Email marketing in action. A case study in using something more advanced than MailChimp
I've been a heavy user of MailChimp for many years. And as a tutor and examiner for the CIM's digital qualifications I can see that I am not alone. The majority of my students seem to have experience of the platform and only the very larger brands seem to regularly be using anything else like a fully integrated CRM system for email.
MailChimp has some awesome features. And for companies with small mailing lists and limited resources or technical expertise, it's an excellent first choice for regular emailing.
But it has some severe limitations. You can't really do much personalisation. Sure you can put a first name in and you can use Autoresponders to send specific emails in response to a trigger but they are complex to set up and lack the sophistication of a more specialised marketing automation system.
I'd been researching alternatives for several years acutely aware that my "spray and pray" approach to email marketing was far from optimal and again it appears that I am not alone. Return Path found that 60% of companies fail to send welcome emails to new subscribers and 30% fail to email for more than a month after sign-up. 58% of retailers send the same first promotional email to buyers & non-buyers alike, squandering the opportunity to personalise or adapt that all-important first message based on purchase history or demographic data.
It's no wonder that we are feeling deluged with irrelevant spam when top online retailers send each of their subscribers more than three promotional emails per week (Responsys 2011).
And yet more than half of US email users had made a purchase due to permission-based email. Crucially for intelligent email systems half said that a company’s handling of email affects their decision to do business with them online or offline (Merkyl 2008).
So as a digital marketer of many years standing, I was acutely aware (and somewhat enbarrassed) that I was not optimising the potential of this channel. But as a small business owner I was put off by the considerable investment needed into more advanced systems beyond MailChimp, and also the not inconsiderable technological knowhow. A bit of Googling will show you that CRM system failure rates can be as high as 80%. This was looking like a financial and time heavy risk to be taking.
But all the time I dragged my heels I was frustrating subscribers with irrelevant content, and crucially not really making the most of the archive of content I had built up over the years on the website. Unless you dug very deep, it was simply not very likely that your somewhat specialised interest in mic systems for large groups of singers would crop up on visiting our website.
I was also wasting my own time in not creating sequences of emails for new subscribers, new customers or people who had enquired about a particular product range. What I needed was an affordable technical solution which worked for me while I got on with more interesting things.
I'd seen Infusionsoft around for a number of years and was impressed by it's positioning as the leading (only?) email marketing and marketing automation system for small businesses. I'd seen a number of organisations that I admired adopt it (Facebook guru Jon Loomer being one). And crucially, I ran into a reseller and Infusion Soft developer that I trusted to hand hold me through the process of learning the system and also to handle all my legacy data issues from multiple webstores and databases.
Rather than bore you with features I thought I'd share with you some of the ways in which I've been using Infusionsoft in recent weeks. I've already written about it's use in data capturing from Facebook ads.
1. Segmenting my list: "Tagging" subscribers
I've a pretty substantial, organically grown, mailing list for my company Musicademy but, as is typical with many small businesses, very little ecrm data to accompany it. If I had a first name to go with the email address I was doing well, let alone knowing what the customer was actually interested in from our somewhat diverse product range.
So the first step was to reach out to our existing list and have them identify their interest areas. By completing the form below users were given 40 free music lessons - a great incentive. And behind the scenes, any tick besides the instruments of interest triggers an email sequence full of great content (and a little info about products).
As well as the self-tagging mechanic, I had a developer write a programme to synchronise my (Magento) webstore purchase history so that within Infusion Soft I was beginning to develop a database of customers, email addresses, interests and purchase history. Each purchase was tagged to again help with the interest segmentation.
2. Creating the email sequences
Once someone is tagged, for instance with an interest in guitar playing, Infusionsoft was then tasked with the job of providing timely and relevant content on guitars and guitar playing. In true content marketing style these emails focussed on quality free content which earned the right to also talk about the product range (well actually, we've mainly let customer reviews talk about the product range). An example is below.
I've set these emails up to send once per week and there are about 6-8 in the sequence. The beauty for me as a content marketer is that each of the links goes to content on the website that we've created over the years. Apart from writing the emails, I didn't have to create any new content. I was simply pointing people at great content, that had already been well received, that was sitting unseen (apart from by diligent googlers) on the website.
It's early days yet but we are definitely seeing conversions (purchases) as a result of these emails and chatting with recipients about it on Facebook has yielded glowing praise for the approach.
The unsubscribe button at the top gives them the option of unsubscribing from just this sequence or everything.
What place the regular newsletter?
We still use this. And it goes to everyone on the list. This seems to work well for our audience who, despite an interest in particular instruments, enjoys the wider variety of content that we create and curate each week. And of course that content will, in time, find it's way into our email sequences.
For other brands, dynamically inserted content based on click or purchase history is going to be the way to go. You need to test what works for your market.
So what does Infusionsoft look like under the hood?
One of the things I love about Infusionsoft is it's logical, visual presentation. Below is a simple sequence I've built for people tagged as interested in Sound Tech.
First you see where the leads come from. The Sound Tech tag is applied which triggers the sequence (the rectangular box represents what happens in the email sequence which is depicted below) and finally there is a tag for those wanting to unsubscribe.
This graphic shows that the campaign has 4 emails each sent out a week apart:
Below you see the results of my "Sign up for 40 free lessons" campaign. The 1887 shows the number of people who have double opted in The numbers in blue show those who have completed the sequence. The other orange numbers show those currently in a sequence.
This somewhat scary looking graphic is actually really clever. I was concerned that many people would tick multiple instruments and quickly become overwhelmed with an onslaught of emails. So the green triangles (called decision nodes) enable a delay until the previous sequence is completed.
I hope you've found that an interesting case study in how I am using an automated email marketing system to repurpose my content archive and increase conversion rates. Needless to say, other email marketing systems exist. And Infusionsoft has way more capability than I have shown in this example. The platform began life in the US but it has a number of UK-based resellers as well as developers and consultants on hand to help you get to grips with it. To be honest, if I managed it, I think most marketers wouldn't have much trouble!