While reading a discussion on using auto-responders for visitors to church congregation websites, I felt compelled to share my thoughts.
The ideas apply not only in email relationship building, but also in all online relationship building. The core is building trust.
As was stated, the concept of auto-responder email is good. It has been proven effective repeatedly in the for-profit world, because it can build trust. However, most implementation in secular and non-secular of auto-responders is terrible. Just as a greeter at a store can totally change the experience for the better or sink the relationship with the whole chain, so can poorly written email generic auto-responders. A poorly written email auto-responder can seem like a chain letter or worse.
There is a reason why communications professionals will write 50 drafts. They are working to get the best chance to communicate the intended tone and message to their audience. Just like a minister will often spend all day or all week writing a sermon to get it ‘correct’, and it still evolves through multiple services on a Sunday (or Friday or Saturday). Even the Bible has gone through a few revisions of the centuries to make sure its message and tone is unmistakable (perhaps it may not be done being revised to tell its story based on the number of interpretations of its messages in different denominations across the country and world).
More Recent Data – Direct Marketing
I would recommend that we look at what has a longer history then email auto-responders for how to most effectively communicate with new relationships. While still much newer then the Bible, direct marketing or direct mail has a much longer history then email. Direct marketing studies performed decades ago realized that it took seven (from letters, TV spots, Radio or in-store visits) ‘touches’ to get the optimum amount of interaction with a perspective person to solidify the relationship (relative to invested cost of each piece). New studies increase that to 9 or 11 touches with the increased onslaught of communications and greater sensitivity to building trust.
That is much of what is at issue here – trust. Does the new guest trust that you understand them? And do they trust they understand the ‘real’ congregation you represent? It becomes hard to trust that you understand someone who may not understand themselves (as may often be the case of shoppers/searchers). It becomes hard to trust, if they only meet a few people in a congregation. It becomes hard to trust if they don’t have a solid referral from someone they trust (especially if they are coming from a place that did have solid referrals and it did not work out). A congregation is where many people put more trust then most any other relationship they have (including family or spouses). Visitors may not know they are looking for a place to put that much trust, but often they are.
Have you earned that trust?
Look at how would you build trust with a new relationship in an off-line manner and consider how to translate it to written form. That may include some disclosure yourself and the congregation (when the annual meeting is, how the board is elected), but often not on the 1st touch. It may include offers to be inclusive, but just as you would not propose on the 1st date, you may not invite someone to lead a group in the 2nd email. The building of trust is based on a mutual exchange of signals that show commitment on both sides. If you don’t properly respond to a visitors signals you are being as rude as kissing someone who shows no interest in a physical relationship.
Of course in the age of digital tools like Constant Contact, iContact, HubSpot, InfusionSoft and many others, the best practice is to consider not creating a single one size fits all approach. Again the lessons and proof go back to the early days of direct marketing and have shown a segmented approach is best. Send a different series of letters to parents then young adults (possibly both if they are indeed young adult parents). The relationship of an empty nester will be different then many 30 year old divorcee’s.
If they overlap, consider staggering your send times. Don’t send them all on Mondays, send the parent letters/auto-responders on Wednesday, Young adults on Friday, etc.
Look at the rules of etiquette in similar online venues (online dating is probably the most clearly documented) and use them to create an appropriate method to build trust with new visitors and you will create many new relationships.
Auto-responders (multiple with proper spacing) can be a great tool in developing mutual trust in a new congregant, especially if it is integrated with personal touches along the way. Especially if it is show ing of the care you would take for a new parishioner. This is your chance to show you care. Does that not deserve a little more effort then 10 minutes for a one size fits all generic letter.
How much time and effort do you typically spend on your auto responder emails? How many do you use? Join the conversation below and share your wisdom.
Check out this website and their whole approach to marketing. Let me know how long it is before you figure out who’s actually the big company behind the totally different approach to marketing.
Here is what stands out in looking at this as an effective marketing tool:
- it is fun and colorful
- it has movement – both in the rotating graphics as well as in the variable typefaces being used.
- It is inviting, both from its graphics and it’s ability to share with others, and the ability to easily find information
- it states what it can do for me in a non-sales format way before I ever can get to the point of finding out what I can buy from them.
- It focuses on community and how we can interact locally, rather than with a big mega Corporation.
- It’s quick, concise, clear, and the messaging text is easy to figure out what it’s about, then get on, get off, and move on to my next task at hand.
- the navigation is easy to follow. While I usually don’t like the drop downs and chase the cursor type websites, this one is easy, because the targeted areas are large, and easy to click on, with a single layer drop-down.
I think the key here is that they are starting from a customer perspective, rather than from a corporate perspective, which is very key for any business these days, especially in working with the younger generation.
This site may or may not be the best for search engine optimization. Although it really is not clear exactly what terms they would be trying to optimize for anyways. They do rank at the top for “next door Chicago”. Which if that is their brand focus here, it is a good approach. But I imagine in the list of site objectives, SEO was lower on the list, and they are more successful in other site objectives.
I would love to have your perspectives on this.
There are so many opinions these days in the world of online marketing about what ‘works’ and what does not. It is always refreshing to see actual data rather then opinion based on hunches and single experiences.
Hubspot has built a reputation by building a community where businesses can share their opinions of what works. In exchange, Hubspot started collecting real stories of what is happening with businesses. That has allowed them to build some tools. Those tools have gotten respect by marketers that have been around long enough to tell the difference between ‘wantabe’s’ and the real deal. Hubspot is not done building, but then neither is the Internet. So while I continue to check out their tools (and recommend you do the same), they have a gift for us. They have shared some of their insights from over 3,700 business customers. They created a slidedeck of those insights and are sharing them here:
This slidedeck has great statistics from 2010 about marketing and social media for both B2B (business selling to Business) and B2C (business selling to consumer) companies. While often focused for smaller companies, I found slides 117-120 particularly interesting as it shows how stock performance related to customer response speed is real interesting. Hint faster response=more money for stock holders of Fortune 100 companies.
Some other observations from the slides:
- It is interesting to see how video is shifting our online conversation. Many more people will share a link to a video than just a photo. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but moving pictures are worth more (plus there is audio). Want to get more sharing of your site? Post interesting video on your blog, website, Facebook Fan Page. (Slide 9)
- Comments are easier for photos then video. I wonder how much of that is the number of sites that allow comments without logging in for photo’s compared to video (especially when directly linking to a YouTube.com or similar tool). Of course videos may just speak for themselves and not need more editorializing. (slides 9-10)
- Having a clear voice and adding your insights gets more views as we continue to have more choices of content to read/consume. ( slides 11-18)
- Readability is important. Don’t write at a college level – The Wall Street Journal does not, for a good reason (Juicy’s Interpreting the Results) (slide 20)
- Giving something of value (webinar, whitepaper, download, chapter, tools, report) increases conversion (slides 30-34)
- Your conversion rate on forms drops after 3 fields. Sorry, our desire for information scares away customers and relationships. Start with a little information and share some value. ( slide 35)
More insights from this treasure trove of information to come.
Hubspots’ full webinar is at
The download PDF and PPT are accessible at
One of the best practices for website conversion also lines up (often) with better rankings on SRP (Search Results Page) – simple language, and good readability scores.
The issue is that once you get someone to your site it needs to be easy to read. There are exceptions, but how often are the buyers (of your product or ideas) really looking to work hard to understand what you have written? Of course Google is no genius either (although many that work there are). It is designed to look at your site as others without sophisticated degrees and high end language skills would look at your site. Of course, I am like many who like to slip into the shorthand of our vernacular and the jargon of each industry. But I do so at my own peril. And increasingly, at my own laziness. MS Word has had analysis of the reading level of your documents for at least a decade. But there are also online tools available as well. They are often for free, that are quick and easy to use.
Understand that the Wall Street Journal writes its content for 11th grade. Most novels are written at the 8th to 10th grade level (remember we had to read them in high school). However, take a look at most websites, they are written for graduate level. How many websites have you seen with humongous long words, utilizing complex sentence structures reminiscent of academic papers that put everyone to sleep (bad example intended)?
Here are a few based on a quick search (until I get back to finding the best in class):
- There are also community based resources, where humans can comment on your writing such as
- A collection of some the favorites are
In fact, the readability of a website is important enough that Google will allow you to control what sites you see in the results based on reading level in their advanced search options:
Improved readability will also improve your site traffic in other ways – happier readers will recommend your site more often. Easy to read writing allows your content to be shared with a wider audience. Those that can understand more complex writing can still understand your simpler text, and those that don’t have 10 years of reading Shakespeare will also be included. It also makes it easier for all to read and digest quickly. Just because a lawyer can read complex writing in statutes does not mean he or she prefers to read tangled prose to learn about your ideas.
So simplify your writing and widen your audience.
If you don’t believe that readability can help your site, do a little test and then let me know the results in the comments section.