email marketing

News: Google Launches Data GIF Maker

Data visualizations are a great way to add interesting content to your email campaign. And with motion involved, even better!

Google recently launched their Data Gif Maker, a tool that allows you to set two different values, assign parameters, and create customizable GIFs that compare your data.

You can show whatever you want to! Poll results, product popularity, search results... whatever you'd like to compare, it's there.

Ah, the constant debate that rages in our office: how do you pronounce it?  (Image via Google)

Ah, the constant debate that rages in our office: how do you pronounce it? (Image via Google)

If you need more inspiration for things to compare with this tool, visit Google Trends.

Happy GIFing!

Your email subscription process: it’s just as important

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

It’s about this time of year, every year, that I jam up my inbox with new email subscriptions in search of holiday deals. I don’t often pay that much attention to the subscription process (I also rarely actually make purchases), but this is the first year that I’ve really noticed a lot of marketers paying way more attention to what goes into the emails and the lack of attention put into the actual subscription process.

Not lying, I spent 15 minutes on a well known retail website, after registering for an email, trying to figure out how to change my preferences and profile information. Even worse, I couldn’t, because the email I registered for wasn’t part of the subscription center.

Another example is another well known retailer that has a “special” email for the holidays. First off, it was assumed I was interested in getting the new email because I subscribe to a particular email of theirs, but when I went to unsubscribe the only option was to be removed from everything, not just the new email. I emailed their customer service department about this and was told that I’d need to go back and resubscribe after Christmas, when the promotion ends. It’s unlikely I’ll remember, or want, to do this. I doubt I’m alone.

Now, I don’t think either of these scenarios are because the retailers are trying to trick me, or dissuade me from unsubscribing. I do think they just put way more thought into the email, without considering the registration process, or subscription center an integral part of the holistic program.

iStock-481685900 - Subscription Center 2a.jpg

When working with clients the first thing I do is get familiar with their subscription process, the profile/subscription center and the unsubscribe process. This is such an important piece of the program and is often viewed as necessary, but less important. It’s likely the first (sign-up) and last (opt-out) interaction they’re going to have with you. You should be making each just as simple. Whatever you do, don’t hide the subscription center as a means for making someone search long enough that they just decide to keep receiving emails because they gave up. Instead, work on giving them a reason for not unsubscribing, or for customizing their subscription. I like a good challenge and surprising someone with the options for keeping their emails, but customizing when they come too often, or on an inconvenient day or time, can easily persuade a frustrated customer into giving it another shot.

With the host of daily deal sites that are out there now, best practices are out the window when it comes to frequency. While that might be fine when a customer first registers, they’re bound to get tired and overwhelmed as more and more emails flood their inbox. Not giving the ability to customize the frequency is basically giving them an all or nothing option. When an unsubscribe is legitimate, meaning they intend to not do business with you anymore, it’s a good thing. I’d consider it an amicable break-up. When it’s done because they just can’t keep up or are losing interest, it’s your chance to win them back by saying you’re committed to changing.

In summary:

  1. Make the subscription, modify and opt-out process simple
  2. Give options for opting down (decreased frequency, different time of the day) and honor it
  3. Include subscription options for every email that has a theme (normal marketing vs. special promotion)
  4. Make the subscription center link easy to find on every page on your site
  5. Most important, when developing new emails, consider the subscription process as an important part of the program
  6. Also, don’t assume someone wants to receive everything that you have the ability to send. Ask if they’re interested. If they aren’t then you’re not wasting effort (and money) on less engaged customers.

These may sound simple, but it’s increasingly rare to find this combination.

Back to cleaning up my inbox.

Happy Holidays!

Frequency: Email others as you wish to be emailed

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

I'm increasingly wary of any company that "auto" subscribes me to email promotions without first asking, or at the least using my previous engagement metrics, to determine how relevant they are to me. In most cases, a company's emails are the most frequent I will interact with that company, and bombarding me with everything you've got to offer reminds me a lot of a sales associate that follows you around the store asking if you need help with every stop you make. I'm more likely to leave the store empty-handed, or to bluntly ask for a little distance, than to pick up one of every recommendation.

Email marketing is still considered a cost effective tool for engaging with your loyal customers, but that doesn't give you the right to abuse it. It's easy to lose them (hopefully at the click of their mouse), so make sure you're losing email subscribers because they no longer have a need for your product or service, not because you're bombarding them.

By my last count, the average number of emails I receive from any single retailer in a given week is at least 4. Between the actual email I signed up for, the recommendation based on items on their site I viewed, the product I abandoned in my shopping cart, the discount, free shipping notice, etc., that's a lot to sort through. And when you consider that we're dealing with an increasingly crowded inbox to start, it can be downright confusing.

Then, you layer in a new series of emails for either a new product or new service offered... I'm getting annoyed just thinking about it.

Combine messages. If you've got enough discount ideas (free shipping, 20% off), combine those messages. A single email with the cost saving enticements is likely going to interest me more than multiple messages. For me, free shipping may not be much of an enticement if the store is within walking distance. For others, maybe it is the most important. Point is, just as email marketing gives you an opportunity to speak to your loyal customers all at once, let them choose what is most important.

Give me a break (or properly set the expectation). With daily deal senders changing what is acceptable in terms of email frequency, don't try to compete if that's not your game. The term "daily deal" already sets the expectation up front, so if you're not one of them, I'm not going to like it if you take liberties and assume I'm ok with you sending me a daily email. Give your customers a break, even if for a day in between emails. Whatever you set your frequency at, stick to it and set that expectation up front. Any deviation from this should be a mind-blowing deal. Otherwise, I'm likely to dismiss the mind-blowing deal or overlook it because I know I'm going to hear from you tomorrow, too.

Ask for permission when a new email promotion is created. If you've got a new email promotion for either new products or services and you think it's relevant to me (I'm assuming you're at least using past engagement metrics to determine this), just ask. Announce the new promotion, product or service to your customers through a single message, but tell them how they can shut it down. Not having a message wasted on those that legitimately aren't interested isn't a bad thing. They'll tell you and they'll appreciate being asked.

I know some of these are a hard sell because there is a real shot at lost revenue by making it so easy to declare disinterest. But as marketers, we've got an obligation to our customers. Short term thinking can damage your credibility and, once all of the dust settles after the holidays, the ones that set the expectation up front, honored it and listened to their customers are going to stand above the rest.

Our gift to you -- more effective emails through the holidays


Brent Hartings, VP Email Operations

The holidays are coming! And it’s a great opportunity to connect with your customers. But it’s also an idea that occurs to quite a few marketers at this time of year. 

So how do you stand out among the crowd of emails vying for attention in your customer’s inboxes? In the spirit of the holiday season, we at Den Aviary are sharing our top 11 tips to make the most of your holiday email program. 

1. Don't underestimate the number of messages your subscribers can handle during the peak shopping season. Yes, it’s true that people get a bit deluged at this time and because of this, your unsubscribes will likely spike a bit. But you will actually come up ahead in a cost/benefit analysis. Typically the holiday season’s ability to generate so many new subscribers, who may turn into longer-term customers, will offset any increase in unsubscribes.

2. Identify which subscribers don’t mind more email over the holiday. Review individual subscriber email engagement rates to see who can handle additional sends. For example, one can surmise that those that have an open rate of 40% over the last 6 months are more inclined to engage in additional messaging volume compared to those with a 2% open rate.

3. Segment and target the customers who tend to engage even more heavily during the holiday season. Review your order data from the previous year’s holiday season and find those who are truly holiday shoppers. Don’t rely on recent engagement as a predictor of their holiday engagement.  

4. Don’t risk ISP blocking. If you plan to increase your send volume during the holidays, ramp it up slowly, starting in early November. A sudden spike in volume will raise concerns at ISPs and increase a risk of blocking. 

5. Monitor your delivery rate and sender score obsessively. Nothing can be more catastrophic to your holiday email revenue than a deliverability issue. It not only prevents your messages from getting into the inbox, but as you emailers know, it's a time suck - time that could be spent figuring out how to make tomorrow's send better than today's.

6. Be proactive about preventing unsubscribes. If you have unsubscribe spike concerns resulting from increased send volume, create a holiday opt-out option.

7. Be unique. One way to do this is to monitor trends and go against them. If everyone is sending at 7 am, try 11 am. If everyone is including a snowman emoji in their subject line, melt them away with a sun character. Test out a holiday-themed “From” name. Do whatever you can to stand out.

8. Plan your message schedule around your product/service delivery times. Physical products require the most lead time, followed by services and ending with gift cards. By syncing your messaging with delivery, you can be more timely and urgent with your messaging.

9. Agility is the key. Of course you should have a plan, but be able to modify and optimize it at anytime as you learn new information. Test your strategy with a small, sample email run and if you learn something significant, incorporate it into your larger send.

10. Outdo competitions’ offers. Know what your competitors are doing and prepare yourself to top any offer they serve up. You should have a pre-set notion of how rich of an offer you are prepared to deliver to your subscribers in order to beat the competition.

11. Make the purchase cycle as easy as possible for your customers. A majority of customers are reading your email on a mobile device, so make sure that they can initiate and complete a purchase cycle seamlessly and successfully. 

Companies can make or break their budgets over the next two months, and it's important that every channel, specifically email, is optimized and working at its best. As long as you maintain the same kind of control testing you use year round, you can now look at your holiday email program as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. 

Content Strategy for A Stellar Email Program

   Robin Kurzer, Writer & Brand Strategist   


Robin Kurzer, Writer & Brand Strategist


Good content drives engagement. Sure, we know you’ve heard it, but it’s more than an idle adage. Content is everything. Online marketing guru Seth Godin goes as far as to say that the future of marketing itself is content. In his blog post at Contently, he says there’s really no difference between sponsored and non-sponsored content to the reader. He says that the only thing that’s really important when it comes to content is that it’s valuable to the user.

So you know you need relevant content for your online presence, but why is it so important for email? After all, emails are really just a way to nudge the user into a response,  right?

Well, yes and no. While your customer should feel like any communication they receive is talking directly to them, it wouldn’t be cost-effective or even reasonable to write a personal note to each one. That’s where targeting and razor-sharp messaging comes in. As marketing becomes more and more niche, we can sharpen the messaging even more and while talking to more than one person at a time, each person believes they are getting what they need.

Out there in the vast online marketing space outside of email, a key metric of how valuable the content you provide is whether that item is shared or forwarded. Emails can and should be measured the same way. Here are some ways you can use content to make your emails more effective:

See the big picture. Don’t write an email as in a vacuum. Don’t think of it as a “lead generating letter” or “response letter”. Think of this letter as one part of a broader conversation you are having with your customer. If you are writing a series of emails over time, make sure to outline what that narrative arc is.

Solidify your goals. Clients can be in a rush to do an email campaign without thinking what they really want out of it. Awareness, leads and product sales are some of the more common email campaigns, but each one requires a different approach and a different call to action. Be clear about what you want to accomplish with each campaign and make sure to set specific goals, ie, a 5% lift in sales over 6 months vs. last year at this time; 100 leads over the time of the campaign.

Know what your customer is thinking. Sure, you’ve targeted your list to hit customers with the most potential for a sale or lead. But that’s just half the battle. What does your customer need? Make sure your email gives them a reason to believe that you have that answer. Have they opted in to this communication? Have they joined your list because of a trusted partner? If you anticipate what your user might be thinking when they see your email, you can craft a more appropriate and direct message to them.

Tweak, edit, evolve. It’s always a safe bet to make your message as succinct as possible. Boil it down to the core message. Then test and optimize. Run an A/B test. Study analytics. See what subject lines drive open rates and how many of those end in conversions. Then edit, revise and test again.

Make sure you’re mobile. Depending on your audience’s niche, it is now more likely that your customer is viewing your email on a mobile device than a laptop or desktop computer. This means a few different things. It means that the copy needs to be short and easily digested (ie, bullets, short sentences). It also means that that emails and other online communication should be responsive or at least  scale to a mobile view.  It also means that you should have an easy way to take action that delivers a stress-free way to respond. But, don’t forget about the experience post-click. If your email is optimized for mobile, the entire experience on the site or landing page should be as well.

What’s most important overall, is to give the user what they want. Through relevant and useful communication, you build credibility and affinity. It’s a simple concept, but many companies do not do it. They’re too focused on the particular prompt for a message, than the message itself. Useful and relevant content will always keep users engaged. In Godin’s interview, he’s asked what the most important metric. As always, Godin keeps it simple:  will they miss me when I’m gone?