In the last issue we looked at how to go about building up a database of email addresses, how to capture suitable contact details from existing clients and contacts, and what external email lists can be purchased. We also covered the basic rules for who you can and cannot email. In this article, we look at how to plan your email campaigns, how to choose a provider, how to compare costs and measure success.
The role of email marketing
It can be hard to find the time to keep in touch with your past clients and contacts. This is where e-marketing plays a valuable role; with a regular e-news, recipients soon become familiar with your firm’s name in their in-box.
Some firms want to use email marketing in order to be perceived as a very modern firm. Other firms with an established printed newsletter mailing list want to move towards an electronic version to improve their environmental credentials.
As to promoting awareness of your practice and understanding of your services and specialisms, the emailer works in the same way as the printed newsletter in that you can showcase your expertise and client credentials through news articles, case studies and opinion pieces. But there are a number of additional advantages.
The time taken to produce an emailer is much less than for its printed equivalent, so you can include topical subject matter or provide a rapid comment.
You are not constrained by having to fill a certain number of pages or limited by a total word count. So you are free to send either short, pithy articles or a lengthy guide, whichever is most appropriate for the topic.
Because you are not restricted by the economics of a minimum print run, it is also possible to produce highly focused emailers for small target groups. I am currently fine tuning a campaign to go to 30 GPs.
Firms that provide clients with training courses or seminars are able to promote them cost effectively, and send reminders as the date approaches.
The more sophisticated email tools also include an online survey module which can be used as part of your client research programme. Not only can you create your own questionnaire to send out, but you can have the results consolidated and analysed automatically. So there is no need to have somebody inputting all the responses manually, analysing and reporting.
The survey tool can be used for client satisfaction questionnaires, seminar feedback forms or for gathering informal research for PR purposes.
Types of email campaign
An email campaign can be a single topic briefing, a multi-topic newsletter, an invitation with reply form, an order or enquiry form or an online survey.
A plain text email can do the job just as well as a branded HTML one. However, if you have invested in a strong visual brand identity on your other marketing material, you should extend it to your electronic media as it will help to build brand recognition.
The medium is hugely flexible, with the ability to link to web pages, download pdfs and even include audio or video files, although you need to consider whether the recipient’s PC will allow them to view such links.
Planning your campaign
As with any marketing campaign, it is all a case of careful planning: knowing your target audience, having a clear message and providing a call to action that will produce the desired result.
It is no use seeing email purely as a cheaper alternative to direct mail. The downside is that it has a much shorter shelf life, is visible for just a few seconds and it is easily deleted or ignored.
There are essentially two types of campaign:
- An acquisition campaign aims to create awareness and desire amongst a target audience that doesn’t know you very well, for example setting up a seminar for potential new clients.
- A retention campaign is designed to keep you in touch with clients or qualified prospects, for example keeping them up to date with new legislation and relevant cases.
When selecting a system, my main concerns are about security of data, reliability of the system, compliance with UK legislation and accessibility of support. I am very keen to avoid any risk relating to viruses or server failure.
I am often surprised that so many firms still send bulk campaigns from their own server via Microsoft Outlook as we believe that this does present a number of risks in terms of data security and we know of firms who have suffered from this and been out of action across the network whilst this was fixed.
Have you ever received an email with all the names in the “copy” field? It is all too easy to make this type of mistake, and very difficult to keep that list up to date by managing “unsubscriptions”. The only apparent advantage to doing it yourself in this way is cost; but there are substantial risks to your brand and reputation.
There are many cheap and cheerful bits of email software available on the market. Many of these are based overseas, so you will need to satisfy yourself that they provide adequate levels of security and support. Do you really want to wait until their time zone wakes up before your support call is responded to? Are you confident that they comply with UK regulations?
Working with a dedicated email service provider will ensure you benefit from latest thinking and have access to UK-based support. These companies take security and data management very seriously and have close working relationships with all the major internet service providers to ensure that they are white-listed. As they are web-based you have the option to manage your data and campaigns or can outsource all of this activity.
The main customer relationship management (CRM) providers, LexisNexis Interaction and Sage SalesLogix provide integrated email marketing software. We use Enabler with a number of our clients with great success. We have put together a checklist for the selection of an email system which can be downloaded from www.bernersmarketing.com.
Always ask who else uses the system and speak to them about their experiences regarding ease of use and any problems with data security. Make sure that the company is registered with the Information Commissioner and the Direct Marketing Association (unlikely if they are based outside of the UK). Ask about how they safeguard against blacklisting: a very important topic. You do not want all your emails ending up in the “Junk” folder!
The system itself should help you keep your marketing legal by automatically including the legally required company information and the unsubscribe facility in the footer. The system that we use will not let you send an email that does not include a link to unsubscribe. It should also record opt-outs and automatically prevent those email addresses being mailed again.
When comparing the costs of an external email service provider there are four key areas that you need to evaluate.
First, there will be some sort of licence fee for access to the software, and this will usually depend on the number of users or sending identities. Secondly, there may be a cost per send or this may be included in the licence fee up to a maximum number of contacts in your database or a maximum number of sends. Thirdly, it is likely that the system will include some templates where you can add your own branding, but if you want a truly unique email template you need to budget for design and programming. The cost will depend on its complexity, for example at the top end you might want to commission an interactive game. Finally, make sure you ask about how your firm will appear in the recipient’s inbox: you want it to look as if the email has been sent by you, not by the service provider. Some systems charge an additional fee for this that can be quite high.
Typically, there are three key metrics: the delivery rate, the open or view rate and the click through details.
The delivery rate is the number of emails that get through, in other words that don’t bounce back. There are two types of bounce:
- A hard bounce is where the email address is not valid, for example because there is a typo in the address or the person has left. Both of these are easily checked.
- A soft bounce is where the email cannot be accepted by the mail server, for example because someone is on holiday and their inbox is full or due to the firewall.
The delivery rate is directly affected by the cleanliness of your database and your data management policies. We always provide a list of the bounces and encourage clients to research and clean their data after each campaign to ensure that the database is in tip top shape for the next emailing.
When you start emailing, if you have not done so before, or if you buy in external data, then you can expect bounce rates as high as 25 per cent. But with continuous management, it is possible to get that down to 2 or 3 per cent if you are emailing and cleansing each month.
The open or view rate indicates how many recipients actually click through to view your email. One of the key factors affecting this is the subject line: is it compelling and relevant enough? If you have a big enough database then you can trial different subject lines to see which has the best open rate before sending the main bulk email.
The click-though details show exactly who was interested enough to click on various links or to complete the form requesting information. This is a huge improvement on traditional marketing techniques which can only measure direct responses. You can see who is genuinely engaged or interested.
If you are generating any sort of interaction or enquiry, it is vitally important that you have the systems in place to respond promptly and follow up.
And remember that the email is just one element of the marketing mix and it is the personal contact that will bring in the new business.
Sue Bramall is Director of Berners Marketing which works exclusively with the legal profession, providing email marketing software, support and services.