The MurkyGrey blog


Talking to people about technology

Blast it like Google!

A tiny case study

Start talking about email blasts and people get very emotional. Some marketers swear by them, they will tell you that if you do it right an email blast is a great way to reach a whole lot of people and track their response. Other marketers hate them, saying that blasting thousands of emails is a waste of time, most people don’t read them and worst of all: many will consider it spam and hate you for it.

When Google blasted a Google Ads email promotion last month to their customers I got an unusual glimpse at their blasting strategy. You see, I own no less than seven Google Apps domains and so, over the course of the day, more and more emails from the same blast found their way into my inbox. It looked like this:

3 emails

The thing that should jump out at you is that although we’re looking at three emails from the same campaign, each offering is different. We’ll get back to that in a second, but first let’s talk about the mailing list.

The mailing list, obviously, makes or breaks an email campaign. Blasting a bunch of random strangers is probably the best way to waste your time and money, and ruin your reputation all in one go. Targeted lists of people you’re not directly affiliated with are a grey area, but the sure bet is your list of existing customers. Your customers expect to hear from you, they should be happy to hear from you (unless they hate you, in which case you should not worry about email marketing — you have much bigger problems!). Google is making a very safe bet by emailing current customers and you can do it too. If you’re uncertain about email marketing and you’re looking for a place to start, your list of current customers is a safe, natural choice. By the way, if you’re looking for an easy way to increase this list, offer something for free!

Now back to content. It is no accident that three emails from the same campaign contain three different offers. In our case the three offers were:

  1. Spend $25, get $100 free
  2. Spend $50, get $150 free
  3. Spend $100, get $300 free

The clear trend here is “the more you spend, the more you get for free”. This is true in absolute terms while in relative terms it is actually the lowest offer that yields the highest bonus (400%) while the other two are slightly lower (300%). What does this mean to us? Not much, except the knowledge that someone is playing with the numbers and trying different options. Which one of these is the most attractive? Who prefers the lower offer and who prefers the higher ones? We don’t know and neither did Google, until they ran the campaign. But you can be sure that responses to the campaign were tracked and analyzed to death and the marketing folks at Google now know exactly which offer appeals to different segments of their target demographic.

And that is the real takeaway here: It is good to craft your message carefully before you deliver it to your audience. But when delivering a marketing message to a broad audience, it is always better to have at least two variations of your message, deliver both and measure the response you get with each one. Choose the one that worked better as the base for your next campaign and repeat, or conclude that different demographics respond better to different messaging and split future campaigns accordingly. Just be sure to follow the rules for statistical significance before you make your decision. (If you need help designing a statistically valid test drop me a note, I’d be happy to help.)

The unexpected truth about LinkedIn endorsements

LinkedIn endorsements are not just the selfless, friendly pats on the back they seem to be. They are also a self-promotion tool that allows you to exploit the networks of your connections including colleagues, friends and competitors.

LinkedIn launched the “endorsements” feature in September of 2012, touting it as “a great way to recognize your 1st-degree connections’ skills and expertise with one click”. This easy-to-use (some say “lazy”) feature sees a lot of use. Endorsements pop up in my own LinkedIn activity feed on a daily basis.

Many LinkedIn users embraced endorsements and now, more than five months after launch, the stream shows no sign of slowing down. However, the new feature has also drawn its share of criticism. Many argue that it adds nothing to existing LinkedIn recommendations, that recommendations require more effort on behalf of the endorser and are therefore more meaningful. Mashable went as far as calling all LinkedIn endorsements “meaningless” in a recent op-ed while others describe the slew of endorsements as “noise”.

But critics and supporters alike miss a very important aspect of LinkedIn recommendations: It is a free and easy way to get your name on the activity feeds of your second-degree connection. Furthermore, it is the only way to gain exposure to the connections of those who elected not to share their network with you.

Here’s how it works: John is a Southern California marketing professional working for White Goose Marketing Inc. One of John’s LinkedIn connections is Liz, who works for Golden Eggs Marketing Inc. across town. John and Liz met at a conference a couple of years ago and connected on LinkedIn. Liz, as you may expect, is connected to virtually everyone at her office. John is ready to make his next career move and he would like to get noticed by hiring managers at Golden Eggs. John endorses Liz for an existing skill on her LinkedIn profile. Shortly afterwards, a message pops up in Liz’s activity feed, visible to of all of her contacts, (including many at Golden Eggs): “Liz is endorsed by John”. A link to John’s profile accompanies the message. Possibly, one of Liz’s co-workers or managers will be intrigued enough to click through and view John’s profile — mission accomplished! If it doesn’t work the first time, John can repeat the process, endorsing Liz for a different skill a few days later. If he does it too frequently he risks annoying Liz, but every endorsement is another shot at the exposure John seeks.

And here’s a slightly more deceptive example: Pete and Holly are executive recruiters. They often find themselves competing over talent and clients. As recruiters, their respective networks are critical assets they closely guard. You can be sure that both their LinkedIn profiles are set so others cannot see their connections. However, they left “who can see your activity feed” at the default setting, allowing their connections to see it. In the spirit of 21st century co-opetition Pete connected with Holly on LinkedIn, knowing she cannot see his list of connection. Holly would love to add some of Pete’s top candidates to her talent pool, so she ‘innocently’ endorses him for an existing skill. Here too, with her name on Pete’s activity feed there is a chance that some of Pete’s candidates will click to view Holly’s profile. (In fairness, the endorsement will show up on Holly’s feed as well, exposing Pete to her own network.)

Think what you will about John and Holly’s moral conduct, they utilize LinkedIn endorsements in a powerful and creative way. If you are concerned about others utilizing your own activity feed in this way, you can remove endorsements from your activity feed  (update: Erika Napoletano wrote an excellent tutorial explaining how to do that).

And finally, to my many LinkedIn contacts whom I have endorsed over the past few months, and to the few that I have endorsed recently while researching this post, I really did mean each and every endorsement. You guys are awesome!