News Flash: Email Is Still the Best Way to Reach Your Patrons

Today’s blog post is written by Paul Miller, VP Sales – Non-Profit Ticketing, PatronManager.

With all the corporate digital marketing dollars spent on search engine marketing and social media advertising, it might come as a surprise that email is still king of the marketing castle. And in no place is this perhaps more true than in the non-profit world, especially the arts and culture sector. How do we know? Well, according to the PatronManager Arts Patron Survey, which we’ve conducted with a subset of our clients’ patrons every year since 2006, email usage, and appreciation, continues to rank high in terms of usefulness and impact. Three statistics in particular from our 2018 survey stood out to me as definitive evidence why email reigns supreme with our particular audience:

  • 50% of arts patrons believe email is the most effective way to learn about arts and culture events.
  • 90% of arts patrons check their email once a day or more.
  • 80% of arts patrons in their 50s and a whopping 62% of patrons in their 70s have smartphones, which basically means they’re connected all the time. (And in case there was any doubt, the percentage of arts patrons younger than 50 who have a smartphone is nearly 98%.)

Aside from being so widely adopted by our audiences, email also gives arts marketers the ability to help create a sense of belonging or being “in-the-know,” in a way that other marketing efforts can’t. Why? Because email can be personalized! In the same survey, 74% of patrons told us that it matters when an organization seems to know them personally, instead of treating them like an anonymous patron. When successfully executed:

  • 48% say they’re more likely to attend more events.
  • 41% say they’re more likely to tell friends about your organization.
  • 38% say they’re more likely to make a donation.

So if email is this pervasive and it works that well, what sort of metrics should we be measuring and shooting for? The following chart shows open and click-through rates from three email service providers, specifically in the non-profit and arts sectors.

What stands out to me most here are the much higher numbers that PatronManager clients experience. (Full disclosure: PatronManager clients have a choice of integrating with Emma or MailChimp. While we can see the aggregate stats of our Emma clients, we don’t have the same level of visibility into our MailChimp users.) The key to their success is not only being strategic about the frequency and timing of the emails they send, but also about matching the content of their emails to a highly targeted segment of patrons. This is easy for them because they are utilizing a CRM system that has the ability to segment according to ticket purchase or donation history, as well as interest, in a way that using multiple systems for ticket sales, marketing, and fundraising do not allow.

So, if your numbers aren’t on par with these, what can you do to make them better? Here’s what most email marketers would suggest as good first steps:

To increase your open rate:

  • Perfect your subject line! Test and tweak by looking at past results based on the number of characters, tone of voice you’re using, and how well it matches the actual email content.
  • Test the sender name. Is it better coming from “Sally in the Box Office,” your Executive Director, or simply your organization’s name?
  • Test the day and time of sending. Don’t overlook weekends; the truth is, that’s when patrons actually have time for non-urgent communications.
  • Test the frequency. More isn’t necessarily better. Current thinking in non-profit marketing suggests somewhere around three times per week is enough. And again, three messages with two items each in a week is better than one message with six items.

To increase your click-through rate:

  • Segment according to interest. For goodness sake, stop sending the exact same email to everyone on your list. I realize this is easier, but it’s also the reason why people don’t click-through, or they just unsubscribe completely.
  • Examine your email design. Make sure your emails appear just as good (if not better) on a phone than on a desktop. Furthermore, if you’re linking back to your website (which you absolutely should do), it should be a seamless design transition from email to website.
  • Create brief and compelling content. Fewer words are better, and good photos and/or video will drive traffic.

I encourage you to take a look at your email metrics from 2018 and see what kind of patterns you can identify. Which of your emails had the highest open rates? The most click-throughs? The least? Why do you think that happened? Determine a way to test your hypothesis, and pledge that for the rest of 2019, you will resist the urge to send only one version of every email. Sure, it’s a little more effort on your part, but with email still being arts patrons preferred method of communication, the results will far outweigh the cost.

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