Barack Obama’s recent email on the campaign trail reflects a few themes in email marketing:
– Transparency (showing that the donation site is an secure link, instead of hiding it in HTML)
– Writing for Gmail- leveraging access to AdWords, and working with the severe HTML restrictions
– Writing email content as a web page- taking advantage of intertextuality

The fact is that people are viewing their email on free web hosts, such as Gmail, Yahoo and Hotmail. That means a loss of control, to a degree, for the email marketing designer, but it also means that you are entering the world of rich hypertext context. In the example below, Barack Obama’s team has leveraged this very nicely. Unfortunately mentioning Hilary Clinton gave her a link, but the topical links halfway down refocus the ads.

obama_email.JPG

The use of text-only (for the main message) can be very strategic. It saves time and energy on developing an HTML campaign that works in each browser. It ensures readability in an ever-increasing atmosphere of image suppression. Gmail renders text-only emails well, as there’s nothing to screw up, and shows the abstract offset nicely in the inbox.

It’s personalized, and it’s easy to forward while retaining the original format. This is nice to consider since the tendency for political fans is to forward onto their own mailing lists- viral marketing that was leveraged so well with Howard Dean. KISS, essentially, has many things going for it in the political world. Also, for fundraising programs sometimes too fancy means a misdirection of funds.

SEO techniques are in play here. This means that someone worked on the content to give it a focus that would play well with AdWords SEO methodology. I’m no SEO expert, but simple messaging and focus in the email content helps ensure that the AdWords are appropriate.

I like how “transparency,” a main theme in this message’s meaning, dovetails nicely with a clean, open email design, too.

Go check out email-marketing-reports, where David Greiner, the initiator of the Email Standards Project, gets interviewed and gives his take on why the Standards project was made and what it’s for.

One of the highlights of the interview has to be the hint that one of the email client industry’s key players (such as MS, Yahoo, Google, Lotus, etc) have already approached David and his team to get more information on the ESP and, hopefully, are willing to do something about it.

The real goal of the ESP is for change.  Actual, black and white change.  Any other project similar to this one might go half the distance – which would still be a great thing – but they’d stop at making a resource website that shows how an email acts in different email clients.  Greiner and his ESP are going the full mile – they’re not only showing the behaviour of emails in each client, but they’re also pushing for change to those email clients who need changing.  We’re talking Microsoft’s Outlook 2007, Hotmail, Google’s Gmail, and Lotus Notes here – major players in the email client market.

Obviously a lot of onus is being put on these big wigs to sit up and listen, but, just as I ranted on about in my manifesto, the beauty of today’s web is that anyone can step up on a soapbox and be heard.  The power has shifted to the user, and the ESP will be a perfect example of just how much power we the users now have.

I think I’m quickly becoming the Email Standards Project’s biggest fan.  What they’ve achieved, in less than a week, is monumental.  Its one thing to think of doing something, or wishing something had already been done, but it’s quite another actually doing it.  These guys have addressed one of the major obstacles in the email marketing industry, one that affects everyone, not just email designers, and they’re clearly willing and able to tackle that obstacle head on.  Effectively they’re pulling the weight of anyone connected with email marketing on their shoulders, and the least we can do is help.

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!

We all love Easter Egg or scavenger hunts.

The Globe & Mail (one of Toronto’s biggest newspapers) have announced a new website promotion that should tickle many a reader’s fancy.

They’ve hidden $1000 CAD per day on their website for the next 50 days; all you have to do is answer a daily question that’s taken directly from a current story, feature or article on their site from that day.

Digging around looking for the answer means you get exposed to their advertisers, their other current promos, and obviously their content.  It’s a simple, fun, and likely effective way to increase their web traffic as well as their average time spent on their site.

I received this notice in an email marketing campaign,  proving once again that when delivered at the right time and with the right content, email marketing works like a charm.  What’s more, after clicking the email, I land on a pretty simple but effective landing page that pushes what seems to be their top 4 content sections in order to drive further click-thrus to their site.

Not bad all around, except 1 thing they’ve overlooked – missing out on some free promotion by failing to add a ‘tell a friend’ link on either the email or landing page.  Oops.

Check it out at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/1Kaday/

Much to my dismay, after trying to get my own Free Email Marketing Templates page dugg on Digg (and getting a measly 3 diggs), I saw Campaign Monitor get way up there on the first page of Digg with their page of 30 free templates.  Great for them.

However, more interesting than the templates on offer was the comment section on Digg (seriously click and go read them, they’re a good laugh), or more specifically the sheer hatred towards HTML emails vs text-only emails.  It seems that about 75% of the Digg community are so against HTML email campaigns arriving in their inboxes that they’d rather gouge their eyes out with a rusty spoon than receive them.  Why?  Among the reasons cited were trojans and virus infections, size, lack of necessity, spam filters, and so on.

This might be a broad stereotype, but I’ve known developers/techies that abide by the ‘HTML email is the devil’ rule, and insist on using Courier font, 10 point, text-only at all times (Luc, if you’re listening, that’s you), and they seem to rule the Digg comments section.  However it raises the interesting point of unsub and open rates, seeing as if the Digg community (all 1 million and growing) feel this way about HTML email,are they the only ones? If more people feel this way, and refuse to open an HTML campaign, then how many email marketer’s efforts are going out the window?

It’s an aesthetic thing, to make and receive HTML campaigns.  I like to design nice-looking HTML campaigns, but ones that will work in most email clients and hand-coded so they make it past strict filters.  But it really would be interesting to see a controlled experiment pitting a nice-looking HTML campaign against a nice-looking TEXT campaign (they can be done artfully), and declaring a winner.

As for you, which are you? Do you despise HTML emails, or love them? Why? Share!

Free Email Marketing templates available now.

Visit http://www.carbongraffiti.com/emailmarketing/emailtemplates.html to preview and download 10 different hand-coded HTML email templates, designed to ensure maximum compatibility with most email clients including Outlook 2007. All designs incorporate industry best practices including CAN-SPAM compliance.

Isn’t it just that simple?

When the internet started, just having a website meant you were likely to be found. But as more people and and more businesses created more websites, the ability to be unique and one-of-a-kind became more difficult. So now, 8 A.G. (after Google) on, the internet is no longer a luxury to those who know how to program, but the norm to anyone and everyone who owns a PC or Mac. And with the ubiquity of the net, websites and blogs, computers and so on, getting seen and heard as a marketer is really difficult; as of 2004, Google was indexing over 8 billion webpages.  Imagine what it is now?

Which is exactly why the concept of ‘1-to-1 marketing’ seems such a no-brainer, but at the same time is a concept that’s lost on many companies, businesses and individuals alike.

Assuming the natural growth of something as never-before-seen as the internet requires ‘growing pains’ and trial and error, we’re all past the first phase (Web 1.0), which can only be described as ‘the blind shotgun‘ or ‘spray and pray‘ marketing.  With email marketing it was obtaining a list, creating one campaign with standard copy, and pressing send.  With SEO it was simply creating page after page with keywords and phrases, hoping to get picked up by Google’s magical algorithms.  The same model still exists in most online advertising – eyeballs matter more than clicks, seeing as banner ads are becoming so ubiquitous and commonplace that I for one no longer even notice them.

But now we’re in the next phase, and as a marketer it’s even harder to get noticed.  With blogs, pre-packaged websites, affordable broadband etc., anyone can act as an authority on any subject, or sell their goods, or do just about anything.  So getting noticed is of the utmost importance.  But spraying and praying won’t work anymore. You can’t just go buy a list, because the recipients won’t respond – they know what’s Spam and what’s not.  Google and other SE’s are smarter, you can’t stuff keywords into a page’s meta info and hope for high rankings.  You’re the needle, the internet is the (massive) haystack.  To get noticed you not only need to be ‘remarkable’ like Seth Godin’s purple cow, but you need to be willing and able to speak to customers as individuals and deliver content, emails, pages, etc that are relevant to them and only them.

Basically everyone needs to stop trying to shout louder than everyone else, and focus on what they’re offering and tailor it to the individual customer. 

ESPs (Email Marketing Service Providers) are waking up to this and starting to offer better list segmentation capabilities and content management.  SEOs are starting to realize that Google is really, really smart, and that simply making a page that’s meant to be read by a human being will work better than a page full of jibberish keywords.  Online advertising is getting smarter too, with better technologies to allow for segmentation and localization, and new waves like socal bookmarking are allowing for relevance to reign supreme.

But as long as everyone understands that shouting loud is not working anymore, we’ll all be better off.

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

According to Chad Mauldin:

‘Google recently filed for a new patent, here, on technology to display ads in email. Some may disregard this, seeing as Google already displays ads inside of Gmail, but this is somewhat different. This is Adwords for email, essentially allowing anyone to place Adsense inside of their outgoing mail, specifically mentioned in the patent, newsletters.

What impact will this have? This will allow advertisers to target certain websites email newsletters, provide publishers on more avenue for revenue, and with that provide Google with an even broader reach. Imagine opening your yahoo/msn/hotmail/any mail account and seeing Google branding and ads.’

The more relevant questions are… how was this not going to happen eventually (I can definitely imagine seeing ads in my hotmail/yahoo/msn account), and are Google pretty much on course to dominate your entire online life? (… and maybe your physical world too?)

This might be well-timed though, considering Outlook 2007’s inability to show rotating gif’s/banner ads in email, Adsense might put money in advertiser’s pockets and see the banner ad go the way of the dodo.