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!

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!

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.

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.

Outlook 2007, Part II

January 31, 2007

As a daily email marketer who frequently designs, programs and sends email marketing campaigns, Outlook 2007’s apparent step in the wrong direction had me pretty up in arms for many reasons. As a recap for my initial post, Outlook looks set to take a few steps back down the evolutionary staircase and use Microsoft Word as its HTML email-rendering engine. Not IE7. Not IE6 even. But Word. What does this mean? That campaigns that look great now in our inboxes won’t look good come February to those running Outlook 2007.

So, here’s a rundown of the changes and caveats to go by, and as a good email marketer, you should start incorporating these tactics into your designs from hereon in, or suffer the consequences. Remember, Outlook makes up for approximately 80% of today’s corporate email clients, and that number looks to increase should Vista prove to be the next ‘killer app’.

So, straight to the point, what are the actual changes in Outlook 2007 – and how will they affect email marketers and email campaign designers? And is it really the end of the world?

In short…, no.

1) Complex CSS: For those designers out there who love their CSS, you should know by now that email and CSS never mix. I’m sure some would disagree with me, but as an email marketer who knows what he’s talking about, you should never rely on CSS design when creating email marketing campaigns. Leading up to Outlook 2007 you’re going to have to swallow your pride and go back to the basic table-heavy and code-heavy HTML that you grew up on, and learn to love it (again). That’s not to say that basic CSS won’t work in Outlook 2007; I tested a campaign on a colleague’s Vista/Outlook 2007-running machine, and the adverse effects of retaining a basic CSS stylesheet were minimal. Keep your styling to a minimum, and try to limit your CSS to defining only your font faces and sizes. And when and if you can, use inline CSS.

2) Background images: They’re just no more in Outlook 2007, and that’s final. Why? Frankly I have no idea, but based on the various sources I’ve read, it’s a security measure, as viruses and Trojans are finding better and more covert ways to ‘sneak in the back door’ via images and background images. So start to bid farewell to your beloved background images and opt-in (like that?) to using images and table bgcolors instead. I know it will lessen the pretty factor, but it looks like them’s the breaks.

3) More complex CSS
: This goes back to my first point – as an email marketer, don’t even both to toy with advanced CSS in terms of float and div tags, there’s just no point. All email clients (except Thunderbird, which uses Firefox as its rendering engine… I can’t even imagine how much nicer the world would look if all emails could render just as we wanted them to) prefer tables to div layouts, so if you never got into CSS email design, you’re not going to. Don’t go there and you won’t get frustrated and become this guy.

4) All around poor HTML: If you do design with CSS for websites, you’ll know how frustrating it is to test your page in Firefox… ok looks great, and then switch over to IE6 and IE7, only to curse loudly. Microsoft enjoy being difficult and ruining the fun, and IE always seems to add at least 10px in margin space at all sides. Alignments get affected, and you want to cry. It looks like the same thing is going to happen in Outlook 2007, so all I can really say is, TEST and PREPARE. There’s no way to know how your message is going to look in 2007 without seeing it first hand. If possible, set up a test machine with Outlook 2007. If you can’t do that, consider buying a ReturnPath account – email previews include Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, Eudora, LotusNotes (no idea why this still exists) and now… Outlook 2007. Finally, if you can’t afford either of these, and don’t have any friends who might be getting Office 2007, then just remember to keep calm and aim for the lowest common denominator. CSS was never intended for email design (unfortunately) so stick to the HTML basics and no background images and you should be fine.

Safe to say Outlook 2007 is going to be frustrating and will take some getting used to, but as well all know, it’s Microsoft, and what they say goes. I just can’t help saying that I’m more than disappointed with this decision. It’s obvious they did this to make it easier for them to have inter-file and inter-application operability, but come on, if there was one player in the game who could revolutionize email marketing as we know it, it’s Bill Gates’ team. I was hoping for the news that 2007 was going to be the year of rich media in email, podcasts in inboxes, and viral Youtube video emails that didn’t need a link. You could watch that disgruntled office worker right from your inbox at work and forward it along to colleagues who were having a bad day. Unfortunately it’s not to be, but maybe next time.


Digg!

Outlook 2007

From Onedegree.ca :
Microsoft’s latest decision has the email marketing industry foaming at the mouth.

Outlook up until now has used the Internet Explorer engine to render HTML within email. But next month, when Outlook 2007 is released, IE rendering will be gone to be replaced by ….

Microsoft Word.

That’s right! Word’s appropriately infamous HTML rendering engine will now be the default for Outlook. For those of you who aren’t acquainted with the finer points of HTML rendering, it’s sort of like going from using Windex to wash your windows to a slightly grubby washcloth.

The reaction has already been extensive, and not positive. Campaign Monitor goes into great details about the changes , with an accompanying fury of comments from aggravated users.

How are you planning to adjust your campaigns as a result? My team tells me that we have been using inline CSS for a while, but the last thing that beleaguered legitimate, permission-based email marketers need is another complication in getting their messages read.

—-

Great, and here I was waiting, hoping that the next big announcement out of the Microsoft camp (and specifically Outlook 2007) was the introduction of rich media email capabilities – allowing recipients to actually join the online video craze without actually leaving their inbox. Add to that roster podcasting, vidcasting, and possibly some javascript, and you have a whole new ballgame for internet marketers. I’m fully aware of the kind of repercussions enabling rich email would have on postmasters and deliverability systems for a while, but hey, aren’t we used to Microsoft and the other big guys simply making a decision and all of us are stuck having to run around like lemmings to catch up? (If not, please, re-read above).

I’m waiting and hoping someone realizes the potential of rich media email and comes out with something, anything, to get the wheels turning. The thought of Hotmail 10 years ago, and the way it revolutionized the entire email scenario (I still have my hotmail account I made back in ’97) is exactly the type of thing someone else needs to do, but this time with marketed ‘rich email’ functionalities. Someone needs to be the gorilla in the room and be bold, be different, and see what happens. Maybe this is my calling?

So what IS rich media email?

Rich email is, frankly, something that never quite got off the ground. With the boom of Flash 5 years ago, people couldn’t wait to merge the cheap, easy and effective pros of email and email marketing with the new media that was Flash. The thinking was that response rates would go through the roof if emails could display immersive and interactive creative that engaged the viewer in ways static HTML couldn’t. The excitement was there, but the unfortunately the tech wasn’t.

Fast forward 5 years. The technology still isn’t there, and ‘skip intro’ is the most clicked link on the internet. Sure Flash sites are still popping up everywhere, but slowly and surely Flash is starting to lessen in it’s exposure and penetration on the web. People are simply growing tired of it, and designers/programmers are becoming pretty aggravated about changing a copy writer’s ‘them’ to ‘the’ by dismantling the entire Flash file for just 1 typo.

So, we’ve established that Flash in email isn’t happening. So what is? And what’s possible? Unfortunately, not much at this point. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it’s going to take a pretty bold move by one of the giants like Apple or Microsoft too announce that their upcoming email client is going to be rich media-enabled. But it’s unlikely. ISPs, email postmasters, SPAM, anti-virus softwares and just about everything else would have to follow suit, and it’s not unfathomable to imagine the backlash being so great that this idea is probably swirling around a thinktank in Redmond, CA but will never get off the ground. Not for a while anyways. Imagine the endless possibilities for viruses and trojans if an email client had javascript and flash enabled? Small rodents could be smuggled in the actionscript.

So it doesn’t look promising, Outlook 2007 is about to be launched and it’s very unlikely that this release will allow for anything different. But again, I can’t wait for the day that one of these major players wakes up the entire industry, and revolutionizes it in the process, by announcing plans for rich media in email. Imagine watching YouTube videos sent by a friend straight in your inbox? Even if you were offline, you could still view it once the content was downloaded from the exchange server. Imagine having a daily podcast to listen to from your city’s news provider? The ways that email marketing would forever be changed are endless, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait a little longer still for that day to come.