SAUCE: email promotions
A documented email strategy means you have thought through the whole process from beginning to end and considered how email fits in with your overall marketing plan.
The strategy considers who you are targeting, why you are targeting them, what you hope to achieve, the kind of information and offers you will provide, and the resources you will need to deliver your email promotions effectively.
An email strategy looks at how your email communication interfaces with:
- other promotions such as advertising, print and sales promotions
- your website
- pricing and discount strategies
- membership services
- audience development objectives
- other loyalty programs, such as 'Friends' organisations
- your public relations strategy
- work colleagues
An email strategy does not need to be long - it just needs some clear-headed thinking that puts the needs and behaviour of the customer first. And, as with everything else in SAUCE, you must do your homework. Don't feel guilty about a day spent browsing other's websites. Subscribe to as many e-mailing lists or e-newsletters as possible to learn some useful do's and don'ts.
Identifying your target audience
Identify all the key groups of people you would like to communicate with by email.
These might include:
- presenters, festivals, venues
- funding agencies, politicians
- current audiences
- potential audiences
You will need to look at each segment and work out how you can meet their individual requirements, while still treating them as a group.
The web excels in providing opportunities for developing personalised relationships. So you may wish to segment your lists in more detail. For example, current audiences might be split into subscribers, lapsed subscribers, youth audiences and single ticket buyers. You might use different language or tone-of-voice for e-mails addressed to a younger audience, for example.
But remember there are some people who will not want to receive e-mails at all, and alternative promotional strategies must be in place to reach them.
If you have not used email as part of your promotional program before, it is probably a good idea to start out small at first.
email promotions without the 'bells and whistles'
There are many individual artists and small arts companies who are using email promotions very effectively to promote their work.
The best embrace the following principles:
- easy to read
- wit, when appropriate
- informal, without being too 'matey'
- 'who, what, when, where, how' questions are answered
- the e-mails utilise the AIDA principles - Attract, Inform, Desire, Action
- a brief synopsis of the work (one sentence or a few words)
- careful use of white space and punctuation to provide emphasis
- consistent (not persistent) contact, so the reader becomes familiar with their work and style
- informative rather than 'hard sell'
- the 'voice' of the communication reflects the identity of the sender
The companies usually manage their email promotions using the 'groups' and 'rules' functions, if using Outlook Express, and the e-mails are mostly text-based.
However, even without 'bells and whistles', the senders do observe the courtesy of providing the recipient with the opportunity to 'unsubscribe'; and they do not disclose all the recipients in the TO: field, instead they use the B.C.C. (blind carbon copy):field instead.
A one-size-fits-all approach will not work. For example, B2B (business to business) contact will require a different approach from B2C (business to customer) contact. A festival presenter will be more interested in your touring plans and how work is received critically than in a special offer to your show. This is why up-front research combined with list segmentation is so important.
Depending on your objectives, you may wish to ask subscribers to your e-mailing list about their demographics (age, gender, and income), their interests, how a person wishes to receive information, and what they would like to receive.
You can customise your email communications by asking new subscribers to your email program:
- the subject matter the recipient wishes to receive: special offers, monthly newsletter, particular artforms or interests, details of forthcoming shows, and so on
- the way a person wishes to receive information (html or text)
- the frequency with which they wish to hear from you (weekly, fortnightly, monthly)
It is also useful to develop an understanding of how your customers use the Internet. You might find out:
- which web sites a person likes to visit
- to what degree they use the Internet for research, finding out what's on, viewing art, or email (business and personal)
- subscription to newsletters or news services by category (arts, business, hobbies) and memberships to e-groups
It is often best to do this research over a period of time. When a person first joins your list ask for the most basic details, and then gather more information as the relationship develops.
You can collect this data from a range of sources:
- email questionnaires
- forms completed online at your website or offline
- analysis of buying patterns, online and offline
You should now set out objectives for your email strategy.
These objectives might include one, or some, of the following:
- sell tickets, books, paintings, tours, corporate hospitality, events
- provide back up services to and information for presenters, sponsors, funding agencies, potential buyers
- attract attendances to special exhibitions
- cross-promote other products, such as event programs, catalogues, fundraising events, memberships, subscriptions, and so on
- attract new audiences
- build loyalty to your company
- build awareness of, and interest in, your company's achievements to a range of different markets, such as presenters, buyers, business, government and so on
- an opportunity for audiences or customers to give you feedback
- facilitate a greater understanding of the artform
- direct traffic to your website
What you hope to achieve will determine:
- what you want people to do when they receive email information from you (the call to action)
- the style, content, and frequency of contact
And don't forget to ask yourself:
Why should someone want to receive our information? How will they benefit?
As always, keep looking at your email strategy from the recipient's point-of-view.
When you are designing the benefits for subscribers to your email services, you will need to consider how these benefits dovetail with other schemes, such as yearly subscriptions to your performances, 'Friends' organisations or supporters' clubs.
Ask yourself if you can convert your existing members or subscribers to receiving most of their communications by email (this will require careful research). If not, how will your online offer relate to your offline offer? If pre-existing offline schemes are important income earners, you will not want to undercut these. Your plan should allow for a cross-over period, until such time as most people wish to receive more of the information electronically.
Tools and resources
The tools and resources that support your email strategy are:
- a database system
- email software
- a person who has time to manage and organise the database or your email address book
- a website, although this is not essential
- a person who has time to respond to queries and problems
- person hours to research, write and design the content
The secret to customising your communications and meeting the needs of your audience lies in the way you segment the database. The database solution you need depends on the kind of email promotions you wish to use and, of course, your budget. In the best of all possible worlds, you will have one database that you use for all your promotional activity, regardless of the medium. fuel4arts provides a detailed How-to on how to get maximum benefit out of Outlook Express for both Windows and Macintosh.
There are a number of ways to manage your email database.
Through your email program
If you are using your email address book to manage your e-mailing list, this probably means your list will be separated from offline lists and will, therefore, be harder to manage. Technically speaking this is not a database in that it does not have a 'relational' interface with the other customer records. It requires painstaking manual editing and segmentation. However, it is the cheapest, if least-efficient, solution. Bandwidth limitations for some Internet Service Providers means that even if your message size is contained within 50Kb you may be able to send as few as 40 email addresses in one send!
Bulk email software
To overcome the bandwidth limitations mentioned above and to benefit from bounce-back management (when e-mails are returned because of a wrong address), you can purchase special bulk email software. These can be bought as share-ware quite cheaply ($US40).
Application service providers (ASP)
An application service provider is a technology company that develops and delivers software tools over the Internet, usually for a monthly fee. The software ranges from database management to the provision of surveys and credit card transactions on line. This enables an organisation to utilise sophisticated technologies, without having to pay the full cost of the software. The amount you pay is usually based on the degree to which you use the service. A good provider will also ensure you have adequate support and training.
Some ASPs also specialise in distributing the information you provide (known as listservs), and will manage your subscriptions, segment the database or manage your newsgroup. Some provide this free of charge but messages usually have to have advertisements.
Microsoft Access or FileMaker Pro are the most commonly used database programs for arts organisations managing their offline database. Software such as these enable you to have one database system and to sort people more easily into different segments so they receive different information or offers. Word 2000 email merge facility allows you to personalise e-mails. However, the e-mails must be sent in plain text format.
You can also manage your database online through your web application with a relational database.
You must plan for dedicated time to support your email strategy. Maintaining your e-mailing list is not the sort of job you can do in five minutes. People change e-addresses frequently, so keeping your lists current and easy to use is a big job.
Here are some of the regular tasks you may have to perform:
- deleting returned email addresses and, if possible, finding the new address of the recipient
- welcoming new subscribers and confirming 'unsubscribes'
- segmenting your lists according to what people want to receive
- monitoring problems and glitches in the system
- replying to and incorporating compliments, ideas and complaints
- notating communication activity
Developing the content
When you have made a list of the important groups of people you wish to develop an email relationship with, you must decide what information would be valuable to them.
This is the key!
As with all communication channels, it is essential to tailor your email promotions to the needs and interests of the audience. With email the recipient has even more control; through a variety of means they can ensure they will not read email from you again.
Not only does this potentially damage your reputation, it means you have lost a valuable opportunity to build a lasting relationship.
If you want people to continue to receive and read your email communications, the focus must be on compelling content that cannot be obtained elsewhere.
Your content can be organised into:
- a regular newsletter
- regular bulletins or alerts
- occasional news bulletins
- reminder services
- event promotions (the ad online)
- e-groups... and heaps more.
If you decide to develop a mix of the above, it is probably best to give customers a choice of which services they wish to subscribe to and this will also influence how you build your database. Remember, there is a limit to how many e-mails someone wants to receive each week.
At first, it is probably best to keep your email services small and manageable:
- a quarterly newsletter that coincides with your regular website update
- a fortnightly news bulletin (keep it short and sweet)
If you are a small organisation, it might be worth considering teaming up with complementary organisations to produce jointly a newsletter, for example, and you should always consider utilising other's e-networks. This can help to enrich the content, give the recipient added value and help you reach a wider marketplace.
Newsletters to e-groups
A regular newsletter
You should decide whether the newsletter is weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly; and then stick to it. The best newsletters adopt a 'common' format that becomes familiar and easy to use over time.
It takes time to produce newsletters that are valued, and not viewed as a boring 'sales brochure' in another form. But, unlike paper media, email newsletters need not be long. Short newsletters sent more frequently are more effective. Be creative - roam far and wide for news and snippets of information that are relevant to your work.
If you don't have sufficient interesting content for a regular newsletter, consider providing an item for inclusion in other email newsletters that reach your target audiences. Remember there is a limit to how many newsletters people will subscribe to.
Regular or occasional news bulletins or alerts
These are often used by arts organisations to provide short messages about updates to their website, forthcoming productions or exhibitions, special ticket offers, and so on. News bulletins are usually very short and cover a single subject.
Event promotions - the ad online
This is the 'who, what, when, where, how much' communique.
These can work well if:
- the promotional campaign is conducted primarily online, or
- recipients receive added value through priority booking or a special offer (but be careful not to signal the show as a 'turkey'), or
- new information is provided, and
- you already have an established relationship with the customer, or
- the e-mailing list is well targeted
You must customise the information for email, just as you would re-purpose your campaign image and copy for successful reproduction in a newspaper advertisement.
Slow-release strategies that build interest in your product often work better than a single e-blast.
Some audience members - 'the true believers' - crave more detailed information about the artform or the work. email can deliver this information by providing links to websites (including your own), PDF attachments (careful) or through single-subject text messages, but limit the number of words to 450. Believers, when they are armed with the right information, are powerful advocates for your work. But please note this style of more 'in depth' educational information will not work for everyone.
A 'backgrounder' could be in the form of a program note for your forthcoming concert, the artist's informal insight into a new work, or a series of well-researched links to a range of websites. For example, links to reviews or feature articles in major newspapers or magazines, or to the artist's own website which might provide video or sound extracts, etc.
Never under-estimate the thrill it will give your e-subscribers to receive information directly from a star artist. This is how online fan clubs begin!
If you have a 'star' in a show, you might arrange for a special mailbox such as GeoffreyBruff@belvadere.com. [Some Internet Service Providers give extra free mailing boxes, which can be a boon for managing your email promotions]. You could then arrange for his written account (or weekly diary) about a film he is currently rehearsing to be sent to your email subscribers.
However, the subject-heading should state that Geoffrey is writing to subscribers to B-News - otherwise, he might be accused of spamming.
These are short e-mails that remind people exhibitions have only one more week to run or their next subscription concert is on next week, and so on.
Discussion or e-groups
It may be desirable to start a discussion or e-group around specific issues. This could be relevant to service organisations, for example, when they are grappling with copyright, authenticity or other issues of shared interest within a specific community.
When you are doing this, you must decide the following in advance:
- policies and guidelines
- code of conduct
- list moderator: a list moderator ensures only those messages that fall within the policies and guidelines are distributed to the group
- digests of the discussion: regular summaries of the discussion, which are distributed to the e-group or published on your website
- customisation: to avoid email overload, some people may prefer to receive only the digest rather than all the postings
An enthusiastic volunteer or a third party can sometimes manage groups such as these. This eases the workload and distances an organisation somewhat from the content. However, a person within the organisation must nurture and support the role.
A discussion or an e-group must reflect the interests of the customers. If your email program has been sufficiently interactive, you will come to know the main topics of interest. This could range from discussions with 'name' artists to government policies with regard to arts education in schools or a 'what is art' debate, and so on.
The lifecycle for some e-groups is limited, with interest waning when the issue or topic is less relevant. So don't let them drag on.
Content, content, content
Meaningful relationships don't develop through 'one-night' stands. Continuity and mutual interest are important. People have opted to be on your list because they are interested in you... so take heart and give them some real meat about your work or the company.
Information can have even more value than dollars. Here are some ideas about how to make your 'information' valuable to the recipient:
- send news just as its breaking such as: new artistic director just appointed, book about to be launched, invitation to a private preview of a new exhibition, prestigious tour confirmed
- give privileges such as priority booking
- provide fantastic background notes from the artist
If you are intending to give discounts, you might make these available only through your e-mailing list, thereby giving an added incentive to subscribe to your list. Some festivals, for example, develop a 'special offer' list through their website, avoiding the need for time-consuming (and expensive) papering for slower selling performances.
Creating a dialogue
One of the best qualities of the email medium is how easy it is to conduct a two-way conversation. This is one-to-one at its most potent.
You can create a greater sense of involvement by asking your email subscribers to comment on topics of interest, such as the controversial subject matter of a new book, the role of a festival, the food provided in your gallery or even to submit reviews of shows or books.
A summary of the responses could then be provided on your website or included in your next email to the list. This will also help you to learn more about the attitudes and values of your email subscribers.
There are many ways to make your email communications sing; consider competitions, quizzes, prize draws, regular features such as 'quote of the month' or conducting online 'people's choice awards' for best concert, most interesting exhibition, and so on.
Word-of-mouth is hardly a new concept in the arts. With email it has never been easier.
Here are some examples of what you might do to encourage online word-of-mouth:
- on your website you can have a click box that will "Send this performance to a friend"
- witty campaign graphics can be turned into digital postcards to send to others
- incentives, such as a special price for groups, can also encourage recipients to forward your email
Staged viral-marketing, whereby a company enlists committed audience members to spread the word by forwarding an email, can work. Keep it simple. Make sure a recipient can forward your message without having to think about it. Place a 'Please forward this email to friends who might be interested' message at the top of the email. Always provide your reply address in the message.
Collaborations and utilising third party e-networks
Don't be daunted by the cost of setting up a top-drawer email strategy. A number of organisations could band together to share the cost of the infrastructure and management of an email program. This collaboration could also be invisible to customer, if desired.
Collaborations of this kind require an agreed email strategy, particularly with regard to:
- the segmentation of the database
- the profiling of subscribers
- whether the list is to be 'opt in' or 'opt out'
- the degree to which information will be shared
- how the email promotions will be evaluated, individually and collectively
- how frequently shared subscribers will be contacted
Third party e-networks
You can greatly extend your reach by utilising third party email networks. There will be numerous organisations already reaching your target audience through email. These can range from the media to service and community organisations. Make sure you email media releases to these organisations. You might also customise the media release for electronic media so that it contains a headline, short summary paragraph and a link to the appropriate page of your website, if you have one.
Building your database
Recruiting people to subscribe to your online email services is a bit like selling a performance. You must communicate the benefits and promote your email services at every possible opportunity.
It's worth it. Imagine the day when you can cut your printing or advertising bill in half because most people are getting their information online. email is no longer the preserve of younger people or those in the workforce... so this is not as far-fetched as it may sound.
The arts can recruit people to join their email services from a range of sources:
- personal address books of arts-related contacts
- booking or subscription forms
- fliers, brochures or postcards promoting your email service
- subscription invoices
- hard copy and online directories of contacts
- guest books in the gallery foyer or at the box office
There are also a number of ways a person can subscribe to your email services - online at a website, by telephone or by post. If you want to customise the information you send to the needs of each patron (highly desirable), the subscription form for your email services must make provision for this.
Content of real-life e-subscription forms
The following real life examples were gathered during visits to some arts websites.
State Theatre Company of South Australia asks those wishing to join their e-mailing list the kind of information they would like to receive: latest show information and updates, special offers, media releases, Under 27 curtain raiser packages, education, and, very important, whether a person wishes to receive the season brochure in the post.
The Chicago Symphony also invites you to check boxes for special ticket offers, program changes, program notes (magnificent added value), student offers, seniors' offers, CSO news, and supporting the CSO. This is an excellent site.
Australia's Chunky Move invites you to join their e-mailing list the moment you enter their site with a pop-up box. The offer is simple - a promise of quarterly updates on news, offers, tours and performances.
Like many arts organisations, Chunky Move is interested in reaching presenters. Their section for presenters is password controlled. You must enter your contact details prior to being given a password. This way the company knows who has been visiting, and why. Those who already have a password can go directly into this section. (However, passwords can present a barrier; so use this option sparingly.)
If you can see the value of working with other like-minded organisations - don't forget to ask whether a person wants to hear about other companies' work.
"Other arts companies sometimes want us to tell our audience about their performances. Please check the box if you would like to hear about these. Please note we do NOT share your personal information with anyone else."
Increasing your email list
You should adopt a multi-faceted approach to increasing the number of people who wish to receive e-mails from you. Here are some ideas.
A website should, if it is attracting many visitors, be a most effective place to attract subscribers to your email program. If the offer is simple - for example, regular updates - this invitation to subscribe or join the list can be placed on each and every page of your website.
In the arts, interest in a company or an artform is often enough to encourage people to subscribe to your email program. However, you will be much more effective in attracting and retaining your customers if you offer something of value they can only get online. Examples include priority booking, discounts, background information and much more.
Viral marketing is the online equivalent of word-of-mouth. Always encourage recipients to pass on your email to friends. At the bottom of each email ask the recipient to: "Please forward this email to friends or colleagues who might be interested in... ." But do not let a customer sign up their friends to your list - this undermines the principles of 'permission marketing'. (See Step 6)
Promote your email promotions!
If you have an email program that is truly valuable - promote it wherever you can: in your catalogues, your brochures, your advertisements, your nightly programs, on your admission tickets, and so on.
The message can be quite simple: "Subscribe to the Writers' Guild's monthly opportunities' listing at www...".
Opt-in or Opt-out list; which will it be?
The fact someone has given you their email address at some point does not mean they have given you permission to email them. It is acceptable to mail this person once provided there is an opportunity to opt-in or to opt-out of receiving your information in the future. This is known as 'permission' marketing.
- Opt-out means that people must respond saying they do NOT want to receive your information. This gives you implied permission.
- Opt-in means that people must respond saying they DO want to receive information in the future. This gives you explicit permission. To encourage the best possible opt-in response, you must consider what your email offer will be and promote its benefits well. Remember you only have one chance! Make sure people understand that they MUST respond, if they wish to receive information from you in the future.
Since it takes effort to respond, by far the more valuable of these is the Opt-in method. This means you know this person is really interested in you. Treat this list with the care and respect it deserves. NEVER pass your list onto a third party, unless, of course, you have been given permission to do so.
Your responsibility to your customer does not stop there; with each and every subsequent email communication, you should give a person a chance to opt-out of receiving future e-mails from you.
If someone 'unsubscribes', it is permissible to allow yourself one more contact, acknowledging their request. You can at this point ask if they would like to receive e-mails less frequently, for example. It is a good idea to give people a facility that enables them to 'Unsubscribe' while they are on holiday. The smart list manager will welcome them back on the day they return.
If you follow all the steps above, you will not be in breach of the Privacy Amendment Act 2000 that came into force in December 2001. Businesses earning less than $3 million a year are exempt.
However, responsible marketers will comply with the 10 National Privacy Principles as far as possible, because by doing so you will create a better relationship with your current and potential patrons. In other words, the Principles make good business sense.
In short, an organisation is required to be open about:
- the information it already holds
- how it collects and holds information, and this includes the use of 'cookies' ( a piece of information sent by a web server to a web browser - see Step 8)
- how it proposes to use or disclose such information
This is usually achieved through:
- informing people at the time information is collected from them about the intended uses of their information and under what circumstances their information might be disclosed to others
To obtain explicit permission you should provide a check-box that seeks permission to send the recipient information about the company in the future.
- Be accessible on every page of your website, or, as a minimum, on the pages where information is collected.
- Identify the marketer or a designated person within your organisation, and provide contact details.
- Describe the nature of the personal information collected such as name, postal and email addresses, data on purchases, credit card number, navigational information that reveals the customers' preferences among a range of products ('cookies', for example), the content of correspondence directed to the marketer, and so on.
- How this information will be used. For example: return of tickets, contacting customers by email, post or telephone about other events they have indicated they are interested in, and audience research.
- The nature of the disclosure of that information. For example, release to third parties for the conducting of audience research. But note it is preferable for a customer to 'opt in' (ie. give explicit consent) to receive information about arts events by companies other than yours.
- How a customer can limit disclosure. This is usually achieved by enabling a customer to 'opt out or in' with regard to receiving specified kinds of information, at the time they are providing details to the marketer: booking forms, online e-mailing list subscriptions, and so on. These should be easy to find and use.
- Provide a means whereby a customer may change their privacy preferences or ensure the information a marketer holds is correct. Usually achieved by providing a place on a website where preferences can be updated, through the provision of an 'unsubscribe' facility on email messages, and a contact address and telephone number.
Please note that, for all the reasons listed above, stating you do not pass on addresses to third parties is not sufficient to meet the new National Privacy Principles.
Visitors to the performanceNET.org website have the opportunity to 'opt-in' and provide their contact details for personal follow-up by performanceNET.org members. Visitors also have the opportunity to 'opt-out' and have their submitted details removed from the performanceNET.org database. While performanceNET.org complies with the 10 National Privacy Principles from the recent Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Act 2000, the site focuses on three basic principles:
- The information is stored on a secure database that is accessed by performanceNET.org members only.
- Apart from users actively submitting their information in online forms, no other user information is gathered and stored by performanceNET.org.
- Information will never be shared with groups or individuals that are not representatives of performanceNET.org.
If users would like to find out what personal details performanceNET.org has recorded, email mydetails@performanceNET.org, with 'my details' in the subject heading of the email.
Note: As an added precaution requested user information will only be e-mailed to the address used in the original submission form.
If you would like to have your details removed from the performanceNET.org database simply send an email to removeme@performanceNET.org, with '' in the subject heading of the email.
Again, the stored records will only be deleted if the originating email address is the same as the address initially registered with performanceNET.org. For further information see http://www.privacy.gov.au/publications/npps01.html
Short, sharp and relevant are the key words for good email communications. Your meaning must be clear to the reader, who may only give your message a cursory glance before deciding to read or delete. Avoid covering too many subjects in one email and utilise links to websites to provide more in-depth information.
Don't forget many people still only have dial-up access and long downloads are annoying. Keep your message size to 50Kb (or below) to be safe.
People often will not open attachments because they are concerned about viruses - so don't depend on them to get your message across. In addition, the size of attachments is an issue for many with slow dial-up connections.
Many email systems are not set up to receive HTML messages, so it's best, if you can, to let the recipient choose whether they would like to receive their messages in HTML or as plain text.
The anatomy of an email can be described as follows:
- TO: field
- FROM: field
- SUBJECT: field
- preview panel (what can be seen in the preview panel, before a recipient scrolls down the message or opens the email)
- the full message
- sign off information
- attachments (be very, very careful)
Each body-part is important and must be carefully considered.
Writing and designing your email messages
Personalised mail is best. But if you can't afford a database program that will make this possible, you can customise your email address to include the 'name' of the email program; for example, E-update or E-news. Never insert the recipient list, always use the B.C.C (blind carbon copy): field.
A domain name is one you have purchased from an Internet Service Provider. This means your email address would be firstname.lastname@example.org, rather than email@example.com. A domain name makes your organisation look more professional.
The subject box is the most important field as this usually determines whether your message is deleted or read. You need to communicate credibility first and foremost in this field and a good way to do this is to repeat who the email is from.
Put the most important information at the beginning because the 'preview panel' will only display around 30 characters. The maximum length should be 60 characters.
If you have an opt-in subscription list, you will want recipients to realise that this is the information they subscribed to. In which case, the SUBJECT:field might read "Gallery X - April news". By keeping the same format, this becomes a familiar mail item.
If you are publishing a news bulletin, you could think of this as a headline: "Gallery X: invite to see rare Whiteley".
If you do not have a strong relationship with the recipient, you can hedge your bets and make the subject as informative as possible. This means the recipient might retain some residual memory of an event, even if they delete the message unread. For example: "Supremo - Edinburgh Fringe Best Play - opens Tues. in Sydney"
Many arts companies lead with a special offer. One real-life example read: "SPECIAL TICKET OFFER - DESPERATE MINDS". The preview panel only displayed the words special ticket offer, which to the more cynical reader shouts 'failed show'. This email also took five minutes to download, raising the irritation level no end. However, if the recipient registered to receive special offers or is a strapped-for-cash student, this headline, with the show name placed first, would be just the ticket.
Some mail browsers are set to filter out anything that looks like 'spam'. So messages containing the words 'free', '$', and even capital letters in the subject field might be sent to the 'spam' folder for later deletion.
Preview panel text
In some email clients/software only the first eight lines of your message can be read in the preview panel. If the top of your message does not command attention, your message is more likely to be deleted immediately. Try to get the heart of your message across in the first eight lines.
There are numerous ways to address the 'top' of your message.
One suggestion is to place a catchy headline, followed by the subject headings (often in blue) of what your message contains. This is a useful format for regular newsletters.
If this is a straight forward promotion of a single event - use the top of your message to communicate the key selling point (without hype), give name of the event, venue, date and price. If people want more information they will scroll down to the bottom of the message.
Body of the message
Remember email messages work best, when you use:
- short simple sentences
- short paragraphs
- short words
- lots of white space
- subject headings that help guide the eye
When people scroll down your message, your message moves very quickly in front of the eye. So lots of white space, short line lengths, medium to larger type size, simple sentence structures and short paragraphs are essential.
Headlines in different dark colours, also help to guide the eye. Including links for more detailed information on your website (or other relevant websites) is very useful. Always summarise the information or service provided by each link.
CAPITAL LETTERS are the online equivalent of 'shouting' - use sparingly, if at all.
Text or HTML
Many of the most popular newsletters are text-based. There is a view that 'text' is less hard-sell and more in keeping with a medium that is primarily used for text messaging.
However, some companies report better click-through rates (when a person clicks on a link to reach a website or to buy) when they use HTML.
Some popular email clients such as Eudora cannot read HTML. If in doubt use text or ask recipients in which form they would like to receive their messages.
HTML enables you to have graphics, reproduce pages of your website, recreate brochure covers within the message, or reproduce layouts created in your word software. email messages can also be enriched to enable people to view video clips or hear samples of the music.
Using your brochure or your postcard artwork 'as-is' may not work because the type is too small or the design too complex to read easily on the screen. Large fonts and bright colours are too dominating for what is essentially an intimate medium.
The design and language of all paper promotional tools must be re-purposed to suit the email medium.
Inline images (when they appear as part of your message) are more effective than when they are provided as an attachment (see 'Attachments' below).
Broadband provides a permanent Internet connection and significantly speeds up the time it takes to download images and complicated designs. Currently many people only have a dial-up connection and HTML takes longer to download; another reason why it is important to give someone the choice of how they would like to receive their messages. Part of your research might identify whether your users are accessing email at work or at home, their dial-up connection and preferred email client.
email recipients are nervous about opening attachments because they are afraid they may contain a virus. Attachments also take longer to download and extra time to open them. This is why recipients sometimes do not open attachments. So, do not rely on attachments to get your core message across. However, if the message is sufficiently intriguing, your attachment might be opened.
Attachments are usually in PDF format and require Acrobat Reader to open them. This is available free on the Internet and it is a good idea to include a link to the site where this can be downloaded, either on your website or in your email message.
Language and 'tone of voice'
The language and tone of voice you use will be determined by:
- the image you wish to project
- the characteristics of your target audience
- the depth of the relationship with your target audience
The informal abbreviations and words used in an Internet 'chat' room are unlikely to be appropriate for most email promotions. Spelling and grammar do make a difference, so always check your text thoroughly. However, phrases and fragments - rather than carefully constructed sentences - can be effective in some circumstances.
Do not assume an 'intimate' relationship with a recipient unless this is justified. But email is a less formal medium than paper, and calls for a more 'relaxed' or conversational tone of voice. Remember to adjust your language to suit your audience.
email is not the place for 'hard sell' - earn a reader's interest by providing juicy information. Humour, in the right circumstances, always helps.
If you are using images adjust the image format to reduce the file size - a 50Kb message should be safe for most email clients such as Hotmail and Yahoo.
Test-drive your promotions
It is a good idea to test-drive your email promotions with a range of email clients, before sending to your list (Outlook Express, Eudora, Lotus Notes, Netscape and Hotmail).
If you have an interactive promotion, you might design this in three different ways and send to three groups of people with a similar profile. You can then see which approach works best.
Article: When pictures work better than words
Use HTML when pictures work better than words, says David Bradbury, Managing Director of Message Media, a full service agency specialising in e-messaging. "We have conducted controlled tests across a wide range of market segments and types of offer," David said. "HTML generates significantly higher response rate than text messages - up to eight times higher, in fact. The messaging technology is now smart enough to identify who can and who cannot receive HTML via their email client [software]."
David's advice to companies on tight budgets is to build an HTML template in a manner which lends itself to revision of both text and images. "The initial template might cost between $1500 to $3000, depending on the level of sophistication. Message Media's 'self serve' system has an HTML editor builtin, which allows a complete novice to amend HTML on their desktop. It's as simple as changing a word document."
When you are executing an HTML campaign, it is important to get your SUBJECT:field right, he said. " This single line drives the 'open rates' of email. It must be short, honest to the full content and limited in its promotional slant. Many Internet-based email clients divert highly promotional subject lines directly to the trash."
"Personalise your mail as much as possible. A relevant mailing will always generate a better response. If you are outsourcing your email requirements, exploit the customising capability that allows each email to have a different content relative to a recipients preferences/interests."
Finally, David confirms the importance of making it easy for recipients to 'unsubscribe' or amend their profile.
In his view, email communications are most often flawed because they have too much content. "Consumers treat email as a 'sound bite' medium. Marketers should be building to this behaviour by keeping the message as brief as possible. If you have detailed information, link the viewer through to hosted pages or a website."
Not only do viewers want the information in bite-size portions, they want it quick, he says. "Don't develop highly rich messages in flash that take several minutes to download. Keep the message simple and single-minded. Leading-edge creative is not needed, leading-edge direct marketing execution is the key to sucess."
David advises that the file size of your message should be no greater than 50k to cater for home modem connections, and he recommends testing your campaign with as many email clients as possible - at the very least through Hotmail, Outlook Express, and Netscape.
Despite the fact that HTML messaging is, in his experience, more effective, David says that correctly formatted text can also be powerful. " You must apply design techniques to your text, giving emphasis to your key messages through carefully considered line-spacing and the sparing use of keyboard graphics."In David's view the critical success factors in email promotional strategies in order of importance are: list quality, design and leveraging your brand.
"The single most important aspect of any mailing is the quality of the list. The recipients must have a degree of understanding as to 'why' they have received the mailing. This could either be because the recipients have an affinity with the offer - perhaps because they have already expressed an interest in it - or because they have an existing relationship with the sender."
"The design of your message is the second most critical factor. The rules of direct marketing apply. Keep the message single-minded and make sure the recipient is able to understand the offer or proposition within 30 seconds. It must be patently clear to the recipient what is expected of them, particularly when you are seeking a response to a specific call to action, be it a need to accept terms and conditions, visit a web page, or complete a form. Make these processes intuitive... and assume no knowledge of the online medium."
Leverage your brand
"If you have an existing relationship with the recipient, use your brand visually to establish quickly the identity of the message-sender."
email currently is being used as a substitute for traditional mail because it is cheaper and more measurable, David says. "With HTML messaging you can measure how many people open your email, click-through rates and much more. Establishing the effectiveness of email is easy.
"However, the convergence of wireless technology and email will see email being received by your mobile device, be it a palm pilot or a phone. As a consequence, email will become even more instantaneous.
"In the future email will work to a greater extent in association with traditional mail rather than as a substitute. Each medium should complement the strengths of the other. email will be used more and more as a conversion and datacapture tool because of its verification capability. Whereas, trad mail will be used to provide depth - the long back-up to the short sound-bite of electronic messages."
Evaluation (never forget this step!)
Running a good email promotions program involves a lot of nit-picky detail. You certainly want to know whether all that effort is worthwhile. But don't forget, to measure success you have to be clear about what you were hoping to achieve.
You can outsource the evaluation of your email promotions to a specialist who can, through 'cookies' track the results of your email promotions. A 'cookie' is a piece of information sent by a web server to a web browser. Cookies might contain information such as log-in or registration information, shopping-trolley preferences, and so on.
This tracking enables you to determine:
- the number of people who opened your email
- the number of click-throughs to your website
- number of new subscribers and unsubscribes
- failed deliveries
- the number of destinations an email is forwarded to
However, some arts organisations may find this service too expensive, as there is usually a per-address cost for each mailing, a monthly maintenance cost and a one-off cost to set up the system to your specifications.
If you cannot afford a highly desirable service such as this, you can measure success as follows:
- increased sales or inquiries around the time the email went out
- number of sales at a unique price, available only to your email subscribers
- by asking people how they heard about a product or an event
- the number of sales or inquiries to a unique telephone number or email address, available only to your email subscribers
If you have telephone numbers and permission to contact a person for this purpose, it may also be useful to conduct a survey of a random selection of people on the e-mailing list. Simple, short e-surveys are also a good way to monitor whether your e-mails are read and valued.
The survey might cover:
- frequency of reading your e-mails
- satisfaction rating with content
- how a person subscribed to your e-mailing list (through website, referral from friend, brochure, etc.)
- requesting or testing ideas to improve your email communications
Email is the way of the future and, at this time, is much more important than your website. The medium is a gift for the arts. How you use it, and what you use it for will determine your success.
Most companies engage specialist expertise to design their website (Incidentally, Roy Morgan Research revealed only 13% of Australians 14+ used the Internet to visit websites), but there is a DIY mentality about email promotions.
email is a potent medium, so don't skimp. If you can possibly afford it, engage specialist expertise to either set up your system in-house, or to publish, distribute and monitor your email communications. It makes good sense for a bunch of smaller companies to commission jointly an external provider. But before you can do this, you MUST develop an email strategy, using the steps listed above.