Episode 108 – Email marketing for zero unsubscribers

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Episode 108 – Email marketing for zero unsubscribers

Email marketing for zero unsubscribers | Sideways8 Interactive

Adam: [00:08] Hi, and welcome to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast, a podcast about digital marketing and how to make it better so the good people and good organizations can have good marketing as well. I’m your host, Adam Walker, co-founder of Sideways8, a digital marketing agency and 48in48, a nonprofit dedicated to hosting events that build forty-eight websites for forty-eight nonprofits in forty-eight hours.

[00:28] My guest on the show today is Janine Fugate. She is the Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, one of the state’s largest social service nonprofit organizations with a budget of one hundred and fifty million and more than two thousand three hundred employees. She joined LSS after thirteen years with Scholarship America where she cut her teeth on content marketing with a national blog. She’s been itching to bring that expertise to LSS and has spent the last three and a half years developing the right foundation to get started. Janine, welcome to the show.

Janine: [01:02] Thanks for having me.

Adam: [01:03] I love that your background is in content because I think, too often, marketers sort of forget content, and in my mind, content drives all of marketing, right?

Janine: [01:14] Oh, I agree. 100%.

Adam: [01:16] So I’m sure that’s the approach that you’re taking as you’re developing the foundation to get started. I imagine it’s a really solid foundation of content. I’m assuming that’s going to be some degree of a thread in our conversation, so I look forward to that.

Janine: [01:32] Awesome. Cool.

Adam: [01:33] If you’re ready, I’m ready. Let’s go and get started. Question number one: related to digital marketing, can you tell me something that has worked well for you?

Janine: [01:42] So, a little bit of background: when I joined LSS just under four years ago now—three and a half, four years ago—we had an outdated website and outdated brand, really. I heard people say LSS, as big as it is, was the best-kept secret in Minnesota. We had a lot of work to do just to get ready to do content marketing and that included refreshing our brand. We redid our logo in 2016 and we had to make our website user-friendly because you can put content out there, but you really need a place for people to land and we did not have a good home for our content.

Adam: [02:31] Right. Wow. That’s fantastic. So, I’m just taking notes here. You said the steps that you took to build the foundation for your content was, first, new logo, new brand. I assume some new messaging there, too. Second was a website that is user-friendly. Are there any other foundational elements to get in place before the content could happen?

Janine: [02:56] We just launched our new site in August and that was a huge undertaking. We have twenty-three services and eighty total program offerings across the state of Minnesota. And unlike a lot of nonprofits, or some nonprofits, some of our services are private pay and many of the service decisions are influenced by the individual seeking services, but other service decisions are made by counties or other entities. Referral sources, if you will. And so, we really needed a site that would work like a B2C, B2B, and would work for current and prospective donors and volunteers. It took us a good two years of planning and developing to get the site launched. Our previous site was organized by our internal hierarchy, so it was really difficult to navigate. Now, we have a site that’s organized by user experience and one of the most exciting successes I think from the launch of the new site is that people are actually telling us they can find the information that they’re looking for. That’s number one, right? So that’s the foundation. One of the things that I like to tell, especially to our leadership at LSS, is the improvement in our careers or employment page. We went from a 77% bounce rate to 21% bounce rate after launch.

Adam: [04:37] Whoa. Wow!

Janine: [04:39] I know, right?

Adam: [04:41] That’s amazing! I’m assuming that’s probably also increasing the quality of the applications you’re getting too.

Janine: [04:48] We haven’t done any measurement on that yet, but I look forward to looking into that.

Adam: [04:55] We’ll just assume that. At the very least, what it means is that the people that are finding the employment page are intentionally finding the employment page, they’re finding the things they want on the page, and therefore they’re clicking within the page.

Janine: [05:08] Right. Exactly.

Adam: [05:11] I love that. Okay, this is great. Next question: related to digital marketing, can you tell us something that has not worked well that we can learn from?

Janine: [05:20] I would say our email newsletter that we had going when I got to LSS. I think it went out monthly. There was no strategy. There were very poor open and click-through rates. Nobody was making donations as a result. I just really hate the idea of sending a bunch of people something that isn’t of value to them. It’s wasting their time, and it’s wasting our time. We can do so much better. We also really didn’t have an idea of the audience and what they were interested in hearing from us. They weren’t answering surveys, so we just stopped doing it until we could get our website updated and develop our content strategy.

Adam: [06:13] That’s smart. I assume then you can also deploy some kind of methodology for understanding and identifying different segments of your audience, and then you can begin to customize those newsletters or those updates per those audience segments to increase the entire engagement overall, right?

Janine: [06:29] That’s the hope. For sure. And, you know, not surprisingly, nobody has told us they’ve missed it.

Adam: [06:37] Yeah, that’s always kind of a great thing and a depressing thing at the same time: We’re not doing this anymore. We’re not spending our time on something we don’t need to do…and nobody cares…

Janine: [06:50] Well, it just proved my point, right? It’ll be exciting when we do have something that we can offer that is of value and that people would miss if they stopped receiving it.

Adam: [07:01] Oh, absolutely. And what’s interesting is—I was talking to somebody about this just the other day—I actually think that email newsletters are making a comeback. But it’s a very nuanced approach to email newsletters that are making a comeback: they’re extremely targeted, they’re very simplified, and it’s extremely well put together and thought out. Therefore, to do them takes a lot more time, a lot more creativity, and a lot more investment, whether it’s in terms of time or in terms of dollars by organizations. I think there’s a huge opportunity there for organizations that are doing email well. I see very, very few that are doing email well. So, it’s just an interesting thing for us to consider.

Janine: [07:40] Yeah. One of the things that we’re doing for two of our services is a monthly email that is not our general newsletter, but it’s an email that provides specific information about residential home openings. We provide a lot of disability services through LSS and we have what’s generally known as group homes or residential settings for two to four people. When we have openings in those homes we want to make sure to get that information out. We have email lists of people who have opted in for that specific information and we send it out monthly with a brief description of each home. I don’t have the data in front of me, but our click-through rates are above industry average. Definitely, those are popular emails that we send out. They are targeted and actually not that hard to put together because we have that information, we know what our open homes are. It is easy to put together and it’s a huge return on investment.

Adam: [08:52] That’s fantastic. I love that. You’re right. When people sign up for an email list and they know exactly what targeted information they’re going to get and then you send them that specific targeted information, all the better. They’re interested in it, and that’s great. I think when they sign up for a list and it’s very generic information, that’s where we begin to make our big mistakes there.

Janine: [09:11] Exactly. I was just going to add: we’ve had zero people unsubscribe.

Adam: [09:15] Wow, that’s amazing. Kudos to you for that! Final question here. Related to digital marketing, can you tell us something you are excited about?

Janine: [09:25] Content marketing. When I first interviewed at LSS, now about four years ago, I told my now boss, the interviewer, that I was super excited to get my hands on the website, get that fixed and ready for the next phase, and then to implement a content marketing plan for LSS. We’re currently working on the strategy, which is really important because we have, like most nonprofits, limited budget, limited staff resources, but we have a huge service reach and we support individuals from birth through the end of life, and everything in between. And so we have to really think carefully about the strategy and the content that we pull together. How do we want to brand our content? How do we want to put that information out there when there’s so much that we can educate about?

[10:33] My favorite example is one of our service lines is services for older adults. I have aging parents. I have aging in-laws. Sometimes I look for information about how to know how long they’re going to be safe in their own homes. What things should I be looking for as the child in this situation? LSS has all of that knowledge within the smart, educated staff that we have and you can do so much with that to help people know how to make decisions for their families. So, I’m super excited about that. But what I have is a team that’s not terribly familiar with content marketing and, I’m going to be honest with you, I haven’t done a lot of it for almost four years. I’m going back out there and doing some research about how to train my team and how to start pulling together a strategy—a lot has changed!

Adam: [11:40] Right. Yeah, you’ve really got to think it through. The channels shift quickly and the different methodologies shift. But at the same time, I would argue that for you it’s going to be like riding a bike. A good piece of content stretches a very long way, it’s just a question of how you stretch it, right?

Janine: [11:59] That’s right.

Adam: [12:01] I’ve got one burning question about your content marketing strategy that I have to ask: Is it going to include a podcast?

Janine: [12:10] I don’t know. It would be really hard for us to figure out how to limit that.

Adam: [12:19] Yeah, they can be a bit complex. Yes, I get that.

Janine: [12:23] But I do have people who keep asking about it.

Adam: [12:26] Well, you know, what’s fascinating to me about podcasts in particular—of course, I’m super biased. I host two and I’m actually about to start hosting a third for a national nonprofit that I’m not ready to announce just yet. I’m incredibly biased, I’ll say that up front. What I love about it is that you and I can have a really interesting and intelligent conversation for about 15 minutes and that produces a pretty solid piece of content that’s very long format, that can then be transcribed into written that’s going to help from an SEO perspective, and that can be broken down into chunks, both audio and in text. One podcast episode could really produce a hundred small pieces of content if you really wanted it to. That’s what I like about it. It is such an informal and authentic format and it can produce so much content if you look at it the right way. So, I’ll argue for that and you let me know how it goes.

[13:28] Janine, let me see if I can wrap up and summarize our conversation so far, and then I’ll ask you if you have any final thoughts you want to share with the audience. So, question number one: related to digital marketing, what has worked well for you? You mentioned that when you joined LSS, it was quote “the best-kept secret in Minnesota,” which I would imagine as a marketer is one of the worst things that you could hear.

Janine: [13:48] Well, it was also a blank slate. Right?

Adam: [13:50] That’s true. Yeah, you make a good point because when you’re told that, you can do whatever you want, which is actually kind of amazing. That laid the groundwork for a new logo, a new brand, a new website that you said took two years to put together, you launched in August, that’s now organized by user experience. So, you were able to build from, like you said, the ground up. You were able to build the right foundation for content before you actually start to build out the content strategy. And then you specifically mentioned the improvement in your employment page, going from a 77% bounce rate down to a 21% bounce rate, which is spectacular.

[14:24] For question number two: related to digital marketing, what has not worked well? You mentioned the general email newsletter that went out monthly. There wasn’t a lot of strategy, there was a terrible open rate, a terrible click-through rate and so you stopped doing it because it wasn’t having an impact. However, you then juxtapose that with a newsletter or an update that you send out for specific purposes for specific people that sign up to get information about specific openings. And that actually has had a huge engagement rate and it has never had an unsubscriber, which is kind of amazing. That just goes to show us that we need to be very specific and explicit when we’re thinking about our newsletter, our email strategy.

[15:01] And then for question number three: what are you excited about? Of course, you’re a content marketer so you’re excited about content marketing, which I love. You’re currently working on the strategy, you’re figuring out how to brand it, how to put the info out there, and then, of course, you’re going to really seriously consider if you need a podcast or not. I get it, it’s cool. Janine, did I miss anything from our conversation here?

Janine: [15:21] You did not. And you were right, this was really fun.

Adam: [15:25] Well good. That’s my goal. I like to have fun at what I do, and I like it when the people I talk to can have fun as well. Do you have any final thoughts at all that you want to share with our audience here?

Janine: [15:34] I don’t other than apparently, we should all be doing a lot more research on how add podcasts to our content strategy.

Adam: [15:41] I think it could be great. We’ll talk about it. We’ll chat offline. It’ll be great. Janine, thank you so much for being on the show. I genuinely enjoyed having you. Would love to have you back sometime soon.

Janine: [15:51] Thank you so much, Adam.

Adam: [15:56] Thanks for listening to the Good People, Good Marketing podcast. To get more resources about digital marketing, make sure to go to goodpeoplegoodmarketing.com where you can find more podcasts, blogs, and other fun resources. Also, if you want to find me, your host, you can find me on Twitter @ajwalker, and on my blog at adamjwalker.com where I blog about leadership, productivity, habit building, and the craziness of having five kids. Thanks, and tune in next time.

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