Email Marketing Guide for Churches From Exact Target

Looking for ways to improve your church’s email marketing in the coming year? Here are the top marketing ideas and how they apply to churches from ExactTarget’s 2009 Marketing Almanac
 

Marketing Almanac 2009 from ExactTarget includes insight for churches
Marketing Almanac 2009 from ExactTarget includes insight for churches

 
1. It’s going to get harder to get parishioners to notice and open your emails as more organizations turn to email even more.
Email is becoming more attractive as a relatively cheaper channel compared to other options. Your competitors—other churches, entertainment venues and ecommerce—are going to crank up their email output and you might pay the price.

  • Keep focused and helpful.
  • Don’t pollute your lists with message creep. (Hey, we need more fundraising—how about sending the contributions appeal to the volunteer openings list? Um, no.)

2. Today’s savvy audiences expect you to offer choices for keeping them informed.
Users want to get updates on their own terms, not yours. They might choose email, RSS, Twitter, text messages, mobile and who knows what’s next. Pick flexible, free options such as Google Groups so your congregation can self select.
 

3. Cloud computing is here to stay so take advantage of it.
Now’s the time to use distributed services such as Google Groups and Google Analytics.
  
 

4. Customization and personalization become must-haves.
Start looking at good sources for more information about your audiences. Try your front desk staff to see the kinds of questions that come in and the needs that you should be meeting. Or run a free survey on your church site such as 4Q from iPerceptions

 

5. Prepare to face more pressure in the workforce.
Rampant layoffs have many on edge. Those still working are expected to do more with less. You may find it harder to hold onto volunteers in such an environment. But, you might also have opportunities to reach more people who turn to God in times of trouble. Make sure you’re ready to support your current volunteers and to welcome those who are in need.



That’s my take on how your church can make the most of ExactTarget’s predictions. What are you going to focus on next?

 

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The 3 Email Newsletters No Church Site Should Be Without

I say the more the merrier if you can support plenty of non-overlapping email newsletters or listservs on your church site, but, please, make sure you offer the holy trinity of email lists:

  1. News and updates – Monthly reminders of the most important upcoming events at your church. You might go as frequently as weekly if your research supports it. More importantly, this is your distribution channel for emergency announcements and last minute schedule changes for major events. Don’t spam all your other lists when a crisis comes up–get the word out that this particular list serves as the official source from your parish.
  2. Prayer requests and intentions – Moderated messages on behalf of those who have asked others to pray for them or particular situations. The publishing frequency should be as-needed since many requests will be time sensitive ( e.g., sudden, life-saving surgery).
  3. Volunteer opportunities – Monthly reminders of upcoming volunteer opportunities at your church and in your local community. You might even include donation requests here.

With your lists in place, you’ll want to offer several avenues for visitors to sign up. First of all, dedicate a page on your site to all of the subscriptions you offer. Someone who is interested in one list might want to find out about the others you offer. Next, incorporate subscriptions into your church registration process so potential subscribers can sign up at the same time they are joining your parish. Lastly, cross reference your subscription page as related content. When you publish your volunteer openings online, include a link to the email registration page. On your sacraments page where you mention anointing of the sick, you have an appropriate segue for those interested in praying for others in times of need.

Why have separate lists instead of just one? You’re dealing with different audiences in many cases. Sure, some parishioners will sign up for everything you offer. But others–many who might not even attend your church-could be more selective. For example, local community members might be interested in hearing about local volunteer openings even if they aren’t members of your church. Some good-natured souls are moved to pray for others, but might not care so much about upcoming events. Most people are growing increasingly protective of their email so give them focused content to choose from.

Offer these options so you can cultivate your community in both times of need and opportunity. What types of email lists are working best for your church?

This post was submitted to Daily Blog Tips Blog Project: Three.

Does Your Church Email Address Make A Good First Impression?

hello@hzdg.comAfter beginning some website design work discussions with Hirshorn Zuckerman Design Group, my office received some cool swag including a creative piece introducing the company with this email address on the back:

Hello@hzdg.com

Isn’t that a friendly way to start a conversation with a prospect? Imagine newcomers to your church having that kind of first impression. But that’s hard to do if they’re instructed to email registration@, office@, parishoffice@ or some other less-than-welcoming address@yourchurchname.org.

Who do newcomers address at your church?

How Do You Check on Church Email Aliases?

“Hey, can you change [something or other] @stcharleschurch.org to point to this other email address?” No problem, I replied in an email, as I logged into our email system to quickly make the change to the email alias and copied the current recipient of that email address.

Except it turns out there was a problem: namely, I got a bounceback from what I thought was the current recipient. How long had this alias been forwarding to a dead account? Why hadn’t the recipient said anything about no longer wanting to be the point of contact?

We often create email aliases for ministries so that they can have an @stcharleschurch.org email address even though the actual message automatically forwards to one or more other email accounts. This approach has several benefits:

  1. Gives the address an “official” look since it includes the church’s domain; it’s potentially more easy to remember than someone’s personal address, assuming the sender already remembers stcharleschurch.org.
  2. Makes site maintenance easier because we have to make only one edit in an email tool if the recipient changes as opposed to updating addresses displayed on multiple pages across the site. This situation can arise if the current recipient changes email providers or if there is a change in recipients.
  3. Allows multiple recipients to receive a message sent to one email address. This is helpful if one committee member is the lead, but others like to in effect be copied on messages. It also helps with vacation coverage.
  4. The parish retains access to the address even if the volunteer recipient leaves or loses interest.

The drawback, as you can see, is monitoring that the aliases continue to be active. This situation prompted me to send messages to all of the other aliases so that I could see which ones generate a “live” response. But I wonder how often I should do this. Is quarterly enough? Are there more effective approach? I’d love to hear from others who have solved this problem.

Goodmail Blocked Image Seminar Presentations

Remember the unreadable Goodmail email with the blocked images that was an invitation to a webinar about, er, avoiding blocked images? If the poorly formed invitation didn’t scare you off, the presentation is available at:
http://www.goodmailsystems.com/docs/goodmail.pdf
and an
http://www.goodmailsystems.com/about/news_events_press/audio/

Those don’t look like particularly permanent URLs, do they? I’m hesitant to link there, wondering if I’ll have broken or off-topic links down the road. Don’t make that naming mistake when posting presentations to your site. Pick a name and directory structure that’s easy to remember, provides some context and looks like it won’t suffer from linkrot. Something like /presentations/goodmail-date/ or /avoiding-blocked-images.pdf would work better. And what’s /about/news_events_press/audio/ all about — is this for users, customers, the press?

Avoiding the Goodmail Blocked Images Seminar Snafu

Goodmail email invitation is unreadable in preview paneImagine you’re sponsoring a seminar on avoiding the scourge of blocked images in email marketing. When it’s time to send the email invitation, what’s the one bit of formatting that you would definitely want to get right? Remember, your seminar is about blocked images in email messages. Perhaps you’d zero in on making sure your message is readable even with the images blocked? Yet the nearby inbox screenshot shows how one organization mangled such an invitation.

The message was unreadable in an Outlook preview panel. The large, blocked images meant I couldn’t see the headline, “Blocked Images: When Bad Things Happen to Good Email,” presented by Goodmail Systems, Cheetahmail and Email Experience Council. But you can avoid their mistake by following these guidelines to give your HTML email blasts a chance to be seen.

  • Test that your layout holds up in both the bottom and side preview panes of Outlook
  • Make your headlines appear as text, not as images
  • Format your messages to be understandable even without images turned off
  • Insert links in the body of the email, not solely as buttons/icons.
  • Display your full URL as text at least somewhere in the message.
  • Test your email subject lines

Vertical Response has some good examples of emails from major retailers who don’t get the blocked images issue, as does Messaging Times. MarketingSherpa has more resources on this and other email marketing issues.

Any such whoppers in your in-box? Or, gulp, your sent box? Share ’em here or send them to me.

4 More Reasons to Use Google Groups to Build Faith Communities

Google announced enhancements to Google Groups that make the free product even better for supporting e-newsletters and discussions with your faith communities. The improvements cover four areas:

  1. Create shared web pagescollaborative web pages within the group without having the members needing to know HTML.
  2. Pick your own colors, fonts, logossuch as to match your own website.
  3. File sharing and collaboration central location to work on shared documents, rather than repeatedly blasting out attachments; good-bye version control problems; also includes subscriber profiles for those who want to share personal details within the group.
  4. Flexible discussions easier to reply to specific threads or to start separate sub-discussions.

This move puts Google ahead of Yahoo Groups, which previously offered a better selection of community-building tools, but with a heavy-handed emphasis on getting you to sign up for a Yahoo ID. That inflexibility made me recommend Google Groups for my parish’s listservs when we were looking for a solution to replace dreadful Topica a few years ago.

Give Google Groups a(nother) look if you want the benefits of e-newsletters or discussion groups without having the enormous burden of manually managing the subscription/unsubscription process.