Optimize Timing of Year-End Fundraising E-mails

At the end of each year, many AccuList USA’s nonprofit clients send out their big fundraising e-mail campaigns, and each year questions of optimal timing are debated. Research results from Next After, a nonprofit consultancy and research lab, may offer helpful guidance.

December Offers Fundraising Opportunity

A big problem for year-end donor appeals is the fight for attention amid the seasonal commercial e-mail blitz that jams inboxes. So how can a donor appeal stand out? Timing is everything to avoid getting lost in the clutter. Many nonprofits focus on the Giving Tuesday opportunity, and 23% more e-mails are sent on Giving Tuesday than on Dec. 31, per Next After–yet 48.7% of nonprofit revenue comes in the last week of the year, Dec. 25-31. And 20% comes just on New Year’s Eve. In fact, 581% more average additional revenue is generated on Dec. 31 than on Giving Tuesday. No wonder Next After suggests focusing on that final December week. Another sign of a missed opportunity: Despite December’s donor haul, 22% of nonprofits studied send no e-mails in December, and most send about four e-mails. So experts advise dialing up the volume in the lucrative December time period!

Day-of-the-Week and Time-of-Day Matter

E-mailers who choose to send messages in the Tuesday through Friday period and blast between 7 a.m. and noon will wade through the heaviest e-mail volumes, per the research. So off-peak e-mail delivery–such as afternoon or evening–can help avoid the seasonal e-mail rush. And weekends clearly represent a neglected opportunity: Not only is overall e-mail volume lighter, but Next After notes a 50% higher gift amount on weekends.

For more data and examples of real-life, successful nonprofit creative tests, see the Next After slide deck.

 

Nonprofits’ Crucial Year-End Fundraising Drives Have Begun

AccuList USA works with big and small nonprofits on their key year-end fundraising campaigns. With a third of annual giving occurring in December, over half of nonprofits starting year-end plans in October, and direct mail the leading fundraising channel, October often sees final tweaks to direct marketing plans (and mailing lists).

Planning for Year-End Fundraising Success

For example, nonprofit marketers may want to check their current plans against the four-step master plan recently offered by fundraising consultant Gail Perry on her blog. Step 1: Set goals for each donor segment, and don’t forget lucrative leading-donor annual gifts, lapsed donors and board members. Step 2: Select channels for a multi-pronged appeal, integrating direct mail, e-mail, telemarketing, social media, website, and video creative–and design a consistent message for all. Step 3: Gather resources and set a budget. Step 4: Set a timeline and calendar. Read the complete article by Perry for details and tips.

How Small Nonprofits Can Punch Above Their Weight

Of course, smaller fundraisers often bemoan budget limitations at this point. A guest post by Damian O’Broin for the Institute of Fundraising offers a bracing response. Greatness is not a function of size, it’s a function of attitude, he argues, citing donor surveys. The things that matter most to donors don’t depend on big budgets and lots of staff but on good, donor-centric fundraising practices: thanking promptly and properly; showing progress and impact; getting to know supporters and responding to their needs; empowering supporters; and asking consistently. “Because what we found from these surveys is that the best way to improve donor commitment is with great donor service. Responding to e-mails. Dealing effectively with queries when your donors call you. Thanking donors promptly–and just as importantly–making donors feel thanked,” he says. Even modest direct marketing campaigns, assuming they are well targeted, can use these practices to boost response.

 

Survey: Mismatches in Event Marketing Channels, Attendee Interest

Where should trade show and conference marketers go fishing for potential audience? In a multi-channel world, it can be challenging to balance online, e-mail, print and social media for best results. Now a recent survey by XING Events, as reported by MarketingProfs, shows interesting gaps between where event marketers are casting their nets and where potential attendees pool to research events.

Event Attendees Are Drawn by Word-of-Mouth & E-mail

According the the XING Events study, which is based on a global survey of 2,621 event attendees and 1,630 event organizers, event attendees most often learn about work-related events through word-of-mouth mention by friends and acquaintances (66%) and via e-mail newsletters (59%). Fewer event attendees (20%) report being influenced by ads for print and online professional publishing. Online search has more impact when the audience is already aware of the event; for example, 49% say they use online search to find details about trade shows or conferences they already have heard about (via word-of-mouth, e-mail or print). Just 22% learn about an event by doing keyword searches. However, an even smaller portion (16%) of event attendees report that they use social media to research events.

Event Marketers Focus on Websites, E-mail & Social Media

Event marketers don’t exactly mirror attendees’ preferences. About 89% of surveyed event organizers say they market their events through their own websites, culling search traffic. Some 76% say they market through e-mail newsletters, which is in line with attendee activity. The surprise is that 73% of event pros say they promote via social media even though it is not where most of the audience is currently looking for event information.  And about 47% use traditional print channels.

Event Planners Foresee Social Media Expansion

Despite its current lower usage among event attendees, social media is the marketing channel that most event marketers plan to grow in future. Some 65% of organizers say they would like to use social media more frequently in the future. The next most popular target for expanded investment is their own websites (48%) and e-mail (41%). Although “influencer marketing” is a trendy topic, only 33% of event pros plan to increase influencer or multiplicator marketing to pump word-of-mouth.

For more study results, see https://www.marketingprofs.com/charts/2017/32765/how-events-are-marketed-to-and-found-by-attendees?adref=nlt091817

 

 

Seeking E-mail Response, Marketers Face Text vs. HTML Choice

There’s an ongoing debate in e-mail marketing over which format option will optimize results: simple text-based e-mails or fancier html versions. For our e-mail list and marketing clients, AccuList USA offers some surprise findings on that point: Marketo reports that a recent analysis of e-mail effectiveness shows text-based e-mails perform significantly better than their more creative HTML counterparts. Although both formats have the same open rate, text-based e-mails have 21% higher unique click-to-open rates on the offer link and 17% higher unique click-through rates on the offer link, according to the Marketo study.

So should marketers dump their rich html creatives? Not so fast.

Text E-mail Is Personal & CTA-Focused, But…

Why did the text-based versions win more response? The Marketo study found that text-based e-mails’ fewer visual distractions focus response on the call-to-action link. In HTML versions, nearly 16% of clicks went to other links (such as logos) instead of the main call-to-action link, per Marketo. Other research shows that text e-mails are also viewed as more personal by recipients, who see the visually rich html e-mails as clearly commercial. Finally, text-based versions have a better chance of delivery since the messages are less likely to be caught in spam filters or to have mobile viewing issues. But there are clear disadvantages, too. The key drawback of plain text formats, with no html, is that there is no tracking of open rates or clicks. Plus, URLs included in the message must be fully typed out, which can create visual clutter. Text-based e-mails without any html design elements will lack engaging visual impact for branding or product promotion, will have less ability to break information into easy-to-read/scan sections or columns, and will have few tools, such as buttons and color, for directing CTA attention.

Marketers Still Like HTML Tracking & Branding

Despite general response findings, html e-mails continue to be used because of advantages that make them the right choice for campaigns relying on branding, richer messaging and detailed metrics. For example, html allows incorporation of branded images and logos that may yield higher conversion rates for some verticals. An html e-mail also can package more information in digestible, easy-to-read bites. It can direct action via color, clickable text and buttons. Most important, html offers tracking of opens and clicks for marketing metrics.

For a more extensive discussion of the marketing merits of text versus html e-mail formats, check out this helpful digitaldoughnut article: https://www.digitaldoughnut.com/articles/2016/december/choosing-between-plain-text-html-email

 

 

E-mail Earns Top Digital ROI Via Personalization, Mobile Strategies

To support our e-mail list brokerage clients, AccuList USA keeps up with e-mail strategy benchmarks, such as those cited in the “2017 Email Marketing Industry Census” from Adestra, in association with Econsultancy.

E-mail Tops Digital ROI Rankings

E-mail marketers will be happy to know that, per the census, e-mail outpaces other digital channels in terms of reported return on investment, ahead of SEO, content marketing, paid search, and social media.  E-mail ROI was rated as good to excellent by 73% of marketers surveyed, just edging out SEO, with 72% giving SEO a good to excellent ROI rating. Content marketing slipped to third place, with 63% calling its ROI good to excellent. Paid search followed with 60% ranking its ROI as good to excellent, and social media trailed (44%). But the report also raised questions about how accurately marketers assess e-mail impact. The majority of marketers are using click-through rate (91%), open rate (80%) and conversion rate (62%) to track e-mail performance, while other important metrics, such as bounce rate, delivery rate and list growth rate, are used by a minority. List segmentation is another challenge that may be impeding even higher ROI, falling midway in the ranking of best practices even though those who carry out advanced segmentation are more than twice as likely to report “excellent” ROI from e-mail marketing as those who don’t segment.

Personalization Leads Marketers’ Best Practices

What practices do marketers use to push e-mail opens and clicks? The census found that sending personalized and relevant messaging led the list of e-mail best practices reported; 80% of marketers are already doing this and 14% are planning for it. Personalization was followed by mobile-optimizing of e-mail (73% doing and 19% planning to start), regular list cleaning (57% doing and 24% planning), and promoting social content sharing (49% doing and 22% planning on it). Looking ahead, personalization also is the area of e-mail marketing where most respondents (30%) say they need to focus in 2017, even ahead of automated campaigns (cited by 28%).

Mobile Optimizing Faces Cross-Device Challenges

With data from other studies showing that 56% of e-mail users prefer opening e-mails on mobile devices (and that 42% delete an email if it doesn’t display correctly), e-mail marketers have embraced the mobile-first imperative, and mobile optimization won second place in the ranking of best practices. But challenges remain for optimizing across devices. Although 90% of respondents report some strategy for optimizing e-mail for different devices, just 22% of marketers describe their approach as “quite” or “very” advanced.

To download the full report, see http://www.adestra.com/resources/downloadable-reports/2017-email-marketing-industry-census/

Study: How Consumer E-mail Behavior Varies by Market Vertical

AccuList USA works with e-mail list and marketing clients on optimizing consumer response for variables that range from list targeting to subject lines to consumer behavior that differs by market vertical. So Movable Ink’s “US Consumer Device Preference Report: Q1 2017” offers valuable guidance on how opens, conversions, engagement and even order values are affected by market vertical and device preferences.

Smartphones Rule E-mail Opens

For all industries studied—retail, travel and hospitality, financial services, and media/publishing and entertainment—the report found most e-mails are opened on a smartphone as opposed to a tablet or desktop. Smartphone e-mail opens have especially jumped for financial services, up 7% from the fourth quarter of 2016 to reach 70% of opens in the first quarter of this year. Financial e-mail opens on smartphones actually peak at 74% on Saturdays, so financial services marketers should plan to reach consumers on the go. However, retail is not far behind, with 61% smartphone opens for apparel and 57% for non-apparel e-mails. While smartphones still led opens, the more content-heavy media, publishing and entertainment vertical also has a good portion of desktop e-mail opens at 32%, followed by travel and hospitality with 29% desktop opens. Tablet opens are also stronger for media and publishing at 18%, higher than any other industry.

Desktops Lead Retail Conversions, Order Values

Mobile optimization is clearly key for open rates, but retailers should not neglect desktop design because that’s where the orders are racked up. Non-apparel retailer e-mails attribute 73% of conversions to desktop use, for example, with 51% of conversions on desktop for apparel retailing. Smartphones are catching up, however, with 40% of conversions snagged by smartphones for apparel retailers, the highest of any vertical. Desktops also deliver the highest average order value for retailers: $171.04 for apparel and $138.57 for non-apparel sales. However, tablet users also score good orders in apparel retailing, with an average order value of $169.69 in the first quarter, up from $126.13 in the fourth quarter.

Read-Time Engagement Prize Goes to iPhones

When it comes to e-mail reading time, the study generally found that iPhones are able to capture more attention than Android mobile phones, Android tablets, desktop computers, or iPads. The finance industry had the longest read lengths on iPhones, with 68% of subscribers spending 15 or more seconds reading their e-mail thanks to the Apple devices. This was followed by desktop computers, where 58% of subscribers read financial e-mail messages for 15 seconds or more. Media, publishing and entertainment e-mails also garnered high iPhone read time, with 61% reading e-mail for 15 seconds or more.

For more data, see the report summary and handy infographics at https://movableink.com/blog/consumer-device-preference-report-q1-2017/

 

 

 

 

What’s the Secret to Better E-mail Deliverability? Your Reputation

Deliverability is the first step to e-mail marketing success. If your e-mail never hits the inbox, all those subject line and content tactics to drive up open and click rates are useless. So why do the top e-mail marketers get a 90% deliverability rate, while others languish below 50%? A deciding factor is reputation, as measured by a “sender score,” according to Return Path’s annual “Sender Score Benchmark Report” analysis of 4 trillion e-mail messages.

Sender Reputation Is Key to Inbox Placement

A sender’s reputation score is a number, calculated from 0–100, that mailbox providers use to evaluate whether or not e-mail sent by a particular IP address is likely to be legitimate and wanted. A marketer that sends too much unwanted or spam e-mail is likely to see their reputation drop and their e-mail filtered out of inboxes. Return Path’s analysis finds that e-mail senders with a reputation score above 90 saw an average of 92% of their e-mails reach the intended recipient, but e-mail deliverability drops to 72% for senders scoring between 81-90 and just 45% for senders with a score between 71 and 80. By the way, Gmail and Microsoft were identified as the mailbox providers with the strictest deliverability requirements, and the global inbox placement average is only 80%, or 20% of e-mail wasted. Don’t join the crowd.

Boost Your Sender Score With Good Data

So what are the things to do, and not do, to get and keep a strong reputation score? A recent post by Krista Barrack, for the sendinblue blog, cites six ways you could be damaging your sender score, starting with e-mail list issues. One common error is collecting invalid e-mail addresses in your house list (often caused by typos, especially from mobile users). These create hard bounces to erode your sender score. A second mistake is using purchased e-mail data where people have no opt-in relationship with your brand and so don’t engage or mark your message as spam, hurting your score. That’s why, as responsible data brokers, we don’t sell e-mail data and instead broker list rentals so messages are sent by the list owner with valid recipient opt-ins. A third house list problem is allowing outdated, unmailed addresses to accumulate and become invalid, again leading to score-harming hard bounces. To deal with the problem, set up a program of regular communication and hygiene to prune your list frequently.

Spammer Tactics Tank Reputation

Sender scores not only suffer from poor data quality but also poor content quality. If your e-mail message is not mobile-optimized, is loaded with spam words, is plagued by faulty links, and/or is not relevant or honest, recipients are either not going to open it, will label it as spam or will opt-out. Timing matters, too, and while failure to communicate is marketing folly, the more common sin is embrace of a spammer’s excess frequency. Note that studies show read rates drop with increased weekly frequency–and opt-outs and complaints rise to cut your sender score. Finally, watch for spam traps hiding in your e-mail list. These can get you blacklisted! Spam traps come in two flavors. One type is an e-mail address purposely created by ESPs or blacklist organizers and posted online, which gets in your list via data sources “scraped” or “harvested” from the web without opt-in. (So work with a reputable data broker!) The other type of trap is an ESP-deactivated e-mail address that the ESP recycles months later; if you failed to remove the deactivated address as a hard bounce per best practices, the ESP catches you when you re-send to it.

For more insight on e-mailer reputation, get a copy of the Return Path 2017 Sender Score Benchmark Report.

Why Direct Mail Remains Buoyant in Digital Flood

In the tidal wave of digital marketing options, prospects for our direct mail lists and support services sometimes worry about investing in an “old-fashioned” mail channel soon to be washed away by changing preferences and digital efficiency. So we like to keep providing data to show that direct mail is actually riding atop the digital crest.

Businesses Have Solid Reasons to Direct Mail Today

For example, a recent business.com post by entrepreneur Brian Roberts cites five basic reasons businesses should use “snail mail.” No. 1, thanks to a drop in mail volumes, mailers today enjoy much less competition for audience attention in physical mailboxes compared with spam-jammed e-mail inboxes or ad-laden web platforms. Plus, No. 2, those mailed communications aren’t going to be culled out by high-tech spam filters as is so much of today’s e-mail. No. 3, once delivered, a physical mail piece is a lot likelier to be opened than an e-mail message. As data firm Experian recently reported, 70% to 80% of direct mail recipients say they open their mail, and, per InfoTrends’ most recent data, a third of U.S. consumers report they read direct mail marketing more than e-mail marketing, and another 34% read both with equal frequency.  No. 4, direct mail allows a lot more creative freedom, unlimited by file size, spam filter triggers or flat visuals. Mail can be dimensional, digitally interactive, multi-sensory, immediately gratifying with promotional rewards, and more. Now that personalization is key, direct mail also outdoes digital, with 70% of Americans saying physical mail is “more personal” than e-mail, per Experian. Finally, at  No. 5, mail is great for geo-targeting and driving traffic to physical locations, with in-store-only promotions at retail stores as an example. Plus, it can drive digital traffic; 60% of direct mail recipients visit a website mentioned in direct mail, Experian reports.

Trends Prove Direct Mail’s Continued Business Appeal

A study by the Boston Consulting Group confirms that total spending on direct mail is expected to rise from 11% to 12% by 2020. The simple reason for snail mail’s survival is its continued marketing power. U.S. Postal Service surveys have found that consumers who receive direct mail spend 28% more than those who don’t, for example. As we’ve noted before, the Data & Marketing Association’s 2016 “Response Rate Report” put direct mail response rates at 5.3% for house lists and 2.9% for prospect lists, the highest DMA-tracked response rates since 2003, and far higher than the less than 1% of various digital channels. That is what sustains mail’s strong ROI. For a great summary of direct mail trends and stats, see the Experian infographic at https://www.edq.com/resources/data-quality-infographics/how-direct-mail-is-winning-in-the-age-of-the-internet/.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USPS & Science Encourage Merger of Digital & Mail Efforts

For any direct marketers who haven’t committed to combining direct mail with digital media, 2017 is a perfect year for experimentation. At AccuList USA, we have seen the positive impact on direct marketing clients’ results (and have developed our Digital2Direct program in support). And now  “brain science” and U.S. Postal Service incentives further increase the attractions of a mail-digital marriage.

Brain Science Shows Impact of Mail-Digital Mating

For example, an article from The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) recently highlighted the “neuromarketing” evidence for mail-digital pairings.  (Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscience to marketing.) ANA cites a recent study by Temple University and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Office of Inspector General, “Tuned In: The Brain’s Response to Ad Sequencing.” The research explores the relative effectiveness of physical mail and digital advertising in cross-media marketing campaigns, using not only self-reported responses but actual MRIs of participant brain activity while viewing ads. A key finding: Consumer “willingness to pay” was significantly higher when media was delivered across both digital and physical channels rather than a single channel. Another notable study, “A Bias for Action: The Neuroscience Behind the Response-Driving Power of Direct Mail,” comes from a partnership between the Canada Post and True Impact Marketing, a leading neuromarketing research and strategy firm. Their study seeks to quantify the effectiveness of physical (direct mail) and digital (e-mail and display) media by focusing on two key indicators of media effectiveness: ease of understanding and persuasiveness. The results indicate that while digital media provide key platforms for customer interaction, direct mail is actually better at closing the marketing-sales loop. So for marketers, a mail-digital combination offers the best of both worlds and helps bridge the gap between interaction and action.

USPS Promotes Enhancing Mail With Digital Power

Why wait to reap the benefits? Especially now that the U.S. Postal Service is offering a range of 2017 programs that make the economic decision easier. The new Informed Delivery program, which inserts mail into consumers’ daily digital routines, is one example. Informed Delivery users receive e-mails that capture grayscale images of the address side of their mail. Currently, preview images are for letter-sized mailings processed through automated equipment, but flat mailings, such as magazines and catalogs, can be displayed if the mailer supplies a color image to be included in the Informed Delivery notifications. Under the program, marketers can take advantage of three potential touchpoints with one mail piece: an advance preview via e-mail/app, actually delivery in the mailbox, and inclusion of a unique URL in the digital preview to drive trackable traffic to a website. Plus, the USPS has two more promotions supporting mail-digital pairing. The Emerging & Advanced Technology Promotion (March 1 – Aug. 31, 2017) encourages mailers to integrate direct mail with advances in mobile technology using NFC technology, Video in Print (ViP), Beacon technology, “Enhanced” Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality (newly included this year) or, as of 2017, use of Digital to Direct Mail to boost response with dynamically printed, personalized messaging automatically triggered by digital interaction. Mail-digital pairing is also rewarded by the Mobile Shopping Promotion (Aug. 1 – Dec. 31, 2017), which encourages mailers to invest in technologies that take recipients directly from the mail piece to a mobile-optimized online shopping experience via Quick Response (QR) Codes, Snap Tags, Watermarks and other technologies. For details on these and other USPS promotions, see https://ribbs.usps.gov/mailingpromotions/documents/tech_guides/2017PromotionsCalendar.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Push Your Event Marketing E-mails Ahead of the Pack

During close to 30 years of direct marketing to help trade shows and conferences boost attendance and sell exhibitor space, clients often have asked for guidance on event industry response for e-mail campaigns. Now we can enhance data pulled from our proprietary research and experience with Eventbrite’s new “2017 Event E-mail Benchmarking Report,” comparing survey responses from over 340 event organizers across the U.S. and U.K. for a range of event types and sizes.

Benchmarks to Emulate

If you’re an event marketer with a fuzzy notion of the basic response measure of click-to-open rate (CTOR), you’re not alone. The benchmark report found that 39% of respondents said they didn’t know their average CTOR. That’s an ignorance that these event pros need to remedy if they hope to catch up with even average e-mail results. The rest of the U.S. event organizers surveyed reported an average CTOR of 12%. That was higher than their U.K. brethren, who only cited a 9% average, but far behind the enviable 17% in the U.S. who reported a CTOR of 21% or higher! Festivals scored the best average e-mail CTOR (14%), while classes and workshops had the lowest (9%).

Copy & Design to Boost Click-to-Open Rates

Event marketers who want to improve CTOR can commit to a number of basic creative tactics. First, they can revisit layouts and make sure they direct recipients to a compelling and clear call-to-action. Then, copy should be relevant, personalized and spam-filter avoidant, running from a great subject line that entices opens to copy that wins clicks. Obviously, mobile-optimization is a must now that the majority of e-mails are opened on mobile devices. Note that the most effective e-mails today also include an engaging image. E-mail research has found that e-mail campaigns with imagery have a 42% higher CTOR than campaigns without images, for example. (Don’t forget to comply with CAN-SPAM opt-out and privacy regulations, of course.)

Target, Test, Automate, Integrate

As data brokers, we must remind that response is even more dependent on the quality of targeted opt-in e-mail data, whether house or rental lists, and use of professional software and database support for list segmentation, updating and permission management as well as results tracking, testing and analysis. Indeed, regardless of carefully crafted e-mail creative, results measurement and analytics are essential to a direct marketing basic: testing of creative, lists and targeting to find what works best. Automation of event updates and confirmation/thank-you e-mails has also proven its value in maximizing click-through rates and conversions/registrations. And, finally, e-mail gains the most reach as part of a consistently branded, multi-channel effort, leveraging social media’s e-mail list building strategies, for example, as well as the proven marketing power of direct mail. (Ask us about our Digital2Direct marketing program that matches postal and opt-in e-mail records to send targeted mail and e-mail to the same recipients.)

For more metrics from the new event e-mail benchmarking survey, get the free report at https://www.eventbrite.com/blog/academy/2017-event-email-benchmarking-report/