Email Productivity Tips for Marketers

July 26, 2011

A recent article on LifeHacker talks about tips to get faster email responses. They talk about:

  1. Write shorter emails
  2. Write fewer emails
  3. Ask for a response
  4. Start with a deadline
  5. Only email one person at a time

Those are good, but I’d like to expand a bit on them and also put it in the perspective of a marketing manager.

Five Email Productivity Tips for Marketing Managers

Email Subject Line1. Make subject lines work for you: Use subject lines with deadlines and action verb in order to help people spot your email easily in their inbox and to get them to act. Examples of subject lines might be:

“Webinar Email – Review Copy by Wed 10am”

“eBook Copy Approved with Changes – Finalize by Thursday”

“For review and approval – deadline is Wed 9am”

I like using either a campaign name or something that will help immediately identify the task at hand. If you start showing good use of this tactic and encourage your team to do the same, spotting the useful emails from the junk or from the typical corporate communication will be much easier.

Bonus tip: Transform your email into an action item! If using MS Outlook, just click and drag the email to the Tasks panel to create a task. Or you can also flag the email for later follow up. Other email clients have similar options.

2. Write with a purpose: Short, clear, and action oriented (what do you want to happen?) emails will get faster and better responses. So cut to the chase and get down to what you want as a result of your email. Examples are:

“Here’s the revised copy for the email invitation to the July 16 webinar. Please a) edit copy; b) send to Mark for design by Wed, c) email me the final email for approval”

or

“Jen, I have reviewed the presentation for the webinar and here’s what you need to do: a) add the company logo to the master slide (upper left corner); b) replace slides 3 and 5 with the new ones I mention in my notes; c) review once more for grammar and style; d) send to John for formatting by Tues noon.”

Replace paragraphs with bullet points and you’ll get people to actually do what you asked them to do. Keep each email related to a separate subject, this way is easier for the recipient to focus on one thing at a time and for you to follow up later.

Bonus tip: Need to follow up on an email you just sent a few days later? In MS Outlook you can “flag” the message before sending so it reminds you of the message later (you can also flag the message for the recipient, so if they have Outlook as well, they will be reminded of the message until they clear the flag).

Making deadlines clear3.  Make the deadline clear: If you don’t say when you need it by, usually you won’t get it done. Make sure to add a deadline and action required (eg. Make changes and send back to me by EOD friday) in the beginning of the email. This way the first thing the person sees is the deadline and he or she can plan accordingly. For example, you can start the email like this:

“Jen, I need this by EOD Thursday! See below.”

or

“Edited and approved copy for eBook below. Please finalize by 07/15/11 at 12:00pm ET!”

Avoid using “urgent” and “ASAP” type words. They don’t mean anything. Is ASAP something due today or by tomorrow morning? Also avoid saying “send it back to me tomorrow” without giving some kind of time reference. Otherwise it becomes a debate of what “morning” means (8am or 11am?).

Assigning email to multiple people4. Assign an owner: Send the email to only one person, or make sure each person has an action. You may be tempted to email the whole team after a meeting outlining what was decided. Or, there’s a task involving two people (editing the new banner artwork and sending to the printer, for example) and you want them both to see the same message. OK, but make sure each person listed on the “to” or “cc” lines have some kind of action item associated to their names. It could, for example, be like this:

“Team, I need you all to read and add the following to your to-do lists based on our earlier meeting today:

Jen: Review web analytics and report back to me by Friday 11am;

Bob: Edit the latest spec sheet design as discussed, send reviewed design to Mary by Thursday 9am.. ”

Multiple attachments can cause confusion5. If you attach, then make it clear: At my previous company we had a policy of never attaching a file to an email if the email was being sent internally. This was to avoid two problems, the always precious server space being eaten by files attachments in our Exchange server and to keep the latest files always in the network where it would be easier to find. Whether you have a policy like that or not, if you need to add files to your email then list and describe attachments (and name them appropriately). It could be something like this:

“… and I’m attaching the following files:

7-16-Webinar-Preso.PPT: Final version of the webinar presentation

Alpha-Prod-Whitepaper-CopyV2.doc: Whitepaper draft, please review this copy ”

Especially useful if you have many attachments, it helps ensure all attachments are accounted for when you send out the email and helps the receiver sort through all the files coming towards him/her.

Assigning Tasks Marketing Technology for Workflow and Productivity

Unless you have a system like what my company offers [shameless plug!] for Marketing Resource Management or Marketing Project Management, odds are you rely on email to keep your team in check. You use email to exchange files, to communicate, and get things done. That’s ok, and by using some productivity tips I hope you can at least make good use of the tools at your disposal and spend less time chasing down people and deadlines, and more time actually doing marketing.

Additional Outlook Productivity Tips

Additional outlook tipsIf you’re using MS Outlook, then check out additional productivity tips I have for Outlook users in this other blog post.

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Marketing Events You Can’t Miss

July 21, 2011

It seems Marketo has a nicer way of presenting Marketing Conferences. I did a post back in February listing upcoming marketing events but I have to agree a nice graphic is so much better!

Check out below.

Must Attend Marketing Events by Marketo


How Viral Marketing Can Kill You

July 13, 2011

Flu Shots Sign picture from Confluence! by smilla4 @ FlickrViral Marketing, or the spread of ideas (also called Word of Mouth Marketing) is usually thought of as a good thing. You create a video or a campaign and everyone starts talking about it. You go home happy and maybe even get a promotion. But sometimes the “viral” element more closely resembles the bad kind, the on that kicks you in the teeth and puts you out in bed for a week.

Scott Stratton, author of “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.” tells in his book a personal account of how a viral marketing campaign went wrong. It is the best example I’ve seen so far of a)someone owning to his mistakes, and b)a marketing idea backfiring really bad.

The Start of a Good Idea

As Scott tells in his book, he was into motivational speaking and decided to put out a short video (this was in 2004, way before YouTube became the default video sharing site) in his website. It was really a rotating slide show with background music and some inspiring text on top, nothing fancy but was well done. You can watch it at www.thetimemovie.com.

His intent was to get people to watch the video, and contact him for a speaking engagement. Did he get what he wanted? Well, yes and no. He did get over 4 million views (yes, 4 million!) but… things didn’t necessarily work according to plan. Here’s why.

Breaking the Bank

After creating and uploading the video to his server, which was just a regular ISP that hosted his site, Scott emailed a couple hundred people from his list about it. Emails started coming back saying they were getting a “Page not found” error. Oops, what’s wrong? Well, his server had a monthly bandwidth limit, meaning only a certain number of hits to the page and downloads were allowed based on the plan he had at the time. That meant people were going to his site and because he had already exceeded his monthly allotted bandwidth, the server was denying visitors the video!

As he called the ISP and asked them to remove the bandwidth limit, the video went back online and people starting watching it. In droves. He got a $1,400 bill (a bit more than the typical $9 per month he had before the video went up) due to the hundreds of thousands hits he was getting on his video page. And that was just for that last week of the month! Ouch!

Engaging Viewers

Having put up a landing page to capture people’s email addresses was a good idea, but a friend pointed out that it was too confusing, there was just too much about him on the page and no clear call to action. With a quick redesign, he increased conversion from 8% to 24% and started amassing 4,000 new emails per day that he would later use for his newsletter.

Trying to avoid even more expenses (the scar left from the monthly hosting bill was still visible) Scott then decided against using an ESP (email service provider) and went ahead to email his newly acquired list using Outlook Express. Yup, not the full featured MS Outlook businesses use via an Exchange server, but the stripped down consumer version that used to come free with every new MS Office installation.

The process was simple, but time consuming. He would download the new emails captured by the landing page (19 hours downloads) and manually cut and paste each one into the email client. Out of frustration he deleted 140,000 email addresses. In the first couple weeks.

After also playing with free open source scripts to help get the email addresses imported into his email client, and not being able to do so, Scott caved in and went with Aweber, an email service provider which made the job of getting emails and sending out newsletters much easier.

Successful Failure?

There are those who would love to win the lottery, and those who actually play it. That’s what this next episode of his viral marketing gone wrong reminds me of. Scott was trying to get speaking engagements and created a great video that went viral. The problem is that he never actually believed, or was prepared, for the number of speaker kits he received. Back in ’04 when you wanted to screen someone prior to offering an speaking engagement, you would ask for  a “speaker kit”, which consisted of a resume, pictures, and tape reel showing snippets of that person actually giving a talk.

So after two weeks of the movie going live, 50 requests came in. How many speaker kits did Scott have prepared for the eventuality? Zero. And he was personally doing every speaker kit himself (printing, making copies, punching holes, and mailing). About 785 speaker requests came in before he was able to work out a good process to fulfill them properly. Requests for one of his “Relaxation on Demand” CDs were so many he had to refund people’s money because he couldn’t have burned the CD’s (yes, he was doing it himself) on time… and people complained they just wanted the product!

So, in the end was it all a waste? I wouldn’t say so, since Scott was able to book over $100,000 in new business but he definitely lost some potential business. The worst that could have happened I guess is if his reputation had been ruined because of that, which didn’t happen.

A Viral Marketing Lesson

“Please learn from my pain” – Scott Stratten

What can we learn from Scott’s mistakes?

  • Define success: what do you consider success? How will you be able to tell whether your viral marketing campaign was successful? Define metrics that you’ll use to make sure you haven’t wasted your time or money.
  • Be prepared for the traffic: can your website, call center, sales reps, and other relevant operations handle the potential surge in traffic? Sure, today you have YouTube to host videos but make sure you have all pieces in place before you start the viral engine. You don’t want it to break as the user is clicking your “buy now” button or similar.
  • Collect and Engage: make sure you have a way to collect information from those interested in learning more about your products or services, and have a process that will make collecting such information easy on you. Tweak your landing page, and test different versions. Also have a plan for following up and keeping up the interest and dialogue.
  • Plan for the success, and for the failure: be prepared, and react fast. Whether your success is bigger than anticipated or the idea failed miserably, know how you will handle it and make sure your team (if you have one) is ready.

Failure stories abound on the Internet, I just had not seen such a detailed account of “I screwed up” from someone like Scott. For more info on his book, check out the link below.

P.S.: If you’re in San Francisco you should come to the San Francisco Marketing Book Club where we’ll be discussing UnMarketing during our upcoming meeting.

Amazon Link to UnMarketing

UnMarketing Book cover


Reinventing Marketing at GE

July 7, 2011
General Electric Ecomagination Marketing Advertising

GE's Ecomagination Ad Campaign - Result of the Marketing Transformation Process

Who would have thought that General Electric (GE), one of the most admired companies in the world didn’t have a substantial marketing organization up until recently. And I’m not talking in number of people (they had 2,500 marketers a the time), but in its role related to strategic decisions, branding, and overall market direction.

In “Unleashing the Power of Marketing“, Harvard Business Review tells us an interesting tale of how GE transformed its marketing operations and gives us an interesting framework for applying to other businesses. The goal at GE was to transform marketing from a support function to an active player in driving revenue.

“Our framework centered on giving marketing a revenue-generating role in its own right.”

It’s a story worth reading, but since you may not have access to HBR (the article above requires subscription), here’s a summary.

Marketing as a Function

Building products that sell themselves is a neat idea and had worked well for GE for years. But, as the article points out, “The businesses were maturing, and like other companies, GE was learning that it could not win simply by launching increasingly sophisticated technologies or by taking existing technologies to new markets. Some of its best-thought-out new offerings were fast becoming commodities.”

GE then started to create a framework for its marketing group and came up with three core components:

1. Principles
After a thorough assessment of their expertise and functions, GE came up with eight disciplines organized into two groups, go-to-market activities, and commercial essentials. They became the core principles driving their marketing organization.

2. People
Their next step was to understand the roles marketing should play at GE. They came up with four roles: Instigators, Innovators, Integrators, and Implementers.

3. Process
Having identified what they wanted from marketing, GE then started putting together metrics for evaluation of the marketing teams and started a process called Maturity Evaluation.

Principles of Marketing at Work

It started from the top down, with Jeffrey Immelt (the CEO) pushing marketing to have a “line” role instead of the historical “staff” role it had at GE. Marketing started to be held responsible for critical operating mechanisms like pricing and quantifying customer value. Marketing started to play a role in determining not just what the customer needed but also in applying technology to better meet customer needs.

As marketing started to work in new innitiatives, expanding its role, more funding was provided and new offerings were created.

“In all these initiatives marketing gets into the game at the start, sizing “white space” opportunities, meshing unmet needs with new technologies, and moving our brand in new directions.”

A new Marketing Framework was created, comprised of eight disciplines:

  • Strat­egy and innovation
  • Brand­ing and communications
  • Sales force effectiveness
  • “New World” skills
  • Mar­ket knowledge
  • Seg­men­ta­tion and targeting
  • Value cre­ation and pricing
  • Com­mer­cial activation

Throughout the transformation process, this framework was refined and always referred to.

Key Marketing Roles

As they progressed with their marketing transformation, GE also identified a few key marketing roles that would become essential for transforming the organization:

The Instigator
Marketers have to challenge the status quo and look for new and better ways of doing things.

At GE some units had a tendency to develop products because they could, not because the market needed them. Marketing helped business leaders think outside their usual market and started to identify opportunities that weren’t even on the table previously. It’s more than market research, is looking outside and understanding the changes happening in the marketplace, in buying decisions, and in who your target market really is. Armed with data, marketing leaders could then discuss new directions with business leaders and show other approaches to growth.

The Innovator
Turning marketplace insights into untested products, services, or solutions.

While in the past marketing was relegated to simply passing information along to the groups responsible for innovation (R&D or engineering), the new marketing team started taking an active role in more than just advertising or market research expanding its reach beyond product features and functionality to include pricing, delivery, customer engagement, and new business models.

For example, in the Aviation market GE used to sell engines on the basis of thrust and other quantitative metrics and has since changed its approach to focus on operational efficiency and resource productivity.

“Innovative marketers use unique marketplace insights to come up with products, services, or solutions based on untested ideas.”

The Integrator
Building bridges across silos and functions and between the company and the market.

At GE it was recognized that marketers sometimes have to be translators. They have to speak product language with R&D and customer language to the sales force. But more than that, marketing has the capability of bringing disparate groups in the organization together to assess market dynamics and help the company cross-sell bundled products. During crisis (like the recent economic downturn), marketing can help bridge the gap between businesses and help them have an integrated view of distribution, pricing, sales, and more.

The Implementer
Executing on ideas.

“Getting things done” is probably the most critical skill of a marketer, even more at GE where those without direct P&L responsibility have a tough time getting resources and driving change.

“Marketing leaders have to build coalitions and persuade others, using functional expertise, insights, and teamwork rather than authority”

At GE, for example, marketing had to gain trust little by little. First, by giving business units competitive information, industry analysis, and the like. With time, and success in the early efforts, other units started to request help with specific projects.

Marketing Maturity and Knowledge Gap

Understanding what needs to be done is only half the battle, the other half is getting people to actually execute. GE started to hire marketers effectively doubling the marketing organization in size from 2,500 people in 2003 to 5,000 today. CMO’s were appointed for each GE business and also at the corporate level, tapping both internal staff as well as hiring from the outside.

They also conducted a Marketing Maturity Evaluation, to better understand what was missing from their marketing toolbox. This evaluation became an annual affair where CMO’s would convene their marketing teams and go through the survey for measuring specific skills, performance results, and understanding possible gaps.

The maturity evaluation surveys had a list of 35 skills and 140 definitions. Each capability had a description of what success looks like. The teams would score their units and review the assessments with business leaders, then they would roll up the score to eight capability areas and see if the scores were aligned across the organization. As marketing teams worked on these self-audits, they created a common language across all marketing staff regardless of business unit. With results in hand, CMOs and CEOs started to see areas that needed improvemeent and could work towards getting the right training or resources needed.

Transforming Your Marketing Organization

Think you have a tough time? Well, if GE can transform its marketing organization and reinvent itself in only a few years, think how much more you could do and how much faster!

Start by looking at what marketing capabilities you need in your team. Then, do a gap analysis (or maturity analysis like GE) and candidly assess where you and your team stand. Put a plan in place to either hire or train people to reach the level you require and also identify what roles marketing should play in your company.

Do you see marketing as Instigator, Innovator, Integrator, or Implementer? Maybe different situations require a different profile, but in that case be ready to get your team members up to speed on what each role requires.

If you have to get different results and don’t know how to start, I hope this story gave you some food for thought.

 

Further Reading

Additional resources related to General Electric’s marketing transformation:


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