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Driving Better Email Response: What Makes Subscribers Say “YES!” ?

Karen Talavera, eec Blog Contributor, is leading a session at the Email Evolution Conference in Miami this February.  Register today to recieve the early bird discount (through January 14th) and to meet Karen and dozens of other industry luminaries. It's the best place this winter to learn how to make email and digital marketing more successful.  Register now.

What exactly makes people respond to your email marketing offers? What is it precisely that makes them engage and buy from you? And how does knowing these things help you drive better email response?

It’s the sixty-four-million-dollar question asked of all advertising and marketing. While the fundamentals of what makes us want to transact with a company or say yes to one offer over another remain relatively the same across channels, how marketers employ specific tactics can vary drastically from channel to channel.

When it comes to email marketing it’s important to know exactly which approaches lead to trust, engagement, purchase and loyalty and how to translate them into successful email messages and  programs.

Let’s start with that first part – the approach – then move into a specific, tactical process for applying it.

The Basic Psychology of Human Decision-Making
We can pride ourselves all we want on our intellectual superiority over the rest of the species on our planet, but a commonly overlooked fact is that we are as much emotional as intellectual beings – maybe even more emotional than intellectual. Our brains are equipped with reasoning and emotional centers, and both factor into decision making.

In online marketing, making emotional connections is especially important because the digital world can be fast, furious, and impersonal.  There is a built-in immediacy in digital communication channels that often undermines the opportunity to slow down the sale and deepen the consideration process that older, offline channels afforded.

Plus, there is both a considerable amount of skepticism and unfortunately, fraud in the digital world. Allowing people to get to know you online with a relationship-building approach goes a long way toward creating the familiarity, comfort confidence consumers and business people alike need before they’re willing to buy.

It Starts with Creating Emotional Resonance
Despite our immense reasoning power, our instinctive “gut” reactions are older and better honed. From the standpoint of human evolution, we had to develop the ability to make split-second unconscious decisions to survive. This ability survives in us today and kicks-in when we’re faced with any decision – even if it’s not life or death – and often happens before our brains have time to intellectually process facts

That’s why research has proven time and again that people buy from emotion and justify with reason. So it’s essential to know how to emotionally connect with people in your marketing, and in email to do so not just authentically but quickly.

Remember, there’s that built-in immediacy factor with email – people don’t spend as much time with it as print or television. That’s right – with email you have less than three seconds to create emotional resonance.

When you resonate with your subscribers you strike an emotional chord with them. You make a visceral feeling connection.  You both tune into the same “vibe”, and it results in comfort and trust, allowing you to sell in a non-salesy environment.

As in music, your aim is to sing to the same tune as your audience, then harmonize with them by recognizing their needs, pain, challenges and desires and meeting them in that space.

So now that you know we must appeal to both the intellectual and emotional sides of people, how do we do it?

The Five P’s of Profitable Email Response
I recoomend what I call the “Five P’s” process because it not only centers on authenticity, personality and transparency over features and facts, but also honors the intellectual reasoning component of how people make decisions.

The Five P’s of creating emotional resonance and response in email are:

  1. Positioning
  2. Pain
  3. Promise
  4. Proof
  5. Plan (course of action/call to action)

This process can be followed to craft your copy, offers, message design, message sequence, and even overall messaging strategy throughout a quarter or year.  Let’s explore each of these in more detail:

1.   Positioning

Proper positioning acknowledges both who you are and what’s in it for your audience to be in communication with you. Successful positioning boasts excellent clarity – it makes both your identity as the sender of email and your purpose in sending the message immediately apparent. It then goes beyond clarity to create comfort, familiarity and purpose for your audience.

In email there is little time and space for lengthy build-ups and stories – which is why creative/design elements (like graphics, color, and layout) can be more effective than long copy in creating mood, identity and personality.

Consider these tactics for creating solid positioning:

  • Present the “big picture” of what’s possible for your subscribers if they respond to your offer. Show and tell – use both images and words or even video so they can experience that future potential as real.
  • Include a link called “About us” or “Our Story” in your main navigation bar/ template that connects to more background about your company or organization. Don’t make it boring – tell a human story that creates both credibility and vulnerability.
  • Use outcome-driven, enticing language to set the stage for your offer to come.

2.   Pain

Yes, evoking negative as well as positive emotions can entice response (the worst reaction is no reaction at all), but your purpose here isn’t to bring your audience into a place of fear or dread. It is instead to identify and acknowledge their problems, challenges or pain – problems, challenges or pain that you intend to alleviate. Spend just enough effort identifying the pain so your audience knows you understand them, then move on.

It’s tempting to avoid this step in the process. However, in glossing over or skipping it you risk leaving out an important part of the emotional journey for your audience; you also miss a chance to create emotional resonance by helping them feel understood.

3.   Promise

Here’s where you spare no expense getting to the juicy goodness of your message and tying back to your positioning. Effectively creating promise means conveying – again through both words and pictures – the transformational outcome your audience will experience if they say yes to your offer.

Will they be happier? Richer? More beautiful? Healthier? Less-stressed? More successful at work? Better organized?

What are the desired emotions they will feel if they say yes to your offer? Love? Joy? Happiness? Satisfaction? Relief? Peace?

Understanding how your core products/services translate into both emotional and transformational benefits is essential to creating marketing messages that emotionally resonate. If you don’t know how your offerings transform and better people’s lives, you need to learn. If you can’t express the transformational outcomes of your offerings in your marketing, it will fail to connect.

4.   Proof

So far in this process we’ve been heavily in emotional territory. In the proof stage, we accelerate the appeal to reason.

Proof can take several forms both within email messages and on web sites/landing pages. These days the most compelling proof is social proof – as humans we crave a sense of belonging and will often follow the crowd. Who else has experienced the transformational outcome of your offerings and what do they have to say about it? Ideally, you can pull this information directly from your social media pages (assuming you have it there) into your email and website.

If not, include proof in the form of testimonials, quotes, links to case studies, and short success stories. Keep it human! Clinical trials and research studies are factually powerful (and often indisputable) but social proof generates greater credibility. We tend to believe our peers more than scientists or research studies because we can identify more with a peer group.

5.     Plan

Finally, don’t leave people hanging – tell them what you want them to do next and how to do it! Show them where and how to get what you promised.

Otherwise known as your call to action, this step MUST be abundantly clear, concise, literal and logical. While positioning, pain, promise and proof all influence engagement, this final step influences action and actual purchases.  It can be as simple as a text link or a sentence next to a button; or it can involve a short list of steps.

Remember that in email true response is a two-step process beginning with a click from within a message and continuing as a completed call to action (sign-up, content view, purchase, etc.) on a web page. Continue the clarity of your call to action all the way through your landing page and conversion process to avoid abandonment.  After coming this far, you don’t want to lose the valuable connection you’ve created with your responders.

By Karen Talavera
Synchronicity Marketing
Enlightened Email & Digital Marketing Training, Coaching & Consulting


3 Subjects to Study to Boost Your Email IQ

If your business is seasonal, back-to-school time and the pre-holiday months of late summer and early autumn are likely major tipping points for driving revenue and ensuring you end the calendar year on a high note. More than ever, this is the time that marketers, especially those with a retail and/or e-commerce business, need to harness all the tools they have at their disposal and implement smart email program decisions.

After all, the bottom line isn’t graded on a curve and there’s no such thing as summer school when it comes to missed opportunities for recognizing ROI from the email channel. When Sam Cooke sang, “Don’t know much about history. Don’t know much biology…” his “Wonderful World” put academics second and love first. Unfortunately, email marketers can’t afford to ignore their IQs when it comes to email intelligence.

While being an A+ student in all aspects of email marketing might be unrealistic, there are a few subjects that marketers definitely shouldn’t ignore:

  1. Security: Phishing and spoofing activity has never been more rampant and marketers need to be proactive in protecting their brands. Contrary to popular belief, fraudsters aren’t just going after financial institutions like banks, payment services providers and credit card companies; they’re targeting any legitimate brand that subscribers may be familiar with. This includes social networking sites, shipping companies, wireless phone and internet providers and many more. A phishing or spoofing attack has the power to undo all of the good ground work that has been laid for optimizing inbox placement rates and performance metrics. If a subscriber’s personal details or finances are compromised as the result of clicking on a link in an email that pretends to come from your brand, you’ve not only lost an email subscriber and potential (or existing) customer, but your brand reputation has plummeted. In this age of social sharing, that negative outcome likely includes anyone in that subscriber’s network of friends and family as well. What can you do? Protect your brand by using an anti-phishing and anti-spoofing tool that monitors fraudulent activity and blocks any attempts to hijack your domain. Learn more about Return Path’s solution here.

  2. Inactivity: Having a large portion of non-responsive addresses on your file is the equivalent of blaming the dog for eating your homework. Not only does this segment reflect poorly on your list hygiene practices, but the inactive portion of your file isn’t going to diminish by ignoring it or pretending it isn’t there.  Most major ISPs such as Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL are factoring engagement metrics into their filtering decisions. This includes metrics like whether or not the message was opened, replied to, clicked on or added to a subscriber’s address book. The more messages being sent to inactive addresses, the greater the likelihood that sender reputation and inbox placement will be impacted, negatively affecting response rates and overall program performance. In addition, depending on how long these addresses have lingered on the file, there could be a large percentage of spam traps. When it comes to email intelligence around inactivity, marketers should have a solid and ongoing plan in place for communicating to pre-defined inactive segments with a specific strategy to reengage and ultimately remove any persistent non-responders.

  3. Skimmability: Optimizing your creative templates has never been more important as subscribers increasingly use their mobile devices to check email. Return Path’s latest research study “Mobile, Webmail, Desktops: Where Are We Viewing Email Now?” shows that email opens on mobile devices grew 82.4% year-over-year and Apple devices account for 85% of all mobile email opens. Designing email for mobile viewing has its own unique set of best practices to experiment with based on the devices your subscribers are using to view email. Whether it’s testing single-column or multi-column layouts, trying a variety of “finger-friendly” sized buttons that allow for easy clicking, using a text size that can be easily read on a variety of screens or designing mobile-friendly landing pages and websites that support on-the-go conversions, email messages read on mobile devices need to work even harder to be skimmable. The decision to click-through on an email viewed on a mobile device is made in a split-second, so the clearer and concise your message is, the better.


When it comes to realizing ROI from the email channel, what you don’t know can definitely hurt you. The good news is that with a little studying (along with testing, adjusting and optimizing), you can go a long way toward ensuring your program makes the grade for the back-to-school season and beyond.

Margaret Farmakis
Senior Director, Response Consulting
Return Path


Test These Email Campaign Elements to Optimize Performance

Test These Email Campaign Elements to Optimize Performance
Author: Stephanie Miller, co chair, DMA/eec and VP, Aprimo

Email marketers always are on the hunt for ways to optimize performance.

In fact, a study from Marketing Sherpa found that most marketers routinely test at least four different email campaign elements:

marketing research chart for blog

 Which of these should you pay attention to? What are the most important email elements to test?
Usually, the answer is in finding the right combination and optimizing over time.  Let’s take a look at the top five.

Subject line
The best guide in subject line writing is that, “Clarity trumps clever. “ Say what you mean, say it succinctly and say it with gusto.   Avoid lots of punctuation or aggressively spammy techniques like repeating the word “Free” six times or using symbols to replace vowels like  “Vi@gra.”    Other than that, feel free to be a marketer and tell me about the offer and the sale prices.  You may find that  shorter subject lines  outperform longer ones – depending on the type of message.   You must test this, as we see results favoring both styles win.  Optimal performance depends on a variety of subject line factors.  Consider: 

• Don’t wait until the last minute to write subject lines. Craft them as a key part of the creative process.
• Focus on clarity, and front load subject lines with the most important information as many email clients and mobile devices will truncate longer lines

• Use longer subject lines  whenever  there is a compelling reason to do so, or if you have multiple offers in the same message
• Test!

Message Format
Be sure to test your message template every quarter to be sure it continues to serve you well.   Test for spam filters, but also for response.  Is your navigation in the way of offer prominence?   Would a sidebar serve you best, or does it distract from the core message?  Does your footer have the correct legal mumbo jumbo and privacy/compliance links?  The DMA/Email Experience Council released a number of Design Checklists for this purpose. Download them (free for members) in the Resource Room.

Relevant content is essential. Subscribers are too busy –and too overwhelmed with digital content –to read messages that aren’t specifically related to their needs/wants. Make sure your message is meaningful and that it stays true to your brand’s voice.  I just published Seven Tips for Higher Click Through Rates on the Aprimo blog  (LINK:   Consumers are savvy and impatient, so  entice them with information that’s relevant and specific.  Consider that there are many elements to a message:

1. Button.   Perhaps rather than “Click Here,” your readers would like to be invited to “Learn More” or “Get Discount,” instead. Be realistic about what your readers are prepared to do (not everyone will be ready to “Buy Now!” after reading a few lines of email copy) and be clear with your directions.
2. Message type.  Design calls-to-action customized to each email type and purpose. As always, , pay careful attention to their frequency, font, color and location on the page.
3. Offer.  Testing offers is not specifically on the Marketing Sherpa list, but I can’t imagine it isn’t a key aspect for optimization.  Automation technology and the use of personas can guide you in putting the right offer in front of the right person at the right time. 

Layout and images
Email layout and images are more important than ever. Odds are, many (if not most) of your subscribers use an email preview pane feature that displays horizontally. It’s also likely that they block images by default and access email on mobile devices. Plan accordingly. Opt for more horizontal v. vertical elements. Don’t count on images to convey your message. Create content that can be read in different formats and on smaller sized screens.

Day of week sent
As my fellow columnist Simms Jenkins concludes at ClickZ, there is no magic bullet for timing emails. Today’s subscriber lists are typically diverse, and they’re likely to include international customers, people who can/can’t access email during the work day, those who read email on mobile devices, various age groups, etc. Obviously, trying to pinpoint an optimal send times across this wide-range of readers can be problematic. You have to use some judgment , of course–I wouldn’t choose Monday morning to send out a coupon for a Saturday night dinner special, e.g.  –but don’t expect a one-size-fits-all solution for every email campaign.

In all marketing, Your mileage may vary.  Testing will give you the insights needed to determine optimal send times for your particular message types and audience profiles. Marketing automation plays an increasingly important role, as well, as it allows you to track performance, integrate email communication with other marketing tactics, manage campaigns and change responses based on reactions from the marketplace.




Introducing the new ROI: Return on Interaction

It's time to shift your focus, folks, investment to interaction.

In the continually shifting world of email marketing, where nothing stays static for long, we're giving a new meaning to the ROI acronym. That's because the deliverability of your email is now being determined by the ISP based on the recipient's interaction with that email.

Goodbye, Return on Investment. Hello, Return on Interaction.

Or maybe it's more an evolution, of the term and of the email marketing industry. Before, you invested in the best ESP to ensure the highest deliverability. You invested in email designers who would make cleanly coded templates that would get past spam filters. You invested in organically growing your in-house, opt in list. You've protected your online sending reputation and kept your lists clean.

Now the bar is raised and your emails must rise above, too.

I think it will really boil down to relevance certainly, but in specific ways:

1) Content — Now more than ever you'd better be sending out emails that your recipients want to receive.
2) Frequency — And now more than ever, you'd better not be over messaging your list!

Some of the major ISPs are zeroing in on the inbox to decide whether or not your emails are to be considered worthy of being delivered in the future. How your recipients interact with your emails—and if they do at all—will now be taken into account. If you keep sending emails a certain someone never opens, the ISP is going to decide that in the eyes of that certain someone, you are in fact spam and should be blocked.

You are truly now at the mercy of the recipient, but don't worry: you have more power than you may realize. You are in complete control of your relevance, regardless of the size of your email list. You are in control because you can:

  • Segment your list and target your messages to make them more relevant.
  • Set up a profile page where subscribers can choose how often to hear from you and the type of information they want to get from you.
  • Put your subscribers first, offering them the content they want, not the content you want to feed them.

Your goal has suddenly shifted from making money off your investment in an email campaign (the old ROI) to making sure you're relevant so you keep getting your emails delivered (the new ROI) but in the end – with a focus on relevance, you'll achieve both.

Marco Marini
ClickMail Marketing


Market Forces Combine to Increase Demand for Email Campaign Outsourcing

So we are deep in a recession economy, marketing budgets and headcounts are being cut, yet we are seeing an increase in requests for the outsourcing of email production and campaigns. Why is this?

Well let's take a little time to explore the variables in play here.  As marketers turn to more cost effective channels, email is becoming more popular than ever – according to a recent Forrester study the number of marketing messages for the average email user is predicted to double by 2014.  This makes the email channel even more competitive and crowded, causing a dilution of open, click and conversion rates.

The only way to genuinely attract attention and boost performance is to send more relevant and personalized mails.  To experienced email marketers this will not be news, and it is common wisdom nowadays to absolutely progress beyond broadcast (or blast) mailing tactics to attain any kind of click thru and conversion response.

There are a number of campaign types that increase relevance beyond broadcast, such as 'life cycle', 'clickstream' and 'targeted'. JupiterResearch states that these types of campaigns are up to 18 times more profitable than broadcast.  Each of these types leverage known intelligence about the recipient, whether based on a user triggered event, online behavior, or persona driven.  BUT in order to actually create a highly relevant campaign, each mail needs to be customized to each identified audience segment and ideally personalized for each recipient - both of which increase the number of steps and effort in the overall process of producing a campaign from start to finish. 

You have a choice here: do you create individual email templates for each audience segment, or minimize the number of actual email templates and leverage conditional email content for a more dynamic 'data driven' approach.  More email templates means more production effort to create, optimize and test each and every template – whereas the data driven approach needs more advanced skills/technology to design and test more complex templates. 

Are we at a tipping point?  Has the amount of extra effort, technology and skills required to execute more advanced email campaigns pushed email campaign production to a point where outsourcing makes more strategic and tactical sense?  Perhaps.  Organizations need to be competitive and need to consider ways to execute these types of campaigns.  The tremendous ROI (as stated by Jupiter) more than outweighs the additional operating cost, so each and every marketing department who takes the email channel seriously will need to formulate a strategy here.

With headcounts diminishing, outsourcing is an obvious path forward.  Having a tried and tested production team getting your mails out of the door in good time, with great quality (...under SLA), allows you to not only benefit from advanced campaign performance, but to focus your time on higher value marketing initiatives!


- Andy McCartney, Vice President of Strategic & Account Services, Premiere Global Services

Andy runs a team of email marketing gurus and specialists who help clients of all shapes and sizes with their emarketing initiatives.  Advice and service engagements are delivered in areas such as strategy, campaign production, list health and deliverability.  Andy has over 20 years of experience in marketing and services with hi-tech companies, including 10 years in business intelligence and analytics and 12 years in interactive marketing leadership roles.


The Process of Bringing Process to Email Marketing

I've been in the business of delivering email now for quite a long time. I've spent more than 10 years managing, creating, or observing email communications in some fashion. I have worked on the client side, with partners, with vendors, and on the ESP side. This week while I was reflecting on what I've learned (don't laugh, I can get introspective), the thing that kept coming back to me was one word…process. Process is such a basic thing that is so often ignored. We have very little margin for error when delivering an email. If you make a mistake it is out there for the world to see, usually with bells and whistles as Mr. Murphy seems to take over. I wanted to talk today about how solid process can help eliminate errors, increase productivity, and boost morale within an email team.

I am going to give away an interview secret of mine here for everyone to see. I guess that means I will have to make up another one, but here we go. I always ask candidates to tell me if they have multiple tasks to do, how do they stay organized? I am not looking for any specific answer, just an answer. A person who has a clear method of organization can go a long way in our business. You can use a white-board, sticky-notes, calendar, reminders, you name it. The key to organization is an understanding of how to prioritize and remind you of critical tasks as crunch-time nears. All email campaigns have a moment of truth where everything has to come together. I believe that predetermined process is the single most important factor in making that moment of truth a smooth one.

Here are the main areas where it is important to inject process:

  • Planning – It's a great idea to have a rolling calendar. Plan for the future.
  • Templates – Don't start every campaign from scratch. Develop and test solid templates for future mailings. Good templates take a lot of QA out of the picture.
  • Content Gathering – You must have a repeatable process for gathering your content. Copywriters, designers, revenue management, database, and management are all groups who may be involved.
  • QA – Crucial to have a documented process for QA.
  • Approvals – Do you know who must approve an email before a launch? Do they know they are supposed to approve them?
  • Launch – Taking the stress out of the decision by having a clear path to launch.
  • Analysis – An overlooked area sometimes. Process should be defined so testing, and analysis metrics have meaning.

    Document, document, document all of these processes. Putting down the process on paper helps you on a number of fronts. Writing down responsibilities on paper will allow everyone involved to make sure they feel comfortable. Having a documented process also makes training new team members easier. I would recommend that the "Email Team" have regular meetings to plan for future campaigns and review past campaigns. Continuous open dialogue with all involved in the email creation process can help smooth out any potential problems that may arise. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it is important to be a team when it comes to email. I have seen many a campaign come unhinged because of small issues.

    Making mistakes in email is just about unavoidable. Things happen, and as long as we humans are still in charge, it will continue that way. An important thing I have learned from these mistakes is that almost all the time, the mistake can be traced back to a process breakdown.

    Take a good look at the way you take an email from concept to production. Are you capable of developing the process discipline necessary to execute the vision? A little bit of work in planning and teamwork will pay dividends each and every time you launch a campaign.

    - Kevin Senne, Premiere Global Services


    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 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


    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


    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