I never intended for Indiemark to be a “full service email marketing agency”. Nevertheless managed email marketing services, outsourced email marketing, full-serve or whatever you’d like to call it is now a large part of what we do every day, despite my plans.
I’ve been neck-deep in email marketing since the beginning. Fresh out of college, nearing the end of the dot-com boom, I was hired as a full-time email designer. When the bubble burst I started my first business. I called it an Interactive Agency although for the most part we simply produced promotional emails and corporate websites. The work (and burden of first-time business ownership) was exhausting but it was rewarding in almost every way, except income. A few years later I co-founded a list company which was largely focused on email list management and brokerage; where my income far outweighed most other perks of ownership.
I had spent 10 years immersed in all things email. I had seen it from both sides. Having grown and sold both companies I felt very fortunate and at the same time unfulfilled. You see, I used to be one of those “I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed” types. This personality trait certainly has value in the world of business but it has its dark side too. Suffice it to say that I put revenue and exit strategies ahead of almost everything, including my own health and happiness. I would do it differently next time.
It was the beginning of The Great Recession. Time for me to start a new company; only this time revenue would not be my only driver. Instead this new venture would grow, or die, based on its own merit. I would also put reasonable limits on my expectations to ensure healthy balance in all things and by default the company’s longevity. I just needed to figure out what my new shop was going to offer exactly.
I knew early that what would become Indiemark would be email-centric but given my directives and timing I felt compelled to own a niche and that niche I decided was going to be Professional Email Marketing Services. To that end, I pledged that I would never sell technology, data or any service that fell outside of my definition of email services. Instead tIndiemark would only provide a tight clustering of offerings like consulting, creative and integrations. You know…projects. I was confident that these mechanisms would ensure that we would the best (if not the only) company in our class.
As it turns out my niche was still very small in 2008. Few companies were seeking dedicated email experts at that time, especially ones that weren’t bolted onto an Email Service Provider. But as the industry and email marketing grew so did Indiemark. Slow but steady. Needed advice on your email contact strategy? Seeking a kick-ass email template? Wanted an integration between your CRM and ESP? Had deliverability issues? We were your guys and we were good.
Sales were good too. Largely, I believe, because we were ESP-agnostic and we never resold anyone’s email deployment solutions which allowed us to make a lot of non-competitive friends, like ESPs, consultants and agencies, most of whom became great partners for us.
We were content with one-off projects and often working behind the scenes. Our reputation was growing, it was simple and pure, and my corporate dream was becoming a reality. Then things started to get complicated.
Normally pivots are intentional. Not here. Thanks to our partners we had plenty of repeat business albeit sporadic. So if not for two outside factors I doubt I would have considered skipping down the down the full service path.
- The investments we had put into list building and organic SEO began to payoff. The leads rolled and it seemed to happen overnight.
- The email marketing industry, which was already killing it, completely blew up. Email was officially crowned as the undisputed leader in marketing ROI. From tools to tactics to teams, almost everybody stepped up their email game and budgets.
This put us in front of a variety of new and motivated prospective clients. And they were all direct clients too, no intermediaries here. But working with direct clients is a mixed bag. On one hand the expectations of direct clients tend to vary dramatically; they may also require more education and handholding. On the other hand their projects are typically larger and often more challenging and way more more fun.
However with increasing frequency our direct clients indicated that they wanted more form us. A lot more. I didn’t see that coming.
Should we take a deeper dive into client engagements? I resisted. “It’s sticky”, I said. I suppose that’s because I wanted to keep things simple but that simplicity was only an illusion.
I ultimately realized that we were already giving our clients a lot love and attention, maybe too much in some cases. I mean even if it was a project and even it was sold through an agency; it’s hard for us to limit our output just because the budget isn’t there. Far too often we were giving our time away, and as a services company, time is all we have. If we were to be successful as a full service email agency things were going to have to change.
Keep in mind that “full service” means different things to different people. For us, it’s simply an À la carte custom selection of our service offerings which are rolled up into a package of sorts and tied together with the promise of ownership.
For example, to one small brick-and-mortar retailer client we’re the equivalent of a part-time contractor whereby we do absolutely everything related to email marketing but their program is still small therefore the engagement is limited; but she’s come to depend on the revenue we help drive. While for one growing B2B technology company we’re comparable to an in-house team who runs an increasingly sophisticated program; they’re intense and smart. And for one large online retailer we simply augment their in-house team with creative and technical services coupled with a dash of high-level strategy here and there.
Fundamentally the difference between project-based work and a full-service engagement is intimacy. Nearly all of our full service engagements require that we get very close to our client’s marketing programs if not their business as whole.
From our client’s perspective, this mix-and-match, full-service approach almost always yields better results and costs less. However it created new challenges for me and my team. Unlike one-off projects, which are often produced in a vacuum or directed by the client, we now have to take near complete ownership of the success of our client’s long term email program. It’s a huge responsibility and takes a lot of time. We quickly learned that the way approached these full-serve engagements had to change.
After a few failed attempts at merely repackaging our offerings we ultimately took a page from the playbooks of our ESP friends, who provide software-as-a-service. In the end we found a way to morph our standalone services into a service-as-a-service model which allows us to be far more efficient and provide the client with predicable billing without a term commitment. Initially our hourly rate took a big hit but due to the improvements in our production, coupled with the previously-unknown joys of recurring revenue, our top and bottom lines were soon happy and healthy but maybe more importantly everyone is currently fulfilled.
It took me a while to come to realization that I didn’t need blinders to stay to the course. I simply listened to our customers and then found a way to give them what they wanted.
This experience has also opened my opens to the concept of Thoughtful Monetization. For example we now sell a data product that helps Email Services Providers to preemptively identify potentially harmful mailers, we call it BlackBox.
And let’s face it; the email marketing space, like many other modern industries, is insanely dynamic. Between the consolidation of many of our reseller partners, the great tech tools that are now available to everyday marketers, and the ever-growing sophistication of the same, I’m not sure we’d still be around if I’d stayed solely focused on projects.
Don’t get me wrong projects and partners are still a very important part of our mix. That’s the nature of the beast and how we prove we’ve got the chops but I’ve learned that just because it’s our main thing it doesn’t have to be our only thing.
Developing emails for mobile devices is a different animal than developing emails for computer screens. Learn how to tame the beast!
The industry refers to this as responsive design. I like to call it responsible design. You’ve got to design your emails where they’re being read. According to a recent Email Analytics report by Litmus, more email is read mobile than on a desktop email client or via webmail.
In a previous post, I mentioned email design best practices. We’ll take a closer look at this, but before we do, we’ve got to discuss “media queries”. If you code media queries into your email properly, you can avoid many of the mobile design “don’ts” below.
Media queries can be super specific, beyond just width/height. It’s easy to get carried away. They can guide design for portrait and landscape orientations, pixel ratios (image pixel widths vs. display width). A good rule of thumb (for all those thumb-specific mobile tasks) is to set up a media query applying a percentage – instead of fixed width – of width to elements.
Think beyond Androids and iPhones when setting up your queries. And think of media queries as a css stylesheet within a css stylesheet. Note: You’ll have to develop some workarounds for Gmail, which strips out this information.
OK, now for some examples of mobile email designs that could have benefited from media queries….
Give it up
You’You’ve got to let go of certain features that may not translate well to mobile. In this Bed Bath & Beyond email, the free shipping line scrolled across the email in my inbox… but not in the mobile version.
While smartphones and tablet screens are smaller than those on desktops, you need to think big when it comes to mobile design. That is, think bigger elements, bigger fonts (18 pt.), but fewer words.
That’s especially true for subject lines. Case in point:
The subject line is all you see. Turns out this Fab mobile email isn’t so “fab” after all.
I’m all thumbs
Those viewing your emails on smartphones will mostly likely navigate with their thumbs. That means you need larger call-to-action buttons (44 x 44 pixels). Otherwise, your subscribers will get frustrated when they think they’re clicking on one thing, accidentally click on a different link, and end up in the wrong place.
When designing the email, ditch the “click” mentality altogether. Think more about how people use their mobile devices; design for taps and swipes instead.
Give me some space
In addition to making buttons larger, you need to add more space around them. Again, this is to avoid having your subscribers click on links they didn’t intend to.
The need for speed
While mobile devices are convenient, download times can be slower. So it’s important to reduce image file sizes. You don’t have to sacrifice image quality when optimizing images. JPEGmini and Smush.it are two web-based applications that optimize images for you.
To scroll or not to scroll, that is the question
Best practices dictate that you use a vertical, single-column layout (320-480 pixels) for mobile emails. Don’t force your subscriber to scroll way down to get to the “good stuff.” Put your main message and call to action at the top of your email, so you don’t lose click-throughs.
When you fail to adjust for the width using media queries, you risk compromising your design, as seen in the top nav of this Overstock.com email:
After the fact
Best practices don’t stop once the email is designed, developed and deployed. When subscribers click on a link in a mobile email, where are they directed? If they end up on your traditional site, you’ve done them a disservice. Redirect them to a mobile version of your site so their user experience is not diminished.
The key takeaway
You don’t have to design for every single mobile device out there. Design for the devices the majority of your subscribers are using.
Designing mobile-friendly emails isn’t rocket science, but it does take some serious know-how. You can’t ignore mobile, so you might as well learn to adapt – and adapt your email setup in the process.
We hear a lot about “big data” these days. It can be a bit overwhelming. For everyday marketers, those without in-house data scientists, I suggest they use the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) theory, and focus on the numbers that are sure to make a difference in driving revenue.
Let’s start with the email list
With lists, size doesn’t always matter. What matters is quality. You could have a 6- or 7-figure list, but if it’s made up of disengaged readers, prospects, or customers then what good is it? Aside from quality, most important is your list growth rate.
Clearly size plays a big role. After all, marketing is a numbers game. If your list or segment is extremely small, however, it could pose a problem when you’re conducting A/B tests. You’ll want a test group large enough to obtain statistically valid results.
The Email Marketing Council of the UK’s Direct Marketing Association has a handy chart that will help you determine the appropriate list size for what you’re testing. In the chart below, if your normal click rate is 10% and you want to measure if it changes by 20% (to 12% or more), you’d need a sample size of 2000 for each test cell. That way, any click rate change of 20% or more would be a statistically significant result and not chalked up to randomness.
Obviously, this metric is key. If your emails aren’t reaching the inbox, they can’t be opened or clicked through. The best way to ensure deliverability is to have a clean list. Follow best practices and use opt in (never opt out) to build your list organically. No matter how tempting, don’t buy a list; the risks are too great.
Of course, you’ve got to follow other best practices to ensure your email ends up in the inbox, not the spam filter. Know your own “traps” and avoid them.
There are opens and then there are unique opens. Total opens don’t give you the total picture; it’s the unique open rate that reveals the pulse of your campaign.
Click-through rate (CTR)
The CTR isn’t just the number of clicks an email generates. It’s the number of times a link is clicked in an email, divided by the number of delivered messages. Your CTR is an important metric because it’s a gauge of how engaged your subscribers are with which content.
Opens are okay, clicks are nice, but to determine whether your campaigns are producing results, you’ve got to monitor the conversion rate. Remember, the conversion rate isn’t always about selling. It’s about prompting your subscribers and leads to take action – whether it’s to download an article, post on a social-sharing site, write a review, or whatever.
Bounces, unsubs and spam complaints
These metrics tie back to your list health. Just because we listed them last, that doesn’t negate their importance. It’s crucial you keep tabs on these stats, as a high bounce rate can damage your sender reputation with email clients and Internet service providers (ISPs).
There are two types of bounces – hard and soft – that you need to monitor. A hard bounce means an email address on your list is incorrect has expired. A soft bounce occurs when a subscriber’s email inbox is full, or when an ISP or email client rejects your message as spam. That’s why it’s important to regularly purge your list of bad email addresses.
Likewise, if you see a lot of unsubscribes you need to make sure your content is relevant. Be prepared to refine your segmentation. You also may need to reduce email frequency or give subscribers frequency options.
Lastly, you need to take spam complaints seriously. Spam complaints can lead to your company being blacklisted from the major ISPs.
The key takeaway
Focus on the metrics that mean the most in your email marketing efforts. Put your time, effort and money where it counts, and you’ll easily reap big rewards with small data.
Email design best practices are recommended for a reason: They help engage your readers, convey your message, and (hopefully) convert your subscribers beyond clicks.
Let’s see how design can help increase your email conversions.
Create brand awareness
When I think of effective branding, I think of Tiffany & Co. It’s iconic little blue box says it all. In its email designs, Tiffany uses that blue color to build upon its brand equity.
But it’s about balance, too. Tiffany doesn’t have to shout its brand name. “Tiffany & Co.” is tastefully placed at the top of the email. It doesn’t overpower the product, which certainly takes center stage.
Branding builds recognition and trust with your audience. That leads to sales. You’ve got to earn that trust, however. It doesn’t happen overnight. Over time, consistent messaging – coupled with exemplary products and/or services – will create a level of comfort and trust.
Pay attention to the preview pane
Because many email service providers have preview panes, it’s crucial that your most important message appears in the top left of your email. You’ve basically got 250×250 pixels to work with. It’s challenging. Deal with it.
A picture’s worth a thousand words…
OK, it’s a cliche, but let’s face it. In email marketing, you’ve got to get your point across quickly. Readers spend only seconds on your precious email, so you’ve got to make every aspect count. According to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, “Email Newsletter Design to Increase Conversion and Loyalty”, 69% of email newsletters are skimmed.
So (sorry, copywriters) you need strong images to catch your readers’ attention. This email from MAC is an example of an eye-catching (pun intended) graphic. It proves that you don’t always need color to be compelling.
… but …
You’ve got to design your emails expecting images to be blocked. That means, for one thing, that you must include alt tags. If you don’t, your email could look like this:
It will be hard to convert a subscriber who has no clue what your email’s about. Alt tags give your subscribers a reason to download the images in your email…click on the email…and make a purchase (or other action).
A word about color
Depending on your audience, color can impact how they respond to your email offer. Kissmetrics has studied how colors can affect conversions. Are you targeting women? Go with blues, purples and greens; avoid orange, brown and gray. Targeting men? Go with blue, green or black; stay away from brown, orange and purple.
Take this Sony email, for example. It’s designed to grab your attention:
Colors are associated with various qualities, so you might want to think about this when incorporating color into your emails. Here are a few to start with, courtesy of Color Wheel Pro, but keep in mind that if you have a global audience, colors take on different significance in other countries.
- Red – Energy, danger, strength, power, passion, desire, love
- Orange - success, encouragement, happiness, creativity, joy
- Yellow - joy, happiness, energy, intellect (avoid dull yellows)
- Green - growth, freshness, fertility, harmony, safety, money (dark green)
- Blue - trust, loyalty, confidence, faith, truth, tranquility (light), power (dark)
- Purple - royalty, nobility, luxury, wealth, creativity, mystery, magic
- White – Safety, purity, perfection, goodness, innocence
- Black – power, formality, elegance, death, evil, mystery
You’ve got to close the sale. In emails, that means you need a prominent call to action. It can’t hurt to be clever, too, as illustrated by this Christmas email. Even the colors are a softer version of the typical red and green. That’s one way to stand out from all the clutter in the inbox – especially at holiday time.
The key takeaway
You won’t have the Email Design Police coming after you if you fail to follow all the rules all the time. In fact, I’d encourage you to break test the rules occasionally. But if you fail to follow the solid practices most of the time, you won’t get the best results from your email campaigns.
The entire mobile marketing landscape, well, almost.
In order to navigate the world of mobile email marketing, you need chart your course by paying attention to these compass points:
- Mobile ads, mobile search
- Mobile websites and landing pages
- Mobile commerce, mobile payments
- So-Lo-Mo (social + local + mobile)
- QR codes (they’re not going away just yet, but almost)
- Mobile apps, app ads
- Mobile emails
This post focuses on mobile email marketing, with the caveat that all your marketing programs must be integrated for consistency.
Why is mobile email marketing such a big deal?
Mobile is a must for today’s email marketers and, like any new territory; it has both a tempting and terrifying allure of the unknown. The best way to demystify mobile email marketing is to understand its components.
You’ll find that mobile devices run the gamut from feature phones, with limited functionality, to portable gaming and MP3 players. Email marketers, however, should focus on smartphones and tablets, with accessibility to the web. While these two categories of devices seem quite manageable, keep in mind that you’ve got to account for various devices, including iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows.
If you still doubt the importance of mobile email marketing, here’s a statistic for you: According to Forrester research, 78% of U.S. email users will also access their emails via mobile by 2017. And don’t assume that smartphone use is limited to the younger generation. Emarketer predicts that this year mobile web and smartphone penetration for baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will pass 50%.
Here are a few mobile email marketing tips.
Smartphones offer 24/7 accessibility and instant gratification, known as “snacking,” for users. So it’s helpful to think “bite size” in terms of mobile email marketing.
Adaptive and responsive are two types of design for mobile-friendly emails. Adaptive design triggers content changes and reformatting to optimize for typical screen sizes for smartphones, tablets and desktops. In responsive design, the design format and content dynamically changes based on the screen size. Here are a few best practices:
- Use a vertical, single-column layout (350 pixels max)
- Keep subject lines to under 75 characters (shoot for under 35)
- Make your text larger, preferably 16-pixel, since most mobile email applications automatically resize smaller text
- Embedded links are more difficult to click than large buttons (44 x 44 pixels)
Consumers have high expectations regarding mobile. Strangeloop Networks reports that 85% of mobile users expect sites to load as fast or faster than on their desktops. In reality, however, median load time for 3G smartphones is 40% slower than on desktop. It’s not enough to build mobile-friendly emails. You’ve got to build mobile-friendly landing pages and sites, too.
The mobile email takeaway?
Mobile isn’t going away. On the contrary, it’s here to stay – and it’s a force to be reckoned with. Email marketers who embrace this technology will be ahead of the curve – and ahead of their competitors.
In the summertime, people spend less time indoors, less time in front of their computers, and most likely less time reading your marketing emails. If you want to keep your email revenues up, here are a few ideas to try on for size:
1) Go mobile.
Savvy email marketers know that they must make their emails user-friendly for mobile devices in order to reach their subscribers whenever, wherever they are.Just because your subscribers aren’t planted at their desk at home or in the office, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not online. They’ve probably either got a smartphone in their pocket or a tablet close at hand.
2) Make it interactive.
Hold a contest or sweepstakes to encourage your subscribers to post their summer vacation photos or videos – and have all your subscribers vote on their favorites. A contest like this can easily go viral when you promote it via your social-sharing sites.Another spin on this concept is to have subscribers, while on vacation, pose with your product and share their photos online. This reinforces your brand in a very visual way. If yours is a service-related business, no problem. Encourage your subscribers to pose with a handwritten “I [insert company name]” or holding up their mobile device with your slogan visible. The possibilities are as endless as your (or your customers’) imagination. In fact, reward them for creativity!
3) Sell the sizzle.
Who doesn’t love a sale? Launch a summer sale campaign, but try to be original. Christmas in July sales have gotten about as stale as Aunt Martha’s fruitcake.Promote a sidewalk sale – either online or offline, and offer discounts designed to entice your subscribers. Have a virtual or real tent sale, yard sale, garage sale. Get creative with your promotions – offer (beach) buckets of savings… draw your offer in the sand and photograph it to use in your email campaigns… you get the idea.If it’s feasible, plan – and promote – a live event. In the summer months, folks want to enjoy the outdoors. If your business has retail locations, now’s the time to draw traffic to your brick-and-mortar stores.If your business is strictly e-commerce, have some fun and create a virtual event. Hold a virtual pool party, picnic in the park, backyard barbecue or other themed event. Depending on your product or service, you can tie in your offerings to the theme.
4) Put it in vacation mode.
Think like your subscribers. During the summer, many people go on vacation – and are more likely to fork over their hard-earned dollars for vacation-related items.Think of how you can promote your product or service to those planning summer vacations. Ideas can run the gamut: sunscreen, swimsuits, sunglasses… fishing/hunting/camping gear, boating accessories… picnic items… sandals, sundresses… insurance, automobile repair/service, GPS/accessories, car rental… financial services… summer reading… language instruction, out-of-country mobile plans, cameras, passport photos… air/hotel/travel deals, luggage… grills, pool equipment… travel-size toiletries… you name it.This email from solestruck is a step in the right direction:
5) Change your deployment days/times.
Not surprisingly, fewer people are online – and checking their emails – on weekends in the summer months. So mix up your email schedule. Similarly, you might want to send your emails earlier, as more people may check their emails before work than at the end of the day, when they still have plenty of daylight for outdoor activities. As with any change in your email campaigns, be sure to test for best results.During the summer, online shoppers are most likely to buy high-ticket items on Mondays, according to New York-based data analytics firm SumAll. The average summertime daily spend is $37.95, with a high of $41.13 on Mondays and a low of $34.74 on Fridays.
Don’t throw in the beach towel simply because it’s summer. Use the opportunity to come up with clever email campaigns. Add a little fun into your campaigns, and you’ll keep your customers engaged all summer long.
As email marketers, we’re always looking for ways to grow our lists. One answer is at your fingertips. Literally.
According to the Forrester Research Email Marketing Forecast, 2012 To 2017, 78% of U.S. email users will also access their emails via mobile devices by 2017.
A customer’s mobile phone number is seen by marketers as a prized commodity. But that same number becomes even more valuable when it’s attached to a customer’s email address. That’s when marketing opportunities are multiplied.
Here are a few mobile marketing tactics you can use to grow your email list.
Ask for it
Seek and ye shall find. If your mobile subscribers like what they’re getting via SMS, give them more of what they like. “For more news & great offers, text MORE and your email address to…”
Don’t expect your mobile subscribers to offer up their email addresses on a silver platter. Make it worth their while to do so. Offer a no-clip coupon, coupon code or other incentive.
There’s an app for that
If your business has a mobile app, there are many places you can sneak in an email opt-in. Depending on the app, you could include this on a welcome screen, within the app or even in the app settings
At point of sale
With product in hand (and smartphone in the other), your customer may be more receptive to communications from you. “For product use and care, text CARE and your email address to 12345.”
Ask for their opinion
Gone are the days of the opinion survey post card on the restaurant table. “Tell us how your food and service were. Text REVIEW and your email to…” “What did you think of the (concert/movie/play)? Text REVIEW and your email to…”
Got a captive audience?
If you have customers waiting in line at checkout… waiting for a table… waiting in a doctor’s office… waiting for car repairs… chances are they’re on their mobile devices to pass the time. Use in-store signage to promote email signup via mobile.
For example: “While you wait, text INFO and your email address to 12345 for (insert your company-specific promo here).”
Don’t sell short codes short
If you’ve already got a short code, promote the heck out of it. Ask your mobile subscribers to text one word (such as “offers,” for example) to your short code for access to email-only offers. If you don’t have one, no problem. Text-to-join applications accomplish the same goal, and can plug directly into your ESP or CRM program.
That’s the key. While you do want consistency of message across channels (voice, tone, etc.), the actual message should vary among channels. So if you’re offering X in mobile, offer Y in email, and Z in social. Otherwise, why would your mobile subscriber bother signing up for email promotions?
And don’t forget QR codes
While some say QR codes may soon be a thing of the past, me included, they still are a good way to tie in printed marketing collateral with mobile marketing efforts. Make sure you have a strong call to action, such as “Scan here to get insider tips via email.” The consumer then will be taken to a mobile-friendly email sign-up form.
It’s not only important to consolidate your data, it’s important to track and analyze that data. If your data is housed in a single marketing platform, it’s easier to see cross-channel relationships and trends with all your marketing lists.
So when it comes to building your email list with mobile marketing strategies, you could say you’ve got prospective subscribers right in your pocket. That’s because they’ve got their smartphones right in their pockets.
I admit it. I’ve jumped on the mobile marketing bandwagon to grow my lists. WBU?