Elizabeth Keserauskis

Building relationships and making connections

Who’s Driving the Email Bus?

I was recently quite surprised to find out that several people who are responsible for sending out email campaigns to their list of customers have not learned much about when you can expect the best open and click through rates.

Now, I find it interesting that the folks who have the best of intentions, want to build relationships with their customer base, and are ultimately responsible for the email marketing campaign haven’t been taught how to maximize their return on their investment. I think it’s fantastic that we’re actually sending emails versus relying on printed letters or direct mail, but there are a few ways that we can improve on the open and click through rate, which are very important measurements of return on investment for an email marketing campaign.

Some of them seem to be just logical, if you sit and think about the behavior of your customer when they’re at their computer or reading their emails. For example, if you are trying to attract the attention of someone while they’re at work; you have their work email address. Perhaps it’s apparent, or you’re in the business of B2B sales. They’re usually sitting at their desk at work reading their emails. If you think about it, an email that arrives either during the night or first thing in the morning is going to get lost among the many emails that have accumulated over the overnight and need to be waded through first thing in the morning. If you send it over the lunch hour, they’re not going to be at their desk, and then when they get back, there’s going to be a list of emails to get through, so your email may not get the attention that you want it to get. That same idea applies to emails delivered after 5:00 PM or normal business hours. Your email is going to get lost in a pile of emails the customer has to wade through in the morning.

So, what does that leave us? 10:00 AM – after they’ve gotten through the morning pile of emails, and before they go to lunch. Or at 2:00 PM, which gives them enough time to sort through the list of emails that have accumulated over lunch and pay special attention to yours. So, 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM tend to be the best times to attract business people, or people in their place of business.

Now, you also have to think of which day of the week. For example, Monday, a lot of emails have accumulated over the weekend and it takes people a little bit of time to get going and get reengaged into the work week. Mondays are probably not good days. Fridays, people are either taking off for a long weekend or working quickly to wrap things up so they can actually enjoy the weekend. Fridays are probably not the best days. If people have off-site meetings, typically they’re going to happen on a Thursday. Now, that would leave us with Tuesday and Wednesday, 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM for our optional time to catch people at work.

Let’s think a little bit about trying to catch people at their home email address. Today, many people do check their home email throughout the day at work, but we can’t bank on that. So, let’s think about user behavior. You get off work, you pick up your kids, you get home, and you fix dinner. You may get to sit down at the computer by say 6:30, 7:00, 7:30 at night. So, if you send your email to arrive before that, it’s going to be in the pile of emails that they need to wade through, and you may not get as much attention. So, if you send it to arrive or schedule it to arrive right about the time that they’re going to be on their computer and looking at their emails, probably 6:30-7:00 PM, you have a better chance of them giving their full attention to your email.

We can also think about day of week and optimal open rate for people in their home. Weekends, they’re probably either busy with family activities, or they may spend more time looking at their email, rather than during the week. The beginning of the week is probably a little more rushed with getting reengaged in the work week. Try to think about the people you want to reach.  Is your target audience focused on kids’ sporting events and things like that? When do the activities occur most often? Probably, Saturday during the day or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday during the week.

Though I can’t give you the magic silver bullet to reach consumers in their home on the best day, I can say, really think about the audience that you’re trying to reach, what their behaviors are, and when they’re most likely to give email the most attention.

The beauty of email marketing is that we can test campaigns. Do some A-B testing of various emails and times of day to determine which is best for your target audience. If you have a substantial list of people that you’re emailing to, or even if you only have ten: split the list in half and test two different times, but only test one variable at a time. So, for example, either vary the time of day or day of week, or vary the look of the email that you send, especially if you’re sending HTML-based emails. You can switch up pictures, and the layout of your email, and do some A-B testing between two different segments of your target audience to find out which one gives you the best return on your investment.

Which one causes people to open it more? Does your subject line grab them and cause them to want to open the email? Also, which stories, or which links do they click on most frequently in your emails to get more information from your website?

So, that’s the best advice I can give. If you don’t know what the optimal time is for your audience, start testing some of the variables and see which works best for you and your audience.

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March 29, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

Spray and pray

I read a very interesting blog post updating me on the new terminology describing unmeasured direct mail as a part of your overall marketing and advertising strategy.  It’s now called “Spray and Pray,” and defined by The Agitator in the context of fundraising: 

“…the thoughtless, non-strategic practice of tossing as many appeals and acquisition pieces as an organization can afford — regardless of long-term result…”

Let’s put this in the context of higher education student recruitment and fundraising.  The phrase is obviously referring to the way direct mail is handled: you spray pieces, cast a wide net to a not necessarily highly qualified audience, and you pray they take whatever action you’re asking of them in the direct mail, whether that be to contribute money to your alma mater, attend an event, request more info, or even enroll in classes.  The problem here is that you can only pray they do what you asked.

Another option is implementing tactics such as Google AdWords or other search engine marketing tactics; obviously Yahoo, MSN, and others have their own ad serving platforms.  Facebook even has an ad serving platform that is very similar to Google’s.

In those instances, you define who your target audience is, what is a qualified lead or prospect to you, and make sure that your ad is served only to those prospects. In addition, you’re serving ad copy that matches what they have searched for. For example, if someone is searching for St. Louis MBA programs, you’re not going to serve them ad copy that addresses the School of Education program’s offerings. You’re going to give them ad copy tailored to what they’re looking for, which is an MBA program. You’re also going to take them to a landing page on your website that also addresses specifically what they are looking for.

Now, I understand that there have been improvements in direct mail technology, such as print on demand, variable data fields and personalized URLs for tracking responses where you can really try to personalize a direct mail piece based on what you know of your customer and their preferences, but direct mail still is not as interactive, measurable and successful as a search engine marketing campaign.

So why then do colleges and universities still spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase names and ‘spray and pray’ with direct mail campaigns to prospective students and donors without even investigating the success of search engine marketing campaigns, such as Google AdWords? Even if you just do a test run, side-by-side to determine which one has a better return on your investment. I have asked countless groups of people I have presented to a series of four questions:

  1. When is the last time you went to the printed yellow pages, looked up a product or service and made a purchase?
  2. When is the last time you made a purchase based on a radio, TV or print ad you have seen?
  3. When is the last time you made a purchase based on a piece of unsolicited direct mail you receive?
  4. When is the last time you opened up your browser, went to Google or Yahoo, searched for a product or service, and ultimately made a purchase on line?

You can guess what the funnel of number of hands raised through each question. How many times do I have to ask the question before someone listens and sees value in SEM? Why is higher education different than any other information gathering sales process?

March 21, 2010 Posted by | higher education, marketing, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

Most productive CEOs

I recently read an article in Inc. magazine that featured several CEOs talking about work habits that have contributed to their success, or helped them be more efficient, in their particular business environment. The first CEO that caught my attention was Caterina Fake of Hunch who talked about keeping her schedule completely free-form, and working on what she wants to work on, whenever she wants to work on it—whatever seems right at the time. That approach would be great if you only had to work on certain things and could delegate everything else to a person below you. But for me, her approach doesn’t provide a good suggestion of how to help prioritize my day, or do a better job of delegating, so that I can sit and focus or work on the things that I want to work on at that particular time. After testing that strategy for a few days, I would up with a lot of work that didn’t get done during the week, waiting for me to do over the weekend. That isn’t helping me achieve work-life balance. Perhaps I am not delegating well enough.

One interesting, great thing she mentioned in the article is that when she conducts her staff meetings, everyone is standing during the entire meeting.  Also, everyone drinks 16 oz. of water before the meeting starts, and the meeting is over when the first person has to go to the restroom. To me, that seems like an incentive to keep your meetings short, to the point, brief, and not waste your time meeting for the sake of meeting, but rather get out there and get something done for your company. Go build a relationship. Go check an item off your to-do list. I brought that suggestion to the next regular staff meeting I have to attend. Everyone seemed to agree–let’s see if it gets implemented.

The other CEO that caught my attention in this article was Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, who claims that he only conducts business and correspondence through email. He does not utilize voicemail or meetings. If you do require his attention in a meeting or by voicemail, it better be something very good and important…likely conducting millions of dollars of business.

Now, there’s something lost for me when you communicate only exclusively through email. First of all, you assume, and insist, that everyone you deal with also operates through email. To me, a sign of a good manager of people is that you adapt your communication style to fit the needs of those working for you. My job is to bring out the best in people and help them achieve their potential. So if, for example, someone’s personality or style is not conducive to business via email exclusively, are you isolating them? Are you potentially surrounding yourself with people who are like you, rather than surrounding yourself with a rich, diverse mix of people who bring different trades, ideas, thoughts, and processes to the table?

I think an emphasis on diversity brings a richer mix of ideas and innovations to the table. But then again, Mark Cuban has made quite a bit of money and is quite successful at what he does. I guess, once you get to that point, you can tell everyone around you how you prefer to do business. But in the meantime, those of us who are still stuck in the middle and trying to work our way up will need to continue to adapt to the communication styles of those who are reporting to us. Also, you can’t tell inflection, personality, or emotion through written, email correspondence.  There’s something to be said for working either via the phone or in person, being able to get to know someone just a little bit better.

I also ask, how do these ‘unique’ work styles affect relationships with the customer? If you will only communicate with them via email, or you won’t commit to a schedule or timeline, is that helping further the relationship or to begin a new relationship? Unless you are in a business where your customers have no choice but to do business with you, I would suggest that you be willing to meet your customers where they are comfortable conducting business and communnicating with you. That will likely lead to a multi-layered communication strategy to address the varying needs.

March 17, 2010 Posted by | connecting, leadership, relationships | , , , , | Leave a comment

A pro female athlete provided me business wisdom through a sports lens

I had the pleasure of attending the Missouri Valley Conference women’s basketball championship match last Sunday at the St. Charles Family Arena. Before the game, we were invited to a luncheon and where Kristin Folkl-Kaburakis was the key note speaker and the group was a reunion for the NCAA Beyond the Baseline event. Last year, we worked with middle school girls through the NCAA Beyond the Baseline program by providing mentoring and leadership development for inner city middle school girls. It was great to see so many of the girls at this reunion and reminisce about the event.

The Court of LifeKristin, a former WNBA star (read more in the St. Louis Woman Magazine article) focused on how as an athlete, the time you spend on the court is really only a small percentage of the overall experience. She challenged us to ask ourselves what we are doing to make sure that we are participating in each and every aspect and part of that process and the full experience beyond on what is just happening on the court during an actual athletic event. I think this is a great analogy not only for use as these girls are growing up and participating in a variety of things, trying to decide on what they are most interested in, but also for us in the business of marketing and building relationships and creating connections.

Though what each of us defines as a “sale” may vary, but that “sale” is such a small percentage of the full experience for a customer. What are doing to nurture and cultivate and participate in every single step of that process not just the actual “sale” or “signing on the dotted-line.” How are you not exclusively focusing on that tiny little percentage—though granted that could be a substantial amount of money in some instances? The most important element of customer service and satisfaction is the relationship–how are you cultivating that relationship with your customer?

So thank you, Kristin, for providing such words of wisdom. Though in a completely different context, it is something that really has made me think about more than just sporting events or life experiences, rather how this has practical application to business.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | connecting, marketing, relationships, sales | , , , | Leave a comment

The power of service with a smile

Luck o' the IrishThis morning my husband and I wanted to join in the “luck o’ the Irish” and have a pre-St. Pat’s Day parade traditional Irish breakfast at a local Irish pub. We have patronized this establishment in the past, and believe in supporting local businesses. Our experience prior to this particular morning has always been fine. Never extraordinary, but fine nonetheless.

Not so this morning. We read in the local paper that they were serving breakfast this Irish morning (note: they are not typically open for breakfast). What we did not notice until we arrived and saw the sign on the door was that reservations were required. Noting that there was NO ONE yet in the restaurant (and they were indeed open), we decided to go in and explain that we did not have reservations and see if they could still accommodate us. The bouncer at the door (yes, even at breakfast they were anticipating that the St. Patrick’s day partying and drinking would begin at the start of the day) and the first server we came across were very friendly and happily said they would go find out.

After standing there for what felt like 20 minutes (but was really like 5), noticing that food was ready to be served, that NO ONE was in there eating breakfast yet and remembering that the bouncer told us no one had made reservations before 8am (it was 7:15), we told him not to worry about it that we would just leave. Right at that point the server came back and told us we could eat. This was also after being able to watch her ask presumably the owner whether he would allow us to stay and eat, and then watching him sigh, look at us and say okay.

Then we were sat at the family-style long table by ourselves, served our coffee and shown the buffet area (which was already completely stocked with food). Our server visited us a total of three times—for us to order coffee, receive coffee and asked if we needed a refill. We spent 20 minutes in silence by ourselves eating breakfast with no one else arriving for their reservation. Thankfully we had enough cash and exact change to cover the bill and tip, because we left largely unnoticed. The only saving grace was the bouncer thanked us for our business and told us to have a nice day.

If you are in the restaurant business, you are clearly in the customer service business. If your customers are not having a great experience, they are not going to build a relationship with you and continue to patronize you. However strongly I feel about patronizing local businesses, experiences like this make me want to rethink the strategy. My recommendation to them is to assign the bouncer a new role: Chief of Customer Experience. He was the only one who made us feel welcome.

Is your customer experience warm and welcoming? Do you make your customers feel like an interruption to your day or a vital component of your success? Whether you are in the restaurant business, retail sales or higher education—your audience is passing judgment on your business based on their experience and telling other people about it. Make sure they are talking about what a wonderful experience they had with you.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | marketing, relationships, reputation management, sales | , , | Leave a comment

A mascot is more than a sports cheerleader

Lets just talk a little bit today about how a mascot for a school or institution of higher education is so much more than just a representative of the athletics program or something that helps rally school spirit and pride. It can be a tool by which you continue your efforts to improve your relationships and manage your reputation within your community. Many people above and beyond season ticket holders are fans. When an institution needs to change its mascot costume—not necessarily the mascot itself but the costume that some poor soul has to don during each of the games—there are several ways in which you could do it. You could

  1. Just decide based on price which has its obvious implications,
  2. Decide based on looks amongst the people in charge of the mascot, or
  3. Take it a step further and use it as a relationship building tool.

SIUE Mascot Corey the CougarI am clearly a fan of #3. Get as much mileage out of this process as possible from a relationship building perspective with your publics. Allow your fans to vote after you’ve narrowed it down to 3 options everybody could be happy with no matter which was selected. Unveil these selections at a home athletic contest depending on what sport you get the most fan base at, or at a major university event and allow fans to vote. You can also post it on line and distribute it through your social networks, encouraging fans to give us their opinion and vote on the options.

It gives your constituents, your customers, or partners the opportunity to tell you what they think, and to engage them in a conversation. Give them a reason to feel invested in the organization. In this case they feel that they have a vested interest in this mascot, then when it comes time to unveil the new costume, you now have a platform to create this big splash and really encourage folks to attend the event where the new mascot is unveiled. Use that opportunity to continue to nurture the relationship with your customers whether it is you athletics fans, your student base, or your faculty and staff.

There are folks who may not necessarily frequent athletic contests but are very interested and passionate about the school—to them the mascot represents the whole organization, not just the athletic teams. So here is just one more way that something so simple as selecting a costume for the mascot, can really be a great way to engage your audience at very little or no cost. Just a small investment of your time.

March 5, 2010 Posted by | connecting, higher education, marketing, relationships | , , | Leave a comment