Adventures in Mobile Marketing

Email Standards Project: Yes!

Wednesday, 28. November 2007 by Anna Billstrom


I think everyone can relate to this- standardizing the way your email is seen across all of the different flavors of email inboxes.

So to those that don’t get it, though, imagine this: did you know that standardization exists for browsers, but not for email? Browsers all use a specific DOM (document object model) for HTML, but email is like the Wild West- each town has a different set of laws. Each email inbox? Different ways of rendering HTML.

What if every browser rendered a web page vastly differently, than what we know now? To a degree that it was almost impossible to design a single, consistent email page across all browsers, like we see now with? Would the internet have experienced the explosion that it did, would MySpace happen, would YouTube, eBay, etc. Random companies wouldn’t be able to put up even brochureware site without dragging in an expert on each browser.

To a degree we (who are old enough!) remember the days when being an HTML programmer was lucrative just because browsers were struggling with a consistent rendering. Navigator shows inline images, Mosaic doesn’t, Explorer (when it finally came out) renders JS strangely… but having a career based on a faulty system, and a repetitive career like that, is not an advancement of technology but, to use another metaphor, a truck with a wheel stuck in a pothole. We need to exert a lot of effort to get that wheel out of the pothole, and start innovation rolling again.

Right now you’re saying: well blame the spammers. Inboxes would have adopted the DOM From HTML, but spammers like to send viruses embedded in JavaScript, iFrames, etc. The problem with that is that a limited DOM would serve the purpose, and not expose email inboxes more than they do now.

So HTML got a standard, with help of the W3C organization, back in the early 90s. For many reasons, email never did. Most of my posts here are about the strange, fluctuating changes of HTML email support across browsers – who shows alt tags? Who lets you use CSS? I don’t like writing these posts, and each time someone in the industry reads them, they get this fatigued response of “oh I don’t want to go look at that grid of compliance on the Campaign Monitor site…” it’s a messy spaghetti-like maze. (yes, another metaphor.)

This effort of standardizing email has been a proactive effort on the part of many email experts, who are tired of just sitting at conferences bitching about the status quo. I applaud them, and their vast efforts, herding cats, basically. Jump over and check out the site, or if you know of someone that works at Gmail/Yahoo mail or Hotmail, drop them a note to check out ESP.


Saturday, 04. August 2007 by Anna Billstrom

Light HTML
Lots of folks talking about going to light HTML:
- AWeber Blog, via Retail Email Text Vs. Lite, Lite vs. Heavy HTML. That’s a level of detail I wish the study I’d linked to last week had gotten into- “Text vs. HTML”.
- BeRelevant writes about a text vs. HTML (which actually promotes more lite HTML), by Maria Hendricks.

Images Off
- My favorite bugaboo, image suppression, is the topic on Janine Popick of Vertical Response’s blog. Great picture snaps and tips to designing for this situation. Creating Your Email for Images Off. More on banane in the Images Off category too.
- Al Iverson at Exact Target seconded my feelings on images-off with his post, “Images Off”. Thanks Al!

Email is A-Changin’
As ever, Mark Brownlow of Email Marketing Reports makes me think- this time about how email must adapt “or die.”

Marketing Celebrities
There’s something always interesting going on over at Peter Kim’s blog. Here he has a scientific way for determining the Top 20 blogs in marketing.

I’m doing some research on video marketing, especially online and educational, so read with interest Michael Shehan’s post on iMedia Connection: “Video Campaign Traps to Avoid.”

Kevin Dugan writes about “Consumer Consumption” on his post- and that Bally is closing.

HTML vs. Plain Text

Thursday, 02. August 2007 by Anna Billstrom

Great study done on (via Tamara’s Blog).

- Test One was Lite HTML email format Vs. Plain Text email format. Lite HTML outperformed Plain Text by 55% in click-through rate.
- Test 2 was Heavy HTML (Ad style) email vs. Plain Text email. Plain Text outperformed Heavy HTML by 34%.

I had just wondered about this – at the bottom of my post on Tuesday, when I noticed that Twitter is sending text-only newsletters. I see some companies going the text-only route, in the last few months, and I wondered if that was in response to the image suppression going on with webmail. The study above seems to conclude that light HTML can solve the problem. HTML in general gets better clicks, but surprisingly, plain text outperformed the heavy HTML. I’m sure there’s a study from even a year ago that would show the opposite. So is this the effect of webmail? I have to admit more details would be nice from the experiment- the kind of company mailing, the content, the layout, the sample size, existence of control groups, etc.

Email is Dead…

Saturday, 30. June 2007 by Anna Billstrom

This sent a chill down my spine, then I read it and realized it’s basically about getting corporate workers to regard email in the same way that email marketers have been doing it all along!

- good subject lines
- concise copywriting
- “less is more” attitude towards messaging
- bullets help in scanning

Email is Dead

Metrics: The Anti-Click

Wednesday, 16. May 2007 by Anna Billstrom

Great article on Silicon Valley Sleuth (strangely not in Silicon Valley) as to how many people click on an ad, despite being told that they will get infected, if they do: Don’t Click Here- You Know You Want To.

Is it human nature to touch the hot burner, even though our mother told us it was hot? Do we need to find out what is beyond this link?

In a way we could consider this test, originally set up by Didier Stevens, as an insignificant factor in click behavior- subtracted from click metrics in general, and seen as a negative- such as “so many people will always click on a link, regardless of what it says or where it goes.”

Email Marketing by the Numbers, Review

Thursday, 03. May 2007 by Anna Billstrom

Yesterday at Chameleon Cafe, on top of Russian Hill with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, I read, straight through, Email Marketing by the Numbers, and it’s a testament to his writing that I was able to do that. The moment I read on his blog that his book was out- I rushed out and bought it, excited at the prospect that it represented what I have found to be true in CRM and email marketing- that numbers, metrics, and closed-loop analysis have fundamentally changed the marketing space. It’s been technically available, and sporadically practiced for years of course, but recently it seems to have finally seeped into the consciousnesses of those who make decisions in large corporation marketing departments, the ones that I’ve been in, and the comments and posts I’ve read online, at least. I haven’t seen it expressed, though, in marketing books.

Chris’ blog, Email Marketing Strategies, and his company Exact Target, are respected in the industry. If you’re reading this, you already know that. So as far as I respect Chris, I of course vary in my opinion on many things. But suffice to say that I agree with everything in the book not mentioned in this post!

First, the structure. Chris has taken on a few huge tasks. He is trying to make a book that represents the very rich, intertextual knowledge of a few great blogs on email marketing, and represent it in a business reference book. Also, he is writing in a tradition of business books on marketing- which at the same time address those new to marketing, clients, peers, and specialists. His method is to include emails or blog posts (it’s unclear to me which) from the community of emarketing blog writers and seminal industry folks. The result, for me, was a bit discursive. Sometimes the quoted people talk about thoughts and tips that are explained in basic detail later on in the book, so encountering them early on is a big jarring.

To me, the value inherent in this book isn’t about new concepts, but leveraging the common thoughts going on in the blogosphere about email marketing techniques- his own opinions and others- and of these, I was really happy to see his well-written defenses, anecdotes, and rationales for the following:

  • Presenting a strong defense of metrics in marketing departments. From small to large companies I’ve met resistance with email marketing- and he describes the benefits in terms of other marketing channels and media quite well
  • His approach to personalization reflected where we are going with email marketing- the first name is not enough, and in many aspects it’s insulting if the content is a form letter. (p.2)
  • My notes say “au courrant” regarding letting go of lapsed contacts, and to manage the profitability index for each segment. It was along the lines of “when to say goodbye,” a discussion I’ve been seeing in other email marketing blogs.
  • The importance of key metrics such as profitability of each lead, RFM, and segmentation
  • Most important, automated messages and acting on customer’s transactional behaviors as a form of segmentation and personalization (example: abandoned shopping cart).

I felt that the first six or so chapters were a bit slow going and nothing was new (to me) though in the face of printed marketing and business books, it was probably revolutionary. I feel like he did an excellent job with practical explanations- so necessary in these kind of books- though most of my clients are usually large, online, business to consumer, retail companies. The examples too represented far smaller lists than I’m familiar with. Not to say that 80% of the book, let’s say, relates regardless of list size.

His CAN-SPAM, and deliverability chapters are delightfully chock full of information. On the other hand, there are far more interesting things he could have done with the recency/frequency/monetary (RFM) model. Slicing and dicing data, segmentation, and determining key metrics for each individual company- and it does vary- there is a huge spectrum of modeling way beyond RFM. I will probably write about this in the future, but accessing raw event in combination with transactional behaviors captured from online companies opens up many doors to new metrics, analysis, and campaigns ideas.

Since I don’t work with content usually, I was surprised to be interested in his content chapter. He has tips on email writing, inspiration ideas for newsletters, and a general approach to doing newsletters. For various reasons he wants companies to move away from newsletters, to leverage the content out of newsletters, then devotes a full chapter in how to write one. So mixed messages in a way, or perhaps acknowledgment that folks are still tied to writing them, and embracing a future without newsletters is the goal, but a far-off goal.

The Open Rate
Another slight contradiction in explaining open and click rates, but also acknowledging that more email clients are setting the default to having images-off. I wrote about the images-off open rate, “New Metric: Images-Off Open Rate”, and Chris also reinforces that the click rate is far more important than the open-click or the open rate. (p.189) He seemingly disproves the validity of the open rate:

As you can see, the open rates decline. However, there is promise in the fact that click-through rate sand unsubscribe rates hold steady. ExxactTarget concluded that this likely indicates an overall trend in image suppression rather than a decline in email engagement. (p.190)

Then continues to say he still ‘believes in the open rate.’ I think Chris is responding to the industry, a marketing industry that can’t quite grapple with the future of only having click rates and deliverability, with uneven if unreliable open rates.

Automated Messaging & Integration

I felt like he was a little soft on promoting triggered messages in place of promotional campaigns, as the chapter is near the end, and it turns otu that while he’s a fan of automated messaging, he admits to not having expeirence with one of the leading types of these campaigns. I have strong feelings about this. Granted, it’s a transition in the industry, much like RSS, and it’s taking a time for companies to adapt. With RSS, the responsibility relies 50% with consumers changing their reading behavior. With transactional campaigns, the responsibility is entirely with the corporation. I wrote about this in “Why Bulk is Bad.” As for the integration chapter- he recognizes he’s not the one to write it and passes the baton to an integration consultant. So apologies if I come down harsh on Chris, I mean to come down harder on Dolvil! Haha.

Regarding automated messages, Chris says:

“There’s been a lot of talk about email triggered from an abandoned shopping cart that includes an incentive for hte product you didn’t quite buy. I’ve not seen this in real life, so I can’t say it works or not.” (p. 240)

So I applaud his honesty, but having been someone who has worked with triggered messages such as the abandoned shopping cart- and was at Proctor & Gamble subsidiary that was awarded for this campaign- I was kind of shocked. It does work! The response rates are amazing! Consumers love the incentive! So no problem except that his lack of experience in this realm leads into some missteps in talking about getting one setup, namely, that for each triggered message you need an API. In the systems I’ve worked on, they are usually already ontop of a basic CRM system, that, if it’s worth its salt, took into account potential buyer behavior and customer interaction for transactional campaigns. For hosted applications, that may not be true, granted. I have no idea what ExactTarget offers their customers- perhaps they do need a data feed.

Regarding the term API, what I think he means is a data feed, such as an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) or Export, Transform & Load (ETL). API is usually a programmatic method of attaching a program, such as a lego, onto another larger application, such as a web server or a Lego’s Pirate Ship. The large pirate ships that we’ve designed- at Disney, Microsoft, etc.- usually are third to fourth generation systems. They already integrate the silos quite well. I’m brought in to finesse, expand, or optimize. The integration he’s describing is 1st generation CRM system- and if you already have SalesForce, SAP and Siebel and the integration folks didn’t ask you if you had automatic or triggered campaigns on the horizon, and they didn’t build out the functionality, you got a bad crew of consultants. My experience is that clients can do a lot with the data that they already have.

Best Bits
Overall, though, my favorite part of his book, and probably the most lasting, will be his bad examples. They are truly funny in that inside email marketing joking, gallows humor, way. The airline examples pages 41-50 are worth a pick up and read in the bookstore, or even a purchase!

I am thankful that Chris wrote something so concise and well-written in my field, so that I can refer to it and have clients refer to it, as well. It’s a great launching point for far more in depth conversations on the nature of email marketing.

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