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Do You Think Auto-Responders Suck?

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.

Trust must often be earned, over multiple interactions

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.

Consider an Email Service Provider for your auto responder needs

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.

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May 1, 2012 Posted by | copywriting, local marketing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Thoughts on How Thanksgiving is like Search Engine Marketing

I saw an interesting blog post (http://www.seonoobie.com/2010/11/how-search-engine-marketing-is-much-like-thanksgiving-dinner/) in one of my LinkedIn groups on How Thanksgiving is like Search Engine Marketing.

Here are a few of my additions to look at:
Remember that different people refer to the same food in different ways. Yams/sweet potatoes… The guest is correct, even if you have to translate to the chef to smooth out the egos. In Search Engine Marketing, the customers keywords are the correct keywords, even if you have to coach the CMO.

Sometimes the guests/family prefer the lesser ingredients (canned cranberries over fresh cranberries), salty canned gravy over homemade. Listen and understand, your objective is to make a happy celebration for all the guests at the table. The less precise keyword or more generic keyword that customers click on are the correct keywords. Seborrheic dermatitis may be the correct term, but far more people are searching for Dandruff shampoo.

While the dinner is very important, the whole day is a celebration – conversation, flag football outside, the game(s) on TV, waiting for Sue to get off work or drive from Milwaukee all are important factors. Dinner may be the centerpiece of the day, but not the only consideration. With SEM, understand that customers determine when the best time to close a sale are and ask questions, not your staffs desires.

Mistakes happen, the pie is burnt, the dip gets spilled, dad forgot the …. – it happens, so determine if a substitute is needed and adapt. If you need a simple dip rather then the wonderful family favorite 7 layer, because that is all that is left at the Jewel closing in 5 minutes, adapt. If you need some FAQ’s that are not the best written, to keep visitors from buying at the next site for cyberMonday, then do the best you can and deal with it (let the call center know that these may not be the best and to expect more).

Of course all of the similarities are based on the fact that both Search engine marketing and Thanksgiving are for people that have different desires and needs. Those people want to be treated special and with respect. If you are the host, you need to adapt to the needs of your guests, or brother George may be going to his in-laws next year rather then your dinner table, even if he gets divorced.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | copywriting, LinkedIn, SEM Industry, Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment