All About Email - The Last Word in Email Publishing

Sunday, December 2, 2007

It's Christmas - make the effort

This year I will be sending my Christmas cards by email. Most of the recipients live overseas. So yea, there will be a considerable saving on cost. No purchasing, no envelopes, no stamps, and no mad rush to beat the Christmas post.

Doubtless some of my nearest and dearest will scoff at what they suspect is a lack off effort. But, for the first time, all of them are on email - even the older ones. A sign of the times?

They will not understand the effort, and knowledge required to put together their cards in such a way that they reach the inbox and render properly - public (and business) ignorance of such matters is still high.

They might however appreciate the fact their card is a personal thing, rather than a bland image of snow and trees, containing some generic message from the card manufacturing industry.

So even though it might actually take longer than simply writing a few cards, I am going with it. Even if no-one understands the effort.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I want to complain

Last week I received 2 pieces of blatant spam - both sent from NZ, and both emenating from companies who were large enough to know better.

As much out of curiosity as anything else I decided to complain about these.
After a fair bit of searching, I finally found a web page where I could submit my complaint. I had to register - that took 20 minutes, and when I was finally able to submit, the site broke down!
4 tries later and it finally worked. I was told that my complaint might or might not be investigated.

I have not heard anything since.

It's good to see NZ is serious about stopping spam!

If you want to try, the page is:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Christmas is coming, my Inbox is getting fat

I am subscribed to email newsletters from all over the world. It goes with the territory. So late November is always an interesting time, as marketers who have ignored my requests for their email newsletters all year wake up and flood me with special offers, solutions to my Christmas conundrums etc.

What fascinates me is the absolute lack of planning in this - nothing for ten months then three in a week. Did I sign up to receive it? Often, I can't remember. This year I bought my presents early, so they have missed my custom. Shame in some cases, as a few have some good ideas.

If they had spent the year teeing up their seasonal bonanza, I might have factored them in to my reckonings - spent a few dollars with them.

Most of these marketers are suffering from a syndrome that seems unique to email - the "that's what I do" syndrome. It does not exist in other media where campaigns are planned. Email marketers seem to assume that their behaviour is typical, and structure their actions around this assumption, in the process making the proverbial ass out of me and themselves.

Christmas gets earlier each year. If someone bothered to tell me in September that they would have some fantastic Christmas specials, and to watch out for them in November, then I might do so.

It is the besetting curse of email marketing that the immediacy of email, seems to have been assimilated into its planning. "Lets do". A planned and structured campaign will always work better.

More on these Christmas emails shortly.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A cautionary tale

I heard a very sad story this week. We used to have a client - a small event, and we worked with them for 4 years. During that time we helped them build a database of interested parties – all properly opted in – of just over 10,000 people. It became a significant factor in their marketing and ticket sales, and the event went from strength to strength. We built them a professional website, and advised them on content, and driving traffic to it.

All in all it worked really well for all concerned. The organisers were not necessarily that expert in digital dialogue, but they were smart enough to appreciate what we were doing.

Then there was a change in the senior event management. We were not sure about working with the new chairman and decided to withdraw. We did however offer our advice for free to enable them to continue using email successfully – we also offered to guide them through the new legislation – but we never heard back from them.

It transpires they handed over the email side of things to their new web designers – similar field, so they were of course well qualified to manage it (not).

The new people changed everything – look, name etc and sent out a long and boring email under the new brand. Right at the bottom they asked the recipients to resubscribe – unnecessarily as all recipients were properly opted in, as well as having an exisiting business relationship with the event and its organisers.

They broke 2 major rules (and lots of minor ones):

1. You never use an email to deliver a major branding change – you might instead use an email under the existing brand to warn of the upcoming changes.

2. You never hide an important call to action – you make it the focal point of the email.
And this is where the story gets really sad. The database shrank from over 10,000 to around 300 – 4 years of work destroyed in one moment of autocratic management and professional incompetence – there’s no other way to describe it.

Shortly afterwards, the event was cancelled.

The moral of this story is simple. Email is too important to be handled by amateurs. Cost cutting in email will come back to bite you. If you are going to do it, do it properly.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

And still it comes

Today we have heard about the latest mercy spam which is flooding our inboxes - poverty stricken East Europeans begging us to engage in dialogue and then hand over all our hard earned cash.

Ok - this spam comes from overseas, so our much vaunted anti spam act cannot be held accountable - but our major ISPs can - once again they are failing to prevent spam, despite:
a) investing heavily in anti spam software and
b) continuing to ignore the introduction of whitelists and authentication

OK, I know the sort of people who fall for this type of spam trick are also still trying to invest in Bridgecorp, but really, decreasing the amount of spam we get without impinging on legitimate email is not that hard - just a case of admitting the current solution is not working and accepting that there may be a better way.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Test, test, test

Last week we did the unthinkable and sent out an email without a working unsubscribe link. At best it is poor practice, at worst, illegal!

How did it happen? We have a rigorous testing policy. Every email that goes out is tested for link functionality, browser rendering etc.

Well, it seems that one of our developers was making some upgrading changes, and during the process, the auto unsubscribe function slipped off the frame template. No-one noticed - after all, it gets input automatically, and is not even considered as part of the normal testing process.

It has been a very welcome wake up call - complacency is the enemy of great email - so we, and so should everyone, will revisit our testing procedures to ensure such an error never happens again!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

You musy be joking

After a very busy, trying, and blog-free week, a moment of humour which fully restored my good spirits!

Yesterday we sent out a newsletter on behalf of a client - audience approx 45,000 which is quite big by NZ standards.

One auto response showed just how confused the world of email is.

Your message has been blocked, it read, due to restricted contents. The restricted content is: to unsubscribe from this newsletter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The one thing just about every anti-spam law and best practice all over the world agrees on is that every email must include a working unsubscribe link. Yet this particular email client found it offensive and filtered our newsletter.

He was running a programme called MailScan - not one I have heard of before, and not one I could recommend if you want to receive emails!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Confusion reigns

Those who read this blog will know that I have been pretty critical of the Anti-Spam Act - so far from the perspective of spam volumes and ISP commitment to solving this.

Today I want to examine it from another perspective - that of the supposedly legitimate emailers in NZ.

Since the laws came in I watched with interest as email marketers and publishers have reacted in many different ways.

As recently as yesterday - one month later the laws took effect, I was receiving emails asking me to opt in, to opt out and so on in order to be compliant with e laws. I have also received quite of lot of completely unexpected and unwanted emails from publishers I have never heard of asking me to join their lists.

Amongst those who have tried to come to terms with the law, there are many who have failed to understand it - usually small companies who have seen email as a cheap and easy option. I hope they are not made an example of by the authorities because most of them are transgressing in many ways, but are clearly attempting to do it properly.

In fact, since the laws came in there has been zero publicity surrounding it - no warnings, no prosecutions, and with the exception of material released by Inbox, no comment about it at all.

I am all for improving the practices of legitimate email marketers and publishers - ultimately if standards are adhered to it will help in the war against spam, so wouldn't it be a good idea if the MED followed up their law with a review and some guidelines to help achieve this?

I suspect they won't!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Plain Text

Most email platforms have the ability to deliver a plain text version of your Html - to browser like Lotus Notes that mangle Html, or to recipients who habitually view their emails on handhelds.

Your platform will probably take your email, strip out the Html and deliver a pure, unformatted text version as standard, and sometimes you may be happy with this.

It looks horrible, and reads even worse.

As use of handhelds grows, so a rethink of the text version will become more important.

My feeling is that it should be no more than a simple introductory line followed by a link to the web version of the email - so it can be viewed properly, and at an appropriate time.

For example: The October edition of our newsletter, including an update on XYZ, is now online at

Perhaps a little top and tailing to emphasise content is a good idea, but simplicity and brevity are the watchwords.

It helps if you know which of your readers habitually reads email on their handheld - do you ask at point of sign up?

Thursday, October 4, 2007

When less is more

Last week we challenged the ISPs with the statement that more spam was getting through than ever before, the anti spam act had failed and that authentication and national whitelisting must be adopted sooner rather than later. Only IHUG bothered to reply, and they said it would not work, and that the Act was a success.

Our sister company Opinion Polls NZ ran a national survey to see whether people were getting more or less spam since the introduction of the act - and guess what - 97% of people said they were getting more!!!!!!

A cynic might conclude that the ISPs just can't be bothered.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

What gets you noticed?

In the noisy and crowded place that is our inbox nowadays, many people receive so much email that all they do is scan visually for ones they recognise then delete the rest.

Traditional email analysis says that readers look first at Sender ID and second at subject line.

I am no longer sure that is the case. I believe, based on talking to a broad range of people, that subject line might be the first point of recognition - especially as so many sender IDs have been highjacked by Trojans.

It seems that people are starting to scan just the subject line - as they feel it gives them a truer indication of whether the email is of interest or not, and generally disregarding sender ID.

If this is true, then the whole issue of subject lines must be re-examined and greater importance placed on those few words!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

You have to laugh

An article in the UK Daily Telegraph caught my attention today, and made me laugh - in a bitter and cynical sort of way.

Broadband too slow, it proclaimed.

It seems that the UK rate of 20 megabits per second is holding them back, when countries like France and Korea offer 5 times faster.

Yes, well, us Kiwis can understand why that would be a problem; after all, our typical premium broadband rate of 500 megabits is; what? Oh, that's 500ks? you mean about a 40th of the UK rate?; a 200th of the Korean rate?

Do you think that might be holding us back as well?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

And still - mounting frustration

3 weeks into our new anti spam laws, has anything changed yet?
Well, yes it has. I am receiving a lot less email from newsletters I have previously subscribed to.
One thing that remains the same is the volume of spam – still very high.
But it does appear that certain amount of legitimate email has been discouraged – so well done the Government – another piece of brilliantly thought out and well executed legislation.
At least we can take heart in the high volume of prosecutions that have resulted – well, none in fact, demonstrating that this toothless legislation missed the point – there are no spammers in NZ and the solution to ending, or at least limiting spam is no nearer.
A recent conversation with the Marketing Association revealed that for some time they have been in discussion with major NZ ISPs about a national whitelist.
Those discussions must be pretty arcane, because no-one seems to know anything about it – how far the issue has been progressed, when it might come into force etc.
A national whitelist, combined with authentication, would make a major difference to the volume of spam, and the ability of legitimate emailers to reach the desktop, so it is a great idea.
It is not hard to set up, and needs to be implemented sooner rather than later to ensure we in NZ do not lose faith in email as a medium of communications.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

It's still coming

So 10 days into our much vaunted anti Spam act, what has happened?

Well, 2 things; the first is that I am still getting the same volume of spam as before - no surprises there.

The second is that I have also received, many well after due date, a raft of messages asking me to opt back in. One even told me that my previous opt in was irrelevant - if I did not opt in a second time they had to unsubscribe me.

Given the significance of email as a communications tool for both personal and business reasons, you would think that a relatively simple piece of legislation such as this would be a little clearer for people. But it is not, and one result is that many businesses have shed up to 50% of their marketing databases unnecessarily.

Another has been our bombardment (mostly quite without need) of these opt in emails. We want value when we receive a marketing email, not chores.

So, so far, the anti spam act has been a failure - my inbox is more clogged than ever, and we are no nearer to a solution that we were six months ago.

There is, supposedly, in the pipeline, a solution - a national whitelist. You might have thought that there would be an urge to announce it as work in progress, and a desire to prioritise it, but apparently not.

I'll believe it when I see it. In the meantime, work on your email - deliverability is only in your own hands right now.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Boring auto replies are boring

I am going away for a week. On holiday. The first one for three years. I expect to get a normal volume of email while I am out of office, so what should I do?

To me email demands urgency - it is quick to send, and people expect / appreciate a quick response.

So rather than just ignore my messages for 7 days, I need an out-of-office auto reply.

Many people forget the significance of these. I have thought about a few ideas:

1. Do not use the usual boring out-of-office subject line. Say something engaging - how about: Responding from the beach.

2. Remember that this is an opportunity to communicate with existing and potential business contacts. Rather than saying I am away for a few days, embellish your message. - I am out of town for a week and when I return I look forward to talking more with you about business, especially our new strategy for XYZ

3. Share you trip with them - it will be a great icebreaker when you return - I am going to be trekking through the jungles of South Chicago for 2 weeks.

So always think carefully about your message - it is a marketing / engagement opportunity.

Of course, I won't really be out of touch - my trusty blackberry will be with me, so I can take a sneak at who is emailing me - any who knows, I might even reply to the lucky ones!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don't change the subject

Right now there's a lot of talk about subject lines, maybe too much talk, to misquote Bono. But it is an important issue, and one where opinion is sharply divided between the email cognoscenti, and your average corporate email marketer.

Industry advisers urge a conservative approach - be exciting and engaging without being spammy, yet users seem determined to "win free double your money" in the subject line wherever possible.

This week ASB, after much internal huffing and puffing, relaunched their email marketing programme with a new, and when you dug it out of the spam file, quite interesting newsletter.

But it did go straight into the spam folder.

Their subject line was: Celebrate 10 grand years with $10,000.

Now spam filters, especially here in NZ, are not known for their sophistication, so matching up a spammy subject line with a domain which had not sent anything for a while and coming up with Spam was a simple move.

How badly this will impact upon ASB we have yet to see - being a good citizen (even though they declined to use our services) I replied with some advice about subject lines, but of course it was sent from one of those Oh-so-clever noreply@ addresses.

When you are launching or relaunching a newsletter, initial audience engagement is a worry. Using a really exciting and enticing subject line is tempting - because getting recipients to open that all important first message is crucial. In fact, I predict that shortly we will see the arrival of a new type of email sub-specialist - the subject line writer!

Subject lines are another component of the design / delivery compromise equation - is it better to get sexy and compelling marketing to 50% of your audience of good solid marketing to 95% of them? (more on this soon).

To my mind, delivery into the inbox is crucial - so rein back a little with those subject lines.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Some words won't work

There are some words you just cannot use in email. No, not the rude ones (although they are a problem too), but words that appear perfectly normal - in fact ones that truly reflect what your message is about.

This post is not about subject lines - that's an entirely separate topic we will deal with shortly. No, this is about the body content of your message.

Most filters are based on the Bayesian principle - examining the content of a message and deciding if it is spam based on the percentage of known spam words.

Imagine you are a Life Insurance company. You have a legitimate list of your own policy holders that you regularly email. You decide to have a marketing push and organise a sale, combined with a totally free, no hidden clauses assessment of insurance needs.

Your email says: "Take advantage of our 100% free offer - click here to see more details. Apply now to receive a 25% discount on all new policies - double your Life Insurance cover with the lowest insurance rates around. Take better care of your family."

Although this is a true reflection of your marketing thrust, many filters will block your message - most of the words and phrases in that snippet are absolute no-nos for email.

So yet another challenge for emailers - to write persuasive copy which truly reflects your marketing message that engages readers, but does not fall foul of spam filters!

Yet another reason to call in the professionals if you are serious about email.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The other side of spam

We all get spam, some more than others. Upcoming legislation in NZ, originally aimed at preventing spam, will simply prevent spammers from operating in NZ - it will not diminish the volume of spam we receive.

So what will?

For legitimate email marketers and publishers, spam is a problem in that due to ISP and desktop filtering practices, quite often our emails get blocked or filtered even when the recipient is dying to receive it. So we have a commercial and conceptual interest in diminishing spam.

In the USA, where email is a sophisticated and specialist discipline, Authentication is catching on. 44% of all emails are sent using either Sender ID or Domain Keys, the two main standards of authentication.

Put simply, Authentication ties the senders IP address to the domain name used - thus preventing spammers from pretending to be or whichever well known name they hide behind. So this would enable ISPs to eliminate a great deal of spam, and all phishing emails at source.

Then there is the perspective of legitimate email marketers and publishers; using authentication, ISPs can whitelist proper email senders - so that all legitimate emails get as far as the desktop.

Senders of bulk email who were not whitelisted could be identified and encouraged to demonstrate their legitimacy so that they could be whitelisted too. After a while, any bulk sendouts which were not authenticated and whitelisted could also be blocked at source until such time as they either stopped emailing, or adhered to the ISP standards.

The Unsolicited Commercial Messages Act states that it is merely one of a number of measures that will fight spam, and stresses the importance of self regulation amongst the email industry.

Authentication is a relatively cheap and simple solution to implement, yet when asked Xtra, Ihug and Clear all said it was "too hard".

So next time you miss a really important email because your ISP guessed it might be spam, remember, ask them to adopt authentication.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Choose me, I'm best (part 1)

Most companies who publish an email newsletter do not develop or own their own email platform - they either contract out or buy in.

Smart move - it costs a lot less, and avoids having to acquire in-house expertise.

So what do you look for when making a decision about vendors? There are lots of companies competing for your email business, all with glossy websites that promise a great deal, and often obfuscate in order to avoid real issue.

Here are some of the key issues:

1. Do they develop their technology in-house? This is important, because if you want changes or developments made to suit your requirements, you do not want to be dealing with an intermediary.

2. Do they have (and what is) a deliverability strategy? This requires advanced deliverability tools, and constant strategic monitoring and management. Without this, you may find 50% of your emails fail to make their intended destination.

3. Do they overbrand your messages? Many people prefer this not to happen - it can confuse recipients, A good ESP will want to overbrand, but will make this optional.

4. How do they track? With so many desktop and ISP filters in operation, a new degree of sophistication is required to obtain all encompassing and meaningful stats

5. Do they provide integrated web form solutions? With new laws, opt-in is more important than ever. A good ESP will be able to create and host these so they are seamlessly integrated.

As with all things, it is only during the pursuit of excellence that these factors are important. If you want to set the standards, in terms of deliverability, best practice and impact, then a good ESP is essential - and worth every penny.

Monday, August 6, 2007

More on delivery

A recent ClickZ white paper discussed “how to ruin deliverability in 10 easy steps”!
Deliverability is the single most important issue facing emailers, because if you cant get the message through, the rest really doesn’t matter.
In NZ we do not face the same challenges as those in the developed world – our incredibly unsophisticated email framework does not make delivery the issue it is in the USA, for example, but we have to assume that we will one day upgrade the wood-burning technology which currently manages email in this country, and plan that concepts such as authentication will eventually reach us.
Ruining deliverability is something most novice emailers do without trying. Sending out bulk emails with attachments, Html emails with a file size of 500k, sending to an uncleansed list with over 50% dead recipient addresses, that sort of thing.
Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to look at ClickZ’s 10 easy steps and see which applied in NZ.
Top of the list is Authentication – we don’t have that – too hard, according to Xtra and Ihug when we suggested it to them.
Then it’s a list of general design and best practice factors – dirty lists, poorly rendering content, spammy subject lines, unrecognizable sender Ids, untested links and messages etc – all the things that non-expert emailers do all the time.
So it’s good to know that the problems I see every day here in NZ exist elsewhere.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Lies, damned lies and.......

Relatively accurate statistical measurement capability is a key component of what sets email aside from other media as a unique channel of communication.

A new site, Email Stats Centre ( provides a wide range of comparative stats for inspection. Quite how useful this will be in unclear, but like all email stats, they do provide benchmarks.

Most email stats are less accurate than we would like, but because their MO is relatively consistent, we can compare and contrast, and that is where the real value is.

The email stats centre offers a whole host of stats - categorised by some of the key factors such as Authentication, delivery, subject lines etc.

They appear to be taken exclusively from the USA, and often garnered from 3rd party surveys, but for the curious there are some interesting conclusions to be drawn - which back up many of the golden rules we should be following. Have a browse, but remember - stats are like a paint brush - the picture depends on who's holding it.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The right club

As a mad keen golfer I invested heavily in a top of the range set of clubs a few years back. So heavily that it caused the better half to murmur pointedly about expensive jewellery. A year later she (again) pointedly enquired why I was not competing with Tiger Woods. When I explained it was because I was not good enough, she acidly reminded me I had spent a small fortune on clubs. "Surely they should make you better", she said.

I was reminded of this recently when a would-be client told me they were eschewing our services (good word that) and devoting their budget to a top notch DIY email platform.
Well sure, that's their decision, but is it a really smart one?

Of course a great email platform is essential, but nowadays there are lost available, and give or take a few gimmicks, most perform the necessary functions.

But like the golf clubs, they are only as good as the person managing them.

As each and every day, email is becoming more specialist. Delivery and impact challenges are growing. Without the right level of experience and expertise, your email cannot rely upon the platform to achieve your goals.

Design, copy, and coding are just some of the basics that require human configuration for successful email.

So yes, good clubs will give you an advantage, but you still need a great golfer to get the most out of them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Kitchen Sink

I love getting email newsletters - partly for the information, and partly so that I can assess whether they are well put together or not.

So whenever I see the opportunity to subscribe, I do.

Some newsletter sign up forms are very straightforward - name and email. I like those ones.

Others, however, want to know pretty much everything about me - kitchen sink and all. Quite why my postal address is a must fill in I am not sure - I only want email.

The answer is, I assume, one of two things; either the form has been created with no thought at all, or the publisher plans at some stage to utilise segmentation.

Now don't get me wrong - segmentation is a very valid, and excellent email marketing practice - but here in NZ it is practised by pretty much no-one - the old too hard basket again.

"We'll get round too it", say the marketing team, before getting distracted by another online survey email coming through on their blackberries.

So, segmentation; targeted communications - great things, but they need following through.

There is an equation for how you ascertain information about your audience when using email; attract, engage, interrogate is the formula.

First you attract them to sign up - do not make it a chore, keep the information to a bare minimum.

Then you engage them through a series of valuable and entertaining messages.

Then and only then do you try to find out more to enable segmented marketing. Those who are still with you will readily divulge the info you want, and benefit from you targeted messages you subsequently send.

Asking for shoe sizes, mothers maiden names and toothpaste preferences at initial sign up is a bit like hanging a sign in your shop window saying "we are not that interested in your custom" - don't do it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Thinking about Spam

We are told that it's never been harder to get Spam through to recipients - ISP and desktop security options should mean that spammers face a virtually impossible task. But still it arrives.

My new Windows Vista system started really well, automatically diverting all junk email to a special, yet accessible folder. It took the spammers about 2 weeks to work out how to get round this and get into my Inbox.

But personally, that's fine - I welcome spam. As an email professional, I can learn a lot from it. What subject lines and body phrases and words to avoid, for example. Given the growth of Bayesian filtering, this is very important.

I would also rather spend 5 minutes a day deleting unwanted emails rather than run the risk of missing a genuine and important business or personal communication because it has been inadvertently filtered by a third party. I hate the thought of someone else deciding what I should and should not receive.

Unless email becomes a totally permission based network, where you can only send and receive emails from someone who has whitelisted you at ISP and Desktop level, then we will have to live with Spam, and personally I believe the benefits of free and open email far outway the negatives.

And remember, one mans spam is another mans welcome message - as a colleague once said, it's only spam if you are not interested!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The NZ Anti Spam Act

It seems like a lifetime ago that I was asked to make a submission on the proposed anti spam laws.

Now we all know that NZ is not a spammers haven, but it did seem like a good idea to put a legal framework in place to regulate the email industry, and clear out the poor practices which were widespread.

I duly bit the bullet and turned off Cold Case (yes, that's how long this series has been running) and made some notes. 2 weeks later those notes were 22 pages of neatly typed, thoughtful and well argued points which assessed the proposed NZ legislation from a 360 degree perspective, compared and contrasted with overseas legislation and experience and, I hoped, summarised both the problems and solutions very neatly. I duly sent it to the MED and waited - very much in the same way that I am still waiting for anything other than a standardised thank you message.

I took the time to study the other submissions - some were from industry insiders like myself. Some were from big commercial organisations whose networks were clogged up with spam, and one or two were from those good upstanding citizens who populate the letters to the editor columns and the Talkback radio shows.

I then studied the proposed legislation when it was published, and after it had been reviewed by a parliamentary committee whose qualifications seemed to be that they had an email address.

I was disappointed by it then, and now, as it is about to take effect, and I am equally disappointed - by its inadequacies, poor definitions, areas of omission and most of all by its failure to address the issues facing the NZ email market. Our website ( deals with the specifics of what the Act does do, and it would take too long to address all of its shortcomings, but let me say this: it will not reduce the amount of spam we get by one little bit. It has more grey areas than a British weather map on a summers day, and it is typical of any government legislation - it misses the point.

Nevertheless it is here now, and it will at least clean up the bottom end of the market - making sure everyone at least does the basics properly from now on.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Don't rely on passing trade

If I was going to open a shop, the one thing I would not rely on is passing trade - especially if I was one of many shops in the same location, most of whom had far more extensive resources than I to attract people to their shops.

So it always amazes me when retail web site owners, as one recently said to me, hope that people will stumble (he said find) on their site and recommend it to all their friends.

Yes, of course some will, but I think he was missing the point. If potential and actual customers do visit your site, then they are a precious resource. Find out who they are and they reach out to them and get them back to your site time and time again. If you have new offerings, or special deals, tell them about it. Do not hope that they will check your site every day.

One of the reasons that email is so good for doing this is that (Blackberries and other PDAs excepted), people are in situ when reading email - your website is just a click away. The click though rate from email is far higher than from other media - far far higher.

There is an argument that says people make less instantaneous buying decisions when browsing after an email prompt. Possibly this is true, but when taken in the context of the extraordinarily low conversion rates from other media, you still achieve more tangible business from email.

So if you have a site, and you want people to visit regularly, find out who they are, and use email to prompt them to the site.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Where is it?

I was recently asked to review the eMedia strategy of a part catalogue, part online retailer. The company had been surprised by the growth of sales online, and was considering an investment in strategic thinking to maximise this new revenue stream.

So I went to their site and, as I do on these occasions, tried to sign up for their email newsletter. I am a veteran at sniffing out well hidden sign up pages, but this time I was really tested.

Eventually I found it (I think), hidden at the very bottom of the long home page, under the guise of Join XYZ company. I say I think, because I still have no idea what I signed up for, or joined, for that matter. No confirmation email, no promise of a forthcoming email newsletter, nothing. It asked me for a lot of personal information as well, information I was reluctant to give out without knowing why.

My conclusion, which I sent on to the client, was that an emedia strategy would be a good idea, as they clearly had none.

In order to maximise the potential of a site of this kind, you need to understand the mentality and differetn types of site visitors you will get.

Some will be there to buy, and will be regular visitors - for now we will put these to one side, and focus on the others - the ones you never know about.

Casual site visitors should be identified and captured - an email newsletter is a great way to do this, so make the sign up very prominent, and incentivise it - once captured, you have the opportunity, through smart communications, to convert casual visitor to regular, regular to customer.

If you do not know who they are, you may never see them again, and you can do absolutely nothing to influence their behaviour..

Do not ask for too much, or irrelevant information when they first sign up - it can be very offputting. Ask for key data - name, email, location, and perhaps a checkbox list of options which will enable you to personalise your communications to them - sectors they might be interested in, for example.

And make sure you sell them the benefits of signing up and remaining a recipient of your newsletter on a regular basis.

Once they have signed up, they should immediately receive a thank you email - and don't be shy of adding some concise marketing message into this.

Do not ask for their physical address - these people want electronic communications, not posted ones, and people hate typing in their address needlessly.

Identifying site visitors gives you the chance to secure their custom - so don't hide your sign up forms - make them the focal point of your homepage.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


In the ever increasingly loud place that is email, to make yourself heard is getting harder. After a weekend away from the office, someone's inbox will be full of junk, spam, and a few valid emails. More often than not they simply delete the lot.

What do people look at? Sender ID and Subject line are the two key factors that determine if people notice and read your email - so follow the golden rules - do not sacrifice functionality for creativity.

Sender ID must remain the same - sender IDs are what get you onto whitelists, into address books and most importantly get you instantly recognised by recipients. So give some thought to getting the right sender ID when you start a campaign.

Subject lines are getting harder. Subject lines need to change each time, otherwise recipients will assume you are sending them the same email time and time again. If you are publishing a periodical newsletter, then you are on safe ground - you just need to change the date, and the constant of the title will help recognition.

However........assume you are not publishing a regular newsletter. You want to use an eye catching, engaging and action prompting subject line. You need to remember that most of the good words have already been taken by spammers, meaning that if you use them your email may get filtered or blocked. It is not easy to strike the necessary balance.

Nowadays, subject lines are a skill in themselves. they need careful thought. A good one will work wonder for your open rate, but a bad one may result in many bad things, not least of which could be you being blacklisted as a spammer. So think first!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Comparing statistics

Clients often ask about their statistics.

Why is my open rate so low? Why have so few clicked through to our offer? Why did 9 people unsubscribe?

Quite often you sense that they are disappointed by the statistical measurements of their send out, and it is not unusual for them to blame you!

Problems of this nature should never occur. The responsible email publisher will always brief their clients at the start of their relationship.

Email is different to other media - recipient statistics are based on the behaviour of the entire audience - not on a supposedly representative sample and then extrapolated.

So, assuming (for the moment) there is no margin for error, email statistics provide you with a true and global assessment of audience behaviour. You simply do not get that with other media, where stats can be manipulated to give you the answers you want, rather than the real picture.

So yes, Mr or Mrs Client, sometimes you may not like what you see with email statistics, but there is good news too - you have a quantitive level on which you can base future performance targets. So if open rates are, say, 27%, you can look closely at why you think that might be, and work to improve that.

Taken in isolation, a single set of stats from one send out are useless.

To make stats work for you, compare and contrast from semd out to send out. Adjust aspects of content, delivery timing, subject line and other behavioural factors. Analyse their impact.

So what about that margin for error? Yes, it is true that email stats are not 100% accurate. Email publishers simply cannoy develop technology rapidly enought to kep pace with browsers, recipient hardware etc, so accept up to a 10% error factor. But.....the margin of error is reasonably constant, thus ensuring that comparisons of stats on stats are valid.

So explain to your client; it is not about the absolute numbers, it is about trends and interpretation.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The little things

Attention to detail is what defines the gulf between good and great.

A good email is one which gets consistently high delivery rates, a great one is which recipients read as a priority and respond immediately to any calls to action, whilst busily telling their friends and colleagues about it.

An email is like a house - a good strong framework, built on solid foundations, will enable it to provide shelter; innovative, attractive and well presented design and furnishing make it desireable to live in. Similarly with email, you need the skills of a builder, architect and designer to produce the ultimate email communications. Each will bring specialist knowledge which the project manager will meld together to ensure the finished product is something people eagerly anticipate and respond to readily.

The pursuit of excellence is about recognising that marginal increments count. Each small change or improvement will bring another marginal percentage of readers into the fold. Your goals must always be 100% delivery, 100% readership, 100% response and 100% retention - any the planning, design, writing and production need to aim at that goal. Each tiny detail can ove you closer to that goal. Acceptance of anything less will lead to lower delivery, readership, response and retention than you want.

Post send out audits are your greatest intelligence - so use them. Try and understand reader behaviour in the context of your email, and implement solutions to improve next time. It's the little things that can make the big differences.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The real cost

I am often told that email is cheap. Yes, well, I suppose that is true - much in the same way that food is cheap, clothes are cheap, or advertising is cheap.

What it really means is that it can be done cheaply - but not necessarily effectively for either you or your audience.

What is undeniable is that email is extremely personal and direct - the most visible form of communication between you and your audience, so perhaps doing it on the cheap isn't such a good idea.

I have advised many potential clients that they would be better off ceasing their email newsletters and marketing send-ours rather than doing it cheaply. There are easier ways to disengage and progressively disenfranchise your audience than by sending them a series of shoddy emails. One email calling them idiots should do the trick!

An audience is a valuable thing - it will have cost time and money to create, and it should stand to reason that it will cost time and money to engage and develop. It does not matter which medium of communication you plan to use, the most important thing is to communicate well and grab and hold their attention.

Success in email is about marginal factors and marginal percentages (I'll talk more about this soon), and the knowledge, experience and insight required to get those marginal factors right comes at a price. Mistakes come cheaply, and it does not take many mistakes - often only one, to switch off an email audience.

So if you do use, or plan to use email to communicate with your audience, don't skimp when it comes to design, content and strategic planning - and that's just for starters!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Frequency and Follow On

How often should we communicate? It's a question we hear all the time from clients who use email.

The answer, as a general principle, is simple - as often as you feel it will be of benefit to you and your audience, but what does that really mean?

Communication leads to relationship development, turns interested parties into stakeholders and builds and manages customer relationships.

But of course, it is not that easy, and there are no general standards - each email communicator must assess the unique circumstances in which they are operating and adjudge an initial optimum frequency.

Regularity is important; that does not mean there is no room for additional, ad hoc emails, but if you promise your audience a regular communication, they know what to expect, and they will expect your email. The frequency of that regularity should be based on the value of the information you are transferring; low / zero value information will lead to fall-off in readership rates, higher unsubscribes and very low responses to any calls to action.

If your emails are more direct marketing based - special offers etc - then frequency needs to be based on the value of those offers. Measurement and analysis of initial send-outs will provide you with the clues you need to see if your audience want more or less from you.

Frequency of communication is a critical factor for audience engagement and retention - if you are not heard, you will slip off the radar, and if you talk too much, many people will only listen to some of what you say.

Monitoring and evaluating statistical reports is the best way to assess audience response. Do not overlook the importance of this.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Images and the Design Compromise

The need to render properly in different browsers; image blocking; image to text ratios; file size limitations; font and colour protocols - these are all factors in successful email design.

Pretty pictures do not work - unless they form no more than about 20 percent of an email, alongside plain and rich text.

Designers must learn to compromise on aesthetic appeal in order to increase functionality - deliverability, preview pane impact, and image blocked impact.

Image blocking is on the increase; it is estimated that 40% of NZ recipients have images blocked, so if your email is one big Jpeg, or has a large screenwidth banner image, then it will not render well in the preview pane. Browsers such as Gmail allow users to permanently enable images from trusted senders, but first you must become a trusted sender.

So if you want to communicate with 100% of your audience rather than 60%, then cut back on the headline banners - share the top spot with text headlines and semi screen width banners.

Alt text is important, although this may change with some latest browsers disabling this as well. Alt text sits behind an image in email - if the image is blocked, the Alt Text appears, so give careful thought to what you put there.

Why not drop images altogether? Just send plain text emails? Because you would be catering for the minority. 60% will still see your images, and they do increase impact, and reinforce branding.

So remember, email is a unique medium with it's own set of rules. It is not web design, and unless you recognise that, your audience will suffer.

Keep your images small and relevant - complementing text in the body of the message.

Monday, May 21, 2007

More haste, less speed

It's one of those old sayings that does not appear to make sense, but it means slow down, plan, and you'll get where you want quicker.

Email is like that. It's so easy to send an email, that you want to just do it. You have an audience database, you have a message to send to them, and you have access to a broadcast email programme, so why not go ahead and send it?

There are many reasons; email is a conversation, and future conversations will be based upon past ones. If you plan to use email regularly to communicate with an audience, then each message must ensure that they want to read your next one.

So take a step back, ask yourself some pertinent questions, and then plan a communications strategy.

As I have said before, email is a noisy marketplace. Lots of people are competing for your audience's attention. Your aim is to get, and keep, that attention. So your strategy must be formulated around the principle of saying what you want to say, when you want to say it, in such a way that it is delivered as what they want to read, when they want to read it.

To be a successful deliverer of information, you must first understand the perspective of the recipient.

What is interesting to you may not be to them. What you perceive as regular communication may be seen as over-frequent.

The most commonly made mistake in broadcast email is thinking your audience will read and absorb your email because it is from you.

You as the publisher have to ensure, on each occasion, that your email is worthy of attention - of opening, reading and, if it demands it, of reacting.

An email strategy is not set in stone, but provides you with an outline plan of what you plan to say, how you plan to present it, what reactions you intend to achieve, and how you will use each message to tee up anticipation of the next.

Only when that strategy is in place, should you begin to communicate. If you lose audience attention when communicating by email, it is very hard to win it back.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Wild West

In New Zealand, email marketing and publishing is a fledgling market. Because of low barriers to entry, the market is now growing fast.

The volume of email newsletters and marketing emails is far outstripping the knowledge and experience required to ensure high deliverability, good impact, audience enaggement and retention, and important aspects of email best practice.

Low cost is also a negative factor. Many would-be email marketers take the view that low delivery costs offer an opportunity to test a marketing medium - they see it as a roll of the dice.
Experience dictates that if something is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.

In the crowded, noisy marketplace that is email received by consumers, poorly prepared marketing emails will disappear without trace.

Email newsletters which are written with the publisher, rather than the recipient in mind, will quickly slip off the "must read" list.

If marketers and publishers in New Zealand want to utilise the undoubted benefits of email to become an important, sustainable medium of communication between them and their audiences, then they need to take a step back.

Email has very quickly become a mature medium, and even though it is evolving on a daily basis, it already requires a level of knowledge and experience which can only reside with experts.

Next time I will start to look at the first step - planning an email strategy.