Josh (the blog)

Hey there. I’m Josh, a SydneyCanberra-based maker of Internets. I don’t update this very often.


Getting email responses

“Simple name-slug personalization can lift the click-through rate by up to 30%. We’ve seen true content personalization lift response rates by 300%.”

Rachael Heapps (RappDigital) in an interview with Direct

Obviously this is talking about email marketing campaigns (though it’s probably not a bad idea sticking the name of the person you’re writing to on personal emails, either!) and is probably quite unsurprising. With a little bit of intelligent mailing (time-of-day scheduling, etc.) it’s quite trivial to make mass emails appear to originate from a real person. In my last job we sent out over 110,000 “name-slug” customised emails each week in a little over 8 hours (~15,000 an hour) and then a little faster after some optimisations (I think it was cut down to six), so if you start it not too late in the morning it’s quite possible to get out messages over the course of the day that appear as though they have a genuine, personal, author. (The purpose, of course, being the promotion of Australia’s number one cult-of-celebrity morning show!)

Of course that was newsletter content, not the “true content personalization” [sic] that Heapps speaks of, but for the most part it’s difficult to see the appeal of “true content personalization” more broadly — businesses will generally have a core focus and if their customers are receiving emails from them it’s probably in relation to that core area. Exceptions are obviously out there… two that spring to mind are wholesalers/distributors and multidisciplinary creative agencies (web/print, event/web, print/vision, etc.) that have fairly distinct groups of clientele.

For churches, “true content personalization” could take a variety of forms but probably won’t in the kind of automated capacity Heapps suggests. For example, you could potentially have different email messages for youth/adults, parents (kids ministry)/unmarried/childless adults, men/women. However, I do think these would be different email messages and not merely “personalisations” of the same core email. Then again, if your church sent out a weekly newsletter this might be somewhat different.

The way St Matthias does things is simply to send out emails as required to relevant people. This isn’t managed terribly well at present and I’m hoping we’ll be able to change that over to a proper email campaign system sometime in the near future (when, you know, spare time rears its ugly head!) – BUT, technical aspects aside – it does mean that there is a certain freeness in the way things are run.

We can send out emails any time, not just when it’s time for a newsletter to drop around — and we don’t need to send out emails at all unless there is some reason to. That last point is pretty important, because it means that people aren’t stressing about creating a newsletter each week/fortnight/month unnecessarily. It also means that email from Matthias, in the eyes of our members and partners receiving messages, remains a vehicle eminently for the purposes of communication. In a way, this is our version of “true content personalization”: irrelevance is not expected, and, presumably, we get a better response for it (though email and web campaigns are still quite separate… by which I mean to say web campaigns are non-existent, and we can’t track email responses accordingly!)

There is, of course, a factor of size. A youthgroup with even 40 kids and six or seven leaders is probably going to struggle to write enough content for a newsletter each week — or, even if they’re not struggling, there are perhaps better ways they could have spent that time. A larger group might find it immensely helpful to keep in touch this way.

“Newsletter” is a fairly abstract term, however, and don’t hear me saying there’s no role for emails that don’t communicate anything new. They’re great for sending reminders (automatic or manually crafted) about events even where people have known about the events for ages. They’re also great for consolidating things that have already been said or done (though I personally see much less of this happening — reflection is more the realm of blogs these days than email, perhaps). Most of all, they’re great when they’re personal and relational. A cold form-mail doesn’t have the same impact as a warm or slightly jovial form-mail, and even the slightly jovial form-mail pales in comparison with a truely personal message (in composition and content).

Which raises the question as to whether this whole thing seems strangely verisimilitudinous for a reason. We strive to emulate this personal essence in mechanical utterances (oh, gosh, it’s AH all over again) and find that we can lift our response rates with “true” (there’s the verisimilitude, I guess) content personalisation.

But this is just shouting in the marketplace. If we will blame email and electronic communications for the decay of interaction in society, we must remember that it is certainly not the first one-to-many medium. The only difference I can see is that, in this marketplace, there are sometimes walls of one-way glass that prevent reply. That metaphor is interesting, because it suggests that the speaker (the observed one, speaking to the marketplace) is the one most disadvantaged by this circumstance. We have no right to reply, but they cannot even see us. They know nothing about their audience; their audience cannot steer them in the right direction.

This isn’t some Cluetrain beatup, but an observation of what is, upon a little reflection, self-evident. Essentially, if you have a message to get across to people, don’t make their job in receiving it any more difficult than it needs to be. If you have ambiguities in your message, let them ask. The tendency of organisations to use <> email addresses is completely contrary to reason with regards to this issue of communication. The one exception is mass media, which is, it must be said, definitely not most of us.