Seven lessons in email marketing

I got an interesting email the other day, by someone signing up to the free Churchill Club newsletter. He hadn’t received a username and password for it and wanted to know why. I explained by email that it was a free newsletter and you didn’t need one. This of course got me thinking about email newsletter marketing – and what I had learnt to date.

When we started sending out a Churchill Club newsletter in early 2006, we (my brother Peter and I) pooled together all our contacts and started sending it out to a list of around 600 people. Over time this slowly deteriorated until it was going out to around just under 300 people by January 2009.

I then made quite a number of changes, and now the newsletter has grown back up to over 900 people and is currently growing organically by at least 10 people a week. So I thought I might share what I had learnt.

1. Comply with Spam laws

First and foremost, become familiar and comply with the Spam Act. It not that hard and has three basic components:

* Get consent to send a message
* Clearly identify yourself
* Provide the ability to unsubscribe

2. Make it an easy decision to sign up

We moved the newsletter sign-up to the top left corner of the home page (an optimal offering spot). We highlighted the fact it was free and we made it easy to sign up (you don’t need a username and password). We’ve had over 600 new people sign-up (not including Russians or Romanians) in nine months without doing any deals or specifically marketing it.

3. Manage your software

Initially we used a Maximiser CRM based system, which sat on our network and caused problems for us as we had to manually sign everyone up and the newsletter system was clunky. We then transferred it all over to the free, web-based PHP List which was fabulous as it allowed the system to be run from anywhere (even when I was home sick) and ran problem free.

Finally we transferred it over to the ACAJOOM system (cost around $100) as I wanted automatic integration with the Club’s new Joomla-based website. People who signed up for a Club Event or Club Membership are now automatically signed up to the newsletter, but there is still a manual sign-up option on the home page.

If you are managing your own software, make sure you keep it up-to-date.

If there are patches available you need to apply them quickly as it prevents your system from being exploited by others.

4. Email Construction

One of the early things I found was that although its useful to use HTML to make a newsletter pretty, don’t get too carried away. Just like web pages can appear differently to people depending on what web browser people are using (let alone Windows versus Mac issues). Email clients also make things appear differently. I try to use basic HTML for the newsletter and not more cutting edge technologies such as CSS as it’s just easier to control the appearance.

I also found out the hard way not to embed images into the email, instead have the images sourced from your website and linked to from the email. Images embedded inside an email dramatically increase the size of your mail out (plus slow it down) and increase the chance that things will go wrong.

5. Keep your list tidy

For every genuine subscriber I have roughly five Russian spammers sign up.

On an almost daily basis I log in and delete anyone who hasn’t a) confirmed their subscription, b) has a Yahoo, Hotmail or GMail account and c) has a dumb name such as “GanjaBoy60 <>”.

Actually this problem has now become worse in recent times and I’m now investigating ways to automate things using a CAPTCHA solution or Bad Behaviour plugin.

I also make sure I delete any subscribers immediately whose email bounces. I like my current 925 to be a real 925 and I don’t want to have to double handle bounced emails.

6. Make it regular

Initially I used to send out newsletters just when I had something to say. After awhile I found this adhoc proposition didn’t really cut it.

Most people need to see a marketing message multiple times before they recognise what they are seeing (I believe the TV rule of thumb is nine times before awareness starts). I now send newsletters out every week regardless. Tuesday is the day, just after lunch. I like Tuesday’s as it gives breathing space before a Thursday night event (occurring roughly ever other week), plus I feel that you are more likely to get read on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Note I haven’t validated this yet by moving the email around and tracking stats on how many people open it (but I could!).

7. Value Proposition

So despite the fact I am sending out a weekly email saying “come to our events”, that content doesn’t change much on a weekly basis (boring!), I therefore need to provide value to get people to open and or read the newsletter. So I decided to provide value in every email, along with the event marketing.

Every time I have a new event report, 22 plus times a year, I put the event report in full in the newsletter. Giving away this free knowledge is clearly valued as I get feedback almost every week saying a variation on “fantastic stuff”. I know that our newsletter is getting forwarded on to others and has unique content in a crowded market place. The value proposition is clearly there. On weeks where I don’t have something new to put it, I put in teasers to older content people may have missed with links back to our website. This content can also be accessed for free.

I’m figuring that, like TED, if I provide quality information for free, I will increase the numbers turning up to Churchill Club events to get it first hand plus enjoy the networking, and grog.

It seems to be working.


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