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Latest posts | Feed | ...email marketing advice by Mark Brownlow

March 29, 2007
A forehead slapping moment for you, thanks to Stefan Pollard's latest ClickZ article.

You have your email marketing all set up nicely. Someone signs up at your site, they fill out all the information you ask for, and you send them a warm welcome message.

Soon they're bathing in the delights of your wonderful newsletters or promotions, fulfilling their every expectation with useful and relevant content.

And then there are those that didn't sign-up on your website. What happens to those? Do they get a welcome message? How soon do they enter your system and start getting the emails?

Stefan's article explains how an email program tuned to website sign-ups can easily leave a few unhappy orphans by the roadside if you're not taking account of all the other ways you're collecting email addresses. Good point. Good reading.

More on list management | Tags: ,

Permalink | March 29, 2007 | 1 comment(s)
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The Email Experience Council just teamed up with BrightWave Marketing to help grow the latter's new stats resource at EmailStatCenter.

Here you can find individual statistics, metrics and little snippets of info on a range of email marketing topics. Everything from Authentication to something email related beginning with Z (can't think of one right now.) Certainly another website for your list of favorites.

The eec is a vendor-based organisation that's developing a growing profile through its work seeking to bring order into the email marketing world. The new stats site sits well with their other useful resource at RetailEmail.Blogspot, which monitors retailer email campaigns.

For other sources of metrics, check out my newly-updated guide to using and finding benchmark email marketing metrics.

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There's more to a web address than meets the eye. One issue skipped over in pretty much every discussion of email design is that of URL design. How might the look and feel of a link impact on the reader? Especially in text-only messages.

Turns out there's a whole science dedicated to this. A good URL can:

> Reinforce a brand message
> Help orientate the reader
> Provide text clues to the destination page's content and value
> Indicate important content relationships
> Remain relevant and recognisable over a long period of time

Compare, for example...

http://www.brandk.com/land.php?123456

...with...

http://www.brandk.com/rings/coupon/

With the prevalence of third-party tracking links in email, URL design gets a little tricky and limited. But at least it's worth remembering in the context of landing pages.

What if we could personalize that landing page URL in a more meaningful way? Could the landing page be:

http://www.brandk.com/rings/coupon/justformark/

How does that compare to:

http://www.brandk.com/land.php?123456 ?

Much of the discussion around this topic centers on website navigation, but a lot is applicable to email. Try these resources for some tips and ideas...

Design patterns for URLs
Making URLs accessible
A BBC presentation on what makes a good URL
URLs as UI
URL principles
User-centered URL design

If anyone has their experience to pass on, I'd welcome it. Looks like a niche topic worth exploring...every little bit helps.

Update: Mike Schinkel takes the above post and makes some insightful comments here. His whole blog covers URL design, so if the topic tweaks your interest, be sure to bookmark that.

More on email design | Tags: , , ,

March 28, 2007
This week has seen a blitz of email marketing articles all over the web. Did email suddenly get cool again?

Anyway, here's another two great articles that don't fit any category but are worth your attention.

Jeanne Jennings works with a lot of newcomers to the field and answers three notable questions that came out of discussions. So now you can understand absolute open rates, the value of getting email addresses offline and the pros and (mostly) cons of sending email that isn't 100% opt-in.

That last topic also features in the rather nice Seven Deadly Sins of Email Marketing Management article by Véro S. Pepperrell.

Véro covers design testing, spam checks, unsubscribing, address upkeep, complacency and relevancy as well. And has the most apt quote ever seen about email newsletters, which you might hang on your office wall:

"Don't do a half-assed job"

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Permalink | March 28, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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You are not alone. But it's another one of those questions with no clear answer other than "it depends."

If you are looking for some thoughts, two new references for you...

The first is a new conversation going on at the WebmasterWorld discussion forum. Various folk chip in with their experiences with sending B2B email. Hard to find a consensus, but plenty of opinion.

The second is some data from the Emailcenter UK, looking at when most emails are sent and what the open rates and clickthrough rates look like between Monday and Friday.

Deciding when to send your email is a three-step process:

1. Check the various opinions on offer to give you some food for thought, but don't take them too literally.

2. Consider what you're sending, who you're sending it to and what you want them to do. If you know your target audience well enough, you can make some educated guesses as to the day they're most likely to have the time and motivation to open, read and act on your email.

(This is why you can't take the stats too literally. Your content, audience and desired action bears no relation to most of the content, audience and desired action of the emails used to generate those stats.)

3. Come up with your best guesses and then test them to see which gives the best results.

More on the best day to send | Tags: , ,

Now there's two professions that have to cope with a few renegades giving the industry a darker reputation than it deserves.

Put the two together and what do you get? Spam that sounds better than it really is? Or the perfect opportunity for a service profession to stay top of mind and gain referrals?

The choice is yours if you're a real estate professional. And here are two excellent blog posts to help you make up your mind...

The first comes from the folk at MailChimp who explain why blasting a list of email addresses you bought or found or collected randomly is a waste of time and space. They then give an example of the right way to market your real estate service online.

And if you find it tough coming up with quality content for a proper email newsletter, Janine Popick just posted on exactly that topic: newsletter content for real estate pros, with a big pile of ideas and some suggested content sources.

You'll find more general content ideas here.

More on publishing email newsletters | Tags: , ,

Changes afoot at the top webmail services. Yahoo announced yesterday that users of their email service will get unlimited storage in May. Webmail's history tells us that Google and Microsoft (and most others) will inevitably follow suit.

So webmail accounts you mail to will no longer be limited in the number of emails they can store. But does that matter?

The practical implications are near zero, since my understanding is that the vast, vast majority of webmail users aren't butting up against current storage limitations. Nevertheless...

Your emails won't come back undelivered because of an abandoned account filled up with email. But the accounts are still abandoned: don't be fooled into thinking that less bounces means more active readers.

Readers using webmail services may be more inclined to retain old emails, so ensure links and images from your previous emails continue to work. (That's a best practice anyway.)

Webmail users will be less disinclined to have large files, reports, images, white papers etc. sent to them via an email autoresponder.

The credibility of webmail services goes up another notch.

It used to be a truism that free email addresses were "lower quality," particularly for a business email list. So much so that some B2B email marketers automatically reject subscription requests using those addresses.

These days, Gmail etc. are no longer the preserve of poor students. People from across the demographic spectrum use webmail services as a primary and fully-fledged email account.

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Intriguing little market research study from the Email Sender and Provider Coalition. Catch the press release and executive summary at the ESPC site.

They surveyed just over 2,250 consumers about their email use, specifically about habits, awareness and attitudes regarding "report spam" and "unsubscribe" buttons and links, certified email and false positives (requested email ending up in junk folders.)

Various points are raised in the survey analysis, but the key ones are:

1. More evidence that the from and subject line are absolutely critical in determining whether someone opens the email or dumps it as spam. Recognition is everything.

2. Respondents suggest they'd look favorably on emails bearing some kind of third-party certification. So might be worth considering that route if you haven't already.

3. There's a glass full / glass empty issue with regard to false positives and other issues.

The summary states "64 percent of panelists report that they rarely or never see messages that they've requested in their bulk boxes" which means over a third still do. So no resting on laurels there.

Equally "Just 20 percent admit to using the 'Report Spam' button as a quick way to unsubscribe." Hmmm...so how many do it, but won't admit it? And how many do it because they think the email is spam, but it isn't?

Lots of stuff to ponder in there, and the study is a useful contribution to an understanding of how ISPs and senders might work together to give consumers the right tools to properly manage their email.

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March 27, 2007
Email design medic Mark Wyner casts a careful and clinical eye over another patient in his latest email makeover.

This time he diagnoses the problems, proposes solutions and presents the before and after screenshots for a B2B email originally consisting entirely of a single image.

Mark suggests adding quite a long bit of text to the start of the email reminding recipients that they signed up and can unsubscribe anytime.

Has anyone done any tests to see how that changes response?

I can see how it might help recognition and thus open rates / clicks. I can also see how it might depress opens and clicks by taking up valuable preview pane space. And might sound a little bit "The lady doth protest too much" to some.

Anybody got any evidence to support either supposition?

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Permalink | March 27, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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David Berlind, Executive Editor at ZDNet, takes a close look at an email from Expedia reminding him of a $200 coupon. His first post criticises the somewhat misleading copy. His second asks whether the email might actually violate Can Spam legislation.

The issue seems to be that Expedia considers a coupon reminder to be transactional rather than commercial email.

For me, the actual semantics and legalities of the email are fairly irrelevant. Permission issues are not just about keeping the right side of anti-spam laws.

No apologies for saying this a thousand times, but recipients don't label emails based on the legal definition of spam.

You want to be seen as a spammer? Then send irrelevant commercial email that people don't want. You can call it what you like, but if the recipients see it as spam, then all the legal ifs and buts in the world won't help. And don't be surprised if you end up on a blacklist or criticised in public.

More on permission | Tags: , , ,

Since an awful lot of commercial email still looks like a study in minimalism when images are blocked, here's a little collection of blog posts that include screenshots of badly-rendered emails.

Taken together, they are a persuasive argument to take image blocking seriously when it comes to design.

SendLabs
VerticalResponse
AWeber

More on design | Tags: , ,

In Part 2 of her series on email marketing strategy (see Part 1), Jeanne Jennings offers some practical tips on how to set about evaluating the competition and defining your target audience.

A thorough competitive analysis is one part of planning that often gets left off the "to do" list.

You need compelling reasons if you want to do exactly what everyone else is already doing but you expect people to read your version...especially in the field of informational newsletters.

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For those who haven't seen the many articles and alerts already written on the subject, here's another overview of the design implications of preview panes and image blocking.

In short, modern email design must account for popular email software packages and webmail services turning pretty graphics into empty spaces featuring nice red Xs.

These same email clients and services may also display the whole mail in a shallow (or narrow) preview window that gives you limited time and space to capture the reader's attention.

The article by Lena Waters has more detail, together with illustrative screenshots.

More on email design | Tags: , , ,

Those of you with business down in the Pacific can now get a no-nonsense explanation of the practical implications of the new NZ Unsolicited Electronic Messages Act.

Helen Bowie explains what the act requires, suggests how you set about ensuring compliance, and describes exactly what is meant by express, inferred and deemed consent. (Which is an interesting bit of text for anyone involved in the anti-spam world.)

One day I shall write a book on the many definitions of permission. Here's the cover.

More on NZ spam laws | Tags: , , ,

Sunday's post on Ancient Rome and the Internet put me at the sharp end of Web 2.0 when it hit the front page of digg.com. Six months' worth of visitors appeared in 24 hours (my hands are still shaking.)

For those newcomers who signed up for the feed, a hearty welcome and an honest warning. This is an industry blog about opt-in email marketing. There are humorous posts, but they're intermittent and mostly marketing-related.

If you're expecting a continuous stream of funny stuff, posts on wireless email trends and problems with image displays in Outlook 2007 may not match your expectations. Wouldn't want you to get disappointed...

Cheers,

Mark

March 25, 2007
Bad week last week, so thought I'd lighten the mood by writing something different...

  • The destruction of Pompeii in 79AD is the most viewed video at YouTube. The first comment is..."OMG so cool! Volcanos ROCK!"

  • Attila the Hun has his own MySpace page. Nobody ever rejects his "invite a friend" emails.

  • The soothsayer's "Ides of March" email fails to get Caesar's proper attention as it's inadvertently filtered into his junk folder.

  • But at least Caesar's "Et tu Brute?" comment is available as a free ringtone download.

  • The domain gladiator.rome sells for the record sum of 1,000,000 denarii.

  • The owner of hadriansucks.rome is compelled to hand over both the domain name and selected body parts by an independent domain tribunal chaired by...Emperor Hadrian.

  • "Naked Cleopatra" is the top search term on Google.

  • Unfortunately, the Queen of Egypt dies an early death after misunderstanding IT's call to embrace an ASP solution.

  • Hannibal blogs his way across the Alps with posts like, "Whoops, lost another elephant today."

  • But he runs out of money when his PPC budget is plundered by an iberian click scam organized by Publius Cornelius Scipio.

  • Tiber.com opens, initially selling scrolls and tablets before expanding to include togas, pottery, and do-it-yourself mosaic kits.

  • Websites like handsome-literate-male-british-slave.com pollute the search listings thanks to generous commissions at the slaves.co.rome affiliate program.

  • Roman programmers moan about projects outsourced to cheap coders in Mesopotamia.

  • The Colosseum is renamed the eBay Colosseum, with free wireless hotspots outside the lark's tongue restaurant.

  • The volume of spam collapses when the penalty for not providing a working opt-out mechanism becomes equal billing with the lions at the eBay Colosseum.

  • But we still get emails featuring Brunhilda, the lonely Visigoth, and hot deals on cheap peacock livers from Gaul.

  • Nobody invents a spam filter good enough for the House of the Vestals.

  • Classical geeks wear t-shirts proclaiming, "there's no place like CXXVII.0.0.I" (bonus points if you get that one)

  • Finally, Rome burns to the ground while Emperor Nero battles online with Hakkar the Soulflayer in World of Warcraft.


(Sorry, had to temporarily kill comments as the system and CSS aren't coping under the Digg overload!)

More humor | Tags: , ,

Permalink | March 25, 2007 |
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March 23, 2007
It's not just about getting people to open, click, buy...open, click, buy. Email is so much more than just, well, email. As evidenced in this case study of a Mercedes Benz dealership.

The most interesting part is seeing all the various ways they use email to complement direct mail efforts, keep in touch with customers and prospects, encourage people to come into the dealership, drive (!) ancillary sales like service inspections, auto paraphernalia etc. Perhaps some ideas to inspire you there.

(Though I would be intrigued to know if anyone does open an email from a car dealership, click on the latest model and then buy it online. That would be cool.)

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Permalink | March 23, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Not sure many people are into this stuff enough to justify attendance (but if you are, go)...the 2007 summit of the Authentication and Online Trust Alliance takes place April 18th to 19th in Boston, USA.

A lot of email marketing stuff is on the agenda, covering such things as authentication (surprise!), dealing with blocked images, delivery best practices etc.

What makes the event unusual is the coming together of minds from all sides of the email table. As well as the usual email marketing suspects, the FTC are there, as is Spamhaus's CIO, the anti-spam folk at AOL and Microsoft, the DMA, IAB and others.

Watch the marketing news for useful insight coming out of the sessions.

More on authentication | Tags: , ,

Another one for the "why we need to ensure our email works when read on mobile devices" file. A recent survey of 500 people by Funambol found that almost half of those who don't use mobile email expect to do so within a year.

The company suggests that the number of mobile users will move into the hundreds of millions and that a lot of these will be consumers.

Now it may not shock you to discover that Funambol describe themselves as "the leading provider of open source push email and PIM for consumers." So obviously they have...ahem...no interest in promoting the consumer mobile email market.

But it's more evidence that wireless email is heading towards big time usage.

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March 22, 2007
Short and sweet, just like my dear mother.

Thinking of using Flash in your emails? Well Outlook 2007 drew the final curtain on that idea. Or so says Brent Shroyer over at Listrak. He has some clever suggestions on how you can still make use of Flash to get your message across.

And at the other end of the design spectrum, Justin Premick of AWeber explains how you might adequately "brand" your plain text email.

Just for good measure he also offers a refresher on why you should do this. And why you need a plain text version of your email in the first place. Here are some more hints on designing text emails.

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Permalink | March 22, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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If you have some spare time, you could do worse than listen in to these webinars, which I point out simply because they sound pretty useful.

On April 11th, Return Path co-host a one hour webinar with Optimost on the ins and outs of testing your emails. Details.

On March 28th, Dr. Flint McGlaughlin of MEC takes an hour to reveal the results of their studies into email copy and the factors that drive clicks and sales.

There will also be some live copywriting makeovers of sample emails sent in by subscribers to the Marketing Experiments Journal. Details.

Note: you have to be an ME Journal subscriber for the second webinar. If you're not, your registration will sign you up (free.)

More on testing and copywriting | Tags: , ,

Spam is the enemy of email marketing. It's graffiti on the inbox wall. It's that unpleasant collection of debris and foam blocking up the rivers of electronic communication.

It spoils email for everyone: senders, recipients and those who process email on our behalf. And it messes up email marketing by cluttering up inboxes and forcing ISPs and others into ever more drastic measures that block spam and inadvertently catch legitimate marketing emails in the same trap.

A point emphasised by Derek Harding in his article calling for email marketers to help solve spam, not support it. He speaks with some of the passion that Bill McCloskey misses in email marketing.

It's a point that needs making again and again: killing spam is in the interests of email marketers.

The more anti-spam measures you tear down, the more spam you get elbowing your messages out of the inbox and out of the minds of your customers and prospects. Read Derek's article to understand why marketers should be supporting blacklists and anti-spam legislation, not fighting them.

Still unconvinced?

Try this post for another argument...

More on anti-spam laws and blacklists | Tags: , ,

March 21, 2007
Bill McCloskey bemoans the lack of passion among email marketers, the kind of passion that drives an industry onward and upward. He contrasts that to the energy of the RSS and SEO folk.

He has a point, although I'd say the list of passionate email marketers is longer than he suggests. Try some of these folk for starters.

But it got me thinking.

Perhaps one reason is that RSS and SEO is more inclusive. An awful lot of stuff written about email marketing is aimed at a small group of marketers with big email programs and budgets to match.

So it's easy to get the mistaken impression that email marketing is for two groups: big brands or spammers. Few people see themselves as either.

In contrast, discussions around RSS and SEO often address a much wider audience of marketers and webmasters, small and big. Plus RSS is still geeky and geeks are passionate about their technology.

Who knows? And does it matter? It's not much use sprinting passionately for the cutting edge when even the big companies haven't yet mastered the art of walking.

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Permalink | March 21, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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I rarely link to white papers, since they're often blah blah. And it's not my job to do PR for service companies. But let me make an exception for Pivotal Veracity's Outlook Guide. Two reasons:

1. It's a very detailed 43-page look at how the different versions of the Outlook email client (2007, 2003, XP and Express) handle and display email. Packed with screenshots of how images, CSS-based designs, preview panes, javascript, forms etc. look in each client.

2. I like this text on the "send me a copy please" form at the above landing page: Please be assured by completing the information below you are not being added to a prospect list; we will only contact if you specifically request we do so and for the specific reasons you indicate.

I would bet my wife, children and various other relatives that this kind of clear reassurance makes a big difference to the number of people willing to hand over their email address.

More on email design | Tags: , , , ,

March 20, 2007
Just a quick note that the 2007 Ecommerce Benchmark Guide is now up for sale over at the Sherpa store. A brief review of the contents suggests it's a humdinger in terms of providing data you can use to guide and modify your marketing and conversion efforts.

About 38 of the 223 charts and tables refer specifically to email, covering such things as email merchandising tactics and how retailers use opt-in forms etc.

Noteworthy is a special section on service and transactional emails, and how you can blend those with marketing messages. Since I'm not buying the report (this isn't an e-commerce site), I'm hoping we see some insights from that in an article or two later down the road.

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Permalink | March 20, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Jeanne Jennings photoJeanne Jennings is one of the better-known figures in the email marketing world, working as an author, speaker and consultant.

She kindly found time to chat with me about some of the relevant issues facing email marketers, such as list quality, campaign stagnation, the value of transactional emails and the role of benchmarks.

She also revealed what we can learn from the NHL and shared some insights gained from a visit to a Seattle fishmarket.

Read Jeanne's words of wisdom here.

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The popular question "when should I send my emails?" is often followed by its sister query..."how often should I send my emails?"

Dave Dabbah addresses the second question in depth in this article. He explains the factors that determine an optimal mailing frequency and then offers up a couple of examples to illustrate situations where a change in frequency might be a good idea.

Like the first question above, there is no simple answer, even if a simple answer is what everyone wants to hear. As with many things, it depends on what you're trying to achieve, what you're sending and who you're sending to.

More on timing and frequency | Tags: , ,

PigsEver been on a modern, industrialized pig farm? The animals are merely an economic expression. Each group of growing pigs is characterized by a series of numbers: feed conversion, daily weight gain, mortality, veterinary costs etc.

The welfare of these pigs took a nosedive as animal husbandry became livestock management became a manufacturing business. The pigs turned from animals into numbers.

Your email list holds similar dangers. We are obsessed with metrics and management issues like anti-spam laws or deliverability problems. We forget that an address is not a series of characters and numbers, but an individual reading your emails.

Faced with the disinterest of his or her custodian, the average pig has few options other than to go slowly mad. Email addresses, on the other hand, can rebel through their delete, unsubscribe and spam buttons.

Forgetting their welfare is not an option.

Fortunately, unlike pig farming, keeping subscribers happy usually means better results anyway. But we do need constant reminders that we have a fickle and human audience. Fail to deliver value to that audience and they leave for fresh pastures.

So step away from the spreadsheet and take a look at your emails from the perspective of those on the receiving end. These articles will help:

Marketing with an email newsletter: value
What does the reader care about?
Are you spamming your customers?

More on email strategy | Tags: , , ,

March 19, 2007
Doing some research, I googled "Email marketing is..." and discovered that it's...

> "dead"
> "unlikely to survive"
> "breathing its last"

But also...

> "not dead"
> "growing modestly"
> "quickly expanding"
> "growing big time"

Email marketing is "spam" and also "not spam."

It is "exactly the same as direct mail" but "not direct mail online."

It's a "form of advertising" but "not advertising."

Email marketing is "not any different than other types of marketing" yet also "a...unique communication channel."

It's "not an automatic metaphor for marketing on the cheap" although it is "inexpensive."

Finally, don't worry, it's "not difficult" even if it's "not so easy and simple."

I guess email marketing is what you make of it.

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Permalink | March 19, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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You can't beat advice based on hard-won experience, so if you're considering switching email vendors, read this article by David Baker first.

He draws on his own observations dealing with clients and vendors to offer advice on what to think about in more than just a technical sense. He addresses, for example, those aspects of a service change that involve the way you work, or the way you intend to evaluate (and move to) a new service.

He also has some suggestions on communities that can help you get past the service PR and learn from the real-world experiences of other marketers.

More on choosing an ESP | Tags: , , ,

March 16, 2007
...and to round off a veritable pot of email pourri this week, here's the latest MarketingSherpa email marketing case study.

It describes how TicketsNow.com pulled out the best customers on their email list and sent them different offers. Baseline result: they more than tripled email revenue.

There's other stuff in there, too, about encouraging engagement, customer relationship management etc., but it's the "targeting rocks" message that we maybe need to hear.

More on segmentation and targeting | Tags: , , ,

Permalink | March 16, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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personalized email imageThe technology's been around a while but it never really registered until I got this personalised easter egg in an e-newsletter from rabbit eMarketing. (It says, "Happy Easter Mr. Brownlow" in German and was illustrating the concept for potential clients of this email marketing agency.)

I know rabbit used it in one campaign that garnered them a recent award based on the results it brought in.

The wow factor is certainly there, but it will fade as soon as personalized images start appearing everywhere. So it would certainly pay to be an early adopter if the "cost vs response lift" equation makes sense AND if you're pretty sure about the integrity and accuracy of the names in your database.

(Because "Merry Xmas asdfasfd" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.)

Ask your ESP, agency or Google about this kind of service. Or if anyone has some image personalisation services they can recommend, please let us know in the comments.

More on design | Tags: , , ,

Wireless email is picking up momentum. Getting your message across on a PDA is a whole different kettle of pixels to an email displayed on a 21" flatscreen monitor.

Integrating mobile and email marketing was a topic at a recent Email Summit, and two attendees have some great notes on the presentation given. Check out...

denise cox's blog (Denise also has some links to stats on mobile email usage)

The Email Wars

And for those hunting more advice on the display and design issues, EmailLabs has one easy solution in their FAQ.

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Post-email? Well, sort of. You might find this collection of tools over at Web Worker Daily interesting, as it shows how online communication is constantly developing.

The emergence of all these other forms of messaging and collaboration may well see email usage decline. But note that these tools are mostly about interactive communication between two individuals or small self-selected groups.

So it's important to distinguish between email and email marketing. Email use for collaboration and personal correspondence may decline, but that does not necessarily mean email marketing follows suit.

For example, my incoming personal correspondence shifted entirely from letters to email. But I still have a postbox which I use regularly to get communications from local shops, businesses etc.

Also, nearly everyone blogging or writing about these things belongs to the technical minority. My Dad has just about got used to the idea of electronic mail. He won't be moving to another form of online communication too quickly.

Having said that, it behoves email marketers to keep an eye on alternatives (like RSS). Not to "watch the competition" but because the more communication alternatives you give the customer or prospect, the more likely they are to pick one and listen to what you say.

You want to get your message across, not defend email from all newcomers.

[As for outgoing correspondence, I find a handwritten note can make a huge impression on a customer or business partner, now that everyone's used to the somewhat impersonal electronic alternatives.]

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March 15, 2007
Now you have more reason to worry about your emails appearing on mobile devices.

Forget the problem with getting your beautiful image-rich work of email art to appear nicely on a two inch screen. Worry instead about how your email sounds when read out loud.

I just discovered the HP iPAQ 510 Voice Messenger, a smartphone that lets you dictate email messages and have the phone read out your emails to you.

I imagine the horror scenario where you're having dinner with your mother-in-law and the phone decides to read out that spam email from Nataliya, the lonely Russian girl. Let's hope these devices never get artificial intelligence or a sense of humor: they could play havoc with your relationships.

But to strike a note of seriousness, it is a reminder that the business of email never stops changing. Toes: keep on yours.

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Permalink | March 15, 2007 | 1 comment(s)
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Following yesterday's post, here's another excellent dissection of a marketing email, together with detailed explanations of weaknesses, a slew of suggested improvements AND "before and after" screenshots of the message in different email clients.

This kind of free education is fantastic. The only downside is that the more I read, the more I realize how little I know.

There's something essentially demotivating about continually pointing people to the kind of articles you could never write yourself. So much to learn, so little time.

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March 14, 2007
As an observer more than a practitioner, I am often humbled by the wisdom and perceptiveness of various folk out in the email field.

And here's another great article leaving me awestruck. Andrew Seer takes a promotional email from a premium shirtmaker and highlights all the problems with it (using a screenshot to help you grasp the points he makes).

He then presents a revised version of the email which addresses those problems.

Fascinating stuff. The article comes from a new email marketing newsletter produced by a UK vendor. I'm also a contributor: this is my basic introduction to email marketing metrics.

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Permalink | March 14, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Another gallery of winning marketing emails for you to browse over and pick apart for good ideas and creative inspiration...

These are the winners of the MarketingSherpa 2007 Email Awards. Categories include welcome messages, opt-in campaigns, e-newsletters, promotional email, triggered email and more.

You can see the judges' comments and the submitter's pitch for each winner, too.

Other creative galleries worthy of a thoughtful review are...

The 2006 winners
ClickZ's email award winners
CampaignMonitor's design gallery

And dozens of case studies are listed here. Let yourself be inspired.

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Stefan Pollard's latest article is a timely find given the previous post about brand names in subject lines.

Stefan highlights a deliverability nightmare that can occur if your subject line sounds like one spammers might use.

You may be sending to your house list built on best permission practices. But if a casual glance at the subject line lets people think you're spam, they'll delete, ignore and report you. The latter can see your good name move unfairly onto a spam blacklist.

One of Stefan's recommendations on how to avoid this nasty fate is to ensure your subject line is adequately branded...

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Some people say sender recognition can boost open rates, and point to survey data that seems to support the value of putting your brand name in your subject line.

Others argue that the "from" header takes care of recognition and you shouldn't waste valuable subject line real estate by repeating your brand name.

I tend to place my delicate posterior on the nearest fence, and suggest that this is something you need to test before jumping to any conclusions.

Another contribution to this topic comes from Chad White at RetailEmail.Blogspot. He looked at what the top retailers are doing with their subject lines and discovered some interesting approaches.

While most are not using their own brand name directly, they might repeat another recognisable name (such as the newsletter name or the brand name of a product they're pushing).

Get Chad's insights here.

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March 13, 2007
Fears that Outlook 2007's new email marketing service feature might lead to a slew of innocent sales folk spamming their sales contacts (see this post) have reached as far as Forbes magazine.

In this article, Ivan Schneider explains why using Outlook 2007 to send bulk email is not a great idea and suggests some adequate alternatives for small businesses.

Listings for email marketing services | Tags: ,

Permalink | March 13, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Always worth delving into the depths of academia now and then to find more insights on email and its role in life, the universe and everything.

Some clever folk at MIT's Sloan School of Management spent time observing how employees of one financial services company used the BlackBerrys issued to each of them. The easy accessibility of mobile mail turned out to be boon and bane.

It seems the satirical term "CrackBerry" now has a veneer of academic validity to it, with 90% of employees admitting to compulsive behavior and a compelling need to check email everywhere and anytime.

Still, the overall effect was regarded as positive, as expressed in the article's "Happy Addicts" subheader.

How long before we see celebrities entering rehab for their email addiction?

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I've ranted in the past about companies that practice "implied permission." That's where you send a new type of email to your list on the assumption that if they signed up for one thing, they'll happily accept anything else you care to send them. Wrong.

Lingo Alert: assumed permission
Er, no..actually I don't want your newsletter

So I was very pleased to read a lengthy article by Stefan Pollard at EmailLabs which explains how to expand your email marketing activities without breaking permission marketing principles. Expansion here means sending more often or sending another kind of email entirely.

It's a must read for all those who want to up the intensity on their email program.

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March 12, 2007
Sitting down and thinking through what it is you want to do with your emails often proves the hardest task of all. Which is why we commonly avoid doing it, prefering instead to press on with our usual tactics and short-term targets.

Over at ClickZ, Jeanne Jennings details the initial two steps -- identify qualitative goals and analyze the current situation -- in defining a strategy. It's the first of a series of articles on the subject.

Those interested in getting into all this more quickly can also download the strategy chapter from her recent book for free.

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Permalink | March 12, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Those in the corporate world will appreciate these words of advice from Christopher Marriott.

He draws on his experience to point out four typical mistakes made when marketing folk set out to find a new email marketing service: using a standard RFP, going through procurement, placing too much emphasis on a test send and looking for bundled services.

He explains the problems associated with each, and then outlines a further four things you should do to help ensure you get the best fit for your needs.

This is not about the technical requirements you might have, but advice on how to ensure compatibility between you and your email marketing vendor.

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It's usually reputation and deliverability services that go on about the importance of sender reputation in getting your emails delivered.

Just in case any of us have a "well they would say that, wouldn't they?" reaction, here's a key stat from an independent source...

According to market research outfit the Radicati Group, "Email Reputation Services" (meaning the kind used to sniff out disreputable senders and block their email) "will protect roughly 332 million mailboxes in 2007."

That's a lot of mailboxes. Something tells me maintaining a good reputation might be a good idea. For help on how to do it, check these articles.

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...if like me you weren't at the MarketingSherpa Email Summit last week. The company has their own round up, which highlights the main insights that came out of the event.

Flavors of the moment appear to be...

...making better use of transactional emails and administrative list messages.
...smarter segmentation, meaning more innovation in terms of how you split up your list into smaller target groups.

There's also talk around staffing and other organisational issues, localisation, use of images and the importance of frequency considerations.

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One of the truisms about choosing an email marketing service to manage your outgoing emails is that your mails should get sent from their own IP address.

The theory goes like this: if you share an IP address with that service's other customers, then their behavior could affect your success.

If one of those other customers indulges in a little spamming, then the sender address may get on a blocklist, And since you have the same sender IP, your emails get blocked too.

But if you have an IP address all to yourself, then only your email practices determine whether that sender address gets on a blocklist or not.

So far so good. But here's another theory...

If an email marketing service uses shared IP addresses, it's in their own best interests to ensure those IP addresses stay off blocklists. Low deliverability means angry customers means less customers.

So wouldn't they dump bad customers pretty quickly and shift the good ones to block-free sender IP addresses if something does go wrong?

I'm just wondering...if your ESP is a decent one, is a dedicated IP address as important as it used to be?

That's not a rhetorical question: I'd enjoy some enlightenment from ESPs out there as I'm no expert when it comes to the technical side of deliverability...

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March 08, 2007
For the record, the site this blog appears at opened up for sponsorship this week. You can see prices and possibilities here.

This is partly a response to continuing sponsorship inquiries...some slots are sold already...and partly to finance my growing addiction to Powerade sports drinks (not a sponsor, unfortunately).

The blog remains ad-free, in the sense that people can't pay for a post. So you shouldn't find service promotions appearing in your RSS reader disguised as commentary.

Cheers.

Permalink | March 08, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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In all the fuss about Outlook 2007 and email design, another interesting aspect of Microsoft's new product seems to have slipped through the net. Reader Marc Krisjanous of Mobilize Mail brought this to my attention.

The version of Outlook that comes with Office Small Business 2007 and Office Professional 2007 includes Business Contact Manager.

And Business Contact Manager now includes --- for the first time -- an email marketing service, allowing the Outlook user to build email lists from her contacts database, send marketing emails to the list, and track responses. Just like you might do with a conventional ESP.

The mechanism for doing this appears to be integration with Microsoft's Listbuilder. This was an email marketing service promoted as part of the bCentral brand and suite of services for small business (which stopped taking new sign-ups last year.)

It's hard to find anyone recommending a standard email client for managing email marketing. But integration with Listbuilder might address some of the relevant issues, like reporting.

Though it's hard to judge without using the service, I'm still skeptical. Outlook is not the ideal environment for creating emails and managing subscribers. And conventional ESPs provide a lot of ancillary benefits in terms of customer education, support, advanced subscriber management, tracking, reporting, email deliverability etc. I don't know how much of that is included in the Business Contact Manager service.

If anyone has experience with (or thoughts on) the new software, I'd love to hear from you.

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Email lists are like a forest, rich in game and good timber-producing trees.

Good email marketers are like foresters. They know how to keep the forest growing and productive. They harvest the timber, but never at the expense of the long-term health and productivity of the forest.

Spammers are the "slash and burn" agriculturalists. They would chop down all the trees, make a quick buck and move on. Leaving a barren wasteland behind.

The ISPs and spam blocklists are the game wardens and conservationists who build the fence around the forest.

They let the forester through to do his work, but they keep the slash and burn folk away.

The forester needs the game warden, even if sometimes the latter forgets to unlock the gates.

Good email marketers support the anti-spam efforts of the ISPs and blocklists. Which is why you'll find the likes of Return Path and EmailLabs expressing direct support for blacklisting service Spamhaus in an ongoing court case.

Whose side are you on?

Further reading:
Spam threatens the e-mail channel
Well-Known E-mailers Back Spamhaus in Amicus Brief
Are You an Email Marketing Miner or Manager?

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March 07, 2007
1500 postsThis is the 1,500th entry on this blog. I'm flummoxed as to an appropriate post. My original plan to pay hommage to all the great email marketing experts out there peaked too early and appeared as post 1,478.

I thought about a rant about media bias. Too serious. A few revelations about who the heck this Mark Brownlow actually is? Too personal (people read your blog to get information on the subject, not the writer.)

So I've settled for a bit of humor to brighten up your day. Probably the most popular post of all time here was the one entitled You know you've done too much email marketing if...

So here's another nine examples of when it's time to put away the email and reach for the off switch. Cheers and thanks for being here.

Mark

  • you keep changing the design of your office door to see how this impacts open rates

  • your spouse tells you the marriage is over, and you offer them a $25 coupon if they'll recommit to the relationship

  • when your checks bounce, you just delete the payee from your records

  • you don't put stamps on letters on the assumption you're whitelisted at the postal service

  • it annoys you that the grocery store didn't change this week's flyer based on your last purchase there

  • you want more than one child, so you can do proper A/B tests on mealtime content preferences

  • you don't let people join your card game unless they first reveal their age, gender, household income, zipcode and prefered salutation

  • your kids are tired of trying to justify the ROI of the pocket money you give them

  • you're still reading this blog post ;-)


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Permalink | March 07, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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If you haven't submitted false information on at least one online form then you're a better person than I am. If you collect data from people when they sign up for your emails, it's likely that some of it is rubbish.

But how can you tell what's true and what's not?

The validity of submitted info is an issue that the lead generation folk have long dealt with. So I'm sure there's a heap of useful insight to be gleaned from them. Which is why I point you to this blog post by Return Path's Craig Swerdloff.

Craig describes seven techniques they use to validate leads before passing them on to clients. Interesting stuff.

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Kai MacMahon presents five email marketing rules that should guide the way you approach your efforts. They center around key concepts like respect, relevance, perspective, feedback and analysis.

It's always good to review posts like Kai's because it helps us step back from the day-to-day stuff and ask whether we're running to stand still or to actually get somewhere.

I particular like his invitation to put up copies of your last emails all in a row so you can see whether you actually have some kind of flow there. Nice.

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March 06, 2007
Wendy Roth offers another review of the Outlook 2007 situation in this article. She also has some tips on how to to ensue that whatever you send looks nice in that email client.

Of course, with all the hoopla about the new version, we shouldn't forget that most people are viewing their emails someplace else. It would be a shame if we focused all our energy on Outlook 2007 and forgot about Yahoo Mail, Gmail, Hotmail, Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Outlook 2003 etc. etc.

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Permalink | March 06, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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The Email Experience Council released a summary of their recent look at how the industry deals with metrics and bounces.

Their conclusion was essentially that we need standards here. For how metrics are calculated, how bounces are defined etc. It's good to see them pushing to give the email marketing sector a stronger theoretical and practical base to build from. You can read their thoughts in this ClickZ article.

I'm less enthusiastic about the sky-is-falling tone of some of the interpretations of their survey. Email marketing has been growing strongly so it's hard to imagine how standardisation issues now suddenly represent "a threat to the channel itself."

If anyone can explain that to me, please comment.

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The MarketingSherpa Email Summit finishes up today. It's one of the leading email marketing events in the US and a couple of attendees are blogging the sessions. Not me, since I'm half a planet away in Europe.

So for event coverage and commentary, try:

Email Days or Listrak

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March 05, 2007
Here's an intriguing case study on Questia, a term-paper research site. Kind of unspectacular stuff on their email marketing program, but with a couple of novelties that jumped out of the page at me.

First, they eschew the ever unpopular popups to request newsletter signups, but go for a similar effect using intercept screens when someone browses the site.

Second, if a recipient signs up, he or she gets a welcome letter. No shock there. But if that welcome emails does not register an open, then they don't bother sending them the actual newsletter.

That's pretty drastic list pruning in action, but certainly ought to boost future open rates and responses. Interesting approach, anyway.

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Permalink | March 05, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Some people still think open rates are a waste of mental energy. But here's another reason why you should worry about them...

...if you check open rates for specific destination addresses (all @yahoo.com addresses or all @companyABC.com addresses), then a huge deviation from your average might hint at a deliverability problem.

Unless that address group makes up a big proportion of your list, a 0% open rate for those addresses wouldn't change your total open rate too much: you'd never notice the problem.

A case in point: MarketingSherpa discovered problems with getting HTML emails delivered to BellSouth addresses thanks to just such a check. They switched those addresses to text-only and the problem was solved.

(Incidentally, according to the article you might be having the same issue with your BellSouth addresses.)

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Another batch of subject line suggestions to get the grey cells moving on a Monday...

Gail Goodman highlights five different concepts you can apply to come up with more effective headers: ask a question, be a tease, tell it like it is, WIIFM and getting personal. She explains each concept and has examples to illustrate them.

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Hardest job in the world? Email marketer at Hormel, makers of SPAM. Or maybe the guy who had to come up with their anti-spam policy (frankly, the jokes are unlimited.) Incidentally, their SPAM.com website is hilarious or mildly disturbing, dependent on your sense of humor.

Notice the capitalised SPAM. Hormel have a full-time job on their hands defending their trademark now that spam (lower case) is such a ubiquitous term in the email space. You'd think there couldn't be much confusion between the pork and electronic versions of the S word, but Hormel's lawyers beg to differ.

anti-spam resources | Tags: ,

You might think HTML email is all that matters today. Faster connections and higher expectations mean ugly text-only emails have fallen out of favor with many.

That may be so...but the folks at AWeber invite you to rethink the value of the plain text version that accompanies your delightful full-color marketing email.

Justin Premick argues that a proper text alternative is still a must-have. Not just for keeping your anti-HTML readership happy, but because it has a direct impact on whether your HTML email gets delivered in the first place.

My tip: many service providers have a handy button which produces a text-only version of the HTML email you uploaded to their delivery system. Don't rely on this alone. The results can be pretty ugly. Check whether you need to upload your own text-only version, with a nicer layout and formatting than the automatic version has.

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March 02, 2007
I decided to end the working week by delving into Jeanne Jenning's new Email Marketing Kit. You can read my full review here.

Here's the summary for those short on time:

"A truly definitive overview of the whats and hows of email marketing. Highly recommended for anyone contemplating or using email for marketing purposes."

And you can get it from the publisher here.

I interviewed Jeanne for you just yesterday and she has some super interesting things to say on transactional email, benchmarks, rendering issues, email in the organisation and...the NHL. Watch for that shortly.

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Permalink | March 02, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Time to clear up some confusion on what people mean when they talk about purchasing email address lists. This article explains why it's important to distinguish between renting and buying.

It also has a jargon-free explanation of exactly why you should avoid dropping some dollars on one of those CDs of addresses.

As part of the basics category here at EMR, it's aimed at those unfamiliar with the topic area...people who might be seduced by the superficial attractiveness of those allegedly opt-in email lists sold around the darker sides of the Internet.

You might also like to wave it at bosses and colleagues who don't understand why you fuss about your house list and address acquisition costs when you can just send out a million emails for $99.

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March 01, 2007
Even the purer-than-pure emailers can find themselves in occasional hot water with Internet Service Providers; those clever folk who guard the pathway to their users' email inboxes.

If you find your emails getting blocked by a specific ISP or webmail service, then Stefan Pollard explains how you can and should set about resolving the issue.

It's a companion article to his previous advice on getting off a blocklist.

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Permalink | March 01, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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I thought about spreading the rumor that sexual prowess is proportionally related to the number of emails you sign-up for. Then I'd sit back and watch those subscriptions come in (mostly from men).

Perhaps not.

There are other alternatives to driving subscriptions. One of these is to offer a sign-up incentive. Researching that topic, I bumped into a timely post on the VerticalResponse blog.

Janine Popick lists a variety of possible incentives you might offer, including specific suggestions for tradeshows, competitions and welcome gifts. Perhaps some of the ideas would fit with your list needs?

If you do win new subscribers, there's always the question of how you can pluck a few little bits of useful information out of them. Demographics data, preferences etc. Denise Cox at the business of email has some words of wisdom on that topic.

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