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Don’t Make me Call the FCC:  A Tale of CAN SPAM Compliance

Published: 29 Aug 2014
Author: Melissa

I’d like to talk about the CAN-SPAM act for a bit. First, however, let me tell you why I’ve recently read the FCC’s updated version in all its glory. It all started years ago when I made a few purchases from a company online. This signed me up for their email newsletter which I quickly tired of. I attempted to unsubscribe many times (failing every time) until I did what you do in that situation: I sent them a nasty email and began to relentlessly mark every single missive from their address with the spam button. If I’m being pretty honest, it felt a little vengeful. Then said company went away for a few years and I forgot all about the whole thing. Until the fateful day last month when suddenly they were back! And, not only were they back, they were sending to their old list without even re-permissioning it. Now, were I in another field, say, banana sales, I might not realize what a terrible move this was. But, here I am working in email marketing so I was appropriately horrified at this uncouth action. Ever the optimist, I attempted to unsubscribe. When that didn’t work, I decided to take real action. I threatened to file a report with the FCC.

Thats right. Like a frustrated soccer mom yelling back about how she will turn the van around, I did the only thing I could think of: I drafted an email, which I sent to every email address I could find for the company, in which I made clear that were I not immediately and permanently removed from all lists, I was going straight to the FCC and filing an official complaint. I was pretty nice about it all, though, including helpful things like excerpts from the CAN-SPAM act explaining how much time they had to remove me from their lists and suggesting some excellent email marketing practices and tools that they could take advantage of. Perhaps because of this, but more likely because I listed everybody with whom I could lodge a complaint about their unwanted commercial emails, I was immediately and graciously contacted and removed from their list. Mission accomplished.

It did get me to thinking though: this is a legit company doing business online. And, they are so very out of touch with what’s happening that this could occur, who else is out there in the dark?  And so, it’s time. It’s time to rehash the glorious conversation of spam and the laws against it.

What Went Wrong
I was unable to unsubscribe: This is a huge issue. It’s also totally illegal. Here, let me quote from the FCC’s guide: “Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your message. You must honor a recipient’s opt-out request within 10 business days.” Furthermore, you cannot require people to take more than a single action: clicking a button, going to a single web page, and you can’t ask for more than their email address. No tricks, no hassles. Logically, it follows that it’s also very, very naughty to ever use their email address again or share it with anybody else who might send to it.

I could not reach anyone at the company via their newsletter: Given that CAN-SPAM laws require you to represent yourself accurately and give your postal address, it seems clear that being legit involves being both recognizable and contactable. Anybody receiving your email should be able to, from that email, contact you and reach an actual human being. Or, a very personable robot, if you have that sort of thing where you work.

An old sending list was used without re-permissioning: Theory has it that every person on their initial list got there in a totally legitimate (even if it was passive) manner, but to drop the list and then pick it up several years later? Let me give you some free advice: don’t. Re-permissioning is so great that everybody should do it. It seems obvious to me that before you just start sending again that you might want to do something like, I don’t know, announce the fact that you’re back and give people the opportunity to see how they feel about that before you start blasting them with marketing materials. You might have a smaller list if you give people an opportunity to opt out, but a smaller permissioned group who is excited about your return will yield much better results in the long run.

What Went Right
They were gracious: When I did finally get in touch with someone at this company, who could no doubt read through the lines of my very polite (if threatening) email, and see that on the other side was a person who was frustrated, they were incredibly gracious. Not only were apologies given and actions taken, they took the time to thank for letting me know about the flaw in their system and assured me that it would be given attention. Sure, this was years late in coming, but when it did finally happen, I felt good about the exchange.

We’ll talk more about the nuts and bolts of the CAN SPAM in a couple weeks! See you then, oh senders of incredibly legitimate emails.

I Can’t Quit You

Published: 22 Aug 2014
Author: AJ

Inactive subscribers are a problem. They take up list space, don’t add value to your business, and can even affect deliverability (more on that in a moment). But, there are a number of studies that show many email marketers actually give up on inactive subscribers too quickly. Rather than pursue any kind of reengagement effort (or win-back campaign), they simply axe inactives after a certain time period and move on. Those often premature cuts can lead to the loss of valuable business, meaning marketers must find a delicate balance between patience and action for maximum efficacy.

Research shows that those senders issuing the most messages to unresponsive inboxes had, on average, the highest rates of non-delivery. That means it’s more than likely that at least a few of the names on your subscriber list need to go. This can be difficult to cope with because you worked so hard to get those subscribers, and there’s still a chance that they may be of value. But, cleaning your list is an essential part of effective marketing.

Additionally, flooding the inboxes of subscribers who’ve stopped caring about your email communications can result in an increase in SPAM reports. In this case, you didn’t do anything wrong – you’re just sending to someone who, at some point, decided they wanted to receive your emails. But, people are fickle, and if they get irritated for any reason, they can be inclined to punish you for simply following through on your part of the deal.

“But, how can I be sure a subscriber is truly inactive? What if they just don’t appreciate my marketing tactics?”

Great question, PersonIMadeUp. To determine whether or not a subscriber has genuinely lost interest in interacting with your business, you’ll need to evaluate a couple of different facets of your marketing approach:

    Does your email marketing create the kind of results you’re expecting? If not, you may need to reassess your marketing approach before whittling down your list. If you are seeing favorable returns, however, you’re likely running an effective campaign, and you shouldn’t put the onus on yourself for an inactive minority. You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and dog gonnit, people like you.
    Do you operate a business with seasonal activity peaks? Do you sell Halloween costumes? Cater weddings? Manufacture and distribute snakebite anti-venom (hot summer sales!)? If so, you likely have peak seasons each year, so inactivity during off-seasons shouldn’t be taken as a sign of true disinterest. In these cases, it’s best to identify those subscribers that are only active during that peak period, and separate them into a new list so you’re not inundating them with worthless messages throughout the year.
    How many cups of coffee have you had today? I know you’re in “take action” mode, but you’re jittery and you may not be thinking clearly. So, instead of yelling “This is my house,” to the entire office, and then clicking delete until your fingers bleed, step back, take a breath, and start thinking about solutions.

Now that you’ve determined how to separate inactivity from trends and ineffective marketing, let’s create a clear definition for what constitutes an inactive subscriber. An inactive subscriber is someone who has not recorded an open or a click in at least three months or six sends (whichever comes first). When you’ve identified all of the names on your list that fit that criteria, you can separate them into a new list, and target them for a win-back campaign.

Win-back campaigns are brief email marketing campaigns that eschew traditional marketing and focus on simply determining a subscriber’s (or group of subscribers’) interest in receiving further communications. Effective win-back campaigns are usually comprised of no more than three messages (ideally two) that first lets the subscriber know that their inactivity has been recognized, and then provides an option for reengagement through a single call to action.

The principal call to action in a win-back email should be nothing more than asking the individual to engage with the email in some way to indicate interest. This can be by clicking a link to your website (consider incentivizing with a sale), re-confirming their subscription, or completing a survey about what kind of communications they would like to receive in the future.

Once you’ve segmented your inactives into a new list, and you’re ready to begin your win-back campaign, use the following tips to really get the most out of each send:

Be clear. The most effective win-back campaigns include clear, direct subject lines and headers that let the subscriber know exactly the point of the communication. Rather than continuing to hammer the same promotional material into your inactive subs’ inboxes, let them know that you’re interested in their engagement specifically. Not long ago, we here at MNB completed a successful win-back campaign among our Email Marketing Tips subscribers using the subject line “What Gives? You Disappeared.” As a result, we saw higher open and click rates than we had in previous sends to the same subscribers with more conventional subject lines.

Give them time. In a study conducted by ReturnPath (it’s pretty and has nice graphics – enjoy), surveyed senders indicated that among recipients who opened win-back messages, roughly 45% reengaged with future materials. However, it took, in some cases, more than a month for those recipients to interact with additional materials.

That teaches us two things about the subscribers in question. First, they’re not jumping over the moon to engage with your business, but they’re still active on some level, and that means they have some value. Perhaps these subscribers can be separated into a different sending list to better target them in-line with their reading habits. They want to patronize your organization; they just don’t operate on the same timeline as the rest of your active subs.

Second, they show us that it’s all too easy to give up on an inactive subscriber if they don’t respond within the timeframe we expect. Getting rid of inactive subscribers is an important part of improving your sending efficacy, but you shouldn’t be so quick to pull the trigger on that delete button. You will find different levels of activity among your subscribers, and every level has value. Give them a chance to prove their interest before giving them the axe.

But, not too much time. Remember that you’re running a win-back campaign to not only reengage inactive subscribers, but to also identify those who have expressed zero interest in maintaining the relationship (at least through this medium). Again, an excess of totally inactive subscribers can affect your ability to deliver emails in the future. So, if your win-back sends don’t net a response within 60 days (barring specific seasonal interest), it’s probably in your best interest to give those quota bloaters the boot.

Once you’ve completed a win-back campaign and waited the requisite amount of time to gauge interest, it’s time to take action. Don’t repeat the campaign to the remaining inactives. They’ve proven themselves unresponsive, so delete them and move on. It’s never easy to say goodbye, but soon, you’ll be thankful you did.

Advanced Segmentation

Published: 14 Aug 2014
Author: Melissa

Market segmentation is a handy technique that allows you to speak more directly to your audience by dividing them into groups based on interest or demographics. It enables you to personalize your approach by sending subscribers the type of content they are interested in without limiting the scope of content you are able to send. For some businesses this is par for the course due to their unique range of products and services. For others, however, this is an evolutionary step in marketing; taking the process one step further to achieve greater proficiency. 

At this stage in the game, I’m rather prone to assuming that you’ve all done this to some extent already. If not, get in your time machine, go back and figure out the most logical and beneficial way to do so, and then return to the present and keep reading this blog. Every company or service provider can think of ways based on demographics, interactivity, geography, and interest range that their subscribers differ. All you need to do is create those lists and then customize your content for those readers. A great side benefit is that it’s a good way to personalize your content without seeming like some creepy name-knower. I’d much appreciate an email that says “Oh hey, you like gardening!” than one that’s inserted “Mel” into every possible place to make it sound like I am being directly addressed.

An alternative title for this blog might be “Avoiding Multiple Calls to Action” because that’s what I want to talk about today. When you send out an email newsletter with numerous divergent subject matters, you are dividing the attention of the reader and muddling the point of your missive. Instead of doing this obviously terrible thing, try a little technique called “divide and conquer.” Or, you know, whatever clever thing you like to call it wherein you stick to one call to action per newsletter and send the most relevant CTA to each of your subscriber groups. And yes, this can mean multiple newsletters. If you’re super-duper lucky, you might find that you have created multiple newsletters that apply to multiple subscriber groups, and now you’re off the hook for coming up with content for the next newsletter!

How serious should you take the multiple-CTA? Very seriously. Do you want readers to read your latest article AND then check out your latest and greatest invention? Separate newsletters. Are you hoping to entice users with a coupon AND sign them up for an in-office appointment? Separate newsletters. The only way to combine such CTAs and have this work in your favor is to literally combine them. Take this survey and we’ll give you a free gizmo! Download our new whitepaper and get a free consultation! (In other words: if you’re offering a reward per action, you can do this. Otherwise, spread out the goodies.)

“But Mel,” you might say, “surely our readers are not feather-brained fowl incapable of reading articles on multiple topics and following up on more than one CTA. Surely they will love all the useful content I provided and like me even more if I have a lot to offer them.” To this I will say: yes, but is there any difference in the attention span of a feather-brained fowl and a really busy person? You’re not doing this because your readers aren’t capable; you are making their lives easier with this action, just as you do when you provide them solutions to pain points via your products and services.

What does this look like in action? 
Option 1: Come up with unique CTAs for each of your subscriber groups.

Option 2: Create levels of your CTA, such as one for regular customers, one for new customers, and one for potential customers.

Option 3: Send out newsletters with timing that is unique to each of your subscriber groups. 

Option 4: Use this as an opportunity to do some a/b testing by trying different CTAs on different subscriber groups.

Marketing: The Way of the Warrior

Published: 01 Aug 2014
Author: Melissa

Let’s talk for a minute about the uphill battle that is marketing in a world in which most people are overwhelmed by the amount of media intake in their daily life. The fight to be heard clearly and cleanly over the din of the clamoring hordes of… you know what, I’m just going to stop these terrible comparative sentences right now. We all read the title. The subject today: marketing warriors. There are several skill levels and approaches to take to marketing, so let’s get right to it.

Ninja Marketing
Ninjas are getting a lot of press these days. Just recently I purchased some Ninja Squirrel hot sauce with a cartoon squirrel wielding two hot peppers, and then came home to watch a viral video of a young lady performing most impressively on American Ninja Warrior. But, the popular ninja-loving crazes aside, what does this mean? Ninjas were covert agents whose occupation included infiltration, assassination and other such activities. The ability to move through the world without being seen led to many a myth about their powers of invisibility, flight or control of the elements. Ninja marketing is to be so effortless that nobody ever knew you were marketing.

Ninja marketing is providing value beyond your service or offering that creates stronger customer bonds. It is a presence that is not advertised, but gets noticed anyway. After Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey, I got several emails from PNC Bank regarding the suspension of various types of charges, fees and deadlines all related to the fact that those dealing with the aftermath of a massive hurricane wouldn’t perhaps be up on their banking. They weren’t marketing in that moment; being based out of a neighboring state with a large presence in NJ, they were likely themselves affected. What was notable was that a bank was saying, “Hey guys,  don’t worry about anything this week. Let’s all recover and get back to business next week.” Those may not have been email newsletters with a crafty call to action, but the ninja side effect was that I felt good about this bank, about who they were, and how they would treat me in the future. Sounds like marketing, eh?

Samurai Marketing
Samurai training is in stark contrast to ninja training. Samurais were members of the warrior class who usually served nobility. The training was one that espoused a strict code of conduct. Honor and loyalty are espoused above all else in this well-educated class of warriors. In other words, a samurai isn’t going to sneak up on you. They are going to announce themselves and follow the rules. Samurai marketing is an effective and artful display of skill and finesse.

People notice samurai marketing. What’s more, they talk about it and appreciate it. When I ordered Method cleaning supplies online for the first time and looked through the catalogue they included, I was incredibly charmed by their writing style. What’s more, when they joked about floors so good you could eat off of them, they weren’t kidding. There were recipes, based on flooring type. Art, I tell you. It’s been six years, and I still remember that.

MMA Marketing
MMA is obviously much newer on the scene then either of our two previous fighting styles. MMA is mixed martial arts fighting, a form that combines striking and grappling forms both standing and on the ground. That is to say, rather than hone a single set of skills, MMA is all about finding the perfect technique for each moment of the fight. This is sheer force of will turned into muscle inside of a ring. MMA marketing meets you at every turn. Unless you’re not feeling it, in which case you just got punched in the face by marketing. By any means necessary, MMA gets the point across, lands the desired blow, and wins the match.

My favorite example of marketing that meets you at every turn (literally, in fact) would be Wall Drug. If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota or any nearby state with a highway heading to South Dakota, you’ve seen these signs. They are everywhere. For hundreds of miles all around, there are signs promising everything from shopping to food to dinosaurs to famous free ice water. Some are funny, some factual, others artistic. Now, they have just about everything in there and you’ll know that before you get there. And, if you’ve driven by, like millions of others who somehow find themselves in this tiny remote town, you probably stopped. To quote Bill Bryson, “It’s an awful place, one of the world’s worst tourist traps, but I loved it and I won’t have a word said against it.” And so it goes. There’s very little subtle about this kind of marketing, but by being present, persistent and varied, it sure does work.

BFF: Reports

Published: 25 Jul 2014
Author: AJ

We sure seem to have a lot of BFFs. That’s alright, though. We’re just a very caring organization. And, this week, we’re caring a whole lot about our updated Reports page in particular.

Unlike the old reports page, the new Reports page in BETA features only five key data points for each newsletter: The newsletter name as it appears in your archive, the number of recipients, the date and time on which it was sent, the opens reported from that send, and the clicks reported from that send.

Maybe that doesn’t sound like much of an “upgrade.” Maybe you’re worried that we canned all your favorite data returns (don’t worry, you can still access all your favorite data and more on the Report View page – but we’ll talk about that in a later edition of BFF). Well, we hear you, but let’s quickly discuss why we wanted to trim the principal data appearing on the main reports page.

When we redesigned MNB’s insides, we wanted to place a major premium on streamlining and efficiency. We want the most important elements of your account to really jump out and grab you. We want these utilities to be visible and very usable on mobile devices.

So, when it came time to update the Reports page, we decided to prioritize Open and Click returns. As you can see the new format allows you to easily compare the results of each send with Open and Click data displayed prominently as both whole numbers and percentages. Because this data is so critical to campaign assessment, we feel that this new arrangement should greatly benefit comprehensive evaluations of lengthy campaigns

Like before, all of the values displayed in (beautiful, if you ask us) blue are clickable, with each leading to a more detailed look at the returns. Again, we’ll touch more on those detailed reports in a future, but for now we want to focus strictly on the main Reports page.

Finally, at the top of the reports page, you’ll notice a search field labeled “Filter Newsletter By Name.” This search field operates just like the tool of the same name found in your Newsletter Archive, allowing you to enter whole or partial newsletter names, and immediately call up relevant reports. Give it a shot, and have yourself a little search party in Report town. It’s a lot of fun.

That about does it for this edition of BETA Feature Friday. We’ll be back in two weeks with a closer look at another exciting feature from the BETA version of MNB.