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November 13, 2013 / christinazuniga

Case Study: Targeting Audience Results in 1700% response rate INCREASE!

It was the best of Marketing practices, it was the worst of Marketing practices. Two divisions within a multi-national organization that follow different techniques to evaluate their customer satisfaction using the same medium: email. Both divisions use similar copy, questions, email templates and their contact lists overlap significantly, so it’s safe to say this is an apples to apples comparison.

Division Granny Smith has management motivated to get the highest number of responses, so their strategy is a simple batch and blast to all contacts on file at every customer regardless of tile, role, or engagement with the brand. Division Honeycrisp apple is concerned with the type of respondents they hear from. Both divisions are B2B software sellers and Honeycrisp wants to make sure that they are hearing from the right person at each company so they invest in time from Sales, Services, and Customer Success teams to select each contact individually. The two division’s total audience lists differs by thousands.

Each year Division Granny Smith ran into trouble with bad responses from customer contacts saying that they couldn’t answer all of the questions because they hadn’t interacted with the Sales Rep or did not use the software directly. While Division Granny Smith had greater overall response numbers, their response rate was dismal and they saw large amounts of unsubscribes. Division Honeycrisp had a lower number of actual responses, but they saw a response rate 1700% higher than Division Granny Smith! Division Honeycrisp’s targeting ensured that each of their responses was from a relevant contact and that the data they gathered would help them to become a better software provider.

How does this help you?
Targeting doesn’t only help with better email statistics, it also helps with relevance. What’s the point of reaching out to a person that doesn’t use your product or whose feedback won’t bring value and insight to your business? Why ask the CMO how their financial software is working and not target the CFO specifically?

  • Receive and give value: make sure the email will be important to the contact you send to. No one wants to see useless or impersonal emails cluttering their inbox.
  • Collaborate with other departments like Sales, Services or Customer Representatives. Other departments have personal connections and insights; make use of their knowledge!
  • Offer a great incentive, especially multiple options. For example, offer a personal gift (iPod, Kindle or similar) vs. a company benefit (services allotment or one time discount). Different incentives motivate different people and contacts whose companies do not allow them to receive a personal gift may still appreciate winning a company benefit.
  • Remember that quality is much more important than quantity. Management should be concerned with with how helpful the responses will be not just how many total responses they receive.

I’ve recommended to Division Granny Smith that they follow Division Honeycrisp’s example. If Division Granny Smith takes my advice, I’ll update in a future post!

October 9, 2013 / christinazuniga

Decentralize Administration to Improve Volunteer Experience

team-work-day-of-caringUnited Way’s Day of Caring in Santa Barbara is an annual event where Non-Profit organizations can sign up for assistance and they are matched with local volunteers who give half of a day of time. This is especially helpful for routine building or landscaping maintenance that most Non-Profits do not have time or funds to upkeep and introduces potential new volunteers to participate further with these organizations.

In previous years each volunteer group would have a point of contact who would correspond with the United Way liason – informing her of their total number of expected volunteers and preferred type of work. She would take that information and match the group up with a Non-Profit and communicate back to the point of contact. I assume it was a stressful job for the liason to attempt to control the flow of volunteers and ensure that every Non-Profit received an adequate number. This also could lead to a severe bottleneck.

In 2010 my team witnessed firsthand the problems that can arise. Our point of contact had not properly followed up with the liason, so when the team arrived at the event we were unaware of what our assignment would be. We found out within minutes that we were assigned to clear brush out of the back hills. In the heat of September. Also, we were expected to bring our own protective gear – such as gloves. Not a single person had brought gloves. We were allowed to switch to a lighter duty at the last minute, but after that incident I volunteered to be the permanent point of contact for my team.

This year Day of Caring enacted a new system, which I heartily approve of. Rather than strain their limited resources assigning jobs, they set up a system in which the point of contact can see the available range of opportunities and choose which Non-Profit to volunteer with. Each Non-Profit was given a maximum number of volunteer spots and the system was automatically updated with the currently available Non-Profits opportunities.

Since I am an early bird, I made a list of all of the volunteer opportunities including description and location and shared my spreadsheet with my team. I gave everyone three votes and then tallied the winner and easily signed my team up for the most popular location. This change certainly helped us to optimize our time in signing up and allowed United Way to become a facilitator rather than a hands on organizer.

Aside from the optimization of time and resources, this also rewarded the Non-Profits who applied early as well as the volunteers who signed up ahead of time. It reduced the bottleneck and removed any confusion about what the point of contact was agreeing to. I have to extend my sincerest compliments to United Way Santa Barbara for this choice – I hope they do the same thing in 2014!

September 11, 2013 / christinazuniga

Case Study: Use Your Company’s Brand Ambassador to Drive Response

case-study-click-thruAt the Aprimo (Teradata Application) Summit in 2013, one of the breakout presenters challenged everyone in the room to do an A/B test in for Every. Single. Email. At the time it caused a visceral reaction – who has the resources to do consistent testing for every email when schedules are tight? Not to mention the follow up analysis – testing is useless if it doesn’t lead to a conclusion and, more importantly, actionable items for improvement. This is my goal for each campaign now.

One of my campaigns showed startling results because I was only able to invest in testing for the one out of two emails, which highlighted the difference a sender name can make. The first email was sent under a generic name and received an average open rate and dismal click rate. An 80% decrease in clicks compared to our average Click Through Rate. Ouch.

Case-Study-ClickThruRateFor the second email, I was given more resources and instructions to do some testing. One email would be targeted by the company’s vertical and the sender name would be from our director of that vertical. He’s well known in the industry and amongst our customers. The rest of the contacts would receive the email from our generic sender: the same sender from the first email.

The general email had another typical open rate, with a slight increase in CTR. Given the results of the first email, this is what we would expect to see in the second email. The vertical specifc email had a higher than average open rate but an astounding 280% increase in CTR! Furthermore, there were no opt outs from this email.

The vertical specific email was more successful because customers trusted the sender name – a spokesperson of the industry and a well known person from our brand. By leveraging the sender name, we saw more clicks and an increase in registrations for our event. This is not a “true” A/B test because the contacts were not randomly assigned to an email, but it was an exercise in reviewing how customers react to a familiar name and a reminder that if you have a valuable asset – you should use it.

I pass along the challenge from the 2013 Aprimo Summit – A/B Test. Every. Email.

August 14, 2013 / christinazuniga

Optimize Your Images – Example: This blog!

Image searches can be a great way to drive traffic to your website, e-newsletter opt in page, or blog. Although this blog is intended to demonstrate real life examples of best practices surrounding email marketing and non-profit administration, I discovered that I’ve been missing a crucial best practice: optimizing my images! Here are some tips to help make your blog post images searchable:

Descriptive Naming
One of the factors to matching your image with a search is making sure the file name is accurate and descriptive. Here you see that one of my posts had an image called “ism_it”. This made sense to me – it was an image for my Internal Social Media example. However, no one else, especially an algorithm-based search engine, would intuitively understand my naming convention. I should have named it “Internal-Social-Media-Example”.

SEO Descriptive Naming Example

File Formatting
The best way for a search engine to find your files is to name them with dashes in between words (name-it-this-way.jpg), not underscores (do_not_name_it_this_way.jpg) or as one long word (donotnameitthisway.jpg). Make sure that your file doesn’t retain the original name your computer gave it, such as IMG00300032.jpg or Image1.jpg. Stay away from spaces in your file name which can be converted to “%20” in the file URL, such as “best image.jpg” turns into “”.

Alt Tags
When an image cannot be rendered, alt tags are text that appear to describe the image. Use this area to describe what your image is, not a list of keywords, but make sure it is short and to the point. In this example the name of my image is the same as my description, so anyone searching “Volunteer Retention Graph” will see my images first.

Perfect SEO - top of the Google Search Engine!

High Quality
Make sure that your images aren’t pixelated or of low quality and ensure that you are not re-sizing within the browser. This is a two-fold problem. First, if you try to make the image larger within the browser it will cause the image to stretch and look bad. Second, browsers download the original image size and then re-size it to whatever is specified. If your image is too large, it can take a while to load and re-size properly, slowing down your loading time.

Adding a photo caption will help the image to appear in search engine results. In this case “content” is a very short name with no caption to help explain my point. “content-is-king-here-is-why.jpg” probably would have brought more results, especially with a descriptive caption to explain what the intention of my blog post was.

SEO optimization - context is king

I’m making a new-blog-post resolution today: better SEO for my blog post images!

July 10, 2013 / christinazuniga

Best Practice – Data Cleansing and Formatting

Data_IntegrityArt Without Limits (AWoL) is a non-profit organization that creates intensive one-on-one mentorships for aspiring artists by pairing them with professional artists and business experts. Their contact database is filled with experienced and prospective mentors, donors, like minded organizations, and aspiring artists currently being mentored.

They build their contact list through a variety of ways, but often through copy / paste or manually entered from stacks of business cards. This method of data entry is often rife with errors. Duplicates, spelling or data formatting errors, inappropriate special characters…there is an almost endless list of reasons why a contact list can contain incorrect information.

Spelling Errors
One of my tasks was to manually enter a number of contacts into a spreadsheet based on their business card information. Human error is common with this type of repetitive task, such as leaving out or adding letters: instead of .cOm. One of the most common mistakes is spelling difference between a name and an email address, such as JoHn Doe with an email of – the H in his name has been excluded from the email. Most email programs will alert you to errors like this by marking your contact as a bounce.

Special Characters
When copy and pasting an email address or contact details, special characters can accidentally be added even when they are not visible. Microsoft Office Word is notorious for slipping special characters as part of their formatting. Even an ampersand (&) can be considered a special character by many email programs.

Once I built the list of business card contacts, I requested a copy of AWoL’s contact database and performed a VLOOKUP to remove duplicates from the list. VLOOKUP is an Excel function that is used to retrieve information from a table of data by matching based on a cell. I used email address as a marker to see which contacts were in both lists – the business card list and the existing database. Then I sent the organization the list of “new” contacts for them to upload into their database.

Imagine our surprise when the upload was completed and the database was recorded dozens of duplicate contact records! In response I ran another VLOOKUP only to see the same result. That is, until I completed a direct pull of the database myself.

Data Formatting
During the initial download, my contact at the non-profit reviewed the records in Excel, made changes and added formatting to the fields. The formatting was meant to help her track which fields had been modified in the Excel sheet and would change the contact record when the upload was completed. This additional formatting, specifically of the email address cell, caused my VLOOKUP to fail. Excel was unable to recognize identical email addresses because one had special formatting while the other was plain text!

It is best to make changes to individual contact records directly in the database or in the source database if there are multiple databases. Uploading changes, especially to small-medium email or contact database companies is not ideal unless the upload is to a newly created empty field or the sheer number of contacts to update is not possible on an individual basis.

Have you made a mistake that caused data integrity problems?

June 12, 2013 / christinazuniga

Investigation: Click Through Rate Decrease

Click Through Rate (CTR) is a valuable statistic to track in your email marketing efforts, it measures the number of clicks against the total number of times the link was viewed. It can tell you how interesting your content is, the preferred email design for your audience and where to locate links to get the best responses. My job is to carefully track this and other statistics, however, I experienced a significant problem with my overall CTR after encouraging my email marketing users to place the same URL in a variety of areas in their emails.

Most email marketing programs and marketing automation systems will provide out of the box reports that calculate the click through rate or supply the raw numbers so that you can calculate it yourself. The equation for click through rate is total number of clicks divided by total number of impressions. Impressions are the number of times a link has been viewed, so click through rate is the number of times a link was clicked out of all of the times that it had the potential to be clicked.


One of the initiatives that I set for my users was to test which link locations are most popular with our contact database. Instead of one link per URL which was the protocol for 2012, I encouraged users to include up to four links per URL placed in strategic areas around their email. This was not intended to be an A/B Test with two groups receiving the same email with links in different places to test their preference for placement or button design; it was meant to add incentive to click the link by adding it in more places.

In 2012 we had a very steady CTR. I cannot share the exact number, but I will give an example number of 5%. After implementing my initiative for 2013, I saw that number plummet in my reports to 2.5%. What had happened that caused my CTR to decrease so dramatically? I had to investigate before sharing the numbers with my users or management.

Some email marketing programs will automatically calculate the click through rate based on the URL given, regardless of the number of times the URL is in the email. This provides an overall click through rate for that URL. My email marketing software provides the click through rate based on the link, which means if the same URL is used in an email three times my software will give me three different click through rates – one for each link despite the fact that it is the same URL for each of those links.

Here’s an illustration of the problem. In 2012 I only had one link per URL and received 10 impressions with 10 links. This means my CTR was 100% – for every view of the email, the link was clicked.


In 2013 I added the same link in two different areas – one in the main body of the email and one in the side bar. Half of my audience clicked one link and half clicked the other link.


However, in calculating CTR, you must get the total click divided by total impressions. So even though I have the same overall clicks (10), I’ve now doubled my impressions (20). This causes my denominator to be much larger, reducing my CRT by half!


Once I had this knowledge, it was easier to fix my data so that my users could continue to add multiple links with the same URL while not reporting an incorrect CTR. I’m happy to say after adding multiple links with the same URL, we’ve seen our CTR increase marginally! It’s important to investigate why your metrics have changed if you see a significant decrease or increase. My calculations could have been an error on my part, over communication with my audience list, or a number of different things. Have you seen sharp changes to your statistics before? It so, why did the numbers change?

May 15, 2013 / christinazuniga

Fundraising Mistake: Cannibalizing Volunteers to Create Donors

The CSUN Helpline is a Non-Profit crisis phone hotline associated with California State University, Northridge but not exclusively utilized or staffed by students. Although they are able to fund their call center in full, they frequently find their overall fundraising efforts frustrated. Their primary issue occurs when using the same volunteer base for physical volunteer work as well as financial donation.

Roughly 90% of the volunteers are current and former students, which is a demographic that generally does not have significant disposable income. Due to the sensitive nature of calls, the anonymity of the callers, and the potential safety issues, volunteers are often hesitant to announce their membership in the CSUN Helpline. Membership lists are protected which means that mass advertising of a fundraiser could expose the identities of participating members. This has caused many fundraisers to stay within the volunteer base and their closest friends.

This results in volunteers who contribute many hours of their time in a high stress environment  to benefit the community while being asked to donate financially as well. Meanwhile, the community is halted from assisting the Non-Profit due to privacy concerns.


In most situations, members of a community supply resources to help support the people or organizations that inject those resources back into the community. It’s a healthy, symbiotic relationship.

While many volunteers are happy to donate in a variety of ways, it is not reasonable to expect volunteers to support an organization physically and financially with no assistance from outside of the organization.


One solution proposed by an interested party was to ask a local radio station to host a fundraiser over the air. Donations could be called in or pledged while a member of the organization could answer questions. This would sustain the privacy of members, involve the community, raise funds, and promote awareness of the organization. At this time the radio fundraiser has not been attempted, although I suggested it as well as gave CSUN Helpline leadership contact details to the local radio station.