The (Online Marketing) Nightmare Before Christmas

John Hayes

John Hayes iContact

The following is a guest article from a colleague & friend John Hayes from who is the EMEA Business Development Executive for iContact

You may have seen us talking at the eSellerPro conference last week, soon you’ll hear us talking as we’ve got some topical debates planned.

More on that later, for now, email marketing is one of the most measurable & powerful forms of marketing there is. Look out for the Return on Investment stats in the article, 300% is a whopper and has John’s top tips for your Christmases marketing campaign.

Also note that the links to iContact are not affiliate links, I’ve personally agreed to it being published here, because I feel its that important that you participate. 

The (Online Marketing) Nightmare Before Christmas

As we edge towards the busy Christmas trading period, online marketers will be bombarded with advice on how to maximise results over the festive season. For many businesses, Christmas represents the greatest opportunity of the year to profit from their marketing activity. However, Christmas also represents a significant threat to online businesses, if they follow the wrong advice.

Perhaps the most common piece of misguided advice offered to small and medium-sized enterprises looking forward to a profitable Q4 is to drastically increase their online marketing spend. At first glance, this seems perfectly sensible. It follows the age old adage, “The more you tell, the more you sell”. But it also ignores the equally wise tenet, “Don’t be a busy fool”.

Let’s look at some of the risks involved with simply spending more.

You Cannot Afford It

Acquisition channels such as Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising are very expensive and highly unlikely to yield a quick return. To see any kind of profit you’ll need to know your numbers inside out, understand your customers’ lifetime value and have a complete appreciation of multi-touch attribution (i.e. how your campaigns are influenced by other marketing channels).

Big businesses spend a considerable amount of money trying to understand this. Whilst you will want to allocate some budget towards customer acquisition at this busy time, unless you have significant funds to invest in long-term forecasts and sophisticated analytics, this is not the approach you should follow if you want to see profits THIS Christmas.

You Haven’t Got the Resources

When you throw a considerable amount of money at a highly visible channel you should expect to get real busy, real quick. Have you got the warehouse space, stock and staff on hand to cope with a sudden upturn in business?

You should also remember that your competition is playing the same game, forcing marketing costs up and putting additional pressure on margins. If you are forced into this “race to the bottom” you’ll either be compelled to lower prices accordingly or risk being left holding stock. If this happens your additional investment into staffing and logistics will only add to your problems.

Your Reputation Cannot Stand the Risk

Any number of challenges can stand to ruin your reputation if you drop the ball at Christmas. If your prices are visibly higher than your competitors, you’ll be hard pushed to win business back from the discount traders. If you run out of stock you’ll be seen as unreliable, as well as wasting money driving traffic to web pages that will never convert. Increased spend will push your warehouse to the limit. Fail to deliver on time at Christmas and you’ll go down in history alongside the Grinch.

In the UK last year (due to adverse weather conditions) 17% of gifts bought online failed to arrive before Christmas. The public are an unforgiving bunch and are more likely to apportion blame at your doorstep than the weatherman’s if their gifts are delayed. In this case, you could find yourself actually paying to tarnish your own reputation?

Smart Marketers Wish for Many Happy Returns

Paying to acquire new customers is just the start of a relationship. This is why smart marketers surround themselves with friends at Christmas. They have worked hard to gain their trust and will have invested heavily (and not necessarily just in terms of cash) to keep them.

Smart marketers win and keep their friends by offering the following:

  • Amazing product knowledge and advice
  • Stellar customer service
  • Great deals (a mixture of price and service and not just the cheapest unit costs)
  • An open forum for conversation between the marketer and the customer

Sounds easy – right? Well, that’s because it is.

Most marketers will already be very familiar with two of the most common online tools required to maintain great customer relationships. It’s highly likely you are using them (to some degree) already.

Email Marketing + Social Media – The Gift Which Keeps On Giving

Email Marketing remains the most cost effective online marketing tool in terms of Return on Investment available to marketers today.  Unlike costly acquisition channels like PPC, Email Marketing is a retention tool and as you already know, it is much cheaper to retain an existing customer than win a new one.

So how effective is email marketing in terms of profit generation. Well that depends on a number of factors but a recent survey conducted by eConsultancy in the UK suggests that 63% of companies using Email Marketing saw a Return on Investment of greater than 300%.

Email’s strength lies in the fact it is invited and therefore welcomed by the recipient. The ease with which a subscriber can opt-in and out of receiving emails also ensures unwanted email does not tarnish your reputation. Carefully segmented lists mean that marketers can afford to get straight to the point and promote products and services with an extremely relevant message.

Having a well-segmented list should also mean you are sending out high-frequency campaigns whilst not clogging up subscribers’ in-boxes. Finally the in-box environment also ensures emails are kept and can be referenced multiple times rather than appearing and disappearing (as your budget dwindles) on the major PPC networks.

When looking at building profitable relationships THIS CHRISTMAS Email Marketing should be the number one weapon of choice in your online marketing arsenal. But the reach of Email Marketing doesn’t stop at your subscribers’ inbox. Thanks to social media, Email Marketing has become supercharged.

By incorporating simple social media tools into your email campaigns allows you to harness the power of your customers’ network of friends and followers on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Suddenly your campaigns, shared across multiple peer networks, become viral and the reach of email marketing campaigns increases drastically.

Could it get any better?

How about if I told you extending the reach of your email marketing with the power of Social Media is FREE.

Still not convinced? Ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Do I have customers that love my products and appreciate my service?
  2. Would I benefit from more customer referrals and repeat business?
  3. Am I spending too much money on acquiring new customers and too little time with my existing customers?
  4. Do I want to see a return on my investment This Christmas?

If you’ve answered “Yes” to all of the above questions, don’t waste anymore more time. You can start your 30 day Free Trial of iContact’s email and social media marketing software here

The 12 Email Marketing Tips for a Better Christmas

Tip #1 – Be relevant
When putting together the content, never leave yourself outside of the customer’s shoes. From top to bottom, each and every word needs to relate to the customer, or else you’ve lost them.

Tip #2 – Avoid set schedules
You don’t have to stick to sending a newsletter at the same time every month. If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. Missing a “scheduled” email newsletter is better than filling it with useless content with no value for customers.

Tip #3 – Less is more
Select just one offer per email and segment your list accordingly. If you have a range of complementary products, choose a hero product to focus on and add simple links to promote the additional items. Think of your email like a menu in a restaurant – too many dishes to choose from and nothing looks appetizing.

Tip #4 – More is more
Now that you’ve made your campaigns more relevant, it’s time to increase the frequency of your emails. Keep your emails relevant and interesting and your subscribers will welcome the increased touch points.

Tip #5 – Headline News
Your subject line should scream benefits. Think of it in the same way a newspaper editor writes a headline. It should tell the full story and entice the subscriber to read more. Give your subject line as much thought as your body text. Your subject line is your first line of defense between your subscribers and the delete button.

Tip #6 – Automate
Set up auto-responders to automatically deliver a predefined series of messages. These could include welcome messages to new subscribers, online courses or carefully crafted sales messages delivered over a specific period of time.

Tip #7 – Keep it real
Make good use of real text (not graphics) at the top of your email. A graphic-heavy email will appear blank until the subscriber has selected to download the graphics. Real text in the message will remain visible even in HTML emails and entice subscribers to open the complete email.

Tip #8 – Get social
Use your email campaigns to encourage subscribers to engage with your social media activity on Facebook or Twitter. Social media will not replace your email activity but will allow you to build your brand across your subscribers’ social networks.

Tip #9 – Test
Whenever possible, test your subject lines and creatives and then optimize accordingly. Split testing does not have to be complicated. Hit 20% of your list with two different emails and monitor the response. Hit the remaining 80% with the most successful email.

Tip #10 – Cleanse
Take the time to cut the deadwood from your list. Remove bounced email addresses and any names that have not opened any of your mails over a significant period of time. Remember, you are paying to target a list of people who want to receive your emails. Old, dead and unwanted emails are expensive and can damage your reputation.

Tip #11 – Understand what success looks like
A 20% open rate is good, 35% is ideal. Shoot for the latter with a compelling headline that sticks with the customer. That’s your most precious real estate. You have five words, max.

Tip #12 – Register for a free 30 day trail of iContact’s email marketing software here
You’ll have access to all our email and social tools as well as video tutorials and best practice guides. You’ll also have full access to our UK support team and a range of easy to use, customisable email templates to get you started. Could you not wish for a better Christmas present?

Email Marketing. How to Win Friends and Influence People

John Hayes iContact

John Hayes iContact

The following is a guest article from a colleague John Hayes from iContact. I first met John via LinkedIn a few months back and we had a call and laid foundation for further communications.

After meeting John at the NEC for the Internet Retailing conference a few weeks back, it was only natural that when it came to looking at providers for the email marketing campaigns that were being worked on, that iContact would be a natural choice.

When the pricing turned out to be exactly the same as the other parties we were considering and the company being used for the marketing, said, “Yes, our largest client uses iContact”, that was it, the order was in.

As you’ll see from the article below, email marketing, just like business in general really is a personal affair. I’ve enjoyed reading the article, I’m sure you will do too.

Email Marketing – How to win friends and influence people

Put aside all the science around the art of selling for one minute. The first lesson in any sales course should be the basic fact that people buy from people they like.

If you don’t have chemistry with your clients you can kiss goodbye to their business.

As with any relationship, selling is a two-way street. It’s about engaging your clients in a conversation and like any decent conversation it is as much about listening as it is about talking.

In the online environment, where we are all getting more social, this has never been more important. The Shotgun approach to marketing just doesn’t cut it anymore. This is equally as true in a tried and tested medium such as email marketing as it is on the social networks like facebook and twitter.

How to lose friends and disenfranchise people

Bombarding your clients with untargeted, irrelevant and seemingly desperate sales messages will more likely turn your customers into ex-customers than win any repeat business.

Let’s look at an example of how a good deal turned sour when a lazy marketer didn’t want to make friends with me.

Attracted by a cheap park and fly offer at an airport hotel, I booked a family room the night before an early morning flight leaving the car in the hotel car park for the duration of my vacation. The hotel experience was OK, with smooth transfers to and from the airport, and I was more than happy with the cost which was only slightly more expensive than a week’s parking at a nearby airport car park.

And then the emails started arriving.

Seaside breaks, city breaks, wedding packages, free dinning, two nights for the price of one, turkey and tinsel Christmas breaks, happy hours – you name it, they sent it. Relentlessly. I received an email from them every single day until eventually I hit the unsubscribe button.

It was as if they were desperate for my business (I guessed they were having cash flow problems). They didn’t take the time to get to know me and swamped me with offers I just wasn’t interested in. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth and I’ll probably never stay with them again.

How they could have won me as a friend

The hotel had a lot of information about me and my family. They knew my home address, marital status and the age of my kids. They knew which airport we used, the airline we were flying with and our final destination.

From this information they could have made some educated guesses and targeted their email marketing campaigns more appropriately. They could have even used email to get to know me a little better by following up on my stay with a short survey. Just a little thought and a little targeting and we could have been friends.

Let’s work at this relationship

Email Marketing is perhaps one of the most mature marketing techniques available to today’s online marketers. So why do apparently sophisticated companies continue to blast out irrelevant, untargeted and plain boring emails.

The fact is Email Marketing works. Even for lazy marketers (like the above un-named hotel chain) email remains one of the most cost effective and successful marketing techniques available. Return on investment from Email Marketing can be staggering with an ROI of more than 600% not uncommon. But a failure to effectively target and engage with your customers will ultimately result in failure.

Just because something works in the short-term doesn’t mean it couldn’t be even better in the long term with a little time and effort in building relationships.
You might think you have a great offer that you need to shout about – but when you are selling to your friends the message really shouldn’t be all about you. It should be about your customer’s individual needs, desires and interests. Make them feel part of your business and not just source of income and they’ll stay friends with you for years to come.

John Hayes – iContact, EMEA Business Development Executive

iContact is a purpose-driven company working to make email marketing and social marketing easy so that small and mid-sized companies and causes can grow and succeed.

For a free 30 day trial of iContact’s Email Marketing software visit

Quick Content Creation with MailChimp Webinar @ 9:30 GMT

Update: If you missed it, you can catch up with Dan’s presentation here

For those not aware, I am quite an avid fan of MailChimp, you can see my earlier article on this fab tool Email Marketing, Why & How you Can Set up Your List In Minutes with MailChimp and tonight they have a ‘Quick Content Creation‘ webinar at 9:30 GMT.

It’ll be only 30 minutes, their webinairs are normally really good and they have an array of previous recordings. You can register here for tonight event and you never know, it might provoke you to actually mail out and interact with your email list at such an important time.

See you there!

eBay Its a ‘Trust’ thing : Part 2 – Always Selling

In my earlier article where eBay and Amazon were being compared directly (you can see the article here eBay V’s Amazon – Its a ‘Trust’ thing).

Today (was a while back now) at the top of the inbox an email from eBay ‘Who says nothing is for free, username?’ OoO another free listing day, nope, just the spam that we had been expecting from the announcement that eBay were trying to reinforce that trust is an issue on eBay.

eBay Shop With Confidence

eBay Shop With Confidence Mail

Let me be constructive here and let me point out a few things that makes this email more than just spam, but a great email:

  • Its branded towards eBay.
    This sounds like a no-brainer, but I have seen some shockingly crap’n’ugly marketing emails lately that have bared little resemblance of the companies brand. So sounds really daft, but 10/10 for making it look like the corporate brand.
  • A clear message
    Again sounds really daft, but having a simple message to convey is much easier and is responded to much more than some long winded paragraph.
    Keep an eye out on the net for reinforcement lines like these:
    You can Shop With Confidence < Header Line
    We’re Here to Help you < Reinforcement
  • Suggestive Icon
    Now this is the bit I love, the mere ‘suggestion’ that you could ring eBay is a brilliant ‘calmer’. Its like displaying your phone number in listing templates and on the website, the customer probably will never ring it, but feels reassured that its there if needed.
  • Clear Call-To-Action
    Now this is genius and needs to be learnt from. eBay appears, that they did not actually want the reader to read the rest of the information, just tell them that it existed.
    Why? Simple, look at the two call-to-action buttons, the much larger one, the real one, is twice the size of the smaller, on-topic one. If you were give two seconds to click which one would you hit? Now where do you think it goes? Brilliant!

I rant about this a lot, but buyers are idiots, its your job to guide the customer where you want them to go, knowing where you want them to go is paramount, eBay in this case knew exactly what they were doing, pulling a PR trust and safety stunt, BUT pulling off a massive coo, by slipping past mask of the email and turning it into a buying experience. Absolutely brilliant. Now, how do we do that with your email marketing?

Email Marketing, Why & How you Can Set up Your List In Minutes with MailChimp

Don’t have a email marketing list yet? Need a easy to use sign up box to integrate into your shopping cart or your website? Need a solution that is completely ‘Matt Proof’? Simples, MailChimp.

There are several basic options you have when it comes to gaining subscribers, while not exhaustive, these are some common ones to get you thinking:

  • Sign up from your website
  • Sign up as part of the checkout process
  • Adding signup info to outgoing emails (eg eBay & website despatch emails)
  • Information provided in documentation (invoices or flyers)
  • Sign up as part of your companies blog (not got a blog yet? I have a 101 session on this coming shortly)
  • Buying an a ‘list’ of subscribers (not recommended due to cost)

And all bar the last one, can be done using MailChimp, for free. Did I mention FREE? Sign up here, its one of the most painless email marketing forms I’ve ever filled out.

Why Email Marketing?

Wow, this is a stellar one and I could talk all-day, but I will keep it to one line, brace yourselves, its a big one:

They have Opted-In. They have chosen to hear from you, specifically.

Your Options

Mr Mail ChimpThere are other companies out there. I thought Constant Contact was good, they have a decent library of templates but hits the sweet spot here is that MailChimp allow you to make as many sub mailing lists as you want. Meaning you can have a mailing list for different parts of your business and market them differently (eg blog and checkout subscribers).

The other company worth mentioning is AWebber, but and its a big ‘but’, you have to pay a subscription for even a tiny list. Maybe when you have thousands of subscribers, AWebber should be considered, but I’m assuming you’re just starting out and have a grand total of 1 (thats you).

By the way, here are two big-hitter names to drop, Magento & Mozilla; They both use MailChimp.

Registering & Making Your First MailChimp List

As part of the registration process (takes a few minutes, its super easy), you create your first ‘list’, a big tip when doing this is to use this text as a base of your ‘Permissons Reminder’, just swap the domain bit for yours:

You are receiving this email because you opted in at our website http://websitename.ext/ , you may opt out at any time.

Then once done, along the top hit ‘Lists’ and then the sub link ‘For Your Wesbite’ and if you did make more than one list, select the list you want to embed from the drop down box as show below:

MailChimp Code for Your Website

MailChimp Code for Your Website

Now that you have the right list selected hit the link called ‘Signup Form Embed Code’, this gives you a simple sign up box where you can alter the boxes attributes to your own needs.

Copy the code at the bottom and paste into place on your website where you want a sign up box to be added. Simples? Yep.

For advanced users, you can take the form elements and alter at will; Also I suggest you drop the jQuery includes and put them in the header if you ‘really‘ need them.


This is exactly why I am suggesting you use MailChimp, until you get 1,000 subscribers (and yes you will get this and more given enough time), its free.

AWebber is paid for from the start, Constant-Contact gives 90 days, but that still does not match ‘free’. You can of course move to another provider when you topple the 1K mark, but hey, we have only 1 so far (you).

Got WordPress or Another Web Software App, Like Magento?

Even simpler, create your list in MailChimp and then use their ‘plugins’ to integrate directly into your systems back end. I’ve used this on both Magento and WordPress and its soooo easy, set the API key and its pretty much done.

Mail Marketing for Monkeys

MailChimp knows how to cater for email marketing beginners, that’s why they have a fantastic video guide section and weekly 101 sessions. Here is an example:

See I said it was easy.

If you don’t have a mail list started yet, you now have no excuses to set one up, register for free here and get started today.

Need Help?

Still unsure? Already started by getting nowhere? Not sent your first email marketing campaign? That’s what I’m here for, I can help you. We can break your email marketing virginity together and then turn you into a ’email-marketing-campaigns-freak’.

Pre-Season Email Marketing 10 Point Checklist

SnowmenI’d have loved to have claimed this as my own, but thats rather naughty. Check this very useful guide out from Silverpop here.

The key point here is really do not wait to very last moment to turn on your email marketing campaign on, start it immediately!

The 10 points in their checklist are:

  1. Make subscribing as appealing and easy as riding a sled down a hill.
  2. Manage expectations with a holidaythemed welcome program that’s warmer
    than a cup of mulled wine.
  3. Make informed frequency/cadence decisions that won’t freeze out overwhelmed shoppers.
  4. Get customer data together, check integrations and apply list hygiene—in other words, make your list and check it twice
  5. Test message templates and optimise so they’re prettier than a Christmas card.
  6. Create cart-abandonment and browse campaigns that provide quick reminders to distracted shoppers.
  7. Give recipients the gift of choice—offer an unsubscribe preference centre.
  8. Fine-tune your social-sharing initiatives— ‘tis the season to spread holiday cheer, after all.
  9. Optimise transactional emails to offer value beyond generic bah-humbug receipts.
  10. Create a post-purchase email strategy that keeps the holiday spirit going strong through 2011.

So when was the last time you contacted your customers and marketed your USP’s to them?

Don’t even know where to start? No time to even make a start? Know full well its on the to-do listing and it just never gets done?

Easy, contact me at the top of this page, we’ll have a chat and I’ll point you in the right direction (or push, or just plain do it for you) .