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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.

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

Integrating all the tools of Keeping Current – Part 2

DMNews.com is one of my resources for keeping current. It is an older style newspaper with columns, hints, interviews and a lot of advertising. This paper (and of course online version) keeps me current on the intersection of the different parts of direct marketing – mail, mobile, websites, PPC, SEO, email lists. It mixes a variety of sections from the ‘showcase’ column that reviews different campaigns, quickly giving some benchmark numbers to keep my mind wrapped around reality (‘no seriously, we always convert 40% of all visitors to our site’ – yeah right potential client).

Most of the content is short, with a lot of opposing opinion going head to head to help look at the ‘range’ of mainstream opinion that is current. Its articles make for great snippets to share with clients ans to what is ‘real’ in todays world rather then what some salesperson is trying to sell.

I particularly appreciate reading about those that understand the core of web marketing, email marketing and direct mail marketing is the same. The nuances change and mature, and the benefit results change, but the underlying formulas are the same:

  • What is the lowest cost way to target your marketing to an audience that has a problem that your solution solves?
  • What is the lowest cost way to communicate that solution to your target audience in a way that builds trust, and value at the moment a purchaser is ready?
  • How do I best create emotional commitment to my product?

Those tools keep evolving, but the fundamental strategy stays the same if you want to be successful.

August 16, 2010 Posted by | resources | , , , , | Leave a comment

Integrating all the tools of Keeping Current – Part 1

There are a wide variety of blogs, sites, magazines, books, podcasts and more for learning and keeping up to date with how to market your online presence. One of the challenges is what to pay attention to, and what to ignore.

With that as a need, I am going to start posting what resources I find helpful and try to point out how I look at them for understanding how best to develop an integrated marketing strategy. These tools may have direct information on what to do, but more often they provide a framework for what not to do (such as Black hat SEO – best case a short term strategy, worst case can kill a business) as well as what creative solutions to look for to improve business.

These are just some of the tools and resources I am using today. Having ‘learned’ many industries over the decades, I have learned that trade magazines and newspapers were the best way to quickly see what was coming to ‘mainstream’ business, as well as how to read between the lines as to what are the best practices for today.  I am forever thankful for one of my mentors showing me the subscription cards in most trade magazines. I also curse him every time I move, and I am not current, and need to toss my piles. There is so much changing in every industry, and marketing is no different.  The underlying principles are often the same over the decades (ever notice how similar website marketing is to direct mail marketing), but the nuances evolve (7 touches is now 9 or 12 depending on your study and costs).

All of this leads me to ask you – what tools do you use to stay current?

August 14, 2010 Posted by | local marketing, Reference books, SEO tools, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment