All About Email - The Last Word in Email Publishing

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Words that get your email junked

I read a story today about email which, if weren’t so grotesque, would be funny.

That government department which deals with youth problems will reject all emails sent to it which contain the word teen.

An overzealous (or moronic) webmaster has decided that the potential pornographic connotations of the word teen outweigh the importance of communicating about teens – with a government department who’s responsibility they are.

A client recently sent an email to it’s database which turned up a very high error rate – after exhaustive investigation we determined the word breast had caused the problem – even though Bayesian filter authors will tell you that context affects such decision – our client sells meat, and the breasts in question were chicken ones, and so YahooXtra bounced the lot.

It all stems, of course, from our obsession with diminishing spam volumes. The manner in which this manifests itself in the above examples is endemic of the way our society deals with all problems and consequent legislation nowadays – punish all to mitigate the behaviour of the few.

And it’s rubbish.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The threat of social media?

Many wise heads have suggested the social media revolution spells the end for email.
I beg to differ.

First it was Friends Reunited, then MySpace, Bebo, Facebook, and most lately, Twitter. New, exciting ways to communicate. Only Facebook and Twitter still cut any ice, and I believe Twitter to be no more than a fad. Watch it die death as mainstream media as celebs desert it en masse.
Facebook may survive, but already its pages are littered with the remains of casual, lapsed users. Try searching for a name, and see how many dormant entries there are.

These are not media - they are applications, whereas email is a unique medium. Applications will come and go. Some will morph into survival, some will die through user inertia, or stark lack of revenue.

But email has already taken it's place amongst the bedrock media on which our lives are based, and will endure. As a communications tool, as a marketing device. Email works, and does not depend upon being commercialised to survive.

Clever marketers will integrate social media into their campaigns, but email will need to be, must be a fundamental component of these for the campaigns to succeed.

Email is, after the telephone, our best chance to talk directly, personally and individually to people. It is already many people preferred method of communication. It allows response, rather than reaction.

It has so many benefits, and it will be here long after Facebook, Twitter et al have been consigned to the publishing graveyard in the nether regions of the world wide web.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spam? What spam?

Heard about Spam recently? It seems to have dropped off the radar completely – as a news item anyway. I still get around 30-40 junk mails everyday. But at least I know they are illegally sent. What a comfort.

I also still get several faxes and phone calls on a daily basis – all unsolicited, all unwelcome and all far more intrusive. But they are legal. They are also from reputable organisations – banks and such, all with outstanding, must have offers which just don’t seem that appealing when you are trying to get the children to bed.

So is that it for spam? Have we just accepted it? Have people realised that pressing delete 30 times a day is actually not that hard? Could it even be that as the first internet generation ages, emails about the little blue pill are not quite so unacceptable?

Time marches on, email is old hat, Facebook, Twitter et al get all the headlines now. And people deal with spam – as they always should have. That’s what will defeat it in the end. Hitting the delete button.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

In to win?

Smart companies are constantly looking to increase their databases. You have to, just to compete with organic database fatigue and wastage. These factors reduce most lists by around 7% per year.

Any database growth will, by the very nature of its initiative, lead to a higher wastage level initially - usually because joining the database is incentivised - a good portion of those who sign up for your incentive do so because they want to win the prize - not because they want your newsletter.

But it is still a valid way of increasing database numbers.

However, and it is a big however, I recently spotted a flaw in this - I investigated further and found that at least 50% of email based competitions which were aimed at database growth contained this flaw.

The email in question offered a great prize, and I signed up immediately. But the only contact detail it requested was my email address. Three weeks later, I was routinely clearing my junk folder of the 700 odd emails offering me the way to sexual nirvana, when I happened upon one saying I had won the prize being offered.

I immediately rang the organisers only to be told that I was too late, and the prize had been given to someone else. I explained that their email (Subject line YOU ARE A BIG WINNER) had been filtered. Why hadn't they called me, I asked? They didn't have my phone number, they replied - because they had not asked for it.

And there lies the flaw. Any email making noise about being a winner in the subject line (especially all in caps) is likely to be considered spam and get junked. If, however, the subject line looks mundane, then it may not get read - especially if the sender is not on your "must read emails from" list.

So get a phone number as well - if you are running a competition, and all people need to do is enter, then it is your responsibility to ensure winners are properly notified - and become good members of your email database.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Missing in Action?

Do all emails either reach their intended destination, or get reported as a bounce? This is a question that arose during our recent bounce metric test - more on those next week.

They threw up a couple of apparent, and if true, major anomalies, which web developers say are simply not possible - the main one being the concept of the vanishing email.

We tested all our apparent bounce emails, and whilst most did bounce, some didn't. Call them non bouncers.

We then tested the non bouncers - asking them to reply if they got the message. Some did - so we discarded them.

We then rang the remainder - people whose email was being reported as getting through, but who had not responded. 8 out of 100 denied ever receiving it, so we begged their indulgence and sent them another whilst staying on the phone. All 8 reported were reported as delivered - no bounce messages, and all 8 people confirmed that they had not actually received anything. Spooky. By this stage I was thinking of calling my Sculder or Mully!

I checked with the technical people. Not possible they said. But my evidence seemed to say different.I always use a read receipt with my personal email, and make every effort to convince all my email correspondents to use it. It eliminates the possibility of the odd, probably vital message getting lost in cyberspace.

Of course, it could be held up by a filter. But all 8 confirmed they had no rigorous filters in play, and checked their junk folders, but found nothing. DerNer Derner

So unless there is a secret monster out there munching random emails and thriving in it's lair in the nether regions of the Interweb, there are only 2 explanations. Either the Internet is leaky, which I believe to be a strong possibility, or ISPs are filtering emails so aggressively (too make it look as through their attempts to combat spam are effective) that a certain percentage of legitimate email is getting junked by the post office, so to speak - collateral damage, I believe they call it.

If true, a worry. I will now probably be taken in the dead of night by a crack team of ISP sponsored hit men and silenced forever. Or eaten by the monster!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Picture this

One of the great assets of Html email is its ability to present images - images which help sell the message of your email.

Images help break up, and consequently complement and illustrate content A good pic replaces a 1000 words. In fact, the pics, if done well, dictate the content - which should say only what the image cannot say.

The temptation, of course, is to load your email with images - but the consequence is either excessive overall file size, or poor quality images. Neither is very helpful.

So balancing the image equation is essential - get it right, and sales could go through the roof. Get it wrong, and deliverability and rendering issues, or simply poor presentation will lower response rates dramatically.

You do not need to be a professional photographer to get good images - digicams allow for lots of experimentation, and a little imagination goes a long way in making a pic look both attractive and artistic. Think location and context, background and angles.

Get your pictures right and people will read your text - and then you are a long way down the track to getting your message across, and appropriate action taken.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I like bouncing

We are about to undertake an interesting exercise - testing our bounce reporting mechanisms.

Every email deployment results with a number of bounces, and our mailing software duly lists a variety of reasons for why messages have bounced. Do we trust them?

I guess the answer is no - which is why we are going to strip out all the bounced emails and send them a special message asking if they receive them or not. If not, then we will cull them, but I bet there will be some who say yes.

If I am right, does this throw up the whole issue of how accurate email metrics are?

My gut feel is that they are inaccurate, but consistently so - which is why we always encourage clients to look at trends rather than actual numbers when assessing campaign metrics. Trends are more valuable anyway.

We recently established a really good upwards trend for a new client by making a series of improvements over a period of weeks - opening rates, responses and orders have all grown consistently. Historically the client, with a DIY email set-up, had little faith in the medium. Now they love it!

We'll report back shortly on the bounce test results - could be interesting!

Monday, April 13, 2009

All gone quiet over here

Has anyone else noticed the recent decline in the volume of email marketing received?

Over the last 4 weeks I have observed a marked decrease in the number of messages urging me to buy something. I think I know why.

It is because, as I have been saying for so long, few marketers really understand email - they see it as an extension of the web or worse still, other media.

By pursuing this erroneous belief, companies have failed to engage their email audiences. Poor results lead to disenchantment, and in tough times, a disappointing medium of marketing, however cheap, suddenly becomes negatively cost effective - and gets the chop.

It is disappointing from a number of perspectives - for the company who hoped email would prove a success, for the audiences who signed up in the hope that email would give them access to great deals, and for the industry as a whole - being buried by its own incompetence.

It is also a reflection of the fact that email as a budgetary item is normally included in the web spend - rather than as a standalone item. When the web budget gets cut (and don't get me started on why NZ companies are doing poorly with the online retail by and large), then so does the email.

Email marketing in NZ needs to reinvent itself in order to prosper - that means knowledge acquisition, followed by planning and smart delivery. Kiwis will usually give someone a second chance, but are quick to condemn repetitive mistakes. So the next, probably post recessionary wave of email marketing needs to be better.

Will it be? Well, I hope so, but sadly I doubt it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Most email marketers pouring money and databases down the drain

Yes, we are in recession. Yes, it will get worse, and yes, more companies are turning to email to market their way out of it.

Is it working?

Well, based on the stuff that hits my inbox, probably not for most of them.

There is still a fundamental lack of understanding amongst many so called email marketers about how best to use the medium. Email advertising doesn't work per se, yet it remains the staple format of what is being sent out.

To make email work as a marketing medium, there are some golden rules that need to be applied:

1. Email is a unique medium that offers a uniquely direct and personal form of communication - so make your offers unique to email - show the value in communicating by email.

2. Be clear about what you want recipients to do, and how to do it. Drowning a sales message in a whirlpool of unnecessary marketing fluff simply disguises your message.

3. Limited offers in limited numbers is a formula that works. Few people will buy all 20 of your special offers in one go, but if they are only offered 2, they might buy one, which leaves 18 more to make similar impact over the next 9 weeks.

4. Most companies use marketing to sell what they want to sell, but you must remember to give buyers reasons to buy. Demand comes from a number of factors - need, availability, price - underline these so a buying decision is an easy one. Emails that simply say here are our cheap offerings this week are treated as companies trying to shift the unsellable.

Understanding the basic principles of email marketing is not rocket science. Getting them right does require a little more thought and intuition, but ignoring them is simply wasting time and money, and right now that seems to be what the majority are doing. What a shame.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Not a good look?

What makes a great email design? It is an increasingly complicated question. So many different email clients with different rendering protocols. So many different approaches – do you replicate printed media designs, optimise for email or what?

When designing a template for a client, it is important to explain that you cannot please all of the people all of the time – if you want to, then forget Html, use plain text.

We use Html because it enhances branding, it creates a visually appealing environment for your copy and because it allows us to gather metrics.

The golden rule is simplicity. Let your content lead your design, not vice versa. Unless you don’t care about 40% of your audience. That’s the harsh reality of it. Some marketers are happy to sacrifice nearly half their recipients in order to send a print style design through to the remaining 60% - big images with overlaid text everywhere, usually unsupported by Alt text. Or with the most pitiful stuff behind it (image of fish etc).

I believe that people respond to email because of what they read. But images can be a factor in deciding whether to read it or not. So can rich text. So Inbox always lets copy lead design.

But until the impossible dream of standardisation occurs, the design vs rendering conundrum will remain a challenge – an increasingly hard one to win.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Out with the old.....

Feeling the recession yet? We did, last week. A long standing client decided they could o better and cheaper themselves, and I quote: "we can access bulk email technology at less than half the price".

I bit my lip and thanked them for their business.

Of course they can access bulk email technology cheaply, just as you can sell the Merc and buy a Skoda and save a few bob. I know the technology will be poor, and I know also, rather sadly, that they do not have the knowledge and skills in house to use it to best effect - that's why they paid us rather more.

Inevitably in a recession, people will look to save money, and often will sacrifice quality in so doing.

The irony is that the 5 new clients we have already picked up this year are upping their spend to sign with us - because they want email to work for them, and have realised that their self-managed, cheap bulk email technology is not producing the goods!

Of course it is sad to lose a client you have spent 4 years developing a professional and effective email communications campaign for, but at the end of the day, if you are sacrificed to cost, they probably attached little value to what you did for them, and losing them was an inevitability at some stage.

So, 2009 is one out, 5 in, and all for the right reasons. Plenty to smile about, and plenty of new clients to do a great job for.

Monday, February 9, 2009

09 - the year of clarity

I have just finished listening to a really interesting webinar by Herschell Gordon Lewis - one of the USA's pre-eminent thinkers on marketing.

Of course, there is always a danger that when you hear the right voice saying things that make sense, you buy in a little too much - many people say that's how Hitler rose to power.

But Gordon Lewis' message was loud and clear. For email marketing, motivation to respond is a function of clarity and specific benefits. And it is very hard to argue with.

Attention spans are diminishing - as part of our evolution, and as a function of email volume. Recipient reaction must be an immediate "I get it."

Whilst Gordon Lewis was arguing from the background of a professional copywriting expert. I think he could have gone further to align his ideas to email. he omitted to discuss the presentation of email - and made the assumption that recipients would look at the entire message.

I believe what he should have said is that you need to ensure the recipient says "I get it" on the basis of what they see in the preview pane alone. Be clear, direct and engaging. Don't be clever. Cleverness is no longer valid.

Traditionally email begins with a banner. Is that any longer valid? I suspect not. Prime email real estate should support the subject line. A logo and a message should form the header of email. A message which is true. Real bait works better than false bait. Cynicism has grown. Claiming special offers as a preview pane hook which are riddled with subsequent conditions do not work.

More on this soon.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Less is More

As an enthusiastic online shopper, when I discover a site that sells something I might want to buy, now or in the future, I always look to see if they have an email newsletter I can sign up to.

The other day I sat down and looked at my online shopping patterns, and noticed a trend.

Virtually all of my buying is prompted by email from the vendor. I don’t always buy what their email is promoting – sometimes it just puts them in front of mind, and leads me to buy something else from their site.

But rarely will I go and buy something unless I get an email from them.

Let’s assume for a moment that I am not alone in this – that I am an element of a trend. What does it mean for email marketers? Should they be filling their messages with more content, encouraging recipients to buy more and more things, or should they recognise that some buying is offer driven, some not, and use email partly to highlight one or two juicy offers, and partly just to maintain vendor awareness?

I think the latter. Content intensive emails lose a lot in translation. Very few people read one email containing 25 special offers before clicking a link to something they want to buy. Emails which try and promote every offer available on a site are just replicating the work of the site – unnecessarily, IMHO.

Email is a prompt and alert tool, not a cataloguing device. So we at Inbox are currently telling all our retail clients to look at cutting down the copy, and increasing the impact of their message – and resulting sales.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

If only they had a cunning plan!

Looking, with increasing gloom, at the huge volume of marketing emails that are flooding into my inbox right now from increasingly desperate retailers, I reached a point of realisation yesterday. It is not email marketing at all; in most cases it is email advertising.

People are sending me adverts, usually an exact replica of ads from other media, by email. I have only one word for this - stupid!

Stupid because it assumes that email presents adverts in the same way as print.

Stupid because it shows an absolute ignorance of how people read and react to email.

Stupid because (can't believe I am still saying this) it shows that marketers have still failed to embrace email and learn about it - they just see it as a cheap alternative to other media.

It amazes me that companies such as Dick Smith, Noel Leeming, Air NZ etc employ agencies / marketing bods with so little nous.

Doubtless the bods in question will soon be looking for jobs as the recession bites further and their inept marketing strategies are revealed for what they are!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Farewell to Ferrit - thank god!

The timely demise of Ferrit should serve as a wake-up call to many online retailers in NZ. A common theme amongst the myriad of comments made about Ferrit experiences was the appalling after sales service. For online retailers, the sales process does not end when the buyer clicks buy now, pays with a credit card and awaits their goods. It ends only when those goods arrive, in a satisfactory condition.

Any successful online retailer will tell you this. But for some reason they are few and far between. Given the uniformity of access, and often price, on the internet - there are no local shops - to not deliver the best possible service is commercial suicide.

The best online retailer I have experienced in NZ is Gourmet Direct - they make it their business to ensure you receive what you have ordered, on time and in good shape. They will always have my business, irrespective of competitive pricing. Customer loyalty for online retailers is critical.

Ferrit was a poor site in every way - poorly constructed, understocked, weak content, technically inadequate and appallingly marketed.Even with Telecom's billions behind it it could not make a go of it, even in a country where online retailing is generally behind the times and consumers less savvy.

What makes this doubly sad is that NZ, with its geographically diverse population, is ideal for online retailers. But the market needs a wake-up in order to start delivering. Maybe the end of Ferrit will be just that.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Will email save the world in 2009?

Here comes 2009 - a year in which we will all be under pressure, people and businesses alike. Businesses in particular, mainly retailers have already felt the squeeze. Some have gone under, and things will only get worse.

Each day, emails are reaching my computer from increasingly desperate retailers, offering more and more incentives to buy from them, at increasingly cheap prices. Stock must be shifted.
So will email save these retailers? Yes, it is cheaper, faster and more direct. It thus offers a very effective medium to communicate with past and present customers.

But that is not enough. It will be the message sent that decides whether the email marketing campaign works. It is a concept that is still not understood by most companies using email marketing.

To receive an email on Monday offering you an LCD TV at $X, followed by another 2 days later offering the same product even cheaper will not work. That's the tone of many messages arriving right now. It smacks of despair.

So yes, email could offer a lifeline to some retailers, but it needs to be planned, strategised, tailored to the medium and smart!