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Stop Spamming Your Customers Before it's Too Late

I have a bee in my proverbial bonnet this week about a New York-based arts organization that is overwhelming me with marketing emails. I bought my first ticket from them in mid-September, and in the three weeks afterward I received seven untargeted emails. Not the end of the world, you might think, but my relationship with this organization has deteriorated to the point where I’m ignoring their emails or deleting them without reading. If the intention was to start to build a relationship and figure out what I’m interested in, it’s definitely not working!

Despite the emergence of new social platforms, email marketing is still an incredibly effective channel for communicating with your audience – allowing relevant content to be delivered at relevant times for your customers. However, some organizations seem to fall into a trap of assuming that the best way to make an impact is to play the numbers game - in other words, to send everyone everything all of the time and hope some of the emails earn a response. 

So here’s my question for the day: is the cost of your email marketing higher than you think?

You may be accounting for the cost of your email marketing in terms of the money you pay for your email software, and perhaps even the time your marketing team spends creating and sending the emails that get sent out; but are you accounting for the opportunity cost? The cost of eroding your relationship with your audience, and creating a wall of irrelevant noise that your relevant marketing messages can no longer penetrate?

When it comes to email marketing, here are three things that arts organizations should do right this second:

1) Stop spamming your customers and find the frequency ‘sweet spot’

We all know that everyone receives too many emails and no-one reads all of their emails. You may think that your weekly newsletter about upcoming shows is the most important thing to hit your customer's inbox all week, but to many of your customers, it isn't. It will disappear into a long list of emails from online retailers, social networking sites, restaurants, movie theatres, streaming sites, travel companies and much more.

I'd be interested to see some research into this, but my guess is that the more frequently you receive emails from a sender, the less likely you are to open those emails. It's certainly true in my case – after a while I just tune out and attribute the sender as 'noise' rather than 'signal'.

Sidenote: incidentally, these ignored emails may still be counting as 'opens' if the recipient opens the email to delete it – this is the way many people process their emails, especially on devices like iPads and iPhones.

Is the cost of your email marketing higher than think? 

If I've talked to you about this before, I may have shared one of my favorite email marketing examples. I signed up to the ‘Amazon Local’ site when it first launched, and they started sending me emails about offers they thought I'd be interested in. It turns out, I'm not one for local deals, so about two weeks later (at exactly the time the emails were starting to get on my nerves) I received an email from Amazon with the subject line "Goodbye for now". The first line of the email read:

"It looks like you might not be interested in receiving daily deal emails from Amazon Local, so we will stop sending them to you. Instead, we will email you only when we have big news or a national deal that we're sure you won't want to miss."

It worked. When I received emails from Amazon Local afterward, I read every one, and even signed up to some deals. After this email, I trusted Amazon more, not less, to give me information that was relevant to me.

Sometimes I have told this story and been told ‘we don’t dare do this’. My question to you is ‘how can you afford not to?’

Of course, once you resolve to stop sending every one of your emails to everyone in your database, you need to have a strategy for deciding what to send them. This is where parts two and three come in.

2) Figure out what your audience have in common.

Start segmenting your audience – right now. Read our blog post on some basic segmentation techniques you can employ.

This might not be the right model for you – for multi-disciplinary arts centre, a genre or attendance-based model may be better. For others, a socio-demographic or attitudinal approach is better (although may be more complicated or expensive to implement). 

One of the great advantages of email marketing is that there is an in-built ‘feedback loop’ – not only can you send messages to your audience, but you can also see the responses they have to these messages: whether they open the email (and how many times), which links they click on etc. An email segmentation strategy should take account of these responses and use them to tailor the frequency and content of email messages – a recipient who is never opening nor clicking on your emails probably doesn’t need to receive three updates from you each week. But for others, a regular conversation may be entirely appropriate.

I think there are two universal truths when it comes to audience segmentation in the arts: first, the better model you have, the more effective your marketing will be (ie., you will make more money for the same level of investment), although you may see diminishing returns as you move towards more complex models; and second, any form of audience segmentation is better than no segmentation at all. 

There's a great fact-sheet about 'profiling and segmentation' tools on the Indigo website which gives you a starting point for how to approach segmentation.

3) Make your targeted campaigns really targeted.

Once you've got your proactive segmentation strategy in place for your regular email bulletins, you can address the topic of one-off email campaigns. These are always going to be necessary, to promote particular shows, kick off fundraising campaigns, launch a new season, and much more.

But just like your regular email marketing campaigns, these one-off emails won't be relevant to everyone, so start to figure out the most important metrics to use to create your audience for these campaigns:

  • Not everyone will be interested in your upcoming dance performance by a little-known choreographer. Why not target audience members who have proven themselves interested in contemporary work, or willing to take a risk, by looking at their past behavior or – if you have it – their attitude to arts attendance.
  • Not everyone will have the capacity or the inclination to give your organization money. But information like geographic profiling, or even behavioral 'tells' like a previous small donation as part of a ticket order, may be a good indication that a fundraising message will be relevant to a recipient.
  • Not everyone will book their tickets for your season 6-9 months ahead of time. Why not launch your season to the audience who is most likely to be receptive to a 'book now' message because they have already demonstrated to you that they book their tickets significantly in advance of the show date?

James is a Spektrix alumnus.

[Image credit CC]