If your business is seasonal, back-to-school time and the pre-holiday months of late summer and early autumn are likely major tipping points for driving revenue and ensuring you end the calendar year on a high note. More than ever, this is the time that marketers, especially those with a retail and/or e-commerce business, need to harness all the tools they have at their disposal and implement smart email program decisions.
Top 10 takeaways from video email webinar:
1. Video is a growing trend that email marketers need to pay attention to. Video viewing time increased 26% year-over-year in the USA from August 2010 to August 2011. 180 million people, or 86% of the US Internet audience, viewed online video in August of 2011, according to comScore. Marketers are taking notice, with video ad spend projected to increase 22% from 2011 to 2012 (eMarketer). An August 2011 report by Forrester Research showed online video was perceived as the channel most poised to increase in effectiveness over the next three years by interactive marketers, behind only mobile marketing and created social media.
2. Using video for video's sake is not a good enough reason to use video with email. Marketers need to decide whether the application of video creates additional value for subscribers before deciding to employ this tactic. Simply using video because it is "cool" is not a good enough reason; marketers need to first consider whether the storytelling power of video can be used to more effectively entertain, engage, or excite subscribers, build trust, stir the imagination, or persuade the subscriber to take an action vs. other techniques.
3. Video is proven to be an effective tactic to boost email campaign performance, but only when best practices are applied. Simply using the word "video" in the subject line of email has been demonstrated to help achieve increases in open rates of up to 20% vs. an identical message body without the word "video" in the subject line. Video in email examples illustrated a 200% increase in CTR in a controlled A/B split in one example, 67% higher CTR v. average campaigns in another. Still, if best practices are not used, video can annoy subscribers, distance marketers from subscribers, and even drive up negative metrics like unsubscribe rates.
4. Video does not alter the fundamental rules of smart email email marketing. Relevance still rules. Marketers need to think about who to engage with video; use of past clickthrough data, web analytics data, or customer demographic data are all possible sources of valuable targeting information. Knowing which subscribers have watched video in the past can be especially helpful when developing segments for video email.
5. Video production does not need to be difficult or expensive; marketers can make it so. There are several techniques that can be used to minimize the amount of time required to generate videos for campaigns, such as: 1) use existing content developed in-house or by partners (just make sure you have permission) 2) If your brand is tolerant, carefully assess the production values you really need to accomplish the goal of the campaign. It is possible to create HD video content in-house, with a full camera setup and set, for $4,000 - $5,000. Hiring a professional or an agency is also an option, but many marketers make the mistake of thinking that video has to be expensive, when in reality video is only expensive when the marketer's production requirements make it so.
6. Choosing which technique to use for leveraging video "in" email is a creative and cost decision. Period. There are benefits and drawbacks of each method of including video in email. Concerns over deliverability, campaign send speed, or mail client support should not dictate the decision of "in" or "with" because technologies exist in the market to detect what email client a subscriber is using, and then automatically serve a compatible version of the video asset, animated .GIF video, or still image directly in the email based on what the mail client supports. If a marketer has a creative aversion to using any of these creative treatments, it is easy to exclude the use of that treatment without having to cut the list. Further, deliverability concerns can be alleviated simply by employing best practices in coding email messages.
7. If using video in email, internal education is key. Not all mail clients support full video in email, including Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010. If you use one of these programs at your place of work, consider setting internal expectations so that stakeholders know what to expect. While video in email support is not yet consistent across mail clients, as of June 2011 an "average" B2C marketer could expect to deliver "full" video in email to approximately 37% of the list, animated .GIF video to 50% of the list, and static image to 13% of the list. Your results will vary based on your list's composition.
8. Email marketers need to treat video as more than a "one off" experiment. Since we belong to a metrics-focused industry, many email marketers choose to "one off" test video in email to see if it "works." This is a terrible mistake because it does not allow the marketer to understand what about the video is driving results. There are many different types of video content; some videos will work better than others. Therefore, it is important when testing video to at minimum test over a series of campaigns (I recommend at least 3). Only by looking at video in the context of several campaigns will marketers begin to discover what works and doesn't work for the brand.
9. Know the lead times involved. Most email marketers have not used video with email before. If it's your first time, consider planning the video a full two months prior to the campaign launch. Since video requires different techniques and tools to create and encode, try to give yourself a buffer and a Plan B far in advance. If you already have access to video content, plan on adding an additional three to four hours per campaign for any testing or troubleshooting.
10. Follow best practices. Among them: 1) set the subscriber's expectation for video by calling the video out in the subject line (this is especially important for animated .GIF videos, which auto-play) 2) Use a "play" button in the video "player" to signal the subscriber can play the video. 3) Highlight in the email what "happens" when the video is clicked. Because watching a video requires the subscriber to invest his scarce time, it is important to communicate the value you are promising up-front to prevent disappointment 4) Serve a "right click to play" message as the first frame of the video for Hotmail users (because player controls aren't supported yet in Hotmail) 5) Keep animated .GIF videos to 30 seconds or less. Since animated .GIF videos don't support sound, they are most effective as "teaser" content.
BONUS TAKEAWAY: Be clear with your campaign goals up front and do not over-hype or over-promise results. Video email is still new and best practices are still emerging. In my experience, the marketers that have gone on to be most successful with video email are those who took the time to learn about video in email, took the time to educate their managers and peers, and treated video email as an "experiment." If you promise the moon, you'd at least better be able to jump off the ground.
- Rory Carlyle
More than ever, consumers are thinking about the necessity of their purchases before they part with their hard-earned dollars. Adding to the problem, 65% of Americans believe they are bombarded with too much advertising, according to the Art and Copy trailer. This becomes a major issue for email marketers who are trying to walk the fine line between inundating the inbox and delivering timely messages.
So, how do you convert consumers from window shoppers to buyers when there are so many companies vying for their affections? Simply step out from behind the corporate curtain and create a connection that's rooted in authenticity. One way to do this is to put a face with the name.
As the fashion visionary and Creative Director at J.Crew, Jenna Lyons is the ideal voice for the brand. By devoting an entire email to Jenna's Picks and supporting the story in-store, in the catalog and online, J.Crew is inviting people into her office to see what inspires her. Adding the quote from Jenna is yet another way to personalize the content and up the authenticity.
The founders of Serena & Lily take this a step further by devoting two separate emails to their distinct styles: Serena Hearts and Lily Loves. By incorporating a quote for each top pick, they create a conversation. Without the quotes, it would be a list of items without any personality. Of course, in both of these examples the assumption is that the quotes are real, and if they truly want to emanate authenticity then the words should be unedited, as though part of an interview or casual conversation.
Ann Taylor recently introduced their subscribers to Lisa, their new head designer, in a gorgeous email. It includes a quote, a pic of Lisa, and swatches from her inspiration board. Unfortunately, the story ended there. Clicking on the CTA under Lisa's photo dropped you straight into the shop path. Building out an online landing page where people might be able to learn about Lisa's inspiration would have been a spot-on execution.
Catering to the true fashionista who scours the web looking for the latest trends, Tobi delivers all kinds of editorial extras into this email. From taking subscribers behind the scenes at Velvet to strolling the San Francisco streets with their resident style scout, Tobi turns shopping into a full-on fashion experience. (On a best practices note, they fall short in some key areas, including SWYN and FTAF, which are major misses, especially when you consider the great content.)
At the other end of the authenticity spectrum, we have Old Navy's Super-modelquins campaign. Basically, their public-facing spokesperson, who supposedly embodies the Old Navy brand, is actually...a mannequin. While they've done their best to create personalities around these characters and make them more "human", the fact remains that they are plastic, so this comes off as fake and, to be honest, a little creepy.
Without a doubt, Banana Republic has a lock on classic and affordable go-to-work styles. While their emails are always polished to perfection, they feel the same week after week, whether they're featuring white shirts or the must-haves for fall. They get points for creating cool extras, like the City Stories short film competition and the Mad Men walk-on competition, but lose points for never letting their customers into the design studio. What was it that inspired them to make the white shirt the big staple for fall? Wouldn't it be fun to know?
Knowing who you are as a company and inviting consumers to see the face behind the name will help you navigate away from the corporate speak and towards a more casual conversation. In other words, keep it real. No one wants to feel like they're buying something that's generic and mass produced. By giving them a story behind the product, you're creating a connection for your consumer to carry with them every time they button up that shirt, slip on those sandals, or wear those must-have jeans.
- Darrah MacLean & Lisa Harmon - Smith-Harmon
Socializing with the eec Email Design Roundtable: A Discussion on the Integration of Social Media and Marketing Email
The eec Email Design Roundtable recently spent some time discussing an industry hot topic: the integration of email marketing and social networking.
Social networking generally makes its way into email in two primary ways:
(1) Through appeals in email for subscribers to join an existing social network.
(2) "Share with Your Network" (SWYN) invitations for subscribers to share email content with their networks. While these are each fairly simple, there are important creative and strategic considerations that contribute to email success, as well as innovative ways to bring user-generated content (UGC) into email.
Each Design Roundtable member offered fresh insights and ideas to the evolving body of best practices around social optimization in email. Below is a summary of key points from the conversation:
Tim Siukola, ExactTarget: Use the same design "toolbox" to draw attention to alternate ways to interact, keeping the toolbox consistent across campaigns.
Lisa Harmon, Smith-Harmon: Including the toolbox in a "Share Bar" or "SWYN Module" in the header or footer of the email makes the most sense for most marketers.
Chad White, Smith-Harmon: Integrating the social appeal into clever calls-to-action (i.e. "Help a college student save money – forward this email!") can garner more interest than simple links. But some also announce their social networking presences through emails focused entirely on social. For example, Shoeline found that by announcing their social networking presence through a social-dedicated email and then adding a prominent banner in later emails increased subscriber engagement by 57% (Source: Style Campaign).
Justine Jordan, ExactTarget: For organizations with tight-nit communities and/or UGC, integrating photos is a strong way to engage subscribers. It also plays off the significant voyeur aspect of social networking! In addition, integrating the social network icons encourages participation by building recognition across email campaigns.
Megan Walsh, Williams-Sonoma: For retail, the challenge is prioritization of "Share vs. Sell." You have to weigh the benefits of directing subscribers to engage with the brand's social network with the importance of ROI. Ideally, the integration is done so that "share" and "sell" complement one another.
Chad White: "Social Influencer" has emerged as a new category of customer that could be used in email segmentation (similar to non-buyers or early adopters). This segmentation would serve the same purpose as brands targeting of bloggers – making sure that messages are reaching the most influential people in the audience. Measuring the success would call for a different set of 'performance' metrics.
Brooks Bell, Brooks-Bell Interactive: In non-retail messaging, it's valuable to think about how upsell messaging and lifecycle messages can be engaging enough to warrant them 'shareworthy' in the eyes of subscribers.
Lisa Harmon: Is there a way to adapt the visual language of rich media to the email channel, in a way that makes messages more viral? Subscribers should be excited to share content with friends, and rich media contributes to enthusiasm around a particular message.
Tim Siukola: People are more apt to share video than text with others – it's more likely that subscribers will think of rich media content as appealing to people in their networks.
Ron Blum, Upromise: People are also very likely to share text content – whether it's newspaper articles, magazine articles – any type of content – not just rich media. If you look at Twitter, people are sharing tons of URLs to text content.
Chad White: That's definitely true in the B2B circle. It takes much longer to assimilate information via video. You can assimilate information via text much more quickly than via video.
Raj Khera, MailerMailer: In Twitter, in the B2B space, people link to charts too… While that isn't text, it's not rich media; it's something in between. People tend to like to share those types of visuals.
Tim Siukola: Urban Outfitters includes network logos at the bottom of their emails and promotes special social features when they have them.
Lisa Harmon: American Apparel held a DIY costume contest where they encouraged subscribers to submit photos of themselves in American Apparel costumes. They also showed last year's winner in the email. This is a good share + sell example.
Who is an expert on these topics? No one! We're all new to the game, and it's important to be in the game, regardless of any anxieties about how far ahead competitors might be. The most important thing is to consider what makes sense for your brand and how you can use social elements to create a unified experience that engages subscribers.
Email marketing copy can sometimes start to feel stale. For instance, how many ways can we say "sale"!? It's often necessary for us to actively seek ways to refresh our messaging. As spring begins, let's take a look at some strong, unique copy treatments. Let's look at words with fresh eyes.
Choosing from our favorite brand "artists," we've compiled a "mix tape" (or, these days, an iPod playlist) of copy treatments. Check it out and see if it inspires any new moods.
I Saw the Sign: Subject Lines
• Boden subject line: "A Boden offer to get your knits in a twist." Including branding at the front of the subject line has shown to boost open rates in some studies, implying that some subscribers just scan subject lines without looking hard at the "from" name. Boden picks up this tip and also entices subscribers with the promise of an offer inside. Love the "knits in a twist" rhyme .
• Sephora subject line: "Pick 5 samples!" This short subject line stands out amongst the longer ones and engages the subscriber with a direct call-to-action and a fun offer. While there's some debate around subject line length best practices (check out Chad White's Email Insider article), most email marketers aim for between 35 and 45 characters. Some of the most attention-catching subject lines are shorter than that, though, like this one.
• Nordstrom subject line: "Dive In: New Swimwear from Miracle Suit." The subject line is clear about the email content, and the unique punctuation and fun intro "Dive In:" may garner some extra attention.
• Staples: Last week, Chad White blogged about Staples' preheader in his Retail Email Blog. Staples used clever copy to appeal to their subscribers' point of view, asking them "Is your coupon not displaying correctly? Prompt to view." as well as prefacing their whitelisting request with "Don't miss the savings." Staples recognizes that their subscribers don't care about missing emails, they care about missing savings, and the copy conveys this understanding.
• Piperlime: Because their (adorable!) headline "Tailor Made" probably wouldn't make sense to someone viewing the email without images, Piperlime writers include a different headline for the preheader text, which maintains the playful tone but adds clarity: "Turn it up in menswear-inspired heels. Shop now."
I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Forward to a Friend
Most "forward to a friend" links are direct and clear, but some brands spice it up.
• J.Crew asks subscribers to "spread the word" to their friends as a main CTA in this message.
• giggle includes their FTAF link prominently at the bottom of their email and prefaces it with "Psst," to give the impression that they are inviting their subscriber to pass on a secret.
Greased Lightning: Headlines
• Apple always has great headlines. Their recent email for iPod Touch games is particularly genius: "Score major points this Valentine's Day." The play on "scoring points" is fun and, coupled with the image of the iPod Touch Scrabble game spelling out "LOVE YOU," the whole message is playful and engaging.
• Urban Outfitters: The headline on this email, "YOU LOST" is hilarious. It came long enough after I entered this sweepstakes that I'd forgotten all about it, and the headline caught my attention and led me to read the rest of the email, which contained a special consolation prize discount offer.
• J.Crew's headline "On it way…" freshens up a shipping message that would otherwise be drab. Cool copy can make the simplest messages satisfying for the subscriber.
Baby One More Time: Subheadlines
• Barneys New York's subheadline, "You really need to read today's barneys babble," sounds like an urging from a friend. The subscriber feels like she'd be missing out if she didn't check it out.
• J.Crew gets a third shout-out for their subheadline from a while back. It reaches subscribers right where they are—on their computers, presumably working on something—and invites them to take a quick shopping break.
Twist and Shout: Body Copy
• Land of Nod has some of the most consistently strong copy in the industry. The body copy in this email reaches out to its audience of mamas by making it clear that Land of Nod really understands what it's like to have a newborn. "We know it'll be hard to put the baby to sleep", they're saying, "but at least you'll have this cute bedding to look at."
• Sephora's body copy in their main message and submessages often appeals to the senses, enticing subscribers with quick snippets.
Jack and Diane: Personalization
• Virgin America (whose copy always rocks!) took a fun approach to personalization in this message. Saying "Hey Darrah," instead of "Hi," or "Hello," is conversational enough to immediately engage the subscriber in a dialogue. While "Hey," doesn't fit the voice of every brand, it's worth considering the perfect form of personalization for your subscriber base.
Where Are You Going: CTA
• Piperlime: Piperlime shows some sweet spring sandals and then calls subscribers to "Find Yours". The CTA make sense coming off the body copy. We feel like the perfect sandals are awaiting us if we just click.
• Anthropologie's "See for Yourself" CTA fits nicely into the theme of this email, which introduces some loud and unusual prints and challenges potentially-skeptical subscribers to see how good they'll look.
• Backcountry uses the straightforward-and-proven "SHOP NOW" CTA in their primary message area, but they get creative in their secondary messages with "Get Layered", "Skin Up" and "Little Stuff." A nitpicky point is that the third CTA would have been stronger as a verb phrase for the sake of consistency, but we'll let it go since all three links are so fun and inviting.
Bye, Bye Baby: Conclusion
All brand "artists" mentioned above have consistently on-brand, unique and compelling copy. If you aren't already on their subscriber lists, you might consider signing up for some new ideas. The most important consideration, of course, is the harmony between the design and the copy, so get collaborating and see what jives.
Dance party, anyone?
Feeling the Beat,
Alex Madison and Lisa Harmon, Smith-Harmon
You've swept your customers off their feet with a dazzling email creative and message. To help you give them somewhere equally stunning to land, we at the eec Email Design Roundtable have added a Landing Page Checklist to our Email Checklist Series. With so many details to think about, our checklist offers a collection of ideas that you can easily apply to your program.
Landing pages should feel like a continuation of the positive experience initiated by your email so that the motions from opening the message to clicking through to responding to the call-to-action (CTA) feel like one fluid movement. Brush up on your landing page best practices to increase conversion:
● Audience and Goal. Thinking about your intended audience and the actions you want to inspire were your primary foci in creating your email, and they're also the core of the landing page. Construct your landing page to propel your audience toward1s the next step. Anthropologie landing pages like this one often add an extra step between the message and the product pages, but their whimsically artsy landing pages are on-brand and engaging to their particular audience.
● Design. To facilitate the unity of the experience, the creative elements must stay consistent with the email—use similar graphics, text and imagery. Keep your designs quite simple—consider losing the navigation and extra links that will distract from the primary message. Use images if they can earn their keep by relating specifically to your offer—steer clear of distracting, generic imagery. This Horchow message shows a nice progression from email to landing page design. The landing page picks up the basic creative elements of the email but shows larger and more compelling imagery and CTAs to move the viewer to the next step.
● Main Copy. Best practice is to use a white background behind text. Keep your copy brief, and start it off by stating the benefits of the offer concisely and in manner consistent with the email copy. This Land of Nod landing page repeats the headline from the (very cute!) email but includes more detailed information about the features. It often works well to use bullet points and a large font for readability, listing the benefits in order of value. Every word should work toward getting the visitor to act.
● Forms. If you need to gather customer information with forms, hold interest by keeping them short and sweet. Ask only for the most necessary information, clearly indicate required fields and pre-populate those fields whenever possible. Include all forms and CTAs necessary for conversion on the landing page. Which brings us to the big whammy…
● Call-to-Action. Your landing page's great love, its reason for existing: the big CTA. But don't stop at one: repeat your CTA multiple times to maximize clicks. The initial CTA should live right after the summary of the offer details and needs to fall above the fold. The CTA copy must be direct and obvious and pack a punch that inspires action. Be careful not to drive your sale to soon—let the CTA match the subscriber's place in the decision-making process. If you're a retailer, consider using an "Add to Cart" button as opposed to something like a "Buy Now" button, as Crate & Barrel does in this focused landing page from this message.
● Other Tips. It may also be a good idea to create multiple landing pages so that they can get as specific as possible to different customer segments. Keep your landing pages live for longer than you'd expect. You don't want people who read their messages later than the rest of the crew to be sent flying with nowhere to touch down and act.
A solid landing page that attends to best practices offers customers a memorably smooth experience with your brand while effectively increasing conversion. For even more tips and tricks, check out the new addition to the eec Email Checklist Series.
Comment below to tell us about some of your own smooth and rocky landings.
–eec Email Design Roundtable co-chairs Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon and Megan Walsh of Williams-Sonoma
Diving headlong into the world of email creative is tough if you don't have all the lingo down. Here's a handy cheat sheet for those who are still polishing their grasp on the glossaries, and a brush up on definitions and best practices for those who already know their stuff:
(1) The Preheader
These small and subdued text blurbs at the top of your emails are getting more play these days. Particularly as more folks browse their inboxes from mobile devices, this first glimpse of the main message becomes your crucial chance to grab their interest. A preheader informs a recipient of what the email is about, how to view it with images and/or from a mobile device, and how to ensure future delivery via content teaser snippet(s), the "view with images" prompt and/or the "add to address book" prompt. Think about what text snippet you want customers to see first. Probably something a little more engaging than "If you are having trouble viewing this email with images…"
(2) Header and Navigation
This often takes the form of a colored banner and encompasses anything that lies between your preheader and main message. It's the space for your company logo, and—depending on the message content—it may also include menu items that link to other pages of your site, just in case the main message doesn't quite strike the fancy of the viewer.
(3) Primary Message
Your email's big push deserves a lot of attention from you since you're looking to earn the attention of your subscribers. A harmonious balance of headline, body copy and supporting images delivers maximum impact. This should include a prominent primary call-to-action (ideally in the form of a big, beautiful, "bulletproof" button!) and a link to a landing page with a cohesive look and message that will maintain enough interest to turn that clickthrough into a conversion.
(4) Table of Contents
These come in handy for longer, newsletter-form emails that contain tons of content, allowing customers to skip right to what interests them rather than having to scroll all the way down. The TOC works most effectively as a bulleted list at the top of your email that is anchor tagged to hotlink directly to content. Fitting this into your preview pane, along with your primary message and call-to-actions, will also help it gain enough attention to earn its keep.
Adding secondary and tertiary messages to your email gives you the opportunity to present another story or two. Just make sure you don't lose your viewers in a maze of information. Keep it clean with visual prompts like color, strong headlines, imagery and graphics. Submessages are usually organized in a siderail or layer-caked below the primary message.
(6) Recovery Module
This is your final outpost, your last chance to capture the clickthrough of anyone who may have sailed through your main message or submessages. The recovery module is often a bar at the bottom of the email that includes a list of links to your site, or potentially an incentive to grab your subscribers' interest before they slip back to their inboxes.
Using the same sort of subdued, "legalese" text that comprises the header, this is another place to include the essential nuts-and-bolts info. The unsubscribe link is tucked away here along with company contact details, "forward to friend" and customer service links. And of course, make sure it's CAN-SPAM compliant!
Talk the talk; walk the walk!
Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon
Type the phrase "centralizing email marketing" into a search engine and you'll be served up an impressive number of results (at this writing, about 247,000). And it's no wonder—email marketing continues to rank among the most popular tactics that marketers use to reach their audiences.
The arguments for centralizing are compelling: Managing emails through a single platform enables companies to not only more effectively manage their brand and good sender reputation, but it's also much easier to manage the frequency of communication—no one wants to frustrate their audience to the point of unsubscribing. Sounds like a no-brainer, right?
Not so fast. According to JupiterResearch, only 38% of companies have a single department handling email communication—while 24% have six or more. With all the benefits of centralizing email marketing, why aren't more companies taking this approach?
For some companies, it may come down to resources and priorities. For example, within very large organizations, email is used to communicate with many different audiences—employees, partners, end user customers, and prospects—among others. Each of these audiences has different expectations for how they should be communicated with and likely, a different group managing that communication stream.
Because email marketing was often developed as a grassroots effort within each group, it's not unusual for larger organizations to be actively using several different email platforms to manage their campaigns. In these instances, transitioning to a completely centralized approach requires almost Herculean effort.
However, in the absence of a completely centralized approach, there are still things you can do to streamline email communications and ensure a positive experience for your audience. Here are three specific tips that are reasonably quick and easy to implement:
1. Develop and share an email marketing calendar.
Wherever there's a risk of message crossover, establish a marketing calendar to track these campaigns and assign a calendar owner. Although the owner is ultimately responsible for keeping the calendar updated, all groups should participate in the calendar development and notify the owner if campaign dates shift.
My team uses a web-based calendar hosted on our intranet site; however, tools such as Google Calendar or even an Excel spreadsheet are simple, no/low-cost alternatives.
2. Ensure that all stakeholders are on all campaign seed lists.
Whether you're sending a campaign to a house or rented list, be sure and add the appropriate people to your seed lists. You may want to send test seeds to a smaller group for review and feedback, and then to a larger group for live campaign drops. This is additional insurance that everyone is aware of what messages are leaving the building.
3. Share examples of campaigns and results at cross-functional monthly or quarterly reviews.
At least once a quarter, get together and share examples of campaign creative and results. Even if you're mailing to completely different audiences, best practices are sure to emerge that you'll want to apply to your line of business.
If you work for a large organization, the idea of centralizing your email marketing may seem difficult, if not impossible. But by doing a little detective work and implementing some quick fixes that don't require a lot of administrative overhead, you can do a lot to improve the quality of your email communications and set yourself up for more formal centralization in the future.
—Cheryle Ross, the eCommerce Marketing Manager of Xerox Corp.
*Cheryle was invited to be a blogger for a day after sharing her thoughts in our Voices from the Email Evolution Conference post.
We asked the Voices of Email to look into their crystal balls and foretell what 2008 had in store for the email marketing industry. Here are their predictions:
Stephanie Miller of Return Path:
#1 - Email Marketers, if you want to keep your job, segment your file. I was hoping that last year would be the year that we'd see more targeted, tailored, relevant campaigns and less batch and blast. Not sure that happened, although I was half right in that we certainly saw MORE segmentation and targeting than in 2006.
Why will email marketers lose their job if they don't do it now? Because the email channel is more expensive than ever, and there are too many risks to brand and customer satisfaction and loyalty. Unhappy email subscribers—all that dead wood on your file—is not just a missed opportunity, it's a liability. Engaging with those folks is going to take more time and effort in creative and list hygiene and segmentation than ever before. To get those budgets, the email marketer has to prove the channel. To prove the channel, the email messages have to be a lot more relevant. To be relevant, they must be segmented. Thankfully, the technology and best practices are already in place and proven. We just need to set our minds to it.
#2 - The Data Capture form goes multichannel. We'll see more and more email marketers open up their data capture form to include permission to contact via SMS and mobile marketing. Building up the database with these contact touch points will be increasingly important as more marketers start to test the efficacy of those channels.
#3 - Transactions will become touchpoints sometimes too hot to handle. More email marketers are going to push the envelope on turning transactional messages into marketing opportunities. The receivers and FTC will get stricter on standards, potentially causing trouble for some senders. With the need to dynamically create, message and track these messages, ESPs will aggressively go after the transactional email market to build their base and capture higher share of wallet.
Chip House of ExactTarget: Increasing focus on subscriber engagement. When emphasizing the importance of list hygiene, David Daniels of Jupiter Research often compares mailing the portion of your list that hasn't opened or clicked on your emails in several months to "flying an advertisement over a ghost town." Many marketers are realizing the benefits to their success potential via email by truly understanding which segments of their list are responding, and which aren't. The non-responsive segments drag down your deliverability and ROI, and waste your time. This is something that I like to call the "ignore rate." Marketers that ignore the needs of their subscribers, send irrelevant communications, or make other blunders leading to dissatisfied subscribers, drive a higher ignore rate.
Most sophisticated email marketers now closely track their open and click rates, and more are even tracking subscriber spam complaints by ISP. However, it is often what you don't see that can be most harmful to your deliverability and campaign ROI. More marketers are beginning to see the benefits of closely analyzing the portion of their customer base that IS NOT paying attention. By doing so they can better reactivate them, opt them in again, or discard them—all to the benefit of their response rates and ROI.
2008 is about flying hundreds of planes, towing just the right message, over hundreds of small cities.
Amy Bills of Bulldog Solutions: I think we will see some shaking out in the use of social media for lead generation. Right now, a lot of companies are really struggling to understand what works and what can be integrated into their existing strategies. Is a blog, a podcast, RSS, an online community, a presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. going to be worth the effort and resources? How can you even measure their effect on your objectives? And of course, what works for one company is not going to be the same formula for another. Some have the impulse to try everything. Others want to bury their heads in the sand and deny the landscape is changing at all. A third group is experimenting and trying to be smart about making good choices, thinking about what their prospects will respond to and how to make social media enhance what they are already doing.
After Paul Dunay joined Bulldog in November for a webinar on making sense of social media for BtoB marketing, he made a comment that really stuck with me. "[The question isn't] if social media is right for your company, but which social media is right for your company. And at this point in time and state of your company, you need to determine which social media is right for your company for next year. A year from now, the picture may look very different. And the answer to which social media is right for your company will be different for each company. My advice is look into next year with an eye toward experimenting with a few tactics to begin to get yourself and your team up to speed."
So, I predict that more marketers will ease into that third group, and start to get smarter about social media. And by "smarter" I mean more creative and experienced about how to make tactics work and measure their results, and brave enough to admit when a particular tactic might not work.
Tricia Robinson of StrongMail Systems: The email space gets larger and faster daily. With this growth comes change, and I predict we'll experience much change in 2008.
Automation Becomes The New Buzzword. We've lived through closing-the-loop, 1to1 digi-dialogues, and deliverability. Look for campaign automation to catch-on in 2008. We're seeing more clients rapidly move in this direction. Those that already have are realizing the time/cost benefits of auto-generated programs.
The Final Sunset for the Old Homegrowns. The replacement of the original homegrown system has been a trend since 2006. However, this year we'll see the last of the first homegrown systems built by Web 1.0 companies and those that thought "email is easy, we'll make our own." Some organizations will always custom-build, but most have done it on top of something more sophisticated than generic MTAs.
All Outbound Customer Email Includes Marketing. Even if it's the inclusion of a logo, all outbound customer email (transactional, customer service, promotional, etc.) will include a touch of marketing. According to MarketingSherpa in mid-2007, 90% of email marketers planned to overhaul their transactional email in the next 12 months. Not sure if they will meet their own deadline by June, but look for an improvement in the look of all outbound email. I'm not crazy enough to predict the death of the text email, but maybe next year.
Still More Acquisitions. 2004-2006 were large vendor consolidation years in our space. I argue that 2007 was the year of the IPO. Now with more cash and CNBC viewers to consider, look for Constant Contact and ExactTarget to make purchases that round out their offerings or extend their reach into new markets.
Unlike many, I like change. It's good to shake things up as long as the goal is always towards improvement. Happy New Year!
Chad White of the eec: 2008 will be the year that retailers and other B2C marketers increase the transparency of their email programs and relinquish more control to subscribers. In 2007 we saw more retailers allow potential subscribers to view a sample email before signing up. More also offered emails on different topics or allowed some level of content preference selection—which is key to elevating relevancy. Consumers are getting very used to having more control over how they're marketed to, and email will be forced to fall in line over time. On the upside, giving consumers more control over content and frequency, and being more upfront about those aspects of their email programs, should generate more lifetime value from subscribers. Although eventually we'll see this kind of control move to the front end, during 2008 we'll start to see it more and more on the tail end of the relationship when subscribers are fed up and trying to opt out. Rather than lose subscribers, more marketers will give up control over frequency and other elements to boost retention.
During 2008 we'll also see retailers pay more attention to content—product reviews, videos of product demonstrations and fashion shows, blogs, articles, podcasts, etc.—and do a better job of leveraging it in their email channels.
Before DMA07, we solicited questions from our members and subscribers, promising to post them in our booth at the show and recruit email experts in attendance to answer those questions. We got some great questions and tons of great answers:
1. How important is it for email creative to match the same look and feel as the order page/landing page?
Marc Pitre, Wampower.com: It's critical to keep the branding consistent between emails and landing pages. Both the creative and the message itself must be consistent to be impactful to the end viewer. It's too easy to dilute your message, so keep it consistent.
Andrew Osterday, Premiere Global Services: Landing pages are often ignored or an afterthought, but can have a strong impact on conversion. The flow from email to landing page should be seamless in both messaging and look and feel. Consider custom landing pages rather than linking to the site.
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: Very. Especially in promotional messages and prospecting. Be sure that the offer in the email is front and center—don't make me scroll. Using a custom landing page can improve conversion rates up to 50%. Definitely worth the investment in optimizing landing pages—they are the fulfillment of the promise created in your email message and it should be a seamless experience.
Michael Fishers, Alterian: It is very important—lack of matching in look and feel produces confusion, feels uncoordinated and impacts response accordingly.
Joel Book, ExactTarget: Providing creative continuity between the email and the associated landing page is vital for driving response and conversion. According to Forrester Research, "92% of business decision-makers go online to research products and services before buying offline." By using email to deliver relevant offers to customers, marketers are accelerating the buying process. The key is to make it easy for the customer to buy—having consistent look and feel for email and landing page achieves this objective.
2. Do the same elements found in traditional printed letters (salutation, closing, signature, p.s.) work for emails?
Melinda Krueger, Krueger Direct: Yes, to the extent that they reflect a personal, one-to-one approach to communication. Corporate "billboards" are easy to ignore; personal correspondence is not. Consider the "voice" and use the personal pronoun!
Elie Ashery, Gold Lasso: Yes, depending on personalized and relevant the message is. Personalization doesn't necessarily mean name, but rather actual content.
3. What do you consider best practice when it comes to accessing and changing email preferences? On one hand, it has to be easy for subscribers to go and edit their subscriptions. On the other hand, no one else than the subscriber should have access to change the subscriber's information. Do you recommend a login, a verification email with required action before changes take effect, a notification email notifying the subscriber that changes have been made, etc…?
Loren McDonald, J.L. Halsey: The simplest means is to include a link in the subscriber's email so that only they can click through to the preference center/update profile page. For sites that link registration (e.g., an ecommerce site), you can link the two processes. A notification email that confirms the changes is always a good idea.
Jeanniey Mullen, Email Experience Council and OgilvyOne: The preference center is a critical element of a successful email program. It can increase the life and engagement of your consumer. Keeping access to preference centers secure is critical but so is keeping access simple. Most companies offer encoded links to preference centers that allow you to bypass the logon elements. If you are using a secure center, password retrieval features are key.
Joel Book, ExactTarget: The key to using a preference center to gather customer needs and interests is to ask for only that data which is needed to deliver relevant and timely information through email. It is critical that you explain why you are asking for this information, how it will be used, and how the customer can update his/her profile. Remember, you are building trust.
Melinda Krueger, Krueger Direct: Consider a 1-2 punch. First capture the impulse to subscribe, then, as an optional second step, ask for more information. Consider offering an incentive (tied closely to your email value proposition) and explain that you are asking to avoid sending irrelevant emails.
4. Is there a proven happy medium between images and text in an email? Do too many or not enough images reduce response?
Elie Ashery, Gold Lasso: Email marketers today need to design their emails with the assumption that their recipients' have their email clients set with the images turned off. This means that the recipients should be understand the gist of the message without its images. Images should be used to enhance text, not replace it.
Chad White, Email Experience Council: The "happy medium" is per industry and depends on both your content and the reader in which the person will be viewing the email. For example, a B2B email that's likely to be read on a Blackberry should be all or mostly text. But retail emails where product images are so vital should be mostly HTML.
5. How can you tell if an email is being read in a preview pane only then deleted?
David Daniels, JupiterResearch: If someone clicks in a preview pane, can you hear them? It is all about behavior. If there are no clicks, there's no engagement, so attempt tactics for reactivation (survey, sweepstakes, etc.). The only real way to determine if an email has been read is by clicks.
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: Great question! Technically, there is probably not a way to get 100% pure data unless you put a "pixel" that is triggered by the scroll. However, you could track performance by proxy in one of two ways: (1) by putting a "morse type" link at the top (visible even when images are suppressed) that promotes the offer and "opens" the email, or (2) by analyzing clicks on text links below the fold which are not visible when images are suppressed. Frankly, I'm not sure why this measure is valuable if your preview pane is optimized, it will drive engagement, not a deletion.
Loren McDonald, J.L. Halsey: Open rates are tacked via a tracking 1-pixel image. So if images are enabled and a reader "views" the email (whether it is opened or not) it will count as an open. If images are blocked and the email is viewed in the preview pane (or fully opened), it will not count as an open. As a result, click-through rates are a much better gauge of email activity.
6. Can a newsletter sell or is it better for branding?
Jordan Ayan, SubscriberMail: Email marketing is about building relationships. If you approach it as a sales medium, you are looking at it from the wrong perspective. Can you sell with email? Absolutely, but for long-term success, you have to focus on delivering relevant content that highlights your brand and keeps recipients wanting more. Then they will give you permission to sell them electronically.
Kara Trivunovic, Premiere Global Services: A newsletter can sell if it is done right. The newsletter should be editorial in nature, with a majority of the content being relevant, value-add information. If sales copy is going to be included, it should be done as a soft sell, wrapped in editorial when possible.
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: Yes! Optimize to do both: (1) Educate customers about the full benefits of the products. (2) Engage subscribers to interact with your company, website, sales team, blog etc. (3) Lead prospects down the sales cycle by educating and asking questions.
7. Is it practical/realistic to budget for file growth from viral marketing? Can we count this as a tactic, or is it just "either."
Michael Salin, M.J. Salin & Associates: Yes! Emerging marketing genre are heavily based in viral practices…word of mouth, social networking. You should test and quantify viral programs – consumer talking to a consumer is the highest/strongest marketing communiqué. Quantify the send and free creative is a way to promote the idea.
Chad White, Email Experience Council: You can definitely budget for viral growth. In general, you can expect pass-along rates of 1%-2%, but it depends on the prominence of your send-to-a-friend links and how often you encourage readers to forward your emails. For instance, some retailers have "friends and family" event emails where part of the messaging encourages recipients to forward the discount offer to others. Doing emails like that will boost your pass-along rate.
8. If no legitimate ESP will allow the use of purchased lists in their system, how do data brokers and email appenders who focus on this market stay in business?
Craig Swerdloff, Postmaster Direct: Our experience has been that top-tier ESPs will send for lists that offer list rental, assuming certain requirements are met. They include explicit permission from recipients, proper list hygiene, good reputation scores, and compliant/unknown user rates within allowable thresholds.
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: The owner of the data sends the message on your behalf—so the initial mailing is from the data source inviting the subscriber to opt-in for email from you. Many marketers who send mail in-house, use internal append very successfully. There are best practices to ensuring your sender reputation is protected.
Loren McDonald, J.L. Halsey: List brokers manage the email databases for companies whose list members have agreed to receive third-party offers. The emails are sent "from" the list owner to the list member. Once the subscriber opts in to specific a marketer's program, they have given permission to the marketer. At that point, ESPs will allow the company to send to the subscriber.
9. What is the single most popular offer that drives people to register and share their information? We are desperately trying to collect emails from our customers and it's been very challenging.
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: As is true in all direct marketing, offer something perceived value for free. But the question should really be around how you can construct a powerful email experience that will entice and engage your prospects. While many will sign up for something that is free, your response and ROI will only come when the email program itself has consistent value.
10. What is the right frequency for retail email programs? It seems like many retailers are at 2x+ per week. Does not mailing at that frequency hurt my chances?
Austin Bliss, FreshAddress: Unfortunately, there is no "right" frequency. You should send on a schedule that provides value to your recipients—e.g. if you have daily sales, you can send daily. But if you have nothing to say 2 times a week, you shouldn't mail at that rate because you will have incurred complaints/unsubscribes.
Chad White, Email Experience Council: There are lots of factors to consider here, including the frequency at which your products tend to be purchased, the content of your email (both promotional and service-oriented content), the length of your email, etc. For example, Blue Nile emails once a month, recognizing that jewelry is not a frequent purchase. Home Depot, on the other hand, sends once a week, targeting subscribers' weekend projects. And then there's Neiman Marcus, which emails 7+ times a week, engaging its fashion hungry subscribers with info on new products, store events, discounts and video and article content.
11. If you send five or more emails to the same recipient and they aren't opened, does your domain/IP get reclassified as spam by the ISP? This obviously isn't standard across all ISP's. If this is in practice by some, which ones are they?
Stephanie Miller, Return Path: List quality is definitely a factor in sender reputation. Having a large number of non-responders on your file could reduce your "score" among ISPs/receivers. ISPs generally don't publish the "rules" that they use, as publishing them would expose them to abuse by spammers.
HAVE SOME INSIGHT TO ADD? Please comment below, just be sure to include the number of the question that you're answering.
Both SubscriberMail and Blue Sky Factory recently released lists of words that shouldn't be used in emails because they're likely to trigger spam filters. But I see some of these words—like "free" and "discount"—used routinely in the subject lines of commercial email that I receive. If I have a good reputation do I need to worry about content filters? Am I staying away from these words unnecessarily? —S.G.
The Voices of Email had this advice:
J.F. Sullivan: The answer should be no. If you have a good reputation then you do not need to worry about content filters. The actual answer is another question, as in it depends on two things: What's your definition of a good reputation, and which content filter are we talking about?
Everyone in the email marketing (and message security) ecosystem has a different view of what a good reputation actually means. For some it's as simple as making sure they are not on a blocklist; for others it may be that they are in compliance with a specific Sender Authentication implementation. In order to answer "yes" to the question, it may be more useful to provide a checklist summary of what a good reputation constitutes. So, if you can say "yes" to the following reputation aspects:
1. You have a good public reputation (not on blocklists, or have upset any ISPs).
2. You have good legislative adherence (e.g., CAN-SPAM compliance).
3. You have good infrastructure (e.g., DNS, MX records and the like).
4. You have good identity (e.g., you have a correctly configured SenderID record).
5. You have best practices (e.g., list scrubbing, opt-in, etc.).
…then yes, you do have a good reputation so you will not need to worry too much about content filters. And while your good reputation will work, say, 80% of the time, your actual delivery will still depend on the content filter you encounter to some degree. A subject of much longer blog entry for another day…
Rob Fitzgerald: You always need to be aware that filtering exists, but I don't think you need to be ruled by that existence either. It's interesting to lay out all the various releases, of all the various words that shouldn't be used within in an email, and see how incredibly long that list is. Sometimes it makes me wonder how you can actually put a string of sentences together without actually using any of them. Practically speaking, you have to use some words that may be "known" filter words. I don't think that should give you pause to run the campaign for fear of a lack of response. We've sent out many campaigns with the word "Free" on them that have performed very well.
I tend to look at it this way—it's all about moderation. Put together a creative with a lot of words that trigger filtering and it could be adversely affected. Give that same creative a diet, and keep some of those same words included, but not all of them, and I think you'll be OK.
Stephanie Miller: Despite the frequency that I receive this question, there is still no magical list of words to avoid, nor is the use of marketing terms like "free," "discount," "special offer" and "click here" an automatic block. Don't misunderstand. Those words can get you blocked. However, judicious, responsible and clear use of them usually won't.
Why? Because spam filters dynamically update to reflect current market conditions and spammer behavior. The only way to ensure your content does not depress inbox deliverability is to run every email through a series of popular message filters to determine your spam score before sending to your entire mailing list. You can do this through a service or on your own by setting up multiple accounts at different ISPs.
Here's how to optimize your message for response and deliverability: Write the copy as a marketer. Sell. Build the relationship. Clarify the offer. Make the call to action very clear. Then, test it. If you fail the spam filters, adjust it. Before you hit send, even if you pass the filter test, be sure to give your message AND subject line a "smell test." If your readers or subscribers will think it's spammy, so will the receivers. If you are using all capped, repetitive words that filters watch like "FREE SHIPPING THAT'S FREE" or using strange punctuation like ***NOW ON SALE***, then you are likely to be blocked.
Chad White: Inspired by this question, I did a little real world research and found that major online retailers have used many of the "dirty" words on SubscriberMail's list of words to avoid using in subject lines. How many have they used? They've used 27 of the 100 in the past two months alone. Some of the words—like "Free," "FREE," "Offer" and "Buy"—they used a LOT. So it's clearly possible to use these no-no words in subject lines under the right conditions. Based on that I'd say that you should explore using them but test to make sure your emails are getting through.
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.
The Direct Marketing Association's Email Experience Council recently signed up for the email newsletters of 118 of the top online retailers tracked via RetailEmail.Blogspot. What we found was that there's a clear trend toward subscription processes that are quick and easy, and increasingly transparent.
"The old adage 'you only get one chance to make a good first impression' transcends to an email marketer's efforts in creating a good opt-in experience," says Elie Ashery, president and CEO of email marketing software and services company Gold Lasso, the sponsor of the study. "The opt-in process sets the tone of how a future email relationship between a company and customer will unfold."
Along with this shift toward greater ease of subscribing, the confirmation page is rising in importance. Rather than making customers complete long subscription forms, many retailers are now allowing people to subscribe with just an email address and then allowing them to express delivery and content preferences on the subscription confirmation page.
Also, addressing privacy concerns is a best practice that's seeing adoption approach the 50% mark, and providing a sample newsletters is a clear emerging best practice that should help reduce opt-outs, with nearly 12% or major online retailers doing that.
Ashery adds, "Lasting impressions taken from the opt-in process can be directly linked to the ease of subscribing, relevant subscription choices available, the speed that a confirmed opt-in email is delivered, and most importantly, information on what the subscriber should expect from their email relationship such as content, frequency and format."
On the content front, 28% of retailers offer more than one content selection, with it ranging from two all the way up to the 50 content options offered by Amazon.com. Nearly 6% of retailers offer a local store update.
When it comes to transparency on frequency, however, retailers do a poor job. Not even 7% of retailers give subscribers any kind of idea how many emails to expect. And only one retailer, Coldwater Creek, allows subscribers to opt to receive a monthly only email.
Format-wise, nearly 12% of retailers offer plain-text versions of their newsletters during the sign-up process. Because of the superior responses from HTML emails, retailers may be hesitant to give subscribers this option.
Here are some other findings from the study:
• Only 3% of major online retailers use a double opt-in subscription process.
• Only 92% of retailers have an email sign-up form or link on their homepage.
• More than 43% of retailers allow customers to sign up for email with one click from their homepage.
• The subscriber's name (31%) and zip code (18%) were the two most often required pieces of information.
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The full 37-page study presents a range of best practices and emerging best practices for your consideration, as well as a formerly popular practice that appears to be falling out of favor. It also includes numerous examples of creatives to help illustrate each point.
Visit the Whitepaper Room to download the full report, which is free for EEC platinum members, available at a discount to EEC gold and silver members, and available for $179 for non-members. Not a member? Learn more about becoming a member of the Email Experience Council.