One question we keep getting asked is “how do I stop our newsletter being thrown into the junk mail box?”. If you are involved with email marketing, and I include newsletters in that, then this is obviously an important consideration. Avoiding the waste basket has been the goal of direct marketeers since direct mail started and the advice for email marketing to a large extent is very similar.

The easiest way to avoid the junk mail box is to get the recipient to mark your emails as safe/not junk. A lot of this centres around showing the recipient you know them, what they are interested in and in return you are interested in what they have to say.

1. Be personal: first of all address the recipient as an individual. Try to make sure that you know whether they like to be addressed by their first name or more formally. Do they know someone in your organisation? If so, can you send the email from them? Are they members of your friends scheme? Then send it from the membership manager – it just reinforces the relationship.

2. Divide and Conquer: What do you know about your recipients? Do have any purchase history? Have they told you what they like? Do you know what links they have taken previously? You probably have a vast amount of information available so use it to segment your lists and send them information they would be interested in. Do you have a group of large value contributors? Then give them special treatment. Are there people who are just not interested? Then don’t email them and try to find out why they aren’t interested – quality not quantity counts.

3. Communicate: don’t just instruct – “our next performance is on ….”, “new products in the shop…” – encourage your recipients to communicate. Ask for their feedback, direct them to places where some feedback has been published already, direct them to your facebook page and twitter account. Let them converse with you in the medium they are most comfortable with.

4. Test, Monitor and Analyse: Email marketing should not be fire and forget. Keep looking at you stats. What do people click on? Which articles have no interest? What is the best time of day to send your newsletter? Which layout works best?

5. Get the technical stuff right: Deliverability and legalities. using a trusted mail server and using a verified sending address is a great help in getting your email to the intended recipient. Make sure that you include a simple way for a recipient to unsubscribe in every email; treat you email as any other communication from your organisation and include your physical address; Don’t mislead in your subject line.

If you want to get started then take a look at Masque Mail, our low cost emailing solution or get in touch.

“It’s not a good time to be talking about press and public relations” says Heather Maitland in the opening salvo of the latest JAM(1), but then goes on to do just that. And quite rightly too.

The problem it seems is over saturation (read competition) and it has always been thus: proprietors were complaining of an over saturated market in the early eighteenth century when there were 5 newspapers, decades later when there were still only 15, and on through the 60’s (when TV was the fall guy).

However, the problem has changed. It so much the quantity of titles that is their problem but the drop in readers of traditional newspapers. In the USA the number of readers fell by 20 million(2) in 20 years.

Do we read the news less? Of course not. We consume more and more of it. It is a while since teh BBC didn’t have a news bulletin becuase there was nothing to report! It’s just we access it in different ways. The top 20 US newspaper had 13m readers in print but more than 60m online. Sounds good, but no one has yet come up with a business model to make the most of this. One issue here is that we have come to expect that stuff on the web is free (it’s not, but it feels as if it is, but that’s another blog).

Also, how news is distributed has changed – now everyone is a reporter. But the traditional papers have the edge here in that they are probably more trusted.
A fascinating subject. Get your copy of JAM to read Heather’s article and see how leading thinkers and practiioners view the future of the press.

(1)JAM – The Journal of Arts Marketing, published by The Arts Marketing Association, “The end of the newspaper” (issue 40, October 2010)

(2) capcodetoday October 2006

I just read a short, but great blog from  Adam Thurman on the Mission Paradox and following on from my blog the other day about email marketing seemed very timely.

The one bit that says it all:

“If I say the word “marketing” and all you think about is ads or Facebook you are thinking too small. Marketing is about actively building good, defined, relationships with your audience.”

Just been having a look around some of our friends sites and I am still surprised at how many don’t get the basics right when it comes to search engine optimisation (SEO).

I think the trouble is most people think that SEO is hard and takes a lot of work. Well, it can be time consuming if you want to go the whole hog, but basic SEO is fairly simple. Don’t think of it as just getting up the rankings on Google, think of it as a service to those who want to see what you have to say. What you are trying to do is make it easy for them to find you and decide to pay you a visit – that second element is the oft forgotten part of the process.
So what can you do that doesn’t take huge amounts of time? Here’s 4 things you can do:

1. Treat every page as a landing page: When you think about it what is the liklihood of a saerch result returning your homepage? If someone searches for your organisation by name, then probably your home page is what they are looking for. But if the are searching for some information (say a play or a ballet or some artefact or other), then the chances are that information is not on your home page – it is going to be deeper into your site. So you need to think of the best way to let people find that page – so treat it as if it is its own home page.

2. Give every page a unique title: You’d be surprised how many websites have the same title for each page – this is not good, although it is easy. Not only important in SEO terms but it is the page title shown in a Google search result. By the way, Google uses the first 69 characters so make them count: it is your way to grab the readers’ attention. more on page titles…

3. Give every page a description:  Another metatag that is often missed is the description. This gives you a chance to say what the page is about in a succint way. Google uses the first 156 characters in their search results, so it is this which will bring people to your site – no point of appearing high up the lists if they don’t click through. more on descriptions…

4. Give your pages real names: there are differing views on the importance of this in the SEO world, but I think it is good practice and a great help to your visitors. Even outside of search it is much easier to refer someone to a pagename that describes the content than a random stream of numbers and letter. more on page names…

For more SEO ideas take a look at Masque Arts Search Engine Optimisation.

Masque QuickStep Email Wizard

First of all let me say that as a consumer of vast amounts of email this is a great development from the recipients side of the equation – and it will become the norm. Hotmail is following a similar path and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it turn up in desktop apps such as Outlook pre-configured and ready to go.

Almost certainly mobile users will start using settings to just download their priority mail – in fact this will probably be the default.

So here’s the challenge – what will happen to your email newsletter/marketing campaign? Will it be make it to the priority box or be pushed down the list? Your recipients might be very happy reading your newsletters -and may even enjoy some of it – but is that enough to get them to override any default filters and put it into their priority box?

I think this is a good development for genuine email marketeers – if you are segmenting your lists and sending emails with information that truly interests the recipient, then this can be nothing but beneficial as your emails won’t just be lost among the multitude. Email will become less intrusive and be more likely to lead to improved conversions.

So now you have to start putting a bit more effort into your newsletters, no more spray and pray – it is time to apply all those lessons learned with traditional direct marketing to be applied in the email arena.

1. Be more personal. Personalise your emails with the recipient’s name; make sure that what you send is relevent to them; show them that you know them.

2. Make them more interactive. Do you use a no reply address to send them out? If so I think you need to think again.  Just like all other social media, the email has to become more interactive (just look at Google Priority rules), so you need to get recipients to reply to them. A lot of email recipients may not be au fait with Facebook and Twitter, so use this as an opportunity give them a method they understand and like using to start a real dialogue.

3. Test and Analyse. Use each emailing as a test bed to improve what you do and get more conversions. Don’t just look at opens and click throughs but take it that one step further. I’m afraid it’s time to dig out those old statistics text books.
Maybe the Priority In Box is the kick up the butt that email marketing has been waiting for.

Further to my post the other day about David Bintley’s incredible new version of Cinderella, we find that BR are actually producing a second version!  The same score, on the same scale and with the same ambitious production values… but with a very different choreographic team.

Following on from the hugely successful Ballet Hoo! project, BRB are working with local youth groups in the exciting project “Ballet, Birmingham and Me” (or BB&Me for short) to create this second version of Cinderella.

Follow the trial and tribulations of this amazing projects at BB&Me.

Working with CMS: Content Management System

In today’s web world any kind of design, which is going to be continually updated with content, needs a CMS. This database stores your site content and allows the site admin to work with an interface which means you can then add, modify and remove content at your will.

Although a CMS can be designed and programmed specifically for a site it is necessary for you to first consider the type of CMS you are looking to work with. Free website platforms such and Drupal, Joomla and WordPress are available. Although a cheaper option maybe attractive you must match the best CMS available according your requirements – just because it looks cheaper in the short run doesn’t mean it will be over time.

The Relationship Between CMS and Design Brief

A problem we often come across when designing and working with clients is the relationship between the CMS and your design brief. I have begun to think why you shouldn’t specify your CMS as part of your design brief. With some potential clients we can sometimes find the first problem we come across is that the amalgamation of the brief for the technical side (content management system [CMS] and the customer relationship management [CRM]) with the design itself. To solve this problem you should assess these as two separate items and each should be approached separately.

A good CMS will support just about any design that it is thrown into the mix and any designer should conversely also be able to work with most CMS. In regards to implementation, we would always carry out all of the associated work anyway and it should be our main job to make sure the CMS templates correctly implement the design.

Of course it is also possible that over time we can see multiple designers working on a project, even on different parts of a sites design. So by having the technical infrastructure independent to the design company itself can give you much more flexibility. If you are attempting a much larger revamp of the site, why switch your CMS?

Keep the CMS at the Top of the Design Process

We should always put the CMS at the top of the design process; it is imperative that this is done first, before any of the design work. Lay the groundwork of the project with your CMS from this the rest of the design should flow. This is so that the CMS forms the foundation of any website allowing the website process to be much more productive.

Birmingham Royal Ballet have an exciting project on at the moment. Later this year you will have a chance to see David Bintley’s new production of Cinderella at the Birmingham Hippodrome. This promises to be an exciting new interpretaion of Prokofiev’s ballet with John Macfarlane’s designs providing a very dramatic backdrop.

One of the things I love about this new production is that you can follow the developments on the Creating Cinderella blog. Everything from the creation of prosthetic heads to the thinking behind the designs. What is revealing is David Bintley’s video diary so you can follow the development from his first intentions back at the start of 2010.

Video footage of the rehearsals and choreography make this a remarkable record of a highly creative process. So take a look at the blog and go and see the show. It’s on between November 24th and December 12th, so click here to book now.