Guest blogger Amelia Northrup is the Strategic Communications Specialist at TRG Arts, the data-driven arts consulting firm. She previously blogged for TITA from 2009-2011 as she completed her Master of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon. This post is cross-posted on Analysis from TRG Arts.
We’re not buying the bad rap email marketing is getting these days. You’ve heard it all before. Open rates are down. Users often filter emails by sender and ignore unwanted or low priority communications. Sophisticated spam filters are plucking out and putting in quarantine anything resembling a sales message. And sophisticated users, especially those in the Millennial generation, prefer other media.
The offsetting fact is that access to email is greater than ever. Users of all ages have smartphones and tablets that make on-to-go communication easy, convenient, and ubiquitous. And, those worrisome open rates for email? They actually reached a two-year high in the third quarter of 2011.
So, when our clients ask whether it is worth it to continue to use e-mail in marketing and fundraising campaigns, our reply is: Absolutely.
Email is cost-effective. In TRG’s two decades of experience, the most effective way to reach (and sell to) arts and entertainment patrons is via direct marketing. Simply put, direct communications get the right message in front of the right patron at the right time whether the message goes out by snail mail, telemarketing, or email. (Read a case study on this.) Of all direct channels, email marketing is often the cheapest weapon in your arsenal. Social media and other new media channels can help a campaign, but, like radio, TV and other “broadcast” media, it’s far less likely to reach the intended target and make the same sort of impact as a direct, targeted message.
Email plays a crucial role in today’s multi-channel campaigns. We advise a 2-1 punch of direct snail mail with some sort of follow-up by email. That second “touch” via email acts as a “booster shot” to a campaign already in motion—reminding patrons of a deal or deadline and keeping your organization top-of-mind.
So, what makes email marketing effective?
1. Keep complete, clean patron records. In all direct marketing, cleanliness is next to godliness--regardless of the channel you’re using, but especially with email marketing. A patron may move from their home and keep their email address and vice versa. Best practice is to keep each patron’s contact information up-to-date and tied to their home address and to their transaction history with your organization.
2. Update patron records regularly. As a rule of thumb, you should always plan to import fresh lists at the end of each phase of a subscription, membership, and donor campaigns. Also, refresh your records and email lists after each event or program has finished its run. That’s how new patrons and their most recent transactions get added to your lists.
3. Make sure that those who opt out stay out. If your email system is worth its salt, it should automatically take people off your lists who opt out—and keep them out if you inadvertently add them again. But what about patrons who have opted out of all communication with you in your ticketing or CRM system only? You must make sure that your email lists include those opt-outs too.
4. Reserve your right to a one-time email. Opting out from email communication is governed by separate, different standards than are “do not mail” and “do not call” designations. A patron’s presence on one of those mail or call suppression lists need not stop you from emailing. Once there is a business transaction--a ticket sale, donation, purchase of an event--you may email both a confirmation of the transaction and one follow-up communication. Best practice dictates that your one follow-up communication include, prominently, the ability to opt-out from future emails. So, we advise that your follow-up be well-crafted to keep patrons coming back and wanting to hear more from you. (Here are some good examples of follow-up emails from Convio.)
5. Invest time in email data hygiene. It’s a lot of effort to pull lists correctly and import those lists into your email system--not to mention tracking which are current and who is on which lists. (That’s why we love systems that integrate all transactions with email addresses!) The rewards of time you invest in your email data are great: higher open rates, greater response to offer, more engaged patrons. A tool like email, which is direct, cheap and nearly universal, is worth every bit of time you invest, and will be relevant for years to come.