Sunday, December 15, 2013

reflections on 2013 and resolving 2014

so it's that time of year, that time when we reflect on the past 300+ days! join with family and friends to celebrate the season, and (best or worst of all) set goals for next year.

this past year I think has been a good one for me personally. i have become more patent in my professional life - taken on new challenges, worked to affect change and stayed happy with my job. i have been interviewing people over the past couple of months and one response i am proud to give is that yes even though my commute is longer than I had ever planned or wanted, i have never woken up on a work day and said "i can't do this anymore I hate my job, it's time to change" and i've never said at the end of the day, "this place is so crazy that it's time to look for something else...". i'm lucky that i love my job, i love the people i work with and for as many challenges (personalities, procedural, technological) that exist in my organization, i'm proud of the accomplishments i have under my belt. i don't struggle with recognition for good work, now i find myself struggling with ideas versus the number of hours in a day - this is a great place to be! so professionally, i'm in a place i want to be or at least on the right track to get there.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

gmail says good bye to the 'show images' link/button

google and gmail, the friend to every consumer, the enemy of every email marketing professional. this year gmail announced something that brought the chicken little in each of us out...gmail tabs. this enhancement to gmail boxes caused everyone to cry that the sky was falling...it was highly publicized.

recently though, they've announced another enhancement to gmail boxes, clearly aimed at delivering a better mobile experience, but at what cost to our industry? if you haven't seen the news, google is going to remove the show images button for all gmail users - gmail users rejoice, email marketing professionals rejoice...except...

Saturday, November 30, 2013

gmail isn't doing us any favors these days

if you're like me -- or worse your customers are like me --  we're reading email communications in this this fashion:
  1. a quick scan on the phone - triaging it for follow up
  2. if they follow up, they look at it on their table watching tv later that evening
  3. if they really need to take an action on it, they move to a pc based client or web-based client on a personal computer
we all know this, we all see it reflected in our open rates (unique opens vs total opens) and we see it in our tracking pixels - where the email is opened. so what's the big deal, how is gmail not doing any us any favors?

look at these examples. they are all the same email, the first is from my mobile phone, the second is from my ipad - both of which use the gmail app - and the final is the footer content of the email from my web-based gmail.

this is a message i received from groupon on november 18th. and honestly, this is about the time i started to notice this kind of treatment in my gmail account. first it's important to point out that this design is not responsive. and that due to its length, gmail truncates the message in all of the boxes - mobile phone, tablet and even in the web-based client.

so not only is g-mail asking readers to take action to download the rest of the email - presumably based on the length or file-size of the email, but they are actually truncating the message. the tactic of asking to download the rest of the email is a tactic that was first seen in apple mail on the iphone - most likely in an effort to help owners manage their data consumption. but gmail is doing something more...


moving on to the ipad version of the email...

again the same message, but this time rendered in the gmail ipad app.

the message isn't responsive something we discovered in the graphic above, but it is mobile friendly, and renders nicely on the ipad, and most likely other tablet devices. once again, gmail truncated the message - asking me to download the remainder of the message, but you'll notice that in this rendering there is more content included in this communication.

that same content is missing from the smartphone version, and represented by an ellipse at the bottom most left of the rendering. i know it's hard to see it in these messages, but i didn't want the message to over-powered by the graphics.


and now finally, here is the content from the web-based client. i'm only attaching the part that is missing from the smartphone rendering - and it will prove my point.

gmail is removing the "footer" information from these long emails. from a design perspective, not the biggest deal - let's face it we all hate the footer section, there is nothing you can really do to make them attractive, and we don't want people going there for the legalize anyway - who really wants people to unsubscribe from your emails? congress does, that's who.

since gmail is removing the can-spam compliant information, they are making it harder for our subscribers to unsubscribe. and since there is nothing else you can do to make the email reveal what is hidden by the ellipse that the place instead of the content, individuals are going to start hitting the "this is spam" option and putting our sender scores and reputations at stake.

it's undeniable that gmail and google are the power-players in the world of email and the internet. and that we have to play by their rules, but at what costs. i would argue that with gmail doing this to small screen devices, they are violating their own "bulk sender guidelines", which state that an unsubscribe link has to be prominently displayed in the body of the email. but readers the world over have become accustomed to the basic anatomy of an email - preheader, header, body, footer - and that familiarity has made it easy for people to find the place that you need to go to unsubscribe from a sender's database.

in the past gmail asked that bulk mailers actually put the unsubscribe link in the preheader, but we all revolted and said "no, we're not going to do that, we don't want the first thing readers see is an unsubscribe option", but it looks like gmail may actually get their way in the end, because individuals are going to start making the communications as spam - or worse yet, reporting email marketers as violators of federal can-spam regulations - and we'll have no choice but to put the unsubscribe information at the very top of the email.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

it's times like that they companies need to qa their ads

this morning while i was walking, i saw a cab parked on the street. it was one that was recently updated in the city to include a top-display advertisement. finally dc is catching up to other cities with cabs and letting us know when they are available or on a call...

but anyway, the ad was a united airlines ad, and when i first saw it, i thought nothing of it. i walked about 10 feet and it dawned on me just how inappropriate this ad could be.

take a look and i'll tell you what i found "offensive" about the ad:










i'll apologize for the poor quality of the photograph, but the ad says "dc friendly" and is for united airlines. there are two route termination dots of either side of the capitol dome. do you see where i'm going with this?

in a post 9/11 world we as marketers have to think about perception and reality. the ad isn't offensive until someone remembers that investigations revealed that united flight 93 was either in route to the white house or to the capitol building.

anyone else seen any seemingly innocent ads that when they look closer that it was in poor taste? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

gmail just subdivided the creative real estate - and no one noticed it

earlier this year gmail introduced tabs. just like a few years ago, the blogs, consultants and marketers were all up in arms that it was going to ruin our industry just like the gmail priority inbox was going too...guess what it hasn't. but what hasn't set the world on edge are the silent changes that gmail recently made to its mobile app.

what? gmail made changes and didn't announce them? yes and no...gmail made changes, and blogs like gizmodo and other tech-based blogs picked up the story, just not our industry blogs. why? because we didn't see these changes as killer enhancements to the inbox. while they aren't killers, they could impact the way we as marketers format our communications centered towards the mobile first mindset.

it's been drilled into us to think mobile first. exacttarget reported at connections this year that 76% of emails are first opened in a mobile environment. if you're program is like mine, you probably have a majority of gmail users on your list - in my case it's 35%+ of any given list. not a majority but it is the bulk of users. so as marketers we have to address the "special needs" of gmail.

so what's the change? in what is probably a scale of efficiencies movement, gmail's mobile app now uses the "card" design. what does this mean for marketers? simply put the initial view of your email is now shifted down the "back forty (think real estate here). at the top of the screen, the subject line is more pronounced; then a divider; then the from address, most-likely with a sender-image and condensed header information; followed by a show images statement - with an icon; and then your message. gmail has redesigned the anatomy of an email - and no one saw this evolution happening. now i'm not claiming that i'm the darwin of the email world, but these changes are substantial. 

in the years that i've been doing email marketing we've gone from emails that are 750px wide, to 640, to most recently being told that we're best designing in the 580 - 600 range. these design recommendations not only lengthen your emails, but they are forcing us to condense messages, and to move the call-to-action out of order for the all important click, or it is being moved down lower and below the fold, which can result in no action at all.

now google throws this curveball at us, and because of this "card design" our communications are being moved even further down the screen. no one is talking about how gmail has subdivided the real estate... worse yet, in my talking with other marketing professionals, we are staying current on trends but we aren't staying ahead of them. we're aware of the big level changes, but not the little ones or even the tech behind the physical technology. as an example, recently my buddy ken magill wasn't even aware of other non-standard email clients on mobile devices. presumably, like a lot of other marketers, he thought people used the stock apps for email on their mobile devices and then the client of choice for their desktops -- and that maybe the case for the first few weeks of ownership, but they discover the gmail app, they discover sparrow, or any of the apps listed in the app-stores. all of which provide challenges for mobile-first thinking.

we can't design for all of them, but we can be aware of them. my suggestion is this, don't just read the blogs we know and love for marketing trends, but read tech blogs and develop your inner geek to learn about the changing world of tech and how it influences our communications.

in conclusion, it is probably not the big changes that gmail announces that we need to worry about, but the little ones. think about how they impact the layout and the way we craft our messages, and we can attain success and a better customer-first-mobilized-experience.

*perhaps later today i'll build out a "gray's anatomy of email" and post that we we can all think about how to deal with the rapidly changing mobile-first world.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

email test sends - gmail quirks

recently, we've been doing a lot of new creative testing, which of course means laying out the email, testing it, changing it, testing it, rinse and repeat... but from all this testing, I noticed a gmail quirk.

we test emails by sending them ourselves, at work addresses (outlook) and then to other addresses, so we can view on desktop, phones and tablets. and with display issues and rewrites, we tend to test a lot, it seems like no one can code an email the first time...it's a common problem with all of the different platforms we have to perform on.

but with all of that testing, I stumbled onto a few quirks with gmail.

the first is caused by the way gmail strings together the conversation, what I have found is for lack of better understanding, gmail caches the message. the actual content may change, but any images that I changed out or optimized in later messages continued to display the original image. i admit when we are that close to deployment, i don't change the file names of the images, so google just caches them instead of pinging the server again. to remedy this, i now delete any previous messages before I send a test message again. this "trick" took me a while to figure out, i thought I was going crazy and that my image server was broken and that I was uploading the wrong code to the esp.

the second quirk is with gmail tabs. the first few tests went to the inbox/primary tab every time. at about test 10 (I'm not kidding - the above mentioned quirk was killing me!) the messages started going to the promotions tab. nothing changed - not the from address, not the subject line, nothing except some images that we were optimizing. nothing we can really do about this, but it was interesting to see  in action that gmail started to actively "promo" these communications because I hit some untold threshold...sadly, there is no conclusive data that the real send entered the promo tab instead of the inbox, or if my multiple tests had an impact on their placement.

so remember, if you have multiple test sends, and your looking for changes and not seeing them,delete them all - including emptying your trash - and that you're not going crazy...and when you can't find your tests after multiple sends, check the promotions tab.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

email marketing - content is king

this week we jumped on the gmail tabs communication wagon. let me preface this with we have not seen a drop in our email opens/readership/conversion to note; but since we don't have a hugely techinal subscriber base, we thought it was a good idea to do it, especially since our readers primarily open on mobile devices.

the campaign's purpose was two fold, first as a good-will communication and second to drop in a pixel to see what client our gmail users are at least using for their first read. If you didn't attend exact target's connections 2013, then you may not have heard scott dorsey tell everyone that 76% of email is now "first read" on mobile devices.

what do we mean by first read? people now read their email on multiple platforms, and either engage with it on the mobile device or "dog ear" it for follow-up on their desktop interface later. so our finding out where our readers are reading is important to us, thus this mailing.

but an interesting thing was demonstrated to me first hand. i have been doing this for a long time and know and understand that content is king and the key to unlocking the inbox, and that isp's monitor that content too. the cool thing is that I witnessed this first hand, something marketers only get to hypothesize about most of the time when we see dips in deliverability metrics.

let me explain...the isp's rarely tell you why you're landing in the spamfolder. but with this case, I could see why plain as day. i seeded these lists with our returnpath seeds, and saw in the deliverability report that all of the seeds got in the inbox for this mailing, including gmail -which was why I seeded the list in the first place - but that yahoo! sent them all to the spamfolder. a placement that makes sense given the email's message was all about managing your gmail tabs. this message was only sent to gmail users and the seeds, which are from all the major isp's.

this wasn't an eye-opener by any means, but it was cool to witness. it also leads me to more questions. gmail is king of our email list, making up over 30% of our lists, but in our effort to cowtow to the almighty google, are we hurting deliverabilty to other isp's because of their competitive nature to retain and attract users? if we follow all of gmail's best practices, and then add language about gmail tabs to the preheader and so forth, are we degrading our deliverability with yahoo, aol, comcast and others?

it's an interesting question, and one I hadn't considered before. so, on my plate this week is to run tests to see if custom dynamic pre-headers based off "email address contains 'ispname'" can have an impact on deliverability.

regardless of testing though, we all know that content is king, but it's not just delivering the content that the reader wants, but also the content that is isp relevant. based on this one send, it is really easy to say that competition between the isp's for ad-revenue, user attraction,  and retention also plays a part in the shell game of deliverability. something to think about and test out more. what do you think?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

your email sucks: importance of using images in your email

this week, i surveyed the users of our esp. we have one of the top esp's on the market right now, and it is only getting better. but we also have 225 registered users of our system, and 224 of them treat it as the wild west - "text only" messages that are sent out as html email and in violation of every best practice on the face of the earth (i'm working hard to correct this).

the survey was designed to find out how people are using the system, and what they are doing with it. the survey results really have opened my eyes and given me insight, showing me that we have a wide array of users - all with different skill-sets - i'm actually looking forward to training these users how to properly use the system.

the most interesting thing that has come of the survey so far - and these are only preliminary results - is that 70+% of our users define the success of their campaigns on the open rate of our emails and that 40+% of our users don't include any kind of branding in their communications.

so, what's the big deal? for the survey i defined branding as anything from using a logo all the way to using a proper color scheme and making it look professional and presentable. so with that said, a lot of our email communications from other departments look like horrible when they go out, i have found emails that are built in outlook and that "code" is cut and pasted into templates... but all of those issues aside, the success definition and the lack of branding got me thinking...branding is not only important for presentation and the emotional connection it brings to your communications but it also serves a "sneakier" purpose - it can drive better open numbers. i'll explain this more in a few minutes.

through some research and using returnpath, i have found that anywhere between 40 - 65% of our subscribers open their emails on mobile devices - we'll just say that majority of our readers are using mobile devices to view the communication. knowing that, using at the least a single image - a logo - is more important than ever.

the vast majority mobile email clients present the email with images off by default. while our communications aren't the best format wise, they do render a message that is readable and actionable without images on - think of it is as someone took the time to convert the text to html, but that's it. but with so many users defining the success of their campaign as a high open rate, without an image we're not as successful as we could be at least and at worst, we are continuing to bombard readers with "important messages" in search of that high open rate - which could impact sender reputation, causing deliverability problems.

why would i say this? obviously we see a good result metric, but that metric could be better. when the message hits the inbox, the email client asks the reader if they want to display images. guess what folks, if the message is readable and actionable without an image - or the user doesn't see an image placeholder to indicate that there is a missing picture, they aren't going to tap the download pictures action. opens are measured by a graphic - your open pixel. not clicking the download pictures, will not let the open pixel "fire" and therefore your open rates are potentially lower, and if you measure click thru rate as click to opens instead of clicks to sends, your click thru rate is artificially inflated.

i have worked with one unit, and they are using a template now that has a logo in it. the unit director reported to me that they have used the same message as in previous sends, but in this new template and seen a 30% lift in not only opens, but in conversions from the same time period last year. she attributes the lift directly to using a branded template, with an image. if the reader is opening your email, they want to see everything, they don't want to miss anything and the psychological impact of seeing the image place holder is enough to compel them to download the images and the thus, get the open pixel to fire.

so when it comes time to just send out a basic message, one that really doesn't need to have an image, you should develop a template that looks like letterhead, and use it - especially if you have a high user make of up mobile readers and you base success on open rates. this little thing is going to not only increase opens, but it is also going to make your message look better and be more consistent with your brand and establish that emotional connection to your message and your company.

Friday, August 2, 2013

your email sucks: alt tags - yeah we hate them but they can do a cool thing

alt tags...lets face it, they are the bane of every email marketer's existence. we don't like to include them because it's an extra step in the coding process or if you are like a lot of marketers who streamline there build process using templates using them is often difficult or takes time. alt tags often become another one of those small little errors that could bite you in the butt. but as email marketing processionals, we should be using them, and here's why: accessibility, mobile devices and the "google snippet"/preview text.

pre-header text is a great way to drive reader engagement;
it doesn't have to always be "important information" or
scroll down to read more.
for those of you who who don't know what the google snippet/preview text is, it's the extra bit of information that shows in gmail and most popular mobile email clients that is in grey below the subject line. it's a great way to drive engagement, especially if you find you're not that strong at constructing compelling subject lines. if you've been living under a desktop for the past 5 years, on the left is an example of what i'm blogging about. the from address friendly name is in bold, followed by the subject line - highlighted in yellow - followed by the google snippet/preview text or more precisely the pre-header text which is highlighted in pink.

that leads me to this morning... while i was looking at my phone - which is becoming not only my primary communications device (duh, it's a phone) but also my primary computer. i own an ipad mini, a nexus 7, a macbook, a macbook air, and an htc one - i know, i know, i'm a cross platform tech geek. but that said, with all that technology, i am more reliant on my htc one then i am any other device these days (that will change when school starts back - more on that in a later blog post). i use it [my phone] for not only (avoiding) phone calls but for email, sms, blinkfeed, facebook, twitter, notifications, and most importantly to me - email.

i use the gmail app* for my mail, and i am becoming one of those readers that we all have issues with - i glance at the email and base my delete decision on subject line and the google snippet/preview text/pre-header, however you want to refer to it. but because "busy" subscribers are doing this more and more often - triaging their inbox - we as marketers need to use all of the weapons in our arsenals to attract readers and engage with them. (remember that triaging is making a quick decission -- delete or not -- inbox triagers dont bother to hit the unsubscribe anymore, or even worse because you have to open the email hit the this is spam button.)

now back to today's inbox triage... while going through my box this morning, i saw a screen that looked very much like this picture. it's something we all see on our mobile devices and have become familiar with but why would it bother me so much? because some of the messages use the google snippet/preview text/pre-header text to their advantage -- it is just as important as your subject line when it comes to user engagement on a mobile device -- while others emailers don't  seem to give a crap about them. using the google snippet/preview text/pre-header text to me is paramount to responsive design - if you can't get them to look at the emails in the first place, why go to the time spend to craft "great looking" presentations?

as you can see this is a screen shot of my inbox. a few of these things are not like the others though. all of today's messages have a from address, subject line and then "some of these things are not like the others"... you'll see in the second and third email [image][image]...

are you asking yourself why does this happen? well the long and short of it is, you're not applying an alt tag to the image call (<img src="x" alt="description">), which is a great way to populate the preview text if you don't know how to code pre-header text. kuddos to esp's like exacttarget for realizing the importance of this tool, and now including a field for not only subject line but also pre-header text...a word of caution, mobile devices only present a set number of characters for preview text, so you want to keep them short and sweet...verbose pre-headers could push your call-to-action further down the screen. since images can't be rendered in the preview "pane" of mobile email clients, they will substitute the alt tag content. use this to your advantage.

when we implemented this at a previous place of employment, i saw an uptick in opens and 30-percent click through increase - we had been sending newsletters that had a sponsorship from a particular product we had in house, and when i added that product to the pre-header with the same link, we saw a big increase in the number of people who were clicking and getting information about the product. so it served two purposes, it further engaged our audience through opens and increased ctr.

if you're not using alt image tags, this should be enough to start experimenting with them. my general rule of thumb when using alt tags for images (unless the image serves as a call to action) is to not use them for images below the fold (think anything below 600px from the top), the extra coding and extra time to come up with appropriate text just isn't worth it from my perspective. the real return in this is that reader engagement is going to go up - you've added beneficial information to the preview pane, giving the reader more information and more reason to open the email. and opened emails are the first step to building a better reputation with the isp's, making your daily struggle against the inbox/spam folder and gmail tabs easier.

so here's the big take-a-ways:
1. use pre-header text to further engage your reader - it can be customized to your message.
2. don't simply repeat the subject line, use text that drives engagement or completes the thought your trying to communicate with the subject line.
2. if you don't know how to code pre-header text, use the alt image tag the first image in the header to populate the google snippet/preview pane. instead of using 'alt="logo"', be creative 'alt="here's a special offer just for you"'.
3. if you can place your open tracker/open pixel anywhere in the email, dont place it where its going to show up as the google snippet - you see this a lot when a string of html is populated here.
4. and as always: test, test, test...test methods, test phrases, test strategies!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

your email sucks: can-spam requirements

as email marketing professionals, we have a lot to worry about -- messaging, design, rendering, open rates, click thru rates, the list goes on and on. but when was the last time you thought about can-spam requirements?

with the proliferation of so many esp's in the past few years sending email has become more commonplace and an affordable tool for even the smallest of businesses. and because of user-friendly emailing platforms, being can-spam compliant should have also become easier and something that a lot of us would no longer have to think about. but in reality, these platforms have made it easier to fall out of compliance, and we should be thinking about this all the time -- these tools don't fix everything.

esp's have made the big things easier when it comes to can-spam. list management, which is what most people think about when you talk about can-spam.  the tools ask us if the subscribers have opted in to receiving emails when we upload a new list and we have to agree to the statement to proceed with the upload, they even process unsubs at an almost instantaneous rate instead of the 10 days that we have by law. but you know there's more to can-spam right?

let's dig into this example and how a great looking email can actually turn into a can-spam nightmare.

a good looking email that is a
potential can-spam nightmare
i recently got this email announcing a new division of a restaurant group here in the dc area. a bit of background, this group owns a few great places to eat in dc, and i have frequented most of them and they're always a good experience. nrg is growing at an astonishing rate for restauranteurs.

a few months back they opened up a new eatery called gbd, which sells fried chicken, donuts, and beer. (i know right!) but i digress. the point of this post is that this good looking email has one major fault - it's spam.

what? spam can be good looking and doesn't have to tell me about my dead uncle and my inheritance? it can include well designed graphics and not just text?

scroll to the bottom of the email, and you'll find that something is missing. an address for the organization that is sending the email - which is clearly required by the can-spam act of 2003.

i have to admit that missing addresses are my biggest beef and i honestly write back to emailers about this simple fix all the time. it's such a simple mistake and it seems to be commonplace now-a-days. i think part of the esp proliferation - and lack of training. but this simple mistake could be costly for small businesses: can-spam violations can run $300 per email. these sending platforms have done so much to put email in the hands of just about any business and to make it so easy to communicate that people are forgetting to "cross their 't's' and dot their 'i's'".

so that's the first issue with this email - no physical address for the group sending this email. simple enough, and an honest mistake of small businesses and new email marketers alike. this is one of those mistakes that the esp can correct through some training or automatically inserting that information into the email -- the tool i use actually auto-inserts can-spam compliancy into the footer of the messaging, so i don't have a lot to worry about when i send templated emails, but i do when i build out hand coded ones, so maybe that's why i am aware of this and it bothers me so much.

but digging more with this email and practices of the eamiler, you'll find that not-only does this email contain can-spam violations, but that this email is by the simplest definition spam. i'll explain...

here is the sign-up form for gbd's email - the one i signed up on to get gbd communications. it's a simple form... but it is not without it's violations either. the subscription form hasn't been updated for a long time; speaks about their grand opening in december; but it doesn't say anything about how often to expect communications or that they intend to cross promote their different divisions to their lists. what does that mean?

i signed up for email communications about gbd what i got (months later, and with never have gotten an email about gbd) was an email about district provisions. if i personally didn't know this group, i would be left scratching my head wondering why i got this and who this is -- especially since the from address is "inquiries@districtprovisions.com".

given all of these can-spam and best-practice violations, how can you successfully cross promote your individual businesses to your broad fan base and save a future campaign?

the biggest issue we need to tackle is that this is for all intents and purposes spam. to reduce the likelihood of this being viewed as spam and to reduce the complaint and unsub rates, there are simple things that could have been done to correct this:
  1. be more transparent with your sign-up form.
    1. tell a subscriber what they are getting
    2. how often they'll get it
    3.  and if your company is made up of multiple divisions that you may introduce to your subscribers, be sure to include an opt in statement or checkbox. simply add a field that says "occasionally, we may make your email available to other divisions of our company, to opt-in to those emails, click here". this simple statement lets the subscriber know that you're bigger than just the single division, and that you may introduce them to other parts of your company in the future.
  2. segment, segment, segment your lists. list creation within the esp's is easy these days. you don't have to know sql or build out complicated instructions to build the list. you simply need to tell the esp who you want to mail too, and if you've included the opt-in to additional communications statement from above, tell the esp to include individuals who have opted-in to those types of communications.
  3. in the communication itself, there are few things to do to add to the transparency of the communication:
    • if this is the first email the subscriber is getting, you should send it from a domain/address that the subscriber will recognize.
    • write the creative from the point of view of an introduction, meaning that the division that one signs up for communication from is introducing this new one - think of it as an old friend introducing a new mutual one.
    • include the address of the sender.
    • include a statement in the footer that states, "this email was sent to xyz@domain.com because you signed up for communications about xyz-subject". you'll be amazed by the power of this statement when it comes to pleading your case with the isp's if your blacklisted or blocked.
    • and send the email from a more personal address, using a "name" instead of an alias does wonders to increase your open rates and makes the email seem more directed and not so "spammy".
in the interest of full disclosure on this posting, i did reach out to the emailer, to offer this advice, but the emails went un-answered. regardless of the amount of spam that i may or may not continue to receive from them, i will continue to eat at their establishments.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

restaurant review: medium rare

dc is quickly becoming a city of neighborhoods. i've lived in dc proper since 1996, and for those that know me they'll agree with two things: i don't have the most refined palette (i'm a picky eater) and that i say that dc is missing the neighborhood experience like other big cities across the world have. what i mean by that is that we don't have areas to explore and that are defined by their uniqueness. sure we have georgetowne, dupont and a few others, but when looked at across the map, we're a pretty square city. we lack micro-retail and entertainment districts.

that is changing -- quickly and for the better! the key to that neighborhood feel is having places to go and entrepreneurs that capitalize on the success of others. mark butcher and medium rare are doing that. mark has built a cult following (at least within my extended family) that has brought me out of my neighborhood to explore woodley park by tempting me with what I crave the most as a red-blooded male picky eater -- steak and potatoes.

medium rare offers a simple menu: bread, salad, steak and fries. that's it. while I don't eat veggies - if god wanted me to, he would have made them out of meat - i'm told that the salad is good, a great refreshing starter to an unbelievable meal that reminds me of the meals mom used to make.
culotte steak is not by any stretch of the imagination a great cut of meat, but the chefs at medium rare prepare it so well that you'd think you were eating a filet. the sauce is amazing, and this is coming from someone who doesn't like sauces and is a firm believer in the 70's saturday morning tv commercial montra -- don't drown your food - yet I ask for more sauce each time!

as a fast-food junkie, i'm quick to say that mcdonald's has the best fries, but medium rare gives even an old clown a run for his money. they are perfect, just right amount of crunch and "meat". mark says it has something to do with the hubcap they use to prepare them - whatever that means, all I know is that they're fantastic!

surprises abound at this little bit of meat lover's heaven on earth - the great music that's played there, the surprising bathroom french lessons, the second course (i'm not telling you - experience it for yourself), and on most checks the appearance of bazooka joe himself. if you're a carnivore, like myself, you're in for a budget saving meal, that will no doubt bring up or make memories that inspire great table talk! I highly recommend medium rare and mark's culinary vision for not only good food, but to get me out of my neighborhood to explore others.

medium rare is located at 3500 wisconsin avenue, northwest and i can't say enough about it. you should go tonight, while you're there tweet to them - mark's always listening - that i sent you!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

why now might not be the time to set up mobile campaigns

mobile optimization is the buzzword in email marketing - we see it everywhere and all of the esp's are even flooding the webinar space with meetings and how-to seminars on email mobilization.

but, here is why i think that now might not be the time to start your company's moblization revolution... the gmail app. recently, gmail updated it's app for both android and apple devices, and it finally supports adaptive design (or responsive design). if you were ahead of the curve with mobilizing your emails, keep it up... but if you were waiting for insights into your subscriber base, you should probably hold off for a few more months on all of the work required to convert your existing templates to mobile adaptive ones. why you ask?

well having just recently converted from an iphone 4s to an htc one, i was missing the way apple auto-scales html email. in an effort to mimic that, i discovered you can set up the gmail app on the droid devices to do the same thing - yah, no left and right panning anymore to get the full message in one screen. then the app threw me a curve ball... i subscribe to a bunch of emails, and found that some of them weren't displaying properly - it's the worst feeling in the world when your emails don't display properly and i feel that same pain when i see one in my inbox and i will often right back with pointers and help to correct the issue. but with these, it's the gmail app that is destroying the rendering.

here is what i'm talking about. i got this email from the magill report. and you'll notice that the rendering is completely messed up. the images on the left are way too big, overlap other elements, and the headlines are compressed to a small left column. obviously this is a two column design, and adaptive to the device. it's a simple layout and when it renders properly, it's an effective way of communicating information to reader. when it shows up correctly, ken gets his message communicated in full and the reader can almost ignore the ads on the right because we've seen them before and typically readers pay more attention to the information on the left then they do the right. it's a proven template that works well.

but because of the way that gmail supports adaptive design, this message displays oddly. and its not the fault of the app or the designer, this one falls on the reader. most people who jumped over to android devices to get bigger screens and less control over their devices still want the auto-scale feature, so they turned on that feature and forgot about it.

to fix this, you can either turn off the option completely - which then puts the reader in the position of having to pan across their emails - a screwed up user experience, or they can look at an email once it renders and then tap the menu and tap "revert auto-scaling".

this fixes that particular email but most don't know that they can do that. the app itself while supporting adaptive design doesn't recognize it when certain customizations are turned on within the app. which can lead readers to think that message is messed up and that you're not an effective marketer, which will impact the message and the offer you're trying to communicate.

here's the email "fixed" by turning off the auto-scale feature, but like i said it only impacts that one email - obviously once the reader discovers this option and fixes the first email, they'll begin to realize that they need to do it for each and every email - but that discovery phase is still a few months away i think, because people are quick to think that the email is incorrectly formatted and it couldn't be a result of google or my smartphone (a smartphone is only as smart as it's user, not the developer or manufacturer).

that brings me back to my point, that right now is not the time to deploy adaptive emails - unless you're company was already doing it prior to the release of the new gmail app - even though it didn't support adaptive design prior to the release, you're organization had already invested the time and effort to build these templates.

here's what you do in order to get the best rendering over the course of the next few months - until gizmodo and other sites do an article about this - use mobile optimization. what's the difference? adaptive design is new code and new skills and lots of time to think through the experience. optimizing your email is a lot easier, and should include design criteria such as:
  • max width of 640pixels: this auto-scales 2:1, making your emails 320 pixels wide when they render on smaller screens (and when the auto-scale option is turned on in android devices).
  • min font size of 13px: this is the default size that most devices upscale too
  • remember real estate - think back to the days of powerpoint creation and using larger fonts and bullets, craft your message for readability and white space to reduce eyestrain on smaller devices
  • big calls to action, make sure the reader knows what you want them to do. use buttons that are finger sized (35px tall is a great start). remember that there are 72 pixels in an inch, and that the rule of "thumb" came about because the width of a thumb is about an inch - most people scroll with their thumbs and even tap with thumbs when they hold the device in one hand
  • place calls to action near the sides of the email, not the middle - this allows people to quickly tap the cta and to not have to stretch across the opposite side of the screen to "click" your cta
as more and more people begin to realize this issue, they'll search out the answer and they'll understand how to fix it and then we can kick in to overdrive our adaptive designs.

Monday, May 27, 2013

why open rates aren't a good measurement of success

you spend hours putting together the perfect email - creative, message, coding, uploading, execution. everyone agreed this was the be all end all of your campaigns but it failed...why?
two words - mobile readers.... recently my twitter feed and my inbox has been filled with articles and webinars about designing for the mobile inbox, so if you're like me you know how important this is and how smartphones and tablets are changing the way we have to address our readers. part of this is adaptive design, and the other crucial component is designing for images off. how can we trick readers into giving us the data we crave to determine success?
lets start with the one thing that has guided us for years, the open pixel. but when you boil down a pixel to it's basic construct it is an image. it dawned on me this morning as I was looking at my smartphone that a lot of the messages I get, look like they don't include images, even the simplest of branding, but yet my phone is asking me to download images. i can click links, I can view landing pages, so why download the image and sacrafice more of my limited data? guess what, that image that my phone wants to download is the open pixel, the one thing so many of us have used to determine as a success metric. by producing non-branded emails, we're producing failure.
on the flipside of that, we're producing conversion failure too. how can that be you ask? well look at it this way, my phone renders the message fine, if the message is appealing i decide if I want to look at the link now or later... i may even decide to click on display images and then come back later to view the click. if that's the case then since I've already downloaded the images the open pixel fires again when I go view it again - two opens and a click thru... in this simple example you just got a 50% ctr, not bad...on the opposite side of the equation is the habit of looking at the email and just clicking through to your offer... 1 click divided by 0 opens is still a zero-percent click through, or if you determine your ctr by clicks divided by sent/delivered, you get that sinking feeling that something is wrong. because lets face it, we get caught up in opens and clicks, the data we readily have...very rarely do we have access to the sales numbers, so we don't tie clicks to total sales and we think the numbers are wrong or that it's a failure.
as mobile becomes an ever more important part of our customer's lives and bridges the digital divide, we have to rethink our success metrics. open rates will still be important, but they'll also be a "symptom"...of you're ability to write a good subject line and of deliverability, but the diagnosis of success is going to be the ability to close the loop, get all if the information and tie conversions to clicks.
the take-a-way here?
1. brand your messages, give the consumer a reason to download the images to get a better indication of open rates on mobile devices.
2. design for images off display, use engaging goofy alt image tags, i'm going to start using tags like "come on you know you want to download me" and "really, stop looking at the world in black and white"... personality-filled alt tags will make the reader engage and want to know what the image is.
3. when you're designing the campaign, define your success - if that's 700 clicks, design for success and build those relationships with sales and information tech to get the data you need to verify your success.
4. know you're audience...not just from a shopper habit point of view, but also from a platform point of view...use a sending tool that can tell you how many mobile users you have and what kind, and design to that.
5. analyze your current data, if campaigns that have worked for a while aren't getting good open rates, you could be experiencing deliverability issues or an explosion of mobile users.

Friday, May 24, 2013

your email sucks - proof your email creative it could be costly

i'll admit, i suffer from inbox overload - i sign up for lots of emails...mostly to look at layouts and keep up with emerging trends, but to also find fodder for my blog.

today in my inbox was this, typical deal offerings from kgbdeals. nothing unusual about these, i think i get one each day, and sometimes two, usually they are pretty good and include deals that i think about for a little while, and then decide that i really don't need, but i don't unsub. kgdeals' editors are pretty on top of things too, but like everyone, occasionally something slips through. (let me admit this right now: i'm not without my faults by any means, and i am much better at editing others work than i am my own...)
this one slipped by kgbdeals...
the issue with this email is that both the subject line and headline say that the e-hookah pen is $8... but the text within the email, under the picture says that it is $6. for what it's worth, 73% off the normal retail of $29.99 is indeed closer to the $8 price than it is the $6.

this was a typo - or probably what happened is that the vendor provided content and kgbdeals just floats the content into their templates based on purchased placement and so forth, so benefit of the doubt falls on the content providers, but either they or kgbdeals failed to proof their content.

what's so bad about this? in the grand scheme of things, nothing - especially not worth producing an "oops email" - because the correct price is quoted in the subject line and in the headline text, but there are probably a few people in customer service who are fielding calls and emails, wanting to know if they [the customer] can get it for the $6 price.

when i used to work retail, if a price was mismarked, we had to honor the lowest price, if not because it was the right thing to do, but to keep arguments at the register to a minimum. luckily in a brick and mortar retail environment, you can go pull the inventory off the rack and re-price them accordingly, but in this electronic world...we don't have that ability.

this could impact the bottom line, not just for the vendor, but also for kgbdeals. not only from a contract point of view, kgbdeals probably sold this based on opens or impressions - most likely paid in full - but if they make a deal to accept the price of $6, then kgbdeals could be left holding the bag, having to pay the vendor $2 for each item sold. and to make matters even worse if this a typo on their [kgbdeals] fault, then they'll may have to deliver the dreaded "make-good", which is running the ad again, for the same number of impressions, in the same position for free. not only does this result in a freebie and lost ad revenue, but it could cost man-hours in that kgbdeals may have to juggle production schedules and sales reps have to make calls and renegotiate the contract.

so what looks like a small little typo could blow up to cost big bucks in not only lost revenue but also in man-hours. the moral here is the more sets of eyes on a document, the better and to always keep documentation, because if this situation is indeed the submitted creative from the client the argument for not paying the difference and for not having to deliver a make-good are easier to make.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

congrats to mauge or always a bridesmaid

yesterday (may 18, 2013) i had the honor of being a bridesmen for a person that I consider to be one of my best friends in the world, monique maugue - well scott now - and the experience was amazing, and one that will stay with me for years to come.

mo, niki, mauge, orangejello, or monigue as she is known has grown into an amazing person over the years. she and i met when we worked to keep some crazy menapausal women in check at the collegeboard. and the adventures that we had are at times are horrific and at others pants-wettingly funny! she taught me the importance of a filter (notice i said the importance, not how to use one) and i hope i taught her the importance of not having one. our relationship is so close that she was my back-up plan - not to ward off loneliness in my past-sellby date years, but to ensure that as a gay man my social security would go on to a dependent.

i didn't have to make a toast, but if i did, this is what i would have said:

"Mo you've been my partner in crime for so long, from hospital visits to discussion on monthly maintenance shaving to left nuts and camels, we've been through so much that i consider you my bestie and the little sister i never had, you're the lisa to my bart. i've never seen you look as stunning or as happy as i did yesterday. thank you for being my friend and letting our relationship grow and never feel forced. as you and myke build a life together, I look forward to hearing about all the adventures and want to remind you of a few things: smile along the way knowing that you're loved and a part of so many of my memories, laugh because even when it's not appropriate it's okay - it's the timestamp on the memory, argue when you're right, argue when you're wrong-it teaches us to say that we're sorry, scream along the way it lets others know you're scared or having the time of your life...and most importantly always always pack scissors when you travel you'll never know what kind of hotel carpet repair you'll have to make!

and to myke, know that you share your wife with so many and that she is not just the foundation of your new life, but she is the rock and cornerstone in so many other's lives. you didn't just marry mo, you married a community of people who love her and see her as daughter, friend, "little sister", confidante, niece, cousin, "first wife and office spouse". you by extension are not just myke scott, but myke scott-mauge-tindel-gray-the list goes on and though we may have our differences, we all love you just as much as we love her because you'be given her something none of us can...you see mauge was always a complete person, she needed someone to compliment her life, dreams, and goals...you do just that. you've got big shoes to fill, but I think you can do it! Take your time, remind her to laugh, remind her to smile, remind her to argue, remind her to grow and you'll be fine."

so how do you close a post like this? i don't think you can, I think the best way to end this is to see how those two pick up the mantle and build a life worthy of the memories that i carry with me, and to wish them the best in the years to come, and to let them know, I can't wait to hear the adventures and be a part of their new life. love you guys...

Monday, May 13, 2013

why mobile optimized email is suddenly more important to me

my last post was about optimizing your email or designing your email for mobile devices... and what to know and consider when your readership hits the tipping point... today i want to blog about why mobile optimized email is now important to me.

if you've followed my blog for any amount of time you can gather that i'm a bit if an apple fan, but i've made the jump to an android phone, i've not left the fold fully, i still own and use my macbook, my macbook air, and my ipad mini. but now, i'm the owner of an htc one, which is by far the "iphone killer" that android has been trying to produce for a while. i say this because finally there is a phone of enough build quality and design, a polished version of the droid operating system, along with supporting apps that i use all the time on my phone to make the transfer to a new piece of equipment and platform easier and worthwhile. think of what you went through when you went from pc to mac, and you'll know what i am getting here.

that said, android isn't without issues, perhaps later this week, i'll tell you what i miss and what i like better, but for now, i'm embracing the htc one... but mobile optimized email is suddenly even more important to me...why? unlike the iphone, the android devices don't autoscale the emails like i am used to. in a lot of cases, i have to not only scroll up and down, but also have to pan left and right to see and read most of my incoming html based email.

that is, until i discovered the scaling option in the gmail app. the gmail app, not the native android mail app, will allow you to autoscale the emails and they'll look very similar to the way they looked on the iphone. but that doesn't mean that email marketers shouldn't be looking at ways to push their email designs and to forego adoption of adaptive design principles and practices. the more of us that exploit that technology for the greater good, the sooner email clients and apps will make it easier for all of us who read and open email on our mobile devices by supporting adaptive email design and autoscaling.

Monday, May 6, 2013

the problem with mobile email design

so if you're anything like me, you've seen the latest mind-blowing statistics on how much email is opened in the mobile environment. and if you're anything like me, you've been approached to make your email programs mobile-friendly. but what do those people mean when they say that, and how should you arm yourself to make mobile-friendly campaigns?

data. you should ask yourself how many people are reading your campaigns on mobile devices, some sending platforms can tell you this, others have partnerships with providers like litmus and return path that can embed a pixel into your emails and determine what platform and client your readers are using to open and render your emails. knowing this information is critical in knowing how to mobilize your emails and when.

my current readership is now at the tipping point for mobile optimization and the majority of those readers are using apple devices to read their emails. great, i now know that my readership is a mobile one. now i know from a design and execution point of view that i need to optimize my emails for mobile readers.

but what does mobile optimization mean? does it mean designing for a mobile inbox or does that mean making an adaptive email... well, to me, an optimized email is one that is designed to 640 pixels wide - the apple devices will auto scale them and they'll look good on the limited real estate provided by those devices. but there are design rules that go along with that - minimum font size, maximum font size, white space, graphics, button size, button usage versus links... the list goes on and on.

here is where i get on my soap box.

there are two main strategies, mobile optimization and responsive/adaptive web-design.

when the iphone and android devices hit the market, users had only the stock email clients to look at their emails on. apple got it right, android didn't. but consumers want choice. now we have a whole host of email clients - the stock ones, mailbox, the gmail app, yahoo email app, sparrow (if people even still use it) and the list goes on and on. users now have the option of picking an email client just like they do an email provider. this is a great thing, everyone develops their own habits of using these apps and their way of dealing with inbox overload.

but (soap box continues....) here's the kicker. out of the major email clients out there now, only a handful of them support media queries - meaning only a handful of them support adaptive design.

here's what i mean about adaptive design - it's the counterpart to responsive web design. so why am i not calling it responsive email design? because i believe that as marketers we need to be responsive to the readers not to the platforms - inbox technology isn't keeping pace with the web world.

it's important for a marketer to know the difference and to know their readers. just like we need to know the mobile readers, to successfully make use of our time and limited budgets, we need to know what app our readers are using to open their email in, especially if the majority of them don't support adaptive design.

i've been looking and there isn't a product out there yet (i have a great idea if anyone wants to help - patent pending) to get to the app level. return path can get me the mobile readership, but not the app. i have to make assumptions that my mobile readers may not be tech savvy and therefore are using the stock app to read their emails, which leads me to doing optimization.

so why is this my latest obsession? i'm a one man shop - design, coding, strategy and more. where do i spend my time? how quickly do i need to ramp up my program to use adaptive design and media queries to render "look-a-like" emails, when I can simply continue down the same road now and design the optimal email to be rendered in multiple platforms. without insight i don't know where to turn - argue with the boss of prove to the boss that we're already mobile optimized based on our majority of mobile readers.

i think without the technology in place, on the front end with the clients support adaptive design and the back-end with sending platforms finding this information out, that we as marketers are getting caught up in the hype. i've attended numerous web casts and seminars where mobile is pushed down my throat, but the only supporting stats are that the email is opened on a mobile device. all i want for us as marketers is to know which app they are using now, so that we can either progress the further adoption of adaptive email design or abandon it all together.

so these are the questions to ask yourself when you think about mobile-optimization for your email campaigns:
1. what is my audience make up?
2. do we need to optimize or adapt?
3. are we being asked to do this because the boss has a blackberry and can't read our email or is there a genuine business need?

Monday, April 29, 2013

always question the norm of email design - embedded or background images will render

let's face it we all as marketing professionals want to communicate about our products with slick professional emails, but we're hindered by lots of things - email clients, isp's, designers, and coders.

recently, i put together a great looking email for a send that we were executing with an outside third-party vendor - a list rental send (don't get me started on this, i don't like them either!) - but that said, being that these recipients hadn't ever interacted with us before it was a great prime opportunity to put our best foot forward, which meant to put a great piece together for them to get a great first impression.

the resulting email was a great looking piece - which actually got a few compliments from other staff members who hoped that i was moving all of the emails forward (design wise) with this type of communication. it was slick and sexy. but there in lies the challenge... slick and sexy best foot forward emails come at a price.

the first is design. they take a while to layout in photoshop and the mind numbing attention to detail of taking the print out, a ruler, multiple color pens, and devising where to slice up the graphics. i'm probably the only person who does this like this - it just helps me to figure out how big to make my tables in my html. but none-the-less it's a labor intensive process.

then there is actually making the slices and saving all of them and uploading them to server so that you can actually get to the coding process.

coding, wow... you can spend hours getting images to line up and so forth, not to mention thinking about how it's going to render once your send tool sends them out. so all of that said, i still wanted the email to be really slick. so i used background images - i'll wait until you pick yourself up off the floor....

you back yet? i heard you say from here, while you were falling off your chair, "kirk background images don't work..." that's what the vendor told me too - outlook won't render background images. well guess what, they will you just have to know how to hack them. it's not as difficult as you might think.

background images work in a lot of the email clients, but they fail to render in outlook - which restrains the slickness that we as marketers can do for those readers. that said this works in outlook.

let's start with what i call the wrapper - think of it as the <body> tag an webpage. it's the farthest background of the email. (replace the text in red with your file names, color codes, and sizes.)

include this bit of code directly below the <body> tag:
<div style="background-color:hex-dex_color_code_should_the_image_not_render;">
<!--[if gte mso 9]>
<v:background xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" fill="t">
<v:fill type="tile" src="your_full-width_image_url" color="same_hex-dex_as_above"/>
</v:background>
<![endif]-->
      <table height="100%" width="100%" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0">
           <tr>
                <td valign="top" align="left" background="your_full-width_image_url">
then directly above the </body> tag:
</td>
    </tr>
  </table>
</div>
so that takes care of the wrapper, or the background. now the tricky part - using embedded images in the email itself - or rather using them as a cell background for a table - i do everything in tables, just to be safe.

build your table for the content area, something like this:
<table width="640" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0" align="center">
     <tr>
for the next part of the table, the <td> tag, set it to look like this:
          <td background="your_embedded_image_url" width="xx" height="yy" bgcolor="hex-dex_color_code_should_the_image_not_render" valign="top">

           <!--[if gte mso 9]>
           <v:image xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" id="theImage" style='behavior: url(#default#VML); display:inline-block;position:absolute; height:yypx; width:xxpx; top:0; left:0; border:0; z-index:1;' src="your_embedded_image_url"/>
           <v:shape xmlns:v="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:vml" id="theText" style='behavior: url(#default#VML); display:inline-block;position:absolute; height:yypx; width:xxpx;top:0;left:0;border:0;z-index:2;'>
                <div>
                <![endif]-->
then, build out another table within that <td> tag, this will hold the content and messaging:
                <table width="xx" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0" border="0">
                     <tr>
                          <td width="xx" height="yy">your content here</td>
                     </tr>
                </table>
finally, under the closing table tag for the content table, include this:
                <!--[if gte mso 9]>
                </div>
           </v:shape>
           <![endif]-->
           </td>
      </tr>
</table>
with that code in your snippet library, you'll be able to build out some pretty slick and sexy looking emails. let me know how it goes!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

it's not very often that we live history like we are right now

this blog post has been sitting in my draft folder for a few weeks now, and i've been conflicted if i should post it. i'm going to go ahead and post it - because i think it's important enough to share.

if there are a lot of comments saying my readers hate it, and it's off topic, i'll remove it. thanks for reading....

For this blog post, I am putting my normal writing style and "branding" on the shelf - so that anyone who reads this won't "struggle" with the style I write in.

Additionally, I'm hoping this will be the only political statement that I make on this blog, but I feel it is important and to communicate my view of these historic days.

So here goes...

This week, so far we have seen the Supreme Court of the United States hear arguments for cases dealing with Prop 8 and DOMA. Both of these cases are deeply rooted in the gay civil right movement. As of today, March 27th, 2013; we basically know how the justices feel about DOMA, but the jury is out on Prop 8 - pun intended.

A few things, other than the media circus surrounding the coverage of the cases, bother me. Let me say this, as a democrat, and gay man, I was raised to believe that you respect the Office of the President, The President, and the Supreme Court - without question. Congress on the other hand is a bunch of freaking idiots and you can say what you want about them, but you don't speak poorly about a current president or a seated justice.

So Mom, if you read this blog, close it now...

Justice Alito said in Monday's hearing that "Same-sex marriage is very new....you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet?" Um, what? Same-sex marriage is newer than the internet and cellphones? Had he said the iphone, I might believe him.

Before we do the math to calculate the age of technology... Let's draw some correlations between this nation's civil rights movements.

  • 1950's Color TV was invented
  • 1955 was the year the Rosa Parks would not go to the back of the bus. One of the milestones that sparked the civil rights movement
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of this country's most powerful speeches on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963
  • Loving vs. Virginia, the Supreme Court case legalizing interracial marriage was heard in 1967 by the supreme court
The Justices didn't ask those individuals if they should render a decision on a topic younger than color TV... Of course though this is by no means the full extent of the civil rights movement, some would argue that it started in 1861, the beginning of the civil war - or even earlier; but for the sake of argument lets say the era of civil rights is from 1955 - 1967, 12 years; not that the struggle for equality is over at all.
  • The Stonewall Riots took place in 1969
  • Baker vs. Nelson, 1971. Gay marriage case heard in Minnesota
  • Harvey Milk was assassinated in 1978 (granted not because he was gay)
  • DOMA was passed in 1996
  • 2008 Prop-8, which revered Californian's same-sex couples to marry was voted on
  • 2013, Supreme Court entertains arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA
Given that timeline, the same-sex marriage and gay civil rights movement has been going on for 44 years - 1969 until 2013. Or to try to compare apples to apples, from DOMA until today is 17 years.

Now this part is going to seem unrelated, but stay with me. It will all make sense. The Internet's first use of email was in 1976. The Internet as we know it today was established in 1993. Prior to that there are internet like structures dating back to as early as the late 60's.

1G cellphone technology was available in America as early as 1978, 2G cellular networks came onto the scene in 1991. So depending what you define as the beginning, the Internet is as young as 20 years or as old as 37 and cellphones are similarly aged - 22 years young or 35 years old.

Now, getting back to Justice Alito's comments. Obviously, this man doesn't know Al Gore, "creator of the internet", or how to do math and use Google. DOMA was passed in 1996 - a federal law defining marriage as 1 man one 1 woman. The first case challenging traditional marriage was in 1971. Which makes it [the idea of same-sex marriage] older than first use of email, and 1G cellphone technology. The idea of same-sex marriage is not new, especially when Justice Ginsburg references 1971's Baker vs. Nelson.

Now, there is no question that this a polarizing topic. I don't envy the Justices at all in having to decide the merits of these cases and if they should proceed or not. But what bothers me the most about this, is that there seems to be grumbling that SCOTUS should not be hearing the Prop-8 case, because marriage is a state issue not a federal one. Sure I can see that, and I can almost agree with that, but unfortunately, the Supreme Court has something with this case that I would assume they try to avoid - and that's precedence.

SCOTUS heard and ruled on Loving vs. Virginia in 1967, the case making interracial marriage legal. Thereby, imposing its federal authority over marriage, a state issue, and altered the definition of marriage from 1 man and 1 woman of the same race to 1 man and 1 woman. If the Supreme Court decides that Prop 8 is a state issue, and that imposing its federal authority over a state issue is not within it's powers, sending it back to the state - the supreme court allows the  unconstitutional decision to stand. By doing so there is a possibility that the world is about to get hugely complicated and even uglier.

Why you ask?

I am not saying that the gay struggle for rights is more important than those of African-Americans. The two are related and similarities can be drawn between the two. Both classes are discriminated on biological factors  - but in most cases gay people have been able to blend in to society easier than African-Americans.

The Federal Government has been banning it for 17 years - five years longer than the 12 years of history spanning Rosa Park's refusal to ride in the back of the bus to Love vs. Virginia. Justice Alito needs a fact-checking assistant, or an iPad so that he can Google things.

Well I come from a backwards family - and when I say backwards I mean, I have family members who didn't vote for Obama -- not because they are dyed in the bible leather Republicans, but because they were told by their pastor that Michelle Obama would paint the White House the pattern of "kente cloth" -- clearly, separation doesn't apply in their church.  That said, I know backwards mentality, and bigotry. So I promise you this, there will be a subsection of the current population of people who are obsessed with outlawing same-sex marriage - but not concerned about the 50% divorce rate of opposite-sex marriage - that will look at Loving vs. Virginia and say to SCOTUS that you don't have the authority to impose federal authority over marriage now, you shouldn't have done it then and file for the reversal of Loving vs. Virginia.

Frankly, as a Washingtonian, living downtown during the annual Roe v. Wade march, these people don't understand the METRO mantra of "Walk left, Stand Right"... I can't even begin to imagine the crazy that will come out to overturn Loving vs. Virginia...

I hope I didn't offend you too much. We'll all know something in the coming months as decisions are rendered.

oz the great and powerful and why i bought a 3d tv

disney's oz the great and powerful
a few weeks back, i posted an email from disney that included an animated gif for "oz the great and powerful". i alluded to how much i was looking forward to seeing this movie.

it didn't disappoint!

having never read any of oz books, i wasn't in the know of what to really expect. but having seen wicked three times now - in nyc, chicago, and san francisco - i was intrigued at how disney would respect that popular story line.

as i said the movie didn't disappoint! and with all the media blitz, and the months and months of media hype, i am surprised how well they kept the secrets!

i'm not going to give them away, but i am going to tell you now, that if you have considered getting a 3d television, this movie will make you go to amazon and purchase one!

the opening scenes are filmed in a square letterbox, and in sepia-tones like the original wizard of oz from 1938. as our hero is swept up in a balloon in a twister, the viewer experiences multiple sight gags that are part of the 3d experience.

being a theme park junkie, well disney world junkie, i am not without my experiences of seeing 3d attractions and playing along with the rest of the audience to reach out for bugs, or dodge a spear, or whatever else the imagineers bake into those productions. i know those things aren't there, but it's part of the fun to play along with the kids...  i saw the movie in imax 3d, and shortly before the letterboxing slides away, our hero oz experiences snow, and so does the audience! the snow actually extends past the letter boxes and the effect is so realistic that the person i was with and myself both turned to each other and said, "this is freaky". it was this sight gag that has convinced me to purchase a 3d tv because i can't wait to own "oz the great and powerful"!

that said, the 55inch samsung 3d smart tv was delivered today - unfortunately, unlike spaceballs the movie, oz the great and powerful isn't available on dvd/blue-ray yet.

if you haven't seen oz yet, i highly recommend you going to see it - and go see it in imax 3d. the adventure is beyond colorful!

once the tv is fully set up and configured, i'll report back on the latest piece of technology to hit the house!

your email sucks - another bad subject line and the anatomy of an email

today while at work, i got a forwarded email, and the comments for the email were "best subject line ever - i love this". i got excited, i thought how can i rework it to be something my readers will open. then i opened the email, and the subject line was "need subject". oh no, another email marketing fail and oh yes - an entry for my blog!

so in the common "your email sucks" fashion, here's the email that i was forwarded.

in the interest of full disclosure, the email didn't include the red lines and the caution tape overlay. i'll address that in a little while.

but like i've said in the past, this is one of those palm-forehead mistakes that we have all made. it's a rookie mistake, one that with proper testing and having a few editors check your communications won't happen ever again. so before you hit the send button, check everything - twice.

now that said, you'll notice that the title of this blog also brings up the anatomy of an email. this has been the buzz word in my cubicle for the past two weeks. i was fortunate enough to be looked at as an expert in my field (long enough time coming) by my employer and asked to present to our internal stakeholders about quality communications and how we as an organization can improve on the ones that we are producing.

as part of this process, we are going through a complete audit of all the emails that we send out to subscriber population (life-cycle, transactional, winback...) and as part of the training, we're working on changing the mindset of the individuals who send emails. my portion of the 60+ slides in the first training (i had the majority of those slides), was to talk about the anatomy of an email and deliverability (another topic for another post).

so the make up of an email has been on my mind a lot the past couple of weeks. and i couldn't help but to look at this one, and what went wrong. let me preface this with i hate templates, honestly hate them because when you build a template with some of the sending tools, they junk them up with what they think they should look like and how the footers should be built - which to me just looks unprofessional and not pleasing, and that is probably what has happened with this email. so there's my grain of salt for this posting - it was probably out of the control of the sender because it was built using a template.

if you look at the email, you'll notice the red lines and the caution tape design. these show the "below the fold", that mythical line that we as email marketing professionals need to remember. for this one i set the bottom line to be 600 pixels from the top of the email. with this example you'll notice that the call action is pushed well below the fold - so if the actual subject line was a good one, and caused me to open it, the call to action is well below my preview pane.

what's contributing to this problem?
1. the height of the preheader text, i try to actually have that information sit on top of my header/hero image (for those exact target users out there).
2. the header and the graphic could be integrated to reduce the height of the two combined images - this by itself would probably move the call to action up into the preview pane, problem solved.
3. white space below the header text, is also pushing the call to action text down.

as more and more readers abandon desktop computers for tablets and smartphones, we need to be even more concerned about the height of our graphics and look at the opportunity costs of reducing white space without sacrificing readability or branding.

the moral of the marketing story here, proof your work, test your work, test your work again, and keep the anatomy of an email in mind as you build your campaigns. there is a saying in the world of carpentry - measure twice cut once... i think we should adopt this and change it to proof twice, test (twice) and send once.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

your email sucks - the table of contents - good idea, poor execution

this week i got two emails that included a table of contents. one of them is from an email industry reporter, the other is a design website. both of the emails are ones that i actually like to read every week when i get them. but....

i find myself reading my email more and more on my mobile devices instead of on my computer. seriously, my iphone, ipad-mini, or my nexus 7 are rarely out of arm's reach. my macbook air is usually on a shelf or in my backpack so that i can take it to work to share the internet connection with my other apple devices. i'm really only using the macbook to blog, simply because blogging from the other devices is still hard to do.

but i digress, the point is, that i'm not in the minority anymore for using my mobile device as my primary communication method. i use returnpath's campaign insight at the office, and i know that my users are using mobile devices more and more each day, and that the industry says that as much as 85% of email is opened on mobile devices. so that brings me back to my point...

...the table of contents in emails... in the mobile environment, taking the time to build these out actually makes sense. i say this because of the reduced real estate and the reduced attention span of mobile readers. so why do i hate the table of contents if I think they are good ideas for the mobile user, i'll get to that, but here are the emails i'm speaking of today:

excerpt of smashing magazine's
weekly e-newsletter
the first email excerpt is from smashing magazine. most likely, the reason that they include the table of contents is because their emails are long - they include a lengthy blurb from the landing page in their newsletter.

why it's good in this situation: it's a good tactic given scrolling concern and real estate matters when it comes to mobile emails. some people just won't scroll. so by providing an email table of contents isn't a bad idea at all.

why it's poorly executed: the table of contents links to anchors in the email content. in a mobile environment, this doesn't work. so while they have built this table of contents to get me to engage with their email, i'm still stuck scrolling. not to mention the you could possibly alienating readers by providing them with what looks like a broken link. i know with me, that if is get emails with broken or non-functioning links that i am more likely to quickly unsubscribe.

excerpt of the magill report
the second email is from ken magill's magill report. a possible reason that the table of contents is included on this email is that ken sells advertising in his emails, which are probably sold on "impressions" instead of clicks and the goal of the table of contents is move the reader through the email to "fire the ad display".

why it's good in this situation: like smashing magazine it's a good tactic to get people to move through the email, and to get the advertisements to display.

why it's poorly executed: like the smashing magazine one, this one also links to anchors in the email, not to the landing page. and in the mobile environment, they simply don't work.

so, how should we as email marketing professionals, be using the table of contents so that we don't alienate readers and get it to do what we want it actually do - drive engagement.

  1. use the table of contents to link to your landing pages, not to the anchors in the email. use article headlines that will entice the readers to click and read the content. also use a table of contents on those landing pages that showcases the additional newsletter content - once you have them on your site reading, do you really want to risk them closing the browser and then going back to your email? they might not do that, it may have only been one article that got them to your site in the first place from the newsletter, but once they read through that content, they might be "willing" to read a second article - make it easy for them to do that.
  2. in the case of using advertising in the email, you walk a fine line because you're motivated by your contract with the advertiser, but you can work around it. use the table of contents to link back to your content, like above. but then display the same ad unit (and their tracking pixel) on the landing page.
back before i came to my current employer, i worked for a major website, and we had a newsletter that included a table of contents. we linked the headlines back to individual landing pages for each article, think of it as an interruptor, that displayed the blurb about the article, paid advertising, a copy of the table of contents and then a "read more" statement to take readers to the full article. this tactic worked well because it drove impressions for advertising and also drove readers to our content.

the biggest take-a-ways from this blog entry are:
  • the table of contents with links to article anchors within the mobile environment don't function
  • providing the table of contents with "broken links" could possibly alienate readers
  • there are ways use the table of contents that will drive engagement and ad-impressions if you need too, you just need to be creative with your email strategy and execution - test what works best for your needs and readers!

Friday, March 29, 2013

your email sucks - your font's message is more powerful than your own

with this installment of "your email sucks" i thought i would do more than just point what's wrong with the email, but that i would also actually attempt to fix it. here goes nothing.

today, while looking through my twitterfeed, i stumbled on this email announcement from attractionsmagazine.com. there is no doubt in my mind that their site is cluttered, and clutter makes it hard to read. it's one of those sites that is full of great information, but it's so visually cluttered that you get tired not from reading all the great stories, but from refocusing your attention to the content you're trying to read.

newsletters for sites like this can be a great way to allow your readers to become laser focused on your content -- without having to have lasik to correct the damage caused by eyestrain. but when your cluttered mentality - forcing the most content with the most number of ads onto a page - invades your newsletter, along with a poor font choice and you've just set yourself up for a high number of unsubscribes and low impressions.

just so that we know what we're dealing with, i've attached a screenshot of their website to the left, like i said, it has that more ads = more impressions layout.

next we'll look at the newsletter, go through some constructive criticism, and then like i said, i'll attempt to fix it.

here is how their current email appears today:
attractions magazine - before

it's pretty basic, and i was pleasantly surprised that they actually use mailchimp for their emails.

before we get to what's wrong with this email, lets look at some of the things that they got right:
1. the email is is 600 pixels wide. this is good that they aren't stretching the email across the full screen.
2. the email uses a two column layout, keeping story content separated from the paid/advertising content.
3. they attempt to make use of white space with horizontal story dividers, breaking up the stories.
4. they have a can-spam compliant footer! something i have seen missing from a few of the emails i get these days.

okay that was difficult, but i eked out a few things that are good about this email.

what can be improved with this email, to increase readability, open rates, and make advertisers feel like they are in a professional publication and not a term paper:
1. start by increasing the width of the email to 640 pixels. the email will scale better to iOs devices, this by the way is the tactic that most people take when they don't have a developer or coder on staff to "optimize" their emails for mobile readers.
2. create white space through increased line-heights and padding to increase the readability.
3. pick a consistent font, and use color and bolding for emphasis to increase the readability.
4. employ methods of organization to keep the advertising from running into the content.
5. better use pre-header text to entice reader to open; using pre-header text will also help to make your email more mobile friendly - this text is displayed for the google snippet and the preview text for mobile email clients.
6. include links to view the email in a web browser and forward to a friend on the same line as the pre-header text.

and most importantly, to make the email look professional - they are going to the expense of using mailchimp and selling advertising in their newsletters after all - is to choose a more up to date, easier to read font. the original uses times new roman (or something similar) - and it's not the font used on the website so branding as an excuse is out - unfortunately with the everything else going on with the email, it really dates the design and makes the communication that much harder to read.

attractions magazine - after
so with those ideas and things in mind, i set out to make improvements in the email, keeping the same basic design, but increasing the white space and better organizing the content, i.e. using a different color side bar to separate the advertising. i think for the most part it came out looking better. for the record, i did all seven (7) of my suggestions, and did it rather quickly, if i had more time (or was being asked to do this not just do it for the purpose of my blog) i would have put more time and effort into it to really wow the readers.

you'll notice that there is a blue line down the left hand side of the email, this is the same blue background used on the original email, and i included it in this illustration to show the left hand side of the page. i added padding to all of the pictures and the horizontal line story dividers, which gives a polished appearance since the content and the pictures don't run to the edge of the page.

my biggest pet-peeve with this email was the use of the font. so using a different font, i used the font family of arial, helvetica, sans-serif, and increased the line-height which helps with white space and with making the email more readable. not to mention the professionalizes and updates the overall general look of the email. it no longer looks like someone just threw this together when they were working on their high school term paper (which is where times new roman should be kept) and makes it look like a competent web outfit put it together and would make me more willing to pay the price of advertising to be included in this far-reaching email.