Do you think about your email marketing?

Email Marketing Matters – Part 1

We frequently discuss the merits of various ‘freemium’ model email providers with our clients.

Typically, an average client will say their tool of choice is Mailchimp. When asked why the response will either be ‘because we always have’ or ‘it’s free’ or ‘another non-profit recommended it to me’.

I’d like to gently challenge some of these assumptions.

It’s about how you think about your email marketing and a challenge to the assumption by many that it’s free. It’s not.

If you do anything beyond send batch and blast emails – this should be everyone but it’s not – and do anything at volume, it is time to question the email status quo.

What is email volume? 50,000 subscribers are a big list. But 10,000 is also a big list if you mail them every week – that’s just over half a million emails a year you’re sending. And in fact, you are probably mailing more than that as you’ll have some other emails you send out in between email newsletters too – about events, fundraising appeals etc.

If you’ve never done the maths on how many emails you send, it’s an interesting exercise to make you realise the importance of the tool to your organisation. I’ll wager that it is the single most important tool you have in communicating with all your audiences.

It’s a diversion to focus on the tool. Most of the time it matters not whether you use Mailchimp, or Campaign Monitor, or Vertical Response or anything else for that matter.

What we need to pay attention to is what you want to achieve – your strategy, the vision you’re trying to share and the experience you’re trying to give your users – more than which tool you use.

There are several key issues we need to consider. Let’s take some of the strategic considerations first.

Your customer is in complete control

So what is your vision as a charity, and how are you translating this into email?

Do you have a plan or do things just get randomly added to newsletters as you want to communicate them? Don’t be afraid to answer ‘yes’ to that question – it’s very common. But it’s dangerous.

If email is the single most important tool you use to reach your audiences, your customer is in complete control. They may decide not to open your missive, not to click or even to unsubscribe. And if they do that, you’ll never be able to communicate with them again via that means (legally) unless they legitimately re-subscribe.

For membership organisations and fundraisers familiar with attrition rates for membership and donations, try running similar kind of approach across your email list.

What are the unsubscribe triggers – do you have people on your list who are just there and never interact? How can you stop them from leaving? How are you encouraging them to stay – even if it’s passive rather than engaged?  Should you try changing your list approach to nurturing more clicks from different sub-segments?

Customer focused is key

What you give your customers is vital. It needs to be relevant to them, on whichever device they use (and being where we are today, that’s likely more than one place – i.e., social as well as email, mobile rather than desktop). They’re telling you what they want and like by what they click around not just in your emails but also on your website too. Email cannot exist in isolation from your other channels.

So we have the information to create something compelling for an audience.

More often than not we haven’t taken a step back and thought about email as something we’ve been doing for ages and doing with reasonable success – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix It’ being a useful phrase here, as well as the realistic ‘not enough hours in the day’.

But don’t wait for your customers to abandon you.

Strategic rather than operational approach

If email is so vital to getting your message delivered – both via the technical channels and messaging approaches you use – why is it so often ‘managed’ by one of the junior members of your team? It’s great that someone looks after it, and we’ve seen some great email newsletters so we know that charity brand and messaging is being for the most part well looked after. But we’d like to suggest that there’s a gap missing and some strategic focus and attention from the digital/fundraising and communications leadership will mean that the person looking after your email for you can easily make it work harder for you. Make some space to work with your colleagues on how to understand the role of email in your whole mix, where it fits, when and what works best. Pull the person who looks after your email into that conversation and listen – I bet they’ve got loads of suggestions about things to try if they had time, tools and a sense of empowerment and knew it was of strategic interest and importance.

There are more issues to consider – so this blog will continue with a part two shortly.

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