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Why do businesses send such stupid emails?

Six out of ten marketing emails never get opened

Email marketing Are marketers plain daft or just lazy? They can only be one or the other. Surely they know that personalising their email marketing initiatives is what is needed to engage people. That’s not news, after all. Neither is it some amazing fact that would surprise even the most green of marketers. So why is it that most emails sent out by brands are not personalised? Either the companies don’t know that personalisation is essential or they can’t be bothered. And if they can’t be bothered, why should we be bothered to open their emails?

In fact, we don’t bother. A recent study found that the average inbox contains 250 unopened marketing emails from companies and brands. The majority of these emails are from companies which the recipients signed up for – they are not unwanted spam. So why do they remain unopened?

The survey revealed some key factors behind the extent of unopened, yet requested, emails:

  • The emails contain irrelevant information
  • The content is not personalised
  • The subject lines are boring

Now, forgive me if I am being stupid myself, but aren’t these obvious reasons for failure? Isn’t it clear to marketers that every email they send should be personalised, contain relevant information and have a subject line that makes people want to open it? That’s all kind of obvious isn’t it?

So why aren’t companies doing the obvious? Are they daft or lazy?

The web is focused on the wrong thing

One reason why companies may not care that most of their emails lay unopened and unseen is because the web focuses our minds on “traffic”. Everywhere you look there are little signs saying how many people shared this, how many followers this page has or how many people watched something. On top of this businesses have analytics which tell them how many people opened something, how many of them used particular search words and how many of them clicked on something.

We are surrounded by data which is about “how many”.

So email marketers gain success by ever increasing the size of their mailing list; they concentrate on getting more and more people to subscribe. That produces nice graphs for management meetings showing an upward trend. Then they look at “open rates” or “click through rates” and get depressed by how few people actually engage with what they send out. Then someone produces some spurious statistic saying that even this low open rate is much better than was ever achieved with printed direct mail. So, the meeting then goes back to “the only way we can get more sales is to get more subscribers” – and so the circle is completed; businesses believe that the main solution to their problem with email marketing is getting a bigger list.

Yet the recent study shows that the majority of those 250 unopened emails would get opened if they had interesting subject lines, were personalised and contained relevant information. And that suggests you could make more money without expanding your mailing list but by doing “the obvious” when it comes to marketing.

Marketers are not stupid; they know what to do. The problem is they are surrounded by desires to increase numbers of recipients, rather than increase conversion rates from existing subscribers.

True, many businesses are improving their email marketing to deal with the conversion issue. But as this survey reveals the vast majority of businesses are not. If they were dealing with the issue, there would not be 250 unopened emails in our inboxes.

Categories: Email

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Being available is more important than being different

Focusing on product choice or social networks is less important

Anyone in business needs to differentiate themselves from the competition. So it is inevitable that businesses try to produce services or products that have an “edge” that set them apart. It means that companies spend months working out just what they need to do to be different. Apple, for instance, has spent the past year or two working on the iPhone 6 and its new smartwatch, just to make it seem different. Even though Apple is hugely successful, this focus on difference is not working. After all, the smartphone market is dominated by Android phones which now sell twice as many times as iPhones. Once the dominant force in the smartphone market, iPhones are now fading.

One of the crucial differences is availability. The iPhone is not available in every phone shop, whereas you can get a wide selection of Android devices. Furthermore if you want support for you iPhone, your local phone shop will send you off to the Apple Store or to the Apple website. But no matter what kind of Android phone you have, you can get support from any phone shop, there and then with the convenience of immediacy.

New research shows it is this kind of availability that is more important to customers than the product itself. Furthermore, showing you are customer centric by increased availability is more important to customers than having an online community. Whilst many businesses are spending time developing new product ideas and features, or building social media empires, their customers just wished they could phone them.

Graph showing what makes a company customer centric

The research is based on asking marketers what they believe to be the most important from their knowledge of their own customers. It shows us that companies know what is really important – being available to help customers, being present in the “here and now” and responding fast to queries. However, many companies are avoiding doing the very things they know to be important because these cost money – whereas they can build a social media campaign and think they are doing something for customers at a relatively low cost.

The issue is this. Social media activity or providing new and innovative features are important for any business; but they are not as important to showing your customers you care about them as making sure you are available for them. That’s why “live chat” facilities on websites really help, as does having a prominent phone number and being able to answer that phone 24 hours a day.

One of the problems of the Internet is that it gives an illusion of closeness to customers, but how close really are you? If you spend all your time creating social media content and not actually speaking to customers and being available on their terms, you are not really as close as you think.

Categories: Online Business

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How to maintain long-distance social relationships

Being humble maintains distant connections

social network superimposed on world mapThese days, many of your business contacts are long-distance. Even if they are actually not that far away, a great deal of your communication is effectively long-distance because much of it is mediated through the Internet. Goodness, we have all probably seen people email the person sitting next to them, rather than actually talk…!

The problem with long-distance relationships of any kind is that they are easier to break up than when you are really physically close to someone.

Interesting new research, admittedly looking at romantic relationships, gives us a clue as to how we need to behave online if we want to maintain those long-distance connections with business colleagues, customers, associates and so on.

The study found that relationships were much more likely to be maintained when the partners were humble. This was especially the case in long-distance relationships.

Being humble

What the research means is that online we need to be less arrogant, less full of ourselves and less wanting to be right all the time. You see a great deal of that kind of behaviour on social networks and what it seems to do is drive people away, rather than attract them.

Being humble also means accepting that you might be wrong, that the other person may be superior to you or know more than you and that they might be better than you.

In short, it is about treating other people in the way we would like to be treated. It comes back to the same old argument – see things much more from the other person’s perspective and your relationship will be maintained.

Categories: Social

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Why some people hate social networking and what to do about it

Networking with other people makes us feel “dirty”

Network of People - Communication LinksIn spite of the billions of users of social networking sites almost all of those account holders are bystanders. Most people on social networks are “lurkers” – people who lurk in the shadows and watch what other people are doing but without taking part in it themselves. The bulk of social networking is actually done by a relatively small number of people.

Given the vast amount of articles, blog posts and videos online all demonstrating the significant benefits of networking you would expect the number of people taking an active part to be much higher than it actually is. Almost all Tweeting, for instance, is done by just 5% of the people on Twitter.

So why do people sign up, but then give up?

The answer could be found by considering what you might call “real world” networking. You know the kind of thing, business events where you turn up to meet like-minded people and get to know potential clients, suppliers or introducers. Most businesses do not go to such events. Furthermore most of the people there are also “lurkers”; they turn up, grab a coffee and a sandwich, be polite to people and leave having listened to a speaker or watched a demonstration of something. Most people who go to real world business networking events don’t actually “network” either.

Whether you look at online social networks or real world social networks the same behaviour is being repeated. People tend to lurk and not take an active part.

There is only a relatively small amount of psychological research on networking, but a recent study shows why this lack of networking is happening. It turns out that networking with other people makes us “feel dirty”. For some reason we don’t yet understand, social networking in the real world is perceived somewhat negatively by many people because it makes them feel impure in some way. That might also explain the extent of lurking in online social networks.

The research also showed that the people who don’t have feelings of being dirty are the ones in most power, usually the ones who don’t need to network in the first place.

But an intriguing part of this study was in finding what made people feel OK about networking.

It transpired that the people who do not have these physical or moral objections to networking were the ones who went to business events and gave something. In other words, you do not feel dirty and take a more active part in social networking when you give, rather than when you take. It is the going to networking events and seeing them as something which you take from that triggers the feelings of physical dirtiness, it seems.

So what does that mean for online social networking?

It suggests that the more you share, the more you provide information, the more you give other people, the better it will be for you. Social networking is not about taking, It is about giving.

Categories: Social

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Nude photo hacking reveals problem for your business

Kelly Brook amongst celebrities who had pictures exposed

Kelly BrookNude photos of celebrities were made available online yesterday by a Russian hacker who managed to find a flaw in the Apple “iCloud” service which backs up the content on iPhones and iPads. It took him just two hours to find the weakness and break into accounts to download the naked images.

Quite apart from the issue as to why famous people are having naked pictures of themselves taken on their iPhones, this situation lays bare a significant problem with technology. And it is a problem that can just as easily affect online businesses as celebrities.

The problem is not that programmers leave holes in their software allowing hackers in. Nor is it that there are evil people around trying to break into accounts and steal things. The real issue is trust.

We trust Apple. That trust was clearly misplaced because a mistake in its software allowed its customers’ private images to be stolen.

You doubtless have lots of technology which you trust. Do you know what your laptop actually does to secure your data and information? Has the manufacturer installed some kind of so-called security system which enables you to log-in so that no-one else can get into your system? If they have, what data does it store on its web servers? What information of yours is “in the cloud” to enable such security systems to work?

Similarly, are you completely, totally, 100% certain that the cloud backup service you use is trustworthy and that it has no flaws?

Or is your smartphone so secure that no-one can log into it using, say, Bluetooth, when you are in their vicinity?

Technical mumbo jumbo

The problem is confounded by the fact that most technical firms speak to us in a foreign language. They explain their services in jargon-rich pages which our eyes gloss over and which does not get understood. Instead, we assume that they are doing the right thing and that their massive brand means they will be safe. We don’t even understand what the machine or software is doing, we just know what it does for us.

The result is that people have no real idea as to what the technology they use is capable of, or where its weaknesses may lie.

Legal mumbo jumbo

On top of all this, when you sign up for a service you are faced with thousands of words of legal jargon which you have to accept if you wish to use the service. Have you read the 14 pages of  A4 of just one of the privacy agreements which you have “signed” and accepted from Facebook? Do you realise, for instance, that as a user of Facebook you have agreed that they can retain data about you, transfer their “rights” in that data to any future owner of the company and use that data in any way they wish including in ways that have not yet been invented. Yes, that’s what everyone on Facebook has to accept to use it. It is “explained” in that 14 pages of legal stuff.

What this kind of thing means – together with technical information that only makes sense to a computer scientist – is that the general user of online services simply uses the features that they find beneficial and trust the brand will do everything “right”. But many of these big brands assume you know the technicalities and assume you have read the legal stuff.

Your business is at risk

Online, your business data is at the same level of risk as a nude picture of Kelly Brook. You will have “agreed” to let any number of companies upload your information, store it and use it in some way. You might not even be aware that this is happening. Nor are you probably aware of what you can do technically to stop it. Most people just click on the “agree” box and start to use whatever online service it is.

Here’s what we should demand from the high tech industry:

  • Explanations and help files written for a reading age of around 9 years old. Currently, much of what they write is degree level stuff. In order for us to “get” what they are doing, it needs to be easily accessible when we read in a hurry and that means the reading age of a tabloid newspaper.
  • Legal agreements that are less than 100 words and which are also written with a low reading age.

In other words, we need information and agreements that are “human”, devoid of jargon and understandable by everyone. The web and tech industries think they make things simple – but all they have really done is lower things from PhD level to around Masters level. They have a long, long way to go before people truly understand what is happening and what rights are being assumed.

High tech firms are hiding behind the mumbo jumbo they perpetuate leaving us with the only option of trusting companies because of their brand. But as the nude picture incident shows, even the world’s top brand could not be trusted to protect its customers, leaving a gaping hole in its security which was blown open in a morning.

Just because we trust a brand, does not mean our data is safe with them. It’s about time they started to earn their trust and that means they need to dramatically improve their clarity of communication.

Categories: Online Business

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