The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Trends & Takeaways: Weather Personalization is Getting Hotter

Despite the frigid weather and the endless news about snowstorms in the Northeast, here's one personalization and segmentation trend that is, in the words of Buster Pointdexter, "Hot, hot, hot!"

Should We Talk about the Weather?
Sleeting or Scorching, Surefire Ways to Get Attention

Latest Marketing Trend:
Over the past few weeks, inclement weather has made big headlines, especially in the northeastern part of the U.S. Smart marketers are taking advantage of the timeliness of snowstorms to get the more business. This strategy involves a very specific type of content personalization – a combination of timing and location. Accurately timed weather campaigns are popping up everywhere in creative ways, cutting through mundane clutter with relevant content.

Examples Include:

* Domino’s Pizza, advertising placement on local news “school closings” page (see example)

* Oriental trading company, weather-related content emailed to subscribers in states with snow

* Bounce U, geo-specific email messages related to school closings and their extended business hours

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The Bridge Between Offline and Online Experiences

Latest Marketing Trend to Watch:
QR codes were popularized more than five years ago in Japan and are now used globally as physical world hyperlinks. Like updated versions of traditional bar codes, QR codes are images that can be scanned to relay information. A code scanned by a smartphone instantly links a user to mobile content, fostering greater customer engagement. Big brands are adopting this strategy and you can, too.

Early adopters helped create a 'mystique' surrounding QR-led urban games because they could access exclusive content. (See fun examples here and here.) But now mainstream consumers are seeing more QR codes everywhere. U.S. companies were a bit behind in adoption of these codes until now.

Here are just some of the places people see QR codes in their daily lives:

  • Catalogs, newspapers and magazines
  • Events - tickets, badges, booths
  • Outdoor signs - billboards, window clings
  • Clothing and accessories - labels, inventory
  • SMS  - coupons, contact information
  • Mobile apps - coupons, contests
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Selling B-to-B? Video Will Lead The Way

Latest Marketing Trend:

According to Forbes Insights, the research division of Forbes magazine, “video is becoming a critical information source for senior executives,” with more than 80% of executives watching more video online than a year ago. This trend isn’t surprising with executives continually facing information overload they are turning to video to help cut through the clutter and aid with decision making.

After watching video content, executives are more likely to:

  • Visit a vendor’s website 66%
  • Conduct a search for more info 53%
  • Call a vendor 22%
  • Make a business-related purchase 26%
    Source: Forbes Insights, Dec. 2010
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Get Ready for Email 3.0

It's definitely not the most elegant collaboration tool however email is the most widely used for sharing thoughts, documents and other communication essentials.  So it's surprising it has taken this digital medium over forty years to evolve from plain ASCII text to a soon to be social application for managing relationships and efficient collaboration on business documents.  Get ready for Email 3.0, a one inbox mix of social media, instant messaging, text messaging, news feeds, widgets and other mash-ups all swirled together creating a better organizational environment for the user and greater challenges to the email marketer.  

On May 27th, Google demonstrated Google Wave, a new Open Source application based on HTML 5 standards.  The presentation by developers Lars and Jens Rasmussen and Stephanie Hannon from Google's Sydney office show's a Gmail inbox on steroids where the worlds of email, social networking, instant messaging and document collaboration collide creating an integrated string of desperate communications call "Waves" where the lines between various mediums and real-time, on and off-line communications are blurred.  Microsoft too is trying to change the versatility of email with its upcoming release of Outlook 2010.  Mainly geared toward businesses, this new version of Outlook will try to mimic some social networking allowing users to view emails as conversation threads coupled with the ability to hide threads they aren't interested it.  The announcement that Microsoft plans to continue to use Word as the main HTML rendering engine for Outlook is providing a lot of grumbling in the email marketing community because of the message design obstacles the application causes.

New Protocols On The Horizon
Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) hasn't changed much since it was widely adopted in the 1980's when ARPANET was converted to what is known as the Internet today.  The protocol lacks the processes necessary to facility a seamless real-time collaboration and interactivity that newer technologies such as social networking encompass.  However simple, SMTP's wide implementation and open roots can be directly attributed to the successful proliferation of email use among Internet users.  SMTP is also blamed for the wide spread of spam because it lacks sender authentication technology.   Enter the Google Wave Federation Protocol, an Open Source communications protocol to facilitate Google Wave technology.  If you think Microsoft, Yahoo and FaceBook are going to sit idle while Google muscles influence over the guts of future email communication protocols think again.  It is absolute that one of these companies will extend their current platforms to compete with Google Wave and they will be reluctant to support the Wave Federation Protocol.  Eventually, some will cave as users demand cross platform compatibility (Microsoft users able to communicate with Google Wave users).

The Carry Over From Traditional Email
When these new communication platforms become compatible it will open the gates to marketers however enforce challenges from traditional email.  For one, it is possible that spam could be curtailed, as authentication and security technologies would be built into these new security protocols.  This would force marketers to solicit a true opt-in from subscribers giving them full and true control of permission.  Gone will be the days of implied opt-ins, purchased lists and other forbidden fruit that have tempted too many email marketers.  Another challenge Email 3.0 will offer users is an easier way to sort, categorize and mute different types of communications.  The continued challenge for marketers will not only be to get permission but to be relevant enough to stay at the top the inbox queue.   Even though the marketer might obtain permission, once muted, a marketer's message may never been seen again.  Many email pundits stress the importance of creating a dialog with subscribers by using more engaging content.  With Email 3.0, a true bi-directional dialog will become necessary as communications start to look more like Twitter with subscribers expecting immediate responses to questions and inquiries.  Telling subscribers not to respond or not responding will quickly get marketers muted rendering their efforts useless.

These new advances in Email technology are long overdue however will be surely welcome amongst consumers and business alike.  These technologies will help to lift the overall email experience by providing a true integration of social media and other technologies.  In addition, email marketing efforts that are slapdash and executed in haste will be rendered completely useless as traditional challenges come to the forefront of the discipline demanding greater respect from marketers.

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Streaming Video -- Coming To An Email Near You

According to comScore, more than 10 billion video clips are viewed online every month -- providing companies big and small with an incredible opportunity for cost-effective branding, product display and demonstration.   Ironically, the ability to incorporate streaming video into an email campaign was practiced in the early days of the commercial Internet, yet stymied when inbox providers and software developers started blocking javascript in email for obvious security reasons.   With cutting-edge video technologies now available and the pent-up demand for video integration with email from both marketers and consumers, inbox providers are heeding the call by developing new programs for marketers to tinker with email video delivery.

Gmail YouTube Capabilities

Gmail recently announced a new "Labs" feature allowing users to preview YouTube videos in emails. This technology is currently only for Gmail users, and is limited to YouTube videos, but it stands as significant progress in the move towards true video embedding.  Many marketers are experimenting with Gmail-only campaigns, segmenting their lists for subscribers and embedding short video clips as part of the campaign. 

GoodMail Systems CertifiedVideo

GoodMail Systems has also found a way to insert and play videos from email messages. The CertifiedVideo platform enables qualified senders to incorporate rich video and audio content directly in email messaging, without additional mouse clicks and pop?ups.  CertifiedVideo is based on Goodmail's core CertifiedEmail technology with the addition of a new CertifiedVideo tokenclass. Senders' messages are delivered directly to the inbox and ISP restrictions are lifted, enabling video to be instantly viewed by recipients. CertifiedVideo supports streaming and progressive download of .SWF and .FLV files, playable in Adobe Flash Player.  I met with Peter Horan, GoodMail's CEO, a few weeks ago at the Email Insider Summit in Captiva Island, Fla.  He seemed very enthusiastic about the beta testing that was completed with select clients and was eager to roll it out to the rest of us.  If you qualify for GoodMail services, you should definitely take a look at CertifiedVideo.

For those of you who do not have a lot of Gmail addresses and can't qualify for CertifiedVideo, there's still some hope for you.  Below are two additional tricks that work but are not as optimal as the above solutions.

Text Link

The simplest alternative to embedding video is to insert a text link to the video from your email. The video then opens in an external browser. While this approach is straightforward and uncomplicated, it lacks the obvious visual draw and speed of an embedded video or a related image. For this reason, the best practice for most marketers has been to insert a clickable screen shot or animated image of the video (discussed below).

Link with Image/Animated GIF

Simulating video with images typically generates more visual interest. How it works: once the video is loaded to your referring Web site, a screenshot is taken. HTML is coded to display this screenshot image when the email is opened, linking it to the eb page where the video resides.   Because images will render across all email platforms, this approach is considered a safe and alternative to embedding. Unfortunately, images also get blocked. Animated GIFs no longer run properly, as they are also blocked because spammers used to bypass filters. Marketers have a few options to bypass this obstacle, including the addition of a text link below the image and using alt attributes in the HTML code.  While using images to simulate video is an industry best?practice, this approach has its limitations.

What the Future May Bring

If none of the above sounds appealing to you, don't despair.  It is my intuition that email as a delivery mechanism for video will become so important in the coming year or so that inbox providers will make it much easier for marketers to do.   After all, they're going to have to continue pumping out new tricks to compete with social media for ad dollars.  And what better way to keep someone glued to their inbox than an old rerun of "Welcome Back Kotter" (for me at least).  As Vinnie Barbarino would say,  "up your nose with a rubber hose," social media.

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The Email Monetization Playbook
Email Monetization Playbook
69 Must Scan Pages For Publishers!

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Email Monetization Playbook
69 Must Scan Pages For Publishers!