Charity email marketing – making a choice about email tools and approach.

This blog follows on from our previous Email Marketing Matters blog: Do you think about your email marketing?

Email Marketing Matters – Part 2

In our last blog we thought about some of the strategic issues around email, here we’ll address some of the technical questions to consider.

What matters in email tools today?

 There was a good reason we all favoured Mailchimp as a ‘free’ tool – it was easy to use and all the monkey brand stuff was fun. It still is both and is still highly regarded.

But these days, our selection criteria should perhaps be a little more sophisticated than trying to generate monkey rewards.

These are the kinds of questions we should be asking about our email tools.

  • Integrations with third party tools – does your email and CRM connect? Website? Mobile? Social?
  • Data capture – what happens to data you capture via your email tool? Does it sit in a list on your email tool or get transferred automatically to a CRM, or manually moved around?
  • Automation – what can you set to happen automatically? How sophisticated can you get the automation to be?
  • Personalisation – how much content can you personalise easily – not just names, subject lines or copy but can you look at whole content blocks.
  • Quick and intuitive split testing – split testing (A/B splits) can cover a range of things. Typically, subject lines but we should also be looking at areas like content and delivery times.
  • Journey building – can you build multi-stage journeys via email or more than one channel using your email tool? How does this work with automation?

That’s just a few basic things to consider. It’s a different list than “which tool is easy to use” – the good news is that pretty much all the tools that are consistently recommended have good UI – user interface – and provide excellent UX – user experience.

Volume is a vital statistic in email delivery

Email delivery isn’t something we always think about. You just press send and off it goes, right?  Well, not quite.

Most ‘freemium’ email marketing tools rely on a shared server approach – you are not in control of when your emails are sent and where from (in terms of the server as well as location). It’s part of how these services can be offered.

But the volume of messages you send (see Part 1), is a key consideration in whether you should be using these tools or looking to move to your own IP address for sending. Volume means that sometimes your chances of being caught up in spam filters are stronger (it’s a model for spammers obviously – bulk send to get lucky) or of your messages being held up behind other people’s messages and priorities.

Or even the shared IP you are using being spam blocked – with the consequence that even though you are a legitimate sender, the address is blocked and you can’t get your messages through (look at your email report for bounces – how many are server blocks or bounces?).

Delivery is one key reason volume is vital. The only true way to control your message sends, where your data is being sent from and when is by having your own IP address – this is particularly important for high volume senders – and this usually means shifting to an email platform solution.

When do you need to consider shifting to a platform?

I’m not going to lie, a platform solution comes with some costs attached (set up of the platform being one), but it’s a strategic decision. The set-up costs are a one-off fee, thereafter you’ll usually be paying a license fee per user and or by volume – much as you do for freemium models. And in some cases, the running costs are about as much as you use for your freemium tools if you’re using different plan elements (using the Mailchimp example – you can run a professional platform email marketing solution for the same cost as Mailchimp Pro for large volume sends). Does that surprise you? It’s worth investigating and thinking about the tipping points for when to move to a platform.

But our technology decision should not be based only on price – it should be based on strategic fit.

You may also want to think about how that tool will work with your charity email marketing programme:

  • How to improve ROI on lists – which tools are going to give you the best support in terms of improving your return on investment. Which ones will help you learn, grow and develop your email skills and knowledge internally to improve everything from design through to delivery and engaging audiences?
  •  Future proof – making a decision about email is a strategic choice. The results of the decision will take staff time in set up and training. It’s a time investment that is vital, but in the interests of productivity should be limited. The decision about tools should be taken with a view to the future and minimising disruption with the potential need to switch tools again to move forward a few years down the line
  •  Integrate-ability – it’s not just your primary data source (CRM) that you should consider. It’s additional data about audiences that builds the complete picture – from finance through to social media. Your email tool is a valuable part of the full data mix. The tool should also, in an ideal scenario, support your data approach by integrating new channels that you choose to use. When you’re ready to start using SMS and mobile push notifications – how will that integrate with your other digital channels? Is your platform extendable?
  •  List growth and email volume – email will long be the cornerstone of most organisations communications toolkit. Alongside considering other tools that many integrate with the system for an ‘omni-channel’ marketing approach, email volume and list growth will be key driving factors. Costs vary from tool to tool for email volume and contacts, so an eye on where there may be additional costs on number of contacts is key. Email volume costs are likely to decrease the more you send, but any licensing or service access fees may change as you expand your reach.

What does this all mean?

What does all that mean? Well, we challenge the inertia that has set in around charity email marketing, your choice of tools and want you to think about what you’re doing now.

Mailchimp may be ok because other people use it, and it feels sort of free-ish, and is easy to use. But it may not be.

Think about these levels of your email marketing programme to find out if this is a problem for you.

  • Is it ok now? If it’s not what are you doing about it?
  • Is what you’re doing now going to be what you need to be doing in six months, in a year? Think about you programme and plans. If they’re not right when are you going to start thinking about making a switch?
  • What’s your vision for five years’ time and how are your comms tools going to help deliver that?

Next steps:

If you’ve any questions, give us a ring (0203 176 1249).  We can help you identify what the right mix will be for you to meet your future goals and make sure you have the data and information at hand to help you build your grand vision. We can explain what a platform based email solution is and show you how and why they may need to be part of your thinking.

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