Joined-up marketing. Are email newsletters the missing link

The Problem

Specialist export consultant and BSA client Exportaid has developed a recognised reputation for the provision of training and support to British companies looking to expand abroad. As part of their service they offer ‘ExportAnswer‘ a free service to answer questions about export by email. The success of this service meant that ExportAid built up a significant database of over 600 relevant contacts but they were consious they weren’t doing anything with this data. For some time, BSA suggested that they consider launching an email newsletter focussing of the practical issues and advice relevant to SME businesses wanting to export. Although ExportAid MD, John Reed, recognised the potential of these ideas, he also had concerns:

  1. I am concerned about my professional reputation
  2. I don’t think it will help me, I have answered their question
  3. People don’t like email newsletters
  4. Even if I did do it, I don’t think I can come up with a continuing flow of good quality content

Notwithstanding the above, John Reed also recognised he was in danger of losing contact with his database – companies who all recognised the benefits of what ExportAid offers – something had to give….

The Solution

ExportAid (initially with some reluctance) concluded that maybe E-newsletters were worth investigating. Working with BSA we implemented the following:

  1. Design an E-News template – to tie in with the ExportAid corporate style.
  2. Select content from the ExportAid blog and add snippets to the template (with links back to the main website & blog).
  3. Set up, test and finalise the E-newsletter and target contact list in the BSA Emailworks dedicated emailing system.

Keen to make sure there was consistency and reality, ExportAid titled their email “Seventh from ExportAid” which would then go out on the 7th of every month. The first issue was sent by BSA but since then, control has been handed to ExportAid for all E-News activty. As BSA Emailworks is web-based this handover was straighforward and ongoing support is easy to provide, as required.

The Benefits

ExportAid now has joined-up, effective marketing which connects them to their contacts… …and their concerns? Unfounded…

  1. Feedback from readers has been entirely positive, they see real value in the “Seventh from ExportAid”
  2. Thanks to the E-Newsletter, ExportAid’s reputation is spreading rather than declining
  3. Recipients acknowledge the value and interest in the E-Newsletters
  4. By linking e-newsletter content back to updates on the ExportAid website, there is a consistent flow of new articles

ExportAid were at risk of losing the business relationships they had started. Now they are being reinforced and enhanced every month. And the cost of keeping in touch with each contact 12 times per year? Less than £2 per contact per year – 4 basic second class stamps! To talk about building strong relationships with your customers and contacts – give us a call Watch our video comments from ExportAid MD, John Reed    

Brain Teaser – Ream Quandry?

So, I have left Dale Winton in Namibia (details here if you want to know more) and taken my diamonds to Finland where I have met up with Michael Widenius – creator of the web’s favourite Database MySQL – and over an all-night Vodka session we somehow came up with the plan to invest in a paper mill (Yes, I don’t know why either). The mill specialises in A4 printer paper which we package in Reams (want to know the origins of a Ream? – click here) – but we have a problem – our packaging department quality control is a bit lax and we aren’t quite sure how many sheets of paper are actually going into each packet. Production is spot on and every single sheet is identical as is the packaging so if we knew how much 1 sheet weighed we could know how many were in each packet and get the price correct. We have a huge number of packets and fortunately I still have my highly sensitive scales and, as Dale is no longer around, we can make as many weighings as we like. There is one issue, Michael will not let us open any of the packets. If we can’t solve this problem, he has threatened to withdraw his investment which will lead me to financial ruin. How can I determine the weight of one sheet of paper wihout opening any of the packets? Note: we are not here going to get distracted with a discussion about weight, mass and gravity! Key facts

  • Huge number of packets of paper
  • All sheets of paper and packaging identical
  • Highly sensitive electronic balance
  • Multiple weighings

Challenge Calculate the weight of 1 sheet of paper – or financial oblivion beckons. The Answer…is here

Thank you to Wikipedia for useless but interesting facts

Google+ – don't dismiss it just yet

Google+Google+ was launched in a blaze of publicity late last year as the search engine giant’s challenge to the dominance of Facebook in the world of Social Media.  Since then, things have been decidely quiet and, despite pulling in around 150 million users worldwide, Facebook continues to be the Social Media powerhouse. Yet we must never forget that Google is one of the most powerful companies in the world with one of the biggest brands and with credentials like that, just maybe there is life in the challenge of Google+. Check out this article from the E-consultancy blog posted yesterday afternoon (19 July) Just maybe Facebook has more to worry about than its share price?

Free seminar – using professional, targeted email newsletters to grow your business

Mention Email marketing and many people think one word: Spam. Sure, there are ‘Spammers’ out there; yet used properly and professionally, targeted email is an immensely powerful and cost-effective marketing tool. To simply dismiss it and ‘tar everyone with the same brush‘ may be missing an golden opportunity for your business. BSA Marketing has a real expertise in delivering targeted, professional, sustained email marketing campaigns that work. Naturally we also have the technical infrastructure and know-how to build emails that display properly, and maximise deliverability to your recipients mailboxes. Whether clients want a DIY service with some support where needed or a full, hands-off service, there are options. We are keen to support SMEs in developing their business marketing so we have teamed up with Business Peak District to bring you a free Seminar where you can see how ‘proper’ email marketing can work and make an informed decision on whether you feel it can work for you. Who should attend:

  • Anyone who feels they need to communicate their business message more consistently to a wider audience.

What level of technical expertise is required?

  • None, the seminar approaches the subject from a marketing perspective, and absolutely no technical knowledge is required to make the most of it.

When and Where?

If you would like to be kept up to date with details including timings & agendas, follow either @BSAMarketing, or @BusinessPD on twitter and we will keep you posted.  

Just how good are bought-in email marketing lists?

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the potential merits of bought in lists and some of the potential pitfalls. As I said at the time, there is no question that building your own list of qualified, relevant contacts who you know and who know your business it the best way to build an effective marketing database but it does take time and so people do look to buying lists as a shortcut. In the past few weeks we have had a couple of opportunities to practically test the accuracy and value of a couple of bought-in lists – with some interesting results:

Case 1 – The BIG list

A client approached us with some lists she had bought. All lists were sold as fully checked and 100% opt-in so , on the face of it, legitimate and useable? Across the lists there was a total of over 800,000 records! Yes, alarm bells should be ringing! But these were clearly not just lists of email addresses harvested from the internet (always a complete no-no in my view). Lists included company names and addresses, telephone numbers, Number of Employees, Turnover, Business Activity and even contact names and positions. Not all details for all records but certainly a significant majority. Very much what one might expect to see from any of the hundreds of data brokers that operate across the UK. Whereas most brokers tend to charge anything from £30 to £250 per 1000 records the cost of this list was less than £0.50p per 1000 I was intrigued and felt this was worthy of some further investigation so we set to work. Our starting point was to presume that the quality of the lists was too poor to be used in a legitimate campaign (this is no reflection on the data provider but simply , in our view, a reasonable and professional starting point). Our primary objective was to see if we could improve the quality of the data This is what we did:

  1. Delete all records with no email address – took out around 10,000 records
  2. Delete all records with web-based email addresses (hotmail etc) – took out around 50,000 records
  3. Flag all records where more than 15 records had the same domain (This was mainly to exclude very big companies which were not relevant to our client’s needs) – flagged around 150,000 records

By now we had reduced the list by over 200,000 records – around 25% – but we still had 600,000+ to go at. Now to test the data quality: Using dedicated verification software we checked every single email address we had left. With such a big list it took quite some management and about 2 weeks to complete but by the end we had identified over 300,000 ‘bad’ addresses. The ‘master’ list was now down to a third the size of our starting list but, on the flip side, it was significantly better qualified – but we hadn’t finished… Although we flagged and excluded all email addresses where 15 or more had the same domain this still left many companies with multiple (up to 14) email addresses on the list. Simply sending to everyone can trigger Spam filters and certainly does not indicate best practice so where we had multiple addresses for a company we excluded all generic (sales@. info@ etc.) addresses.  To ensure only 1 email was going to a company at any one time, we selected the single email address in a domain that we felt was likely to be most appropriate to our clients needs – there was always the option to target other contact in future. As a final step to creating a qualified and manageable database we used Postcode information from records to split the data into 6 separate UK regions – as it happens, our client was primarily interested in the Midlands and North. The final outcome: We started with a list of over 800,000 records. By the time we had finished our verification process we had excluded 85% of them! If you take into account the fact that our client was only interested in certain regions, we had a list of 55,000 – we effectively excluded almost 95%. There is no question that the list we ended up with is significantly more qualified and targeted than where we started – and even taking into account the cost of qualification process, the real cost of the list still compares extremely favourably with traditional list brokers.

Case 2 – Is your list good enough?

Another client came to us with a problem. He had bought an email list of 13,000 records in their target sector. When he tried to import the list into his email marketing system it was rejected on quality grounds – he could not use his list.

Note: Specialist email marketing systems providers (the legitimate ones anyway!) have strict compliance rules as what lists you can and cannot use in their system. This is quite understandable as maintaining quality and professionalism is vital – but it does mean that you have to be careful not to spend money on lists which you may then find you can’t use.

He asked us if we had any ideas. It appeared his problem was that there were too many ‘bad’ addresses that were flagging as failures. With our support, he removed all web-based addresses and we put the remaining list through our verification system which flagged 3,500 – around a quarter of his list – as failing. The net list totalled 8,500 records which, when resubmitted to his email system was imported and accepted, no problem. The list has been used on campaigns and has generated open rates and click-rates in line with many email campaigns (18% and 10% respectively), and most important, enquiries and business. Furthermore them have been NO complaints, only a modest number of bounces and unsubscribes – as would be expected with any campaign.

In Summary

In my opinion it is unnecessarily harsh to say that a bought list must NEVER be used in an email marketing campaign but any such lists must be carefully verified and, as with all marketing (online and offline) used in a professional, targeted reasonable and relevant campaign. Quality and professionalism are key to long-term success. If you would like to discuss the use of email lists and email marketing in your business, get in touch

Brain Teaser – Diamond Opportunity? – THE ANSWER

The Question

Missed the question? Check it out here or go straight for the answer:

The Answer

Easy when you know… You create a new batch by taking a different number of diamonds from each batch. One from the first, two from the second, three from the third…and so on until you take ten from the tenth batch – a total of 55 stones. You then weigh your new batch. The key is how much lower this reading is than you would have got if you had been weighing genuine diamonds only. Let’s imagine that the difference between the reading you expected and the reading you got was 4mg. Each fake diamond weighs 1mg less than a genuine stone so your batch of 55 must contain 4 fakes. If you made up your batch of 55 as described above, the fake stones must come from batch 4. So by knowing the weight difference you know which batch holds the fakes. Easy!

Remarketing and the New EU Cookie Law

I received an email today promoting a Google remarketing service. This is a marking tool whereby visitors to your website are subsequently targeted with ads for your business on other websites that they visit – clever! In itself, there is nothing wrong with this, and remarketing can be a powerful marketing tool. (If you want to know more about it please feel free to get in touch). The issue that I have with Google’s email is that it stated “remarketing is fully compliant with the new EU regulations on cookie usage”. Whilst their service may well be designed to comply with the new law, I think the claim could be a little misleading as it is the use of cookies in applications like re-marketing on which the new law is focused. If you are going to undertake a remarketing campaign, then it will be necessary to obtain a cookie opt in from web users to stay within the new regulations. This is actually not as scary as it sounds, especially if your website is built in WordPress as there is an excellent, and cost effective solution for EU cookie law compliance though use of the simple cookiecuttr plug-in (we use this on the site) Even if you are not using WordPress you can still use this excellent solution, (although it will require a small amount of coding to implement). Full details of how to implement it are here. In the real world I suspect that a modest re-marketing campaign is unlikely to draw the wrath of the Information Commissioner, (usual “I am not a lawyer” caveats apply) but with some great and simple compliance solutions out there, if you are going to use re-marketing as a tool to help your promote business, better to be safe than sorry!

IT Services Contracts – Beware the small print

  There is a growing trend for IT services to be supplied on a rolling monthly fee basis rather than a fixed or one-off cost. While this can be really helpful to the cash-flow of small businesses there are a rising number of companies who are including (IMHO) somewhat dubious clauses in their contracts. All perfectly legitimate but a potential nasty surprise for people who don’t read the small print – i.e. most people!  

Here are my TOP 5 annoyances:

1. Long term contract commitment

Microsoft Exchange is a great email tool but setting up and running your own Exchange Server can be expensive and require regular management and maintenance. As an alternative numerous companies now offer ‘Hosted Exchange’ where, for a modest monthly fee, you can use an exchange mailbox hosted in ‘the cloud’. Some services even throw in a copy of MS Outlook for you to download and run on your own PC at no extra cost. When you sign up, you normally have to commit to a minimum of 12 months. All looks fine so far, the minimum contract ensures the supplier’s set up support costs are covered. But what happens when you get to the end of the 12 months? Sure the service continues with absolutely no additional effort on behalf of the supplier so maybe a rolling contract subject to 1 month’s notice might seem reasonable? Oh no! Many suppliers insist that your contract rolls over into a new 12 month contract. In a market where technology moves so fast, being tied in to another long term contract can be a right pain – particularly as such contracts are based on the technology you bought in the first place. In a recent case, we found a contract based on Hosted Exchange 2007 was rolled over to a new 12 month contract on the same platform at the same cost, even though new sign-ups were being offered Hosted Outlook 2010 – at a lower cost! Top Tip: Microsoft Office 365 Hosted Exchange has a great track record yet is one of the cheapest services around. Although they require 12 month contracts, you can cancel your contract at any time subject to a cancellation fee which (at time of writing) is only 33% of what is outstanding on your contract.

2. Extended Notice Periods

We recently wished to cancel a service agreement for a dedicated web server. The original contract had been for 12 months (fair enough) and in fact, the contract had been running for 2 years with no issues. However as technology moves on we decided to take a different approach to our hosting requirements. We knew the contract period was coming to an end so we contacted the supplier – only to find that although the contract was up in less than a month, we could only cancel it subject to 3 months notice! An extra 2 months fees for no real benefit! Top Tip: When you sign up, make sure you know what the cancellation terms are and, if necessary, set your self a future reminder (in the case above this would be 9 months into the 12 month contract) and, unless you are sure you want to retain the service, make sure you give notice of cancellation in good time. If you do want to stick with the service. you can normally rescind your notice at any time up to the actual ed of the contract with no penalty.

3. Early Renewal

In our experience this is common with Energy contracts – not exactly IT but still annoying With gas & electricity supply, to get the best rates you normally have to commit to a minimum 12 month contract. This is fine but then around 9 months into that contract, you will receive a letter from your supplier inviting you to take out a new contract at the end of the current contract. The catch is that you have to respond to this letter within around 21 days of receipt and if you don’t you are automatically signed up for the next year – even though you may still have over 2 months of your current contract to run! Top Tip 1: Set a reminder to watch out for the letter and make sure you do something with it. Top Tip 2: Don’t assume that the price they offer you in the renewal letter is their best price. We consistently find that by ringing up and asking for their best rates we get significantly improved prices.

4. Cancellation Fees

This used to be very common with ISPs and web hosting companies. Not so much now but easy to get caught out. Web hosting is relatively inexpensive nowadays with professional hosting services available from £10 per month or less. This is fine and if you decide to move your hosting to a different supplier (perhaps as part of a wider services package) most web hosts will initiate the transfer with no fuss – they know it happens and it is part of the service. Some however, still hold the notion that it is OK to charge £30 or more as a cancellation fee. Bear in mind that the work to initiate the transfer will probably take the service provider less than 2 minutes! Top Tip: Check for cancellation fees before you sign up and if there are any charges that look unreasonable – go elsewhere!

5. Web Marketing services contracts using finance agreements

There is no question that marketing is speculative process and it doesn’t always work. It is important that any marketing campaign is given time to flourish but there are limits! We came across a ‘so called’ web marketing company who promised the earth with regular leads and, what is more, a money back guarantee! How could anyone resist such an offer? The only problem was that the cost was around £200 per month and you had to sign up for FOUR YEARS! What is more, you actually had to sign a finance agreement for the whole amount which you paid off over the 4 years. If the service was that good they shouldn’t need to tie clients in. The results should speak for themselves and encourage people to stick with it. They used the lure of fantastic promises in the hope that people wouldn’t notice the flaw in their case. Needless to say the ‘money back guarantee’ had enough wriggle room that it was rarely, if ever, enforceable. Top Tip: Don’t do it!