One promotional feature that many authors use in various ways is email. And I know that there are some who consider the newsletter akin to communication from the devil, and some who adore having author news in a digest format. Some authors email exclusive deals, and some maintain a digital mailing list to sent out alerts about sales and appearances in local stores or writing groups.
Email is ubiquitous – most of us have it, so it makes sense to use it, particularly if you’re looking for contact, customer cultivation, and promotion. I was pondering the efficacy of email, and decided to go after someone who knows a lot about email marketing, and who cannot avoid me.
Meet Margaret Farmakis, Senior Director of Strategic Services at Return Path, an email services company that helps major corporations digitally connect with customers. She helps clients improve the response, revenue and return on investment of their email marketing programs.
Margaret is also my cousin. So in exchange for an informal interview, I promised not to post any really embarrassing childhood pictures of the two of us.
People hear “email campaign” and think “Spam.” How is a good email campaign different?
Margaret: The first rule of email marketing is to make sure that you request permission from your subscribers before sending them email. Not only is it a best practice, it’s the law according to the FCC’s CAN-SPAM Act. Spam is unsolicited and unwanted email. Spammers don’t care if you want their email or not (they just send it to you anyway) and it’s very important for marketers to distinguish themselves from spammers by ensuring that their practices don’t in any way reflect those of a spammer.
How to accomplish this? Well, a great way to think about email marketing is that it’s like dating. Good relationships establish trust early on, rely on open and honest communication, operate respectfully and are mutually beneficial. This is the type of relationship you should strive to have with your email subscribers.
You can start by clearly stating what subscribers can expect to receive from you at the point of email address capture. If you’re planning to send them monthly newsletters with the latest installment of your new novel, keep that promise. Don’t break it by also sending weekly promotions to buy your other books. Subscribers will notice you’ve broken your promise and either tune out, delete your messages as unread or worse – report your email as spam to whoever is hosting their email account (Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail, Google, etc.).
The more complaints you rack up, the greater the likelihood that you’ll be treated as a spammer, which means your messages will start being delivered to the junk/spam folder (rather than the inbox) or eventually get blocked all together. This is the last thing any marketer wants because once you fail to achieve inbox placement, you’ll see your response rates (metrics which track the number of times people open and click on your email messages) plummet.
That will in turn affect your ROI (return on investment) and your email marketing goals– and for most marketers that all important goal is revenue. Email can be a very lucrative channel when best practices are followed. For more information about best practices that can help you achieve email marketing success, click here to read Return Path’s white paper “Creating Great Subscriber Experiences: Are Marketers Relationship Worthy?”
How can email help an author establish a brand, and reach new potential readers?
Margaret:Email marketing is a great way to keep your brand top of mind with subscribers (your customers and prospects). It’s an immediate and interactive form of communication and the only direct marketing channel that allows you to have a dialog with your subscribers. Want to know what your readers think? Use email to ask them for their feedback, opinions and comments.
Email is also especially effective when you integrate it with your other marketing efforts. If you’re using Facebook, YouTube or Twitter to promote yourself, link to those pages in your email messages. Likewise, promote your email program through your social networks. Recent studies have shown that 87% of people share product recommendations and reviews with friends and family through email, and 62% use social networks regularly.
Everyone prefers to be messaged to in a different way, and by integrating your communication strategy across channels you’re ensuring that you reach more subscribers with the information they want in the format that they want it.
What elements make a good email campaign? Newsletters? Special offers? Is there a frequency that’s optimal, or is it all about content?
Margaret: A good email program combines a variety of content and promotional offers so that the nature of the messaging isn’t one dimensional (“Free shipping,” “20% off,” “Free shipping,” etc.). Your subscribers won’t be in-market to make a purchase or take a desired action all of the time, so simply sending promotional offers will become redundant and lead to subscriber fatigue.
Subscribers are most interested in themselves and they are looking to your email program to help them live better lives, become smarter, more beautiful, more organized, be better parents and better friends. That sounds like a tall order, but what it really means is that your content and promotional offers need to be benefit oriented.
For example, subscribers may be interested in an email from an online apparel retailer announcing the new spring line of clothes. But chances are the retailer will have more success with an email that announces their new spring line and identifies three top trends of the season and three corresponding outfits that will keep subscribers on-trend and looking great. Which email would be more interesting to you? The difference is subtle, yet important. The first email is all about the marketer (“Buy clothes!”). The second email is about the subscriber (“We’ll help you look fashionable and trendy this season!”)
The optimal frequency for your program really depends on the nature of your business, what you’re trying to accomplish with your email program and your unique subscriber base. For example, if you’re a publisher like the New York Times or InStyle Magazine, daily emails may make sense as subscribers want to keep on top of the latest current events and entertainment news.
One of the fundamental best practices of email marketing is testing. You simply won’t know what will work and resonate with your subscriber base unless you methodically test a variety of options. For example, you can test everything from your program’s frequency (as long you set the appropriate expectations at the point of sign-up) to your subject lines, creative, offers, calls-to-action, time of day and day of the week. The options are endless.
How can an author or publishing house keep email from ending up in the trash?
Margaret: A marketer’s sender reputation is the primary driver affecting inbox placement. Every marketer has a sender reputation. A sender reputation is like a composite credit score for your email program and is used by the ISPs to determine whether or not your email will get delivered to the inbox, the junk folder or not at all.
Your sender reputation score is based on weighted factors in a variety of areas. There are four key areas that are the most important for determining your sender reputation. Those are:
1. Complaints. Complaints are the result of subscribers clicking the “This is spam button” in their email client which registers their complaint to the ISP.
2. List Quality. The quality of your email list has to do with how you are managing your data, and whether or not it’s clean. If it isn’t, you’ll see a higher percentage of spam traps and unknown users on your file. Marketers should always remove unsubscribers and hard bounces immediately.
3. Infrastructure. This involves how your mail server is configured. Based on a variety of protocols, ISPs can tell whether or not you really are who you say you are, and not a spammer. It’s like a digital signature for your email.
4. Sending Permanence. It’s important that you maintain consistent mailing volume over the same sending IP addresses. Spammers tend to “pop up” on an IP address, blast their messages and then disappear.
Of these four factors, complaints are the most important. Why do subscribers complain? They complain when marketers cease to be relevant. Subscribers complain when marketers don’t deliver on the promises made during the sign-up process. They also complain when they don’t recognize who you are or why you’re sending them email.
In the subscribers’ view, your email is the equivalent of spam when you continue to send email that’s no longer of interest or use to them. This is why relevancy is so important. Of course the offers and content that are relevant for one subscriber may not be for another, so don’t send the same email to everyone on your file.
What ways do you think an author could effectively use email marketing that makes the email message all about the customer?
Margaret: A great way for authors to make emails more about the customer are to ask for their reviews and opinions. So the author could use the email message to ask subscribers for a review of their latest book that will be posted on the author’s website (there’s also a Facebook book review widget that authors could share through email by encouraging subscribers to visit their FB page); authors could also use email to help subscribers organize an online book club. Another idea is to host an online community on the author’s website and promote and link to it in the email message.
Every email message doesn’t have to be about the subscriber all the time, but these ideas are great ways to mix up the tone of the messaging so that it’s not all purely promotional and really connect with the author’s fan base.
Thank you, Margaret!
If you’re an author, do you use email for marketing and contacting readers regularly? If you’re a reader, do you prefer email contact from your favorite authors? Are you subscribed to their email lists? What do you think of author or publisher email marketing you’ve experienced? Anything’s better than winning the lottery in a country that doesn’t exist, right?