Effective digital engagement, best practice strategies, and how to how measure ROI for email marketing
Effective digital engagement, best practice strategies, and how to how measure ROI for email marketing

After attending four regional newspaper circulation conferences across the United States the past three months, I’m surprised at the number of news media companies that have not integrated e-mail communications into their marketing, sales, and service process.

I’m even more amazed by the comments, questions, and opinions I hear from those responsible for growing audience and revenue. Here is a list of common topics or questions received over the past three months with answers and/or opinions for your consideration.

  1. What is the most effective way for news media companies to use e-mail marketing?

    An e-mail address is an audience of one, and, as a result, the most successful e-mail campaigns are those that are targeted at the individual level. Confirming a new subscription start, renewing a subscription or classified advertisement, providing a former subscriber with an offer to re-subscribe – these are all highly effective uses for e-mail communications, generating transactions at a fraction of the cost of other communications channels.

    Dates can be used to time delivery, and subscription information (status, payment method, frequency, etc.) can be used to tailor your message at the individual level to increase relevancy, readership, and response.

  2. What is the least effective way for news media companies to use e-mail marketing?

    Somewhere along the way, the term “e-mail blast” became a popular phrase. The truth is, “blast” is to e-mail as “peanut butter” is to whistling. Sending the same e-mail message to everyone is a great way to waste your money and your audience’s time.

    Worse yet, send an image of your ad instead of taking the time to send text as part of your message. Even worse, don’t provide any link or response option in your e-mail message; just send them a postcard via e-mail.

  3. We don’t have many e-mails. Where can I buy e-mail addresses?

    If anyone offers to “sell” you e-mail addresses, run away! Unlike direct mail or telemarketing lists, e-mail lists are not for sale – at least by legitimate businesses.

    Permission-based e-mail marketing requires an “opt-in” option and that cannot be purchased on the street for so much per thousand. You can find e-mail addresses for contacts you have or had a prior relationship with such as through active subscribers, former subscribers, contest entries, and classified advertisers.

    Appending your customer file with e-mails is a good way to quickly build your opt-in contact e-mail database with match rates ranging from 18% to 30%. The best way to continue to build your opt-in consumer e-mail database is through ongoing promotions, contests, and events, backed by a sustainable process for standardising the information collected and business rules to address exceptions.

  4. What conversion rate and cost per order should we expect from a subscriber acquisition e-mail campaign?

    The success of any direct response campaign – regardless of channel – depends on three things: list, offer, call to action. The best performing audiences for subscriber acquisition e-mail campaigns are former subscribers, followed by transient classified advertisers, and others who are familiar with your brand.

    Having a great list does not ensure success if your “offer” is not meaningful to your target audience. Successful campaigns help consumers understand the value of the offer that is being presented whether positioned as percent savings or so much per day or week.

    While conversion rates vary from .28% to 1.2%, the key number to look at is “cost per order,” which, as a rule, is 30% less than the cost of other subscription sales channels.

    We believe that e-mail marketing should account for 8% to 10% of pressure subscription starts. E-mail marketing starts retain longer – due to their self-service nature – and serve to effectively lower your newspaper’s overall cost per new subscription order.

  5. What is the best day or time to send my e-mail message?

    The smartphone has changed consumer behaviour, and nowhere is that more apparent than access to e-mail communications. While a growing percentage of consumers check their e-mail throughout the day, the best prospects for newspapers in the United States tend to be older and, as a result, tend to check their e-mail with less frequency.

    We’ve tested various days and times for sending e-mails and have not found any significant improvement based on day of the week or time of day. We have found that weather – especially in northern states – has an impact on e-mail open rates and response; campaigns sent during snowstorms have increased open and click-through rates.

    Perhaps more important than timing is the frequency with which you send e-mails. Just as advertisers don’t generally run an ad one time in your newspaper, you should plan on sending a follow up e-mail to those not responding to your initial email message. We’ve found that up to 45% of total orders are derived from a follow-up email sent to those originally not responding. 

  6. We want to send everyone breaking news and news headlines via e-mail. Is there anything we should know?

    First, realise that there are a number of sources for breaking news, and when consumers think “breaking news,” they generally don’t think of newspapers. While there may be a burning desire to send your news headlines to everyone with an e-mail every day, don’t do it.

    Provide consumers the opportunity to opt-in for your breaking news or news headlines, but don’t just send something because you have someone’s e-mail address. When given the opportunity to opt-in for breaking news and headline news e-mails, we have found that less than 5% are interested in participating.

  7. We want to embed images and/or video in our e-mail messages. Is there anything we should consider?

    Don’t embed anything in your e-mail messages as online e-mail service providers (ESPs) don’t generally support embedded items, and providers handle embedded video inconsistently. Your e-mails should have hyperlinks to graphics and links to videos hosted on sites that provide quality playback and audio, such as YouTube.

  8. Will e-mail marketing provide a return on our investment?

    Based on 15 years of experience, the answer is yes. One of the beautiful things about e-mail marketing – any direct response channel for that matter – is that everything is measurable.

    If you know your costs, it is possible to measure cost per contact, opens, click-through rate, and responses for every e-mail campaign. There is no guessing as to whether your e-mail campaign provided a return on your investment.

    When integrated into your other marketing, sales, and service communications channels, e-mail marketing can improve your speed to market, one-to-one targeting, and return on marketing investment.