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Feed | ...email marketing advice, info and tips by Mark Brownlow
Yikes! The holiday season is almost upon us.
order that turkey compile the annual holiday email marketing resource list.
Here are 2012′s articles, white papers, presentations etc. on the topic. I’ll add more as they come in. Don’t forget previous editions of this post, which still contain heaps of useful insight:
Research and studies:
- Retail Email Guide to the Holiday Season: 6th edition of this annual report from Chad White and Responsys looks at different holiday opportunities and tactics you can exploit, based on hundreds of monitored retailer campaigns.
- Consumer online behaviour report: Combines a consumer survey and analysis of actual marketing campaigns to produce insights for holiday strategies (by YesMail).
- 2012 holiday guide: WhatCounts with insights based on a review of data from last year’s Q4 efforts.
Tips and advice:
- Handling holiday frequency: Suggestions on how to increase volume without subscribers crying “spam”.
- 10 power tips for the holiday season: Quick tips on scheduling and, particularly, content approaches from GetResponse.
- Christmas email tips: Multi-part series from emarsys, looking at tactics, key dates, segmentation practices and similar. Browse their blog for all parts.
- 15 tips: Listrak on the phases of holiday campaigns and developing approaches to capture holiday value.
- Getting ready for Christmas campaigns: Pure360 guide looking at creatives, offers, scheduling and metrics.
- Six predictions: Chad White previews likely trends and approaches for the Christmas season.
- Five ways to great promotions: Specific tips for the tone, content, design and timing of a promotional holiday email.
- Cross-channel email strategies: A few suggestions to account for the role of mobile and multichannel shopping patterns.
- Holiday content inspiration: Outlines a few things that are different in 2012, including new social networks, role of mobile etc.
- Twelve Days of Email Marketing: minisite from AWeber with various goodies for marketers (templates, checklists, subject line generator and more).
- Addressing last-minute shoppers: Describes the characteristics of those who leave shopping late and suggests how to target them.
- Optimise for the pocket inbox: Another review of how holiday promotions could (should) be more mobile-friendly.
- Holiday marketing checklist: Don’t think I have to explain this one…planning checklist from Bronto.
- B2B ideas: Adam Q. Holden-Bache has suggestions for how those not in B2C can exploit the holiday opportunity.
- Planning your campaign: AWeber webinar on the merits of different email types, scheduling issues, etc.
- Preparing for Holiday 2012: CheetahMail look at popular days and promotions. subjects etc.
- Roadmap to the holiday season: Chad White discusses the phases involved in holiday email marketing, with ideas drawn from studies of retailer campaigns.
- Maximizing the opportunity: Pure360 identifies how to make the most of Christmas.
Reviews of the 2011 season:
- Season finale: Christmas 2011: The Retail Email Blog picks out trends and clever designs, ideas and campaigns.
- Holiday Wrap Up: A review of some of the tactics and trends observed this time in 2011.
- Holiday Season Highlights: Ditto, including volume, scheduling and approaches to shipping.
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Value, usefulness and relevancy: it’s not just what you send, but when you send it…
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I once had a tarantula walk over my hand.
The experience comes to mind every time I face a blank piece of paper.
A rising sense of panic…paralysis…a prickle of sweat.
So I thought I’d share the practical tricks I use to write email marketing copy.
1. Define the recipient
The writing process needs a framework to proceed in: a real or implicit briefing…the whos, whats and whys of the task.
Who will get this email and in what context?
Have they undertaken some specific action (like registered for an event)?
When will they get the email?
How does this email fit, conceptually and in terms of timing, with other emails or related marketing campaigns the recipient might see?
2. Define your objectives
Well, yeah! But this is where I’ve seen (and made) a lot of mistakes.
“Get another email into their inbox” is an objective. So is “raise awareness” or “build loyalty” or “generate sales”.
But are they defined well-enough?
What is it you actually want to happen as a result of this email?
There is a big difference between “tell people about our new service” and “get people to go to Page X and start a free trial of our new service.”
What emotional response or physical action do you want?
The clearer and more specific the objectives, the tighter and more focused the writing process and the resultant text.
3. Define what’s really important
We can argue about whether you should want recipients to do more than one thing…but if you do, what’s the most important?
Are there any specific key messages that must come across, as opposed to those that “would be nice”?
When space and attention is scarce, where should you focus your efforts?
You can’t communicate seven corporate values and three calls to action in a four-word headline. At least I can’t.
In trying to achieve everything you can end up achieving nothing.
4. Account for the email context
Email text does not exist in a vacuum: it’s surrounded by images and other template elements, and changed by colors, fonts, backgrounds, line lengths, and positioning.
All of this affects the tone, readability, impact and influence of the words.
What works well in a plain text file can take on a different hue when placed into the email itself.
If you don’t have the template and images to work with when composing the text, then review your efforts afterwards and check it all still reads as you wanted it to read.
5. Choose your moment
Only the lucky few can sit down and simply rattle off top text any time of day and night.
So time writing tasks to those periods of the day when your mind is at its creative / disciplined / energetic best. For me, for example, that’s 8-11am and 4-7pm.
The middle period of the day I use for
checking the football news, drinking tea, lunch, staring pensively out the window, emails, accounts, background research etc.
Encouraging creativity is an art in itself. For reasons unknown to science, my best creative moments come while waiting for the kettle to boil. Which is why I keep a pen and paper in the kitchen…more tips on encouraging creativity.
After completing a text, I always try and review it again the following morning.
A night’s sleep can bring a fresh perspective and this never fails to lead to improvements. You can get so involved in the detail of the text that you miss the big picture or little errors like typos. These things jump out at you immediately next day.
7. Give yourself enough time
All of which means you need enough time at your disposal. Easier said than done and work realities will often drive a truck through this ideal writing scenario.
But enough time is important. Not so much for the basic writing task, but for refining the words. Tightening a text often takes me longer than the first draft.
And if you’re pressed for time? Well, the silver lining in that cloud is that imminent deadlines have a marvelously curative effect on writer’s block:
8. …but don’t give yourself too much time
It is possible to analyze, edit, review, rework and rehash a text to death…where the message is obscured by all that red ink. Or where the personality is squeezed out of it after editing by committee.
9. Use the science
Take care though: the results of a test or campaign depend on the context as much as the content. What works for me might not work for you…and vice versa.
10. But don’t lose your humanity
If you take an entirely pragmatic approach to writing and accept the average reader has the attention span of a gnat on acid, you can end up with a list of bullet points.
Pragmatism is good, but people still want to be amused, engaged, tickled, entertained, motivated, moved and enthused.
Humor, a little animation, some word play…a touch of personality goes a long way.
11. Seek inspiration elsewhere
Everyone advises keeping a “swipe file” of great text, phrases, subject lines and emails you’ve come across that you can draw on for inspiration.
No argument there, but there are two problems.
First, using your inbox to collect and review hundreds of emails for your own swipe file takes time. An alternative is to use what we might call public swipe files as and when needed.
If only someone had a list of links to public email campaign galleries, databases, reviews and award sites!
…and some sources of subject line inspiration while we’re at it.
Second, a danger is that as a marketer and writer of emails, you like emails that match that experience and your personality. But your favorite emails aren’t necessarily those that appeal to your audience.
So it also pays to have an “internal” swipe file, featuring words, phrases, CTAs, headlines from previous emails and other marketing copy you or your client has already used (ideally with an understanding of how they worked out).
This helps guide tone, style and vocabulary. And if consistency and repetition are required, then you just copy, paste and adapt as needed.
So, just a few ideas that have helped me. How about you?
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The world is full of sensible advice that’s hard to put into practice.
Do more exercise.
Reduce your stress levels.
Accept that salt and vinegar flavor chips are not, in fact, a mainstay of a well-balanced diet. (Damn).
Oh, and keep your tweets and subject lines short.
Often it’s just a question of practicality.
Shortening your Tweets makes it easier to fit the message within the 140 character limit. If you can get the length down further, then you leave enough space for people to retweet your message in its entirety*.
Shorter subject lines avoid the pitfalls of email software arbitrarily cutting off your words.
But…how do you actually keep subject lines and Tweets short?
I’m hoping you’ll offer your own suggestions in the comments, as there’s not a lot of practical advice out there beyond, um, “keep it short”.
But here a few tips I’ve picked up over the years…
The famous quote commonly attributed to Blaise Pascal runs something like this:
“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
My biggest challenge with copywriting emails, for example, is not finding the words, but finding fewer words to express the same meaning.
Your first line of text probably does communicate what you want to say, but it takes rewrites to communicate it succinctly.
2. Synonyms are your best friends
Rare is the word with no alternative. We often fall into patterns and habits, where we favor particular words simply because they’re the ones we’ve always used. Perhaps you can find shorter synonyms? For example:
Top post on (9 spaces saved)
Buy (5 spaces saved)
Hard (5 spaces saved)
Many (3 spaces saved)
In 2011 (2 spaces saved)
Some (1 space saved)
But take care…
Not all synonyms are truly identical and a different word can introduce a subtle change in meaning.
Even true synonyms can draw a slightly different emotional response in the reader. In subject lines, particularly, it pays to test variations to find the choice that elicits the best response.
These two concepts apply to many of the tips below, too, so keep them in mind.
3. Eliminate implied and unnecessary words
Do you have any words that are not contributing to the message? Words with no impact on the meaning, value, emotion, etc. of the tweet or subject?
These are common candidates for freeing up space.
If tweeting as an individual, for example, the “I” in “I love this article:” is implicit. “Love this article:” would be fine.
Where possible, scrap unnecessary modifiers like “that”, “which” and “who”:
who wasafter me
The presenter after me
New products you’ll love
You can shorten phrases using contractions:
Tips for summer fashions
Summer fashion tips
People in New Yorklove Apple
New Yorkers love Apple
This is an article that really engages:
A really engaging article:
4. Mathematical symbols and numerals
Styleguides typically say numbers up to ten should appear as words, not numerals. But you have more flexibility in tweets and subject lines:
Sevenways to win with words
7 ways to win with words
“&” or “+” or even “/” can substitute for “and”:
Email more popular than beer
Email more popular than beer & chocolate
The “>” and “<” symbols can be used for “less than”, “more than”, “under”, “over”…with certain audiences:
Fewer than10% of marketers test their copy
<10% of marketers test their copy
Try “=” instead of “equals”, “means”, “leads to” etc.:
Donut consumption shown to lead to higher risk of stomach ache
More donuts = more stomach aches
5. The active voice
Switching from passive to active voice simply reads better, but also means shorter text:
Half of marketers
are usingemail design preview tools
Halfof marketers use email design preview tools
50% of marketers use email design preview tools
Twitter’s hashtags, like many tools, are neither good nor bad. It’s all in how you use them.
A suitable hashtag might replace lengthier information explaining the context for a tweet:
Images lift clicks by 34%
when usedin marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34%
in marketing emails
Images lift clicks by 34% #emailmarketing
Nobody is going to write United Kingdom when they can write UK. Abbreviations are great space savers, provided you follow two rules.
1. They must be understandable (audience)
Except it’s easy to use abbreviations you’re familiar with, and forget that your audience isn’t. “Promo code” for “promotional code” seems unarguable. “w/ free shipping” for “with free shipping”? Maybe.
2. They must be appropriate (context)
My wife is familiar with the abbreviation OMG. I’m not sure, though, she wants to see it in an email from her gynecologist:
“OMG, u r pregnant!”
(She’d be quite surprised, too).
Your choice of abbreviations says something about you as a sender / tweeter.
Equally, subject lines are not tweets and tweets are not SMS text messages. The medium alone changes what abbreviations are acceptable and that’s before we get into the context of the message itself.
Too many abbreviations are also difficult to read and interpret if you’re not familiar with that kind of writing.
“UNESCO says tnx FB 4 gr8 AIDS donation”
FYI, Social Media Today has a list of common Twitter abbreviations.
8. URL shorteners
Needless to say, anyone putting a link in a tweet should use one of the common URL shortening services out there. The popular tools used to send tweets should make this easy. So the Hootsuite tool turns:
Links in tweets posted through Twitter itself are also automatically shortened.
9. Colons and trailing dots
OK, this is your bonus tip with a couple of related techniques.
If space isn’t an issue and you have trouble getting important keywords near the front of your subject line or tweet, consider the colon option. Example:
Great advice on how to write shorter subject lines
Subject lines: how to make them shorter <– great advice
If you’re running out of space and want to imply there’s more information than you can reasonably fit into the subject line or tweet, consider using trailing dots:
Free shipping on top brands: Calvin Klein, Burberry, Coach, Trussardi, Fila,…
In King Lear, Shakespeare wrote:
“Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood”
He could have said:
“You annoy me”
…and saved 63 spaces. But it’s not the same is it?
Short, concise writing can destroy style, humor, emotion and personality if handled badly. And these may be the very things that differentiate you from the competition or drive higher responses. Words matter and, sometimes, long beats short.
So…your tips please!
*You need two spaces for the RT, then a space, then your username plus a colon plus a space: so tweets by @MarkatEMR need to be 125 characters or less to be retweeted as RT @MarkatEMR: Blah Blah
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Sometimes it helps to have a “fact” sheet to whisk out when making an email marketing case to colleagues (or yourself).
Today’s post fills that role for an issue that often confuses those not directly involved in email marketing…
Does compliance with anti-spam law confer immunity from being filtered, marked or even perceived as spam?
Now for the summary and the evidence…
Legal compliance is not the main factor used by those who manage incoming mail (ISPs, webmail services and IT departments) to decide if your email should be delivered to the inbox or cast into the nine circles of email hell (the junk folder).
Neither is legal compliance a key factor used by recipients to decide if your email is spam or a legitimate communication.
So if it’s legal, you can indeed send it…but it’s not in itself a guarantee of either delivery or a positive reception.
Most people in email marketing understand that legal compliance is just one of the prerequisites required of a successful email campaign.
If you focus on legal compliance as the only pre-requisite, then you can easily push for email practices that drift into spam territory, with all that implies for brand damage and deliverability troubles.
This is particularly likely in the USA, where the law does not require recipients to opt-in to emails. So unsolicited email (seen by most individuals and ISPs as spam) is not intrinsically illegal.
Here some relevant facts and expert opinions:
ISPs and webmail services say…
Compliance with email law is commonly just one point in a long list of sender recommendations and requirements given by ISPs and others managing incoming email for their users.
Yahoo! Mail and Gmail, for example, both link delivery success to user perceptions:
“To ensure that your email gets delivered to the inbox, simply send emails that users want”
“The way Gmail classifies spam depends heavily on reports from our users. Gmail users can mark and unmark any message as spam, at any time.”
Speaking at an FTC spam summit way back in 2007, Miles Libbey (Senior Product Manager at Yahoo! Mail) said:
“Operationally, we define spam as whatever consumers do not want in their inbox.”
The law says…
Anti-spam law defines how the authorities distinguish between legal and illegal email. It does not tell individuals and ISPs how to judge email.
US federal anti-spam law (CAN-SPAM), for example, makes the distinction very clear:
“Nothing in this Act shall be construed to have any effect on the lawfulness or unlawfulness, under any other provision of law, of the adoption, implementation, or enforcement by a provider of Internet access service of a policy of declining to transmit, route, relay, handle, or store certain types of electronic mail messages.”
In other words, an ISP is not obliged to deliver email just because it complies with the CAN-SPAM Act.
Laura Atkins, founding partner of Word to the Wise (a consulting group for ISP abuse desks, ESPs and email marketers):
“CAN SPAM lists the minimal standards an email must meet in order to avoid prosecution. CAN SPAM does not define what is spam, it only defines the things senders must do in order to not be violating the act.”
Chris Kolbenschlag, Director of Deliverability at ESP Bronto:
“Simply showing you are compliant with the rules set by the CAN-SPAM Act isn’t enough to get your email delivered…ISPs block and place in the bulk folder huge amounts of emails that are CAN-SPAM compliant each day.”
Al Iverson, Director of Privacy & Deliverability at ESP ExactTarget:
“ISPs block millions of CAN-SPAM compliant messages daily. They do not care that your messages are compliant with CAN-SPAM. They care only if your mail is desired by their customers, your recipients.”
Steve Henderson, Data and Delivery Consultant at ESP Communicator Corp:
“…email marketing strategy should be all about exceeding your customer’s expectations, not legal requirements.”
Which brings us to the all important end user. What kind of email do they see as spam?
In twelve years in the industry, I’ve never heard any individual say they just want email that complies with anti-spam legislation. I’m not even sure too many people know or care that such legislation even exists.
- An Epsilon Global Consumer Email Study found that 76% defined spam as emails from unknown senders and 73% as email not asked for. Even 39% simply described spam as any email they don’t want, even if they originally signed up for it.
- In a MAAWG consumer survey, 60% defined spam as email I didn’t request, while only 24% defined it as email that violates the CAN-SPAM act.
- In a UK DMA survey of email habits, respondents were asked what is most likely to prompt you to mark email as spam: 22% said “don’t recognize sender”, 9% said “too many (frequency)”, 8% said “don’t remember signing up”
Clearly, then, expecting email to land in a welcoming inbox just because it’s legal is like turning up to a Viennese ball in underpants: you might not get in and you can expect mixed reactions if you do.
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