Relationships Drive Business

Strengthening Customer Engagement to Propel Your Business

7 Steps to Regular, Dread-free Newsletters March 24, 2011

Nearly a year ago I started sending out SocialPie’s weekly newsletter. When I started planning it, my friend Russ said, “Weekly? That’s a big commitment.” It made me step back, rethink and plunge forward anyway. Weekly, smeekly. I could handle it.

Fast forward, rubber hits the road. Weekly was a big commitment. Were there week’s I wished I’d bitten off something smaller? Yes. Have I missed a week? No (knock wood.)

At first the weekly churn from idea to article was a drag, it took so much time. Coming up with a topic, finding the resources, getting it down on the screen, editing. It all seemed to drag out and I found myself dreading it. Some week’s I was up until midnight finishing for a 5:00 AM post time. There was even one Friday morning I sprang out of bed realizing I hadn’t finished. It was discouraging.

Fast forward some more, now I have it down to a science, and that’s what I want to share with you, the process that’s evolved. With process and practice I’ve increased the speed it gets done, and that has been encouraging.

Here’s my 7 steps to regular newslettering:

  1. Bookmark an interesting article or comment.
  2. Capture random thoughts on the topic right in Emma (my newsletter platform), save the draft.
  3. Turn those thought fragments into sentences and edit.
  4. Walk away.
  5. Spell check and edit again
  6. Read aloud, edit again.
  7. Final formatting and scheduling.

This process came together over time. I can’t emphasis enough that weekly deadline I gave myself helped me hone a process. Now I turn out newsletters in 3-4 sittings, totally about 90 minutes of my time. Are they perfect, gosh no. But they ship.

Another thing that’s really helped is an editorial calendar. Within my calendar I created another “Newsletter Topics” calendar. That’s where ideas get dumped. Some week’s I get 3 ideas, but I only use 1 topic per newsletter. With the calendar I can dump the extra ideas and links to what triggered them in a convenient place. When I’m ready to write I go to the calendar to grab the ideas. It has made things much easier.

Have you struggled with the same thing? How have you handled it?


Email Marketing + Facebook = Multi Tasking August 26, 2010

Filed under: Ideas — Carla Bobka @ 6:24 pm
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And the Clouds Part… August 12, 2010

Today one of clients had a breakthrough. We’ve gotten her a foundation on Facebook and Twitter, and she’s beginning to promote to her customers that they can find her there. I’ve been working with her web designer and graphics person to develop a cohesive look across all the digital platforms.

This morning we went through Constant Contact for the first time. I had set up a template for her, loaded images and mailing list and added the beginning of content so she could see the framework. This afternoon she dove in herself, fine tuned the content, sent a test email and edited the oopses. At 6:00pm she hit send for the first time to all 2000 people on her list.

Prior to this she’d been doing a newsletter but the process was much different. She’d been putting her newsletter together in Microsoft Publisher and attaching a PDF to an email.

At 8:00 I logged into Constant Contact and could see the email was Sent, and she’d had 99 opens so far. I dialed her, “Hello, this is instant gratification calling…” I cannot tell you how tickled she is! One of her customers was in the store when she got the email. She opened it right up, no waiting for a doc to load, my client could see her read it. She could see how great it looked on the phone’s browser – just as great as it looked on her desktop before she hit send.

We’ve been moving toward this point for a month. There’s been 6 meetings, more phone calls and miles of legwork. And we’ve finally arrived at a place where she’s seeing all the clouds part and the golden light shining down on her business from the power of the web tools that had baffled her 45 days ago.

It’s a process, for sure. We have more ground to cover, and believe me her gears are turning on what to do next. If you are frustrated and feeling stuck, give yourself time, trust that there’s a point where you too will see the fog clear.


Email is Ugly April 9, 2010

Filed under: Ideas,Resources — Carla Bobka @ 10:54 am
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Daily Worth's email come through Constant Contact.

Competition is everywhere, including your customer’s Inbox. For your company email to be read you have to stand out. Do you?

The good news is there email enhancement tools available to make you shine. Sounds like a face-lift, doesn’t it? It pretty much is.

This email makes me hungry. Firebirds uses Fishbowl.

Sending customers email piggy backs onto your existing marketing and any social Facebook or Tweeting you’re doing. Email is a place the majority of your customers spend time. You want to show up where they have their attention, and so many people spend time in email.

Email marketing tool platforms help you make the most of that attention. They are a category that is a bridge between traditional marketing formats and social formats. I think of them as pretty email makers. They give you design tools beyond bold, italic and font style. You can insert and position elements other than text: images, video links, links to your blog, website or Facebook and plenty of color, anywhere you want. AND they are simple to use. Templates are part of the programs, you can customize them to match your existing website or retail color scheme. It’s a little like using Lego blocks except you can also change colors, make noise and escape through a rabbit hole.

The result of the design components is visual texture. Regular emails don’t have that, they are flat and dull. With design elements your message becomes more interesting to look at, easier to absorb because it is visually organized, that makes it nicer to spend time with and more stimulating than plain black letters on a white screen.

Some of the brands in this space are:

They are all available for download. Over the next month I’ll do a post on each one to give you a sense of which ones you want investigate.

Anthropologie uses Cheetahmail for a artsy look.

Each brand’s version is different and yet accomplishes the same thing. Each has its own strength and personality; each has a weakness. Explore and play around – most give you a free trial. Or give me a buzz and I’ll point you in the right direction based on your business.

So making attractive email helps you win the battle of share of mind. The beauty of using one of these tools is you can tell if your email gets the readers attention AND how they interact with it. The reporting capabilities of each platform let you see how many of the emails you sent were opened and which links got clicked on most. How does that help you? It tells you more about what your customer likes. Every time you send an email you learn more about what makes your customer tick, and you can tailor your next email accordingly.

So no more ugly emails! Make them count.


Deerfield Wines Goes “Chicago Style” March 25, 2010

Filed under: Ideas — Carla Bobka @ 4:24 pm
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Deerfield Fine Wines has been sending out these great emails for the last couple years. They hit my Inbox every Thursday or Friday. Each email features either an upcoming Friday night tasting event or a fundraiser for a local charity. The emails look fantastic and tell me what they are pouring at this week’s tasting. Last week I hit “Reply” to compliment them on what an impression they make. After a couple more email exchanges, I asked Dean Cesario, the store manager, if he would agree to being highlighted here on the blog.  On Tuesday we got together for an interview.

C: How long have you been using email to promote your tastings?

D: Two years. After I started here we changed the format of tastings and my wife convinced me to use Constant Contact instead of a plain email. She sets them up every week for me. (she’s a corporate auditor)

C: How did the format of the tasting change?

D: They used to be 1 wine rep pouring 3-4 wines and 15-20 people would show up and taste wines from one wine region. I moved here from the Midwest and have a restaurant background, I thought we could improve the format of the tastings. I worked with Michael Pace, La Bella,  and his restaurant group for 16 years. We changed the tastings to “Chicago Style.”

C. What’s “Chicago Style?” (Disclaimer: Chicago is one of my favorite towns EVER)

D. That means more of a party atmosphere with restaurant type service from our staff. We have a live band, valet parking, food, and 3 wine reps pouring 4-5 wines each. We help the reps select what they pour giving customers a broad taste of a single variety being made in different regions around the world.  So for instance, one night we will have 12-15 wines all made from chardonnay grapes being made in France, Australia, Sonoma, Napa, Argentina and South Africa. The customer gets a broad experience of what the grape can be depending on the part of the world it’s grown in.

C. Did your turn out change when you went “Chicago Style?”

D. Oh, yeah. We went from 15-20 people to 70-80 people.

C. Sounds like the changes were well received.

D. By the customers, yes. By our wine reps, not so much. They took some convincing. They were used to “owning” a tasking. In the end they rose to the competition, pouring and educating customers, and expanding their palates. There’s one group who come regularly, all 22 year old U of D students, they come in with wine books to learn while they taste. That broadens what we buy from the reps.

C. Any other changes?

D. We started doing fundraisers for local charities. They get $10 at the door, have raffles and get 10% of sales for the charity.  Attendance for those events is 80-100 people. Now I have 2 or 3 charity organizations come in everyday to get on our calendar. We don’t have room to do our own tastings any more. My calendar is filled through early fall with charity fundraisers 2 or 3 days a week. It’s a bit lighter for summer while people are at the beach, but we’re still booked full.

C. Wow, that’s a big increase in attendance. Do you sell enough wine to make it profitable?

D. We break even by the time we cover the band, valet, food and what we pour. But we aren’t doing it to make money that night. We do it for the community and to broaden awareness of the store in our market. How we treat folks while they are here is what brings them back on a non-event visit to buy from us. We remember their name, know where their kids go to school; we treat them like family.

C. How much of the success do you contribute to the email distribution vs. “Chicago Style” atmosphere?

D. That’s hard to gauge, since we implemented both about the same time. Our email list is 3100, and we have an open rate of 13-15%, with an average of 90 people showing up.  People like knowing in advance what we’re tasting, the email gives them that, and the visual gives newcomers a taste of who we are as a store before they walk in.

C. Do you use any other social media channels?

D. No, I’m a face to face person.  I don’t really like the computer other than for email and inventories.

C. Anything else we should know about the emails or the tastings?

D. Everybody needs ID to get in and no kids. It doesn’t matter if you’re 50, no ID, no entry. We have a set up for the kids – they can have pizza and movie in the yoga studio next door while Mom & Dad come to our event. Mom & Dad both need ID.

So as impressed as I am with the emails, the events themselves are the true stars. I’m going to one on Friday night.

Deerfield Wines is a wine only shop located in Newark, DE. The shop opened three years ago, and Dean Cesario has been manager since 2008. Join their mailing list here.


Facebook Gets Sexy March 18, 2010

Filed under: Learnings,Strategy — Carla Bobka @ 12:22 pm
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Yesterday Facebook sent me a surprising email. It was a summary of all the Fan Pages I administer and 3 vital stats for each of them—all in 1 email. Pretty helpful. As a social media platform I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is a first for them. Congrats, it’s a hit, keep it coming.

Two things I like the most:

  1. Facebook brought information they had to me, in a place I already had my attention – my Inbox
  2. They kept it simple – 3 key stats and links to my pages to take action
  • Number of new fans
  • Amount of interaction
  • Amount of  views

The email itself was pretty simple, the stats were all from the Insights section of each page. Yes, I check those myself as part of the management of the page. The stats on the insights page are very helpful, although not always as clearly reflective of my page as they should be. (For instance, Fan count on Insights doesn’t match what shows on the page, you’d think that would be a no brainer) But the fact is for people who AREN’T visiting Insights on their own, the email may stimulate them to be more in touch with the data attached to what’s happening on their page. That’s good for Facebook’s longevity. They are giving users more information than they may be finding on their own.

Now, Facebook needs to do a bit of work on the email technique to really look  slick. A strategic partnership to integrate the data into great layout from Constant Contact or MailChimp to make it more visually dynamic. That would move it from sexy to Body by Victoria sexy.