Welcome to the eleventh blog in our ‘Ask the Expert’ interview series, where we bring you industry experts to talk about outstanding practices in email marketing.
Luke Glasner has 15+ years of email marketing experience. He founded Glasner Consulting in 2009, specializing in strategy and analysis. Luke led the S.A.M.E (Support Adoption of Metrics for Email) Project at the Email Experience Council (EEC) and served as co-chair of the EEC’s Measurement Accuracy Advisory Board from 2008 to 2012. He is a Judge for the DMA/ANA ECHO Awards and the MMA Smarties Awards.
In this Q&A blog, Luke Glasner talks about managing subscriber bases and effectively segmenting the subscriber lists to deliver more targeted content and experiences.
Tell us about your marketing journey and what inspired you to specialize in email marketing. How did you begin your marketing career, and how did you develop your expertise in email marketing along the way?
I wanted to do more with digital while working in publishing as a database administrator and proposed it to the boss. I took a course at NYU called Complete Email Marketing by Reggie Brady. Based on the 3-day course, I launched our email program with newsletters supporting our 12 magazines. I found that I loved email; it allowed me to be creative and analytical at the same time. I started joining trade groups around email and began consuming just about everything written about email marketing I could find to sharpen my skills. I wrote to the authors and asked them questions, then applied them to the program I was running. I continue to learn from fellow email geeks to this day, and then I pass that on by teaching and speaking about email.
I also did everything myself, so I forced myself to learn ALL areas of email in depth. I had always run my own mail servers, but now I also wrote my own code, list management, researched laws, etc. I always took an integrated approach to digital marketing and enhanced it by eventually matriculating at NYU and earning my Masters in Integrated Marketing with a focus on analytics and testing.
How can marketers conduct thorough market research to identify their target audience’s needs, preferences, and pain points, enabling them to build effective subscriber personas?
One of the most obvious ways is to ask subscribers directly. This is typically done in multiple ways, with short surveys probably being the most common. Also, look for what data you already have in major systems. If you have customers, you probably have their name, address/location, and email. Many ESPs give additional data like email clients, devices, etc. If you can track them once they hit the site, you can gain more info about their interests – e.g., what products do they browse or abandon? You can also gain a wealth of data by looking at social interactions. Social Media WAS a good source of demographic data, but that has changed with the current legal landscape.
Once you gather your data, then apply segmentation to your lists to build the personas or use a statistical technique like RFM, Clustering, or Propensity to Buy models. Once you have your segments/personas defined, use basic descriptive statistics like Frequency and Mean/Mode/Median to build the profile of that persona.
What are the key strategies and tactics businesses should focus on when attracting and acquiring subscribers who are genuinely interested in their products or services?
Focus on customer and prospect behavior to find the right person, then, for an opt-in generation, be there all the time. There are a myriad of places and ways you can ask for an opt-in. One I used to use in my publishing days was PPC ads. We were able to acquire opt-ins with a small search budget that was targeted around our best readers. That brought a lot of traffic to the site and had a lower CPA for subscribers than anything else we did.
How can marketers manage and clean their subscriber list effectively? Also, how frequently should they review and align their targeted audience list with business goals and market trends?
Maintaining a clean list is critical to email and business success. Without performing list hygiene regularly, emails can get junked or blocked, stopping a crucial source of cash flow. In the past many senders simply looked at ‘opens’ activity to determine who was active vs. not. With Apple MPP, that will no longer suffice, and even before Apple MPP, using opens alone was not a good methodology.
To start, you need to calculate the ‘active lifespan’ of your subscribers. Active Lifespan is the period from sign-up until activity normally stops, as opposed to when subscribers opt-out or make a complaint. However, it’s not one lifespan for the full file; different types of subscribers have different lifespans. For example, someone that actively opted in during checkout (who are customers) tends to have a much longer lifespan than subscribers that just signed up and never converted (who are prospects). Take it further by drilling down into different sources of prospect subscribers, as different sources will produce different lifespans, such as those that opted in via a form on the site organically vs. those that opted in during a contest.
Hence, subscriber source is critical to determine the different average lifespans for different types of subscribers. Once you have divided your subscribers by source, determine the number of days between when they signed up and their last activity – such as a valid open or click (if possible, exclude Apple MPP or bot/filter clicks; those are false signals). Start sending re-engagement a bit before the average lifespan for that source ends. If you wait until after they become inactive for a while, you’ve already lost the subscriber before attempting to (re)engage them. Conduct this analysis at least annually; if your lifespans tend to work out to around six months or less, do it twice a year.
What tools do you recommend for building and managing a subscriber base in email marketing? How do these tools integrate with popular email service providers and CRMs?
Ironically the tool I use the most for managing and building a subscriber base beyond the ESP or your CRM is Excel. I also like to use two Add-Ons in Excel to help me with this. The first is the Analysis ToolPak which comes with Excel but is not normally installed by default. To enable it, go to Options -> Add-Ons -> Select Analysis ToolPak. Once set up, this will appear in the data tab on the quick access bar. This will allow you to conduct various statistical procedures like ANOVA, Descriptive Statistics, Frequencies, and more on your subscriber data.
The other add-on I often use is ASAP Utilities by a company in the Netherlands called ‘A Must in Every Office BV.’ This tool has lots of helpful functions that can be used to clean up or format your subscriber data, such as recognizing/formatting dates, fixing casing, splitting rows and columns, and a lot more. There is a free version for students and a commercial version for business. This is a great little add-on, and I do encourage people to support the company that makes it by buying it rather than just re-downloading the free trial over and over.
How should brands segment their subscriber lists from the outset to deliver more targeted content and experiences?
I think one of the most effective things to do from the outset is to capture subscriber sources. I’ve already talked about the importance of knowing your subscriber sources for re-engagement and list management. That’s only one way to use this data point. Another is for targeting your list growth efforts – sources that produce subscribers that never convert should be eliminated over time. Then resources and time dedicated to managing those sources can be reallocated to those that produce subscribers that convert.
Another important tip I can give is to tag your campaigns when they are made. It’s hard to do a real drill down into different types of campaigns if you don’t have the data to segment those results. Different types of offers will have different response rates and align with different business goals. For example, a deep discount introductory offer is aimed at new customer acquisition, while a free shipping offer is often used in abandoned cart emails aimed at order completion.
What’s the best strategy to retain subscribers and increase the renewal rate?
The best strategy to retain subscribers and increase the renewal rate is a tested strategy. You need to conduct real testing on the frequency, timing, and offer used in renewal messaging to find what works for your audience. This also changes over time, so what worked last year may not work again this year, which means you should always be testing and optimizing this.
I often see email marketers use basically an arbitrary timing for re-engagement, i.e., send it at 5-6 months or send it after X weeks or months of no activity. The problem with this is that it doesn’t really time the effort to the subscriber’s current state. Also, it usually waits until after they are inactive before sending the email. If the person has already stopped clicking and opening your emails for a few weeks or stopped using the product for a while, it’s already too late to re-engage them with email alone.
The number of emails sent should also be analyzed and tested. A good place to start is the activity level of the subscriber; someone that acts weekly will tolerate more renewal emails than someone that acts monthly. When you analyze this, include more than just email activity; for example, how often they use the product or visit the site for resources etc. You need to find the balance between sending emails enough times and starting early enough to get the renewals vs. annoying people with too many or requesting too early. When I worked in trade publishing, we found that focusing on the right number of renewal efforts and their timing was important to success.
You also should ask lapsed customers/subscribers. Obviously, right after they lapse is one time but don’t be afraid to follow up a few weeks or even months after they lapse. Often, they continue to receive the product after the term ends, such as the last issue or two of a magazine that comes after their subscription ends. Be sure to understand when product shipments or access shuts off and follow up again after they’ve lost the product, as that’s when they miss it.
Test different types of renewal offers – the goal here is two-fold: to maximize renewal rates and renewal profits. I can increase the renewal rate by discounting the renewal, but if I increase that too much, then I am selling at break-even or losing money. What is the minimum cost and profit level acceptable per user for renewal? Move upwards to find the balance between the rate of renewal and profit margin to find the most profitable renewal strategy.
How can businesses overcome the challenge of staying updated with their target audience’s ever-changing preferences and behaviors? What are some advanced techniques that accelerate the growth of the email list?
One step is to automate tasks to free up the time to conduct research on the audience. If you are always reacting to the subscriber base, you never have time to do the research to be proactive. Don’t spend time copying analytics into a report; find a better way to do that, such as linking data visualization to your ESP. This gives you the time to focus on understanding the audience instead of doing data prep and reporting. Also, see where you can use AI. There are a lot of ways that AI can help free up time to accomplish your goals or speed up a process. However, it doesn’t really do it for you; email marketers must still use its outputs in a smart and meaningful way. This is why AI is not going to replace email marketers.
To accelerate list growth, build segments or personas of your most active subscribers and then use that to target look-alikes. Couple that with the insights from your source analysis – that I mentioned earlier – to find the sources that produce the best subscribers; and then, adding the targeting and the creative inline with the personas and look-alikes is most likely to get them to respond.
By organizing subscribers based on their preferences, behavior, and demographics, businesses can deliver highly targeted and personalized content, resulting in improved engagement and conversions. Segmentation allows tailoring messages for specific audience groups, ensuring relevance and resonance with recipients.
Netcore leads the way with the right automation tools that help marketers streamline the process to efficiently nurture leads and guide them through the sales funnel. Connect with us to understand how you can benefit from our expertise and experience. We send over 20 billion emails a month on behalf of 6500+ businesses across 40 countries.