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June 30, 2008
email symbolA fascinating study of subject lines by AlchemyWorx (download here) makes critical reading for those interested in optimizing their subject lines (and who isn't?).

Here's the summary:

1. Short subject lines optimize open rates.

2. Long subject lines optimize both clickthrough and click-to-open rates.

3. Subject lines somewhere in between optimize neither the open rate or click to open rates.

In most cases, clicks are more useful to you than "opens," suggesting that longer subject lines are more effective. (But read on: it's not that simple.)

The authors show again the importance of testing assumed truths. In this case, the results challenge the long-held view that shorter is better when it comes to subject lines.

But there's much more to it.

I deliberately do not list the winning subject line lengths (characters and words). Why?

Because there is no magic number of characters or words that is inherently more likely to get someone to open an email or click on a link.

We (me included) have been lulled into thinking of subject lines in terms of length when in actual fact what matters is what you communicate in the subject.

For example, the research discovered that a certain medium subject line length tends to perform badly. Why? Because it often arises when marketers use subject lines which "over simplify or shorten multiple propositions, or unnecessarily lengthen strong, single propositions."

The lesson is not to avoid that medium subject line length, but to avoid the practices outlined in the above quote.

The lesson is not that short subject lines are bad at getting clicks, but that you should use enough subject line to effectively communicate the contents or proposition of the email.

Which, as the white paper authors point out, you might achieve in a short subject line, too.

The big lesson is to get away from a focus on the number of characters in the subject line and instead focus on giving the people who would likely respond to the email's call to action a good reason to take a closer look.

Do this using a compact and concise subject line, but not too compact and concise that this reason isn't adequately communicated. The latter problem is why shorter subject lines performed less well in terms of clicks than longer ones.

And there are more layers of complexity to throw in...

The authors talk about clicks-to-open as a success metric. Be careful here.

Consider a test comparing two subject lines:

Subject line A:
Delivered: 10,000
Opened: 7,000
Unique clicks: 500

Subject line B:
Delivered 10,000
Opened: 3,000
Unique clicks: 300

Subject line B has a higher number of clicks per open, but delivers a whole lot less clicks in total. If you only used the click-to-open rate as a measure of success you'd pick subject line B (and end up with less clicks).

Also, the study looked at opens and clicks because those were the comparative metrics available. For your own emails, you test subject lines using the success measure that makes sense for you: revenue generated, leads generated, downloads, etc.

Then there may be other factors at play. For example, retail emails featuring offers tend to use shorter subject lines than content-based B2B newsletters.

The former often have lower success metrics than the latter. Is it because of the subject line length? Or is it because content-rich B2B newsletters tend to get better numbers than promotional B2C offers?

Do longer subject lines correlate with more success or cause it?

And what happens if you only ever use specific, informative subject lines? Are there long-term brand effects that see people disengage from your emails because they never have to open them to discover the content?

Yes, it is complicated.

All I can say the research, mull it over, and focus on the interpretations given towards the end of the white paper rather than the specific numbers. Then do some tests on your own list and find out what works for your audience and content.

(And keep on challenging those assumptions!)

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Permalink | June 30, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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clapperboardLet's admit we all love the idea of videos playing from within the email, because it has that futuristic coolness factor attached.

A few days ago, a case study suggested success with embedded video was possible. It met with skepticism.

EmailKarma responded with a survey on video email practices and just published the results.

The many findings confirm the general tenor of video design advice: take a screenshot, put the image in the email, and link that image to the video hosted on a website.

Now I agree with the survey respondents, but are we all missing the point?

Most email rendering environments suppress images. When they do show up, you get the benefits of an image. When they don't, sensible use of alt tags and text links should still provoke the action (e.g. a click) you're looking for.

Now apply that accepted philosophy to embedded video...

Most email rendering environments won't play them. When they do play in the email, you get the benefits. When they don't, can you use accompanying text links ("click here to see the video online") to get clicks through to a website-hosted version?

In the end, do you get the same number of video views as if you'd gone the recommended screenshot -> link -> website approach? Or even more views?

A lot depends on how a blocked video degrades. What's displayed? How does any security warning impact on the viewer experience and the likelihood to click? Does it depend on how much the reader trusts the sender? Or if there is a clear benefit to viewing the video?

The simple and safe way is to use the video screenshot approach. Which is what I do, too. there more to embedded video than we think?

Your experiences, comments and criticism welcome!

More on video and email | Tags: , ,

June 27, 2008
Ken TakahashiSometimes I get confused about email deliverability issues (which happens more than I'd care to admit). The only solution is to call up an expert.

In this interview, Return Path's Ken Takahashi goes over some of the issues surrounding your email sender reputation. ISPs look at this reputation when deciding whether or not to deliver your email to their inboxes.

Among the topics Ken talks about: what determines your reputation? What role is authentication playing in deliverability? What does the future look like? And more...

The interview introduces an email deliverability focus for the next few days here at Email Marketing Reports. Stay tuned for more interviews and insight.

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Permalink | June 27, 2008 | 1 comment(s)
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June 25, 2008
blackboard with email 101 written on itPart 10 of an ongoing series:

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

The new Toyota Prius has a "central instrument display with digital speedometer, fuel gauge, shift-lever indicator and odometer with twin tripmeters, and warning lights." This sounds great. But it's not a lot of use to you if you don't know how to drive.

Email marketing now offers a range of exciting technologies, tools and techniques. But their promise can only be fulfilled if you first learn to drive.

Barely a week passes without some survey highlighting frightening holes in how large companies (the ones with the resources and the specialist skills) use email for marketing.

Just yesterday, for example, Laura Atkins described one big corporate's struggles to cope with an unsubscribe request.

Such is the degree of disinformation, denial or innocent ignorance that in 2008 it's still necessary for experts to remind us of concepts like delivering value to your subscribers or designing for preview panes.

The new email marketing has no need to reinvent tried and trusted concepts. Take a day out of your schedule and go through this post by Loren McDonald and this article by Karen Gedney and make sure you're up to speed on the aspects of email marketing that both list.

Then take another day to browse some of those resources dedicated to educating folk on email marketing fundamentals and make sure there's nothing in there you've forgotten or neglected. Places to start:It's exciting to chase the new, but it's often more profitable to remember the old.

Permalink | June 25, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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In a recent survey of marketers in Ireland, over 50% were "using desktop solutions such as run their email marketing campaigns."

Using your email software or webmail account to send marketing emails is like delivering by bicycle. It's not a particularly sensible solution for the vast majority of businesses.

Dumbstruck by the above statistic, I wrote a quick article for newcomers which explains why you should use specialist email marketing software or web-based services instead.

More on email advertising basics | Tags: ,

June 24, 2008
lightbulbPart 9 of an ongoing series:

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

There are no email marketers. But there are many marketers that use email to achieve their marketing goals. Email is a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Vendors and blogs like the one you're reading favor email. And their counterparts in search marketing, social media, radio advertising etc. favor whatever they happen to be selling or covering.

But the new "email" marketing has no false loyalty to email. Or to any other kind of marketing. Instead, it simply asks what combination of marketing channels is the most efficient and effective way to reach the target audience?

Fortunately (for you, me and those vendors), email is well-suited to playing a significant role in that marketing mix, especially when integrated intelligently with other channels.

The new email marketing seeks synergies with these other channels and with other parts of the business. And these synergies arise when you tackle these four questions:
  • How can email contribute to the success of our other marketing and business endeavors?
  • How can other marketing and business endeavors contribute to the success of our emails?
  • How can other emails sent by the business contribute to email marketing success?
  • What successful attributes of other marketing techniques can we apply to our emails?
Part 8's focus on innovation and opportunity offers partial answers to these questions.

Those intimidated by the apparent complexity of this kind of integration should take heart and begin small. Here some recent examples:
  • Michael Gorman suggests using an email to identify those interested in a particular offer (i.e. those who clicked on relevant links) and then follow up using direct mail. Here email acts as a kind of filter to ensure your direct mail endeavors are more targeted.
  • Sally Lowery has some tips on integrating search marketing with email.
  • Stephanie Miller reminds us of the value in providing email sign-up opportunities at every point of interaction between your business and the customer or prospect.
  • Cheryle Ross has some easy-to-implement ideas on coordinating email efforts across the business (see here for more on that topic)
Nowhere is the siege mentality of channel-specific marketing more evident than in the social networks versus email debate. Again, it's not an either/or question.

As Anna Billstrom notes, social networks don't kill email, but perhaps they change the ways we might use email for marketing...shifting to better use of transactional email and fewer self-serving promotional blasts.

If we look at social media in the context of the questions listed above, it's easy to see why there's no need for email or social network evangelists to be defensive...

How does social media help email?

Answer: Aaron Kahlow suggests embedding social media elements (like videos) in your email campaigns. And Stephanie Miller has several ideas on how social media campaigns can lead to more use of email and more email subscribers.

How does email help social media?

Answer: Email marketing began many years ago with the premise that you could reach people after they left your website and encourage them to come back. That concept hasn't changed. Social networks, forums, blogs etc. all sit on the Web. And you can use email to drive traffic there, as Janine Popick reminds us.

What attributes of social media can email borrow?

Answer: Marc Kline comes up with some ideas in his look at social networking tactics for email marketers. And you'll find more suggestions referenced in an earlier post.

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Permalink | June 24, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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June 20, 2008
treasure chestThanks to Ivan Brezak Brkan for pointing me to what looks like a fabulous new email design resource...

Spam Meltdown is a new blog created to "showcase finely crafted HTML emails."

The first few posts already highlight dozens of designs, including a comprehensive look at welcome messages. The latter have picked up a lot of media attention recently, as surveys show many marketers still don't use them. Even though they are such a low-hanging relationship fruit that you have to bend down to pick them.

The latest BrontoFire has evaluations of four sample welcome messages. And remember that even those of you without big company tools and resources can still send effective welcomes.

Spam Meltdown means we now have a triumvirate of design galleries to draw inspiration from. The other two are the Campaign Monitor Gallery and the new-look Retail Email Blog.

Also check out the wider list of email marketing blogs for those that regularly feature design critiques.

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Permalink | June 20, 2008 | 1 comment(s)
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June 19, 2008
donkeyI'm in an obstreperous mood today.

Email marketing has a high ROI

A myth? (That got your attention.) Yes, of course, email marketing does have a fabulously high return on investment. But is this the best way to judge the success of your email marketing?

First, if you focus exclusively on ROI, you neglect the other benefits of email that aren't easily measured in dollar sales. Examples: improved brand awareness, improved brand loyalty, more offline sales, more website visits...

Second, email's high ROI is partly explained by its low costs. If I invest $10 and get $100 back, the ROI is higher than if I invest $100 and get $900 back.

But the second alternative bags me $800 in profits, the first just $90.

So look at the other financial metrics like profit, too, when deciding how successful your email program is.

Open rates are falling, but that's just image blocking

Many benchmark reports show a gentle drop in open rates as time goes by. And each one attributes this trend to the growth of webmail, desktop and mobile email clients that suppress images, thus preventing your delivery system from recording an open.

That is an explanation, but not necessarily the only one.

Most webmail services and desktop clients switched to default image blocking a while back. The growth in mobile email use might mean a slight uptick in image blocking, but I refuse to accept that image suppression is to blame for everything.

As time goes by, people ought to be unblocking images as they grow to value and trust your emails. (And here's an interesting technique to get them to download images.)

So if your open rates are slowly declining, maybe less people are interested in what you're sending? Or maybe you have problems getting your emails delivered to the inbox?

So, first, don't use image blocking as an excuse to avoid cold, hard analysis of what you might do better.

And, second, don't rely on open rates as your only indicator of success. What about clicks? Sales? Downloads? Profits? ROI?

Email marketing is recession-proof

Email marketing's low cost and high return suggest it's secure from the ravishes of budget cuts in the light of economic troubles. Or is it?

First, as Ken Magill reports, email marketing isn't proving quite so recession proof after all, with marketers cutting back on spending.

Second, and most importantly, don't play the "email is cheap" card too strongly.

It helps you keep your budget intact during the period of economic difficulty. But when things brighten up, you've made it harder for yourself to justify more resources for more advanced email marketing solutions. After all, you argued that email is cheap. (I've touched on this issue before.)

Email is the glue of Web 2.0 so don't worry about the latter

The fact that LinkedIn and Facebook send me email notifications of friend requests and similar says absolutely nothing about the future direction of email marketing.

Linking the success of email marketing to the continuing use of email is like linking the success of direct mail to the continuing use of paper. (Sort of.)

The point is not whether more or less email is sent. The critical issue is exactly how people use email. When? For what purpose? And which people?

The whole Web 2.0 versus email debate is simply a reflection of changing user habits. Customers and prospects are continually shifting their communication preferences around.

The challenge is to get the best match between the marketing channels you use / communication alternatives you offer and the preferences of each individual you're trying to reach.

Email will be the right choice for some of those individuals. And the wrong choice for others.

So worry about social networks, instant messaging etc. Not because they threaten email. But because they remind us that preferences change and your email marketing needs to adapt to these changes. More on this topic.

OK, time for a soothing cup of Earl Grey tea. Think I'm off the mark here? Then do comment and put me right...

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Permalink | June 19, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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a tvA new case study from MarketingSherpa reveals great results obtained by embedding a video directly in outgoing marketing emails.

Human nature is such that I can already hear the pounding of thousands of excited feet as we all go running to the nearest video email vendor to follow suit.

Let's take a closer look at the case study before doing so.

First, the conversion rate improvements were compared to previous campaigns with no video at all. It was not a comparison of "embedded video" versus "a screenshot and link to an online video." Nor was it an A/B test.

Second, the inbox deliverability success is cited at 96%. But I don't know of any technology solution that can tell you what percentage of your emails reached the inbox.

So is that number actually the reported ESP delivery rate? (Which normally says nothing about actual inbox delivery.) Or is it based on inbox monitoring? (Which is a more useful guide, but also not foolproof.)

Would be interesting to know more about the email's deliverability and the technology involved in embedding the video.

Third, conversions is a good measure of success, but what about the costs of video creation and delivery? Would like to hear more about the economics. (The case study does describe it as an "ROI winner.")

I'm not knocking the case study: if it wasn't interesting, I wouldn't bother reporting on it. But if you do want to try embedded videos, do your research and be sure to test its performance against the video screenshot approach first.

Your comments on all this are very welcome.

I keep hearing different stories about video emails. Some say embedded videos work. Others write them off as a deliverability and rendering disaster. What's the truth? And does it matter? (If you test and it works for you, then why worry?)

P.S. EmailKarma is running a survey on this very topic which might provide some answers. (Update: and here they are.)

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June 18, 2008
the words opt-inThere is growing emphasis in email marketing on relationships. Relationships start and relationships end. How you handle both moments has a big impact on your marketing success.

Let's avoid theory for a change and see what marketers are actually doing in this context...a quick trip into the deep waters of the email world netted a few examples of sign-up and unsubscribe practices for you to mirror (or avoid).

Getting the email address

Calls to action aren't just for your emails. Return Path highlight a good example of a call to action for getting people to part with their precious email address in the first place.

Email Marketing Voodoo pick out all the winning principles applied by in their sign-up process.

DJ Waldow describes one car rental company's successful attempt to acquire an email address offline. But then confusing and delayed messaging undoes some of the goodwill.

Keeping the subscriber happy

Lisa Harmon points to several examples of companies giving subscribers better control over the flow and content of emails they get.

Reagan Taylor alerts us to two examples of companies who send dedicated emails with the sole aim of getting recipients to indicate the kind of communications and content they want.

Saying goodbye gracefully

Some unsubscribe requests are actually people looking to change their email address. They could unsubscribe and then sign-up with the new address. But sometimes they do the first bit and neglect the second bit, becoming an inadvertent unsubscribe.

Alex Williams demonstrates how a subscriber preference center avoids that particular problem.

Joshua Baer shows how one online newspaper puts up too many barriers to unsubscribing, a practice shortly to become illegal in the USA.

And Dennis Dayman has an even better example of what not to do.

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Permalink | June 18, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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Following on from a previous video email best practices post, here's a quick design tip...

You're probably using a screenshot image of the ready-to-play video to get people to click on through to the web page where the video is actually available to view.

Don't just use the default video still displayed by whatever video player you're using. Instead, superimpose the video's play and menu buttons over a still that does more to entice the click.

For example, here is the default view of the dormant YouTube video from my homemade Xmas message to the email marketers that read this blog:

video sample

Compare that image to this one:

video sample

As an email marketer, which image are you more likely to click?

Since I have the design talent of a lobotomized hippo, I'm sure the creative types out there can come up with better examples. But you get the point.

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June 16, 2008
email symbolOccasionally I get a little deals out of publishers. Like this one:

MarketingSherpa are offering $200 off the price of their new B2B lead generation handbook to selected blog readerships. And you're one of those select readerships.

If you use this link, you get the new tome for $497 instead of $697. Not sure how long the offer don't hang about if you want to benefit.

Permalink | June 16, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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June 13, 2008
lightbulbPart 8 of an ongoing series:

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

Email works. Which can be a problem. Success sometimes dulls innovation and investment: if it ain't broke, don't fix it (and definitely don't spend any money on it).

But every successful email marketer has a horde of competitors in hot pursuit, each trying to reclaim space in the inbox at the expense of those who fall into smug complacency.

The new email marketing continually tests. And probes. And questions. And asks...what existing opportunities am I missing? What new opportunities are out there? What conventions might be worth challenging?

Existing opportunities

Since every outgoing email from your business has an impact on the recipient, then every outgoing email is a marketing opportunity. Look at all the emails your business already sends and ask what you can do to give them a more positive impact.

The two classic examples are email signatures and transactional emails.

Traditional email business correspondence is by definition personalized, targeted, relevant, timely and (mostly) valued by the recipient. An appropriate email signature is an opportunity to piggyback brand-building and advertising messages on those one-to-one emails, as Simms Jenkins explains.

Transactional email refers to all those order confirmations, shipping notices, account updates and other administrative messages that customers and prospects see.

Again, they're relevant, timely, targeted and valued by recipients. And thus fertile ground for incorporating marketing messages within them. Much has been written on the topic. For example, Melinda Krueger covered the subject recently and MarketingSherpa recommends three steps to a transactional email marketing strategy.

But it doesn't stop there: what other emails are going out?

Does your blog software alert people when a new comment is added to a post they commented on? Does your forum send out "new thread started" notices? What about customer service emails?

Are all these emails sending out the right message / image and a consistent message / image about you, your brand and your products and services?

New opportunities

All the talk of Web (insert number greater than 1).0 often treats email like some old sheepdog. Reliable, efficient, but a little set in its ways. And certainly not up to learning new tricks.

Patent nonsense of course. New email marketing continually searches for novel opportunities thrown up by the eddies and tides of an ever-changing Internet.

Aaron Smith, for example, suggests some ways you might apply the concept of UGC (user generated content) to your emails. And Anna Billstrom reports on one success story where UGC played a key role. Elsewhere, Jack Aaronson discusses how dynamic email ads that update themselves permanently might change the way you think about campaign frequencies.

Spotting new opportunities is not a question of luck.

It comes from an inquisitive mind that constantly seeks innovation and ideas.

It comes from the many sources of email marketing inspiration out there. Whether award and design galleries, case studies, blogs or resource sites.

And it comes from rigorous reviews of your existing efforts, finding the weaknesses and opportunities, and then seeking out tactics to address both. (It never hurts to conduct formal reviews once in a while. Karen Gedney has some thoughts on that, as does Reagan Taylor).

Challenging existing conventions

Finally, opportunity and innovation sometimes arrive in unexpected form. Email marketing is littered with best practices. Which are called that for a reason.

Some best practices are inalienable truths. Others reflect what works best for most people, most of the time. Not all people, all of the time. Sometimes doing things a little differently produces surprising benefits. Here some examples:
  • Shorter subject lines work best? That's what most studies show and most experts recommend. But not all. The people at Emma found longer subjects worked best for them. And Alchemy Worx discovered sweet spots when subjects were short or long, but not in between.
  • Best time to send? Surely not after we're all tucked into bed? But that's worked for retailers targeting time-pressed mums catching up on email late at night.
  • Emails that force you to scroll horizontally?
  • Image-only emails? Nobody recommends those. But sometimes they work. Especially if you know the recipients open your emails.
What are you testing or trying to keep those competitors in check?

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Permalink | June 13, 2008 | 1 comment(s)
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June 12, 2008
a graphGoogle Trends is a tool sitting hidden in the Labs section of the Google website. Put in any search term and it returns a graph displaying changes in the popularity of that search term across any month(s), year(s) or the last 30 days.

It also graphs the frequency of news references to that term. And matches the two. So a peak in search volume can be correlated with news stories.

It's a rough and ready tool, but has various uses for email marketing:

1. You can track the seasonality of interest in particular products, services or topics. And then plan the timing of related email content and promotions accordingly.

For example, if you track the term "Christmas decorations" you'll see that search volume is actually at its largest in November and the first week of December. So a handicraft newsletter might be better off writing about self-made decorations in late November rather than mid-December.

2. The graphs display results for up to five terms simultaneously. So you can use the tool to compare synonyms and pick the most popular for your subject lines.

3. The tool also reveals the regions and cities where interest in a search term is particularly high. Again, useful intelligence when segmenting your list by location.

4. The results themselves make interesting content for newsletters and blogs. A sports newsletter might report on a Google Trends face off between the two teams in the Superbowl / World Series / NBA Finals etc.

5. It's fun to play with while you wait for the results of the last campaign to come in.

Any other uses for Google Trends you can think of?

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Permalink | June 12, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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June 11, 2008
hands at pcMarketingSherpa just released a mammoth 500+ page instructional handbook on B2B marketing (which I'm slowly working through).

I was fortunate enough to get access to a pre-release webinar featuring the author (Anne Holland) and asked her about the key improvements B2B marketers could make to their use of email.

She had two main recommendations.

First, she notes, too many B2B marketers think their standard email newsletter is an email nurturing campaign.

"...that's not good nurturing. You're not giving them content based on where they are in the sales cycle. Not based on their job title or their industry and not based on whether they know anything about you or not."

Instead, Anne suggests putting new leads on specific email communication streams that reflect the characteristics of the lead...

"Prospects should be getting a different series of emails which are often not as newsy as the other ones. They may be something fairly evergreen that helps lead them through the buying cycle."

Anne's second recommendation is to avoid over-reliance on email alone. She says that a lot of marketers shifted to email in 2001 and it became "the sole, de facto communication channel for nurturing."

There are two risks with that single channel approach. First, deliverability issues...

"In B2B, filtering is a much bigger problem than most marketers realize. If you're being filtered at the corporate level, it does not show up on your delivery report. You don't know how much you're being filtered."

The second issue is that certain leads simply aren't great email users...

"Maybe they're high up and don't tend to check email very often. Or they only check it on their Blackberry. Or it's not their preferred method of communication."

So while email is great, you need alternatives, too...

"I believe you should always supplement nurturing emails with telemarketing and probably also personal direct mail and other touches. If the only way to hear from you again is via email you have a problem."

The handbook | Tags: , , ,

Permalink | June 11, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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I often get asked about support for CSS and forms in email clients and webmail interfaces. Here a couple of new links that answer the questions:

Dylan Boyd reveals the latest data on forms support.

And Campaign Monitor just updated their CSS reference guide. It covers 60+ CSS elements and properties and how they are handled by 21 desktop and web clients.

June 10, 2008
flying lettersPart 7 of an ongoing series:

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer.)

Part 6 of this series drew on the wisdom of Voltaire to alert us to the benefits of asking the right questions about our email programs. Now it's the turn of US sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick:

The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the
manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning
of words, you can control the people who must use the words

Anyone in marketing appreciates the importance of good (copy)writing in persuading others to take action. So we'll take that as a given.

In the new email marketing, the "right words" also refers to the technical email marketing vocabulary you use when talking to yourself, colleagues and subscribers.

Internal communication

Email marketing has several inappropriate terms that seduce you into the wrong kind of thinking.

The most famous example is probably "open rate" which says nothing about how many people opened your email. Hence calls to rename it the render rate.

Another example is delivery rate, which says nothing about how many of your emails were delivered to the inbox.

Email experts have long railed against the term "email blast," most recently Mathew Patterson and Justin Premick.

Blast is a word that smells of haphazard carelessness rather than thoughtful relevant, targeted, sophisticated communication.

Language does matter. Words matter. Words influence. If a word misleads or misinforms, then use one that doesn't.

External communication

But why worry about email marketing jargon when communicating with subscribers? We don't talk email marketing with subscribers.

Except we do.

Nearly every administrative message contains email marketing jargon. And your use of specialist terminology helps or hinders understanding and expectations.

Obviously if you want someone to do something, you need them to understand what you want them to do. If they can't comprehend a request or instruction, how can they react positively to it or take the appropriate action?

Does everyone out there know what unsubscribe means? (Don't roll your eyeballs: you and I live in a jargon bubble.)

Go out and find five friends who are not power users of the web or email.

Ask them to "whitelist your email address."

Then ask them if they want the HTML version of your email.

And then tell them not to worry because your email is "fully Can-Spam compliant?"

They will look at you like you're speaking Estonian.

Go through all your administrative messages, sign-up forms, subscriber preference centers etc. and double check whether your audience is likely to understand what you mean.

And it's about more than just encouraging comprehension. Words set expectations.

Many email marketing programs subscribe people to a "newsletter" and send them sales promotions. But the word "newsletter" implies informational content to many people.

There's nothing wrong with promotional emails (obviously). But anytime you set an expectation and then fail to fulfill it, you hurt the customer/prospect relationship and run the risk of being labeled spam.

What expectations do you have when you sign up to an "alert" or a "mailing list" or a "newsletter" or "deals"? Yes, these things matter.

In such cases, as one of Dick's fellow writers (Isaac Asimov) wrote, "It pays to be obvious."


Permalink | June 10, 2008 | 2 comment(s)
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I entered my Gmail address on the white paper and e-newsletter registration form. This is what I got:

email error message

Forcing a subscriber to do things against their wishes is rarely conducive to a great email relationship. But I can understand it if there are good reasons to do so.

So what are the good reasons for not accepting a Gmail address?

I'm not convinced there are enough to warrant these kinds of error messages, but maybe...
  • A corporate email address is likely to be checked more often during working hours, ensuring your B2B messages get read in a more timely fashion
  • Lead follow-up emails look more credible when sent to the "work" address
What do you think? Is it right to reject free webmail addresses like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail etc. at sign-up?

Arguments I won't accept:
  • Gmail is harder to deliver to (corporate anti-spam technologies are far less transparent)
  • Gmail is harder to design for (harder than Outlook 2007 or Lotus Notes?)
  • Gmail addresses are only temporary (webmail addresses used to be throwaway addresses. But since the advent of unlimited storage space and other features they are now frequently used as the main, long-term account.)

June 06, 2008
question marksPart 6 of an ongoing series:

(We're looking at the strategies and tactics that distinguish a smart email marketer from a bulk email marketer. See the New Email Marketing index page to access the rest of the series.)

Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher, had more to do with the Enlightenment than email. But he has an important message for us:

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers

Many typical questions asked by email marketers encourage the wrong kind of thinking and the wrong kind of response.

Instead of blithely repeating questions of the past, the new email marketing reformulates those questions to encourage better thinking and the right response.


notIs email dying?
butHow do I adapt my email marketing strategy to new user habits?

notShould I switch resources to social media/SMS/blogs etc?
butWhere is my target audience and what is the best combination of channels to use to influence them?

notWhat's a good open rate?
butWhat am I trying to achieve with my emails? How do I measure that? What is my current position? And how do I improve that?

notHow do I stay off blacklists?
butHow do I ensure my emails are recognized and valued by recipients?

notWhat is the best day/time to send email?
butGiven what I know about my audience and my emails, what days/times are likely to pull the best response and how do these compare in my tests?

notHow can I boost my email responses?
butHow can I boost my email responses while at the same time delivering more value to recipients?

notWho can I send my emails to?
butHow can I get more people to proactively opt-in to my email communications?

notHow do I stop people unsubscribing?
butWhat alternatives and choices can I give people so they are more likely to stay in my email program?

notHow long should the subject line be?
butWhat do my subject line tests with my list tell me about optimum lengths?

notWhat ESPs get highest delivery rates?
butWhat changes can I make on my side to improve delivery rates?

notHow do I get as big a list as possible?
butHow do I ensure my list has as many active, engaged subscribers as possible and as few dead or unresponsive addresses as possible?

notHow can I cope without more resources?
butHave I done everything within my power to optimize my program with the resources I do have available (welcome messages, alt-tags etc.)?

...and so on. As Voltaire also said, "No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking."


Permalink | June 06, 2008 | 2 comment(s)
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blocked imageContinuing the "win by being less crap than the rest" theme, blocked images in emails have been an issue for at least four years. For a quick overview, check the image blocking section in Campaign Monitor's newly released 2008 email design guidelines.

Recent surveys suggest, however, that image suppression is still news to some.

Chad White reports on new research on how retailers and marketers have adapted email design to cope. Or haven't, as the case may be.

For example, an astonishing 37% of the retail emails examined failed to use alt tags appropriately. Yes, alt tags, which are about 5 minutes work per email.

Again, the message is that basic best practices can help you stand out while others fail. According to Chad, many marketers that had adjusted design for image blocking report significant improvements in responses.

See here for various articles that will help with designing for image suppression. Or get the t-shirt.

Some other image-related posts that caught my eye recently...

Keith Muth discusses a problem (and solution) for image displays in Hotmail.

Pablo Iglesias looks at image formats and dimensions in email, while Adam Covati covers the issue of image file sizes and the email viewing experience.

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June 04, 2008
winning certificate
We may have neglected a very critical contact point that we have with our customers, prospects, and subscribers. That is the very first message that we send to them, a.k.a. the "Welcome Letter."

So wrote Kim McPherson on July 24th, 2000.

Almost eight years later and a new survey by Return Path reveals:

Sixty percent of the companies studied never sent a
welcome message to new subscribers

The companies studied were not SOHO types like me. They were top brands like Nike and Sony.

Return Path's Bonnie Malone-Fry blames problems with getting IT folk to take the necessary action. A polite explanation.

a user actively checks a box on the sign-up page of a
Web site, agreeing that he will receive further
communication...This is the minimum amount of permission
considered appropriate

So wrote Debbie Weil on March 7th, 2001.

Over seven years later and an informal survey by the Email Experience Council reveals that 44% of respondents either use opt-out to build a list (sign people up without permission) or oblige people to uncheck a pre-checked sign-up box to avoid being added to a list.

OK, so a lot of people aren't following best practices. Depressing, but true. But what does this mean for you?


Things like welcome messages and permission-based list growth are best practices for a reason. They encourage lasting, mutually beneficial email relationships with prospects and customers.

They're also relatively easy to implement using tools provided by even the lowest priced email marketing tools, web applications and software.

If you follow them and your competitors don't, then the growing competitive pressure, diminishing attention spans and rising quality bars will knock the latter out of the inbox and leave you in it.

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Permalink | June 04, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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June 03, 2008
checklistIn all the excitement of the email high life, there are some tasks that get forgotten. Or - let's be honest - there are some mundane email marketing tasks we studiously avoid.

Here's a quick list with tips and links. Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

In no particular order:

Survey your list

You can learn a lot about who did what and when by examining campaign reports. But the metrics aren't so good when it comes to the whys (and why nots).

You can help fill in some of the knowledge gaps by surveying your list. Subscribers are an obvious, but overlooked, source of tips and insight for improving your emails.

Surveys also communicate the fact that you value the subscribers' opinions. It's all about relationships, right? And any subsequent changes you make carry the legitimacy of a democratic decision.

Make a backup

Do you have your address list, campaign details and all associated data backed up somewhere safe?

Dust down the old material

Revist all the sign-up forms, confirmation and welcome emails, email footers, unsubscribe mechanisms and subscription pages you setup way back when and never bothered looking at again.
  • Do they still work?
  • Do they still communicate the right message?
  • Do they add value to your program?
There's a fine body of literature out there on relevant best practices.

Take sign-up forms as an example. In the past few days...
  • Michael Williams evaluated various aspects of the sign-up process and language used.
  • DJ Waldow and Kimberly Snyder offered insights from reviews of some retailers' efforts.
  • Denise Cox looked at some of the reasons why people don't complete the newsletter subscription process.
  • And Dylan Boyd highlighted a novel sign-up form with lessons for the rest of us.

Do something about the addresses that never respond

They ARE costing you business. Besides, it's the new email marketing.

Bite the email authentication bullet

There's a reason people keep banging on about it. If your email's authenticated, it tells ISPs and email services that you are who you say you are, and you're prepared to be accountable for your email actions. Expect that to become a prerequisite for delivery success.

Adam Covati had a recent summary. Check out EmailKarma's authentication posts and my own overview for marketers.

Review your email marketing strategy

Seriously. When did you last sit back and ask "What do we actually want to achieve and is what we currently do the best way to reach those goals?"

If you need help formulating a strategy, try Jeanne Jennings' six-part article series on the topic. Megan Ouellet has a list of boxes to tick when performing a self-evaluation. And Aaron Smith offers some tips on defining an effective production strategy.

Any other useful tasks that always get pushed to the bottom of the to-do list?


Permalink | June 03, 2008 | 0 comment(s)
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I'm packing up and going home. A tricky task when you work from home, but worth the effort. Why? Because I just got this email:

ironic subject line

Unsolicited email advertising a spam-proof email address service, whose terms of service forbid the use of that service to send spam.

All together now, it's like raaaaaaaiiiiinnnnn on your wedding day.