Today, I asked Steven Records, a fellow church communications practioner, and founder of ChurchGrowth.info about email messaging.  He says you don’t need to pay for any snazzy services.  You can get started with good ‘ol Microsoft Office if you want.  Let’s take a look.


Why Marketers love email lists

A recent survey by Econsultancy showed that 72% of marketing companies rate email as a good or excellent form of advertising. The reason for this is because it has such a great Return On Investment. In other words, the amount of time, infrastructure and resource it takes to do email marketing is well worth the return received through emailing.

When I was overseeing the communications for one of Hillsong’s national events, I had a conversion on my email marketing of 7-10%. That is a great return,especially for something that took only a few hours to write, format, and pull data from an existing email list.

Churches can leverage bulk emailing to promote events, blog content, changes in normal church schedules, gather surveys, request public reviews, perform follow ups, announce major news, and stay connected with a wide audience of people. Building an email list can be time consuming on the front end, but it is a lasting point of contact that requires little to no financial investment. In fact, when I first started doing email marketing, I only used Microsoft Office.

Here is how:

Building An Email List Using Microsoft Outlook

You will also hear people call email lists a “database,” but I think for people starting off, saying “email list” sounds less threatening. Open Microsoft Excel and fill out whatever fields you want to log across row one like this.

Image 1

Normally I do First Name, Last Name, Email, List, Gender, Age, Engagement, Country, State, and City. The “List” field is what channel you received their details from. “Engagement” is what information they would like to receive. You can add other demographics or remove irrelevant ones; it really depends on what events and content you have as an organization. Consider adding a column for area of interest and church involvement.

Adding Data and Getting Emails Addresses

Start adding any contacts you may have and manually filling out the demographics you know about the person within the correct columns. It is okay to have blank fields. Really all you need is an email address to send and email,
everything else personalizes your emails to a relevant audience, that, and consent, is what separates you from spammers.

You can gather contact information by simply asking people you know for it, creating a subscription form on your website, pulling contacts from Facebook using Yahoo’s export Facebook contacts function, mass texts asking for email addresses, and having a printed forum at church for people to fill out. The truth is data entry takes time, but it is worth the small investment.

Turn your data into a table You can organize your email list by turning it into a table. Select all of your entered data at once and then click on “Insert/Table”. This will turn your raw information into a table that you can organize and filter by clicking on the down pointing arrows at the top of each column. Now you have a workable email list that is ready for sending.

Image 2

Set Default Email In Outlook

Now open Microsoft Outlook. You need to set the email account you want to send your emails through as the default account. Microsoft Word automatically sends through your default email address on Outlook, so don’t forget to do this. Just go to “Preferences/Accounts” and then set the account you want as your
default.

Writing and Formatting

Write your email in Microsoft Word then format with a web safe font type. Your styling will be applied to your email. To add links, highlight your text to become a link and go to “Insert/Hyperlink” to add the URL.

Sending the Email

The next thing to do is what we call a Mail Merge. This is the process of sending out mass emails. Go to “Tools/Mail Merge Manager.” You will want to set “Document Type” to “Form Letters” by clicking “Create New”.

For “Recipients List,” under “Get List” click “Open Data Source” and select the Excel email list you created.

For “Insert Placeholders” you can drag a field name into your document to personalize your emails. For example, addressing the recipients by the “First

Name” in the email. Here is what an email could look like:

Image 3

For “Preview Results,” you can just make sure everything is displaying properly before you send the emails.

Finally send your email by clicking on the envelope icon under “Complete Merge”. Then set “To:” as “Email,” fill out the subject line, then set “Send As” to HTML and send it.
Image 4

Test Before Mass Sending

I recommend testing each email campaign before sending by using a list with only your personal email accounts before sending to everyone. This allows you to see exactly how the email will look on different accounts.

Hopefully this has been a helpful walk through. This method has personally helped me better manage relationships and grow events for churches. If you would like to follow more of my thoughts on church communications check
out Steven’s Church Marketing Website.

 

About Steven Records: Founder of ChurchGrowth.Info. Over the years Steven Records has had the privilege to do communications for some of the largest and most influential Christian events and organizations in the world. To connect with Steven follow him on Twitter and Google Plus.

Building your email list should be one of your top strategic priorities for most projects or campaigns that you are running.  One the web, you want to create landing pages with squeeze page elements which basically force the user to either submit their info to continue one, or back out of the page.  And in order to entice the visitor and squeeze their contact info out of them, it is good practice to communicate the value of the trade.  Many times, this means offering something valuable on the other side of the form.

But how do you build you list offline when you are running an event or better yet, remote somewhere else where you may or may not have access to the internet?

Check out this cool iPad app that MailChimp offers so that you can set-up a kiosk-like setting or even pass around an iPad to get people signed-up for a email list.

 

Imagine how you can use this app — that doesn’t rely upon an internet connection — to collect contact info in a large group / event setting.

The app is easy to configure and use.  Clean design, just like the main email marketing service at www.mailchimp.com

Mail Chimp iPad App

Imagine if you had an iPad available for first time visitors and offered them a chance to sign-up for your newsletter that comes with an autoresponder email series walking through some of your key staff, background/beliefs, snapshots of community life, links to videos of the top 3 sermon messages from the past year, etc.  Or a 30-day devotional written by your pastor or ministry leaders. Or  . . . .

Check out Chimadeedoo 2 for iPad

It’s been a month since you’ve settled on your New Year’s resolutions.  How’s that working out for you?

Here’s one worthy change in your routine that might have missed your list — but it is easy to learn, easy to implement, amazing in what it will do for your life at work.  Address head on, the dread that you have for going into work.

First you have to acknowledge that your workplace has become a place where you can’t get any work done:

 

Only after this realization, can you take up the Modern Meeting Manifesto and take aim at the crippling reasons for death by meeting that we all experience working with others in the work environment of today.  This past year, I was fortunate enough to read the short but powerful book by Al Pitampalli — Modern day warrior against the machine.

Al Pitampali - Modern Meeting Standard

Like Jason Fried, Al has taken the risk of prescribing some radical things that our current workplace environments don’t accept too easily.  But if you can embrace just a couple of the prescriptions that Al provides in his book, The Modern Meeting Standard, your 2013 will be dramatically different in nature.

So go ahead, take a quick read and then dare to make a difference in order to get off of the hamster wheel you are stuck in.  If you’re smart you’ll follow the 7 principles of the Modern Meeting Manifesto:

  1. Meet only to support a decision that has already been made.  Meetings aren’t for making decisions by committee.
  2. Move fast. End on schedule. Force yourself to hold brief meetings.  Once you do this, you’ll force yourself to *not* waste time and get to the point.
  3. Limit the number of attendees. To many meetings are simply informational for various participants.  Quit it.  Only gather people who can refute, confirm or change the decision being presented.
  4. Reject the unprepared.  Send out agendas prior to the meeting period.  No agenda, cancel the meeting.
  5. Produce committed action plans.  Hold people accountable.  Don’t just say the group will do things.
  6. Refuse to be informational. Read the memo, it’s mandatory.  Meeting leaders must do their work before the meeting.  Participants must do their work before the meeting.
  7. Work with brainstorms, not against them.  Brainstorms are one reason to bring several people into the same room together.  Embrace it.

One of the big items all of this points to is that meetings are expensive.  They interrupt a lot of co-workers from doing uninterrupted productive work.  And the combined cost to bring all those people into a single room is crazy expensive.  Meetings can be short.  Meetings can have less people.  Meetings can produce more results and momentum.  Only if you convene meetings only when necessary.

What is stopping you from just canceling the next recurring meeting that you lead?  What consequences would there be if you really did NOT hold it this week?

I’ve talked about testing testing testing before. Usability testing is so easy to do these days that there is no excuse not to do it.

A/B Testing for conversion rates is a great way to see if simple iterations of your current site can make a big impact on results.

Check out this infographic on testing contact forms that you typically put on squeeze pages and other offer / registration form pages.

testing to optimize website form conversion rates

 

There’s 3 Reasons To Optimize Your Contact Forms:

  1. You don’t use all of the data fields you collect.  Nope, think hard about why you need to know each and every field you ask for.  Because every additional field will limit your ability to get the maximum participation from site visitors.  You’re asking them to just walk away.
  2. Simple changes can drastically change how much effort you have to put into promoting and advertising your offers.  If you engage in paid promotional activities, conversion rates can radically change the ROI on your investment.  In fact, you might have enough traffic as it is.  You just need to change the user experience when they get to your site.
  3. Less data collected means less data to manage.  Make it easier on yourself and manipulate less uncecessary profile data.

 

One question that arises for anyone that pushes back or hesitates on testing for optimized response rates: Would you rather have more people in a permission-based relationship (so you can ask for more profile data as you go, as you need it) with your organization, or have drastically less (over 100% less in some cases!) people that you know about at all.

Is this infographic compelling enough to get you to reconsider just how much information you really need to ask for?  Say “Yes” in the comments if you see the benefits of testing this stuff!

In my marketing communications advisory of nonprofits and churches, I have increasingly been producing infographics for clients’ marketing campaigns. . . because they are effective and they just work in getting the word out.

When we create custom infographics for clients it usually takes about a week or so to turn them around and costs the client anywhere from $500-750 on average to produce.  The results have been phenomenal creating some powerful case studies for integrating visual media into anyone’s marketing communications campaigns.

But for those times where you want to produce a quick infographic, there are other resources out there like Piktochart which can produce interesting visual content for your blog or flyer or other smaller project.  Check out this quick video where you’ll see some screenshots of the menus inside the piktochart online service:

 

Just earlier this week, I published an infographic that I whipped up using this method:

 

infographic example

 

 

There is of course a learning curve to using the online infographic generator with it’s set of online toolbox because you want to control details of layouts, text placement, etc.

But to be truthful, the real challenge of infographic production is not the graphics but being able to use data in order to tell a story that is compelling.  That’s where the real value is when we create custom infographics for clients.  When we succeed, people get the message and are compelled share or follow the call to action in it.

But if you’re up for dabbling in infographic land in the short term, these online infographic tools are a decent beginning point.

 

Undoubtedly if your organization has a social media presence, you are leaning on your fans and followers to help spread the word. That’s one of the core reasons you are utilizing social media in the first place, right? To leverage the social networks of your supporters in order to reach new people that your organization doesn’t have an existing relationship with yet.

So you probably are asking your community to share your posts. To retweet and thumb up Like’s for your status updates. To +1 interesting content in your feed.

But have you explained to them WHY you want them to do it? More importantly have you shown them how their simple actions can help them be a part of the work your organization is doing?

20130126-134009.jpg

Check out this simple direct mail piece attempts to do with their community. Do you see how they are framing the opportunity for each of the thousands of people in the social media community?

20130126-134002.jpg

On the back, the larger than life number is shared in a way that invites the person to be a part of the plan.

How are you framing the WHY opportunity for your supporter base? Are you inviting them into the larger story or are you just drilling them with neverending requests to pimp out their personal social network for something where only your organization benefits?

I’m excited because this month at Liquid Church we are launching a massive campaign to get up to 3,000 people to read the entire New Testament Bible in 40 days all together as a community.

If you aren’t aware of some of the trends going on with Bible engagement and churches today, take a look at the infographic I pulled together to help share the situation in the Church:

 

Bible Engagement Trends

 

So for 40 days leading up to Easter, we will be reading the Bible in 225 small groups across New Jersey. We even have several church online groups forming so that our community of online worshippers can participate with us. All the details are available at www.40daybiblechallenge.com

Bible reading campaign

 

The program is being put together in collaboration with Biblica, who is the copyright holder of the NIV Bible. We have been able to produce thousands of custom printed Bibles for our campaign through their Community Bible Experience. With Biblica’s help, we’ve also been able to make it available in PDF, Kindle, ePub, and audio formats. In addition, we’ve produced a spanish translation as well as kids versions of the daily bible readings. We’ve got iTunes podcasts. We also have links to the YouVersion reading plan available for your smart phone. And to top it off, we have a daily email devotional that will be sent out every day to keep everyone encouraged and on track. There you go, no excuse NOT to read it with us.

I’m excited to see what happens when our entire community is in sync reading the same portions of text weekly over the next 8 weeks. What is been surprising is the enthusiasm people have shown to sign-up to read together. You would think in today’s day and age that reading the entire NT Bible wouldn’t be a huge draw. But by doing it together, it has brought out the best participation and energy we have seen in awhile.

Have you ever read the Bible together with your entire church? How did it go?

Everyone wants a pat on the back for a job well done.

Your volunteers and team members deserve a pat on the back.

So what is holding you back from giving some pats on the back?

You might have a outbound marketing strategy, or a social media strategy, but do you have a Thank You Strategy in place?

thank you note from the Pope

Here is a copy of a postcard I got from the Vatican recently where the Pope himself wrote me a handwritten thank you note for helping out at a church event. The postage and postmark are totally legit from Rome, Italy for sure. Of course I love the fact that someone went out of his way to arrange such a fun little gesture.

It stays pinned to my wall at work for anyone to see. I have had several people strike up conversations because of that one little thank you note. I have also been told that a volunteer has pinned one of my thank you notes to their bulletin board at work so they can see it every say. Can you ever imagine where people in your community might talk about how your ministry is so appreciative of their contributions?

What can you do to make thank you notes a regular part of your routine, no matter what specific job or role you are in currently?

My challenge to you this week: send someone you have been working with a short note of thanks I encouragement. In fact, send three. And don’t do it via email. Send it via trusty old snail mail. And sit back and watch how impactful it can be.

I have been thinking more and more about one of the fundamental failures communicators are making in their work and was reminded of it when I drove into my local ShopRite parking lot the other day.

After renovations which made grocery shopping fun and delicious (new food court in the actual store!), traffic went through the roof. But the store didn’t stop there.

Thinking about the user experience even before we walk in the door, the management realized while shopping inside the store was fun, getting a parking spot wasn’t anymore.

putting audience first

So what did they do? Call them crazy, but I now have free valet parking at my grocery store. The first in the entire state apparently.

What are you doing to make the experience of your guests, audience, followers, supporters and volunteers to be a WOW-experience? Where can you go further to put their needs first?

If I looked at your website, is it really tuned for first time visitors? Or is your content set up in a way that “everyone else does it”?

Do you talk more about what you need from your supporters (like tons of “give give give! Just give us money!” type messaging) vs what they might really want to explore or hear about regarding their opportunity to participate in impactful work?

Do you talk more about you, as in your “institution” organization? Or do you really celebrate “you,” the person reading your content — you know, the volunteers, supporters, constituents who are the real heros, without which you wouldn’t have a job?

What can you do to pull out all the stops to out to put your audience first, kind of like giving free valet parking for me to run in and grab a carton of milk at my ShopRite?

I’ve written about usability testing a couple of times here because if you’re developing a digital footprint, it is important to test test test.  And it doesn’t take as much you think to do it properly.  As Wikipedia puts it:

Usability testing is a technique used in user-centered interaction design to evaluate a product by testing it on users…in contrast with usability inspection methods where experts use different methods to evaluate a user interface without involving users.

Usability testing focuses on measuring a human-made product’s capacity to meet its intended purpose…[it] involves watching people trying to use something for its intended purpose

Today, I interviewed Tony Albanese, product marketer over at ZURB.  They offer a suite of website development apps including SolidifyApp.com, VerifyApp.com and Notableapp.com.

I have been using VerifyApp.com recently on live site development projects I’m leading currently and it has been a great tool to validate what we’ve intended to build as well as identify some things from the users’ perspective that we never would have thought about without user testing input.

Useability testing allows you to address navigation, content presentation, and other items to improve the user experience which in turn increases the likelihood of the site to deliver on the original objectives for user engagement.

Here’s the interview video below.  Watch it and I’ll join you afterwards below:

Here’s an real-life example of what Verifyapp.com was able to uncover regarding a client’s website recently.  Although there were 3 different ways to sign-up for a newsletter or email list on the home page of a website, over 40% of the users didn’t know where to click when prompted to sign-up for free content, email lists or newsletters from the site.  That tells you that there is a communication issue going on.  Either the site is too busy and has distracting elements, or the calls to action are not clear, or placement of the sign-up forms are not visible enough given the current layout.  This is prompting a look at how to narrow the user experience so that sign-up for permission based email list relationships is one of the core pieces of the homepage offerings.  Of course, we’ll test out sample layouts along the way to ensure we’re improving the success rate.  That is what user testing can do for your website.

If you are a nonprofit, does your site clearly allow visitors to find and use the donation forms on your site?

If you are a church, does your site make it easy for prospective visitors to find the appropriate information they need in order to decide and plan on a visit?

If you are a cause-related organization, are the volunteer opportunities being promoted on your pages presented in a way so that the most urgent yet relevant positions can be seen?

Those are just some of the initial questions we can begin to address with user testing.

So what are you curious about with your own website?  What *assumed* function can you test to see if you really should be concerned enough to do something about it?