Over the past 6 years, I’ve had the honor of shifting and adapting our tech infrastructure at Stupid Cancer. With a nimble team, I’ve enjoyed quick deployments, and minimal consequences if things went awry.
In 2009, I was given a contact list and keys to the email service provider we used back then. Our list was a catch-all of friends, family, and stakeholders. This list was the export of email contacts from our CEO. Knowing what we collectively knew about email back then, we didn’t blink twice when uploading them and sending out our year-end donor appeal.
This particular communication was a blatant ask for donations and not what would be considered a “transactional” email. The email was sent out and several things happened that ultimately led us being booted off the service.
Email Marketing 101
Success in email marketing can be measured in a number of ways, which are sequential in nature. First, you have the percentage delivered. If every single person on your list receives the email, you’ve got a 100% delivery rate.
Let’s say you send the email and an email address has been deleted. This happens when someone changes jobs and the company removes them from the system. This is called a hard bounce. Most, if not all, ESPs automatically remove hard bounces from your list since there is a very slim chance they will be reinstated.
The other issue that can affect deliverability is called a soft bounce. A soft bounce is when an inbox is completely full, the recipient email server is offline, or your email is very large in size. Too many soft bounces can trigger an ESP to consider that address a hard bounce.
When someone opens an email and clicks, that’s known as a click-through. Ideally, the majority of subscribers will open and click. If this number is really low for you, keep reading.
What Actually Happened
In hindsight, we were horrible email marketers. We took a list of emails that we passively accumulated and used them without proper permissions. The contact list had been accumulated over a decade, and many of the work e-mails on the list came back as a hard bounce. This was the first step towards being booted from the service.
For the emails that did make it into our the inboxes of the list, many of them were surprised to get the email. People get defensive about their inbox. Think about it…what was your reaction the last time you got a random email? Ultimately, we skipped a series of communications, known as a welcome series, that would have properly set us up for a donation ask.
The best case scenario when someone receives an unexpected email is that they will take a moment to review look at where it’s coming from. If it’s a person or company they know, they’ll likely open it. For many of the people who received our email, they knew our CEO, but didn’t know why they would receive an email from the organization. It’s easy to think that just because you’ve had an exchange with someone, that you’re welcome in their inbox.
If you email someone who is loosely connected, chances are they are going to take the path of least resistance and hit the spam button. Ideally, they will unsubscribe and honorably discharge you from their lives. If they’re familiar with receiving emails from companies, they could possibly update their preferences page. (This is the best best case scenario)
What We Should Have Done
In our case, we went from an guy with an idea to a company. When the organization came to fruition, we should have started fresh with a blank slate. The mindset of “we should start with something” was the wrong one to have. By implementing readily accessible signup forms and driving traffic to them, we’d have been better off in the long run.
When building out your email program, think of the roles your subscribers might fit into. For Stupid Cancer, we typically use Cancer Survivor, Caregiver, Healthcare Provider, and Advocate (or other). By putting people into four different buckets, we can segment and communicate with each vertical more relevantly. This segmented approach will engender a more focused relationship, and people won’t feel like they’re just a newsletter recipient. If customer roles are well identified, you can go crazy with allowing people to self-select what’s most important to them.
Once you’ve got people on your mailing list, make sure you empower them with the ability to decide how much or how little they hear from you. Your preferences page is an important part of your email program as it can be the difference between someone unsubscribes or not. More and more, I’m seeing companies offering the option to receive less emails.
Once you’ve got some momentum in your email marketing campaign, you can really begin to leverage the data within it. As people open your email, their Geolocation is stored. You can use this to segment to people in a certain location. At Stupid Cancer, we use this to promote local events. If it’s a New York City event, we will promote within 5 or 10 miles. If it’s a Cody, Wyoming event, we’ll promote within 200 miles.
By taking a responsibly curated and more segmented approach (vs the traditional batch and blast), you’ll have higher open rates, more click-throughs, and happier subscribers.
What You Can Do
If you’re somewhere in between where we were and having issues. You may want to consider having your list cleaned. Depending on the size of it, you can pay a fee and have the list scrubbed of hard bounces, as well as role-based emails. Role based emails are bad because they aren’t attached to a person, and can drive down your open rates.
If you’re looking to increase overall deliverability, you can utilize the services of an ESP like Kevy, who ensure that you are properly set up that Internet Service Providers like Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail know that the email is sent from a trusted source. Using ESPs that have less checks in place will result in your emails ending up in the spam folder.
Sending mass emails is a big responsibility. If you lose the trust of your subscribers, it is nearly impossible to regain it. Furthermore, personal contact information should be highly guarded and never considered to be leveragable for third-party financial gains or frequent and poorly planned communications.