Living in a society where we constantly need more than 24 hours in a day, is there a perfect time to press the send button on your email marketing campaign? The answer is yes and no. How can that be? Well, there is not a single perfect time for every marketer to send every email. That’s the “no” part. But there probably is a nearly perfect time for your company to send your messages. And that time may even vary by message, with different messages to different audiences having its own “perfect” time. That is the “yes” part.
First a disclosure: I love Target with a passion. I will drive past the local Super Walmart and go 10 miles out of my way to go to Target. As a result, I signed up for Target's email program approximately four years ago. At the time, I filled out a profile with demographic data and provided my zip code when I signed up. I began to receive specials and personalized content based on my location for my local Target.
Fast-forward four years: I no longer live in that city or near the local Target. However, I am still receiving special email offers for my (old) local Target (see below):
While I applaud Target for sending geo-targeted content to subscribers to increase relevancy, they have never once, in four years, asked me if my profile data is still accurate. Boat, missed. As I'm still committed to my long-term relationship with Target, I decided to scroll to the very bottom of the email.
If I were the average subscriber, would I know that behind the "My Account" link I could also update my profile data? Tip for marketers: Have a loved one or friend not affiliated with your brand "secret shop" your emails and site to ensure the average user understands your terminology.
I clicked through and was taken to a page to sign in.
Another opportunity missed to reduce the barriers for subscribers to update their profiles. Listen: Your subscribers are constantly evolving and making lifestyle changes (more on that in a moment), so you have to be sure you are still providing targeted, relevant, valuable content that hits them at the right time. For now, I'm either going to continue to receive no longer relevant content based on profile data from four years ago, or I'm going to unsubscribe.
On a side note, in addition to localized emails, Target has begun sending me messages targeted to new parents.
Now, when I signed up, I believe I provided my birth date and maybe Target decided now is the time in my life when I should/would be having a baby. However, this is not the case. Granted, I am going in with the assumption that they only send targeted and segmented emails. An email entirely focused on babies, again with no option to tell Target that these emails are not relevant, may cause many subscribers to hit the "spam" button (because remember, spam could also mean "not relevant"), unsubscribe or disengage from their emails. Don't miss the boat on ensuring you're hitting the right audience with the right, most valuable and relevant message, at the right time.
Target, I love you, but let's take this baby thing one step at a time, okay? Give your preferences center a little TLC and your subscribers will love you that much more.
Email Marketing Strategist at Bronto Software
Test, test and test again.
- Spencer Kollas, StrongMail
View your campaigns through the eyes of your recipients. Test out your from name, subject line, creative, call-to-action, etc on subscribers who are *not* in your office or affiliated directly with your product/brand.
- DJ Waldow, Bronto Software
"Focus on reducing opt-in friction by testing and optimizing preference centers and other points of data collection – new signups will be especially critical to your business in 2009."
- Nicholas Einstein, Datran Media
Predictions for 2009:
1. Preheader text will be used by the majority of email marketers.
2. More email marketers will launch preference centers, giving subscribers more control of the content and frequency of the emails they receive.
3. Marketers will experiment with videos embedded in emails.
- Chad White, Smith-Harmon
Every week the EEC adds new content to its Whitepaper Room. Here are the latest additions:
ExactTarget: CareerBuilder.com Case Study
Taguchi Testing Strategy Delivers Results
Epsilon: The Fortified Inbox
Bronto Software: Creating A Multi-Channel Strategy
Increase Your Email Performance By Integrating Other Channels
Abad Marketing: Claves para lograr que nuestros mensajes se lean en navidad
Return Path: Stop Sending Email Like It's 1999
Welcome Message Study: Marketers Are Missing Opportunities to Pave the Road to Relevancy
Email Data Source: Email Brand Equity Index™
The Email Brand Equity Index™ is the first score that reflects a 360 degree view of email marketing efforts.
StrongMail: Put the Action Back in Transactional Email
Transform your service-based messages into revenue opportunities.
*Have a whitepaper you'd like to contribute? Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aside from testing, are there any minimal requirements that any email marketer can follow that will improve display on a Macs, PCs, and/or mobile devices? Or are there completely separate standards for each email client? —K.G.
The Voices of Email had this advice:
Deirdre Baird: First, ensure the HTML is valid according to either W3C or WDG standards. This is the single best protection for universal rendering.
Second, try to ensure the integrity of the message (branding, calls-to-action, etc.) are communicated even if images do not display. While alt tags are useful, they do not display universally in all email clients, so do not rely exclusively on alt tags as an alternative to image display.
And third—and this is more of an FYI—some mobile readers display the HTML version as text instead of displaying the Text part of a multi-part message (as many assume). If a significant percentage of recipients are assumed to be using mobile devices to read emails, then consider not only the text part of your multi-part but also what the HTML part will look like when rendered as text. If possible, ask customers at sign-up if they'd like a "mobile version" of the email and/or create a mobile version that folks can subscribe to.
Chip House: The goal is properly recognizing the differing needs of your subscribers and customizing the content and format to best meet their stated or observed needs. The first way to do this is to ask their preferences (HTML or text) at the time you capture the opt-in. If you don't get that information, then you have to try to optimize for how you want your subscribers to use and/or respond to your communication.
Let's look at mobile first. The challenge appears bigger than it actually is. For example, when you look at the total possible number of rendering combinations for mobile devices, which vary by mobile phone manufacturer, top ISPs, mobile data providers and mobile operating systems, you get 3,780 unique rendering possibilities. However, what we've found via our research is that 56% of users are less likely to read commercial email and/or newsletters on their mobile phone as they are on their laptop or desktop. The message there is you need to optimize the email for both the mobile and laptop/desktop computer environment. In fact, our testing showed that commercial email sent using multi-part MIME (includes both text and HTML parts) was the most versatile format. By this I mean it is most likely to render as HTML only for those systems that can display HTML well, and render as text elsewhere—such as on many mobile devices. However, the advantage of multi-part MIME over text here is that when a user saves or flags your email to look at it on their desktop/laptop, they'll get the graphic-rich HTML version you'd love them to see—which is also likely to deliver a higher click rate.
Testing the rendering of your email campaigns across a number of email clients and ISPs is the best way to overcome the difference in those systems. We use Pivotal Veracity's eDesign Optimizer heavily for this purpose, which allows for preview in a number of different mail clients (including Mac). Each has its own unique page break and image rendering rules, for example, which need to be optimized around. With a little testing, however, you'll be able to get your HTML in tip-top shape for nearly all recipients.
Stephanie Miller: Let me focus on optimizing for mobile. What actually renders on a PDA or Smartphone is determined by four factors:
1. The operating system and software (e.g., Palm OS, Blackberry OS, Windows Mobile)
2. The service provider (e.g., Sprint, Verizon, T-mobile, etc.)
3. The device itself (e.g.: Treo, Blackberry, HP IPaq, iPhone, etc.)
4. The user's settings
Yes, it's messy. And totally different than reading email on a PC. There is a temptation to just deliver text to mobile users, but I don't recommend this. First, because it's hard to know who is a mobile user (there is unfortunately no "sniffer" that tells the sender what device is being used (PC vs. mobile). Second, because mobile users are not just mobile users. They also read email in their PC-based email clients, where a nicely formatted HTML email still yields higher responses in most cases.
The best bet is to rely on Marketing 101—Know Thy Customer. Ask subscribers if they regularly read your newsletter or promotions on their PDA. Many mobile device users sync their device back to the PC and read newsletters there rather than on the road. If you believe that many of your subscribers read your email on their mobile device, then offer a mobile-friendly format (simple HTML with text) that can be selected at sign up or in your preference center. If you believe that many of your subscribers are sometimes mobile readers but often PC readers, then format your HTML (particularly the masthead and preview pane) to minimize the number of image links and other code that readers must scroll past to see the actual content.
Have some good advice that we missed? Please add a comment and take part in the conversation.
Have a question for the Voices of Email? Email Chad your question at email@example.com and we'll REPLY TO ALL by posting the answers so everyone can benefit.
Recently one of our customers encountered an issue with rendering when sending to the "full version" of Microsoft Live Mail. A few of the fields in their email showed up as blank white space! Our testing of similar emails via Pivotal Veracity's eDesign Optimizer showed perfect rendering in all other top ISP email clients, even Hotmail and Microsoft Live Mail "Classic." The Live Mail "full version" is one that appears to have this unique issue.
What's the issue? In the initial code from our client's newsletter (recently redesigned), the designers did not specify a font color within the text boxes that showed as blank white boxes. Live Mail defaulted the text to white (all other email clients played nice and used the standard HTML default of black text).
In Live Mail full-version, the text is there, you just couldn't see it unless you highlighted it (because of the white background). Here's the added bonus: We tested other emails using undefined font colors, and it did not show the same issue. Live Mail did what we'd expect and displayed black text.
What drove the issue for the client at hand seemed to be a "perfect storm" of sorts. The template uses an outside table and inner tables. The outer table defines a font color of white over a green background. So, it appears the interaction of the outer table having font color defined as white and the inner table with no font specified led Live Mail to display the text as white. I'm not positive what the W3C's say about this, but other email clients (even Hotmail) dealt with it differently than Live Mail. This, by the way, isn't the first display issue found in Live Mail (read this post from Campaign Monitor).
At the end of the day, this is a fairly complex issue and one other email marketers should be aware of. The "full version" of Live Mail acts differently in the treatment of text than other email clients in the marketplace. Pre-testing content with a rendering tool like eDesign Optimizer is even more critical these days as the major players are rolling out regular changes to their email software.
We just sent the follow message to all our clients and I wanted to share the news with the EEC community as well.
ALERT: AOL disables images in AOL.com & AIM.com starting today!
Dear Pivotal Veracity Clients,
Today, May 22, AOL officially introduced and rolled-out a new interface for customers who access their email using AOL.com & AIM.com. In addition to a number of other changes to the interface, AOL has decided to disable images in both of these web-based email clients.
As a reminder, images have always been OFF by default for AOL 9.0 (AOL's desktop email software) but, prior to today, images were ON by default in AOL.com and AIM.com. The new interfaces for AOL.com and AIM.com now turn images OFF by default exactly like AOL 9.
Turning Images back On
Just like AOL 9.0, images will be turned back ON in AOL.com and AIM.com by any of the following:
the recipient enables the images by clicking the SHOW IMAGES link for THIS MESSAGE or THIS SENDER that appears for each email, OR
the recipient adds the mailer's from-address to their address book, OR
the mailer's IP is on AOL's Enhanced Whitelist.
Mailers should expect to see a drop in open rates due to the new interface. Since open-rates are typically tracked via an invisible gif (image), when images are disabled, this method of open-rate tracking will result in no opens recorded when images are disabled.
Be proactive in getting images back on! Encourage your recipients to add your from-address to their address book; if your from-address is in the address book, your images will automatically display. In addition to an explicit add-to-address book campaign, strive to keep your spam complaints and unknown user rates low so you qualify for AOL's Enhanced Whitelist.
eDesign Optimizer already enhanced to show the new AOL.com and AIM.com rendering
Yup! We have already enhanced eDesign Optimizer to incorporate the new image settings for AOL and AIM and have updated screenshot intelligence accordingly for the new interface.
Your Pivotal Veracity support team
As any good salesperson knows, the best time to engage with a prospect is when they are in market. Dialogue happens and business closes. Email can work the same way—even, in some low-consideration, self-service or low-investment cases, creating a valuable conversation that completely replaces the need for a sales person.
We say "dialogue" but let's face it, it's mostly monologue. A very valuable and targeted monologue, but mostly one way just the same. That's okay if the prospect is truly in market—either self-identified or based on behavior. Many email broadcast vendors and solutions can easily trigger a series of timed email messages along a needs tree, based on prospect behavior. Once I've downloaded your software, requested a whitepaper or abandoned items in the shopping cart, use email to close the deal. The number of emails you need will vary according to your business and prospect knowledge of your brand, but the key is to test for the right timing, cadence and content that will move the majority of prospects along the sales cycle.
Test—that's a key point! Keep testing to keep the material and timing current with market trends and competitive pressures, even seasonality.
Consider the trial software scenario. Technology companies have been using email for years to close from trial to paid subscriber, setting a high bar for success and professionalism in this market. Ideally, the email program would be intelligent, so that when the prospect changes his status, the email program adjusts. Don't keep sending me, "Would you like to try our software" emails after I've already spent five days active in the software. Instead, acknowledge when I've actually opened and used the trial software, when I've provided feedback and especially when I've purchased.
The first key is clear permission. Be sure that the prospects know what to expect and make sure it's easy to get out of the conversation. The other primary keys to success are thinking about both content and cadence. How quickly does a prospect make the decision? Match the email to that. Lots of email bunched up over a few days is rarely the right answer, even if the prospect is highly active. If your email series happens over the course of seven to 10 days or less, be sure that the subject lines are differentiated so that prospects knows there is something valuable in each. Give email a specific purpose and give the prospect some breathing room. Would you take a call from a salesperson every 10 minutes while you are considering? Do you want the sales associate to stand outside the dressing room calling in tips and ideas for color matches? Give the prospect time and be valuable and present, rather than overwhelming.
As with most email marketing, if you don't have the software or technology to do this kind of lifecycle marketing, you can baby step into it and prove the concept. Pull the file of abandoned shoppers or free trial downloaders every week or month and send a series of emails—tracking them closely to watch performance and course correct as needed. If you can't trigger the emails and be intelligent about the file, then err on the side of sending fewer, each with more punch.
Either way, it's critical for prospects to feel like there really is a dialogue. Include feedback mechanisms and actively ask for input (and then act on it). Demonstrate that you've listened. Give prospects options like a telephone number or live chat feature. Even a highly custom email is junk if it's just a one-way broadcast. In any communication, including a monologue, sincerity and relevancy count. Hype is not a dialogue.