Give 'em what they want!

A recent study on email marketing reports that open rates continue to fall, from 12% in the first half of 2009 to 11.2% in the second.

The report cites three reasons:

  • image blocking
  • use of handheld devices
  • list fatigue

The report also notes that smaller lists – 100 to 499 names – perform better than larger lists.

I would contend that it’s not just the smaller number of recipients that increases the level of engagement, but the ability to provide relevant, meaningful information to that more targeted group. When you can provide information that speaks directly to the interests and attitudes of the recipient, that reflects their behavior, your message is far more likely to be opened and read.

Not just that single message, either. One successful engagement increases the likelihood of future interactions … in opens, in responses, and in commitment to your organization or cause.

So how do you do that?

By planning a communications stream that includes a mix of broader messages with smaller, more targeted, more personalized appeals.

But to make that possible, of course, you have to know more than just an email address … or even the basic name and demographic data that goes along with it. And, you have to keep that data current and clean (maintain data integrity… but that will be a topic for a future entry).

Consider for a minute what you may know now and how you can supplement that perspective.

1. Consider source clues – How did that address come on file? A donation? A request for more information? A sign-up form? A forwarded email? Look for an indicator of interest in an issue or activity and respond with information that’s pertinent about that interest.

2. Capture information that reflects interests – For one client’s newsletter, we provide a planned mix of stories about legislative issues and specific program activity. We build interest groups of people who follow links from those stories, and provide periodic, more targeted information to those interest groups.

3. Create surveys – Simply ask your constituents what they want … or ask about an issue or event that can indicate their interests. Use that information to help shape future communications.

4. Integrate offline data – Many organizations maintain multiple databases of information about constituents. Volunteers. Event attendees. Donors. Current or former board members. Unfortunately, many keep that information in separate silos. How can you use what you know about offline interactions to increase the effectiveness of your online efforts?

5. Consider data append – You can add information on your constituents from outside souces. Broadly speaking major data sources fall into two categories: those using primarily compiled data  and those supplementing compiled data with transactional/activity data.

One of the most common appends is to append email addresses to a mail file. Companies that perform this service match their data (a list of records with email addresses) to your list and charge you based on the number of matches. The company must also send a message asking permission for you to send an email, and then it’s up to you to convert this address into an engaged constituent. (This, too, could be a topic for a future posting!)

It’s much easier to plan a stream of broad messages that go to everyone on the file. But those broad messages will be far more effective if you supplement that stream with a few personalized efforts as well.