Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Chimp On Our Back

We finally gave in to grown-up marketing.

(Now we know why we put it off for so long.)

I like my customers. Heck, I LOVE my customers. For thirty years they have kept me in business, kept groceries in the pantry and most of the bill collectors away from my door.
I have made a point to be honest in all my dealings with them, to give them more value than they expect in my products and services, to treat them like extended family, only better.

For all that time, I made sure not to bother them more than necessary. A picture postcard now and then, or a long-winded, jocular e-mail once or twice a year, and then only when I had something worthwhile to say, like ‘I’ve finished a new drawing, or ‘We’re trying to publish a book’, or ‘Happy Holidays – Thanks for being a loyal DS Art customer’.

I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not.

Effective as postcards are (pictures being worth at least a thousand words, even in this economy), they are not without cost, especially when you start printing them up into the thousands, which we are obliged to do these days. Add, then, the price of postage, and the focused time it takes at home in front of the TV to affix address labels and stamps, and something that used to cost pocket money and an evening or two now takes more than a week and serious budgetary consideration.

No, I’m not complaining. Really, I’m not.

I’m just reporting the reality that comes from having a whole bunch of people turn from complete strangers to friends to extended family over a relatively short period of time. We’ve had some busy years lately, and the business is growing. Fast. Getting the word out for a reunion becomes a strategic effort.

The writing was on the wall.
It was time to grow up and act like a real company.

Why not use e-mail? Well, we do. Or we did, until our internet provider decided to limit the number outgoing messages we could send per hour, and put a complete cap on how many we are allowed per week. We are obliged to bundle our Friends list into bite-sized, anonymous groups and send each bundle separately, and even then we began setting off SPAM alerts by the mail stream monitorbots.

Things aren't like they were in the old days, Gilligan.

The writing was on the wall. It was time to grow up and act like a real company, so we decided to embrace the next level of Internet communications technology, and sign up for a MailChimp account.

MailChimp would let us communicate quickly and easily with our growing list of DS Art Friends, avoiding all the limitations of our regular e-mail service. It would give us new tools to keep our art fans up to date with the many new and exciting projects we are working on, and would show everyone that we are keeping up, or trying to, anyway, with technological advancements.

But maybe it worked too well.

With this one move has come, apparently, the unsettling belief that the DS Art Studio is now a large and bustling enterprise. To be sure, we bustle, especially during the holiday season, but the company is as big as it has always been: It’s just me and the Missus.

Why do I say this? Because the response we have been getting from our MailChimp newsletters has been, well, surprising. The kind of reactions we would expect to get if we were a big, cold, impersonal company.

First, we noticed that only about a third of our new, fancy newsletters actually got opened. (MailChimp sends us nice charts and graphs telling us how many people receive our messages, and how many folks click through to the web links we’ve included in the stories and pictures. It’s pretty cool stuff.)  One third is a lot less than we expected – much less than the response we were used to getting from our regular e-mail messages.

Second, We found out pretty quickly that a lot of our customers don't want to be bothered with an official-looking newsletter. A lot of folks thought it was just plain SPAM. And they didn't tell us – they told MailChimp.

These people weren’t strangers.
Many were long-time customers

While we have always offered an ‘Unsubscribe’ option (and we have always taken those requests to heart) we never had more than one or two people reply to opt out after any mailing. After our first fancy, professional newsletter, however, we had nearly two dozen customers head for the exit, only to be followed by another dozen with each successive mailing.

These people weren’t strangers. Many were longtime customers. Something about the new format has rubbed a raw nerve. Perhaps they believe we’ve become something we’re not, something we’ve never been. Or perhaps they felt comfortable telling MailChimp something that they didn't feel like telling us directly.

Or maybe the rapid development of new and exciting projects (well, exciting for us, anyway) over the summer months was more nuisance than news.

Needless to say, the mass exodus got our attention. The question now is, what do we do about it?

Should we limit our newsletters to two or three times a year?

Should we drop the Chimp entirely and send individual e-mails, maybe with one of those commercial software packages that makes it look like every message is intimate and personal?

Should we just go back to using postcards?

Suffice it to say, if our newsletters are a bother, we’re awfully sorry for the intrusion. Just tell us, and we’ll take your name off the list. Right away. Honest.

But if there is anything we can do (or stop doing) that will keep you on board, we’d like to hear about that, too.


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