Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A beginner’s guide to email marketing automation

Email marketing automation may be the secret to a successful marketing strategy, provided that you know how to use it. Here’s how to get started.
Email marketing is still a powerful method to boost your marketing goals, but as your business grows, it becomes more challenging to handle all the different types of emails you need to send.
Email marketing automation could be the solution to this problem.

What is email marketing automation?

Email marketing automation is simply the automated process of sending emails to a specific list of people, depending on the predefined triggers. Once the trigger is activated, the email is sent.
The use of email automation software allows you to set all the parameters that will determine when the automated emails will be sent, making the planning of them easier.
In other words, it’s the use of technology for the sake of an improved marketing strategy that may lead to an increased effectiveness.

Why use email marketing automation?

The first reason that marketers turn to email automation is the fact that they manage to save time and effort, by creating the triggers that send the right emails, to the right people, at the right time.
Moreover, the automation of this process is saving them time from future similar efforts, as the triggers can be adjusted to include more people, or additional emails to each action.
This increases the efficiency of their email marketing strategy, in such a way that their creativity is blended with technology for the best possible results.
According to Epsilon Email Institute, automated email messages lead to an average 70.5% of higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than usual emails.
Effectiveness also goes beyond click rates, as automated mails seem to contribute to a message’s relevance for the target audience. In fact, according to Lenskold and Pedowitz Groups, companies that send automated emails are 133% more likely to have relevant messages that correspond with a customer’s purchase cycle.
Now the question is, where should you begin with email marketing automation?

6 tips to consider when starting with email marketing automation

1. Think carefully about your lead magnets

The first step is to encourage people to sign up with the right lead magnets that provide them a reason to do so. It’s better to think of a reason that is relevant and useful, rather than an instant reward, as this increases the chances to create a long-term relationship with them.
Lead magnets have to be clear, offering value that cannot be ignored from the target audience. Testing of several forms can help you understand what users find more interesting and this can be the indication that will make the building of the list easier.

2. Focus on the welcome message

Once a user signs up to a list, it’s important to send a welcome message that’s as relevant as possible. Not every user is part of the same customer journey, and this may affect their future relationship with your business.
A proper segmentation of users allows you to send a warm welcome message that addresses their problems, helping them find the right answers while they are also learning more about your brand.
It’s also important to plan the emails you’re going to send, and how the workflow of the messages will work from now on.
What’s the best way to use automation to build a relationship with users who have already showed interest in the value you’re offering them?

3. Don’t underestimate lead nurturing 

Automation doesn’t have to be impersonal. On the contrary, it’s crucial to add a personal touch to your emails, as a way to show your genuine interest in every message that you send.
A personalized communication can be very useful as part of your nurturing process. A warm and welcoming message increases the chances of turning a prospect into a customer, with a smooth and positive inbox experience serving as a great lead magnet.
Once you manage to find the balance between automation and personalization, each email should indicate your genuine interest towards every recipient. Lead nurturing is all about consistency and although automation can be very useful, it’s still important to excel in the segmentation of your audience to ensure that each recipient receives the right message.

4. Set your goals and work towards them (create the right triggers)

Before you start with automation, it’s useful to focus on your goals and your expectations from each automated process. How could automation boost your email marketing campaign? What’s the best way to save time while increasing your effectiveness? What do you define as an effective email marketing campaign?
The ROI from email marketing automation depends on your goals, and it’s useful to be clear on what you expect from the earliest stages of your planning.
For example, if you’re interested in lead nurturing, then you can use email automation to send consistent and personalized messages to your recipients to create a relationship with them.
If you want to use email automation to increase sales, you can create the right set of emails to promote your products in the most relevant and appealing way.
Remember, not every email has the same purpose, and there needs to be a distinction between your goals in order to enjoy the benefits of email marketing automation.

5. Keep evaluating the process

Although email marketing automation aims to help you create a streamlined process among your emails, it’s still useful to evaluate it from time to time to measure its performance and examine whether it needs to be changed.
Does automation bring you closer to your goals? How does the audience respond to your emails? Is there a part of the process that can be improved?
As every audience is different, it’s a good idea to monitor its automated process on its own to test whether it’s contributing to a successful email marketing strategy.

6. Make subscribing and unsubscribing obvious

It’s frustrating for users to keep searching for the option to unsubscribe from an email that they are not interested in. Thus, it’s best to have a clear display with all their available options.
Just as you add a CTA button to encourage further clicks in case they are interested in the email’s content, you should also feature an easy unsubscribe process.
Even if this means that you’re increasing their chances of opting out, it also means that you’re only maintaining the ones that are truly interested in your content.


Email marketing automation can be a very useful ally to your marketing strategy, provided that you find the right balance between automated messages and personalization for each segment of your contacts.
Even if the initial planning may seem time-consuming, the benefits should give you an additional motivation to work towards an effective process that will help you reach all your set goals.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Breaking down the Facebook auction: How to manage rising CPMs and deliver sales

Facebook advertising has come a long way in the past few years, and it provides a highly profitable way for brands either to engage an existing audience or grow new ones.
Paid social media shares some common foundations with paid search, but there are some significant differences both in how its auction-based model works and in the interaction users have with its advertisements.
As such, this maturing-but-still-nascent form of advertising provides a huge amount of room for testing and innovation. It comes with its pitfalls too, as we have seen with the measurement scandals.
A graphic depicting video thumbnails flying into the Facebook logo from the left, and money pouring out of it to the right.
However, there are other challenges that affect paid social practitioners daily and they require novel solutions. Below, we have looked at what makes a successful campaign – and what to do when everything best practice tells us just doesn’t work.

The ABC of Facebook Advertising

A successful campaign can be broken down into 3 areas:
Three graphics depicting the ABC of Facebook advertising: Audiences, Bidding and Creative.
  • Audiences: Deciding who you want to communicate with and how you want to utilize your audience lists and website visitor information.
  • Bidding: Selecting to use manual or automated bids and choosing the metrics for your campaign, which will affect your campaign cost.
  • Creative: Testing the right format for your audience since it will directly impact the effectiveness of the two categories above.
Let’s begin with the theory behind a best practice Facebook campaign across these three areas, with reference primarily to the auction that decides so much of how well our ads perform and how much they cost.
By way of contrast with AdWords, Facebook is inherently driven by images and their power to create an aspirational projection in the mind of the consumer.
AdWords works on a very pure, direct response model that is often based on text-based communication. A user types in a keyword and is met with a text-heavy response, although this stance is softening over time as results pages become more visually arresting.
Facebook allows a different approach to targeting, based on specific consumers rather than keywords. However, both are underpinned by an auction-based bidding system.
Facebook uses an auction for two main reasons: to create maximum value for advertisers and to improve the user’s experience. In an ideal world, this would see advertisers attract sales cost-effectively by providing a timely, relevant and enticing ad to the right consumers.
It is in understanding which aspects of this auction we can directly impact that we can start to affect our campaign costs.
Bids are defined by the bid value an advertiser sets (more on this below), multiplied by the percentage chance of their defined action being taken.
So if we want to bid on clicks as a metric, that value will be multiplied by Facebook’s estimated probability that that click will occur. Furthermore, bids in the same auction can target different outcomes: clicks vs. conversions, for example.
This is then combined with relevance and quality factors to come up with the final bid price and the auction winner. These last factors will be affected by things like image quality, negative comments on posts, and click-through rate. Note that this can change over time, affecting your costs on an ongoing basis as Facebook hoovers up more data on your performance.
An easier way to summarize and memorize this is B.E.A.R.:
Vector graphic of a stuffed bear above the words Bid = Bid value for the desired outcome x Estimated Action rate + Relevance & quality.
These bids can be set as either manual or automatic. You are told to use automatic if you don’t know what you are willing to pay for that action. If you do have a price in mind, you are told to bid your “true value” of what your action is worth to you. For instance, if you can only afford to pay $30 to acquire a new user, Facebook suggests you set your manual bid at $30.
If setting it on manual, you can choose a maximum or an average bid. For maximum, the algorithm is stricter on the threshold and is supposed to only find conversions below your bid, but unfortunately this is not always the case.
For average bidding, it will find conversions above and below your bid to find one that will eventually even it out. As seen below, if your bid is $10, Facebook will find bids anywhere between $2 to $12 as long as it averages out to $10.
Regardless if bidding on maximum or on average, you should ensure to always have a budget that is five times your bid to give Facebook enough breathing room to learn.
But this theory doesn’t always hold true and best practice sometimes lets us down.
So, what are some of the most commonly-faced challenges, and how can we deal with them most effectively?


Hyper-targeting hampers performance

It seems counter-intuitive at first, but getting a bit too carried away with Facebook’s impressive targeting options can actually slow your progress.
It is best to provide Facebook with as much data as possible for each ad set so that its algorithms can find the optimal match between creative and audience. As such, it is advisable to avoid audience segmentation at this stage unless it has a clear and defined benefit to your campaign goals.

Ads stop showing

This issue can be caused by many different factors. The first port of call (after checking your bids and budget, of course), should be your website. Check the implementation of the pixel (the Chrome extension is very useful here) and look into Analytics to check conversion rates on key landing pages.
If all seems fine on the site, check the interactions your audience has been having with your ad sets in the past. If these are overwhelmingly negative, this could be enough to convince Facebook to stop showing the ads altogether.

Audiences stop performing 

If there is excessive overlap between the audiences you are trying to target across different ad sets, Facebook will prevent the list with the lowest performance history from entering the auction. Excessive overlap can cause significant issues, but it can be avoided by using Facebook’s audience overlap tool.
The audience overlap tool will show the percentage overlap between lists (we recommend keeping it below 30%) and provide insight into where you should consider consolidating your lists.


Rising CPMs

The auction is increasingly competitive and CPMs are rising as a result. Therefore, sometimes that “true value” that Facebook advises us to bid just isn’t high enough to compete.
However, there are many ways to arrive at the same CPM, so it is worth trialling new campaign objectives such as link clicks. This can be risky, but if you are confident that your landing page will convert well, it can allow you to hit the same revenue targets (or better) for a lower campaign cost.

Pixel problems

Another challenging area we encounter is with Facebook’s pixel. This needs to be implemented correctly at each stage of the conversion journey to give you the accurate data you need. It is also crucial to ensure that each of these events is tagged accurately.
This is a fundamental foundation if you plan to use sequential messaging to target your audience at different stages of their purchase journey.

Analyzing GA data

A challenging question – and one with no obvious, catch-all solution – is the attribution of Facebook conversions within a wider marketing strategy, particularly at impression level. The main symptom of this issue is conversion data on two everyday platforms (Facebook and Google Analytics) that simply don’t match up.
Vector graphic featuring a rocket with two crossed flags behind it, one featuring the Google G and the other featuring the Facebook F.
We could say that Facebook is rather generous in how it weights its own importance, with a 1-day view through and 28-day click through window as standard. Multiple clicks from the same user within a short timeframe will also be classified as separate sessions, unlike in Google Analytics.
Analytics and DoubleClick do not have access to Facebook impression data, meaning that it is difficult to square this circle comprehensively. We also need to accept that we simply aren’t comparing apples with apples; these two platforms facilitate a different form of advertising and, as such, their metrics will inevitably differ.
That said, a great way to mitigate this issue is to trial conversion lift testing. This works best retrospectively and requires some initial investment, but it does provide insight into the ‘true’ impact of a Facebook campaign.
This same logic applies to Facebook ad sets, if you want to understand the impact each is having on your overall performance.
There is some optimism to be found in Google’s data-driven attribution too which, although missing impression-level Facebook data, will still provide a clear view on clicks. Here, we would typically expect Facebook to appear higher in the funnel, demonstrating its importance as an assist channel.


Ads are not relevant enough

If we return to our friendly B.E.A.R acronym, it is clear that even the best bidding strategy will flounder if the ads are irrelevant to the selected audience.
This falls down further if the ads contain too much text or if they have received negative feedback and a low CTR in the past. It is therefore worth investing time into the research stage of your strategy, to ensure adequate planning of creative assets and target audiences.

Creative fatigue

Creative fatigue is a widespread challenge and a natural by-product of the experience of using social media platforms. Users are bombarded by images, videos and sounds, and they have attention spans reflective of this. Even the best-performing creative has a shelf-life and can end up having a negative impact if left active for too long.
They key here is to read the signs carefully in your performance data and know when to switch up either the creative or the audience. As a rule of thumb, we would recommend updating creative every 2-4 weeks.

Lack of creative resources

The important thing to remember is that you don’t need an extensive creative team to produce great creative assets. There are some fantastic, free apps available to use that can help you turn simple images into the thumb-stopping media Facebook craves.
Below we have listed our three everyday favorites:
Boomerang: This is a free app that will allow you to loop actions back in forth within an image. It’s great if you want to emphasize a specific element like a product, for example.
Cinemagraph Pro: In a cinemagraph, one part of a photo moves while the rest remains still. This app is free to use and will allow you to create cinemagraphs from any image.
Layout: A simple one, but an effective app nonetheless. Layout lets you create collages and show multiple products within one image space.
There is still a learning curve when it comes to Facebook advertising for the majority of marketers, which makes it an exciting but challenging place to be.
The landscape is constantly shifting, but the above will hopefully provide some guidance on how to navigate the main obstacles we have encountered thus far in 2017.
‘Breaking down the Facebook auction: How to combat inflated CPMs and bigger budgets to deliver more sales in 2017’ was originally presented by Clark Boyd and Ximena Sanchez of Croud at Social Media Week NYC 2017. You can view the full presentation here.
This article was co-authored by Ximena Sanchez and Clark Boyd of Croud.