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Silent but Engaged: A Powerful “Hidden” Segment Lurks in your Email Database

One of my favorite quotes in the past few years is from David Daniels of Forrester Research who often says that "sending email to people that haven't opened or clicked in a year is like flying an airplane advertisement over a ghost town." Love it. That visual really brings the point home that mailing to seemingly unengaged subscribers is a waste of time, and often does more harm than good. I have always 100% agreed with it, however I now think it isn't always true. There may actually be life in parts of those seemingly deserted towns.

Let me start by saying that I still recommend all marketers regularly review engagement and modify content and/or frequency to those that haven't opened or clicked in 90 or 180 days. This is especially important for marketers that have deliverability problems, since many of them may improve their reputations and deliverability by cutting this dead weight. Unresponsive list segments, after all, are more likely to generate complaints or to contain spamtraps. In fact, earlier this year we were able to help a client get out of the bulk folder at Gmail by ceasing mailing any names that hadn't opened or clicked there in 90 days. Now, however, when I'm asked by a client if they should re-opt-in subscribers that haven't responded, opened or clicked for months, I'm forced to add the qualifier: "it depends."

Here's why it depends. There is growing evidence that many mailers have at least some subscribers that don't seemingly do anything, but they are valuable nonetheless. Here are a few camps to consider:

1. Hidden Segment #1: Subscribers that view and read emails with images off. There may be some email marketers that are in fact too good at rendering their email titles, main stories and calls-to-action in HTML text. I say "too good" since some (maybe lots) of their subscribers don't register as an open since they never enable images – yet they are actually engaged and reading the emails.

2. Hidden Segment #2: Mobile, invisible, but engaged. Mobile, email-enabled phones now represent a majority of some company's opt-in subscriber base. If they don't render images they won't render an open, but the recipient might be eating up the content day-in and day-out, and the marketer will never know.

3. Hidden Segment #3: Subscribers that never click, or shop online, but buy from your brick-n-mortar store. These actually could be some of your best customers, you just can't tell. Certainly there is life in this ghost town. Multichannel retailers should especially keep a watch out for these subscribers.

4. Hidden Segment #4: Fans that forward your email to friends, but don't use your forward-to-a-friend link. You can't track them since they are using the forwarding mechanism of their email tool, not your trackable link. Jeanniey Mullen's recent ClickZ article highlighted the story of Burntoast Marketing in Australia that had this problem. Some of their mailings to high-quality prospects had "…clicks come from other people both within and outside the same company who were not on the original mailing list."

The bottom line is if you're not looking at subscriber engagement, you are missing out on the ability to improve your deliverability, improve relevancy, and cut the unprofitable names from your list. However, beware of these hidden, engaged subscribers and develop strategies to make them visible.

First, rather than automatically re-opting in unengaged subscribers or discarding them from your list, try reducing frequency. A recent test of ours showed we were able to get 4 times the number of subscribers to reengage by reducing from weekly to monthly mailings when compared to sending a single re-optin campaign.

Second, entice your offline-only shoppers to use a coupon or other tracking code that will help them identify themselves.

Finally, provide a number of ways that recipients can share their emails with their friends – either standard viral links or via new technologies allowing sharing with social networks.

- Chip House, ExactTarget


The Value of the Render Rate

Following the eec announcement of the Render Rate, some have asked why? Who cares? And what makes the Render Rate better than the other proposed metric—Action Rate—or vice versa?

As outlined in the previous post, How Opens Are Tracked and Reported, there are a large number of scenarios where an open might be tracked. At the most basic level, there are two methods of tracking opens:

1) A unique tracking image inserted into the email was loaded: confirming that the images in the email were rendered.

2) A link in the email was clicked: since obviously a link cannot be clicked if the email was not opened, this method allows us to track some of the people missed by the first method.
Render Rate is calculated using only the first method, while Action Rate is calculated by combining the unique results of both methods.

Advantages of Render Rate

Render Rate has the advantage over Action Rate in two ways:

1) Pre-conversion testing: At the end of the day, most marketers want to look at conversion of some sort. Even so, evaluation of pre-conversion dynamics can be helpful in optimizing a program. Because Render Rate measures only one thing, it is better suited for testing in pre-conversion testing scenarios. If we want to look at the ability of a subject line to get people to look at the email, The Render Rate only measures that one thing. If we use Action Rate to evaluate subject lines we are actually testing two different things: 1) which subject line got more people to view the email with images, and 2) which subject line got more people who didn't view the email with images to click. Since Action Rate would evaluate success based on two different criterions, it is difficult to determine what the subject line actually does best. A better approach is to use Render Rate to answer the question, "Which subject line got more people to look at my email?" and use Click Through Rate to answer the question, "Which subject line gets more people to click on a link?"

One could take subject line testing a step further by analyzing the results in two stages – first look at which subject line had better reach, and then we can look at which subject line eventually drove more people to the landing page. Then we would optimize the landing page to further increase conversions (e.g. sales) in its own tests. In theory, optimizing each step in the process will increase overall conversions, but there are exceptions, so a final test using conversions from emails delivered is recommended.

Render Rate also improves testing of creative elements in email because it limits both the control and the test groups to only a version of the email where we could be sure that images were seen by all subjects in both groups. When addressing the question, "Which creative is most effective at getting people to click?" conduct the test based on the people who we know saw the creative (as measured by renders) and then look at that segment to determine which creative version got the higher percentage of people to click through. This type of evaluation is impossible using Action Rate since by definition, anyone who clicked also opened, which inaccurately implies 100% effectiveness of the creative.

Limiting to the render rate only means that both the control and the test group see the same thing. Some examples of tests – types of imagery used in pictures, call to action placement (preview pane or below), button vs. text links. This can be particularly important to those that write emails that have few links in them (or even just one) – where the placement of that link, whether it be a feedback method or the call to action itself moves based on image rendering.

2) Ad impressions: Many advertisers sell display advertising in email. Render Rate provides accurate measures for how many of those ads were displayed. Since it limits the value of the metric to specifically image based opens (renders) it gives us the true number of total impressions using the total emails rendered. Keep in mind, for image-based advertisers, there is no value of an email for which no images are rendered—Action Rate would provide an artificially inflated view of performance. We could also use the Render Rate to determine reach and frequency in a specific email. Here the unique number of email renders is the reach and the total number is the frequency. When combined with monetization via ad revenue we can construct a traditional direct marketing RFM model.

Of course, Render Rate has its challenges, which is why a second metric has also been proposed.

Advantages of Action Rate

Action Rate has the advantage over Render Rate in two ways:

1) Less Inaccurate Measure of "Opens": Render Rate underreports the number of people who seemingly looked at your email more than Action Rate. However, Action Rate still underreports this number. In reality, no reliable method for determining how many subscribers actually looked at your email exists. Both proposed metrics are estimates. Both are low estimates. Action Rate is simply a slightly closer estimate of the number of people who presumably looked at your email.

Under reporting is one of the primary reasons the eec Measurement Accuracy Roundtable recommends a move away from the term Open Rate. Unfortunately, this term has left many marketers with an incorrect understanding of what the metric provides. Worse still, "Open Rates" are calculated different ways by different ESPs—thus the need for standardization.

2) Text-based advertising: Again using the publishing realm as a basis of example, publishers often need to provide reports on text-based advertising. For this purpose, Action Rate is a better standard metric for the reasons listed in the prior section. The Action Rate, which reports, "opens" based on either the rendering of a tracking pixel or a user action (i.e. a click) we can better judge the true number of ad impressions based on action rate. Currently, to our knowledge there is no other industry metric that is defined and standardized that accomplishes this goal.

Use Both to Gain Additional Insights

Finally, using both the Render Rate and the Action Rate together we can learn more about our subscribers and the ways they use emails. For example if you see a regular reader appearing in the list of subscribers that typically views emails with images on and then suddenly drops off the list of those that fit the render rate definition and starts showing up on the action rate only, this may indicate that the subscriber has begun reading their emails with a mobile device. It may also be that they have not added you to their white list, or another set of circumstances may have occurred. The point here, is that using them both we can identify little differences in subscriber behavior that may alert us that it would be worth it to request more feedback from that reader or set off a trigger email to them.

The members of the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable think that if you do adopt our proposed metrics – whether via your ESP or in your own email deployment and reporting in-house system that you will find the Render Rate, the Action Rate and their associated metrics to be superior to current methods—which are inconsistent and sometimes misleading. For those of you that are already defining your open metrics using the Render and Action Rates we congratulate you on being ahead of the times and welcome your support on this initiative and help to spread the metrics throughout the industry so that all email marketers and our stakeholders can have clearer understanding on how our programs work and their effectiveness.

- Luke Glasner, Rodman Publishing & Morgan Stewart, ExactTarget


How Opens Are Tracked and Reported

The eec blog post introducing the new "render rate" (by the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable) has drawn dozens and dozens of comments to date – from supportive to some that question the value of the standardization initiative.

There were also a number of comments and questions that indicate many people still don't understand what the open rate does and doesn't measure and how open rates are actually tracked. This blog post will be the first of a series from various members of the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable that address the comments and questions posted on the blog.

Before diving into a detailed explanation of how the open rate works and what it does and doesn't measure, I wanted to remind everyone of the core objective and purpose of this initiative.

The Measurement Accuracy Roundtable was formed with two primary purposes:
1) To ensure that email industry metrics that were widely adopted accurately measured what they were designed to measure;
2) That the metric was measured consistently by vendors and marketers. The intent was not to eliminate metrics or pose our opinion or preferences on email marketers.

With that background and reminder, let's dive into the basics of the open rate, which hopefully conveys why the eec took up the initiative to standardize this popular email metric…

How open rates are measured: Your email technology automatically inserts html code that references an invisible (often referred to as a "clear" or "1×1″) tracking image in your email, usually at the bottom of the email.

Like the other images in your HTML emails, they are actually hosted on a server, not embedded within the email. When a recipient opens the email, and images are not blocked, the image is called/pulled into the html message from the hosting server. As the image is pulled into the message, it is appended with a unique identifier that is associated to the receiving email address. That rendering of an image associated to an email address has been commonly referred to as an "open." Now, it gets more complicated.

When an "open" is counted: With the above definition in place, let's look at the scenarios in which an open is counted or reported:

  • Images are not blocked when the recipient fully "launches" or opens the email.
  • Images are not blocked when the recipient views the email in a preview pane (a feature on an increasing number of email clients and services).
  • A recipient scrolls through the inbox slowly enough to allow the tracking image to load, even though the email was not actually viewed in full or in the preview pane.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in a text email. This particular email service provider or software counts the clicked link as an open. Even though there is no way to track whether the text message was opened (because it has no tracking image), we assume the recipient had to open the message (or view in preview pane) to view the message or click the link. Note: In this example the email tracking software would report one and open and one click.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in an HTML email that is fully opened, but images are blocked or disabled. The text-email logic applies here.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in an HTML email viewed in a preview page, but images are blocked or disabled. The text-email logic applies here, too.
  • A recipient views an HTML email on an iPhone, iTouch or other mobile device that automatically renders HTML emails with images enabled.
  • A recipient clicks on a link on a text or HTML email on a mobile device that does not render images. The text-email logic applies here.

    When an "open" is NOT counted: OK, with me so far? Now, it gets even more confusing. Here are the scenarios when an open is NOT counted or reported:

  • Images are blocked when the recipient fully "launches" or opens the email.
  • Images are blocked when the recipient views the email in a preview pane (a feature on an increasing number of email clients and services).
  • A recipient scrolls through the inbox so fast that the tracking image doesn't have time to load.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in a text email. This particular email service provider or software does NOT count the clicked link as an open. In this case the rationale is that although an open can be inferred, it was not actually captured. Thus, the metric is kept "pure" and the open not counted.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in an HTML email that is fully opened, but images are blocked or disabled. The same text-email logic from the previous example applies here.
  • A recipient clicks on a link in an HTML email that is viewed in a preview page, but images are blocked or disabled. Again, the text-email logic applies.
  • A recipient clicks on a link on a text or HTML email on a mobile device that does not render images. The text-email logic applies here, too; thus, no open is tracked. The same text-email logic applies.
  • The HTML or text version is read on a BlackBerry or similar mobile device that does not render images.
  • An HTML email is viewed on a Blackberry (as above) and is later opened in Gmail (or other email service/client) with images blocked. The email has been opened and read twice, but no open has been counted.

    I could probably come up with more scenarios that show how inconsistently an open is or isn't counted or reported, but you should have the gist by this point.

    My fellow Measurement Accuracy Roundtable members will contribute a follow-on series of posts to further explain our rationale for the proposed render rate.

    In the meantime, if anyone still doesn't understand how opens are tracked and reported, please post your question in the comments, and I'll give it another shot.

    Lastly, I'd like to personally, and on behalf of the entire Measurement Accuracy Roundtable, thank everyone for their feedback and comments posted on the eec blog. Are you really passionate about this and other email measurement topics? Join the eec and our Roundtable!

    - Loren McDonald, Silverpop
    Co-Chair of the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable


    The Render Rate is Coming!

    One of the largest problems facing email marketers today is the lack of industry standards for email metrics. One such much maligned measurement is the open rate. To help fellow email marketers, the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable was formed by service providers and other industry members of the Email Experience Council (eec). For the past several months, we have been working on finding a way to solve this problem, working specifically with the open metric. We have developed a group of definitions and standards to develop a new, better metric, the Render Rate. Through a lot of participation and hard work, the Measurement Accuracy Roundtable come up with what we believe is a clear and consistent definition, but we need the participation of one more person - YOU - our industry colleagues.

    We seek feedback and input from email marketers, email solutions providers, agencies, publishers and other online marketing colleagues. You can download a copy of the definitions, how they are calculated and other information from the eec website here. Please post all comments here on the eec blog, so members of the Roundtable will have a depository of all industry comments to review and incorporate into this new industry standard.

    The comment period for industry and other public feedback will run from today until the end of March. During April, we will assemble and review all comments, and revise the definitions as necessary to incorporate your input into this new industry standard. The final version is tentatively scheduled to be released in early May. We hope our fellow marketers and email solutions providers will support this initiative by adopting the new names and including them into their reporting systems.

    Additional information will be posted on the eec website.

    The Roundtable wishes to offer special thanks to the following members for their contributions: John Caldwell, Adam Covati, David Daniels, Luke Glasner (co-chair), Loren McDonald (co-chair), Stephanie Miller, Morgan Stewart and Chad White.

    - Luke Glasner


    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.


    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.


    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


    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,—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.


    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


    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.


    (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.


    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


    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.


    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


    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:

    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.

    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).

    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.

    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

    ● 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

    ● 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:

    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


    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.



    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.


    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.


    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


    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 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


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

    –>Read other Reply to All posts