A Conversation About Franchise Email With Two Guys Who've Sent 100 Million
We’re absolutely obsessed with (and constantly preach) the power of email marketing here at FranchiseHelp (in case you didn’t notice all the posts we’ve written on this topic at the Lead Generation Resource Center.) We assembled the two masterminds of FranchiseHelp's email strategy to talk about what they've learned sending 100 million franchise emails.
Kayvon (Kayvon Bina, Co-Founder of FranchiseHelp): Eli and Tim, you’re two guys who need no introduction. Now introduce yourselves and tell us why anyone should listen to you on the topic of email marketing.
Eli (Eli Robinson, GM of FranchiseHelp): I started running FranchiseHelp's email marketing back in January 2014. From when I started to when I let Tim take over I sent over 50 million franchise emails, some obviously better than others. Back in January 2015, I wrote an article about the 5 biggest things that I had learned to date. You can check that out here: I Sent 25,783,700 franchise emails in 2014. Here’s What I Learned.
Tim (Tim Gilboy, Head of Marketing for FranchiseHelp): Like Eli said I took over the FH email marketing in early June of this year and since that time I've probably sent out over 40 million franchise emails and have tried out bunch of different strategies to get the right emails to the right users. Some work, some don't, but you can read all about that here: Email Segmentation.... Is It a Good Idea?
Eli: As Kayvon mentioned, we hear a lot that franchises would love to have a more effective email strategy. Given what we see out there, we can see why.
Kayvon: Let’s dive into that a bit. With all the innovation taking place these days around digital marketing channels like social, search, blogging, etc., why is email still important? And is it on the downswing or upswing as far as its importance as a marketing channel?
Tim: I spend a lot of time working with other digital marketing channels and I firmly believe that email is still the most important channel out there. It's the one channel where you basically have your users’ undivided attention and you know exactly who is getting your message. I think it's probably back on the upswing as a marketing channel after declining in importance about 5 years ago.
Eli: Kayvon, you read too much! You probably saw an articles like these:
There's always going to be naysayers about older marketing channels. But I firmly believe in the power of email for now.
Kayvon: "For now” — that’s an interesting caveat. Why the qualifier?
Eli: Haha. You caught me. Believe it or not, I can't see the future. So if you told me that email won’t exist in 5 years, I would have a hard time totally disagreeing with you. However, here's the thing about email. It's not a particularly resource intensive marketing channel. You can boot up incredibly successful campaigns very quickly. If you were to tell me that email was going to be absolutely DEAD in one year, I'd still tell franchises to work on their email strategy! It's that powerful.
Tim: If you just ignore your email strategy you're basically throwing money out the window. It's basically free and incredibly easy to improve - but most people seem to think it's already dead and not worth their time.
Eli: Ah. There it is! Email is free! (Ok, it's not actually free, but it's darn near close.)
Tim: Haha true - no marketing is really free. But relative to every other marketing channel out there it basically is.
Eli: So you get the ability to message to thousands of people instantaneously with your own exclusive message for free? What's not to love?
Kayvon: Ok ok, so you’ve hammered home the importance of getting your email house in order. Suppose someone wants to get started (or re-started after past failed attempts). Eli, can you define some basic terms anyone working with email should know — e.g., open rate, click rate, click through rate, bounce rate, unsubscribe rate, and spam rate?
Eli: Of course --
Open Rate = Number of People Who Opened Your Email / Number of People You Sent The Email
Click Rate = Number of People Who Clicked Your Email / Number of People You Sent The Email
Click Through Rate (CTR) = Number of People Who Clicked Your Email / Number of People Who Opened The Email
Bounce Rate = Number of People Who DID NOT Receive Your Email / Number of People You Sent The Email
Unsubscribe Rate = Number of People Who Unsubscribed From Your List / Number of People You Sent The Email
Spam Rate = Number of People Who Reported Spam / Number of People You Sent The Email
(One thing I would note is that people have a tendency to misuse these terms, so be careful when you use them to make sure you're on the same page)
Tim: Don't forget list size!
Kayvon: Speaking of list size, let’s dive right in: how does someone even build an email list? And is it possible they’ve been building a list inadvertently without even knowing it?
Tim: Most people probably have a bigger email list at their fingertips than they realize. Every customer you've ever had, every lead you've ever had - if you have their email addresses and aren't hitting their inbox with emails then you're wasting a big resource. In terms of building a list, as with most marketing efforts there are good ways and bad ways to go about it. My biggest piece of advice for how to build a good list is do everything you can on your site to capture a user’s email address - email capture popups, downloadable info which needs an email, newsletter signups etc.
Eli: My answer would be "BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY." A little dramatic? Yes, probably. Here's a little visual representation of what Tim is talking about in terms of all the ways FranchiseHelp captures emails.
The fact of the matter is that every single email address your business has ever come in contact with should go on your email list. You should be ruthless in adding people to the list (as long as they consented.) If they don't want to receive any email from you, they'll just unsubscribe.
Tim: Haha definitely a little dramatic Eli - but I mostly agree. The only caveat I would add is that I definitely wouldn't recommend buying a list of emails because that can have negative consequences for your email strategy. But beyond that do anything you can to get more emails
Kayvon: Eli, you said “as long as they consented” and Tim, you suggest there are negative consequences to going out and buying a list of email addresses. That’s two ways of saying the same thing, so what does it mean for someone to “opt in” and why does that even matter if growing your email list is such an important element of success?
Eli: In email marketing, consent is everything. Email providers like Gmail, Outlook, and Yahoo! Mail do everything they can to prevent their users from having to read unwanted email. Sometimes they'll use a Spam filter to do this, or sometimes they won't deliver the email at all! This is a very, very bad situation for a company as it stunts your ability to send email going forward. The best way to avoid this is to make sure that the people on your list wanted to be on your list at some point. DO NOT BUY A LIST. You're going to have to do it the hard way....asking people to give you their email addresses.
Kayvon: Offering valuable content in exchange for an email address, capturing email addresses, sending and scheduling emails, monitoring performance, etc. Sounds like a lot of technical work and effort. Eli, do you think people need to hire a software developer to be effective with email marketing? Tim, what kind of investment of time do you think a business owner would realistically need to make per week to get a return out of their email efforts?
Eli: Software developer, certainly not. (It would help, but I'm not going to assume that our readers casually have idle software developers sitting around.) As far as the capture of emails, the best place to look is any CRM that you've been using up to now. I'm going to assume that most of you have thousands and thousands of emails simply sitting there. If you're talking about capturing more emails on your website, you could use either of these easy to use services:
From an email list management and delivery perspective, I'm a huge fan of Mailchimp. I think that they do the best job making it easy for non-technical users to send email effectively.
Tim: Mailchimp makes it super easy for anyone to craft and send out emails to huge email lists. If you're not a fan you could also try ConstantContact. Or another service. But regardless of how you're doing it you can get a solid return out of your email with only an hour or two of time spent on emails per week (or less once you get the hang of it). You'll probably need to spend more time if you want to really refine and optimize your email strategy, but most people aren't at that point yet. They can just spend a little bit of extra time every week and see big returns on email.
Eli: I'll jump in and add that Tim is absolutely correct as long as you're email list is growing at a healthy clip. If you expect to take a static list, invest minimal time, and simply see results, it's not going to happen. The most important thing is to ensure that your list is growing. If the list is growing, then you can spend an hour or two a week.
Kayvon: Ok great, so you have a list of email addresses you want to start sending to (and you’re even capturing new emails on your site or from your CRM system). Now what? What do you actually write in those emails? What’s the goal and how can you tell if you’re “doing it right”?
Eli: First, everyone should check out these LGRC articles about what makes a good email:
But I'd boil it down to a few things: 1) Keep it short and sweet 2) Make sure the offer is relevant to the audience and 3) Think about where you're actually sending the traffic (if anywhere) or in other words do you have an effective CTA?
Kayvon: Can you define CTA?
Tim: Stands for Call To Action. It's basically the part of your message that tells people what to do and why they should do it. A typical CTA for a FranchiseHelp email would be something like "Click Here to See Franchises Looking for Owners Like You! ->"
It should jump out from the rest of your email and be very very clear what you want the reader to do.
Eli: Do you want them to call you? Click a button? Read an article? Share something on Facebook? Do jumping jacks? It's your call. But make sure that it's good.
Tim: It might be the most important part of the actual body of the email. You can have the best written, influential message about whatever you want, but if your users don't know what to do next then it's pretty much worthless.
Eli: You know those times in your life when you say to yourself, "Now What?" That's worst case scenario in email marketing.
Kayvon: We talked about the content of the email body, but how does crafting your email subject line tie into this? That’s one of the questions we get asked about the most.
Tim: Now that's the most important part of the email as a whole. If you have a terrible subject line no one is going to open your email and what you have inside doesn't matter at all. Three big points that are important for subject lines: 1) Excite your readers, 2) Keep it Short 3) Don't mislead your readers
Eli: So finally Tim and I disagree (kind of.) I always get asked this question, and I'm kind of tired of it frankly. There are so many more things that have to go right before coming up with an excellent subject line is going to move the needle on your email strategy. While Tim and I could do an entire chat about what makes a good subject line, we've sent almost 100 million combined. Everything matters at that scale. Subject line optimization is like Email Marketing 401. Most of the email marketing problems I see out there are of the Email Marketing 101 variety. Just write something that makes sense. I promise it will not make or break your campaign.
That being said, if you're going to use a service like Mailchimp, you should definitely check out their subject line A/B test feature. (Here’s an example of how we used it.) They allow you to try a number of different subject lines and see how they work against each other. Now that is fun.
Tim: Super useful also.
Eli: Tim -- I have a question for you. What's the most surprising thing you've discovered about email marketing?
Tim: That simplicity wins - almost always. You can write a great lengthy argument about why to do something, or you can cut it to one sentence and a CTA. The one sentence emails will almost always win.
Eli: I think it was the importance of growing your list.
Tim: Haha I think you drilled that idea into my head by the end of my first day. So I never really found it too surprising.
Eli: Almost every tip you see out there about email marketing tells you about how to get more out of the list you already have. I cannot tell you how irrelevant all that stuff is unless your list is growing quickly. A marketer who is amazing and email capture and terrible at email marketing will do 10x better than a marketer who's terrible at email capture and amazing at email marketing. 10x.
Kayvon: Calm down, Eli. We get it. You are admitting you’re terrible at email marketing but FranchiseHelp’s ability to capture emails bailed you out until Tim came on the scene.
Kayvon: Now I want to move on from email content (subject lines, body, calls-to-action) to what the emails look like. Does “design” matter in email marketing if you’re aiming those emails at prospective franchisees?
Eli: Of course. However, I would leave a lot of those nitty gritty things to your email provider (e.g. Mailchimp). They're going to be the ones that make sure it looks good on your phone, that the images load right, etc. If you're designing an email template from scratch, you should give us a call because you are in for quite the exercise.
Kayvon: So you would recommend a “paint by numbers” approach of using the templates the email providers offer and just filling in your content in the areas provided?
Eli: A fantastic analogy. Yes.
Kayvon: Most email providers like MailChimp offer dozens of templates out of the box and you can even find template packs you can purchase that extend those basic templates. So how do you decide which template to use? Any rules of thumb?
Eli: I'll choose to quote Tim from earlier in this conversation, "simplicity wins - almost always." It's really true. I generally do the simplest template they have. You should probably include an image or two, but please do not shoot for an email like this:
It is so difficult to design and implement and email like this. Plus, I'm going to assume it's not actually that effective at getting people to take action.
Kayvon: Ok, but we still haven’t talked about how readers are actually consuming email. Used to be desktop (e.g., Outlook versus Eudora) was all that mattered, then came webmail (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail), then came mobile Armageddon.
Tim: Most email providers do a very good job about making your emails optimized for whatever platform your users are looking at them on. Just like Eli talked about for your websites you want your emails to look just as good if not better on mobile. Thankfully we don't need to worry too much about making this happen. The only thing I think you need to make sure you do as an email marketer is test out every email on both desktop and mobile. Make sure your CTAs are still clear on mobile otherwise you're going to see bad results.
Eli: I'd summarize my thoughts as: Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.
Kayvon: Ok now I want to touch very briefly on an advanced topic that we’ve received a surprising number of questions about from franchise development pros: email list segmentation. Eli and Tim — you’ve both been known to have some healthy (public) debates on this very topic.
Eli: First of all, Tim is wrong. He's going to espouse to you the increased effectiveness of his segmented email strategy. And that's all well and good. But if subject line optimization is email marketing 401, then list segmentation may as well be a PhD class. It doesn't move the needle for companies will unsophisticated email strategies. Focus on the basics. When you've spent an entire year working on your core email strategy, come back and talk to us about segmentation. It's not worth your time. One of my favorite movies uses the quote, "The juice is not worth the squeeze."
Tim: This is the one part of your email strategy that I think is dead wrong. Every type of marketing is moving towards being more and more personalized. This whole chat we've been talking about how email is one of the best channels because it's basically free and because you have a captive audience. So why would you waste your email opportunities with a message that doesn't apply to a big chunk of your users?
At its broadest email segmentation is breaking your list into smaller pieces and sending specific emails to those segments. Maybe it's geographic, maybe it's by interest, or something else. But you can figure out what you're users want and get them those messages.
Kayvon: Ok, maybe we should just move on….
…to our lightning round!
Eli: LIGHTNING ROUND!!!!
Kayvon: I throw out a prompt, you must respond “Yea” or “Nay”. Of course, if anyone is interested in a further explanation they’re welcome to ask us a question here.
“Event” or “Holiday-Driven” email content (Happy Halloween, Holidays, 4th of July, New Year’s, etc.) ==> Yea or Nay?
Kayvon: A disagreement on the very first one? Ok, I’m immediately changing the rules to require a one-sentence position justification from each of you.
Eli: Nay -- Everyone does it, and I've never seen evidence of its effectiveness.
Tim: Yea -- Shouldn't be cutesy, but they can be very useful for hitting messages about time off from work/relaxing lifestyle etc.
Kayvon: I’m of the strong opinion that they’re just terrible, unless they are especially relevant to your business (e.g., Mother’s Day Sale emails from a florist). But moving on...
Next one, emailing only once a month so you don’t “burn out your list” ==> Yea or Nay?
Tim: NAY - Why waste your list?
Eli: Nay -- Did I mention email is free? I would email as much as your list can take. What's wrong with daily?
Kayvon: Emoji (graphical icons) in subject lines ==> Yea or Nay?
Eli: Yea -- Definitely don't overuse them, but they're really fun.
Tim: Yea - Catches people's eye especially on mobile.
Kayvon: Conclusion: Yea (for now). It’ll eventually begin to get old, then annoying, then just stop standing out...but for now we see higher open rates and engagement when these are used creatively.
Being funny in your email copy (content) ==> Yea or Nay?
Tim: Nay - Most of us aren't as funny as we think we are. (Looking at you Eli)
Eli: Yea -- Everyone's funnier than their co-workers think they are.
Kayvon: Hmm...Ok let’s tease out the nuance. This one is for Eli only: Being funny in your email instead of being direct and to the point ==> Yea or Nay?
Eli: Yea -- People read so many emails every day. Why not try and stand out from the rest of the noise? If you find out that you don't have the ability to be funny (as Tim suggests is likely), then you can always be serious.
Kayvon: Conclusion -- it can work really well if you’re good, but consider letting your colleagues or (or even better) your friends read a few samples of what you consider to be your “funny” emails before going down the path of a “funny” email content strategy.
Using stock photos in your emails ==> Yea or Nay?
Eli: Yea -- If they're relevant, people LOVE high quality images
Tim: Yea - Better Images = Better Email
Kayvon: Conclusion -- most stock photos are absolutely terrible, but if you invest the time in finding good ones that haven’t already been plastered across the internet, you can see great results. Even better is if you have VERY HIGH QUALITY (professional photos) that pertain to your franchise concept that you can include. But lacking that, good stock photos are a great option.
Kayvon: Ok, we’ve covered a ton here and didn’t even touch on advanced topics like autoresponder sequences, a/b testing methodologies, click tracking, and more which we can get to in a future chat.
Kayvon: To wrap this up neatly, let’s conclude with some email marketing mad libs: If I could monitor only one stat about my email performance, it would be ________.
Eli: List Size!