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April 30, 2007
surveyThe three scariest moments of my marketing life:

> Standing in front of a huge multinational client to explain that our expensive focus group research project revealed the astonishing insight that "hearts are a good shape for Valentine chocolates."

(They loved the presentation...the lesson being that much market research is commissioned to confirm existing opinions and not to actually discover anything new.)

> Dumped by a taxi driver on the wrong side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul with just five minutes to my meeting. Cue the classic Hollywood pose of a hot and lost Englishman waving his pasty white arms in front of dozens of Turkish street traders going, "Does anybody here speak English?"

(One did...thank goodness other countries don't share the British attitude to foreign languages.)

> Surveying my email list.

Feedback? Who wants feedback? They might tell you things you don't want to hear. Ugh. That's almost as bad as testing.

Last week I invited newsletter subscribers to complete a short feedback survey set up using SurveyMonkey. Scariest and best thing I ever did.

There are plenty of obvious reasons for soliciting feedback...information, intelligence blah blah. Here are three others:

The positive feedback you get is incredibly motivating. Many newsletter publishers operate in a relative vacuum. Campaign reports are all very well, but not exactly warm and fuzzy. When was the last time you spontaneously wrote to a newsletter to give them praise? (As readers, perhaps we should do that more often.) A survey gives your satisfied readers a chance to express their satisfaction. We all need a bit of reader love.

The critical feedback knocks you out of your comfort zone. One reader gave me 4 out of 10 for trustworthiness. That was a body blow, believe me. A real kick in the stomach. That kind of response, even though it was an exception, is the motivation to redouble your efforts. Priceless.

It's the final incentive to do the things you know you should do, but...ahem...never get round to doing. I always suspected the newsletter needed shortening. Now I know it needs shortening because that's what people tell me.

Of course there are all the usual disclaimers about reading too much into survey results. For example, the email marketing topics cited as most important in the survey are not the same ones that people actually click on in the newsletter.

So there you are...scary, but useful. Go for it.

Useful link:

Three good reasons why you should survey your email list

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Permalink | April 30, 2007 | 2 comment(s)
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KeysIt would be churlish not to start another glorious email marketing week without a mention of the A word.

David Baker has some insights on how a few big ISPs (Hotmail, Comcast, AOL) are using, or planning to use, authentication in determining whether to deliver an incoming email or not.

Since he's talking about ISPs, he also has a few other bits of valuable information on their delivery practices, such as how they view different mailing volumes and frequencies.

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Time for another dip into the world of web feeds and marketing. Deirdre Molloy belatedly reports on a high-powered panel discussion of the topic at the SXSW Interactive Festival in March.

Lots of little tidbits in there about such issues as full versus partial feeds, presenting web feeds to a non-technical audience etc. And she kindly offers links to other reports on this panel discussion.

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New Zealand FlagWith New Zealand's new anti-spam laws coming into effect shortly, local businesses are embroiled in the usual compliance issues. Some of which get a review in this article at a local business IT site.

Interesting to see just how much compliance with the new laws is likely to cost. A comment below the article suggests something over NZ$2,000 (about US$1,500) for a typical small business.

I like anti-spam laws because they create a framework for going after spammers and they (sometimes) encourage best practices. But it's sad that those businesses interested in remaining law-abiding, legitimate senders of email have to pay the price for the greed of others.

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Attempts to keep email communications under control can have bizarre outcomes. Take web designer Gay Hamilton, for example. Telecom New Zealand's email system automatically rejected her emails to the company because it found inappropriate language within them. The inappropriate trigger word? Gay. Like I said, bizarre.

I suppose she should be glad her parents didn't christen her Viagra. And who knows how Nepal's email communication is surviving now that the government coalition goes by the name of SPAM.

The web is indeed a tangled place.

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April 27, 2007
Karen J. Bannan identifies four problems leading people to leave your list. Then invites a couple of experts to suggest appropriate solutions. One problem not mentioned is probably the commonest one: you're sending crap (excuse my French).

At an email marketing workshop yesterday, Nikolaus von Graeve suggested an excellent and elegant solution for managing opt-outs. Instead of providing a standard opt-out link with each email, you could offer two opt-out links. A standard universal one and one that lets the recipient opt-out just from "these kind of emails."

I've seen this used in a simple form by media sites sending both editorial content from the site itself and promotional content on behalf of advertisers. When you sign-up you get both types of email, but you can later opt-out of the promotions while staying on the editorial newsletter list.

Nik suggests taking that a step further and allowing selective unsubscribes for your targeted content.

Say you send emails on ladies fashions, mens fashions and kids fashions. Men getting an email on blouses and stockings could then click on a "don't send me any more mails on this topic" link, rather than on the universal "unsubscribe" link. You've rescued a subscriber and also ensured future emails to that subscriber are better targeted.

In theory, such cases of misplaced content should never occur. If you have a perfect targeting system, preference center and/or customer information. But assuming that isn't the case, the two unsubscribe options then has all sorts of benefits:

1. It avoids the "all or nothing" syndrome of email marketing communications with a customer or prospect. Many people opt-out of your list, even though they'd actually quite like to keep getting some of your emails. But unsubscribing to everything is the only way to stop getting the ones they don't want.

2. Preference centers or sign-up forms are great for getting new subscribers to pre-select their content interests. But after they've signed up, subscribers rarely bother to visit and update their preferences. This lets them "manage" these content preferences without clicking on mundane and uninviting account management links.

3. Your clever segmentation can get it wrong (interests change, automated segmentation and trigger rules are never perfect). This lets the user correct your targeting with minimal effort.

Any thoughts?

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Permalink | April 27, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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German flagSpent yesterday at a workshop run by German email marketing agency eRabbit Marketing (English link / German link), and featuring Nikolaus von Graeve and Uwe-Michael Sinn (winners of two recent MarketingSherpa awards).

If you can speak German, then do whatever it takes to attend one of their workshops. These guys have an extraordinary understanding of email marketing. Also good contacts if you're planning to tackle the German or European marketplace with your emails. (I think that's the first public endorsement of any agency on this blog, so you can tell how impressed I am by these folk.)

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April 26, 2007
One of the troublesome areas in email marketing is when you have an email address but are a little unclear on just what you can do with it.

Maybe they signed up to your newsletter two years ago, but you never got round to sending one. Can you start sending newsletters now?

Maybe they handed you the address at a trade show and asked you to keep in touch. Does that mean you should add them to your newsletter list?

In such cases where permission has kinda, sorta been given, but is maybe a touch stale or unclear, you really do need to get a more explicit opt-in before adding anyone to a mailing list. In fact, anytime you're unsure if you (still) have the right permission it usually means you haven't.

But you do have enough of a pre-existing relationship so that an initial email inquiry to request that explicit permission is unlikely to elicit a "this is spam" response. Probably.

A key factor in eliciting a positive response and a clear opt-in is the tone and style of that inquiry. And MailChimp has an excellent example of the right style and tone to use.

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Permalink | April 26, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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April 25, 2007
Ken Magill's been listening closely to Microsoft and collated a few tidbits of information of interest to email marketers. In this article he describes how the company is limiting the delivery of emails that come from new sender IP addresses. At least until they get a handle on the reputation of that new sender.

And in this article, he describes how the new and improved unsubscribe button works. That's the button that can display automatically in Windows Hotmail Live instead of the "report spam" alternative. But it only displays if you have your emails set up right. Ken has the details.

Definitely worth investigation, since letting people unsubscribe is obviously a less painful alternative to a spam complaint.

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Permalink | April 25, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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dollarsIf email is so good as a marketing tool, how come it's often the poor relative of the marketing department? Left to sit at the back while the presents are handed out to the search cousins and others.

This apparent paradox is the subject of a fascinating analysis and call-to-arms by Loren McDonald.

He argues that a little bit more investment in knowledge and resources could reap huge rewards for marketers. Because top-class email marketing isn't as hard as a lot of people would perhaps like you to think.

Then he presents the reasons why email doesn't get the resources it deserves...suggesting it's time to correct a few misconceptions and change things round.

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keysIt involves things like DNS and other IT terms I like to keep in sealed plastic bags held at arm's length. But email authentication is now so useful in helping getting your email delivered that I fear marketers are just going to have to get to grips with it.

Which means shouldering responsibility for ensuring your emails are properly authenticated.

That's certainly the message that came out of the recent Authentication and Online Trust Alliance Summit. Here are two new articles on the outcome and authentication in general...

Authentication Gaining Momentum: Stefan Pollard wags a concerned finger at marketers still unconvinced that authentication is their job. And reminds us that it's just one tool in the delivery kit...your sender reputation is also important, for example.

Authentication Summit Notes: The folks at MarketingSherpa describe some of the trends and insights that came out of the summit, offer up a bunch of recommended actions you need to take on authentication and reputation issues, and list plenty of useful links for further reading.

For more articles on this whole topic area (written specifically for email marketers) try the email authentication category.

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April 24, 2007
test imageMarketingExperiments recently conducted a web clinic on optimizing email copy. You can listen to the outcomes here.

They also have a report brief (or brief report) to accompany the audio files. You can see examples of email tests and how different versions of the same email fared.

Most importantly, there's a "before and after" example of an upsell email with plenty of explanation about why and how specific copy elements were changed in the improved version.

A bit heavy to work through, but worth the time.

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Permalink | April 24, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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a boomerangThere are a few articles around on why you need to keep a careful eye on your bounces (rejected emails.)

For example, a lot of spam emails tend to bounce. So the more email you send out that gets rejected, the more you look like a spammer to those processing those emails. With obvious and unpleasant consequences.

Anyway, before you can properly evaluate why your email is bouncing and what you can do about it, you need a system in place to present the relevant information.

That's the topic of this article by Spencer Kollas. He explains what your bounce management system needs to do to arm you with the data you need for improving that aspect of your email marketing.

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book coverEmail marketing has few up-to-date books on the topic. So it's good to see a new release gracing the shelves at Amazon and elsewhere.

Chris Baggott, cofounder and former CMO of vendor ExactTarget has written "Email Marketing By the Numbers," subtitled, "How to use the world's greatest marketing tool to take any organization to the next level."

I've not seen a copy yet, but the release blurb suggests the 294 page book is all about the tactics and techniques you can apply to your email marketing to improve your end results.

In a nice touch, Baggott's own words of wisdom are complemented by contributions from over 20 professionals working in the online marketing space.

Unlike many online marketing tomes, this is neither self-published nor in the portfolio of some obscure publisher. The Wiley name should offer editorial quality guarantees. The ISBN is 978-0470122457 if you want to ask your local bookstore for a copy, or order direct from Amazon.

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April 23, 2007
magnifying glassA rather useful trend of recent times is for bloggers and others to post their own evaluations of particular marketing emails they've seen or received. I must have highlighted more such "case studies" in the past month than in the whole of 2006. Here are two more to enlighten your week...

The first is over at One Degree where Ken Schafer posted a Home Depot email and invited constructive comments. Intriguing and interesting to see what people praise, what they criticise and what they suggest in terms of improvements.

And Mark Alves examines possibly the most ironic marketing email ever sent. Either an unlucky coincidence, bad karma, unfortunate design or extremely clever marketing...depending on how you look at it.

Enjoy.

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Permalink | April 23, 2007 | 1 comment(s)
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calendarAnother exciting installment in Jeanne Jennings series on email strategy hit the airwaves today. Last week our heroine guided us through the minefield of determining the types of email you want to send.

This week, Jeanne battles the twin demons of content and frequency. She highlights the importance of mapping out your planned content structure and then using that to create the actual emails.

This content structure is also the first step in determining frequency and send times.

To finish, she outlines the scope of an editorial calendar. This brings everything together by listing the actual content you want, when it needs to be produced and processed, and when it finally goes out the door.

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April 20, 2007
Preview panes are everywhere. Perhaps we should call them preview pains. Outlook, Yahoo! Mail Beta, Windows Live Hotmail, Thunderbird and others all feature a small window next to the inbox offering a clipped view of your email.

There are dozens of articles now warning you about the need to design for these preview panes. But if you ever doubted why, Tom O'Leary has a nice analysis with screenshots of one marketing email that failed the preview pane test.

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Permalink | April 20, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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videoChad White spends a lot of his online time analysing retail email campaigns and we're the beneficiaries.

In this article, he reveals which companies are linking to video clips from their marketing emails. And describes all the different kinds of clips involved.

Although it's nice to see how companies use email to drive people to video messages, it's equally intriguing to see the huge variety of ways video is used. Everything from trade show interviews and product demos to fashion shows and uncensored ads.

Perhaps something in there inspires you?

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gender symbolsThe Gender Genie is a tool which takes text and guesses the gender of the author. I'm male apparently...but only just. I like to think that makes me balanced. Or confused?

It's just a bit of fun, but the algorithm behind it does have a basis in some research done at an Israeli university. The original science has insights into the concrete differences in word usage between men and women.

It got me thinking. What if you had a tool like that to fine tune the gender of your marketing text?

Copywriters are obviously adjusting their text to appeal to males or females depending on what you're selling and who your target is. Could an automated tool like the gender genie help you develop a more female or male voice?

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April 19, 2007
The folk over at Campaign Monitor are always a solid bet for great email design resources. David Greiner just updated their documentation on how different webmail services and email clients handle CSS in emails.

What you get is a very comprehensive overview of which CSS properties and elements work in the main display environments used for reading email. Want to know if you can define the background image for Lotus Notes? This is the place.

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Permalink | April 19, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Microsoft just released some details on the use of Sender ID email authentication at Hotmail. To understand what authentication is and why it's important for marketers, read this article.

Essentially, Sender ID involves modifying your domain records so the system receiving an email from you can check these records and confirm that the email really does come from you.

So what?

Well, even if the above article doesn't pique your interest, listen to what Microsoft say (my emphasis)...

"Reputable marketers that have adopted Sender ID have realized improved deliverability, with up to 85 percent fewer messages mistakenly marked as spam in Windows Live Hotmail."

That's a pretty good reason for getting your emails authenticated. Check out this page for pointers on where to find all the necessary information.

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thunderbird logoA new version of the popular Thunderbird desktop email client appeared today. No dramatic implications for email marketers on first view...

As with previous versions, images are turned off by default. Perhaps the most interesting new feature is support for tagging. Recipients can now add labels to your email, making it easier for folk to sort and retrieve old messages.

Thunderbird also makes it easy to download email from Gmail and .Mac webmail services. It's now nigh on impossible, frankly, to predict where your email will end up being displayed. People could be automatically forwarding it anywhere.

One other feature which might be of benefit to marketers is the option to have inbox folders as a dropdown menu. This lets users kill the sidebar and opens up more space for the preview pane.

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April 18, 2007
lipstickThese "before & after" design and copy makeovers make fascinating reading. This latest one from Andrew Seer casts a concerned eye over a beauty product promotion for Lookfantastic.

The email worked pretty well as it is, but Andrew highlights a few problems with the layout and wording. His comments and revised version make a number of salutary points.

The new email has clearer calls to action, for example, and that brings me to a question I have.

What do you best use as the call-to-action word on a product link? Buy? More info? Click here?

I always worry that "buy" implies an immediate commitment to purchase and thus puts some people off from clicking. But I've no test results to prove the hypothesis. Anyone?

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Permalink | April 18, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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for hire signAs a follow-up to their previous article on the topic, MarketingSherpa give us a few useful documents to help ease the pain of renting lists. These include:

> A detailed seven-page analysis of a typical data card (which carries basic info on the list, prices, etc.)
> Compliance document (outlining the legal requirements associated with the list, with particular reference to anti-spam law.)
> Example of a typical rental contract.

The first document is most valuable, since it contains a lot of practical advice on such things as traps to look out for and what supplemental info you need to request. Good stuff.

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Ken Magill's article raises the unconfirmed prospect that Yahoo are considering blocking images by default in the classic version of their webmail service (the biggest in the world.)

If correct, that would mean a few tens of millions more email addresses where images don't necessarily show up. Another incentive to check out your email design and ensure it works without images, too.

The only way to guarantee your images display at Yahoo would then be by getting your email certified by Goodmail. Such email gets automatically delivered to AOL and Yahoo addresses, with links and images left untouched.

All the signs indicate email certification is going to grow and grow.

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stampIt's not an independent survey, but this press release suggests that the appearance of an appropriate "certified" logo alongside an email's entry can have a strong positive effect on open rates.

The survey was by Iconix, who...ahem...happen to offer such a logo service.

Consumers download a free software plugin compatible with many of the main email software clients and webmail services. The software then verifies and identifies the sender using standard authentication methods and its own database of commercial senders.

If the right boxes are ticked, an appropriate "this sender is who they say they are" icon is displayed alongside the email. Its appeal to consumers is as a guard against phishing. You can find all the details at their FAQ.

Of course, you have to pay to play if you're a business sending out email and want to have this icon appear next to your emails. And its value depends on how many actual consumers have the Iconix software installed (I couldn't find a figure.)

But since their customers include the likes of American Express, Dell, eBay and other behemoths, it certainly seems like something worth investigating.

I suspect the main open rate improvements come if you have a trust issue to deal with, for example following phishing attacks on your business. But it would be interesting to see just how much of a response lift you could get through an icon, even where your identity is not in doubt.

If anyone has some insights, please do comment.

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April 17, 2007
I missed this great article earlier. (Only one Brownlow and too little time.) But Pivotal Veracity have a nice set of questions and answers about email rendering and design issues over at the Email Experience Council.

It's written for those relatively new to the problems of blocked images and preview panes. So for a quick catch-up on the nature of the problems and what you can do about it, read the article.

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Permalink | April 17, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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calculating statsYou can tell an industry is maturing when people start worrying about measurement issues. A couple of suggestions on what numbers you can use to tell if your emails are working for you or not:

The Bronto blog picks up on three benchmarks that go beyond the standard ones you get in campaign reports.

And Brian McFadden's reader letter at MediaPost has some excellent suggestions for newsletters selling ads, but which are equally valuable for other kinds of marketing emails.

Take particular note of his ideas for calculating reach and adjusting open rates to compensate for blocked images. Calculating the former can be a real eye opener.

Warning! The adjusted open rate calculation is a great suggestion. It uses the number of people who click but don't open as a measure of how many emails likely displayed without images.

For it to work though, your email software or service must not automatically report everyone who clicks as an open. (Some reports assume that if someone clicked, they must have opened the email, even if the tracking image wasn't activated.)

Also, the equation Brian uses assumes the clickthrough rate is the same for an email, irrespective of whether or not images display.

In most cases, the clickthrough rate on emails with no images showing should be lower than when images show up (otherwise why are the images there?) So the adjusted rate gives you a better feel for the real number of "opens," but may still underestimate it slightly.

All of this taken together with BrightWave's EmailStatCenter.com adds up to a good couple of weeks for number lovers.

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BetaNews report that the new webmail service from Microsoft/MSN is due for US release next month. The de facto successor to Hotmail is likely to be available in smaller markets even earlier.

Time to pencil in a date in the May calendar for checking how emails look in the new service, which has more of a desktop software feel to it than the old Hotmail.

Some email designers and marketers have already tested the beta version. Catch Mark Wyner's early impressions here, for example.

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April 16, 2007
calculatorIn a wry twist of fate, the new innovations in online marketing seem to have given the old email warhorse a new lease of life.

Until recently, email was seen as a relatively standalone option. You sent an email to provoke a specific response...some kind of action like a purchase or download. Or you sent out a newsletter with valuable content, which kept you top of mind and reinforced the customer relationship to make such actions more likely in the future.

Now email's role is expanding. Last week saw a couple of articles on how email fits snugly into Web 2.0. And then there is the growing acceptance that email plays an important role in driving action in other channels.

Not just directly, for example by emailing a coupon redeemable offline. But also indirectly, where email is part of an overall integrated online marketing package. A point made by Whitney Hutchinson in an article today at MediaPost.

Whitney suggests you need to go beyond the obvious metrics when evaluating the value of your marketing emails. To try and grasp the positive interactions between all your online marketing efforts.

Easier said than done. But for starters, it makes sense just to remember that - as with the traditional e-newsletter - there's more to your emails than the immediate response. And every email your business sends counts towards your overall short- and long-term marketing impact.

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Permalink | April 16, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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diving gearThe sun is shining and the early morning exhaust fumes receding. So time to start the week with another unusual hint that email may become even more ubiquitous than you already think.

Ken Yasumoto-Nicolson provides us with a translation of a recent Japanese opinion poll on waterproof mobile phones.

Apart from marvelling at the possibility that someone wanted to use their phone's calculator function while in the sea, take a peek at question 5, "If your phone was water resistant, what kinds of things would you want to do in wet locations?"

Top answer was email, while talking was second.

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April 13, 2007
sold signJustin Premick has two detailed blog posts about how retail estate folk could make use of an email newsletter.

The lessons are applicable to other service companies and echo the point that it's about differentiating yourself from the competition, providing value, building trust and keeping you top of mind.

So when a reader finally needs your services, it's you they go to.

Part 1 explains what most such e-newsletters do wrong. Part 2 has a host of content suggestions to get your brain sparking.

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Permalink | April 13, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Email marketers might feel a little left out of the Web 2.0 fun. But while email may carry a touch of old fashionedness about it, it does seem that you can use it as the communication glue that sticks a lot of other Web 2.0 channels and applications together.

That's certainly the message that comes out of Chad White's article, which looks at how leading retailers are incorporating social media tools like Digg into their email marketing. Or using email to push and promote their other hot channels like company blogs.

Catch Chad's review for a few ideas as to how you might do the same.

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After a long run of serious posts, time for something different. Bet you didn't know some of the (real) alternative meanings of those words and acronyms we use online:

SPAM
A coalition between the Seven Party Alliance and the Maoists in Nepal. SPAM forms the interim government in that country, pending (hopefully) full parliamentary elections later this year.

UCE
Ungovernable Chaotic Entity, a country where large portions of the land and population are no longer under government control.

RSS
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a large nationalist volunteer and political movement in India.

PPC
Allegedly the leading cement and lime company in Africa.

ROI
A small political party in Slovakia which exists to represent the interests of the local Roma population.

SERPS
The State Earnings Related Pension Scheme which ran in the UK between 1978 and 2002.

USP
The secret police in the Central African Republic.

Bounce
A design characteristic in golf clubs, referring to the angle formed between the front of the sole and the ground.

ISP
Abbreviation for specific impulse, a term describing the fuel efficiency of jets and rockets.

Yahoo
A member of a race of brutish undeveloped humans discovered by Gulliver in the famous book by Jonathan Swift.

More humor

April 12, 2007
paintImages in email continue to attract attention given the large number of webmail services and email clients that block them from displaying.

Here, it's important to note that current thinking is that your email needs to get the message across when images don't show up. That's not the same as saying don't put images in your email.

It's a mistake I've found myself making. Images can play a powerful role in generating responses. It's just that you need to account for the many times that an email is likely seen without those images working.

The point occurred to me on reading this case study, which demonstrates the sales power of a large animated image in an email. The audience and product were perhaps suited to that kind of approach. But the point is made.

There's also some insight in there on link colors.

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Permalink | April 12, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Sometimes all I need to do is point you straight at the article. Here's another one of those amazingly insightful Email Makeovers by Mark Wyner. He tears up a newsletter design, pointing out all the problems. Then presents a revised version, explaining what he's done and why.

This is top-level design stuff beyond my meagre understanding.

Now, I feel like a butcher criticising Michelangelo for not using a darker shade of pink in The Creation of Adam, but the seasonal header image in the revised version does take up a lot of above-the-fold space. It's beautiful, but a shallower image might be better for preview panes, so people can get a look at the content more easily...?

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seedlingStefan Pollard's writings are always balanced, but he excels himself this week. On the same day he writes about unsubscribes, he also produces a super article on growing your email list. What he takes with one hand, he returns with the other...

The article is a broad overview both of specific techniques and -- more importantly -- the ideal list growth approach. One where growing your list is about building long-term relationships based on value, trust and permission.

The article introduces a larger downloadable guide from EmailLabs, which is largely a compilation of relevant articles from their newsletters and other columns, together with some nice screenshots. If you're sceptical of vendor info material, don't worry: EmailLabs have a solid history of providing value.

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exit signBack in 2002 I wrote an article entitled Let them go!, which explained why you should make life easier for people who want to get off your email list.

Five years later, and providing a simple unsubscribe experience that works is more important than ever. That's because people who can't easily get off your list find alternative ways to avoid your emails. And one of those is to press the "this is spam" button.

More spam complaints equals more problems getting your emails delivered equals poorer results.

So there's an onus on all email marketers to ensure that the unsubscribe process is as intuitive, quick and sensible as possible.

Stefan Pollard's new article describes some of the things you shouldn't do when it comes to helping people leave your list. And some of the things you can do to make it a positive experience.

He also adds his voice to a growing clamor for a universal unsubscribe button that standardizes the unsubscribe process.

By coincidence, Joshua Baer takes on this topic too. He offers a cogent explanation of how a universal unsubscribe button implemented by webmail services and email software would restore user trust in that much-maligned process. And add another layer of legitimacy to professional marketing emails, helping recipients distinguish between spam and the real stuff.

Since the success of email marketing depends largely on the quality of the relationship between sender and recipient, anything that improves a cornerstone of such relationships (trust) is worthy of support from marketers.

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opened envelopeThe rehabilitation of the open rate continues. One of the commonest numbers reported by email marketing software and services, it was long derided as useless.

Not so, points out new convert Ken Magill, who gets Pivotal Veracity's Deirdre Baird to explain a number of things that open rates can identify. This includes the effectiveness of your from and subject lines, deliverability problems, brand strength and similar.

For a broader introduction to this important statistic and its uses, see the four-part Open Rates Guide.

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April 11, 2007
MarketingSherpa just released the first of a two-part look at renting email lists. Plenty of good stuff in there if you're thinking of using someone else's list to acquire new customers.

A couple of extra points:

1. If you do send email to a third-party list, make sure you give recipients the opportunity (usually on your landing page) to sign-up for your own list. You want them on your house list, because your own lists don't incur rental fees :-)

2. Take a close look at where people sign-up for a list and ask yourself if they'd really be expecting a promotion from you, even one sent by the actual list owner. If the answer is no, spam complaints are likely.

3. Check this quote: "targeted consumers lists are running anywhere from $90 to $160 per thousand names." That tells you all you need to know about the value of those $5 cpm lists and similar.

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student signAt least that's the way college email may be heading. Google has started reaching out to students directly to try and garner support and market info for their Google Apps Education Edition.

The application's flagship is, of course, Gmail. So, if they're successful, expect to see Gmail lurking behind even more email systems used by schools and colleges.

Regardless of whether that happens or not, those marketing to students may want to pay more attention to how Gmail treats their emails, anyway. Why? Because at the Google Apps schools page, you'll find this little info tidbit:

"...at many campuses over 20% of the student body already forwards their student email to Gmail"

Gmail is still way behind Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail webmail services in terms of user numbers. But in certain markets, it looks like a major player.

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welcome signWelcome emails are not just the preserve of email lists, and there may be much to learn from those who use them in other contexts.

The folk at 37signals, for example, explain the thinking behind the brief welcome emails sent to people who sign-up for their web-based software applications.

Their motivation is to reduce customer service inquiries by ensuring key information is in-your-face in a brief, simple welcome message.

I would argue that in a welcome message for an email list you have more things you need to do. But it's good to get another perspective and I'd recommend reading through the 40 or so comments at that post to get insight into how people treat those introductory emails.

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April 10, 2007
junk mail photoI've got a little tired of seeing people make absolute statements about what is and what isn't legitimate marketing email. People new to email marketing are confused as to what they can and can't do. Because they hear different opinions all over the place.

So I wrote this article to explain spam and permission issues to people planning to send marketing emails for the first time. It tells you all you need to know to judge for yourself whether what you're planning makes sense. Or whether it's going to land you in a whole heap of unsolicited email trouble.

I've wanted to write this one for years. I hope it serves as a useful document that will save a lot of innocent marketers a lot of learning pain. Comments welcome of course.

(And thanks Tom for getting my brain sparking on this through our recent email conversation.)

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Australian flagWe say pavement, you say sidewalk. It's a big wide world out there and so it's good to have region-specific benchmark data available.

Email service provider Vision 6 have started a series of email marketing metrics reports for the Australian market. The first is based on 60+ million messages sent in the second half of 2006.

So you'll get the usual details on open rates, clicks and bounces, broken down into various categories such as send volume, industry, day of the week, hour etc.

Usefully, the stats come with interpretations and recommendations. For other metrics sources from around the world, try this article.

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wood photoOne of the simplest targeting measures you can take is to divide your list into active and non-active parts.

Those in the active part are those where your outgoing emails register an open or click.

The non-active folk are those where you never get an open or click from them. Here you have to decide which timeframe to use (no clicks in 1 month? 2 months? 6 months?)

The idea is you can then write specific emails aimed at getting the non-actives to become active (for example through a special offer.) If they remain inactive you quietly unsubscribe them: there's no point in sending email someone isn't reading.

Melinda Krueger has some useful thoughts on how to approach this whole list cleaning and segmentation exercise here.

I'd especially echo her warning to take care when unilaterally deciding to remove someone from your mailing list. For example, people getting text-only versions of your emails will never register an open because of the measurement techniques used (see here for info on open rate measurements.)

She also mentions how some people may respond to an email even though they've ignored numerous previous messages. So they are paying attention after all.

I've noticed that myself. When I moved list hosts recently, I only transferred those addresses that had opened or clicked on a message in the last 3 months. But I continued to email the remainder of the list through the old system while I prevaricated about what to do with them.

Surprisingly, the old list of non-responders generated clicks. In other words, some people who hadn't opened or clicked on an email for over 3 months were still reading the emails. So it pays to be circumspect about dumping non-responders.

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April 09, 2007
That's the question posed and answered by Jeanne Jennings in her ongoing series on developing an email marketing strategy.

In this article, she outlines four common types of editorial and promotional emails you might consider, covering their pros and cons so you can start to think what might work best for you.

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Permalink | April 09, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Chris Marriott pleads for email marketers to send more relevant emails. It's a mantra we hear again and again as competition hots up and recipients get less and less tolerant of the rubbish in their inboxes.

Chris explains how relevancy is best guaranteed by drawing on what you know about each customer. Not just from their email behavior, but from all their interactions with your business. In other words, integrate your data.

And while you are working out how to do that, he has some suggestions for how you might get some quicker response rate boosts from sensible testing and simple segmentation.

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Wondering how to grab the attention of stressed business professionals scanning their BlackBerries between (or during) PowerPoint presentations?

BlackberryDianna Huff reports on some subject line tips she picked up at a marketing workshop, and throws in some of her own, too.

With the growth of wireless email, I'm beginning to see newsletter sign-up forms that give people a format choice. Not the traditional choice between getting text-only emails or HTML emails. But a choice of text, HTML or mobile formats.

Makes sense. You can only design email specifically for display on a mobile device like a BlackBerry, if you know it's going to be read on one. Otherwise you're always going to be compromising to find a design and words that work well on 24" PC monitors and 2" phone screens.

(The link takes you to Dianna's current newsletter issue. The subject line tips are in the April 2007 edition, so if you're reading this in May 2007 or later, look for that edition in her archives.)

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April 06, 2007
Gmail logoIf you were wondering whether Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Mail and Hotmail were different or the same, well...me too.

So I put together a quick overview of the big four webmail services and the names they use to describe their products.

In doing so, I noticed several trends of interest to marketers...

1. Preview panes are growing in importance. Webmail services look more and more like your desktop email software, with the same functionality.

2. Webmail services are integrated ever more tightly with other online features, such as chat, instant messaging, mobile services etc.

3. AOL, Yahoo and MSN are all beta testing funky new webmail products. There's an ongoing arms race in the webmail world to keep and gain users. New developments appear all the time, meaning the way your email is presented to users of a webmail service will change often also.

Keep an eye on these services, since those three providers plus Google probably account for around 700 million email addresses.

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April 05, 2007
Hopefully, you're not like me, where the email quality control process looks roughly like this:

Step A Send the email
Step B Wait for my friend Edwin to tell me which part of the email screwed up this week

No, we should all be more like Wendy Roth, who has an eight-point checklist for you to go through before you hit the send button.

She covers such issues as legal compliancy, doublechecking links, tracking and unsubscribe functions, ensuring your headers are in order, and similar.

For the record, the two commonest problems I suffer from are:

1. Minor coding errors, involving a failure to close a HTML tag properly or similar. Having a good template or wysiwyg editing tool can eliminate those kinds of issues.

2. Slipping up with the text version. Often the text version of an outgoing email is an afterthought and hurriedly cobbled together by copying and pasting bits of the HTML version. As a result, errors can slip in.

Pasting text across from the HTML version, for example, means a linked word becomes an unlinked word in the text version, and it's all too easy to forget to manually append the link to it.

So the HTML...

Here's a great article about subject lines

...becomes...

Here's a great article about subject lines

Also, don't rely on the text version your service or software might create for you automatically from your nice HTML email. They can look pretty horrible. Text email design is its own art and science and deserves appropriate care and attention.

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Permalink | April 05, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Then now's your chance to play an active role in developing HTML email standards. The folk at the CampaignMonitor blog put me on to the W3C HTML Mail workshop, due to be held in Paris, France on May 24.

The W3C or World Wide Web Consortium is an open forum which develops web standards and guidelines. Not the kind that gather dust in academic and technical papers, either. Their work forms the basis for a lot of real world technological development. Members include Apple, Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Nokia, Yahoo and all sorts of big web names.

The workshop specifically requests non-technical contributions from marketers on HTML issues, too. So if you're frustrated by the lack of harmony in the way HTML emails get displayed, then consider getting involved with a possible solution.

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Chad White encourages you to think differently about your newsletter readers with this nice article at MediaPost.

His premise is that those readers might be a useful pool of human resources for you to draw on when looking for new employees, writers, models, volunteers etc. And he cites lots of real world examples to illustrate his point.

I'd particularly emphasize Chad's mention of readers as content providers. Aside from written contributions, readers can give you much needed content through...

> case studies of reader businesses
> summaries of reader feedback (on previous content)
> interviews with readers
> a Q&A feature (readers provide the questions and/or answers)
> the results of reader surveys

All of which assumes you have a motivated and engaged readership of course.

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April 04, 2007
Nobody can argue with the value of ensuring your emails are targeted to the recipient. Whether it's just staying on-topic or product offers based on an individual's past purchases...any level of targeting helps.

But you also need to account for the spontaneity, randomness and fickleness of people on your email list:

I don't need a new microphone, but perhaps I can replace those speakers that broke yesterday?

I already did my taxes, but do these folk have advice on more general bookkeeping?

In this context, your email is also a non-specific nudge in the right direction. A reminder that you exist. Another tender moment in the customer relationship.

And that has consequences for what you put in your email.

This point was hammered home to me in a recent report and case study. Talking with Ken Magill at Direct, the ecommerce manager of Universal Screen Arts reveals that most email-driven sales are not products featured in the email itself.

She says, "It's the contact with the customer that makes the difference, not necessarily that you contacted them with a particular product."

And a recent Forrester report, as reported by Bill McCloskey, notes "50% of those who open and read email marketing messages are more likely to purchase impulse items once they get to the site."

The choice of featured product or content is still important, of course. It triggers a direct response and it ensures the email is relevant, which is vital to keeping the email relationship with your reader healthy.

But on top of that you need to make it easy for the recipient when it comes to the indirect response, for example by including links to other parts of your website.

An email promoting a single product, where the only clickable link takes you to that product's page, might be losing you sales or clicks.

Sales and clicks from those who aren't motivated to buy the specific product featured in the email, but who are now motivated to visit the site for some other reason. Thanks to the indirect branding / relationship / reminder effect your email has.

Certainly something worth thinking about and testing. Would welcome any views and experiences...

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Permalink | April 04, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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April 03, 2007
Now that we've all got our breath back, Simms Jenkins offers up an overview of the implications of Microsoft's new email software for email marketers.

I'd particularly recommend the last page of the article, which has fifteen tips and suggestions on what action you need to take to ensure the spread of Outlook 2007 does not mess up your email efforts.

(Disclaimer: I'm quoted in the article, but so are other people with far greater claims to marketing fame. Microsoft's own Craig Spiezle, for example, has an official view on why the new Outlook is the way it is.)

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Permalink | April 03, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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That's the question tackled by Jamie Schissler in this article. He argues that they're great for promotion per se, but not so great for acquiring new addresses for your list.

Not because they don't work; people will submit an email address in return for the chance to win a prize. But because they have a short-term impact, can be costly, and tend to produce low-quality subscribers.

MarketingSherpa has some case studies covering the use of sweepstakes for email marketing or lead generation. Try these (NB: behind a membership barrier):

USAToday
Ross-Simons
Encounter Collaborative
Xerox

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April 02, 2007
crusader helmetSpent last Sunday at a renaissance palace/castle in lower Austria. (I'm not sure what renaissance really implies, but I use the word to try and sound more cultured than I am.)

Among the exhibits on display there, a whacking great heavy crossbow used in the Crusades. Reading the accompanying documentation, I learnt what it was made of, how well it was preserved, the workmanship involved in putting it together etc.

What I didn't learn was how far it shot a crossbow bolt, how long it took to reload, what role crossbowmen played in battles and sieges, what life was like for a crossbowman, how a crossbow rated against a longbow etc. All the things that 95% of the museum visitors (and all the kids) actually wanted to know.

Every other exhibit was the same. Intricate details on the materials and structure of various arms and armour. Nothing about their use, role or social context.

Most museums and exhibitions seem to write their copy (for that's what it is) for themselves. And so it is with most email newsletters and product descriptions.

In a recent survey, Bredin Business Information looked at what small and medium-sized businesses like to read about in vendor email newsletters. Company news came in fourth, garnering less than half the interest given to practical "how to" information, for example.

Yet look at what many (most?) vendors actually send, and you'll find company news right up there in first place. Or product descriptions that tell you lots of information you didn't want to know and none of the information you really need to make a purchase decision.

If that sounds like your newsletter, maybe it's time to think a little more about how you can truly engage the reader. Or else you run the risk of becoming as dusty and forgotten as a crusader crossbow in a museum.

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Permalink | April 02, 2007 | 0 comment(s)
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Reading Jeanniey Mullen's latest ClickZ column admonishing her bank for failing to use email to warn her of some ATM downtime reminded me of this:

Your marketing email has far less impact than all the other email your business sends.

And yet that "other" email gets some of the least attention.

The bank story is a classic example. Would Jeanniey want to publicly blast her bank if the latest marketing email had been slightly irrelevant to her needs? No. They generated the bigger response by screwing up with their customer service.

Think of this. After you buy online, what's the first thing you do?

You check your email repeatedly until the order confirmation arrives. Imagine that. People actually hitting the "get mail" button waiting for an email message from you. That doesn't happen with marketing emails.

Ditto anytime someone contacts customer service.

Those are the "marketing" emails with the biggest potential to engage or enrage the recipient. Not your 5% off new summer selections email.

And another example...list welcome messages. Someone's interested enough in your brand / website /whatever to sign up for your newsletter. That's a hot moment. They're ready and willing. So your welcome message lands on fertile ground.

And yet many people don't even send one. Or send one along the lines of "you signed up."

Imagine if you were at a business meeting and a prospect came up and said, "I love your products. Here's my business card. Soon as you have something new out, please send me a note to let me know about it."

Would you take the card and walk away without a murmur?

Nope, you'd be right in there shaking hands, expressing gratitude, maybe showing the prospect how else you could help them.

So shouldn't your welcome message do the same?

So when you invest all that time in fancy marketing messages, consider the impact all that other email is having. Consider the brand building or brand destruction your transactional emails, customer service emails, list messages and other communications are doing. Then improve them.

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The MailChimp folk have some good thoughts on building an editorial calendar, so you're never stuck when your publication day comes round.

Their blog post also has some ideas on actually coming up with content ideas. I've always found the following approach helpful there (taken from 31 content tips and ideas for your B2B email newsletter):

1. Get buddhist about it and remain aware all the time...aware of your newsletter needs. So when an idea strikes or you read something interesting or you get asked a question by a customer, you make a note in your "content" file.

2. Keep some timeless content in reserve for emergencies.

3. See what content got the most response in previous emails and use that as a hint for future content. If your email list members are a close match to your website visitors, then see what the latter are viewing and searching for. Use that as a starting point for email content.

4. Check out the competition. Visit everywhere else your readers go and see what they're talking about, viewing, reading, bookmarking...

5. Talk to people in your business who have direct contact with customers and get relevant topic suggestions from them. Sales reps and customer service folk should have a good handle on what issues are troubling or interesting customers and prospects most.

For more concrete content suggestions, read the rest of the article.

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