Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Marketing 101: Bare-Bones-ing It With Vertical Response

You no doubt saw that we just launched our new website two days ago, and we wanted to get the word out. How to do that? Send a silly e-mail with a few sentences? How could I know if that was effective?

I turned to one solution - Vertical Response, that I was familiar with, and yes, they have a free trial. I know there are others - eROI, Contant Contact, and so forth. What follows is a step-by-step through the process we undertook to launch the campaign, and just how easy it was - save for gathering the list of people to actually send it to, more on solutions for that later.

So, here we go - promoting the website launch.

(Continued after the Jump)

Below is the top of the webpage (note, every graphic below, when clicked, opens larger in a new window), showing that you're logged in, and giving you the control tabs to work on your campaign.
Click on the "Emails" tab, and on the right, you'll see "New E-Mail". Click that link, and the options below appear. The default is "e-mail wizard", but that option gives you a lot of really funky templates, that I don't think are consistent with a professional-level photographers' website. When I sent out my campaign, I recreated my website as HTML, using the "Freeform HTML" option. For this example, we're going to use the "Email Canvas" choice, so that you can insert a single image that is a screengrab of your website, or a single image of yours you want to showcase.

Then choose "Next Step".
Below you will see the "Email Creation" section. Choose the label that your e-mail will come from, and select a useful subject line. Then, click on the icon with a little tree on it, which is identifed by the bottom red arrow.
If you have an image that is currently on your website somewhere, you can paste the URL into the top entry line. If you've done a screen grab of your site, or have the image on your computers desktop, just choose the "upload image" icon, as noted by the other red arrow.
Below, there were three "Browse" buttons, and you will see that I have filled one up with the JPEG website_facade.jpg. That file will now reside on the Vertical Response server.
Below, you'll now see what my image looks like, within their "My Images" folder.
Double-click on that image and you will see the window below. There, you can change your ALT text from the default filename (as shown) to something like "John Harrington's New Website", or something else. You can tweak other details of the image, like spacing, and so forth, but it's not necessary. You can also take note of the URL for that image in the top line.
Up above you'll see the "Insert" button at the lower right. Click that, and you'll see the image inserted into your email page. At the bottom of the graphic below, you'll see that you need to put in your physical address, as well as other information to be compliant with SPAM laws. Be sure you do this completely.
Next, as shown below, right-mouse (or cntrl) click the image, and choose the "Insert/Edit link", so that if someone clicks on the photo, they will be taken to your website.
Below you'll see where you can type in your URL. Again, this is the URL that someone will be taken to if they click on the graphic. If you encounter any errors, just click on the "view source" tab to check the HTML, or confirm it works when you send yourself a test e-mail.
Next up is the "Text Content" tab. This is the e-mail that people will see if they don't get html e-mails, and there are very few of them - under 1%. However, you'll want to complete this text with something similar to what I've entered. Be sure there is a link to your website there!
Following that, click on the "2. Preview" tab, and confirm that your e-mail looks good.
Next is the "3. Send Test" tab. You can choose option 1, and elect to just have it sent to yourself, or you can include up to ten people to get the test. this is often helpful if you're working with a marketing consultant, or want feedback from a spouse/partner, trusted colleague, or whomever. They will get both the text version, and the graphic version. What you see will be exactly what your list gets.
Once you've clicked the "Send Test" button, you will get confirmation that your test was sent, and the links that were converted from standard links, to trackable links, as detailed below.
Next, it's time to select who you want e-mails to go to. Here's where your hard work begins, and where a list service like AdBase or AgencyAccess actually becomes significantly valuable, but more on them in another post. The challenge here is to collect a list of e-mails that you are targetting. Vertical Response charges about $13.00 per 1,000 e-mails they send out for you, and you buy them in blocks, but you have to populate the lists yourself.
Next, you'll want to schedule your e-mail to go out, and you have a wide window to do so. Vertical Response has a review schedule, because they want to make sure your e-mail complies with all laws, so you can choose to send it out at the earliest launch time available (Option 1) after their review, or set the time. I highly recommend you set the time yourself. No doubt many of you are working o n things like this at 8pm, or 2am, and if you contemplate your own nature, any e-mails you get at that time are not likely useful ones. Let people clear out their inboxes in the morning, and schedule it for a time after that, and remember time-zone variations too!
Next is the last tab "Launch". Here, they validate that you have everything completed, and once you click "Launch Campaign" and it's in the queue for approval, you can't change the content or mailing list, but you can unlaunch and then re-submit it.
So, that's it, bare-bones style. Vertical Response does not charge an annual fee, and the cost per e-mail is about $0.01. Yet, you have to do everything yourself, and the templates they offer are not photo-centric.

You may ask - why bother, especially if I am just mailing to 20 or 50 people? Can't I just send the e-mail from my own desktop?

It's detailed information like that below that is really helpful. It helps you see how effective the e-mail was. There's no "shot in the dark" approach. I see that over 37% of the people saw my image in the piece, and that a subset of that clicked through to my site. For a mailing of just over 1,100 people, that's a decent read/response rate. Would I have liked it to be higher? Sure. I also can see how fast people read/clicked it too.

In addition, to can click that "Domain Report" tab, and see just how many people from each company opened it, clicked it, and even unsubscribed from your mailing list. This is valuable information for you to have, and allows you to tailor your campaigns moving forward.

Ok, so then, what's with all the companies selling lists? Do you really need to use them? Are they worth it? In a word - YES!

Consider this - Adbase (information here) has multiple versions for artists, from Editorial, to Regional, to Standard, to Premium. And, if you click here, you can request a free trial to give them a spin. We are working on a review of their services, as comprehensive as this one. AgencyAccess has a free trial too, to check that offer out, click here.

One of the things that struck me in preparing lists from scratch, was how much labor was involved, and that was just collecting and concatenating the information, and that information is static, and does not include any of the time maintaining your list. Let's say an annual subscription to AdBase of AgencyAccess is $700. At first blush, that sounds like a large amount of money - in fact, it probably sounds like a deal-breaker, but it shouldn't be. Back when we wrote about Mastheads.org, (Getting Clients - a few options, 7/7/08) there was plenty of suggestions at the value of their $24 offering. Nelson Nunes, founder of AdBase wrote about them at the time:
Mastheads.org is good if you are only interested in getting a few names off of a select number of mastheads. If you need to create or update a mailing list for direct marketing purposes, you would still have a considerable amount of work to do. That is, you would still have to analyze the masthead to determine which contacts are of interest to you (i.e. involved in selecting a photographer), enter all the information into a database and double check every piece of information to make sure you didn't make any entry mistakes. The first time you do this, you would also have to check that the address provided in the masthead is the correct address for the contacts of interest to you as generally the contact information provided is for the advertising sales department.

This might make sense if you are a photographer that works in a very specific niche and only targets a handful of magazines. Even then, the value of Mastheads.org is not clear as you would likely want to subscribe to those magazines to keep on top of what photography is being used. For any photographer doing more general work, the amount of effort required to keep a mailing list up-to-date using mastheads, whether from Mastheads.org or directly out of magazines, will quickly add up to much more than the cost of a subscription with a service like ADBASE.
And that brings up a much more critical point - the cost of list maintenance. I spent hours and hours, and hours putting my own list together, and even then, how could I be sure that "Liz Smith" and ClientCompany is "liz.smith@clientcompany.com", or is she "elizabeth.smith@clientcompany.com"? and do I want to be the one doing all that work for just one list, not to mention all the work to check and re-check who is now at what company? Nope, I don't. Nunes points out, specific to pulling information from just editorial mastheads:
For example, say you can scan through a masthead every 5 minutes (which is aggressive if you include double checking and breaks -- it's pretty tedious work), that's 12 per hour on average. If you have a list of 600 magazines, that will take about 50 hours. Even if you have an assistant working for only $10 per hour, that's more than the cost of subscribing to a full-year Editorial Edition from ADBASE that also includes book publishers. Now that's for only one update. If you plan to send out additional mailings throughout the year, you will have to update the list again costing your more time and money.
But, this isn't about Mastheads (read the previous piece for more information on them), it's about proving the value in preparing and maintaining the list. If you consider a list is $700 a year, that's about $60 a month so that you always have a ready and up-to-date list of e-mails, and then there's a nominal charge per 1,000 e-mails as well. And, these are qualified e-mails too.

So, it seemed to me, after the extensive amount of time I spent preparing just 1,100 e-mails, that using a pay service with tens of thousands, where they've done all the hard work of validating e-mails, and organizing them, might just be a far far more effective and efficient (and time-saving) way to go. To that end, as I noted above, we're working on an extensive review of adBase, and hopefully AgencyAccess too.

~ Marketing 201: AdBase - A Timesaving and Valuable Tool, 11/5/08

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


the manbagaholic said...

hi john.. great post as usual ! i use constant contact but they very clearly stipulate that to keep within the US anti-spam laws, everyone on your email list has to have opted to join. they claim you infringe the anti-spam law if you add people to your mailing list(s) from an acquired list. your posting suggests this is not the case. can you clear this one up please ?

John Harrington said...

Not sure if you're referring to an acquired list - i.e. an adbase or AgencyAccess list, or an acquired list as in one you generate. With AB and AA, it's their list and they are sending it out, and I am sure they are in compliance.


the manbagaholic said...

your reply prompted me to go to the source:


it seems my original suggestion is incorrect; as you suggest it is ok to bulk email people who have not opted in, as long as you follow the rules listed at the link above.

Anonymous said...

i like your article,,,
very intresting

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Anonymous said...







Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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