Tuesday, December 8, 2009

How hard is your newsletter working for you?

It's been a while since my last blog. I just finished up with the Idaho Hoops Preview, a project that I've done each of the last four years. Check it out by CLICKING HERE

This post is about some research I did around email marketing. Specifically our electronic newsletter. A big part of Idaho Select's relationship building is through our newsletter. Producing it is not easy, requiring several hours each week. To make sure that my efforts in email marketing campaigns are maximized, I dug into the newsletters that we've sent out since August. My goal was to find what worked best and what wasn't working. 

The following analysis is based on seven newsletters sent out every second and fourth week of the month (CLICK HERE to learn a bit more about the newsletter). I use Constant Contact to track my emails. I can see who is opening them, where they are clicking, etc. It's not rocket science and never 100% accurate but the results do help me gauge how the campaigns are doing.

Any successful newsletter knows its readership and builds trust. The Idaho Select Newsletter is finishing up year number two so we've been building that trust for a while now. The results presented here are based only on our numbers.

How does our newsletter measure up to others? There is no true apple to apple comparison with industries since calculations and definitions vary. And, Idaho Select doesn't nicely fall into a standard category such as an accounting company or a law firm. But, we are in the top 20% of most standard categories, no matter which one you look at. You can look at your own industry by clicking here for Mail Chimp and here for Constant Contact. If I was forced to put us in a category, we probably fit best in Sports & Recreation or Marketing/Event Planning.

Getting more people to open your email
Headline vs. Sender vs. Timing

When I started the newsletter two years ago, the data that was out there all suggested you send emails Tuesday-Thursday between 8:30am-11:30am to get the most people to open them. This seems pretty accurate except for the time of day. All of the emails were sent on either Tuesday or Wednesday between 9:30am-3:30pm. There was no real difference in open rates based on day or time.

The next factor was the subject line. All of them had "Newsletter" in them along with other details. This didn't seem to factor into open rates either. The lowest rate we got was when we used the word "free" and "Twitter". Likely "free" activated spam blockers. I'm not sure on "Twitter" other than it appears my subscription list just isn't interested in that form of social media.

The one big factor appears to be who the email was from. In an effort to make the newsletter scalable, I switched the From: line to newsletter@idahoselect.org from vince@idahoselect.org. This long term strategy hurt the open rate initially, dropping it nearly 7%. I believe that the new address triggered spam filters and wasn't recognized by our readers as a worthwhile open. Though we have continued to get better open rates (the latest was 28.5%) we still haven't gotten back to anything over 30%.

Call to action
The Idaho Select Newsletter has two basic goals: create credibility and drive traffic to our website. The credibility comes through the consistent delivery of relevant content. We create web traffic by peaking interest and providing a link to a page.

Obviously, the more interesting the content the more likely it will be clicked. Here are a couple of things that help in our newsletters.
  1. Make the link a "CLICK HERE" link or a "check it out here" link. It tells them what to do and where to do it.
  2. Using the word "preview", "iconic", "winners" and "rankings" in or near the link drove up the click through rate.
  3. Put the link you most want clicked in the first paragraph. The first link in our newsletter gets clicked on 17.6% of the time. The second drops down to less than 6%.
  4. Build on the popular. Our section "Top 5 Links From The Last Issue" tend to get a great repeat click through rate. These are obviously interesting but I think people are always curious as to what other people are looking at.
  5. Combining any of these methods increases the effectiveness by more than an additive factor. In other words, put a link that has "CLICK HERE for rankings" in the first paragraph and your click through rate jumps way up.
Some things to avoid
  1. Don't just list the URL. For example, http://mysportsaffair.blogspot.com was not obvious enough to get anyone to click on it. They either didn't know it was a link or didn't know what to do with it.
  2. The last link rarely gets any clicks. The last link in our newsletters gets less than a 2% click through rate. There's really nothing you can do about this since one of your links has to be last. Just be aware that unless it's also the first link, it may be lonely.
What I didn't expect
  1. Links to video alone doesn't create a higher click through rate. The only way is if the reader thinks the video connects to them.
  2. Feel good headlines don't appear to move the needle. Those headlines generate about the same click through rate as a coach or player blog, camp or event. Not bad, but also not special.
Now what?
First, future newsletters will reflect the items that work. Second, Constant Contact provides a list of everyone's email that opens each email, who clicks where and who is getting bounced. If I had an intern I would have them track down everyone that was not opening the email or being bounced and find out what was going on. Third, there is a monetary value associated with these stats. They can tell who is going to product pages and sponsor pages. Since these are voluntary clicks they show the value of the newsletter. The goal here is understanding the best way to use them. Can they drive up the value of a sponsorship? Can they be used to determine an ROI on the newsletter? Ultimately, it is the answer to these questions that will determine where Idaho Select goes with the newsletter. When I find out, I'll be sure to post those here as well.

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    How to get the absolute best return on your investment in sports

    It hit me, and anyone else watching Cleveland at Miami on TNT tonight, that there is a simple three step formula to getting the best return on your endoresement investment.

    There is always the verbal power of endorsements. And then there is the action form.

    Step 1: sign a big name to be the spokesperson for your product like Dwyane Wade.

    Step 2: have said spokesman absolutely posterize Anderson Varejao during a broadcast. Let the YouTube video go viral. What this clip didn't show was their close up of the shoe after he did this.

    Step 3: make sure you have a great accountant to count your money

    Yep, its that easy. Somehow, Michael keeps finding a way to win.

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    No - the next best answer to yes

    The biggest waste of time in any negotiation is when someone you think is a potential partner turns out to be a "no in waiting". These are the people that keep saying things like, "yeah, that sounds interesting. I'll take a look at that" when what they really mean is, "I'm not interested but I'm afraid that if I say no it will be uncomfortable, you won't like me and it will end our relationship." So, do yourself a favor. Lay it out there from the beginning and put them at ease. Maybe's aren't always genuine and at some point no is the next best answer to yes.

    Lay it out
    The biggest hurdles to getting a no is your ego (you are convinced you can sell everyone) and the prospect's fear of your response (anger, disappointment, resentment, etc). Your ego is your problem. But you can help the prospect get into their comfort zone.

    Assuming that you have qualified the prospect (always the first step), you will get a feel in the first 15 seconds about whether this person is comfortable in their role, especially if they are the decision maker. Uncomfortable people tend to tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. So lay things out early.

    Some sales people will disagree with this tactic, but I'm a believer. As soon as I sense the person may be avoiding uncomfortable topics like price, terms, etc. I will generally try to put them at ease - with brutal honesty.

    For example, things like sponsorship in Idaho Select Basketball, participating on one of our teams, building our website or producing our jerseys requires a level of honesty and customer service that not everyone can adequately provide. I get this notion in front of the prospect right at the beginning. Because the truth is, if they can't provide what I need (money, quality, honesty, etc.) then we shouldn't be working together.

    But I also let them know that if they can't give me what I need or vice versa, they can tell me no without any risk. It won't change the way I think of them (in fact I'll respect them more), it won't affect any future opportunities and I'm not going to suddenly stop liking them. And, as long as they do it professionally, I mean all of these things.

    Once we establish these ground rules, meetings generally go better and we can make some progress.

    Don't take it personal
    In May 2006, I was in Dallas for some NBA sales training and they brought in a guy named Rubenstein. When he was selling, his goal was to get the prospect to say "I'm not interested" as fast as possible. His philosophy on sales was that at some point, the person you are selling will know they aren't going to buy from you. So why continue to try and sell them if they aren't going to buy? If the person wants to buy, continue. If they don't, get it out of them and move on.

    The fact is, in efficient sales you will likely hear no way more than you will hear yes. That includes the best salespeople. If you take it personally you will end most sales calls a little more beaten down and will become less and less effective. Never take it personally. Like all the great sharp shooters in the NBA, you have to have a short term memory. Forget your last missed shot and get ready to make the next one.

    Lost sales?
    I can hear the comments going through some sales people's heads. "If you are letting them say no, you are leaving money on the table." True, you could twist their arms and make them uncomfortable to the point of submission. But the only benefit is in the short term. And if these are the only people that you can sell to, you should consider expanding your reach.

    I'm writing this from the perspective of someone that is thinking long term and committed to being a great sales person. Your goal is to make the most money for as long as you can. If you knowingly sell the wrong product to someone in exchange for a quick buck, you will never sell them anything again. They won't trust you, your reputation will follow you and eventually you will burn all your bridges. Better to get a no and move on to the next yes.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    QUICK TIP: Always give an F.U.

    Generally speaking, a good F.U. is a smart move. Sometimes, you might even do it twice.

    Every single one of us is busy, especially those of us in sales. But what about the people that we call on? They are even busier and that's why a F.U. (follow up) is crucial to closing deals.

    Have you ever heard of a "one call close"? You know, you call on a potential client and they agree to a deal the first time you talk. These are incredibly rare. No one closes a substantial deal without establishing trust and this requires more than one interaction. The problem is, no matter how sweet the deal you offer them, you will be forgotten about 10 minutes after you walk out the door. Don't expect a call back - ever. It's nothing personal. Just the way things work.

    This is why you must get aggressive. The second you walk out of your meeting or hang up the phone, schedule your first follow up. Put it in your calendar and then move on to your next sales call. But make sure you follow up.

    Then, after your first follow up (call, appointment, email, etc.) schedule your next one.

    Keith Rosen wrote an interesting article on the follow up. His point is don't just say "Hi, we spoke before. What's up?" He states have a purpose. And while I don't recommend making it as cheesy and scripted as some of the examples, the point is good. I suggest using the follow up to create some urgency.

    Here's my strategy. The first phone call or meeting is just me qualifying the person, making sure I'm not wasting my time. But assuming that there is potential, my first follow up will be about 3 days later with a phone call (this doesn't count the summary email I send immediately following our meeting). At that point I'm trying to answer questions that have come up, addressing any questions they have and trying to get a date to close any deal we might be working on (this includes securing an event, contracting a website or whatever). This simple process continues until one of the following: we close the deal, they tell me no (which is the next best answer to yes) or I decide that this deal will not happen. Regardless of the outcome, it all happens by giving a sincere F.U.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    The power of endorsements

    Last weekend, I randomly stopped by a cell phone store to pick up a charger for my wife. And in a show of excellent customer service, the guy that helped me went the extra mile to get me what I needed with the support to back it up. So the next day, I posted my experience on Facebook, in case any of my friends were interested. The next thing I know, a buddy of mine that saw the post went to this store and bought two new phones and service plan for himself and his wife. Before he saw the post, he didn't even know the store was there.

    That's the power of an endorsement. Obviously, I'm not famous. But he trusted me and that was enough to at least consider the option.

    We see endorsements all the time, but do they actually work? Consider the following two examples.

    On Thursday,  October 15, I was listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio. His show, The Herd, is a nationally syndicated sports talk show and Cowherd is a humorous host that comes across as genuine. Presumably on a whim (though I guess we never really know what is on the script) he found a YouTube video of a jumbo jet that nearly decapitates a bunch of people on its landing. The video, originally posted April 12, 2008, had amassed 236,040 views and 357 comments prior to October 15, according to YouTube stats. Cowherd talked about the video on his show for about three minutes, offered some search terms and posted a link on the show's website. In less than 24 hours the number of views went up 18.3% (to 279,440) and the comments increased by 20.7%, most of which thanked Colin for pointing out the video or simply promoted his show. The number of views has now passed 307,500, a 30% increase.

    Another example: I was listening to Jim Rome on his sports talk show. Rome is an edgy host and has gained his loyal followers by being a bit more controversial. But he is also considered genuine. Rome mentioned one of his listeners had a Twitter account with only 12 followers. At his urging he drove the number of followers to over 260. While a 248 person increase may not seem like a lot, consider that it could only affect those listeners that happened to hear what was said in those specific 5 seconds AND had a Twitter account AND were sitting at a computer during those 5 seconds. Not bad.

    Strong endorsements come from people that have built up trust. Powerful endorsements combine that trust with some form of celebrity. And while the endorsement may not actually cause an action, it will at least put whatever is being sold into the consideration set.

    If you are thinking about using someone to endorse your product or service, consider the following: are the endorser's fans/listeners/friends in the same market that you are seeking? What is the endorser's reach? And, most importantly, how much is it going to cost you?

    In the case of the cell phone store, it took me very little time to post it on Facebook. In the case of Cowherd and Rome, it cost them a few seconds of their air time. All parties delivered on their promises and even built their trust. And the people that benefited got what they expected and will probably continue to listen.

    By the way, the cell phone store was the Verizon dealer, MyBullFrog.com located at 520 S. Meridian Rd., Suite 100, Meridian, ID. Thanks Brian!

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Sports social networking next phase in communication

    At this point the words Twitter, Facebook and Linked In have become commonplace in our world. If you don't have an account with one of them, you probably know someone that does. But how are these tools being integrated into sports? And, are they achieving any success?

    Social networking is another way of starting conversations. In the case of sports, these conversations revolve around fans and participants to make their experiences better, create awareness and ultimately drive sales.

    With the majors (NBA, MLB, NFL and NHL), starting conversations is fairly simple given their large and strong fan bases. (Here is an article from USA Today about NBA players and Twitter and another one from Yahoo and Ball Don't Lie) But for minor league teams, starting these types of conversations can be more difficult. And, unlike their major league counterparts, they likely don't have the same amount of resources to establish conversations.

    The advantages of using these tools are clear. First, it is cheap. Basic services are free and easy to set up. Second, the work can be done from anywhere and anytime as long as you have internet or a mobile application. Of course, with any tool, the rewards only come when there is a clear strategy and a commitment to use it.

    Minor League Usage
    We spoke with a few minor league teams to see how they are utilizing the social networking tools. The Idaho Steelheads (hockey), Idaho Stampede (basketball) and Boise Hawks (Baseball) are all using social networking in different ways.

    For the Steelheads, the social networking responsibilities appear to be split between marketing and public relations, providing a mix of team news and fan interaction. Their passionate fan base seems to be utilizing the hockey team's offerings based on the number of interactions they receive.

    The Stampede are just getting into this realm. Their goals are to create more awareness and generate fan interactions. In the future, they also indicated that they will explore targeted promotions and experiment with how these tools can expand their in game production.

    Probably the most promising usage is from the Boise Hawks. They definitely have the most well defined social networking strategy and their goals are ambitious. While they use their full time staff to blog, tweet and post to Facebook they also utilize their intern's channels to push out their messages. The next step for the Hawks is exploring Linked In and the potential benefits of that platform. The baseball club is also looking toward the future. They see a demise of more standard current channels and are working to establish themselves as their own media outlet.

    All of the teams agreed that MySpace is no longer a social networking channel that they will continue to pursue.

    Evaluating results
    At this point, there is little agreement about the best way to evaluate social networking success in sports. Without a direct tie to profit teams will need to look at the indirect ties such as content sharing, re-tweets, interactions and increased web traffic. These all give an indication of the depth that fans are digesting the information.

    Some of the tangibles like number of followers, fans, and subscribers are helpful to analyze the reach of awareness but fail to measure the depth of the reach.

    In the end, it appears that these new tools are just that - tools. Like any tool, your success depends on how well you use it. But there are lots of tools in the bag and right now it is hard to tell which one is the best tool to use.

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Where does this rank in email promotion?

    I had to share this email. I have my thoughts on it but wanted to put it out there and get your take on it. Is it powerful? Does it motivate? Is it from a bully?

    BACKGROUND: I signed up for a webinar on Social Media about a week ago. The webinar was yesterday. At about 6:30 PM Mountain Time two days prior to the webinar (Monday night), I got the following email:



    I'll cut straight to the chase - in order to attend the "What To Do When You're Overwhelmed with Social Media" webinar hosted by myself and Jon Morrow (from copyblogger.net) you must register at this link:
    [website I've taken out]

    We currently have just over 900 on this list and only 1,000 spots on gotowebinar so definitely sign up now and sign in to the webinar at least 10 minutes early to guarantee your spot.

    Again here are the details:


    "What To Do When You're Overwhelmed with Social Media"

    Date: Wednesday, October 7th (aka this Wednesday!)
    Time: 1pm pacific / 4pm eastern
    Registration Link: [website I've taken out]


    There WILL be a recording made available afterward but if you're interested in Jon's special offer (I bet you can guess what it is by reading here) you'll want to do whatever you can to be there live.

    I'm finalizing what I want to share with you right now and I promise you the content is going to be KILLER - and different from all the party lines you've been fed about social media.

    I'll see you on Wednesday!

    - Laura

    Follow me on twitter at [website I've taken out]

    P.S. If you want to get on my main list to keep up with everything I'm doing and receive a social media marketing how-to every week sign up at [website I've taken out]


    So what do you think? Over the top? Hits the mark? Please share your comments.