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2009 Tips & Predictions

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

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Step Up Now to Earn Higher Email ROI

It's harder than ever to convince consumers and business professionals to part with their dollars and euros and yen—a global recession, tightening belts and everyone afraid of layoffs and the possibility of more bad news. The only number that hasn't gone down lately is our quarterly forecast number—and for many email marketers this is even increasing.

Now more than ever, we email marketers are being asked to deliver more than ever—higher revenue, larger subscriber files, more active lists and longer lifetime value. None of our bosses will invest in this channel or support our efforts unless we can prove that the channel deserves more resources and more careful segmentation and content strategy.

It's never been a better time to stand up for your subscribers. Advocate for them, because the only way to increase revenues from email marketing is to create great subscriber experiences. And that means email messages that are not just frequent, but relevant, timely and targeted.

There are two things to focus on now, in order to shape up your email program success for Q4 and 2009:

1. Improve relevancy in small steps. We all know about the behavior triggers that help make our programs more relevant. Basically, you change your contact strategy and cadence to send more email when subscribers are more inclined to buy. This is effective, but can require additional resources or technology. What to do if you don't have those resources or technology? A great way to improve your program without new technology or data integration is to think about a content strategy that improves the value of your email messages over time. Adding value to just some of your messages, even SOME of the time, will improve response to ALL your messages. So instead of just sending promotions over and over, replace some of them with messages that feel more custom, even if they are still sent to large segments of your file. Insert a few tips in your next promotion or business newsletter. Host a poll. Say "thank you" to everyone who bought this past quarter. Send a no-strings-attached whitepaper to everyone who visited the website last month. Encourage everyone who uses Product A to take a free trial of Product B. Help subscribers network with each other.

2. Reach the inbox. There is no better way to boost response and revenue than to make sure you reach the inbox consistently and avoid the junk folder or going missing altogether. Reaching the inbox is based on your sender reputation—the "score" that ISPs like Yahoo!, Hotmail and the others give to you. It's based on your practices, including the number of times subscribers complain about your email by clicking on the "Report Spam" button. First thing is to know your sender reputation by visiting www.senderscore.org or www.dnsstuff.com. Work with your email broadcast vendor, IT team or a deliverability expert to address the root causes of deliverability failure.

—Stephanie Miller of Return Path

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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

Every week the EEC adds new content to its Whitepaper Room. Here are the latest additions:

eec: Top Ten Takeaways from the Email Compliance Seminar
Email Compliance: The Foundation of Reputation and Deliverability

Listrak: 221 Email Marketing Do's and Don'ts
Best Practices Reference Guide

Vidi Emi: Holiday Guide 2008
Six holiday email tips exposed

Email Checklist Series: Landing Page Checklist
This checklist shows you what to check to maximize the user experience and your bottom line with landing pages.

*Have a whitepaper you'd like to contribute? Email it to whitepapers@emailexperience.org.

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DOUBLE DOG DARE: Start Your Email Program Over from Scratch

Are you happy with the structure and performance of your email program? If you wish you could just blow it up and start over, we dare you—no, we Double Dog Dare you—to consider this challenge from Loren McDonald, vice president of industry relations for Silverpop:

Start your email program over from scratch. Shut the door, turn off your phone, IM and Twitter, and get out a plain, old-fashioned sheet of paper or clean off the office whiteboard. Ask yourself these questions: What would I do differently if I could start our email program over? What am I doing purely out of habit or because everybody else is doing it? What do I wish I could do but I can't because I don't have the budget or backing from management?

As you stare at the blank page or whiteboard, ask yourself these questions:

List growth: Are we focused on quantity rather than quality? Are we using questionable acquisition methods just to hit some arbitrary list-size targets? Are we still using pre-checked boxes and single opt-in because my boss couldn't care less about spam complaints, list hygiene and delivery rates?
List churn and inactivity: Do we understand how active our database is? From one-third to three-quarters of our list is likely inactive; so, what are we doing to reactivate those subscribers that have tuned us out? What programs do we have to deliver greater value to our loyal customers? What can we do to minimize unsubscribes, spam complaints and bounces?
Design and format: Are our image-heavy emails with lots of administrative information located above the fold still the right approach? Is it time to start from scratch and have an email-design professional create a template that renders well on mobile devices and in preview panes with blocked images? Should we redesign our masthead and navigation links to better correspond with the actions our subscribers want to take?
Welcome program: Is it time to chuck the text-only confirmation email for a well-designed, multi-message welcome email program?
Message types: We've been sending the same basic emails for the last two years—our "Weekly Specials" email and monthly "Close Outs." Should we blow this up and let subscribers select different categories and frequencies? Can we add a slew of new email types—birthday specials, reminders, surveys, refer-a-friend promotions, geographic-targeted messages, educational or tip-oriented emails, etc.? Can we wrestle the transactional emails away from IT and design them to cross-sell and up-sell?
Batch-and-blast: Is it time to stop whining, "How can I move to a lifecycle-, behavior- or trigger-based approach when it's all I can do to get the weekly batch-and-blast emails out the door?" Could I swap one or two batch-and-blast emails a month so I can start testing some more targeted approaches?
Metrics: Are we tracking the right performance metrics? Our open and click-through rates are doing well, but my boss doesn't seem to care and wonders why we spend so much time on email marketing. Is it time for me to tackle proving the contribution of email to lifetime customer value, cost savings and direct ROI?
Incentives: Have we gotten hooked on incentives —free shipping and 10% off? Should we test some targeted emails sent only to people that clicked on specific links and use no or reduced incentives to see if we can improve our margins?
Preference centers: Our unsubscribe page is so ugly and doesn't offer any alternatives. Can I get some design and Web resources to create a worldclass unsubscribe/preference page? Speaking of preference centers, can we continue without one?

If you take up this dare: Let us know by commenting below. Did you overhaul your email completely or just tweak it here and there? What's the first thing you would change about your program if you could? Finally: Which of these changes, if any, could you actually make in your present program? And if you have a Double Dog Dare for the eec community, let us know about that, too.

–>See more Double Dog Dares.

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Turning Subscriber Worry into Advantage

When consumers and business professionals worry about the economy, marketers find themselves squeezed. Such is the state of affairs these days as we head into the busy Q4/end of year/holiday season time.

Email can help if it's used effectively as part of a subscriber loyalty and relationship effort. Sending more of the same old batch-and-blast promotions will only flood the inbox, depress your deliverability, destroy your brand trust, and annoy good customers who are worried about their own bank accounts. Resist the urge to think of email as "free"—it's not free. It's cost-effective, certainly, but a mindset that characterizes the channel as free quickly leads to over-mailing. What you want is less email—but messages that are more effective because they are more relevant.

Who wants to be reminded to spend, spend, spend when we are worried about our financial health? Instead, take an active interest in helping your subscribers, and make sure your content and contact strategies are aligned with what the subscriber needs, not what you have to sell.

In a recession, your best buyers and loyal clients are even more important. When customers are easily distracted by lower prices or free add-ons at the competitor, it's even more important to make clear the benefits of staying with your brand. This does not mean offering more discounts, although that certainly can be an effective short-term strategy. Instead, expand your loyalty program and use email to provide both sizzle and steak. Replace just two of your generic, batch-and-blast messages this month with tailored messages around the benefits of sticking with your brand. Spend time on the subject lines and the copy (keep it brief) to make sure it resonates.

Then, deliver the benefits via email—a very efficient and effective way to connect. If you are ecommerce, add a Buying Guide or Gift Guide to the loyalty package. If you are B2B, invite your best customers to participate in online events and interactive networking—help them build their business and they will continue to support yours. Be sure to tap the next tier down of buyers and expand the reach of your program. Invite current members to bring a friend or colleague along, and reward them both.

Test these ideas with a control group this month. Segment a small portion of your file (maybe 5%) and send half as many promotional messages, but replace 25%-50% of them with relevant content, tips or interactive offers. See if revenue increases or decreases. Also watch deliverability, complaint rates and activity per subscriber. Let me know if you want help constructing the test and measuring results.

Use the results of all these ideas to make the case for stronger subscriber-centric approaches to email marketing. If email doesn't contribute more now, then we can't expect to remain at the center of the marketing mix, or budget.

—Stephanie Miller of Return Path

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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

Every week the EEC adds new content to its Whitepaper Room. Here are the latest additions:

TailoredMail: Connect 1:1
In today's world, email marketing is no longer a simple strategy. Marketers need to make their message stand out with personalization and relevance by communicating effectively with customers and prospects to promote dialogue. Check out this great whitepaper from TailoredMail for some great tips and information.

Welcome Email Checklist
What elements to include and to consider for a high impact welcome email. Compare your welcome email design against this checklist before approval.

*Have a whitepaper you'd like to contribute? Email it to whitepapers@emailexperience.org.

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Seizing the Email Opportunity in a Seizing Economy

Ben Bernanke delivered another gloomy assessment of the American economy to congress yesterday during which he pointed out that the seemingly antithetical dual risks we currently face—slow growth and rising prices (due in large part to energy costs and the credit crunch/housing collapse)—are likely to plague us for some time to come. A "perfect storm" of macroeconomic forces is currently ravaging us, and it seems as if we may not even have seen the worst of it.

Could this be good news for email marketers?

While I believe it's probably not great news for anybody—especially for those of us who may own a house, have investments in the market, drive gasoline-powered cars, consume goods and services, or eat food—I do believe the current economic downturn we're facing represents an opportunity for email to shine.

Marketing budgets across the board are shrinking, but in my recent experience, email is being allocated an increasingly larger percentage of that budget. As a highly measurable channel, we are immediately at an advantage. The fact that the average return on investment for a dollar spent on email marketing was an estimated $48.29 in 2007 according to the DMA doesn't hurt either. When budgets shrink, it makes good sense to invest a greater percentage in email, and I am already seeing it happen.

So with an increasingly large share of budget, many of us are now charged with selling goods and services to segments that are increasingly price sensitive due to the $4.89 per gallon they are paying at the pump (I just paid that much). Many segments are looking for deals right now, and while we obviously still need to send the right ones to their inboxes, it seems as if consumers are now taking more time to review the offers they receive, which may be good news for good senders. I've seen evidence of this in the KPIs and test results of many of my clients' programs, primarily in the form of higher than expected open rates for certain segments.

HERE ARE FOUR EMAIL MARKETING TIPS FOR THE DOWNTURN:

1. Now is a good time to test that reactivation program you've been thinking about.
Those inactive customers could be brought back into the fold with a juicy offer, and in these rough times, each win-back is more valuable than ever.

2. If you don't already, leverage automated campaigns to the hilt.
Internal marketing resources at many companies hit hardest by the downturn are getting scarcer, but don't let this inhibit the growth of your program. Focus on high-value, highly relevant, triggered and serialized campaigns that run without needing daily attention.

3. Think about creative ways to monetize your data.
Do you send targeted third-party offers to your list? Do you include banner ads in your newsletter? If you don't, now would be a good time to test it.

4. Make a strong business case for more budget.
Few in your organization boast the ROI numbers you do. Build a cogent business case and get the additional budget you need to take your program to the next level—your business needs you now more than ever!

So while inflation drives prices higher and the credit markets seize, drop the Wall Street Journal, erase your E*Trade bookmark, and focus on messaging that appeals to your increasingly price-sensitive consumer. With any luck you'll be able to uncover some rational exuberance in your email program.

—Nicholas Einstein of Datran Media

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MAKE IT POP!: Trick Out Your Transactional Touchpoints

My little brother got tinted windows and rims on his sage green Chevy Malibu. (Sweet!) Just as he tricked out his transportation, so must we trick out our transactional emails, leveraging the opportunity to move the meter on the messages that generally enjoy the highest open rates (excuse me—render rates!) of almost any we send. Let's get to it with 10 top tips and several outstanding order confirmation examples.

10 WAYS TO TRICK OUT YOUR TRANSACTIONAL TOUCHPOINTS:

(1) Brand! Include your company logo and colors to make transactional communications feel consistent with your other marketing materials. Apple, Coach, Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma all do this. A metallic paint job and alloy rims produce a similar effect.

(2) Include navigation items relevant to the transaction, especially a link to the "Customer Service" section of your website, like Williams-Sonoma. (BTW— that is the best rice cooker ever. It plays an aweseome little song when your tasty rice is ready to eat.) This is the basic equivalent of vanity plates.

(3) Use text treatments, color and graphics to maximize usablity and legibility. This is just like hanging plush dice from the rearview.

(4) Add an upper-right "key details" module, making it easy to locate the most critical account and order details. Both Apple and Crate & Barrel pop the most relevant information up top, well within the preview pane. It's like…the opposite of tinted windows.

(5) Include customer service contact information…and not just a URL, but a phone number with hours of availability, like Williams-Sonoma. This is not unlike the famous bumper sticker: "How's my driving? Call 1-80…"

(6) Say "thank you." Don't forget your manners! Pay attention to tone and consider a letter format, which can feel more genuine and personal. Coach offers flowers with their thanks, which I find cute. They also get early-adapter points, as this particular order conirmation is from 2006. OMG…ancient! (Mariah Carey and I go way back.)

(7) Show product photography and link product names back to your website to reinforce excitement around the purchase. This is not unlike the sensation we experience when cranking up the bass on a souped-up sound system.

(8) Cross- and up-sell relevant products to already-engaged buyers. Apple does this brilliantly. (Not that I would ever listen to Bon Jovi! Must be a glitch in their recommendations engine, right? Ha ha ha…)

(9) Add valuable content and offers. Coach includes an option that allows belated gifters to send recipients an email announcing the soon-to-arrive prize. Just like triple tailpipes!

(10) Protect the primary purpose of the message—to communicate a transaction. Follow guidelines regarding transactional-to-promotional content ratios and offer placement. For instance, while Crate & Barrel does a lovely order confirmation, one wonders whether it isn't light on the confirmation and heavy on the order. Melinda Kreuger, "The Email Diva", wrote an excellent article about transactional email guidelines just this past Tuesday.

Plus, Email Marketing Reports has culled an exceptional collection of resources and articles around tricking out your transactional email.

A bobble-headed hula dancer isn't a bad idea, either.

As ever,
Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.

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Enterprise Email Marketing: Centralization vs. Coordination

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.

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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

Every week the EEC adds new content to its Whitepaper Room. Here are the latest additions:

Synchronicity Marketing: The Four Essential R's of Email Marketing
These terms serve as guideposts to ensure your campaign s not only optimized for delivery, but also maximum response.

Silverpop: Unlocking the Secret World of White Listing
Insight for Enterprise Email Marketers

Premiere Global Services: 8 Thursdays 5.0
Cutting edge tips and tricks to help you and your email program reach its maximum potential.

LSoft: Stop Guessing and Start Knowing
Using A/B-Split Testing to Increase Your Email Campaign Effectiveness

ExactTarget: Email Marketing Design and Rendering
The New Essentials

Listrak: Email Frequency
How Relevancy Tactics Changed the Rules

Constant Contact: The What, Why, and How of Email Authentication
What it is, why it's important, and what you need to do to authenticate your email.

*Have a whitepaper you'd like to contribute? Email it to whitepapers@emailexperience.org.

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MAKE IT POP!: Am I Hot or Not? Customer Reviews

We're star-struck! As websites roll out customer reviews, marketers are rolling them into their email programs. Here are three tips for integrating ratings into email with blockbuster performance.

(1) Show Your Stars (or Paws, or Produce…)
The Home Depot uses a classic gold star motif, the most obvious customer ratings visual cue. (A Chiminea!? You learn something new every day!)
PETCO.com shows puppy love with pawprint rankings. (To be sure they didn't come from my pets, who don't love Frontline.)
• Betty Crocker cooks up fun with spoon and strawberry star systems. (Super-cute!)

(2) Create Context
Discovery Channel shows only 5-star items, which can feel over-edited. (Although how could a Dino DVD be anything less than awesome!?)
Pillsbury mixes it up by including recipes with as few as 2-and-a-half stars, lending the ratings more authenticity and empowering higher-ranking content. (Mediochre Cherry-Almond Coffee Cake, anyone?)
Macy*s increases accuracy and creates context by
showing ratings to the decimal point
, as well as the number of reviews from which the rating is calculated. (Who doesn't adore that mixer? It's like a national icon.)

(3) Encourage Participation
Chefs' email program makes heavy use of customer ratings. To kick off the effort, they sent a dedicated email incentivizing review creation. (I like the instructional component of this one.)
Boden recognizes reviewers by including quotes from those who've "been there and bought the t-shirt." (Scooter's mom is famous! Sweet, Johnnie!)
Netflix acknowledges DVD returns with a simple email featuring 5 dark stars just begging to be lit up. (Check out my Netflix email experience review, too!)

Superstar Bonus!: Our team of in-house scientists conducted an enormously complex astronomical survey, studying the email galaxy to determine which brands have enough star power to get VIE (Very Important Email) status. Using a secret formula devised by a team of MIT mathemeticians in Vegas, we paired the top 10 VIEs with 10 VIPs. Our findings:

Edmund Hillary: 4.5 stars, REI >
The Princess and the Pea: 5 stars, Brookstone >
Jimmy Buffett: 20 stars, Chefs >
Mr. Wizard: 20 stars, Discovery Channel >
The Best Grandma in the World (Mine!): 25.5 stars, Bisquick >
Scooter's Mom: 26 stars, Boden >
The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man: 26.5 stars, Pillsbury >
Tim Allen: 42.4 stars, Home Depot >
Martha Stewart: 43.7 stars, Macy's >
Team Beckham: 74.5 stars, Sports Authority >

My stars!

Until next time,
Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.

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Attention, All April Fools

Ahh, another April Fools' Day. It's the day when people who are prone to losing track of what day it is generally experience an "oh, crap" moment at some point. (You know who you are. You were running an hour late on March 9.) It's also a day where there are plenty of email and email-related jokes to go around.

The first one I encountered today is my favorite so far. I went to log into Gmail this morning and found their announcement for Gmail Custom Time, a handy service that allows you to backdate an email that you're sending, and even have it appear as having been opened already. Forget your sister's birthday. No problem. Needed an extra day to complete that essay for class. No problem. Just backdate those emails and you're golden. In their explanation, Gmail shares some testimonials that suggest other novel ways to use Custom Time.

While the faux service is hilarious (I kept thinking, "Boy, would the Bush administration have fun with this"), it made me reflect on how much we rely on email to confirm the chronology of past events and to verify that we were or were not notified of a particular event. The reliance and faith we put in email took another step forward last month when Goodmail debuted a new service proving legal proof of delivery for emails—and that's in addition to the adoption of email authentication reaching the tipping point in January. So barring the introduction of a Custom Time service like Gmail's, email is on a good trajectory toward being an even more trust medium.

Here are some other April Fools emails and email-related gags that we've seen:

–>E-Dialog sent this email, which linked to this "correct" version.
–>Salon's Farhad Manjoo launched I Google for You. Just type in your search and he'll email you that one link that you're really looking for. See the results from us searching for "email marketing association."
–>CafePress sent this email announcing the launch of their new dating service, CafePress LoveMatch.
–>eROI announced that they abandoned their new offices in favor of solar-powered yurts along the Willamette River.
–>Mark Brownlow at Email Marketing Reports breaks the news that Bluegill Mail has launched a "report subscriber" button.

If you know of others, let us know and we'll add them to the list. Thanks and happy April Fools' Day.

—Chad White of the eec (who is celebrating his 2nd wedding anniversary today—no, really)

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March Madness: CBSSportsline.com Understands Email Marketing (for the Most Part)

Since moving from Rochester, N.Y., to Durham, N.C., almost three years ago, I've gained a new appreciation for the month of March. March Madness in the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) is just that—absolute madness. From the Duke-Carolina rivalry, to the ACC Tournament to the Big Dance, this is truly basketball country.

When the email to join "Bronto's Online NCAA March Madness Bracket Group" landed in my inbox, I immediately went to CBSSportsline.com to register. CBS Sports made me work a bit to actually register as a new user (not good). Fortunately, as one who spends their day advising clients on best practices, I knew where to look.

Once I clicked on the super-small link "Register Now," I was redirected to the registration page. I absolutely love this landing page.

1. An appropriate number of fields. Too many scares subscribers away, too few and you get a large list of uninterested subscribers.

2. Tips. Mousing over the lightbulbs provides clear instructions on how to fill out that particular field and/or a brief snippet of why they are asking for it.

3. Opt-in. Yes! Someone did it the "right" way. I say "right" because there is not really a right or wrong way, just a bad/good/better. What I love about this opt-in is that none of the boxes are pre-checked (a true opt-in), there is a brief description of what to expect (content, frequency), and a preview of an example. Brilliant!

That said, this is what happened when I clicked on "Preview an example" for the Product Updates. After hitting refresh three times, it eventually brought me to the intended preview page. I know what you are thinking…temporary hiccup with the connection. I thought the same thing, so I tried it the next day. Same result. (not good).

4. Optional Special Offers. Partner/third party/co-registration emails are always tricky. Personally, I think they have no business in the world of "best practice email marketing," but I understand why they are used. If you are going to offer them, let subscribers opt-in and keep them separate. Well done.

Once I hit submit, a flurry of emails from CBS Sportsline began to fill my inbox (email #1, email #2). A bit of overkill if you ask me, but I forgive them. Anyway, that's fodder for another post.

By the way, I've got UCLA winning it all in one bracket and Kansas in my other (neither are popular picks in my office).

—DJ Waldow of Bronto Software

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MAKE IT POP!: GSFs Cut the Layer Cake

Does this scenario sound familiar?:
Marketing: "We need to add another submessage to the 12/10 mail."
Creative: "What!? We've already got five submessages in the 12/10!"
Marketing: "The VPs want to include gift cards."
Creative: "Pass me another brownie, please."

At this time of year, just as our waistlines bulge with too many holiday sweets, so our emails bulge with too many holiday submessages, stacking into unruly creative layer cakes.

I love cake. I also love a powerfully-packed multi-message. However, more than three pieces of cake – and more than three vertically-stacked submessages – make me queasy. (Did somebody say "garage sale"!?) That's why this week, as a bookend to my holiday navigation post, it's all about the GSF—the gift services footer!

Below, REI, Amazon.com, Macy's and Crate & Barrel cut down on submessage layer-caking by finishing their emails off with smart little GSFs, fitting an average of four messages into the space of one. It's like a super-dense, double-chocolate brownie!

REI, Dec. 4
REI's GSF

Amazon.com, Dec. 5
Amazon's GSF

Macy's, Dec. 5
Macy's GSF

Crate & Barrel, Dec. 6
Crate & Barrel's GSF

CHECK OUT THESE SEVEN TIPS FOR A SWEET GSF:
(1) Umbrella your GSF with a benefits-focused headline.
(2) Use equi-sized modules for easy last-minute message swap-outs.
(3) Link to your website gift center. It's a great catch-all for gift givers.
(4) Promote gift cards. They're so hot right now!
(5) Surface gift services —the unique ways you help make holiday shopping easy.
(6) Detail order-by dates, particularly as we approach mid-December.
(7) Dynamically generate local retail store info to drive brick-and-mortar traffic.

I look forward to breaking brownies with many of you in Park City next week!

Until then,
Lisa Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.

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REPLY TO ALL: How Can I Use Viral to Boost My List Growth?

We are engaged in email in New Zealand, where due to relatively low internet usage, and recent law changes, list growth is quite a challenge. We do have one particular challenge which I would welcome any input on, as follows:

We publish an email newsletter for the police. They aim to reach community stakeholders, but are unwilling to allocate budget to traditional media to spread awareness and generate additional sign-ups. Their website drip feeds a certain number of new recipients —approx 1% increase per month, although half of that is eliminated by those who opt out each month —so growth is slow. They believe that using the existing list, a viral campaign can help. Does anyone have any inspirational input? —Jerry Flay, managing director of Inbox

The Voices of Email had this advice:

Stephanie Miller: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet. It's difficult to predict what sort of viral campaign will have a meaningful impact. Without knowing anything about the program I'm hesitant to offer a specific idea, but consider a simple trivia quiz about the community like "how many miles of roads are there" and "how long does the chief of police serve in office." If the quiz is challenging but also surprising, it will get forwarded. Even without some special content, certainly test just asking every current subscriber to forward an invite to two friends. Perhaps offer some recognition in the community for doing so. But at the end of the day, the program has to be worth signing up for—if the goal is to build awareness and support, then the messages must be interesting and relevant. If they are, then subscribers will engage with them and share them.

Chad White: Sounds like you should communicate how the police and community stakeholders have been working together with great results. Some inspiring success stories may cause folks to forward the email along and spur greater involvement. So tout your greatest successes and undertakings. Also, how about providing tips and advice that would be useful to the community? Or doing a survey or fundraising activity that would leverage your email program? If you provide the right kind of information and clearly prompt your subscribers to share the information with friends, you should be able to exceed the average 1% to 2% pass-along rate.

Jeanniey Mullen: Viral marketing can be one option, but only if you have something to say that your readers will "bond" with and share with others. In other words, if you want something to be passed along, ask your current readers to help you determine the content.

Even at that though, the pass along rate will be relatively low, so you should look for ways to integrate email with, for example, a blog or social network in order to assure success.

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 chad@emailexperience.org and we'll REPLY TO ALL by posting the answers so everyone can benefit.

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REPLY TO ALL: How Can I Improve Email Rendering Across All Platforms?

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 chad@emailexperience.org and we'll REPLY TO ALL by posting the answers so everyone can benefit.

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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

Every week the EEC adds new content to its Whitepaper Room. Here are the latest additions:

CMO Council: 2007 Marketing Outlook Report
A study designed to identify key trends from 2006 and capture insights and opinions about where and how marketers are focusing their efforts in 2007.

eec Webinar Archive: 10 Seconds to Email Success, May 17, 2007
View all of the slides from this webinar.

Chad White: Reportlet - Mr. Bluelight and Deal-a-Day Emails
Examples and strategies for deal-a-day retail email programs.

Chad White: Reportlet - DomainKeys Adoption to Follow Sender ID Past Tipping Point
A majority of the top online retailers have already adopted Sender ID; DomainKeys adoption is not far behind.

*Have a whitepaper you'd like to contribute? Email it to whitepapers@emailexperience.org.

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Email as Salesperson

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.

—Stephanie Miller

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