February 26, 2009

Is email marketing still relevant in a 2.0 world?

Chris AbrahamWhen I realized that I could download the OPML file from the Power 150 site and then hack it around into a contact list of over 900 of the top advertising, marketing, PR, and SEO bloggers on the planet, I did so.

Ever since, I have been scheduling calls with all of the folks I have been admiring on a daily basis. Two days ago I spent an hour on the horn with Lee Hopkins, “one of Australia’s leading thinkers on communication strategy in an online environment,” who is, in fact, one of the World’s leading thinkers on communication strategy in an online environment.  We had a great chat — and amazing talk!

At the end, Lee asked me if he could blog the conversation and I jumped at the opportunity and late last night Lee published Is email marketing still relevant in a 2.0 world? which is not only the most complete description of what we at Abraham Harrison LLC do on a daily basis but it is said in a better, more comprehensive, way than I could even conceive of doing myself.  Here it is, in full.  Be sure to visit (and subscribe to) Better Communication Results, Lee Hopkin’s blog.

Is email marketing still relevant in a 2.0 world?

G’day – thanks for returning!

 

I just finished a fantastic conversation with Chris Abraham, the President and COO of AbrahamHarrison.

If you’ve been around the internet for a while, especially in the ‘marcoms’ (marketing communications) space, you would certainly have heard of Chris; if not of the man himself then certainly of one of his marketing and outreach programs.

Chris is one of those select few online marketers who’s text doesn’t read like a traditional online direct mail piece – you know, with LOTS OF CAPITALS and heaps of bold text and yellow highlighting and italics and

  • bullet
  • points
  • a-
  • plenty

and testimonials by the kazillion…

I could point you to a zillion of those sites – which is not to say that the style of marketing they use is not successful; it is, otherwise they wouldn’t keep doing it. But you know as soon as you see the huge, bold, bright red and often in CAPS headline what to expect for the rest of the (very) long toilet roll of a page.

Chris takes a much softer approach, always has done, and it seems to work for him and his style of copywriting.

Video, the radio star and plain ol’ bandwagon idjuts

With the advent of Web2.0/Social Media there were many ill-informed and just plain ‘bandwagon’ pundits who hailed the death of traditional communication tools such as email, web1.0 sites and – gasp – newspaper, magazine, radio and television.

Much as television didn’t kill radio as force it to rethink its place and find its niche, so too with Social Media. Every new technology platform or societal change brings with it a change in how all that came before it must view themselves and continue to offer relevancy.

Radio didn’t die, newspapers haven’t been killed off, I can still pick up plenty of magazines that appeal to all demographics and both genders from my local newsagent, and email hasn’t disappeared off the radar (if my bulging inbox every morning is anything to go by).

So it was fantastic to finally chat with someone who, like me, believes that email is STILL a fundamental part of the marketing toolkit.

In talking with Chris today, he was genuinely flattered that a fellow copywriter would find his material engaging; I thought it was brilliant reading and his deployment strategies for his clients brilliantly executed.

You see, Chris, like me, believes that email won’t go away, but WILL have to change in order to survive in the new communication landscape. Our shared view is that it will have to evolve in a couple of ways:

  1. Shorter emails will be the best way of getting people’s attention
  2. Long-form emails are best saved for newsletters; trying to ‘sell’ via email will become even harder to excel at.

If you’ve ever received one of Chris’ emails, you will be stunned by several things:

  1. They are short – only 2-3 paragraphs
  2. They link off to a SMNR (Social Media News Release) that gives a far more in-depth level of information (and all the material you might need to help you spread the word or get involved)
  3. If you email Chris or anyone of his team back you WILL get a response, usually within 24 hours (Chris says they try to get back within the hour, but time zones can sometime defeat them)
  4. The emails ‘read’ like they were written by a human being, not by a ‘PR’ flack or a ex-journalist hack; they aren’t full of ‘me, me, me’ stuff telling you how wonderful I (the company) am, but neither do they ‘strip-tease tantalise’ you so that when you do click on the link you end up feeling cheated
  5. You get the very real feeling that there’s someone real at the end of the email.

Here’s an example (taken from my post about the Fresh Air Fund):

Hello again, Lee

On Sunday I asked if you would kindly help me spread the word about 200 inner-city children I have yet to place with host families in August. I apologize for following up so soon, but time is of the essence and you know how funny email can be. To make things simple, everything is collected into an online resource page http://freshair.smnr.us

This appeal comes straight from the top, so please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Yours sincerely,

Sara


Sara Wilson
Fresh Air Fund
[email protected]
www.freshair.org

Sara is a real person, not a ‘fake’ character. I sent her an email yesterday, wondering if her ears were burning, because Chris and I were talking about her:

G’day Sara,
Just finished the phone call with Chris — oh boy! Were your ears burning? They should have been!!!
Kindests,
Lee

From: Sara Wilson [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Tuesday, 24 February 2009 2:02 AM
To: [email protected]
Subject: Re: Fellow Power 150 blogger

Hello Lee,
Just a quick note to re-confirm that Chris will be calling you at 10 am, your time, tomorrow (Tuesday).
No need to reply unless something has come up on your end, otherwise he will speak to you in about 7.5 hours!
Best,
Sara

In reply, Sara said,

Lee,
And I thought it was just hot where I was last night …  :)
It’s very kind of you to mention it, thanks.   Chris is a great guy to work for, and generous with compliments, but it’s always nice to know that someone appreciates you, isn’t it?
Cheers,
Sara

Controversy

Because Chris and his team start any campaign with an email-based blogger outreach, some of the ‘holier than thou’ social media purists occasionally give him ‘stick’, or snicker behind his back and call him a ‘spammer’. Not true – the team are very hot on ensuring only a good taste remains in the mouth of any blogger they contact, and of only offering bloggers something of actual value to the blogger.

Which is a behaviour totally unlike the hapless, clueless and insulting PR flacks who regularly show up on The Bad Pitch Blog and who attempt to fill my inbox with material about electronics, or sanitary napkins, or (ahem) extension kits, or pharmaceuticals shipped from Canada. Thank goodness I have SpamArrest to filter them out before they hit my inbox!

Chris and his team have painstakingly built up a list of nearly 35,000 bloggers across several different demographics and topic areas of interest. Visiting their blogs, they harvest their email address. They then politely email them once to offer them something of interest – if the blogger likes it, they very often blog about it; it they don’t then they don’t. What is fascinating is the response rate Chris gets for his clients.

Word of mouth and gossip-sharing amongst internet marketers has the average rate of sales of anything (be it a blog post or an ebook or a ‘course you cannot live without’) as around 0.01-0.05% from an initial mailing, with the follow-up mailings increasing that to, perhaps, 1.0-2.0%…

Chris and his team regularly get a takeup in the order of 5%, which is phenomenal. In addition, once you start developing an email relationship with anyone in their team (as I have with Sara Wilson) then all future mailings will receive much more attention than would otherwise be the case. A case in point is my own, later, post on the illegal cluster bombing being carried out in South Ossetia and The Survivor Corps run by activist and author of the very powerful book,  I Will Not Be Broken, Jerry White. It is only because Sara had taken the time to develop a relationship with me over previous months that I read and responded to the material from Jerry White. Without that relationship I would never have bothered with a topic outside of my normal areas of interest.

It is the classic ‘relationship marketing’ that Social Media Marketing pundits claim to aim for but rarely achieve.

Goodness, if I could have a dollar for every new ‘expert’ that’s popped up in the Social Media space I would retire a very rich trillionaire (and at the same time wondering how you could be a trillionaire and not be very rich – I guess if you were living in Zimbabwe you wouldn’t be…).

You wouldn’t believe the number of ‘leading social networking and social media marketing experts’ who have suddenly come out of the woodwork and set up communities in places like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, etc. Curiously, I’ve never heard of these folks before. Most of them don’t even have blogs, or if they do those blogs have only been around for less than a year. Curious, hey?

But Chris, on the other hand, has been around for a long time, has figured out what works and what doesn’t, and as evidence offers the following case studies:

If you want to see the sort of posts that are associated with Chris’ kind of blogger PR pitch outreach, here are some examples:

Here are some examples of client SMNRs from Chris and his team that I especially like:

So what???

The whole point of this post is NOT to fawn at the feet of someone who clearly knows what he is doing.

The whole point IS to let you know that you don’t need to throw out your baby with the bathwater:

  • Don’t jump on the Social Media bandwagon without educated advice
  • Don’t take advice from a pimply 17 year old fresh out of high school
  • Don’t take advice from a less-pimply 23 year old fresh out of university
  • Don’t ditch all of your understanding of how ‘people’ and networks work
  • Don’t take advice from someone who doesn’t even blog themselves, or Twitter, or Facebook… (see my post about Social Media Gurus)
  • Don’t take advice from someone who has been blogging less than 24 months

Instead:

  1. Download Todd Defren’s absolutely superb ‘Brink’ guide to Social Media and Richard Meyer’s great presentation, ‘Social Media : What you’re afraid to admit you didn’t know’ (he also has a great pharma and biotech-focused pdf presentation). Download and read Trevor Cook’s and my ‘Social Media Report’.
  2. Talk to someone who actually knows what they are doing – in Australia that means folks like Stephen Collins, Laurel Papworth, Trevor Cook, Darren Rowse, Gavin Heaton and, humbly, yours truly. If WE can’t help you, we can certainly put you in touch with someone who can. Unlike the USA, where there seems to be a spirit of “You’ll prize my rolodex out of my frozen dead fingers!”, there is no fierce spirit of competition here in Australia – we have  ‘co-opertition’ wherein we all help each other out if the ‘fit’ seems better for the client.
  3. Stick to reading the seasoned ‘pros’ of the online marketing and/or business communication space: you cannot go wrong if you start at folks like any of the above, or Shel Holtz, Neville Hobson, Chris Brogan, Darren Rowse, Mitch Joel, Joe Jaffe , Laura Fitton and Chris Abraham himself; see who they link to. Follow your nose from them – all the way along the path you will be reading ‘the good oil’ as we say here in Australia
  4. Examine Chris’ examples above and see for yourself how simple but effective your online marketing can be if you do it with the right intention – of helping out the blogger, not flogging stuff for your client. Get the relationship right and you will flog stuff for your client anyway, trust me!

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Currently listening to ‘Next’ by The Necks from the album ‘Next’. Superb jazz funk from one of Australia’s great cult bands.

Via Marketing ConversationChris Abraham & Lee Hopkins

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Chris Abraham is a partner in Socialmedia.biz. Contact Chris via email, follow him on Twitter and Google Plus or leave a comment below.

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  • Very interesting question and case studies. Email marketing has proven its course and a thorough and complete Internet marketing campaign can not neglect the cost effectiveness and potential ROI of email marketing. Customer retention should be at the top of the list of priorities.

    • Well, like all social media, all of these outreaches are about relationship-building and — dare I say it — building intimacy. The people with whom you connect are more empowered now more than ever before to call bullshit. And they will. Do, please always consider whether or now you’re building community or just collecting people.

    • Well, like all social media, all of these outreaches are about relationship-building and — dare I say it — building intimacy. The people with whom you connect are more empowered now more than ever before to call bullshit. And they will. Do, please always consider whether or now you're building community or just collecting people.