Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Letters From Readers

Monday, 22. September 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Dear Anna,

I would like to send an email newsletter to the mailing list using gmail. I’ve tried in the past and 90% of my sent mails are rejected as SPAM because I am sending to approx. 250 people as BCC.

Love The Good Ole Gmail

Dearl TGOG,

You really don’t want to use common email apps like Yahoo, Gmail, Outlook to send to an email list. Those applications aren’t designed to send bulk (yes that is bulk) and therefore have lots of impediments to doing so. Instead, work with MailChimp,, Emma, or Constant Contact to setup an account and send from there. You need to have various processes set up to differentiate your emails from spam (from the consumer & federal perspective) like a one-click unsubscription method, etc. Also, the flavors of your recipients’ email accounts all have a different way of rending HTML, so companies like those listed above have great templates that handle all of the different renderings. It’s very difficult to do this by hand.


Questions From the Mail Bag

Tuesday, 15. July 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I’ve gotten a few email-marketing related questions recently and thought I’d share it with the wider audience, in a way to just say, no you’re not alone, other people struggle!

We have a list of 2,000 email addresses that we’d love to start sending regular newsletters and promotional emails. How do we get started?
Small Biz Owner

Hi Small Biz!
There are a bunch of email service providers oriented towards smaller businesses, and that lend them a whole lot of features that small businesses wouldn’t normally be able to afford. So check out Emma Marketing, MailChimp, and Constant Contact. I recommend you stay with their template as testing and re-designing involve a very comprehensive testing suite that you probably won’t be able to setup and execute, but their templates have already passed the test.

One important thing is to setup a campaign calendar and make sure not to bombard your list right away. You will also experience unsubscriptions, so make sure that you’re ready for that. In your first communication, be sure to identify your company and where you received the email address from- as your audience has never received promotional email from your co. before. Other than that- good luck!

We send attached PDF newsletters to our audience because they have concerns about security. Is this the right thing to do? How do other community organizations send their newsletters on a shoestring?
Anna’s gym

The security issues with HTML are largely false. If you’re not putting viruses in your emails, then it’s not happening- what is concerning is that you are requiring your audience a one-click step away from viewing the newsletter!

Studies have shown you get less opens and reads when you introduce a clicking step, so you’ll lose part of your audience by putting all of the content in a third party app. The solution, yes, is to create your newsletter in a newsletter template and offer your audience both HTML and text, a format that any email service provider understands. The “text-only” version is detected by the email account if it cannot render HTML (very rare). You can also include a link to the PDF version as you do now, so that members in the audience that prefer Adobe Acrobat Viewer can still see it in that. To create an HTML template, I’d leverage the already created templates at your email provider, or reference the many articles out there on HTML writing for email- it’s a different beast entirely, very scaled down. It’s challenge, but you’ll be rewarded by the increased readership and engagement.

HTML newsletter template resources:
Free Email Newsletter Templates from MailChimp
HTML Email Guide
Principles of Beautiful HTML Emails
30 Free HTML Newsletters

Letters: CRM Solutions for Non-Profits

Thursday, 19. June 2008 by Anna Billstrom

A former colleague chatted me yesterday with this perplexing “deal”:

SalesForce is offering non-profits free licenses to their software. But we keep on running into issues with their “governors.”

That’s really great of SF to do- and explains an uptick in “do you do SalesForce?” emails that I’ve been getting. The downside is a serious throttling to list size. SalesForce “governors” control the amount of items in targeted lists, so you can only include very small mailings. Seemed like all of the downside of having a hosted solution with none of the upside. If your experience is different, please post here, my friend’s eager to have an alternative, or fix, to the solution.

The question came up of complex segmentation for small lists. What ESPs can handle it? We determined that manually building a statistical model and scoring it then uploading to ESPs and using the “score” to simple filter the lists, is probably the only real inexpensive solution for non-profits. Note: this is not for transactional, or triggered, messages, just promotional and newsletter-oriented emails.

The alternates I suggested to him: SugarCRM, StrongMail, and a few consultancies that could help him setup the database. He and I had worked on an Epiphany installation and the license for that was too expensive for his clients, so that was out. He wasn’t interested in a per-email pricing either.

Letters: Testing My HTML Newsletter

Monday, 09. June 2008 by Anna Billstrom

Dear Anna,

I need to test my new, swanky HTML newsletter, but I don’t have different computers to install each operating system, get email accounts, install all of the different browsers, all so that I can test on every combination. Is there a service out there to help me do the final testing?

Testing in the Dark

Dear Testing,
Good news, there are a couple of email service provider companies that have this kind of thumbnail preview: Inbox Inspector (MailChimp), design testing (Campaign Monitor), and my former client used ReturnPath’s Design Preview. As for a free service, it’s not available, I believe. The best way is the hard way: setup accounts in various webmail accounts that you care about, just to make sure they work.

This is a tough issue, which is why the Email Standards Project is so vital. If you’re doing complex HTML emails you could quickly go down a geeky vortex trying to get it just right in each browser. The thing to do is to follow best practice guidelines so that it fails gracefully in the less used email/browser conditions.Also, know your subscriber list and work on the big email players (basically don’t sweat the small stuff- but design it so everyone can see it basically).

A set of tests that I do for webmail accounts, because they are the most stringent test combinations:
PC, IE 6,7, Gmail/Yahoo
PC, Outlook’s webmail (web access client)
PC, AOL Webmail

Mac OSX/Firefox/Gmail/Yahoo
Mac OS X/Safari/Gmail/Yahoo
Mac OS X/ AOL webmail

That test suite will get the tough ones- Gmail is one of the strictest, and if you don’t care about Lotus Notes, there you go. It’s worth setting up a free AOL web account.

I setup a template a year ago, and tested across that suite above, to note the best practices for cross-browser/mail design. Check it out: “Designing Web Emails,” and the resource list is good too, at the end of that post.

Other Resources:
Email Marketing Reports’ Testing resources list
Email Standards Project

Letters From Readers: Tracking Transactional Emails

Wednesday, 28. May 2008 by Anna Billstrom

(This is a series: See Believing the Numbers)

Dear Anna,

We have many site-based transactional emails, and we have little visibility into the metrics on those emails. Do you know any vendors that can sweep in, determine metrics or either setup metrics on an ongoing production system, that we can access and tweak the marketing messaging or find other issues? At least have an idea if they are being opened or not?

Blinded by Ops

Dear Blinded,
Strongmail is basically built for internal mail systems like this, but you probably don’t have it. Keep it in mind, though, if you do want a more robust metrics & control system on those internal messages. Deliverability usually refers to seeding your output with specific emails that are then tracked and tested through a third party software. To analyze real customer emails going out in a custom application, that’s a different story.

Essentially, it’s a log parsing problem- as all mail systems issue logs based on the act of sending an email (and failures associated). There are log parsers out there. Getting a one-time parsing of the emails shouldn’t be costly or an issue, if you have internal resources you can point at the problem. Using Habeas as a professional services may work- or any other deliverability expert- as they probably do this as part of discovery of any project.

Getting an ongoing view of internally sent email, though, is a bit thornier. You need to setup trigger points in the application that populate a database (ideally) with various records: sent, opened, clicked, and has segment and cell names associated so you can do some live tracking of the effects of transactional systems. Essentially you want to design an API to another email service, and have the developers access that class or function instead of outputting to sendmail/qmail, or whatever internal mail system they are using.

If you have experiencing parsing mail logs with a favorite tool or also have a situation like this, please comment!

Letters From Readers: Believing the Numbers

Friday, 16. May 2008 by Anna Billstrom

I hear from a lot of people that they know technically the best way to approach email marketing, but getting the organization around the idea is the hard part. This series will address various issues in the workplace, surrounding email marketing best practices.

Dear Anna,

My boss doesn’t understand, or believe the numbers. I show him how segmentation works, how we get 30% more profit by targeting our base and providing relevant content. I’ve done A/B splits, and we recognize profit, but he still thinks that’s “too much work” and the gains we get without segmentation are enough. How do I get him to see the light?

Unhappy in Non Profit

Dear UINP,

Traditional marketers will always have a distaste for email marketing, because statistics and response numbers rule the roost, and gut marketing is out the window. Sadly direct marketing and direct mail has been doing segmentation for a long time- especially in non profit and subscription businesses.

Here are a few techniques in dealing with management resistant to the magic of quick response reports from email:

- Show, over time, the behavior of various segmentations. Seeing the numbers correspond to his understanding of how various campaigns did or did not perform will help him see the validity of the numbers. I’ve seen this with other clients- if they can map poor response of one segment to a known factor that they understood, it’s more likely they’ll trust the validity of metrics on phenomenon they don’t understand.

- Start small: pick a small campaign and segment, and work on the results, show it around to people in the organization including him, and then branch out into bigger and bigger campaigns. The groundswell of support for the initiatives will outweigh his odd beliefs. Especially if he’s talking cost and hours in comparison to profit, small “proof of concept” (just proving it to him, of course!) may help swallow the pill of larger scale segmentation strategies.

- Money talks. Keep beating the drum that this brings in more money. Talk to people other than him about how this is the way to go, for a sheer revenue standpoint. In budget meetings, when people want to implement bells & whistles, mention that “if we had done segmentation, we’d have this money on the table.”

- I believe many marketers have a hard time listening to their customer base. They get used to understanding the customer as one thing, and when the customers change, the marketers have a hard time changing with them. It’s also about ego. Many managers have a lot riding on the line of a former understanding of the customer. Surveys can help “speak for the customer,” customer testimonials, or how the competition is addressing this shift in the perception of the customer. Agree on a specific metric, and map it back a few years. Show how the agreed-on metric is changing, and how that impacts response to fundraising and subscriptions (as I assume you’re doing as you’re a non-profit).

- Do a simple data audit of the workflow to confirm that all systems are OK. Assuage his fears, basically, and discount them methodically.

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