A Failed Campaign: The Exit Briefing

For weeks now I have been working with one of my clients to try to fill a room with seminar participants.  The cost was minimal.  (Less than $50)  But we had to cancel the event.  What went wrong?  Why is it that sometimes email marketing doesn’t work?  Here’s a great lesson in email marketing.

Step One: The Relationship.

The first problem was that my client started with a small list of folks in an association he didn’t belong to and with whom he had no relationship.

(They didn’t “op-in” to his email account.  He just started sending them email. I’ve committed the same sin and got away with it … a little.)

He was a popular figure in the industry, so they may have known who he was.  And the association was a good choice.  It contained those to whom he wanted to reach. 

He started by sending out an email extolling the virtues of attending the seminar.  He did some things right.  He told the receiver who should attend and why.  He mentioned the subject of the seminar and what a benefit it would be to the target audience.  However, you can’t start out a relationship with a “sales pitch” even if what you have is the “Greatest Show On Earth!”  And repetition of the same advertisement doesn’t make it any better.  Broadcast email is not a magazine ad or post card. 

 I consider myself an email marketing aficionado.  If I were to attempt to create a class (perhaps “Advanced Techniques in Email Marketing”) and wanted to fill the room with cash paying attendees, I’d start by going to those who know me, who already receive my email and are OK with me.  I’d appeal to them to help me locate others who would like to attend the class.  It would take time.  I’d start a half year or more in advance just developing the rapport to position myself as someone worth coming to hear.  Generally you don’t reach “Rock Star” status over-night. (Ask any “Rock Star.”)

I’d develop that rapport by staying in contact, sending useful information, and by attempting to engage them in conversation.   You’ll notice my emails always invite you to ask me any question about email marketing. 

In the days of direct marketing (before the internet) you would buy a mailing list of potential attendees and mail them a letter or brochure or both.  You’d follow up with a post card.  If all else failed you got on the phone and called them one at a time.  It took time and money, sometimes lots of money.

When the FAX machine was the state of the art (in the late 1980s) you could send out broadcast faxes until it became illegal here in Colorado.  That was the beginning of the “SPAM” affect.  People didn’t like seeing their fax paper and ink being used by someone they didn’t know, sending them information they didn’t ask for, about a subject they weren’t interested in.  But, like modern day broadcast email it was quicker and less expensive to the person doing the marketing.

Step Two: The Format and The Message

 My client did it right by addressing the email to those who needed to attend his seminar.  He told them what the topic was and who should attend and why.   He even invited them to forward the email on to others who should attend.  (A good idea often overlooked!)  We sent one email a week starting two months prior to the meeting.  (Good repetition.  Not a bad idea.) We changed the subject line and the first paragraph with each email we sent.  (Again, not a bad idea.)  But other than the subject line and the first paragraph, the remainder of the email remained the same.  The message was in the left column.  (A good place for the main message, especially for those who use a palm device.)  The right column had links to places all over his web site and an invitation to “forward to a friend.”  (Great ideas.)  The email looked and felt a lot like his web site.  (Great branding.)  It had a signature block with his photo.  (A very good idea.) 

My client didn’t take advantage of the social networks.  He didn’t have FACEBOOK, LinkedIn, or Twitter accounts.  If he had we could have linked them to the broadcast email and even linked an archived copy of each email in a posting in each of the social networks.   I’m sure he doesn’t believe in the power of the social networks or that connecting to the half billion people on FACEBOOK would in any way profit him.  I think he’s over 33 years old.  

Finally: The List

 In the old days of direct marketing 40% of the success of a direct mailing was given to the list.  The offer and graphics each got 30% of the credit.  Since my client didn’t develop the list over time with people opting in to hear what he had to say, he lost a lot of the true power of broadcast email marketing.  Now that he had to cancel the seminar for lack of attendance he probably will not give much credit to a continued email communication campaign throughout the year. He won’t create “buzz.”  He won’t “get” the social networks and will lose the “viral” effect that is the trademark of social networking.    So when he tries again in the fall, he will be in the same position he was a few months ago.  …and he probably won’t ask me to help him do an email marketing campaign again.  Bummer!

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