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eec's Deliverability Resource Guide

This week we released the Deliverability Resource Guide written by the members of the Deliverability and Rendering Roundtable. This 30-page report, now available in the eec's Whitepaper Room, consolidates the most important aspects of managing an email marketing program. It offers in-depth information on key topics such as: infrastructure, reputation, risplay, and mail policies. Kudos to the Deliverability and Rendering Roundtable for their phenomenal work. Get the report here.

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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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How to Revive a Stale Email List

Late last year, Comcast blocked the IPs of one of Pivotal Veracity's clients, preventing them from being able to deliver any email. We contacted Comcast on behalf of the client to inquire why they were being blocked and learned that Comcast's filter (Brightmail) reported a significant portion of this client's mail as spam. We got Comcast to remove the block, but when the client mailed their entire house file again, they triggered Comcast's filters again. Pivotal Veracity again had the block lifted but, as you can imagine, something had to be done.

The mailer's first tactic was to only email subscribers with any post-signup activity such as clicks or purchases regardless of how long ago. Unfortunately, this also resulted in Comcast blocking the mail. The implication: Just because someone was engaged at one time, does not mean they are still engaged and, as many folks do, they used the "report spam" button to get off the list.

After having their last three campaigns blocked, the mailer, rather desperate now, decided to test emailing only to Comcast addresses that had made a purchase—a dramatic measure but one with dramatic results. This strategy has consistently yielded 100% inbox delivery. In the case of this mailer, their older, inactive users were complaining which caused all emails to be blocked by Comcast. Emailing "less" was the difference between $0 and generating a return on investment from their Comcast subscribers, which are a significant portion of their file.

This real-world example is further proof that marketers need to actively manage their email lists to prevent them from going stale. To help you, the eec Deliverability & Rendering Roundtable has written "How to Revive a Stale Email List," a reportlet that lays out step-by-step how to salvage stale lists and actively prune lists before too many inactives build up. The reportlet, which is available in the eec's Whitepaper Room, also discusses why you should avoid "soft touch" services. Does anyone else have any stale list horror stories?

—eec Deliverability & Rendering Roundtable chair Michelle Eichner of Pivotal Veracity

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The Truth about Email Marketing: Q&A with Simms Jenkins

The Truth about Email Marketing, an email marketing book by Simms Jenkins, eec member and the CEO of BrightWave Marketing, will hit book stores on Aug. 1. Ahead of the release, the eec's Chad White had the opportunity to ask Simms about the book and the truths he reveals:

Chad: What is the most surprising "truth" in your book?

Simms: This will depend on the reader but for many email newbies making the transition from direct marketing or another world, Truth 21: Length and Your Call to Action may be surprising to some. So many emails I receive these days are brutally long and bury the calls to action. I think many major retailers are guilty of taking their offline ad campaigns and forcing them into email templates. Frankly, that doesn't work, so hopefully this truth sheds some light on optimizing layouts and messaging.

I also cover what the future of email (Truth 49) and what it may look like. This may have surprising thoughts for many. Here's the complete list of truths.

What are some of the email marketing myths that you debunk?

One of the most important and obvious to you and your readers may be the notion of permission email and how that draws a line in the sand of where you stand in utilizing email marketing. It must be a part of any conversation about email marketing regardless of your knowledge and experience. I think some people forget and that is an important part in setting up this book as an end-to-end guide about what makes a successful email marketing program.

On the other end of the spectrum, I address how email marketing can exist within the current world where social media grabs much of the spotlight (Truth 48: The Impact of Social Media on Email). The truth is we always hear about how email is on its deathbed but it still acts as the communication hub for many companies and specifically, should get a major boost because of the popularity of LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.

Email marketing is evolving quite quickly. To which recent change have people been the slowest to adapt?

I am still utterly shocked about how email marketers fail to change and adapt to a world where 50% of consumers block images. One would think that companies would change their messaging strategy, optimize their creative and deal with this very significant and real challenge. However, many are not.

Your recent study that cited tangible revenue that is left on the table should get people's attention, but I have my doubts. I speak quite frequently to diverse audiences and meet with some of the top corporations and many are flying blind or clueless when it comes to how their emails render in many of their subscribers inboxes. What if their TV commercials were showing up blank during prime time? Do you think they would address that?

The most shocking aspect of this issue is when I am told that the company is aware of their emails showing up as a red X with no links, branding and messaging but they have their hands tied due to political and organizational issues. That screams to me the need for more education, awareness and participation with groups like the eec.

What's your best advice for folks that are new to email marketing?

The best part of our industry is the amount of great thought-leadership and free resources. Whether it is your blog, the eec newsletter, Email Marketing Reports, EmailStatCenter.com—the list goes on and on. You can find many of the best listed on the book's companion website's resource center. The amount of places to learn and network from peers is incredible. It is pretty unique to have an industry where so many high-level executives blog frequently—and not just fluffy PR-related blog posts.

The other exciting thing about diving into our industry is because it is still relatively a young one and changes so frequently, the opportunity to have an impact on your company and the industry is a very real and attractive one. We need so many more passionate and energetic professionals, so it is a place that one can enter today and become a leader rather quickly given the right situation. That can't be said for all industries.

Email marketing's reputation as being "cheap" often leads to budgets that are undersized compared to email's ROI. Do you have any advice for helping marketers communicate the value of email to their bosses so that they can get larger budgets?

The Truth about Email Marketing has two entire sections on budgeting and ROI and organizing a proper email team so this is covered in depth and is one of the most frequent issues that I tackle on a daily basis. We in the email marketing industry are certainly a victim of our own success, at times, as the depth of measurement and efficiency of email often overshadows the potential for deeper investment and greater sophistication, all of which lead to more relevant and valuable emails for subscribers.

I am a believer in using your metrics to champion your success and your potential. Not enough email marketing pros use their email analytics outside of showing open and click-through rates. The biggest breakthroughs we see with our clients is when we can show the impact email has on broader business goals, like product awareness, loyalty and revenue. CFOs don't care about open rates but you can have their ear when you show the crossover impact and power email can have on a business.

Thanks, Simms.

My pleasure, Chad. And as a special offer to the eec community, I've arranged an exclusive deal through the publisher to make The Truth about Email Marketing available for 25% off, plus free shipping. Just purchase the book through the FT Press store and enter the discount code Emailmark01 during the checkout process.

–>For more books on email marketing by eec members, check out our listing of Books on Email Marketing.

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Email Design Checklists Save the Day: Avoiding Common Pitfalls

From the eec's Member RoundtablesHitting "send" on any email campaign always leaves us with a small feeling of dread in the pit of our stomachs. "Did I forget something? Did I double-check EVERYTHING? Will my message render properly? Will I have a job in two hours?" We feel your pain.

Ever wish you had a buddy to rely on—someone competent, steadfast and efficient who would remember to help you double-check all the key elements of design and QA success? Well, now you have one—in the form of two email checklists from the eec's Email Design Roundtable.

The first is the Code QA Testing Checklist, which covers what to check to make sure your email looks and acts exactly how you intended. The second is the Email Design Checklist, which covers what to check to maximize your email creative's performance.

Both checklists are available in the eec's Whitepaper Room—and all this week you can download them for free.

As part of the creation of these checklists, the Roundtable members discussed their value, their own send-button "feelings of dread," and even some mistakes they've made. Learn how their real-world experience contributed to the checklists and about some trouble spots to avoid:

Brent Shroyer of Listrak: When you put together a web page, you can always go back and fix it later. But in an email you only have one shot. You have to be perfect. The importance of a checklist is critical for email more so than any other online effort, since it is once and done.

Chad White of the Email Experience Council: Subject lines are so important. Subject lines are right up there for the most frequent spot for mistakes. We tend to put writing them off until the end.

Stephanie Miller of Return Path: Yes, and then the result is that messages go out with TBD or "subject line goes here" or misspelled words or missing words. Instead, view it as a critical part of the content and spend time making it relevant and engaging. Oh, and that there are no errors!

Raj Khera of MailerMailer: Test different subject line lengths to see what garners higher open rates. In studying our customer base, we found that subject lines with 35 characters or less had a significant boost in opens.

Lisa Harmon of Smith-Harmon: One essential that often gets missed is that the primary link shows up just below the preview pane, so it's not visible without scrolling. Oh, I think to myself, ouch! If they had just looked at it and moved it up 30 pixels, it would improve response so much!

Joanne Carry of DMG World Media: Always check the rendering. Ignore Lotus Notes! It's increasingly important with Outlook 2007 not supporting CSS and Gmail being a growing part of many marketers' files.

Brent: Be sure that everything that can be HTML text is actually HTML text. Avoid unnecessary images so that your message is completely visible even when images are turned off.

Chad: Image suppression is like a philosophy—a new way of constructing the message and approaching design. This needs to be adopted by email marketers.

And here's one that is so fixable, and yet happens all the time: I so often see dead links. I know it seems silly to say that we would double-check the links, and it's tedious, but it must happen frequently that this step gets skipped. I know what I do, when the link doesn't work—I just abandon it and go on with my life.

Lisa: Oh, yes! And then what happens is that follow-up and conversions are down and no one can figure out why. Well, it was because the links were not working. Another important step is making sure not just that the link works, but that it goes to a place that is logical. Optimize your landing page as part of the overall email experience.

Stephanie: Isn't it true that whenever response is down, the first thing we do is blame the creative? But it's often the case that deliverability was poor, the message was not mailed at the optimal time for subscribers or there were back-to-back messages from the same company, or even that the list was not segmented properly. So many things that are not a function of design.

Brent: Make sure the price in the alt tag text matches the pricing in product imagery. If the price changes during the production cycle, then you can get caught with an old alt tag. Also make sure that the landing page matches as well.

Lisa: I've seen renewed interest in text files because of mobile, thinking about its importance being slightly renewed. Although I confess that it's easy to never look at your text files or to bother matching them to the current offer. How many times I see that the copyright is last year, or the copy is outdated or is last week's promotion.

Share your own pre-send jitters or advice by commenting below.

—eec Email Design Roundtable co-chairs Lisa Harmon and Julie Montgomery of Smith-Harmon

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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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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

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

2008 Retail Email Rendering Benchmark Study
Message Integrity & Email Design Issues in an Images-Off Environment

Women's Bean Project Case Study
The Results of the eec's 2007 Nonprofit Project

FreshAddress: Build or Buy?
Real-Time Email Address Validation

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

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Retail Email Rendering Benchmark Study: Executive Summary

Image blocking has become pervasive, with approximately half of all email users suppressing images by default. However, email marketers have not fully adjusted to this reality and reflected it in their email design.

The two strongest weapons in their arsenal in the fight against image blocking, HTML text and alt tags, aren't used nearly enough. Only 42% of the 104 top online retailers included in our study designed emails that were a good mix of HTML text and images, and only 63% used alt tags adequately or extensively.

Consequently, emails from 23% of the retailers reviewed in this study were completely unintelligible in an inbox environment—and there were some significant shades of gray among the 77% that were intelligible, because of lackluster HTML text and alt tag usage.

In addition to our observational study of retailers, the Email Experience Council and SubscriberMail, the sponsor of this study, surveyed 472 marketing executives in March. When it comes to designing for images off, only 47% of the survey respondents said that their company had taken action. Those actions ranged from adding alt tags or a "click to view" link to minimizing images above the fold.

Of the 38% that had tested to see whether the changes they made produced results, 32% have seen more opens, 32% have seen more clickthroughs, and 17% have seen more conversions—with 47% seeing at least a 10% improvement.

"Email marketing currently generates an estimated return on investment of $48.29 for every dollar spent on it, according to the Direct Marketing Association," says Jeanniey Mullen, the founder and executive chairwoman of the Email Experience Council and chief marketing officer of Zinio. "We conservatively estimate that if all marketers optimized their emails for image blocking, email's ROI would jump to $52.69. Not paying attention to rendering impacts revenue directly."

"The results of this study underscore the importance of proactively designing email to compensate for image suppression," says Jordan Ayan, the CEO of SubscriberMail. "Specifically, email marketers must design emails to work with and without images present and test to ensure optimal image rendering. Marketers whose design accounted for image suppression reported impressive lifts in key performance areas—the results speak for themselves. Still, a significant percent of email marketers realize this issue, yet fail to take action to address it."

Other key findings from the study include:

• 14% of retailers compose their navigation bars with HTML text rather than images.

• 3% of retailers used HTML call-to-action buttons rather than images.

• 88% of retailers include a "click to view" link in their preheader text.

• 63% of retailers include whitelisting instructions in their preheader text.

• The emails from only 21% of retailers displayed meaningful snippet text.

*Please note that this report does not cover rendering on mobile devices, a subject that is worthy of its own separate report.

Get the Full Report
Visit the Whitepaper Room to download the full 41-page report, which is free for eec platinum members, available at a discount to eec gold and silver members, and available for $219 for non-members. Not a member? Learn more about becoming a member of the Email Experience Council.

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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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How Email Impacts Society

I want to share something inspirational that's happening in the email industry (Oh, and you can learn some best practices too!). It's a recap of the Email Experience Council's current Nonprofit Project. The project originated as a manner to enable peers and competitors in the email marketing industry to put business aside and work as a team to create the best email efforts for a good cause.

In 2007, the eec selected the Women's Bean Project as their project focus. Stephanie Miller, from Return Path, volunteered countless hours to lead this initiative and its team on behalf of the eec. I spoke with Stephanie about this effort to get the inside scoop on the project:

WHO IS THE WOMEN'S BEAN PROJECT?
The Women's Bean Project (WBP) helps women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment by teaching workplace competencies for entry-level jobs through employment and by teaching job readiness skills in their gourmet food production business.

WHY WERE THEY A GOOD CANDIDATE?
The WBP was sending one-off donor and volunteer announcements from a database created in FileMaker.

The WBP came to the eec with the following needs and goals:

1. Efficiency: Communicate effectively and efficiently with donors, volunteers and buyers (online and offline).

2. Impact & Choice: Retain donors and buyers through a higher number of touch points—ensuring that each touch is meaningful but also reducing costs and the amount of staff time required for each. Also, allow each customer/donor to select the method of communication (online or offline) that works best for them.

3. Cost Savings: Continue to reach every customer, even as the number of buyers increases by 30% each year (raising the costs of printing and postage significantly).

4. Practicality: Launch and manage a program on a very small staff—literally one-quarter of one person was dedicated to email marketing for all three audiences (donors, buyers, volunteers).

HOW DID THE EEC VOLUNTEER TEAM LOOK?
It is a testament to the email industry and the eec membership that very quickly we had 15 talented professionals volunteer to help, and several vendors step forward and to provide tools and services free of charge. ExactTarget provided a free basic sending license and also graciously donated nearly 15 hours of support throughout the project. Return Path donated a free rendering and deliverability account. Other companies represented included Blackbaud, BlueHornet, Future Integrated Marketing, Industry Mailout, Leapfrog Enterprises, Merkle and Wolters Kluwer Financial Services.

WHAT WAS ACCOMPLISHED?
The team focused on six specific areas to create the program—content, design, infrastructure and list growth.

Content Strategy:
● Identified ways that email can support the WBP mission
● Developed a content strategy
● Debated and finalized permission standards (DOI)
● Developed a calendar for promotions around the holidays, including promoting some local events and fundraisers
● Advised on sending an email counterpart for the annual appeal to donors (direct mail)
● Promotional content recommendations: (1) special offers: 10% discount for National Soup Month; (2) developed concept, copy and photography for a Valentine's Day email that would have viral impact; and (3) developed a year's worth of promotional themes based on holidays in order to boost sales during non-peak months (e.g., soup sales in summer are very slow)
● Set up Google Analytics so WBP could measure success of the email program for driving sales and page views
● Helped train the WBP team to review campaign results with an eye toward optimization

Design:
● Developed wireframes for four types of emails
● Designed templates for newsletter, postcards, DOI/welcome and donor appeals
● Loaded the templates into ExactTarget and tested them
● Helped launch an inaugural issue—which included list hygiene and deliverability with an old file, as well as an opt-out strategy for the existing database

Infrastructure:
● Worked with the team to set up an ExactTarget account
● Upload the templates; Access the self-service training
● Testing and mailing
Course Correction: Aligning with with Yahoo! Store and cleaning up templates

List Growth:
● Starting point: 75% valid records
● Developed organic, offline and viral list growth ideas
● Recommended ways to optimize data capture on the website
● Reviewed the subscription flow for permission clarity and growth optimization

Wireframe Sample:

HOW DID IT TURN OUT?
Here's a quick rundown of the results:

1. We launched a program! It is practical, earns results, garners the praise and kudos of subscribers, donors and the WBP Board of Directors and has legs—the WBP can continue this email program when the volunteer team disbands.

2. Subscribers love it! The inaugural issue of the newsletter generated:
● 32% open rates
● 15% clickthrough rate
● 3.1% bounce rate on new data (25% bounce rate on old list data)

3. Subscribers are great WBP customers! Page views from email subscribers are two times higher than other sources.

For more details on our work with the Women's Bean Project and past Nonprofit Projects, visit the Nonprofit Project page on the Email Experience Council's website.

—Jeanniey Mullen of the eec

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Help Us Gather Email Design and Rendering Insights

Share your views on email design and rendering by participating in this SubscriberMail survey, the results of which will be used in my upcoming Retail Email Rendering Benchmark Study. Participate and you'll receive a copy of the results and be entered to win a Blu-Ray DVD player.

>>TAKE THE SURVEY TODAY!

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THE FROM LINE EXTENDED: Email Rendering on Mobile Devices Poses New Challenges and Opportunities

The mobile phone continues to rise in popularity as a primary communications device making email rendering on mobile devices a serious issue. According to data from MarketingSherpa, approximately 64% of "key decision makers" are reading messages on a BlackBerry or other mobile device. Let's find out why this issue is finding its way to the top of many a priority list.

What is the problem?

Right now, mobile devices only display text emails. Basically, they make a mess of a finely crafted HTML message. They are fussy about font size and the user is often scanning, not reading, the text. Email marketers will also have a challenging time separating their mobile users in email databases from traditional computer receivers. The segmentation will be necessary, however, to ensure proper rendering of messages to non-HTML-friendly email clients. Another snag is that mobile devices also make it more difficult for email marketers to determine the true open rate of their campaigns. Metrics, we know, are key to evaluating success and implementing positive change.

How do email marketers solve this problem?

There is no simple answer to this question, yet. But, there are questions to start discussing with your email design and marketing teams. The first step is to make sure you've considered your audience demographics. Are they using BlackBerrys? Why? Many mobile-device devotees are checking email for urgent issues and will pass over anything that looks disposable. Another consideration that will play a key role as email marketers update their strategies for this new medium is the nature of the campaign. For example, if the information is time-sensitive, can the campaign be targeted to mobile users (and not computer receivers) with only text and short, concise messages?

Naturally, we must also consider how we are gathering information in data collection methods such as surveys, landing pages and other tools. Do your sign-up forms include a mobile phone perference? Do recipients have a way to tell you that they use their mobile device as a primary communications tool? Start by addressing these issues and keep mobile devices on your radar screen as the challenges and opportunities unfold.

—Elie Ashery of Gold Lasso

–>Read other posts in The From Line Extended series.

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Collective Email Wisdom: Getting People to Provide an Email Address

Thomas S Kraemer writes: Email is a great medium for marketing. The area that I'm trying to crack is how to get people to provide their email address with permission for us to market to them so we can reach them through this efficient medium. What are some ways you have found to get the reluctant email provider to give you his or her email address for promotional purposes?

The eec community had this advice:

Jeanniey Mullen responded: The first rule of thumb is that people need to understand what's in it for them— in return for their email and permission, what will they get? The benefits needs to be material and clearly spelled out. Some of the ways that seems to work well for many groups are: transactional or service message opt-in opportunities, direct mail postcards, call center capture and in some cases online sweepstakes or polls.

Bryan Eisenberg responded: The key to getting email address from people is to understand that you are in an exchange of value. Not only to they need to get a good sense of what the future value of your relationship will be but what will the present exchange bring to them. If you can offer some immediate benefit—a small report, ebook, or something similar—you may give them additional incentive to provide an email address. All be clear with people about the frequency and type of content they will get helps.

Matthew Gordon responded: In my experience it is also important not to ask for too much information to begin with, region, age, sex, etc. Keep it simple: Name and email address. After you have established and created a relationship of trust with the recipient can you then request further information.

Read the rest of the responses and share advice of your own by visiting the Email Experience Council's Facebook discussion board. Other topics currently being discussed include "Rendering on BlackBerries."

–>Read more Collective Email Wisdom.

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Weekly Whitepaper Room Refresh

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

BlueHornet: HTML Rendering in Outlook 2007 - Top 10 Questions & Answers
How to code and design HTML email templates that render effectively in Outlook 2007.

Chad White: Retailers Gravitating toward Single Sender Addresses
Managing multiple sender addresses and getting them all whitelisted is proving tough.

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

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Another Email Fairy Has Died. Who Killed It? Susan Hallenbeck

Every time someone says they don't believe in email, an email fairy dies—and another one just bit the dust. Why? Because Susan Hallenbeck is losing faith in email to reach college students.

Recently, in a post on her blog, Refracted Higher Education, Susan bemoans that "younger GenXers and Millennials…seem to be relying more heavily on text messaging, Facebook, and other forms of social networking to communicate with one another." She links to a Pew Internet report from July that said, "Email, once the cutting edge 'killer app,' is losing its privileged place among many teens as they express preferences for instant messaging and text messaging as ways to connect with their friends."

She also links to an iMedia Connection article by Tiffany Young, who says that "While 89% of teenagers have email addresses and check their email regularly, it seems they've collectively decided 'email is for talking to old people, like parents and teachers'," quoting from the Pew Internet report as well.

Tiffany correctly says that keeping email viable among teens is all about having relevant messages. Give teens a reason to read your email and they will, and that includes tailoring content to their individual interests by allowing them to indicate their preferences.

I'd also say that you should play to email's strengthens, which are that it handles HTML so you can have rich messages and it also handles longer form messages better than IM and texting. It makes me think of EB Games' email newsletter, which I'm sure has many teen subscribers. The newsletter includes blurbs about new releases and several lists, including one about upcoming releases—all of which wouldn't render well via other communication methods.

Susan points out that teens (as well as everyone else) have multiple email accounts that they use for different purposes, and that because of that teens many not check all of their email accounts super regularly. EB Games deals with this reality by only sending two emails per week generally and not including any "today only" deals, which are so popular among retailers. Having deals that are good for the week are probably much more appropriate for teens who might be checking their email less frequently.

Of course, with the media splintering, you have to reach out to teens through new mediums by launching blogs (like Neiman Marcus just did), by setting up shop on Facebook (like AllPosters.com just did), and by tapping into YouTube (as TigerDirect just did). And, of course, email can support and be integrated with all of these other communication tools.

So don't give up on email, Susan. Email has reinvented itself several times already and is constantly morphing to fit in and maintain its standing in the web 2.0 world.

—Chad White

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REPLY TO ALL: Do we know that emails with images get better responses?

Do we KNOW that emails with graphics get better response than text-based e-mails? Could it differ from industry to industry? —M.H. (from Lead Generation Roundtable webinar sponsored by Bulldog Solutions on Aug. 14)

The Voices of Email had this advice:

Jeanniey Mullen: This is a great question, and the answer is totally dependent on the type of email message sent.

From prior research, it appears that truly service-based emails—like welcome emails, confirmation emails and the like (ex. Your online payment has been posted)—do not perform any differently whether they are text or include graphics.

However, service-based emails that have soft sell elements—i.e.,. opt-in to our email program, or people interested in this are also interested in this—perform 2-10 times better with graphics to help focus attention.

As far as general marketing messages, I think this is a great question to re-study in the marketplace. Years ago, many tests were done and in most cases HTML outperformed text. However, in today's handheld world, text may begin to show additional benefits.

Chip House: R.J. Talyor from our strategy team weighed in with some great info we have related to mobile rendering:

—Across six different combinations of text and HTML emails, the highest click-through rates across three client email tests were achieved by maintaining an HTML version while improving the text design. This approach was achieved by maintaining the HTML version while altering the text version to include a brief (1-2 sentences) teaser followed by a "View as a Webpage" link after.

—With the increase of smartphones in the market (current penetration is 7%), sending an email with the most flexibility is imperative. Sending as HTML or text only can alienate or frustrate subscribers whose email client or device can only display in one or the other.

—Based on testing with three email marketers (one B2C marketer; two B2B marketers), we recommend sending in multi-part MIME with the text version optimize.

Amy Bills: The answer to the images vs. no images question isn't the same for every communication. You need to consider the specific communication and call the action of the email. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the recipient expecting? I know it's not the magic answer, but to a large extent it comes down to testing what works for your audience.

Let's say your objective is to initiate a dialogue, engage prospects in a conversation, maybe introduce them to your company. For this purpose, in a B2B context, I do think that images can serve you well. They can be used to call attention to certain calls-to-action, present a polished face for your company. The example I'd use is Marketing Watchdog Journal, Bulldog's monthly sales and marketing newsletter. This is a lot of people's first real communication with Bulldog, so we're very conscious of how it looks and how robust the content is. We've been testing a streamlined version that eliminates all images and some of the design elements. Click-throughs are lower than on our fully designed version.

On the other hand, one of our Web designers loves a simple, text-only email he gets from Motley Fool. As a subscriber, he's already sold on their advice. He wants it succinctly presented so he can choose what he wants to learn more about.

Stephanie Miller: It does vary and in some industries like tech, text works better. This can be easily tested for your file. It's always a good practice to offer a choice of format (text, HTML or mobile).

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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Wanted: A Magic Bullet for Email Deliverability

Bulldog Solutions hosted a live roundtable on Email Deliverability for BtoB Lead Generation earlier this week. We expected a great turnout for this Webinar—and we weren't disappointed. More than 50% of registrants made time to attend the hourlong live event—an attendance rate that exceeds nearly every measure for online marketing we track in the Bulldog Index.

Our panel included two familiar EEC names: Stephanie Miller of Return Path, who is the EEC's vice chair for member initiatives, and Michelle Eichner of Pivotal Veracity, who leads the EEC's deliverability and rendering roundtable. That group produced the March report on email standards and bounce management that we referred to several times during the webinar. We also had Ryan Rutan, a senior programming analyst at National Instruments, who offered his perspective from an organization that's confronted many of the issues marketers are facing. You can view a recording of the roundtable here.

Prior to the webinar we solicited questions from our registrants, a practice we typically employ to help us ensure the panel addresses the audience's biggest pain points. As the EEC's Jeanniey Mullen pointed out, the questions themselves are fantastic market research.

Here's one observation I think we can all relate to. The questions showed us that marketers want a magic bullet. This is human nature and not surprising, but when the topic is complex, it's not always easy to provide. While they're certainly willing to put in the work on testing and research, and to consider variables such as industry and message, the fact remains we received many questions asking for answers on:
—The best time to send emails
—The most successful subject line
—The best word count for a promotional email
—A definitive answer on whether text or HTML is best

One attendee summed up the panelists' responses with humor: "Great stuff. Very knowledgeable panel. Bottom line: It depends. Ha ha."

During the webinar we promised attendees we'd answer some of the questions we didn't get to address during the live event. We'll use this blog and Bulldog's sales and marketing blog, as well as our Marketing Watchdog Journal newsletter, to communicate when we have some Q&A written up for the audience to explore.

—Amy Bills

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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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REPLY TO ALL: What Are the Best Practices for Initial Emails After Sign Up?

We create shopping/advertising websites for media companies. People who register at the sites are invited to receive emails with special offers from the site. We start emailing each list after about 100 members sign up, but prior to hitting that threshold the only other email they would have received from the site is the confirmation email. I have been looking all over for some info on "starting from scratch"—a how-to or best practices for that initial email. Do the Voices of Email have any advice? —L.S.

The Voices of Email had this advice:

Rob Fitzgerald: Start the mental and marketing integration of your brand in that message—have it in the "from" line, the subject line, and in the email itself. Successful email marketing blossoms from consistency of message and consistency of branding. Also, be clear on the "what comes next," what types of email offers will you be sending. Leave no chance for misunderstanding and your registrants will appreciate that. Be sure to present the person with the clear opportunity to opt-out from receiving any future emails from you. Lastly, don't wait too long to send out marketing emails from the time the initial confirmation went out. There should be some immediacy to it or you risk disconnecting your registrant from your initial value-add.

Stephanie Miller: This is a great opportunity to launch an email conversation with prospects in order to engage early and lead them through the sales cycle. In fact, a conversation strategy on email is perfectly aligned with the goals of a newly launched shopping website—build the file over time, build relationships, optimize the early growth and leverage for future market saturation.

Today, you are "holding back" on sending email messages until you reach a critical mass of 100, and thus penalizing folks who join the list early. Rather, you want to celebrate these folks and "wow" them so keep reading and even tell two friends about your newsletter. Instead of thinking about it like a traditional publisher (where everyone gets the same content on the same date), think about it like a short-term email conversation—every subscriber gets the same experience. Email message one comes on day one, regardless if you signed up on June 1st or July 31st.

Offer something of real value for signing up—e.g., a free report or coupon—and use an auto-responder system that allows you to send brief, topical newsletters on a regular basis. If you have already built the website, send that content out in bite-sized, well-constructed tidbits to keep subscribers engaged. This will minimize the work and equalize the experience across all subscribers.

Once you set up this "series" of emails, you can trigger it for all new subscribers, regardless of the day they sign up, or their position in the queue. Using the same series for each subscribers ensure that each has a similar (and optimal) experience.

After you learn from this email conversation, active buyers can be converted to a more traditional promotional email program, where everyone gets the same promotion on the same day. But using a conversation in the beginning ensures that you engage fully with new subscribers, and optimize sales across the board.

Good luck!

Jeanniey Mullen: I would start with a strong subject line that includes the company name and something that indicates these are message they requested. For example: XYZ: Site special offers now available. Or: XYZ is ready to bring you special insights

I would also focus on the copy reminding people that they asked for this info, and VERY clearly giving them an opportunity to opt out of this section only.

Hope that helps!

Chip House: We've found that the Welcome email may in fact have the most impact of any email you ever send your subscribers. Opens, clicks etc. all tend to be the highest for an initial email, then can drop off from there if you don't continue to engage your audience or follow-up on the promised content, education or offers promised when they opted in. My advice is to first put substantial effort into optimizing that email. Sure it is transactional in nature, but make sure you do things like:

- Reiterate what they can expect from you in terms of content and frequency.
- Ask them again to add your "from" address to their address books to "ensure good deliverability and rendering."
- Don't forget to make it compelling. Using HTML is best. And don't be afraid to use the CAN-SPAM legitimized commercial content below the transactional introduction.

Getting off on the right foot will pave the way for your first set of campaigns. If you are speaking to their needs, no need to wait for a critical mass.

Chad White: Welcome emails are absolutely critical. Ideally, they not only quickly reassure subscribers that they are subscribed, but they also set the tone for the relationship and reinforce expectations that were (hopefully) established during the subscription process. Unfortunately, only about two-thirds of the retailers I track via RetailEmail.Blogspot use welcome emails, and then only a fraction use them well, missing the opportunity to promote their content, plug their services and tout unique and popular products. At the Email Insider Summit in May, Niti Chhabra, an email marketing consultant to BabyCenter, said: "Give them a reason to save the welcome email." If you don't feel like you're doing that, then you should sit down and makes some changes.

Almost as important as that welcome email are the few that follow it. With each email they're going to be asking themselves, "Was subscribing a mistake?" In some cases, you can increase your chances of keeping that new subscriber if you use an onboarding campaign, where you extend the introduction process. I just wrote a reportlet on onboarding emails that may help you, and in a few weeks I'll be releasing the sequel to last year's Retail Welcome Email Benchmark Study.

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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The Ongoing Rendering Battle

Recently one of our customers encountered an issue with rendering when sending to the "full version" of Microsoft Live Mail. A few of the fields in their email showed up as blank white space! Our testing of similar emails via Pivotal Veracity's eDesign Optimizer showed perfect rendering in all other top ISP email clients, even Hotmail and Microsoft Live Mail "Classic." The Live Mail "full version" is one that appears to have this unique issue.

What's the issue? In the initial code from our client's newsletter (recently redesigned), the designers did not specify a font color within the text boxes that showed as blank white boxes. Live Mail defaulted the text to white (all other email clients played nice and used the standard HTML default of black text).

In Live Mail full-version, the text is there, you just couldn't see it unless you highlighted it (because of the white background). Here's the added bonus: We tested other emails using undefined font colors, and it did not show the same issue. Live Mail did what we'd expect and displayed black text.

What drove the issue for the client at hand seemed to be a "perfect storm" of sorts. The template uses an outside table and inner tables. The outer table defines a font color of white over a green background. So, it appears the interaction of the outer table having font color defined as white and the inner table with no font specified led Live Mail to display the text as white. I'm not positive what the W3C's say about this, but other email clients (even Hotmail) dealt with it differently than Live Mail. This, by the way, isn't the first display issue found in Live Mail (read this post from Campaign Monitor).

At the end of the day, this is a fairly complex issue and one other email marketers should be aware of. The "full version" of Live Mail acts differently in the treatment of text than other email clients in the marketplace. Pre-testing content with a rendering tool like eDesign Optimizer is even more critical these days as the major players are rolling out regular changes to their email software.

—Chip House

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