SI Review: June 2011

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I Reach, E Reach

How to maximize your online marketing efforts

Typically seen as low- or no-cost marketing options, using Twitter, blogs or other electronic means to promote your brand has never been more prevalent. And if you haven’t already jumped on the e-marketing bandwagon, chances are you’re facing considerable pressure to do so.

Indeed, the Internet has opened multiple channels for reaching more people than ever before — for little to no investment. And unless yours is a large firm where branding, lead generation and thought leadership are someone else’s job — heck, the field offices in many national firms don’t even have to tweet because someone else does it for them — the task is yours.

A Daunting Task

You may be thinking: There is just too much noise out there! How can I possibly compete?

True, when it comes to using email and the Internet for marketing purposes, the possibilities may be overwhelming. Creating compelling content takes time, and with resources already stretched thin, time is at a premium. Legislative hurdles further complicate an already difficult task — the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 established rules regarding emailing of content.

Between the challenges of creating enticing material and complying with the law, it’s easy to see why many staffing firms aren’t taking full advantage of email and other electronic tools to reach their prospects in a strategic and consistent way.

Then there’s the question as to whether e-marketing really delivers leads. In fact, RainToday.com, which offers advice and tools for service businesses, featured a case study from a staffing industry supplier validating that yes, it can deliver. The key is to employ proven best practices.

Some Examples

Let’s take Bullhorn, a front-office software platform utilized in the staffing industry. It relies heavily on permission-based email marketing to supply leads as an enabler of its sales effort. According to RainToday.com, Bullhorn follows the traditional, permission-based marketing model: capture interest, get people to opt in based on providing them something of value, and offer them something new and valuable so they become better acquainted with the brand over time.

All of Bullhorn’s campaigns feature strong value-based offers. For example, it published a semiannual compensation study, which proved to be an extraordinarily popular offer. As a result, the company maintains a healthy database of more than 36,000 clients and prospects.

The case study references a particularly successful email blast prompting recipients to take a “recruiter IQ test.” In its first two weeks, the email blast had an email open rate of 17 percent, a 20 percent click-through rate and a 2.2 percent response rate (people who registered and took the test), which was slightly better than Bullhorn’s best campaign. Based on past experience with email campaigns, the company expects 15 percent to become qualified leads — or about 120 viable new prospects for deals, and ultimately 40 to 50 new customers.

The company attributes some of the success to the fact that Bullhorn had already established a relationship with recipients who had seen reports on compensation, technology trends, and tips on how to be a better recruiter, social networker, etc. So when recipients got the email about taking a recruiter IQ test, they knew it would provide value to them, that they’d learn something by taking the test.

Note the best practices the company employed to maximize the effectiveness of an email marketing campaign:

  • Campaigns are not a one-shot deal but an integral part of the lead generation strategy; the firm understands consistency is key to brand recognition.
  • The company offers its recipients something they find valuable with each communication and invites readers to opt in.
  • The invitation to take an IQ test captured interest as readers associated it with past communications from the firm and knew they would learn something. Thus, they were intrigued to know more.
  • The company measures results, using statistics like open and click-through rates to gauge lead potential based on historical outcomes.

Taking Action

So how can you and your firm engage in e-marketing and make it pay off with the least effort? E-marketing efforts almost always begin with emails, even if they lead readers to websites for further reading or other interaction, so we’ll focus on building a strong email marketing campaign here rather than blogging or tweeting.

The easiest way for small firms to get started with email marketing is to subscribe to an online service such as Constant Contact, iContact and Benchmark Email. These services exist to help small to midsize businesses get the word out about their offerings and expertise. With tutorials, user-friendly templates, customer service support and tracking tools for statistics, these services make a complex process easier. You can even set up a campaign once a quarter and select send dates weeks in advance, saving yourself time later.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Amy Bingham is a managing partner with Bingham Consulting Professionals, which helps staffing firms with strategic planning. She can be reached at abingham@binghamcp.com.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

[Sidebar]

Email Campaign Tips

1. Limit your communications to no more than twice a month. Striking the balance between frequent enough to support brand recognition, but not so frequent that you become an annoyance, is an art. You’ll know if your emails are too frequent if your “unsubscribe” rate increases.

2. Set up several target account lists and tailor your content to the audience. For example, if you’re in the professional services space, segment your lists by skill. A finance and accounting buyer may wonder why he’s getting thought leadership material about the shortage of qualified engineers. And, if he gets too much email that doesn’t speak to his needs, he’ll start to wonder why he’s on your list — and he’ll unsubscribe.

3. Know your customers, and make your communication about them, not you. This is probably the most important best practice you’ll employ in marketing and sales. While your e-communication can absolutely showcase your services, you’ll increase the likelihood your email will be opened if the recipient cares about the subject matter. Make it relevant to the challenges they face and how your firm can help solve them, and you’ll have subscribers for life.

4. Don’t spill all your candy in the lobby! While it’s true that an enticing subject line can prompt people to open your email, don’t make it so complete that the reader doesn’t even have to open it to get the gist of your message.

5. Less is more. Keep your communication short, succinct and valuable to the target audience. If the reader has to scroll down to read the entire communication, it’s too long.

6. Put the most critical information in a prominent spot. That’s usually in the middle of the page. Anything on the periphery is much more likely to be missed.

7. Watch the statistics, and learn from them. Your objective is to generate interest in your services. Tracking ideal delivery times for the best open rates and knowing who opened the communication — and who recently subscribed (and unsubscribed!) — is valuable for gauging what works and what doesn’t. Chances are if an open rate is low, your communication wasn’t compelling enough to your audience to open it. Knowing this means next time you can avoid the same mistake and position the message differently for a better result.

8. Engage your audience. Assuming the subject is relevant to your reader, quick surveys, polls and comment boxes are a great way for you to informally gather feedback from prospective buyers and follow up directly with those who responded. In the Bullhorn example noted here, readers were immediately engaged to take the IQ test for which they received results. Providing something of value “free” can be extremely effective.

9. If business writing isn’t your strength, don’t attempt it. There may be someone on your team better suited to the task who also has the creativity and desire to take on creating compelling content. And if not, consider outsourcing it to a marketing firm with expertise in email marketing campaigns. You want your communications to reflect the polish and professionalism of your firm; your brand depends on it, so it’s worth the investment.

10. Do your due diligence before hitting the “Send” button. Always use the spell check tool, and send yourself a test copy of the message before it goes to your distribution list. For the reader, there is nothing worse than clicking a link that doesn’t work when you were enticed enough to want to know more.

While e-marketing can be daunting, there are many ways to go about it, and many ways in which such efforts can benefit your company. So follow these guidelines for success and get in the game. As your firm starts to generate interest from clients and prospects through a repeatable e-marketing process, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

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