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 Geek at the Trade Show

Jeffrey is and old colleague, a brilliant engineer, and a geek to the core; I ran into him on my way out of a particularly interesting session at an industry trade show. 

MurkyGrey: “Hey, Jeffrey! I didn’t know you were here!”
Jeffrey: “Yeah, they sent me this year. The sessions are quite good.”
MG: “I’m heading back to the exhibit hall, want to tag along?”
J: “No thanks, I’m trying to stay away from the exhibit hall, it’s so annoying.”
MG: “Annoying?”
J: “Yeah, a bunch of sales guys, none of them understand half of what they sell, and they all smile at you and latch onto you like leeches. They want me to buy their stuff but I don’t do any buying, that’s my boss’s job.”
MG: “Yes, it’s a jungle out there. But from what I’ve seen yesterday there’s some stuff there you might like; some new versions of tools that you already use and some new tools you may not have heard of, including two that launched this week.”
J: “But if I walk up to them, they’ll start asking me all these questions, it almost feels like they are trying to interrogate me. By the time they finally let me go I’ve told them a whole lot about my job and haven’t learned anything new about their products.”
MG: “That’s just an old sales trick, some sales people believe that by asking questions they can demonstrate their own knowledge, even establish themselves as an authority in your eyes while maintaining control over the conversation.”
J: “That’s ridiculous! Does it ever work?”
MG: “Surprisingly it does, it works very well when you sell commodities to consumers. Ask anyone whose job is to sell cars or appliances and they’ll tell you. It does not work when you’re selling complicated technology to experts, which is why it does not work here.”
J: “You see, it’s a waste of time”
MG: “It does not have to be. If I find myself under interrogation I just reply to their questions with my own. Nobody likes to look clueless so after two or three tough technical questions they stop and go get their own tech guy, that often leads to a meaningful conversation about the problem space and their solutions. I often learn new, interesting stuff this way.”
J: “That actually makes things worse for me, once I’ve caused someone to spend time with me I feel awful walking away from them without buying anything”
MG: “That’s understandable but you really should not feel bad. Nobody expects you to buy anything right away, and even in the long run they should know that a 5% conversion rate is very high for a trade show. Hey, they got to spend a few minutes talking to a handsome guy like you, they have nothing to complain about! So, what do you say? Are you coming with me?”
J: “Sure, maybe… in a minute. Hey, look! Free coffee! I’ll see you in a few!”

I made my way into the exhibit hall by myself, wondering what it might take to get more Jefferys to shed their inhibitions and step inside.