Email Standards Project

November 28, 2007

It seems that the guys at Australia-based Campaigner Monitor are officially carrying the torch for email marketing design and implementation.  I for one couldn’t be happier, and think they are doing a fantastic job with their new initiative.

It’s called the Email Standards Project; its aim: to create a universal standard for email design, akin to the existing universal Web Standards that every web designer adheres religiously to, so that we can all code faster, easier and better HTML emails that will work across all email clients.

The email client environment is similar in many ways to the current web design environment:

“Hey, my __________ looks great when viewed in/on ___________, but looks like total garbage when viewed in/on ____________.  What gives? Argh. Damn you Billy Gates.”

If you design websites or email campaigns, you’ll fill in the blanks above with ‘website/email’, ‘Firefox/Outlook 2003’, and ‘IE6/Outlook 2007.  All web designers have been there and cursed in the general direction of IE6, and most email designers have been there and cursed in the general direction of Lotus Notes.  I have the privilege of cursing both, which is why the Email Standards Project is like a breath of fresh air.

The Project has already done 1 ‘acid test’ on the most common email clients out there, with results that won’t surprise any email marketer, but will definitely give a fantastic, comprehensive, and useful insight into what exactly doesn’t work in which client, and why.  Have a look by visiting the homepage at http://www.email-standards.org. Outlook 2007, which I wrote about back in January, is definitely no surprise with a rating of ‘poor’ due to its use of MSWord as its rendering engine, but the depth of analysis the ESProject goes into is amazing.

I’m so full of support for the Email Standards Project that I’m including their badge on my blog from now on.

Keep up the great work guys!

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If you’re strapped for time and need to send an email campaign ASAP, don’t have the resources to design a campaign from scratch, or are just plain lazy, visit www.CarbonGraffiti/emailmarketing/emailtemplates.html now to find 10 hand-coded HTML templates ready-to-use. Simply replace the copy with your own, make a few image tweaks (curse you, Outlook 2007), host the images on your server, and send away.

All templates are hand-coded in HTML to ensure maximum compatibility (on most email clients, especially Outlook 2007 in all of its non-CSS-and-Microsoft Word-rendering glory), and images are included in the downloadable ZIP file. Email Marketing Best Practices such as ‘Can’t view this email properly’, Forward and Subscribe buttons, CAN-SPAM compliance and minimal use of background images and/or CSS are adhered to, wrapped in simple and actionable designs.

All templates are free to use, with link-backs and attribution most appreciated.

I’m blatantly syndicating this blog post by David Baker of Avenue A/Razorfish as it does the rounds, because I feel it adroitly simplifies what email marketing should (and might) become in the near future. I saw David speak at a WOMMA conference in 2006, and was as impressed then as I am now with his views and generally 360 grasp on online marketing today.

Read below for his take on email marketing today (and tomorrow, taken directly from his blog at www.whitenoiseinc.com.


RECENTLY I HEARD THAT EMAIL as an industry is worth $10 billion. Not bad after only 10 years or so, if you buy into that number. As our industry approaches maturity, I believe we are on the verge of a new phase of evolution. Now is the time to get ready for it.

As we know, email means different things to different people. As a business marketing tool, it often gets confused with advertising channels. But it does represent a medium for sales, marketing, customer service, channel service, technical service — and the list goes on.

Email has a front end we call acquisition or engagement, an intermediate stage we call conversion and a back end that we call retention or loyalty. When you combine all the systems and views of the customer, we call this eCRM. That’s our business in a nutshell.

Trends show we are shifting to “touchpoint” views of a customer. Every touchpoint can be leveraged to improve the brand relationship with the customer and should be afforded the same weight as others –including email.

The industry has spent two years trying to address deliverability. This makes sense, since landing in the spam folder (if it lands at all) has brand and revenue consequences. Yet after all this time, many are still confused about what deliverability is, whether it can be bought, or if it needs to be earned over time.

I’m encouraged by the many discussions around trigger messaging, lifecycle messaging and being smarter about targeting and timing of email in general, but so few can actually see the entire picture of a customer experience that this is often an endless discussion.

While there’s been a lot said about mobile messaging and RSS, we are still in a conundrum about these channels and media. We can’t even tell if SMTP-based email is being read on a desktop, laptop, BlackBerry or smart phone. RSS has found its home, but people are still struggling with its monetization and its relationship to email. Should it replace email? Can it be tracked like email and managed in common environments without creating new processes for an already overburdened staff? Will the self-subscribing nature of RSS be the “profile management” the email industry has been seeking for years?

Here’s what I see coming our way over the next few years. All these ideas are up for debate.

– Most of the personalization and cool dynamic content sent through email will be reserved for the highly engaged, responsive, highly valued consumer. If you don’t open or click over time, you’ll quit getting email from the brands and sites you signed up for. ISPs are already recommending that we only send to customers who have bought something or have long-term relationships with. I see marketers really focusing energy on that highly engaged audience, while the infrequent or non-responders will be left to sign up again or get less email.

-Email acquisition will be done on a contingency basis (pay to perform). Engaging new consumers through email is not easy, and I see this entire process extending from rented lists to a sequence of communications to hand-raisers within a list, rather than a broadcast message hoping to catch them at the right timing. I don’t know that the list owners will survive on a purely CPM model with so many lists to test without becoming more accountable for a “conversion.”

-Email priority delivery will be a paid-for service. While anyone close to the space knows you can’t discount the importance of managing delivery and your delivery reputation (spam complaints, bounces, clean files and practices), you can’t deny the value of priority delivery. I don’t think reputation alone will make it in the future. I liken it to FedEx on some levels. So, you either pay to get email delivered, or you will pay in other ways trying to get it delivered and prioritized. Either way you will pay more than you are paying today. Look at how the ISPs are beginning to monetize their email lists, ensuring priority delivery to those advertisers that rent those lists.

-Email marketers will be forced to split their forces to address RSS. This may become a new department or an extension of the Web team. RSS is a content game. The self-subscribing, real-time nature of RSS will make it easy to organize content, but it will still be a challenge to pull content together and syndicate it, not to mention measure interactions with it. Imagine doing this with the email team that is already a few horses short of a herd.

A few wild-haired premonitions — and open to others. But hang on to this, and let’s see how many of these ideas we are talking about at the end of this year.

David Baker is vice president of e-mail solutions at Avenue A/Razorfish. Visit his blog at http://whitenoiseinc.co

New Website Launched!

May 14, 2007

Finally, the new and much improved CarbonGraffiti v 3.0 website has launched. This new version’s highlights include a better, cleaner look, improved functionality, and [much] more emphasis on both the work portfolio and blog posts. Come back soon for upcoming email marketing campaign templates (to be open source, of course), continued email marketing and online marketing blog posts, and much more.

This is likely old news by now, but newsworthy nonetheless. As reported by a recent Forrester Research study, a very healthy 97% of consumers now use email, and 94% of marketers are now using email as part of their larger marketing mix.

This is especially significant considering just 4 months ago studies were showing that only 81% of marketers were finally warming to email marketing and its obvious ROI and all-around cost-effectiveness.

As industries and their various players seem to be getting more tech-savvy and open to internet-related marketing and sales opportunities, email can and likely will play an increasingly important role in online marketing initiatives. Email continues to act as that crucial ‘link’ between a new user and a selling/marketing company, and thanks to the 97% of consumers now on email, utilizing this channel to the fullest is only common sense for the future.

One thing that will change? The (welcomed) movement away from ‘shotgun’ or ‘spray and pray’ email marketing (AKA broadcast email), and towards an advanced level of email: increased data segmentation, better consumer targeting, and more recipient relevance (AKA 1-to-1 email). Keeping it all relevant and targeted will only help marketers get the better open and CT rates they crave, whilst allowing consumers to actually receive something they want to receive.

Finally, it seems authenticated email and VEI (Visual Email Identification) might be making some headway. This is even better news for email marketers, coupled with the overwhelming stats above. Rolling out authenticated email will surely be the next large step (after CAN-SPAM) to alleviate some of the pressures that SPAM continually presents to permission-based email marketers.

As more and more well-known multi-national companies seem to be turning to email marketing for lead and customer communications, it seems that regardless of their huge budgets they’re overlooking some classic best practices that are crucial in getting their message delivered and acted upon. Subject lines, content, copy, and choice of ESP all play huge roles, but by sending all-image email campaigns to their subscribers, these companies are sabotaging all their pre-send efforts.

When I say ‘huge companies’ I mean it – I subscribe to emails from Dell, Apple, Futureshop, HomeDepot, Fred Perry, Club Monaco to name a few, and they’re all guilty of sending out 90-100% image-only email campaigns. What’s puzzling is that these huge companies clearly have large online marketing budgets, and should know better… but they don’t.

As 100% image-based email messages (no text, minimal HTML, just a flat image that’s sliced into smaller sections to enable faster loading) get delivered to an inbox, harsher spam filters, both proprietary (eg Outlook) and add-on (eg Spam Assasin) filters will view these emails as a likely source of spam. Viruses, trojans, and content can all be fed to a host computer via images, so it’s a very necessary precaution to protect one’s inbox with these filters.

According to a recent study by the EEC (Email Experience Council) more than 70 percent of companies struggle to create a deliverable email. After reviewing 1,000 emails, the EEC also found that 21 percent appeared completely blank when images were turned off or stripped by a variety of email clients. An additional 28 percent showed email copy but had no working links.

When a recipient receives an image-only campaign in their inbox with images set to ‘off’, they’ll see nothing but a bunch of bordered squares with red x’s. No content, no message to act on, nothing to pique their interest in your product or service. The chances of the message being deleted immediately are high, and that’s assuming it even got to the inbox in the first place. Great-looking email campaign or not, if it’s image-only there’s a large chance it won’t get read.

Some might argue that safe lists make these stats obsolete – if a true opt-in subscriber wants to receive your message, they’ll add you to their safelist, thereby telling their spam filters to let your all-image campaign pass through unscathed. However, by default, most email clients (Outlook, Hotmail, etc) will not display images in an unknown email campaign to protect the viewer. The issue raised is – are you assuming all subscribers will immediately add you to their safe list and turn images to ‘on’? Not likely. And if you haven’t taken the necessary precautions to ensure that your message can get by even on the most strict spam filer settings possible by keeping text present, then you’re losing possible open rates, click-through rates, and sales.

Rules of thumb:

  • Take the extra effort to create an email campaign that has the right balance of HTML text to images. Keep to the mantra that if images are turned to ‘off’, the recipient can still read your entire message and act accordingly.
  • Keep links as text links. Calls-to-action are the key to any email campaign, so ensure these can be seen and clicked regardless of supporting (and blocked) images.
  • Never assume that your recipients are savvy enough to add you to their safe list manually and promptly. Work for the lowest common denominator and make your email campaign work on every level.
  • Work with your ESP who will work with your ISP to ensure deliverability of your campaign. This will at least give you more of a fighting chance to have your campaign get to the inbox, regardless of content or images.
  • TEST TEST TEST. All email campaigns should go through some degree of testing. If you don’t have the time, consider purchasing a rendering service such as ReturnPath/SenderScore, which (as previously noted in my Outlook 2007 posting) can mean the difference between an open or an unsubscribe. Just one sale made by a more compliant and spam filter-ready email campaign can pay for the ReturnPath license, so give it some thought

Source for EEC stats found here and here.

From Bizreport.com:
More marketers are turning to the Internet to make a buck. According to a new study, 94% of marketers who said they will decrease offline ads in 2007 said they will increase online advertising. And if you thought email was dead, think again. More than half of the respondents said email was at the top of the list.

In October Alterian , a marketing software provider, polled 500 online marketers, ad agencies and service providers. 81% of respondents said they would increase email spending, 50% will increase direct marketing and 45% will increase spending on their landing pages.

“. . .These results certainly indicate tremendous opportunities for marketers to use email and online marketing techniques linked with traditional direct marketing tactics to establish competitive advantages and serve customers better than ever,” said David Eldridge, Alterian’s chief executive officer (in a prepared statement ).

Email is becoming integrated with all of the other advertising channels according to the survey. Most (35%) are using email now in coordination with other advertising or in coordination with other online offerings (25%) instead of as a standalone channel (18%).

The biggest challenge for these marketers is segmenting the different sales forces. According to 36% their online and offline ad forces are run by separate departments, and 32% say they have had problems “integrating email marketing activity with the customer database”.

Another interesting finding is that 71% of respondents send less than one million emails per average month. Who is handling the bulk of these campaigns? The bulk of the campaigns are being managed in-house for both small (less than 1 million emails/month) and large (more than 10 million emails/month) campaigns. The mid-size campaigns (between 1-10 million emails/month) are being outsourced.

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Wow, and here I was thinking email marketing had had its hay day.