Email marketing

Holiday Fatigue & Email Giving

A recent report from Experian Marketing Services noted a couple of trends that bear watching.

Email volume continues to grow, up 12.7% in Q3 2013 over Q3 2012. The Q2 report showed a 17.9% increase and, if my In Box is any indicator, Q4 will be up as well.

While open rates were up, click rates also fell by 15% from the prior year (Q2 also saw an 8% decline).

Revenue per email fell 18%.

Those findings aren't shocking. They're very similar to Blackbaud's findings as reported in its annual Benchmark Study for Nonprofits midyear which noted that open rates were consistent but click through and response rates continue to decline.

So, what does that have to do with holiday fatigue?

One of the reasons cited in the Blackbaud report was "a saturated channel with undifferentiated messaging and campaigns."

Over the past few weeks, retailers and nonprofits alike have bombarded our In Boxes with holiday offers and year end appeals. Very few of these stand out from the clutter. I expect they will only exacerbate those trends.

Anecdotal evidence we're seeing appears to support this. In some of the year end campaigns we're watching, open rates are up and unsubscribe rates are down - both positive trends. However click through and response rates have also fallen. One client is seeing a drop of almost 35% in revenue per email sent.

I'm not an alarmist. December giving is strong and I expect the year to end on a positive note. For that same client, other online giving is up ... and that's where the lion's share of the revenue comes from anyway.

But the point is, direct response to emails is falling. For most organizations the response seems to be to send more emails. And I think that's accelerating the trend.

I think we're seeing a shakeout in giving patterns as online usage habits mature. I believe email will continue to be an essential tool for donor development. But it will show its greatest value when it is used more to cultivate relationships year around rather than simply to collect the reward at year end.

Relationships Via Technology

In October, I attended bbcon, a great conference for users of the Convio and Blackbaud platforms. In one standing-room-only session on year-end campaigns, the speaker issued a directive to the audience.

"If you're not sending to your entire online file on December 31st, you're missing the boat," she said.

A hand flew up.

"Even if the constituent already gave to the campaign, just send them another email asking for a gift, making no mention of the prior gift?"

"Yes, absolutely. The numbers bear it out," the presenter insisted.

Perhaps so. But does that make it the right course of action? Always?

I'm a direct marketer. I believe in data—and data driving decisions. Still, when data is driving you in ways you wouldn't behave in any respectful relationship, it's time to reconsider.

I draw the line at NOT acknowledging a donation.

Right now, the world of data and communications are at an interesting crossroads. Data can do many things, but not all things. The real challenge for us all will be in knowing where its potential (and limitations) lie.

A Marketing Discipline

A friend and periodic (okay, maybe sporadic is more accurate) client manages a niche division of a much larger, international company.

We began talking nearly a year ago about how email marketing could help his sales efforts. Late last fall, after a few false starts, an inaugural product alert went out. He was pleasantly surprised with the results.

Our next communication – this one a postcard intended to build his file of email addresses – has been languishing in the months since, somewhere between initial copy and layout.

I think it’s a great example of how a marketing effort can benefit from a healthy dose of discipline.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “discipline” as:

1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.

2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.

3. Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.

4. Punishment intended to correct or train.

5. A set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.

6. A branch of knowledge or teaching.

Consider marketing from that perspective …

1. Marketing is a mindset; a mental predisposition that sees relationships as a pattern of behavior. Mutual exchange. Communication. Information sent and feedback received. In the process, those relationships can improve from prospect to customer (or donor) to advocate.

2. Self-control is imperative. Focus. Commitment to the end goal. New opportunities do arise, but that grass isn’t always greener … especially if launching your next initiative means abandoning the current one.

3. There are rules to live by. CAN-SPAM compliance, for example. Some marketers grew up on mail's spray-and-pray; in the online world that may well become spray-and-pay. If list integrity is important to you, or you’ve considered data synchronization, you know that order isn't left to chance!

4. Have you ever uploaded a shoddy list into mailchimp or some similar email service? You can get your message out. Once. But brush up against their threshold of bad addresses - or worse, recipient complaints - and your service is over. Promptly!

5. Clients and prospects have certain expectations of your brand. The more entrenched the relationship, the more those expectations are like rules. Live by the rules and you reinforce the relationship; violate them and you risk undermining it. Of course, if you never establish a pattern to begin with, there are no rules to live by!

6. I was at a KCDMA conference this past week. And the AFP 2011 International Conference is just around the corner. There are numerous opportunities to expand your knowledge (sharpen the saw). Capitalize on them!

Marketing is a discipline. And, if you're going to be successful, you'd better be, too!