The From Line

Sending, Managing & Monetizing Email

Email Trends to Follow Into 2009

As we all know, email marketing is an ever-changing marketing form. It is easily adaptable to market fluctuations, economic hardships, and sudden changes in marketing strategies.

There are so many trends that can impact email marketing, but I’d like to cover four that I feel most affect our clients. It’s important to keep these in mind while devising your email marketing strategy for 2009.

1) Control is in the subscriber’s hands now more than ever.

It used to be that subscribers had little or no control over a sender’s email program. Times have surely changed. With eLoop (as is true with most email tools today), subscribers are able to decide many things for themselves:

• Whether to opt-in to your communications
• When, where and how they will read your messages
• If and when they want to change their preferences for content, format and frequency
• Whether to report your email as spam
• When to end the relationship

2) Emerging channels are creating shifts

Email has begun the shift to allow for the multi-channel approach. There are so many communication channels available to get your message delivered – you’ve got text messaging, email, and voice among the most prominent. These days, it’s easy to combine these mediums and provide a “combo” to your recipients. Preference selection comes into play here – allowing the recipient to decide how they’d like to receive certain messages.

For example, travelers might prefer promotions via email, flight delay notifications via voice, and weather updates via text messages.

3) You find your email list shrinking – your number of inactive records is way up!

This may come as a shock, but you should expect to lose about one third of your list each year due to bounces, opt-outs and spam complaints. To add to the shock, you can pretty much bank on 25-50% of your email list being stagnant, meaning they have not opened or clicked on your messages in 12 or more months.

Now that I’ve got your attention, rest assured…you can reduce these scary numbers! In order to do so, you’ve got to make some improvements to your email program.

• Give more control to your recipients (as discussed above).
• Manage subscriber’s expectations from the start
• Create welcome programs
• Use trigger-based messaging and a relevant target approach

4) Design Emails to Render Across Multiple Environments

There are so many environments out there in which you can read your email. Desktop email reading has taken a backseat to mobile email. The downside of this is that many mobile phones turn your fabulous-looking HTML messages into a mess of URLs and code.

The majority of recipients view emails several times and on different devices. The message may initially come to their Blackberry or iPhone, but later that day, they may view it in Outlook, Gmail or Yahoo.

The importance of designing your email to render properly across the board can’t be stressed enough. In eLoop, we offer enhanced rendering testing which shows you how the message will render on mobile devices and in various email clients. If you are interested in learning more about enhanced testing, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

So there you have it…four trends that are not going anywhere anytime soon. Luckily, email tends to adapt very well to change in trends. If you have any questions regarding the information provided, do not hesitate to contact me directly at 301-990-9857 x213 or via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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2008 Predictions Review – Hit or Miss?

Every New Year’s I take the avalanche of information I gather from clients, business partners and  hundreds of articles and white papers I have read of the previous year and try to make some bold predictions for email marketers.  Like any modern soothsayer, my predictions are a medley of hits and misses, such as my accurate such as the call for more email marketing legislation in 2008, and complete flops such as my 2007 suggestion of wider adoption of RSS by email marketers.  More importantly, however, they are the basis for my predictions for the upcoming year (2009 will be posted next week).

2008 Prediction 1: The Death of the ISP White List (Hit and Miss)
While still in use, ISP white lists have been fairly marginalized as reputation-based systems have taken a much larger foothold for managing spam.  In fact, Gold Lasso hasn’t noticed a real deliverability difference between clients who follow best practices and do not participate in a formal white listing program, than clients with the same practices and do participate in one.  This might explain part of the reason there was a fire sale of Habeas to ReturnPath.  The only ISP white list that will continue as is in 2009 and that I know can guarantee 100% deliverability is GoodMail.

2008 Prediction 2: Email Rendering on Mobile Devices Will Be a Continued Issue (Hit)
Even with the advent of the second generation iPhone with improved HTML email rendering, designing for the mobile screen was a big challenge for email marketers in 2008.  With click rates in some cases exceeding open rates, mobile devices threw email marketers through the rendering loop forcing many of them to abandon open stats and to better segment their mobile subscribers.  

2008 Prediction 3:  Authentication Technology Will Become Mandatory (Miss)
Even though email authentication is mandatory for all members of the Direct Marketing Association, it’s still not being used by a large number of senders especially marketers that use in-house email marketing systems.  Based on discussions with clients and other industry veterans, I have concluded that many IT professionals still don’t know how to implement email authentication technologies let alone understand what they are for.   In addition to the lack of education, email authentication technologies still face an uphill battle as a result of a number of domain registrars preventing their customers from attaching the necessary text files to their DNS entries.  Overall, authentication is gaining ground but it still has a long way to go to make a difference in the war against spam.

2008 Prediction 4: More Legislation Might Be Around the Corner (Hit)

In June of 2008, the Federal Trade Commission tightened and clarified some of the language in the CAN SPAM Act to make it easier for consumers to opt-out of commercial email.  In addition, the FTC took another step toward making a clear distinction between commercial and transactional email.  While all these new clarifications are good, this poorly crafted legislation continues to fall short of its original intention of staving off spam.

2008 Prediction 5: Social Networking Sites Will Become the New Inbox Providers (Miss)

This prediction was bold and premature, yet I believe it will soon come to fruition and I’m sticking to it for 2009.  There’s no doubt social networking sites are chipping away at traditional personal email as Millennials, Gen Xers and Yers are adopting the medium as one of their main choices for personal communication.  However, if social networking wants to entice older generations, increase visiting times and eventually sell more ad space they will have to open their networks to include traditional email communication.  This day is coming and I’m banking on it!
 

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Gmail Themes - more potential rendering issues

I came across this one and it seemed good enough to share, I hope Pivotal Veracity adds Gmail Themes to their rendering testing offering soon:

"The introduction of Gmail Themes-which allows users to change default background, text and link colors in their inbox-has made it even more difficult to code HTML emails so that they render consistently in Gmail. The problem arises when subscribers use certain Themes and marketers don't define the color of every background, text and link. Under certain circumstances you can end up with light text or links on a light background, or dark text and links on a dark background, making the email difficult or impossible to read.

For instance, here's a Nov. 21 JC Whitney email viewed in Gmail with the "Classic" theme (top URL) and the same email viewed with the "Contrast Black" theme (bottom URL):

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_y48VWOPr6lU/SStz_B7JLBI/AAAAAAAADHE/I_YdmiHdikY/s1600-h/112108+JC+Whitney.jpg

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_y48VWOPr6lU/SSt0UUvFXfI/AAAAAAAADHM/J1zvJkWoHEs/s1600-h/112108+JC+Whitney-black+background.jpg

 In this case, the preheader text and product names disappear (because it's black text on a black background) and the vertical navigation menu becomes practically unreadable (because it's yellow links on a light blue background). So what was a well-designed email with a good balance of images and HTML text is now partially illegible.

Based on the findings of the 2008 Retail Email Rendering Benchmark Study, my estimation is that approximately 40% of all retailers have the potential to be significantly affected by this rendering problem.

The solution is to define all your background, text and link colors."

 

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Email Rendering on Mobile Devices Poses New Challenges and Opportunities

The mobile phone continues to rise in popularity as a primary communications device making email rendering on mobile devices a serious issue. According to data from MarketingSherpa, approximately 64 percent of “key decision makers” are reading messages on a BlackBerry or other mobile device. Let’s find out why this issue is finding its way to the top of many a priority list.
 
What is the problem?
 
Right now, mobile devices only display text emails. Basically, they make a mess of a finely-crafted HTML message. They are fussy about font size and the user is often scanning, not reading, the text.  Email marketers will also have a challenging time separating their mobile users in email databases from traditional computer receivers. The segmentation will be necessary, however, to ensure proper rendering of messages to non-HTML friendly email clients. Another snag is that mobile devices also make it more difficult for email marketers to determine the true open rate of their campaigns.  Metrics, we know, are key to evaluating success and implementing positive change.
 
How do email marketers solve this problem?
 
There is no simple answer to this question, yet. But, there are questions to start discussing with your email design and marketing teams. The first step is to make sure you’ve considered your audience demographics. Are they using BlackBerrys? Why? Many mobile-device devotees are checking email for urgent issues and will pass over anything that looks disposable. Another consideration that will play a key role as e-mail marketers update their strategies for this new medium is the nature of the campaign. For example, if the information is time sensitive, can the campaign be targeted to mobile users and not computer receives with only text and short, concise messages?
 
Naturally, we must also consider how we are gathering information in data collection methods such as surveys, landing pages and other tools. Do your sign-up forms include a mobile phone? Do recipients have a way to tell you that they use their mobile device as a primary communications tool?
 
eLoop users already have access to email rendering tools for all the major smart phones.  For more information please contact your account rep.

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Working Around the Image Blocker

Images can enhance a message and draw attention to its key components. But, when they are blocked and appear as a big, red X in the recipient’s preview pane (often with the instruction to “right click to download”) they can lose their effectiveness. The reason images are often blocked is to enable users to prohibit unwanted (or inappropriate) images from loading automatically.  Blocking images also protects readers from spammers who use them to verify the email address is real. 

The impact of blocking images comes in multiple forms (such as lower open rates and disabled banner ads which can hurt advertiser supported material), but they all lead to lower deliverability. Like other delivery issues, email marketers can institute practices to help minimize this issue. 

  • Get whitelisted and ask your readers to add your company to their “approved sender” or “safe list” to ensure email is allowed through with a minimum of filtering, image blocking included.
  • Add a link to view the email online.  The “view Web version” links back to a version of the email hosted on your server where images are easy-to-view.
  • Provide a prominent text link to the message at the very top of your message so recipients can always choose a text version.   
  • Before sending check the appearance of your message in the preview pane.  Is there enough information to entice the reader to open the message? Or, is the preview pane filled with images and graphics that won’t download.   
  • HTML is beneficial but don’t neglect the text version of your message. A strong, relevant text version ensures you still reach users, regardless of format preference.   
  • Don’t ignore text links.  If your email includes several key linked images, consider adding text-based links as a caption to the image or in the copy of the message.
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