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My Email Hopes for the New Year

Written on December 21st, 2009 | Posted by Kara Trivunovic in 2010, Relevance



Have we all become puppets? Being an email marketer, I realize the question itself is not overly popular – but it is something many of us struggle with. As owners of the email programs, many marketers I speak with express the acknowledgement of needing to send fewer, more valuable email communications; however, that admission is always said with the anticipation of the “but.” And a big “but” it is! “BUT, my executive team (business owners, advertisers, take your pick) insist that we send more email, against our recommendation.”

This statement, while expected, never ceases to amaze me. Have we really become an industry of puppets? Are experts no longer hired for their expertise and knowledge to create, drive and manage the best email program a brand can hope for?  Have we been forced in to a “yes-man” role? Ugh. I don’t like the sound of that at all. Can’t we just find a way to co-exist – a little compromise here and there? As we move in to 2010, I share with you my Email Hopes for the New Year:

  • Mastery of the Basics
    There are so many things we could talk about here, but we really need to take a step away from the new and shiny email “toys” and really get good at the basics. If you have a 7% open rate, I don’t think that plugging a video in to your email campaign is going to help. Clearly – you need to think about why you only have a 7% open rate and what you can fix about your email approach or strategy to improve. Poor program performance isn’t going to make anyone happy – not you, not your boss, not your advertisers, and certainly not your customers.
  • Send Less, More Relevant Email
    Achieving relevance is often a daunting conversation for marketers because it means having to dig deep in to data, that you may or may not be able to access. Are the days of asking customers what they want really gone? Do we have to rely on behavioral data to get relevant? Sure, it is definitely the “holy grail” dream, but it you can’t get your hands on that information then why not just ask. Some of the most successful program optimization efforts I have seen with clients are those that asked some very specific questions around products/brands that were then applied to the email program. If you don’t know, try asking – instead of guessing.
  • Have a Real Email Plan
    Do you have a 2010 email calendar? If you said yes –you are in the minority. Just like other marketing efforts, you should have a 2010 email calendar denoting messages you intend to communicate with your customer-base throughout the year. Even the best laid plans have to be revised based on things happening in the market, but accounting for those outliers becomes more manageable when you have the other communications planned. If you do not have a 2010 plan, I beg you, at least make it your first quarter goal to build one. I promise that the work you do on the front-end will really help to drive the vision through the organization the rest of the year – at least it should.
  • Make Your Email Social
    While socialized email was a new topic for email marketers in 2009 – it is definitely something you need to pay attention to and determine how it may enhance your email programs and brand as you move into 2010. It isn’t going anywhere, so you should start considering ways to test and integrate it with your email marketing efforts. Just like anything else, social components have a place in your email communications and don’t necessarily have to be leveraged in every communication – but determining how it could benefit your business and your email program in the coming year is definitely something to be mindful of.

As you all enter in the holiday-state-of-mind, be ready to enter Email 2010 head on. Stand your ground, sell the email vision/strategy through the organization, be ready to compromise a little (but don’t give up) and most of all, have a real plan. The best way to be the expert within your organization and to get the attention and support of your decision-makers is to paint the picture – long-term considerations and all.

Happy Holidays everyone! Go get ‘em!

- Kara Trivunovic
Sr. Director of Strategic Services
StrongMail

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Introducing the new ROI: Return on Interaction

Written on December 1st, 2009 | Posted by Marco Marini




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Marco Marini
CEO
ClickMail Marketing

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Managed Email Marketing: The Benefits of Outsourcing Your Email Marketing

Written on November 16th, 2009 | Posted by Marco Marini in Esps, Technology, Deliverability

 


If you’re still managing your own email marketing campaigns without any outsourced expertise, you might want to take a look at the benefits of outsourcing. Here are just a few of the many benefits of outsourcing for better managed email marketing:

  • Increase your deliverability rate
  • Improve your email design and email rendering
  • Gain a deeper and more actionable understanding of your reporting and metrics · Protect your online sending reputation with expert advice
  • Have more staff time for other initiatives
  • Add the highest caliber email marketing expertise to your team without increasing your payroll
  • Draw on more and broader email marketing experience with seasoned professionals guiding you
  • Spend more time on strategy and planning, less on implementation
  • Enjoy a solution that automatically scales with your growth
  • Know you’re working with the best email service provider for your business
  • And ultimately, improve your email marketing ROI!


If you want to learn about better managed email marketing via outsourcing, reach out to ClickMail Marketing for more information.

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Where Does Your Email Really Go?

Written on November 12th, 2009 | Posted by Chris Wheeler in Deliverability



The internet was designed to be a free exchange of information wherein anyone, upon a loose framework mainly having to do with networking and rendering capabilities, could join, share and digest what they wanted. Email was developed as a predecessor to the internet.  Again, one in which, as long as you had the most basic SMTP compliancy between networks, messages would be handed off between point A to B.

Today, email has turned into a monumentally powerful marketing tool and communication channel that still rivals the internet and other upcoming social networks, regardless of which side of the “email is dying” debate you fall under. With email marketing, forward to a friend, sharing links, email filters and forwarders, along with major ISPs providing outsourcing solutions (like Google Apps), the audit trail of an email is sometimes all but impossible to decipher without CSI level forensic header analysis.

But, you don’t care about all this.


What should you care about?

When you place an order to have something delivered with the USPS, UPS or FedEx, that item almost never leaves that company’s chain of custody.  Meaning, if you dropped it off with FedEx, the recipient will most likely receive it with FedEx.  Again, there are exceptions, but the vast majority of the time this is the rule.  When you send an email out, though, it may be going to a Yahoo! domain address, then forwarded on to a Gmail domain address and finally rendered in Outlook 2007.  What can you do to ensure that your mail has the highest rate of making it to its final destination regardless of the cyber hops in the middle?

1. Ask your recipient up front if their email address is still, indeed, the right one to be using. I check over 8 different email accounts on a normal day, and with inbox email aggregators with dynamic collection addresses (such as OtherInbox), I probably have several hundred email addresses (with OtherInBox I can use disposable email addresses) that will get to me somehow.  However, the email address to sign up with your service when I was a fresh college grad and using my Alumni account may no longer be at the top of my list.  So, I appreciate it when companies I do business with ask me if that’s still the one I should have on my account.  If it is, I click through on a prompt when I login.  If not, it takes 2 seconds to change.  I don’t get asked this every time I login, but perhaps, every 6 months or so to ensure the email address is fresh.  Guess what?  My Alumni account is forwarded to my Yahoo! account.  So, I changed it to have my Yahoo! account receive the email directly (and thus avoid any errant filtering on the part of my school).

2. Authenticate outbound email. Period.
DKIM was designed not to break when making multiple hops in an email’s path to the final destination.  Unfortunately SPF will because of the technical nature of email headers, but with DKIM enabled mail, if it comes through at Gmail verified and then is forwarded on to AOL, the DKIM signature stays intact and the message has a higher likelihood of being delivered.

3. Here’s the bad part.  Just like you as a sender pushing mail out to a recipient, when email is forwarded to another domain by the recipient domain, the reputation and deliverability of that mail falls back on the ISP doing the forwarding.  For instance, I run my own domain hosted through Gmail.  When you send an email there, it gets forwarded to Yahoo! which is what I consider my central email nervous system.  But, sometimes, email from Gmail gets bulked at Yahoo! because of Gmail’s reputation.  This means I don’t get my mail.  What can you do about it?  Gently remind your subscribers to check their spam folders for mail that may have accidentally fallen prey to a filter somewhere.  In my case, I’ll get email that randomly gets bulked (as opposed to breaking any obvious best sending practices) and have made it a habit to check my spam folder often.

4. Check your content in multiple web clients. Oftentimes, an email sent to a Comcast domain looks fantastic, but when forwarded to an AOL accounts, looks horrible.  Now, like in #3, a lot of this is out of your control if the actual content is changed en route by the ISP.  But, if you ensure that your content looks good in the different clients, you increase your chances that when an ISP doesn’t reach in and play with the HTML when it’s being forwarded along, it will look fine in the end email inbox.

5. Have unique identifiers in your unsubscribe links tying an email address back to a particular sender.  If I unsubscribe from my Yahoo! address on an email that was sent to me originally at a Gmail account but was forwarded on, you could end up shooting yourself in the proverbial foot.  I could have any wanted email to my Yahoo! account stop but the Gmail email continue.  Recipients will oftentimes setup multiple email addresses for one account, or across multiple accounts you as an ESP or single sender support, so directly tying that recipient’s unsubscribed email address to their preferences (and not the one that happened to actually do the unsubscribing) is key.

This is pretty technical stuff, folks.  But, in order to stay on top of the original intent of email being free flowing and having as few barriers as possible, you must be cognizant of the challenges in your path.  Reach out to your technical team to ensure you’ve got these points covered.  And remember, an email address is easily disposable.  We, as marketers, tend to see them as having high stickiness.  But, recipients can come and go with fluidity and tracking them along the way with their permission (ultimately their keeping you informed of their moves) keeps you in touch with your customers.

Chris Wheeler
Director of Deliverability
Bronto Software
@ChrisAWheeler

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Spreadshirt (and Durham) Rocks!

Written on October 28th, 2009 | Posted by DJ Waldow

 

Does a personalized subject line work?

Back in my Bronto days, I blogged about personalized subject lines. I provided a generic "It depends" as my answer ... followed by a more detailed explanation. Since that post more than a year ago, I've continued to receive emails that include personalized subject lines. However, most of those emails use my first name as the "hook" to get me to open. This never works for me. Never. I know it's fake. I know it's not genuine. I know it's a "mail merge" of sorts.

Then, the other day, I received this email from Spreadshirt.

Durham Rocks!

Why This Email Rocks

First off, I love Spreadshirt. I love their emails. I love their subject lines. I love their products. I love their humor. Love. Love. Love. So what makes this email rock? Check out the subject line (Durham Rocks!). At some point, I must have entered my city of residence in a preference field. I honestly can't recall doing so, but the folks at Spreadshirt somehow know (I moved from Durham 4 months ago. More on that later).

Spreadshirt accomplished objective #1. I opened the email. Why? Because - even though I don't still live there - I love Durham. It does rock.

Spreadshirt accomplished objective #2. I read the email. The entire thing. Why did I read it? First off, it was short and to the point. It had a main call to action ("Create Your Hometown Shirt") that was clear and catchy. They added a bit of spice/humor to the copy. They closed with 4 ways to follow them via various social networks.

Assuming those were really the first two objectives, they won. Now, I didn't click. I didn't create my own shirt. But...I did write this blog post. I did tell a few friends about it. I will continue to love Spreadshirt. And, equally as important, when the time is right, I will buy from Spreadshirt. They are definitely "top of mind."

Some Caveats

I'd be remiss if I didn't offer some constructive criticism for Spreashirt. I have 3 suggestions.

1. Images Off: The email is not terrible if images are not enabled, but it's not great. Here's why - the main call to action "Create Your Hometown Shirt" - is a button and therefore is not visible unless images are turned on. It should be a bulletproof button (Ask Lisa Harmon).

2. I Don't Live in Durham Anymore: This is not really Spreadshirt's fault. I mean, how would they know I moved 4 months ago? That being said, don't forget to send the occasional email that asks subscribers to update their preferences. Make sure you tell them why and what's in it for them.

3. Follow Spreadshirt On...: I love this concept. They have buttons/images and links. They describe briefly what I'll get (set expectations). They cover the main "social networks"  - Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr. However, Spreadshirt may want to consider moving these "follow" options up a bit. Mabye put them on the right or left navigation? They may get lost a little on the bottom of the email.

---------

So what do you think? Does Spreadshirt rock? For those that live or have lived in Durham, does Durham rock? (I think so).


- DJ Waldow, Director of Community, Blue Sky Factory
DJ Waldow is the Director of Community at Blue Sky Factory, an ESP and an eec Silver Sponsor based in Baltimore. With over 4 years of experience in email marketing, DJ is active in the twittersphere (@djwaldow), on blogs (blog.blueskyfactory.com), and in the social media space. He's an administrator and a regular contributor to the Email Marketers Club and other email-related social networks. DJ resides in Salt Lake City, Utah where he can be found thinking, eating, and breathing email.

 

 

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