Startups, your marketing is only as good as your email marketing
Blue State Digital, the agency behind the digital campaign that powered Barack Obama to the White House in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, recently published some of the key metrics from their 2012 campaign. The firm also published a similar report in 2008 and both make for fascinating reading.
Interestingly, there is one strand of what was a very detailed and varied online presence that is repeatedly held up as the engine behind Obama’s digital, and subsequent, online fundraising success - his use of email. In 2008, the campaign had a reported email database of over 13 million people, which resulted in more than 2 billion individual emails being sent throughout the course of the campaign. In all, Obama raised $500 million online that year, the majority of which was attributed to this email database. In 2012, the figures are equally eye-watering with almost $690 million said to have been raised digitally.
The point of course is that email as a marketing tool is still clearly a force to be reckoned with and one not to be overlooked when early or seed-stage start-ups are deciding on how best to market their product or service. For B2C, email marketing can push people to your site, driving engagement with your brand or usage of your product (see this Fred Wilson post) and for B2B, email remains the key means through which you can reach decision makers (see this great SimplyZesty blog post on content marketing and in particular, the first infographic, which was the inspiration for this post). Most importantly, for start-ups raising seed and angel rounds, which are unable to invest the resources in marketing that a start-up after a Series A might, it a means your marketing costs are next to nothing, extremely versatile, easily measured and quick to create (see Campaign Monitor, MailChimp).
The very best B2B and B2C companies use email marketing extensively to communicate with key stakeholders and it’s something we encourage all our start-ups to use alongside key announcements and in the form of a monthly or quarterly update. It’s often an iterative process but there are a number of key areas to consider. The starting point should always be the email database and your ability to create and sustain it. Defining your key stakeholders and customers is a good starting point, seed-stage startups can still be without a CRM tools so centralising your contacts is key. An email sign-up on your homepage is also important, as is an email request when registering as a user to a web or mobile app (both now pretty standard in any UI). Crucially, a functioning, hassle free unsubscribe mechanism is also a must-have on any mail shot.
The design needs to look credible too, professional and devoid of formatting that will set off those spam filters. Finally the content needs to be on point; of interest to customers, relevant to the expectations they had when signing up to the newsletter and correctly timed in terms of frequency (i.e. weekly, monthly, or quarterly) and day of distribution.
From a personal perspective, I receive dozens of mail shots from various companies in the course of a week, some good and some bad. Some of the best include Codecademy (now mainly product announcements with a little content and good design), Quora (a weekly digest of site news, always complete with a great subject line) and Mike Allen’s Playbook (a daily political tipsheet from Politico packed with great content but with zero design). Each very different in terms of style and content but all are very effective. For start-ups it’s about finding the right balance.
Going back to the US Presidential election, Return Path (a USV portfolio company) published a report in the run-up to November’s election that focused solely on the email campaigns being run by both Obama and Romney. In the report they found that Obama’s email database was 5 times that of Romney’s. The knock-on being that Mitt was banking less than a tenth of what Obama was in online donations. In this case, it would appear your campaign is also only as good as your email marketing.
P.S. In the interest of balance, I should add that Obama’s email campaign wasn’t entirely without criticism. Here’s Jon Stewart’s take.