In my Five Commandments of Email Marketing, I argue that timeliness is one of the key components of sending effective email. Hitting your user at the right time is one of the key elements in converting them from opening your message to taking your call-to-action. Barack Obama is great at this - many of his messages are triggered by a specific milestone in the campaign, whether that be the last day of the fiscal reporting period, the convention, or a statement made by his opponent that he feels it necessary to respond to. It gives it that extra sense of urgency that results in a more compelling emotional connection to the message (and subsequently you opening your wallet and giving him money!).
Many of Obama’s strategies are directly applicable to both admissions and fundraising email marketing. The easiest way to integrate it into your marketing plan is to time your emails to follow-up a print mailing. Figure out what day the print piece will hit the majority of mailboxes and then time the email to hit their inboxes a week after to reinforce the original call-to-action. But, this method also has a major drawback: If you send your audience a postal communication and ask them to respond through snail mail, their response can often cross paths with the follow-up email you send out. This, in turn, causes them to be confused about whether or not you received their response and can result in alarmed phone calls and emails saying: “I sent him my application/donation/whatever but just got this email that said asking for it again! Didn’t you get it????”
The important thing here is not to panic. If you dig a little bit deeper with these users, typically you’ll find that they put the item in the mail only a few days prior. As much as I’m sure many of us would like to be psychic, there’s just no way you can plan for something like that. Calmly explain that if they mailed it, you’re sure that it will be received and processed soon and to disregard the email message. A colleague of mine offered an additional suggestion on how to minimize this happening: Add a line to your email message thanking them and telling them to disregard the email if they have already mailed in a response.
You can also take the preventative step of making sure your mailing list is as up-to-date as possible when you send your message. If you have a system that allows you to easily pull this information, make sure to pull it within a few hours of sending your message. On the other hand, it may be easier for you to pull your print mail and email list at the same time, and then update the email list as the responses come in. Many email service providers offer a way to remove contacts from a mailing list. I use FireEngineRed and here is a screenshot of how this works in their system:
Bottom line: Timely email is the way to go, but it’s not without its idiosyncrasies. Don’t let them scare you away from it. Being aware and taking a few proactive steps will allow you to meet the needs of most of our users.