Tag Archives: email marketing

The Email Marketing and Notifications Evolution Inside Companies

“Stop sending emails like a marketer. Start sending email like a personal assistant.”

I’ve communicated this line in a lot of my presentations on growth, but I haven’t talked about in depth the evolution on how to get there. There is a clear evolution that companies follow in terms of evolving their emails and notifications, from not sending them at all, to sending one-off blasts to their entire audience, to creating a lifecycle, to having a holistic personalized messaging platform. Having worked on these systems at my last two companies, I thought it would be beneficial to outline these transitions for people earlier along in their process.

Phase 0: We Hate Email

“We hate email, so we don’t send it to our customers.”

Almost every company I have worked with has communicated this at some point in its early stages, and it’s always wrong. Except for very specific groups, people don’t dislike email; they dislike bad email. The path to figuring what email your customers would like to receive is largely to ask what kind of value do they see in my product, and can I deliver that value in email form.

Phase 1: Mass Promotional Email + Personalized Order Notifications
If you are a transactional service, you have to send personalized order notifications, so that is where most companies start. At some point later, companies start sending mass emails to their broader audience about certain things like new features, discounts, etc. This effort will show improvements in key metrics, but it is very unsophisticated.

Promotions train users to wait for promotions to order, decreasing profitability. Also, with this approach, marketing is assuming a cadence for the customer instead of adapting to the customer’s cadence (and ultimately improving customer cadence to increase lifetime value).

If you are engineering constrained, there are some simple optimizations to this approach that will improve your performance:

  • Develop additional emails intended to drive habit formation (instead of just timely purchase). Examples include trending items, item sales, new merchants added, recommended items
  • If emails are successful, test them as push notifications as well
  • Take existing confirmation emails, and add marketing messages to them (other things to buy, set up a re-order, most popular items, etc.)
  • Send every non-transactional email and tweak to confirmation emails as an experiment with an enabled and control group to prove impact on lifetime value vs. unsubscribes/push permissions/app deletions

Phase II: Moving to Lifecycle Messaging
In Phase II, these additional emails and notifications that have been successful in Phase I start to form an automated program that consistently drives additional engagement from customers. In order to address messaging fatigue, these email and notification templates are managed to a frequency per month based on the team’s expected value of a good customer. This frequency is not based on data, but if everyone used the product properly, what would ideal frequency look like. The goal is to use messaging to remind people of the service and reinforce the habit. They are paired with personalized discount emails intended to drive new use cases and increase frequency.

These emails and notification templates are also managed against each other, so messaging does not get stale. For example, if you have three templates outside of confirmation emails, and you sent template 1 last week, you would attempt to send templates 2 and 3 before sending template 1 again. Also, each week, these emails have new subject lines to present them from looking like the same email as the previous weeks.

Phase III: Holistic, Personalized Messaging
As the Phase II approach flattens in terms of the additional impact it can drive, companies shift toward a more holistic, personalized system. This is a considerable investment, which we made at Pinterest. Essentially, product and engineering determine for each customer:

  • The right content
  • The right time to send it (day of week and time or day)
  • The right amount (how many emails and pushes to send)
  • The right channel (email, push, or both)

This requires a team to develop a log of every email/push sent to a subscriber, when it was sent, when it was opened, when it was clicked, what downstream engagement occurred from clicks, and which template it was. All emails and notifications are run through the same experiment dashboard as product changes to understand the impact on all key metrics. From this, it needs to determine:

  • The best day(s) of week and time(s) to send messages to each user
  • A prioritization of the templates to send based on historical click through rates and/or purchase rates
  • How many messages per a generic time frame maximizes lifetime value of each user

This usually starts via a rules based approach, and eventually becomes powered by machine learning. If you lack enough historical data on a user to do this, for example new users, you group people who used to look like those users as a segment i.e. previous new users and look at the best performing approach for them. Email can no longer be considered marketing at this point. It is considered an extension of the core product.

The team also starts optimizing deliverability through choosing better message transfer agent partners and segmenting IP addresses for different templates to isolate issues. The team may also start investing in more advanced security measures like DMARC.

This is a considerable investment, which is why most companies only start building this once there are sending millions of emails a day with a lot of history from operating in the first two phases originally. At this point, companies know the value of email, and can justify the investment.

In my opinion, every company should end up at phase III at some point. The question is how long it takes to get there. This varies based on engineering constraints, scale, and how long it takes emails and notifications to flatten off in terms of additional engagement by the previous phases. Outsourcing this to a marketing technology company is also very problematic as it requires access to all of your user data, and any migration of data from system to system slows down performance. At a certain scale (like Pinterest), it is not even possible.

If you’re not at Pinterest’s level of sophistication, don’t dismay. Very few companies are. Just start to think about the long term evolution, and when is the right time to push for a step change in email and notification performance vs. continued optimization. It’s a big investment to shift from phase to phase, but the returns are usually worth it, and the impact of these emails and notifications in the current phase, and the struggle to improve their performance, should be what drives that decision to make additional investment to get to the next phase.

Currently listening to XTLP by μ-Ziq.

The Three Personas: How Marketing, Product, and Analytics Attempt to Define The Customer

In my career, I’ve worked in marketing, product, and analytics. While the American Marketing Association defines all of that as marketing, the reality is those are rarely under the scope of one functional team, and the people in those groups see things very differently much of the time. One of the key ways this manifests that creates confusion for the organization is in the creation of personas. All three groups have their own ways to define personas that don’t tell the same story. And in many cases, these are called marketing personas even though they are very different. I’ll walk through each of them to try to define them separately, and talk about how to use each of them best and avoid common pitfalls.

The Analytics Persona
The analytics persona is the most straightforward of the group. The analytics persona is created by looking at clusters of users based on their usage and defining them based on that usage. At Pinterest, these were defined as core, casual, marginal, and dormant users. Core people came every day, casual people came every week, marginal people came every month, and dormant users had stopped coming to Pinterest altogether. This segmentation can be useful to see if your product is becoming more or less engaging over time. Key projects can include migrating people from, say, marginal to casual, by understanding the statistical differences between the two groups. Then, a product team might take something the casual group does that the marginal group does not and try to make the marginal group try to do that thing as well. Some of these differences are just correlation (or represent the people more so than the action itself being important), but some may be causal, and experiments like incentives or education to marginal users may help them become casual users.

The Product Persona
The product persona, just like the analytics persona, focuses on understanding existing users. In contrast to the the analytics persona, it relies on qualitative research to define who these people are, not just what actions they take. Someone that uses the product monthly can be the same persona as someone who uses it every day. When we built our personas at Grubhub, we had to use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research to define them. After a back of forth of customer calls and surveys, we were able to define four personas that used Grubhub based on two specific criteria: whether they ordered spontaneously or planned ahead of time, and whether they ordered for themselves or with others. When we mapped these personas back to our data, we were able to find that one segment was detrimental to serve because of high customer service costs, and that one segment was high potential, but low value currently because we had not built the right product for them yet. This helped inform our product strategy for the future.

The Marketing Persona
The marketing persona, unlike the first two personas, is usually a forward-looking persona: about who the company is going to try to reach. These are customers you want rather than customers you have. Marketing personas are common for product launches and market expansions since there are no existing users or data to build analytics or product personas.

The marketing persona exists to define a target market to go after. Marketers rarely try to target all people. They attempt to define a niche with specific needs (physical and emotional) and make their product attractive to that group. Marketers have many tools to define this persona. They pore over demographic and psychographic data and map competitive landscapes to spot opportunities for new markets. Since this persona is about targeting people outside the product, one common tool created during this process is a mapping of the target customer’s typical day. What they listen to on the radio on the trip to work, where they get their morning coffee, what they watch on TV during dinner, etc. From that, marketers identify opportunities to advertise to the target during one of those times to introduce them to the product.

Issues with Different Personas
All of these personas have pros and cons, and I recommend using them in tandem rather than a one size fits all approach. The danger with the analytics persona is it looks at people solely based on their activity and not also their motivations, their personalities, etc. There are key insights you will never find out from data that you can learn within ten minutes by talking to a customer. The product and the analytics personas also assume the current customers are the most important customers to understand. This is not always the case. Many times, you need to expand your market. Other times, focusing on existing users makes the product worse for incoming users.

Marketing personas also have their flaws. Since they are based on secondary data, marketers can sometimes invent personas that don’t exist or are too small to be important. This is why so many marketing teams create personas that are just cooler versions of themselves. It’s why whenever a fashion designer is asked who they design for, they say something like “a gallery owner in New York City.” They are maybe 500 of those people in the world. Now, I should be clear in that last scenario there is a blurred line between the marketing persona and the aspirations of the true persona, but you get the idea.

Marketing personas also can be unhelpful to some organic growth strategies or for products that have infinitely large markets since they are based on niches and targeting. When we tried to build marketing personas to target at Pinterest at around 50 million users, I asked, “What exactly are we going to do with this? We don’t spend money on advertising. Our targeting is defined by whoever searches for something on the internet that Pinterest is relevant for.” Similarly, does Google search have a target market? Sure, if you can call every single person with an internet connection a target. I bet you the Google Home team had a very specific target in mind for its launch though.

Personas of all types are also mistakenly used in lieu of personalization for many internet products. Email is a common example. Many companies still spend a lot of time creating dedicated emails for specific personas, segmenting lists, writing custom copy, and adding custom content. This frequently doesn’t makes sense in a world of personalization and one to one messaging. Pinterest has automated, personalized one to one messaging across email and push to over 200 million users. It doesn’t need to know what analytics, product, or marketing persona you are to be effective. This is not proprietary tech either. Many third party companies can help build this same type of system for smaller companies with less data.

Personas are very useful tools to help you identify opportunities to grow your business and better serve your customers. You should be using them in almost all phases of a company. Understanding the different types of personas, how you could use them, and how to prevent making mistakes with them is key to making sure they are worth the effort to define them.

Currently listening to Big Loada by Squarepusher.

What Are Growth Teams For, and What Do They Work On?

This blog post was adapted from a presentation I did recently. Hence, slides. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I receive a lot of questions about growth teams. Naturally, there is a lot of confusion. Is this marketing being re-branded? Who does this team report to? What is the goal of it? What do they actually work on? When do I start a growth team for my business?

The purpose of growth is to scale the usage of a product that has product-market fit. You do this by building a playbook on how to scale the usage of a product. A playbook can also be called a growth model or a loop.

The first question you should ask before asking about growth is if you have product-market fit?

The traditional definition above is qualitative, and if you’re like me, you like to have data to answer questions. The best way to get that data for most businesses is to measure retention.

The best way to identify the key action is to find a metric that means the user must have received value from your product. The best way to understand the frequency on which you should measure that metric is how often people solved this problem before your product existed. Let’s look at some examples from my career.

For Pinterest, a Pinner receives value if we showed them something cool related to their interests. The best way to determine if the Pinner thought something we showed them was cool is that they saved it.

For Grubhub, this was even easier to determine. People only receive value if they order food, and when we surveyed people, they ordered food once or twice a month (except for New York).

Once you have a key metric and a designated frequency, you can graph a retention curve or a cohort curve. If it flattens out, that means some people are finding continual value in the product. But that is not enough.

Brian Balfour has a great post on this, which he calls product-channel fit.

If you’ve been around startups for a while, you might remember this tweet from Paul Graham. It talked about the fastest growing startup Y Combinator has ever funded. It is a graph of revenue growth from $0 to $350,000 per month in just 12 months.

The startup was Homejoy, an on demand cleaning service. Investors liked this graph, so they gave the company $38 million to expand.

20 months later Homejoy shut down. From a post-mortem of the company, I highlight the following quote.

If you discounted to get to product-market fit, you didn’t get to product-market fit. Product-market fit is not revenue growth, it’s not growth in users, it’s not being #1 in the App Store. Product-market fit is retention that allows for sustained growth.

So, I though product teams were in charge of creating a product people loved, and marketing teams were in charge of getting people to try the product. What changed?

What changed is an acknowledgement of what actually drives startup growth. There are three main levers. Phase I is simultaneously the most important and the least understood. In Phase I, you change the product to increase its growth rate. Some changes include improving onboarding, helping the product acquire more customers through activities like virality or SEO, incresing the conversion rate, et al.

These initiatives are “free” in that they don’t require an advertising budget. Their cost is the opportunity cost of a product team’s time. They are measurable in that you can create an experiment and understand the exact impact of the change. They are also scalable in that if you make a change that, say, improves your conversion rate, and it has a certain amount of impact, it likely will have that same impact tomorrow, weeks from now, and potentially even years from now.

The other two phases are what we traditionally think of as marketing. Performance marketing initiatives, like buying ads on Facebook or Google, are also measurable and scalable, but scale with an advertising budget. Brand marketing usually requires an even larger ad budget, and is harder to measure or scale. The time frame over which brand marketing works takes years, and can be hard to confirm. If you do create a PR campaign or a TV ad that seems to work on a more immediate time frame, it can be hard to scale. that is because brand marketing always requires new stories to keep people’s attention.

This is why marketing can’t be in charge of all growth initiatives. They don’t have access or capability to the most important ones. They might know they need to improve the site’s conversion rate or get more traffic from referrals, but they don’t have access to the product roadmap to get them prioritized appropriately, and if they do get engineering and design help, they don’t have the expertise in working with them to build the best solutions.

Perhaps what’s more important to understand in the difference between marketing and growth is how the traditional marketing funnel changes with startups. Above is the traditional marketing. This model is based on the old school model of product development before the internet in spending a lot of money to make people want things.

Startups by definition should be making things people already want. When you do that, you can invert the funnel and focus on people that already want the product or people that are already using it. This is more effective on a small (or no) budget.

When you translate that into tactics, you see how product-driven growth initiatives dominate the top of the list of priorities. It does not mean you won’t work on performance marketing or brand marketing, but that they usually become important later on in a product lifecycle as an accelerant to an already sustainably growing company.

So I spent a lot of time explaining why growth is different from marketing. How is different from product?

Growth teams don’t create value. They make sure people experience the value that’s already been created.

The most common examples to start a growth team to address are:

  • improving the logged out experience (for conversion or SEO)
  • sending better emails and/or notifications
  • increasing referrals or virality
  • improving onboarding

SEO and onboarding are harder places to start because their iteration cycles are much longer than the other areas.

Growth teams don’t start by finding mythical VP’s of Growth to come in and solve all of your problems. They are usually started by existing employees at a company (or founders) that really understand the company and what’s preventing it from growing faster. They report to their dedicated functions, but sit together to focus on problem solving.

To find out which area you work on after you have the team, you have to analyze the data. For example, at Pinterest, they originally wanted me and my team to work on SEO. What we saw was that while there was a lot of opportunity to get more traffic via SEO, a bigger issue was the conversion rate from that traffic. So we decided to work on conversion instead.

Then we had to figure out what to work on. Jean, an engineer on the team, had recently run an experiment that gave us a key insight. So, we said, we could use this same modal when people clicked on Pins. Clicking on a Pin could show enough interest in Pinterest for you to want to sign up.

The other thing people did when they liked what they saw scroll to see more. So, we decided to try stopping them where we stopped the Google crawler, and asking them to sign up then.

It took Jean two days of work to launch this experiment, and it resulted in a much bigger impact than expected.

So that’s an example of finding a conversion issue in you data, and putting together a really scrappy experiment to try to improve it. What else can growth teams work on? Here are some examples from my time at Pinterest, and some best practices we’ve learned.

Usually, the biggest area a growth team focuses on improving is retention. That’s right; growth teams are not just about acquisition. Retention comes from a maniacal focus on improving the core product, which I define as core product, not growth, work. Where growth comes in is reducing friction to experience that core product. Simplifying how the current product works usually has much more impact than adding new features. New features complicate the product, making it harder for new people to understand.

So how do you simplify the core product? Well, you have to have data to understand what people do, and pair it with qualitative research to understand why they do it. We spent countless hours at Pinterest putting laptops in front of non-users watching them sign up for the product to figure out why people didn’t activate.

At Grubhub, data pointed out that Grubhub was an S curve when it came to both conversion and retention. This graph is a (now very old) graph of conversion rate in Boston based on how many restaurants Grubhub returned when you searched your address. After 55 results, conversion rate essentially doubled for new and returning users.

Qualitative research gave us different insights. When we asked users why they didn’t use Grubhub more often, they would say, “it’s expensive.” We thought that was weird, because Grubhub wasn’t charging them anything. What they meant is that delivery was expensive due to minimums and delivery fees. So, we went back to our restaurants, convinced a few to try lowering their minimums and fees to see if increased volume could make up for lower margin. When it did, we creates case studies to help convince other restaurants.

At Pinterest, we simplified the signup and onboarding flow. What used to be a flow that required five steps was now three with one of them pre-filled and the other two optional. What we did do was introduce friction that we knew made it more likely a Pinner would find content they care about. This was asking them which topics interested them before showing them a feed of content.

We also realized that the more content people see, the more likely they will find something they like, which will lead to retention. So, we removed content around Pins that was non-critical, like who Pinned it to what board and how they described it. All of these increased activation rates.

We also contextually educated people on what to do next when they were onboarding. There is a common saying that if you need to add education to your design, it’s a bad design. It’s pithy and sounds smart, but it’s actually dangerous. My response is that a design with education is better than a design that doesn’t educate.

Search engine optimization has been a really great lever for organic growth for every company I’ve worked on in my career. It’s not for every business though. People need to already be searching for what you do. That alone isn’t enough though. You need to be an authority on the subject, which Google determines by relevant external links to your domain and your content. You also need to be relevant to what was just searched.

We worked on improving both of these at Grubhub. When Grubhub launched new market, by definition we weren’t locally relevant yet. So we would go to local blogs and press outlets and tell them we were launching there, and that we wanted to give their readers $10 off their first order. All they had to do was link to a page where the discount would auto-apply. After a while, that page would have enough local links so that even though the promotional discount was over, it would still rank #1 for the local delivery terms e.g. “san francisco food delivery”.

For relevance, Grubhub knew which restaurants delivered where, their menu data, and reviews from real people. So we aggregated them into landing pages for every locale + cuisine combination e.g. ‘nob hill chinese delivery”.

We applied the same landing page strategy at Pinterest. While Pinners had created boards on their favorite topics, it was one person’s opinion on what was relevant for a topic. Pinterest has repin data globally for every topic, so we knew what the best Pins were across the Pinterest community. So we created topic pages with the best Pins, and they performed better than individual boards on search engines and with search engine users.

We also worked a lot on emails and notifications on the Pinterest growth team. Emails are a key driver of retention. They won’t solve your retention problem, but they will certainly help if you do them right. At every company I have been at, people hated email and didn’t want to send them to their customers. When they finally did, they saw lifts. You are not your customer. You get more email than they do. Emails help them if they’re connected to the core value of why they use your product. Emails are not helpful if they’re pushing a marketing message.

At Pinterest, I made this mistake. I set up campaigns with emails that explained all of the things Pinterest could do. People don’t care about what Pinterest can do. They care about seeing cool content related to their interests. We needed to stop sending email like a marketer, and start sending email like a personal assistant. So we replaced those emails with popular content in topics of interest for each Pinner, and our retention increased.

Then, we built a system around it. Each Pinner likes different content, at different times, and different amount of it. So we learned for each Pinner what content they liked, when they liked to receive emails and notifications (based on when they opened them), and how much they liked to receive based on testing different volumes and seeing open rate impacts.

If you’re testing emails and notifications, you can test manually first, then automate and personalize. What I have learned at Pinterest and Grubhub is what seems to be worth testing. At Pinterest, one engineer tested 4,500 different subject lines, resulting in hundreds of thousands of additional weekly active users. Around the same time, we spent three months redesigning all of our emails, and it had no impact on usage.

A common issue I see with growth and marketing teams is they think that emails and notifications can only have positive impact. This is not true. You have to measure the lift in usage vs. the unsubscribes (and the impact of an unsubscribe) and app deletions. Those will impact usage, and you need to know how.

Growth teams have a clear purpose, and that purpose makes sense only if you have first found product-market fit. Once you have that, you will find traditional product and marketing lacking in their ability to help scale usage of your product. That’s where growth teams come in. Growth teams use data and qualitative research to help understand the frictions that prevent more people from finding the value in your product. That can mean acquisition, but it can also mean reducing friction in the core product, working on conversion or onboarding, or finding ways to remind existing users about the value you’re creating. If you have questions about growth teams, don’t hesitate to reach out to cwinters@greylock.com.

This presentation was made in conjunction with @omarseyal, who is awesome.

Currently listening to Everybody Works by Jay Som.

Movie Marketing Exercise: Nightfall

About a year ago, I was asked to respond to a marketing movie challenge. I had fun doing it, so I thought I would share what I did.

The Challenge: It’s 2016. The average film costs $50 million to market, and that cost is passed onto theaters in licensing fees. You run a film distribution startup that needs to make a film successful by spending only $500K in marketing. Build a marketing/project plan to show how you would do it. Assume that your startup has already secured some contacts at major theater chains and just needs to get them excited about a film’s prospects to get them to lease the ability to show it at their theater(s).

Exposition: Movie distribution is always going to be a hits-based business, and whether you’re spending $500K or $50 million, if a movie doesn’t appeal to its target audience, it will not be successful. So, a considerable amount of time needs to be spent evaluating films for distribution that we think we can create hits out of. Now, just because a film is good does not mean it will be a hit. Any top 100 films list is littered with films that largely went unnoticed or unappreciated at the box office. So, this new company needs to have expertise in both access and ability to pick quality projects capable of being “hits”, and a marketing approach that can create these hits at a fraction of the cost of the Hollywood machine.

Since film selection is such a key component for success, I had a hard time defining a campaign without defining a specific film the campaign would be for. You would market a comedy much different from a romantic comedy or a thriller. So, I created a fake project.

The Project: Casey Accidental Films has secured the distribution rights for Nightfall, an adaptation of the Isaac Asimov short story. Nightfall is a story about a civilization on a planet relatively similar to Earth, except that it is in constant sunlight do to a rotation of six suns. At a similar time, archaeologists as well as astronomers and religious scholars discover every two thousand years, there is a period of night. Seeing as how their civilization is only around two thousand years old, they have no idea what to expect, and, based on psychological studies as well as pre-historic texts, they begin to predict that darkness will cause total chaos. What they do not understand though is that it is not the darkness that will cause chaos; it is the discovery of millions of stars that show how their world is just a small speck in a vast universe. That realization is overwhelming to a people who have only known one planet and six suns their whole life.

CA is excited about Nightfall for a few reasons. First, since it is based on an award-winning novel, it should have a somewhat built-in audience of literary junkies who want to see how it is adapted. Second, it is in the sci-fi genre, which is riding high after the success of Star Wars VII last year. Third, it seems a prime candidate to create both an interesting viral awareness campaign and an immersive film experience, which CA expects to be the core elements of their marketing strategy for all of their films.

Campaign Themes: With only $500K to work with, Nightfall will not be buttressed by an aggressive TV and billboard campaign like most other movies. One thing that movie marketers do well is they maximize anticipation utility, a concept that states that consumers do not just gain value/happiness from the consumption of a product, but from the anticipation of that consumption as well. So, this is a part of the film marketing mix we want to adopt instead of re-invent.

To make up for the fact that we will leverage another key concept from economics and psychology: scarcity. Scarcity increases the value of an object/experience according to economics, but what’s more important for our purposes is that scarcity makes something remarkable, a key component to get people to, well, make a remark about something. To be successful in marketing a film, we have to optimize for remarkability. To do this, we will design an experience created by few, but remarked upon by many.

This process will have to be customized for each film. For a comedy, it might be about creating full-fledged profiles to interact with for all the major characters on all the major social networks to create comedic experiences outside the film, or crowd-sourcing jokes for the film. For a science-fiction film, we want to optimize for themes in our campaigns that match the film. In this particular case, mystery and intrigue is what we want to deliver.

Leveraging the mystery of the story, we would hope to gradually reveal all aspects of the film to the potential audience: the name, the release date, the theme, the special experiences attached to the film. This process should expand anticipation utility, and get many moviegoers invested in the film before they even see it. A great film can create evangelists after the film by the film being so good people recommend it. We also want to create evangelists before the film to get more people to see it in the first couple of weeks as movies typically make most of their revenue in the first few weeks. To do this, we need to get fans involved.

The first thing we need to get fans involved is a series of hooks that intrigue them to research the film further. Most films do this by just posting video teasers and trailers before other films or as commercials on television. Without a budget to grease the palms at major theaters to show Nightfall as a trailer before other films or a commercial TV budget, we may only get trailers spots for some theaters that are about to show the film in a few weeks, limiting the anticipation utility we can create. So, we need to get evangelists to show their friends the teasers and trailers by sharing them with their friends on social networks like Facebook and Twitter. To attract evangelists, we need to do something intriguing they’ve never experienced before.

Once we have attracted evangelists, we will need to keep the story going for them by gradually revealing more information. This information makes sure the anticipation does not subside as well as gives them more information to share with their friends as well as discuss with others online. While we do not want to create any experiences that facilitate discussion as that would make the campaign less mysterious, a critical factor in the success of our campaign will be these discussions occurring elsewhere online, like in science fiction/film forums, on social networks, and in the press. The idea is to create variable rewards by always revealing new elements of the campaign in different ways so our evangelists do not get used to them and become less excited by them.

We cannot expect just an advancement of the mystery to be sufficient though. Our viral campaign needs to also create a level of status for people to who are the most engaged, both in their ability to share the clues as well as an ultimate reward at the end. This reward needs to be a unique experience worthy of the effort to drive tons of word of mouth and email sign-ups to our website.

For the actual release of the film, we do not want the movie-going experience to be similar to others as well. We want it to both unique, a viral driver in and of itself, and, ultimately remarkable. So, we will try to work directly with theaters to create a unique vision. This is a vision that will customize the theater for the climax of the film and allow moviegoers to use their cell phones, tablets, and wearable technology during the film as an enhancement to the experience. In almost every industry that has been fairly static for the last 30 years, there is a strong push to reject all the available technology that helps us in the rest of our daily lives. Classrooms disallow cell phones and tablets that could facilitate learning. Movie theaters ask people to turn off their cell phones before the movie. It could be a great social experiment to try the opposite and could create a ton of viral buzz in the process. We will also give as many people as possible during opening weekend a treat when they leave the film, thus hopefully invoking the peak-end rule whereby people largely just experiences by the peak, which will be where the customizable theater comes into play, and the end, where the treat is given.

Launch Phase (T-minus 180 – T-minus 167)
Our main option for a hook that starts the campaign is to re-create “nightfall” at public events. A few moments of darkness in a crowded area followed by a cryptic message is a remarkable occurrence that should drive people to tweet, share, snap a photo, etc., even if the message is not yet one of excitement, but of confusion. Ideally, we could create such an occurrence at a major league baseball game of the LA Dodgers. The plan would be to shut the lights off at the entire stadium except for concessions for about ten seconds, then use the big screen to display a cryptic teaser message for the film. LA is the best place to start a campaign like this because it is where most of the movie press is, and we need them to organically discover and unravel the mystery of the film in the same way as our evangelists so their larger audiences can also become attracted to the film.

We want all of these cryptic experiences to drive people to social networks so the viral drivers of the message are always right beside the message. With Dodger Stadium, the message on the scoreboard would not advertise the film. It will be a first clue in a mystery to discover that there is a film coming soon that these people need to see.

Ad copy on scoreboard:
Beware the stars.
[Clock countdown that runs extremely fast so viewers are not able to see when the clock started]

The hashtag is the clue to go to Twitter to find out more information, and we hope we can drive thousands of Twitter searches from this message. The LA Dodgers have the highest average game attendance in the MLB at just over 43,000. 1,000 social media comments about this would be a little over a 2% conversion rate, which may be a little optimistic, but is not impossible.

If people search on Twitter for #nightfalliscoming, they will see a sponsored tweet about the search results from a new account called @bewarethestars that reads, “Nightfall is coming. Find sanctuary here http://bewarethestars.com.”

The landing page at bewarethestars.com will be completely black except for one sentence in white:
Website copy:
Beware the stars. Enter your email address here to learn more about how to find sanctuary.
Email address: ______________________

If users sign up, they will see a message that states:
Thank for heeding our warning. Use this link to warn others. Those who warn the most people will be the first to find sanctuary. Not everyone can be saved! [Promotional URL]

Underneath this is a progress bar that shows how many people they have warned who have heeded their warning. The milestones are scrambled in an ancient text that is unreadable though. This is consistent with the film where ancient texts warned of the impending nightfall, but they were in a language the scientists could not translate. These promotional links link back to the same URL bewarethestars.com with some tracking code at the end to keep counts of how many successful referrals these early evangelists who signed up will drive, developing some link equity. Our goal is to rank #1 for the terms “beware the stars”, “nightfall” and “nightfall is coming”, which will be our main promotional messages, within two weeks because as of this moment we have no Google presence at all. That is okay for this time, as we want Googling about this mysterious message at Dodger Stadium not to reveal much.

During this time, we will also post our first Instagram post, which is a picture of one of the scoreboards, and our first Vine, which is a video of one of the scoreboards. We also will create our Facebook page which has a cover of the scoreboard and the darkness around it. We will pay for sponsored grams, Instagram’s new native ad product, and sponsored Vines, Vine’s new native ad product. These ads are just images and video of one of the scoreboards at the stadium. Our estimated spend here is less than $5,000 and targeted to the LA area for one day, but we could spend more if we like what kind of engagement we are getting. The Twitter sponsored search will remain live through the release date of the film, as much of our promotional material will only mention the hashtag.

At this point, we will have executed four ad expenditures: Dodger Stadium nightfall re-creation, Twitter Sponsored Search, Sponsored Gram, and Sponsored Vine. We hope these tactics generate considerable organic social media activity and press. If these tactics together do not generate 1,000 email sign-ups, we may have to revise our strategy. Fortunately, we can track sign-ups by Twitter, Instagram, and Vine to see which methods, if any are driving sign-ups. Another important thing to measure at this point is sentiment. Our hope is that people find these cryptic messages intriguing, but if the sentiment implies they are annoying, we will have to scramble to create a different style of campaign. Twitter searches and RSS alerts for our keywords plus Dodgers should provide enough information to understand sentiment without having to pay for expensive tools like Radian6.

Film Experience Setup and Key Partnerships Phase (T-minus 180 – T-minus 134)
Everything about this film will try to create a unique experience people won’t forget and will talk about to others. In order to deliver on that, we need help to nail the actual movie viewing experience. Our two tactics will revolve around working closely will theaters carrying the film and student organizations to create a unique viewing experience for the climax of the film, and working with online ticketers to upsell viewers on a truly immersive experience, which requires us knowing their email address and viewing time for the film.

T-minus 180 – T-minus 150
The key scene of the film is the eclipse and the subsequent emergence of the stars. We want to re-create that type of experience in the theater as much as possible, and get theaters excited about having that added feature and ultimately wanting to show the film. We start talking to colleges that have courses in film set design, and offer them an opportunity to for a special project that is once in a lifetime. Students will have a chance to create a special installation for a major film. The reason we use students is because they will trade the opportunity for money, and our budget would not allow us to pay professionals. Students submit their portfolios, and then we work with various students groups across the country to come up with a design that fits the ceiling of a typical movie theater room that replicates the sudden appearance of millions of stars. Students will be listed in the credits for the film for doing this as well as be able to say they had an internship at a film distributor. Students are sworn to secrecy about this project, but we know they will leak what they are doing to their friends, and that is fine. We like that things that seem like secrets leak to people who are likely to see the film. Depending on how light we can get the costs for the installations and how many students across the country interested in set design we can get interested, we will try to install this in as many of the major theater locations showing this film as possible.

T-minus 140
The first goal is just to install it in a theater where movie theater reps can see it. We work with one student group winner, and get one theater built out in this fashion, and shows it to theater reps. Fortunately, they like the film and the experience. With the film experience and the marketing plan we lay out for the theaters, we lease lots of copies of the film, but have two requests for them: that we have the ability to augment the theater showing the film so that it has a special ceiling we develop ourselves, and that they ask patrons to keep their phones/iWatches/Google Glass ON instead of turning them off. Theaters, desperate to create some sort of excitement that will drive people to the theaters, and their theater specifically over others, agree, but we know we likely lose some theaters with these requests.

T-minus 134
Fortunately, by 2016, online booking of theater tickets is how the majority of movie tickets are bought, and we partner with the major online ticketers like Fandango, MovieTickets.com, and Moviefone to email the purchasers of tickets with their receipt an invitation to make the film an immersive experience by asking for their email address. This one is likely costly, around $50K. We expect the conversion rate to be small, but with this group as well as the group we expect to be on our email list, plenty of people will receive the experience, and those who don’t might want to see it again being opted in to that type of experience.

Story Advancement Phase (T-minus 166 – T-minus 86)
After the launch phase, story advancement phase introduces new marketing tactics as well as amplification of the successful tactics from the launch phase of our campaign. Phase 1 tactics include more stadium blackouts and more sponsored social media posts. New tactics includes additional social channels, email marketing to the sign-ups from phase 1, SEM, online display, and content marketing for social media and SEO. While we do not necessarily need all of these channels to drive awareness and interest for the film, we want our audience to never be sure where and when information will be revealed about the film.

T-minus 166 – T-plus 28
Our next phase of social will leverage the rise of ephemeral and random photo sharing to drive additional cryptic messages about the film, and will expand our geography to the entire U.S. The first destination is SnapChat. Creating organic content for SnapChat will not be very useful as we will not be trying to develop relationships on this channel. What we will is a native ad platform on SnapChat call a Sponsored Snaps (note: this doesn’t exist yet, but something like it will by the time of this case) where we can target users based on demographic information to show them a message for ten seconds before it disappears. Savvy SnapChat users who are interested can save screenshots and try to interpret the messages. The messages will just be random words related to the film. There will be dozens: Nineteenth Theptar, Apostles of Flame, six different suns, the name of the newspaper in the story, etc. We will also use random photo sharing app Rando to target random U.S. users to send the same random photos.

T-minus 159 – T-plus 152
Our email marketing campaigns begins shortly after the second phase of our social media advertising. Depending on how many people signed up, the top 5%-20% of referrers to the site will receive an email with a link to the teaser hosted on bewarethestars.com (and, a week later, everyone else on our list). The teaser is only six seconds long, and shows grainy video of a red star being covered by a black moon, slowly creating an eclipse, similar to the video here. The clip ends with the title of the film, the hashtag, the website URL and the date “Nineteenth Theptar”, which is the fictional date in the book for the nightfall. Underneath the trailer is the same progress bar with the first message decoded that says “teaser”. The other milestones are still in an unreadable, ancient text. This shows the evangelists that they unlocked something special for their participation. These people will be given another promotional URL to share the teaser URL. If someone arrives at this page, but has not given their email address, they will need to give it to see the teaser.

T-minus 155 – T-minus 134
We take that same teaser and upload it to Vine, Cinemagram, YouTube etc. and pay for some sponsored posts. We also post it to our Twitter and Facebook pages so any followers can see it, but we really don’t expect to have many Facebook fans at this point. We also start buying AdWords for the same keywords we are targeting with a “media ad” that plays the teaser. Again, the cost here should be in the low thousands. We will also start buying full page takeovers on random websites where the screen goes pitch black for a few seconds, and then our message is revealed.

T-minus 120
Our next iteration of email marketing will be to reveal more of what the progress bar is actually tracking progress for. The next milestone will be release date, and will be personalized to how far away each user from having enough sign-ups to have that date revealed to them. Those evangelists that have already gotten that many users to sign up will see the release date in the email, and see the next milestone as “trailer”.

T-minus 100 – T-minus 86
Our most active evangelists will receive a new email with the trailer once they reach the next milestone, and anyone they share that URL with will have to sign-up at that URL before they can see it. Over the next two weeks, we will email everyone else on our list the trailer, and will replace our media ad on Google Adwords with the trailer, as well as post the trailer on our Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Cinemagram, Instagram, YouTube, etc. pages.

T-minus 85 – T-minus 0
Our next personalized email send will include a progress bar fully translated, and the end of the progress bar appearing to be a trip to the premiere. We will send progress bar updates every couple of weeks to evangelists to show how they are doing in their goals to win a trip to the premiere.

T-minus 70 – T-minus 0
Our next phase of the campaign will focus on content marketing to flesh out anticipation for the story. We create pages of content for specific pieces of the film on our websites. These content pages will start on very generic topics like the planet, some of the main characters, then go into more detailed elements like the suns, and minute story details. These topics correlate exactly to the random phrases we started advertising on SnapChat and Rando, so as more people start to see those sponsored pictures, we expect Google searches for these terms to rise, and for our pages to show up organically for them. The pages will have a mix of text describing the topic as well as video or images depending on the topic. We will use email, Twitter, and Facebook to drive traffic to these pages and people keep engaged on these channels. We will still not respond to any comments on Twitter and Facebook so as not to make the campaign less mysterious.

Sample Editorial Calendar:
T-minus 70: Lagash/Kalgash (the planet in the story)
T-minus 65: Nineteenth Theptar (the date of Nightfall and the release date of the film)
T-minus 60: The Tunnel of Mystery
T-minus 55: The Theory of Universal Gravitation
T-minus 50: The Apostles of Flame
T-minus 45: Thombo tablets
T-minus 40: Onos (main sun)
T-minus 35: Dovim (eclipsed sun)
T-minus 30: Trey and Patru (sun pair #1)
T-minus 25: Tano and Sitha (sun pair #2)
T-minus 20: Beenay (main character)
T-minus 15: Sheerin (main character)
T-minus 10: Siferra (main character)
T-minus 5: Theremon (main character)

Purchase Intent Phase (T-minus 21 – T-plus 28)
Most people don’t purchase movie tickets very far in advance, if at all, so we need to push hard in this area to make it an experience you want to plan for. For those that we already have their email, we will email them about the immersive experience, an interactive viewing of the film unlike anything they have ever experienced. This email will have a call to action to book now, which they will be able to do on our website. We will also have an option to tell us when they are seeing the film so that we know when to trigger the immersive experience. Those that purchase on Fandango, Movietickets.com, or Moviefone will receive an email from that ticket provider about the immersive experience and how to sign up. For those that check-in on foursquare or Facebook, we will leverage their post check-in ads (this ad is coming out soon for foursquare. I assume Facebook will follow) to ask them to sign up so they can get the immersive experience. This will cost us a few thousand dollars on a CPA model.

Film Viewing Phase (T-minus 7 – T-plus 28)
This is the time where we pay our most successful evangelists with a night they will never forget, and when we deliver a truly unique in-theater experience for our film amplified by the in-theater build-out and use of the devices most people carry with them to a film.

T-minus 7
For our premiere, we will invite our most viral drivers of email sign-ups as well as some reviewers and the cast and crew. The premiere will be held in one of the few “dark sky” parks in the world. These parks are some of the darkest places on land, and have fantastic views of the stars. There are two in the U.S.: Natural Bridges, Utah and Cherry Springs State Park, Pennsylvania. We pick Utah because we may be able to attract a couple reviewers from LA. The premiere will not need the illusion of stars above, as Natural Bridges will have the clearest view of the stars in the U.S. We will develop an enclosed theater where bright lights hide the real-life stars until the eclipse scene. We will invite ~50 of the most viral email sign-ups at an average cost of $500 a flight at an average cost of $100 for accommodations, which will be a ~$30,000 spend. The theater build out for one night will cost about the same. This is an event that, while few people were invited to witness, many will hear about through word of mouth and press.

T-minus 0 – T-plus 28
For the release date and beyond, if someone has signed up for the immersive experience, they will receive emails or push notifications (if we have them tied to an app like Facebook or foursquare) so they get emails from the characters in the film, copies of the ancient texts, gossip from characters not heard in the film. These would all be triggered sends from an advanced ESP like ExactTarget where emails would trigger off a start time for the film. The CPM’s on email are fairly cheap, so if we sent 10 million emails, it should only cost us something less than $20K. Viewers will be encouraged to take pictures and share them via timely messages as well to drive more social buzz.

For the premiere and opening weekend, after the film is over, we will try to do one last thing to make sure viewers leave with a positive impression. Social comments can kill or drive a film’s success in a few hours to a day. We want to make sure we don’t receive ANY negative tweets or status updates about the film and many positive ones. So, for the first weekend, when viewers leave the theater, we will offer them cherry lollipops almost completely covered in chocolate, simulating the eclipse of the red sun in the film. Thus, we will try our best to use the peak end rule to our advantage: an in-theater special display for the appearance of the stars as the peak, and the chocolate covered sucker at the end. Our hope is the quality of the film and the uniqueness of the experience drive significant social activity and positive reviews.

We can also email all of the people we received emails from who we know saw the film and ask them to review the film on their favorite social networks, Flixster, IMDb, etc. After a few weeks, we can also ask them to see it again. We can attract them to a second viewing with “Did you notice?” emails. We will continue to email the people who signed up, but haven’t seen the film to try to remind them.

Project Costs:
Social media advertising: $120,000
-Twitter sponsored search
-Sponsored Grams
-Sponsored Snaps
-Sponsored Randos
-Sponsored Vines
-foursquare post-check-in ads
-Facebook post-check-in ads
Dodger Stadium Blackout: $10,000
Two other sporting event Blackouts: $30,000
Additional technical development: $15,000
Google Adwords campaign: $35,000
Display Advertising: $10,000
Online Ticketing Partnerships: $50,000
Email Service Provider: $30,000
Total Premiere Costs: $60,000
Post Film Gift for Opening Weekend: $10,000
Set design raw materials: $100,000
Total estimated project costs: $470,000

Staff needed (all permanent members, so not included in per film budget):
Community Manager: this person will make sure all social posts are posted on time and correctly and manage the editorial calendar, with appropriate level of engagement.
Media Buyer: This person will buy all the advertising, coordinating bids on auction-based media like some of the social ads and Google AdWords
Email Marketer: To set up a complex triggered send campaign during the film showings and to send out coordinated lifecycle program before the premiere of the film
Copywriter: To write email, social, and site content
Designer: To design all of the web and social media content
Business Development: To get the tough deals like Dodger Stadium Blackout and Student Set Design Competition to happen
Full Stack Developer: To develop film website and assist with deep integrations into ESP (additional technical development budgeted because this person is probably not a unicorn)

Taking Sales Lessons from Email Marketing

As a media buyer at one of the few companies in this economy increasing its media budget, I am constantly bombarded by sales inquiries. This has taught me a great deal about effective selling, just seeing all of things salespeople do wrong when they try to contact me. Then it occurred to me that many of these salespeople could become more effective salesmen by applying marketing techniques.

The most appropriate comparison between sales and marketing techniques is through the email channel. With email marketing, you have to acquire a contact (in this case, me). Then you have to figure out what that contact is interested in, how they like to receive that information, and how often they want to receive it in order for them to use your service. In sales, it should be the same way.

Typically, a salesperson is selling an entire suite of services. Their first objective should be to identify which part(s) of that suite their sales target is interested in. I can’t tell you how many salespeople have tried to sell me what they’re interested in selling in their product suite instead of what I inquired about. This will usually end up in them selling nothing to me. Good salespeople identify what their potential client’s needs are and tailor all future communications towards those needs. Now, this may be hard to know beforehand, but twenty minutes of research on a potential client will probably rule out half of a product suite. An initial conversation should be able to trim the potential sale down to one or two products. The rest of the information a salesperson shares with the target should only be about those products. They don’t care that the company had a big release of some other product they aren’t interested in. Think about it, Amazon is not going to email someone who just bought a book about a deal on kitchen appliances.

Once a salesperson has a contact, s/he need to learn what the best way to reach them is. This is pretty impossible to know beforehand as well, so like in email marketing, administering some tests and monitoring the results can answer this question. Send an email. Did s/he respond to that? Make a call. Did s/he respond to that? Leave a voice mail. Did s/he call me back from that? Like in email marketing, tailoring the communication to the contact’s preference (not the salesperson’s) achieves better results and saves effort. A salesman shouldn’t only be comfortable communicating in one way anyway. I’d recommend creating primary, secondary, and tertiary contact preferences for every potential and current client. By following those preferences instead of a gut reaction of how the salesperson likes to communicate will save lots of time.

My personal preference is to be contacted by email. I can review what salespeople are pitching on my own time, objectively, and be able to ask the appropriate questions in response after reviewing all of the information. This information about my preference should pretty easy to acquire for someone who administers the above test because customer service will not forward sales calls to me and will always recommend an email, even giving out my email address. Also, if someone calls my cell phone and I don’t recognize the number (or, many times, even if I do), I won’t answer. I typically don’t respond to voice mail either unless it’s urgent. Many times, if I do, I email back the voice mailer. If someone emails me though, they typically get a response quickly. Now, I should point out that a target communicating a preference is not an answer. Many targets will say “oh yeah, email me” so they can blow salespeople off. That’s why it’s important to try various contact methods and measure results, not just abide by what targets say they want.

I’ve had just about every salesperson I’ve worked with administer this test on me unknowingly, and it’s amazing how few of them actually monitor the results. I have one salesperson who will always call me, leave a voicemail, then send an email later. I have never answered this person’s call or called him back based on a voicemail, but I have always replied to his emails promptly. How much time would he save if he just emailed me first every time?

The third thing to do is understand the target’s timeline and when they want to be contacted. If they are interested in getting something done this month, then every day communication is probably acceptable and could even be expected. But many sales processes are much longer, in which case, a salesperson needs to develop a regular communication schedule based on their target’s preference. Trying to reach out to a person multiple times a week is likely overkill in this case. In email marketing, this is easy. Test sending emails at different times and different frequencies and measure responses. A salesperson can do this as well. Target not looking at your weekly emails. Scale it back to a month and see what happens. Now, this is probably more do to what a salesperson is selling than each individual target, so this is something a salesperson can test when they’re starting out and probably just apply to future targets.

Putting it all together after taking the time to learn from the potential client is not as hard as you would think. I had one salesperson who knew that the service his company provided was on our future radar but not in the current year’s plans. Instead of forgetting us until we indicated we were ready or until next year, this person would email me (my preferred communication channel) once every quarter (a good regularity for such a long sales cycle) with blog posts from his company’s corporate blog all related to needs I raised in our initial meeting (my preferred topics of interest). That’s smart selling that makes a potential client want to buy from you, because it shows that you listen to and understand them and their needs. With tools like Salesforce.com, this process can be practically automated, through email marketing even if that’s the contact’s preferred channel.

So, salesmen, take it from someone you’re trying to sell to, test various methods of communication and target your messaging toward each potential client and watch that closing rate skyrocket.