Tag Archives: Strategy & Management

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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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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Preparing your team for a CRM project

Dan Lockeretz, Purple Vision Project Delivery Director shares his experience of delivering CRM implementation projects – something he’s done quite a lot of in the years he’s been a Purple Vision, and even before that in his previous life charity-side.  This is the final entry in a 4 part series  from Dan explaining project delivery issues. 

Ready, set?  Let’s go

A CRM project isn’t something that will just magically happen, sadly.  It’s something that we, as your strategic partners, will work with you on.   We need your internal knowledge to deliver the end goal, and you need our knowledge and expertise to make it happen.

It’s a win-win situation and to make the most of it, a little preparation goes a long way.

How can you prepare and plan for your CRM project?

A key element is to identify and recruit to the project team Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) at the earliest point of the project.

SMEs would be expected not only to be experts in their current systems and processes but also to be experts in the new system going forward.  They’ll work with the Purple Vision project team (which will include your project manager and any resources we bring with us such as specialist developers, data experts etc.  The exact team will depend on your project.

The whole team will deliver the project together, and reports to the Project Board.  A key part of our initial discussions with you will outline overall project responsibility and who should be on the project board.

Let’s consider how your SME’s can help.

Some key tips on how to integrate SMEs into the development process are as follows:

  • Capture ‘user-stories’ from the SMEs early on in the project lifecycle. SME’s are the folks who use the systems we’re looking at day in, day out. They know what they need to do – and what they may not be able to do now that they will need to do.  User stories help us outline what success will look like for these day to day users.  We’ll explain more about all this at the relevant point.
  • The next phase of development is managed through the running of Sprints, ensuring each user story is built into the system. SMEs would work with the Development team at this stage to ensure the user stories are fully understood and interpreted correctly.
  • When we’re working with MVP (see It’s just a phase), we make sure that as soon as the base system is available, load it with sample data and share with SME. These guys – our users – will be rigorous in showing us what might be missing to make our concept turn into reality as early in the project as possible.
  • They’re gatekeepers to others using and adopting the system. Training is key to help SME’s not only work with the development team in configuring the system but in being ready to be an advocate for the system as others in the organisations start to ask questions and get involved.  A key part of this is User Acceptance Testing – the rigorous bit where teams are let loose with real case data to make it work.

Ahead of your project starting, consider who your subject matter experts may be and consider how to free up some of their time to engage in the project when it kicks off.  It need not been an arduous commitment but our experience is that it is easier to release staff to add these tasks to their to-do list if they’ve been considered ahead of time.

Read the full blog series: