feature if the recipients are used to dealing with specific salespeople. Still more sophisticated software will take this even further, allowing you to tailor an email’s content to use any portion of a recipient’s data. Yet, in spite of this, many marketers go out of their way to make their mailings as generic as possible. As Seth Godin has pointed out on numerous occasions, generic means boring, and boring means no sale.

It’s easy to understand where some of the reluctance of marketers to use personalization comes from. When the ability to add demographic data to email was first introduced, many marketers (bad marketers) muddied the field by sticking a person’s first name in nearly every subject line. After a while, subjects like “Jim, look at this great deal!” became synonymous with spam. But personalization is about so much more than sticking a person’s first name in the subject line or at the top of the message. It’s about providing content in each and every email that is specifically relevant to that person alone. Relevancy means not sending generic messages. Relevancy means when people read it, they feel like you are really talking to them.

While you can certainly improve your customer engagement with the simple addition of a first name field to your emails, the key to real personalization is dynamic content. Dynamic content simply means that when it comes time to send email to a person, the software looks for specific information that you’ve entered based on that person’s statistics (demographics). If the demographics say the person likes orange juice, then you may want to say something about orange juice. If the demographics say a person hates orange juice, then any mention of the subject is removed from the email.

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few good ways to use dynamic content to improve reader response:

Location-based offers

Companies with different locations can take advantage of the fact that some recipients are close to certain locations by telling them about nearby site-specific sales or events. There are a few ways to accomplish this depending on the size of the company. State, city, or Zip code information is the easiest way for companies with just a few sites to do this, but if it is a company with many locations all over the country (or the world, for that matter), a site (or store) number field is the best way to accomplish this. Another advantage of using the store number field is if a client prefers to visit a certain location, regardless of its proximity to their actual address. For example: I live down the street from a CVS store, but I never go there. I go to the one near where I work, which is several miles from my home. A coupon for the store near my house might entice me to visit, but one for the location near my office will have a better chance of drawing me in.

Membership privileges

If a person has membership or a similar preferred status, your email should reflect this. Two of the most favorably received types of email are those that make people feel “special” and those that impart “secret” information. Email directed at members accomplish both of these at once. You can also use this information to create unique user coupons, either as components of the email, or dynamic barcodes. If your company has a membership and you are not using that information to advance sales, you are ignoring a strong potential sales channel.

Gender and age specifics

This is almost a no-brainer. Gender and age are two of the most important variables when it comes to assembling an email message. Men don’t buy the same things as woman, and older people don’t have the same needs as teenagers. You can send everyone on your list the same email, but that’s the quickest route to the trash folder. Sending a single man an email about your back-to-school specials might not make sense, whereas a family with kids will certainly want to hear about it. Sometimes this can be handled with segmentation, but if you are tracking a specific event (such as a company-wide sale), then you may want one email to cover it.

Conclusion

In the end, people want email that pertains to them. If they feel like you are only pretending to do this then they are going to tune you out. The careful use of dynamic content will let you create email that speaks to each recipient individually, which, in turn, increases the potential for engagement. With careful and sensible dynamic content use, you can make sure that each person receives the email that best matches their needs and desires, and, in the end, isn’t that what we all want?

Dynamic Barcodes

Create Dynamic Barcodes with Goolara Symphonie

Goolara Symphonie now supports the ability to create and add barcodes to email from within the software. If you need to generate coupons, passes, or other barcoded email, now you can do this without ever leaving Symphonie. But that’s only the tip of iceberg. Symphonie also lets you create dynamic barcodes. Using a recipient’s demographics, you can create tailor-made barcodes that contain a customer’s vital statistics or other unique information, helping you control the use of the coupons you send out.

There are many different types of barcodes. Symphonie features some of the most popular, including:

UPC, DataMatrix, Code 128, and QR Code samples

We may add additional choices to the list from time to time if there are other codes that prove to be popular.

As a coupon production and control technique, dynamic barcodes are hard to beat. Possible uses include the ability to create use once or limited use coupons based on:

  • Coupon recipient
  • State or city
  • Specific store branch
  • Customer status (member, VIP, etc.)
  • Age
  • Date range

There are three ways to segment email campaigns: per customer, by pool, or with a limited data range. Here are some ideas for using these features.

Dynamic Barcodes by Individual Customer

Customers with robust POS systems can take full advantage of dynamic barcodes, assigning a unique code to each customer. This code may contain any of the demographics about a recipient, and is a great way to keep track of coupon usage and to compare current and past shopping patterns. It also makes it easier to control the use of the coupons in situations where online copying might by unwanted.

In the example below, a customer’s ID number is included as part of the barcode:

Example showing dynamic barcodeOnce the customer uses the coupon, that information goes into your system, providing plenty of additional information about the customer and their purchasing habits, allowing you to further refine your marketing strategy.

If your POS system cannot handle that much information, there are a simpler alternative uses for the dynamic barcode feature that are also quite powerful.

Dynamic Barcodes by Pool

If individual customer information is more than your POS system can handle, an effective alternative is to generate a few barcodes based on specific demographics (e.g., state, membership level, age group, etc.). Now you are only working with a few codes. The software determines who gets which coupon based on recipient demographics. You can also use this feature with specific number ranges to add customer specific information without overloading your system (see below)

Limited Number Range Dynamic Barcodes

Individually numbered barcodes are a useful addition to codes that don’t contain specific customer information. After the coupons are used the barcode numbers are paired up with specific customers. This is easily accomplished and we can work with you to facilitate this solution as well. We will use the number range you specify and send a list that identifies which customer received which number. In this way, even basic POS systems can compete with more advanced systems when it comes to identifying customer buying patterns. As long a system can keep track of one variable number, we can provide the rest. Please call for more information.

If you’ve used barcodes already, then you know what a valuable tool they are for marketing and sales purposes. If you are new to barcodes, Wikipedia has a good explanation of what they are and how they work; also please download the latest version of the user manual, or contact us for more information.

For more information on Dynamic Barcodes, click here.

For more information on Goolara Symphonie, click here.

For more information on Dynamic Content, click here.