The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Keeping it real(tor)

How real estate agents are using email marketing in a tough economy

If there's one thing realtors are good at, it's staying positive in the face of unexpected challenges. They greet screwy inspections, needy clients and delayed closings with a smile and a can-do attitude. The past few years have presented plenty of opportunities to push agents to get creative, especially in marketing their own services.

With restrictive lending regulations, higher foreclosure rates and fewer Americans making the jump into home ownership, an agent's precious advertising dollars need to make a lasting impact. Savvy realtors are developing cost-effective email strategies — turning these challenges into new opportunities.

Are you a real estate agent and not sure where to start? Check out examples from three realtors who sold me right away …

Cindy Kelly Newsletter
Keeps clients in-the-know.

Cindy Kelly | A monthly newsletter

The monthly newsletter is a real estate staple, as important as freshly baked cookies at your Open House. Your newsletter should be branded, relevant and, most importantly, packed with helpful information. I love this example from Cindy Kelly in Bellevue, WA. Cindy continues to service her clients after the sale by offering them information on home care. Each article provides information about preventive maintenance, and Cindy provides a referral to a local expert. In doing so, she's also reminding them that she is a housing professional. Going the extra mile no doubt earns Cindy the recommendation of her clients.

+ See a recent newsletter
+ Follow @Cindylive on Twitter
+ Visit Cindy'sblog

Stephanie Lawrence Listings

Stephanie Lawrence | Current listings feature

Your monthly email is a great place to share your current listings, link each to your website and track which recipients show interest (via click-throughs). That's exactly what Stephanie Lawrence of Zeitlin & Co. is doing. Each listing gets an image and a short blurb that links back to her blog and the embedded MLS information. With one click, a buyer can get more information or even schedule a showing. The best part is every click is tracked so Stephanie can keep up with her subscribers. For example, let's say there's a price reduction on a home. Stephanie can log into her Emma account, see who clicked to view that home, then email a follow-up with the new pricing info to those folks only. The buyer is excited to receive the news, Stephanie closes the deal, and the home seller is wowed by the quick sale. (That's the plan, anyway.) Win, win and win.

+ See a recent newsletter
+ Follow @agentsteph on Twitter
+ Visit Stephanie's website

Agent 06 Listing
Hit the highlights of one property.

Angela Barnshaw | Specific property details

As a real estate professional you come into contact with lots of other agents, home inspectors and lenders. Ask them to join your email list and you'll not only build a strong, permissions-based list, you'll also create professional relationships that will return more sales. Angela Barnshaw (aka Agent 06) does a splendid job of creating an email specific to each property and sending the campaign to her industry contacts. Each email provides all the information an agent needs to match the home to a potential buyer, and recipients can share the information with their social networks. It's a powerful marketing tool to add to her arsenal.

+ See a recent campaign
+ Follow @GetAgent06 on Twitter
+ Visit the Agent 06 website

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Want more examples? Take a look at the slideshow below.

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Email click-throughs aren’t as elusive as you may think

Small changes in your campaigns can increase your click-through rates

Getting clicks on your newsletter is one of the elusive goals that requires a combination of the right information at the right time to the right recipient. No sweat, right? Well, it makes sense that the percentage of people who click is usually in the single digits. According to the Email Stat Center, the average click-through rate is 5.9%. You aren't going to be able to meet everyone's need in the right stage of the purchase cycle. However, there are a few things that you can do to encourage those on the fence to go ahead and learn more.

Right off the bat, you need to know that you have very little time to engage the person who has just opened your email. Think about that person for a moment; she has just deleted 12 other emails, she's drinking her morning coffee and she is checking her day's schedule. Or maybe your recipient is wrapping up before lunch (because at least one time zone always seems to be at lunch). He is seeing your email amongst social media notifications, YouTube videos from his sister, and all he can think about is that club sandwich in his future.

All that is to say, after you spend the time perfecting the content of your email, consider that you only have two seconds to capture the attention of your subscribers. That means that you must share what you're offering in a clear, swift and appealing manner.

Here's a good test: Hand your email to a colleague who has not helped design or write it in any way, preferably one who's unfamiliar with your campaign. To be generous, give him 5 or 6 seconds with it. At the end of that time, he should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What are you offering me?
  2. How can I get it?

You don't have to be offering a coupon for this test to be relevant. If you are offering your expertise on choosing a wine to pair with dinner, that's valuable. It just has to be clear.

The "How do I get it?" question is where you really figure out if your message is effective and actionable. Here are some tips (and some of our favorite click-related articles) for optimizing your emails.

The small changes go a long way, so give one or two a try and report back — we'd love to know which strategies work best for you.

This is part four in our holiday series where we answer email marketing questions provided by our customers. To see part one, click here. Visit part two here and part three here.

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Does the arrangement of your email’s content matter?

Simple steps for more compelling emails
Season's Greetings | Emma, Inc.

This isn't really news, but it's worth stating: Come holiday time, anyone with an email address is bombarded with marketing messages from retail, nonprofits and services. As an email marketer, it's extra important that the emails you create and send are arranged in such a way that they grab hold of the recipient's attention and hang on to it.

Sure, the style of your emails is key, but consider also how you package and display the information you're wanting to convey. It's the holiday season after all, and the presentation of the gift is half the fun, right?

  • Determine the main point of your message and create a call to action. Think about the emails you currently subscribe to and what it is about them that keeps you reading. Something special stands out about them, right? Similarly, your email should tell a memorable story. And make sure to include a call to action that'll pop. If you're a local boutique, entice customers with a special holiday sale. If you're a nonprofit putting the word out about an upcoming fundraiser, give your recipients a way to donate online. Adding buttons to your campaign to *go shopping* or *donate now* is a simple and stylish way to present a call to action. Take a look at the seasonal buttons recently put together by the Emma design team for inspiration.
  • Maintain a healthy balance. We recommend an even ratio of text and images. A text-heavy campaign may be overwhelming to the reader, and an image-heavy campaign can affect the delivery of your campaign. Some servers look for that balance between text and images before deciding to accept the message and deliver it to the recipient's inbox.
  • Place the important content "above the fold" — but encourage scrolling too. Many recipients see their emails in a preview pane first so they're catching the top of your message before anything else. Include important info at the top to catch recipients' interest, but don't stop there. Encourage scrolling by including teasers, a table of contents or animation. StyleCampaign recently shared a few tips, like incorporating vertical lines or arrows to guide the reader down the page, and Cody wrote a post here on the Emma blog about adding animated gifs to email campaigns.
  • Make your campaign mobile-friendly. Most mobile devices now operate on touch, rather than the scroll and click of a keypad button. Fonts come across small, and it's easy to fumble your thumbs when moving around the email and clicking links. Avoid stacking links at the top of the email, and use a larger font size for the intro line. And while more folks are using smart phones, it's still a good idea to pay attention to the plaintext version of your campaign. Older smart phone and Blackberry users might not have the ability to load images, so make sure that plaintext version is user-friendly, too.
  • Have a backup plan if images don't load. Not all users will have their email settings configured to display images by default. If you send an email campaign with several images or perhaps your message is just one big image, your readers are going to end up opening a blank email. As backup, you can add alternative text to the images you upload into your Emma campaign. Alt text guarantees that something will display when the campaign is opened, even if the images don't. What text should you use, you ask? If the image you're loading has text on it, you may want to use that as your alt text descriptor. Or you can create your own description of an image.

Beyond these tips, have a little fun with your campaign! Try alternating images from left to right or pick a layout with a sidebar so you can incorporate images down the side with corresponding stories alongside them. Just remember to consider your own habits when reading marketing messages, and apply that self-awareness to your own emails. The rest will fall into place.

This is part three in our holiday series where we answer email marketing questions provided by our customers. To see part one, click here. And visit part two here.

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It’s Emma’s Featurepalooza!

Take a peek at the new features coming soon to your Emma account
Featurepalooza | Take a Sneak Peek at Emma's Upcoming Email Marketing Features | Emma Email Marketing
If you've been reading here and over on Emma Tech, you know we've been hard at work to make Emma simpler, speedier and better for our customers. We've shared info about our new platform and changes to come, and today, we're delighted to give you a closer look at the features and enhancements you'll find in your account over the next few months.

 

We've got all the details — including sneak peek videos — on our Official Featurepalooza Page, so check it out and let us know if you'd like to be the first in line to try the features.

Google+ pages for business

Why it matters, or not ...

The launch of Google+ this summer was difficult to miss. It was a long-anticipated release and subject to all kinds of speculation about how it would change the landscape of social networks. Would it threaten Facebook's dominance for personal networking? Would it replace Twitter as the de facto link sharing tool for millions? Would Google finally get social right or simply launch another mediocre product, destined for the scrap heap? While we're a long way from knowing all of the answers, the last few months have given us a chance to get our hands dirty and start to understand how Google+ fits into the larger social picture.

With the latest news that Google+ has opened its doors for brand pages, marketers have a whole new set of questions to tackle. Is Google+ worth the time and resource investment? Can brands use Google+ to interact with customers in a new way?

To be sure, there are some considerations for integrating Google+ that don't exist for Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. I've picked out a few pros and cons that will hopefully help frame up the unique space that Google+ is trying to carve for its social product.

The good

More customizable page setup
Google realizes that there are all types of businesses and organizations out there that want to communicate and share with their audience, sometimes in unique ways. Google gives you the opportunity to categorize your page in the setup process, with each designation having some unique benefit. The categories are:

  • Local business or place
  • Product or brand
  • Company, institution or organization
  • Arts, entertainment or sports
  • Other

This is especially helpful for local businesses, for instance, who want to tie in their Google Places account, which displays helpful info like maps, hours of operation, phone numbers, etc.

Better search results
Google has integrated brand pages into its search algorithm with something they call "Direct Connect." Now, adding a "+" to a standard Google search will take you directly to that brand page, skipping the whole search results stuff. For example, try it by typing "+Anderson Cooper 360" into a Google search bar. You'll see that it jumps straight to Anderson's +Page. Again, this is a great benefit to local businesses who often struggle to make it to the first page of standard Google searches. And speaking of that first page, Google's algorithm will now count how many of your followers have clicked the +1 button (Google's version of liking) as a way to boost your overall page ranking. It's leveling the playing field for brands, while adding a way for Google to improve the user experience for their main search product. After all, most users are more interesting in finding than searching,right?

More targeted sharing
As we try to get better at tailoring messages and content to the right people at the right time, the need to segment and understand your audience is more important than ever. That idea is baked into the Google+ platform in a fundamental way with its Circles feature. When it comes to sharing content, page managers will have a much easier time sharing links and content to one, some or all of their members with just a few clicks and some smart grouping of members into circles. Google+ also opens doors to easier direct engagement with hangouts — think of it as group Skyping. The combination of circles and hangouts means that a page can share and interact with only specific groups of followers really easily and all on one platform. Pretty powerful stuff for businesses who don't have a full staff of marketing and customer service folks at the ready.

The not-so-good

No support for multiple users
At this time, pages can only have one manager who is allowed to own or post to the official page account. This will make it hard for social media or customer service teams to collaborate or divide up work among team members.

No contests, sweepstakes, offers or coupons
Perhaps the biggest difference between Facebook and Google+ will be the nature of the interaction between brand and follower. According to Nielsen, the number one reason folks "like" a brand on Facebook is to receive special discounts or offers. This will be fundamentally different on Google+, and depending on your strategy, could be a dealbreaker for you.

No vanity urls
I expect this feature will come shortly, but as of now it will be a tad cumbersome to tell folks how to navigate to your page. Vanity urls aren't in play yet, so instead of something easy like plus.google.com/Emma, urls look more like plus.google.com/106168900754103197479/ – not the easiest thing to remember.

At the end of the day, we need to craft a mix of content and communication that meets our customers, fans and followers where they are, and one that delivers consistent value, regardless of delivery channel or network. I don't think Google+ will be a natural fit for everyone, but I do think it offers some interesting and unique value to a great many businesses. If you're time-strapped, a small team or a predominantly local business, Google+ may be a perfect fit for you, with benefits that extend beyond the direct engagement you create on your page. As with any new technology or tool, taking an inventory of your own strategy, your audience and how you engage is always a great starting point for determining where you should spend your time and energy. Who knows, a few weeks from now Google+ may be your new one stop social shop. Have a look for yourself, and come back to tell us about your experience.

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A new platform for Emma

Emma’s getting upgraded with a faster, more feature-rich platform and a handy API for your developers to use

We've been talking about it for a while, and we're now beginning to roll out our new API — and the new Emma platform to support it.

More about the API

We've discussed the new API a bit previously, but to catch you up to speed, an API is an interface that a developer can use to get other programs talking with Emma. That means you can do things like add audience members and groups, pull response data, search your audience and edit member fields all from outside of Emma. If you follow our tech blog, you've heard Alex talking about our Salesforce integration, which relies heavily on this new API. Needless to say, this opens up many exciting avenues for both you as a customer and for Emma overall.

More about the new platform

Even if you're not a developer, Emma's new platform is going to offer some nice upgrades for everyone, with many more on the way. When your account is migrated to the new platform, you'll immediately see improvements like:

  • International character support
  • Multiple test groups
  • Faster send times
  • Overall improved performance

And in the coming months, you'll also see some new features being released on this new platform, including automated split testing, signup and survey notifications and social features for campaigns built into your account. All of these features take advantage of our new platform, and many more will follow. Exciting, right? Here's a sneak peek so you can get a better idea of what's to come.

What's happening behind the scenes

To allow you to take advantage of the new system, we'll be migrating all of our customers to this new Emma platform. That's a major undertaking that entails moving all of your data from one system to another, one that has an entirely new structure to make these improvements possible. The new system will allow us to scale in a fast and stable fashion, and that means a more reliable and flexible Emma for everyone. This should be a seamless process for you, as each individual account can be moved in a matter of minutes, and downtime per account should be a fraction of that. Additionally, we'll be doing these moves at non-peak hours to ensure we don't cause any problems for customers. The entire process of moving all accounts will take some time, so we appreciate your patience as we make the big switch for everyone.

Want to be first in line?

We'll be rolling out the new platform to all accounts over the next few weeks. As a side note, you'll only see any new features we release if you're on the new platform, so if you'd like your account to be upgraded sooner rather than later, let us know here.

If you're a developer and would like to stay updated with the latest API news, let us know here.

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Open rates, simplified

Practical advice for boosting your email opens, just in time for the holidays

If I had a nickel for every time I was asked, "How can I improve my open rate?" I'd probably have all my holiday shopping done by now (okay, that's wishful thinking). But it's a question on all of our minds as we put valuable time and resources toward creating and sending email campaigns. And while many variables play into the open rate of an email (time of day, time of year, even the weather), I've got some practical tips for boosting opens you can apply to your own email strategy today.

Emma Open Rates
A 40% open rate? Not too shabby.

 

Brand your from name, from email address and your subject line
These are the first things that folks see when they receive your emails, so your "from name" and email address should be instantly recognizable and branded. Unless you're Mark Zuckerburg, it might make sense for you to send emails from a more brand-specific email address like, info@yourcompany.com with your company's name listed as the "from name." Not sure if changing your sending details will help or hurt your brand? This Mark Brownlow article will walk you through a little self-analysis.

Next, let's talk subject lines. Here's a simple subject line axiom: They should be concise and feature your most important or most interesting information. Don't forget to add your brand voice and personality in there, either. Oh, and by all means, steer clear of the ever-so-boring "December Newsletter," and be sure to check out Molly's post on holiday subject lines that work.

Segment your audience and send relevant information to the right people.
The art of segmenting and sending targeted messages will determine the fate of your open rate. While the old "batch and blast" approach may work for some companies, segmenting is key to getting the most out of your email marketing. Here are two ways to try segmenting.

1. By demographic data

  • Location. If you're collecting postal code during signup, you can find members who are closest to your brick and mortar location. Send these folks a campaign that highlights an in-store event or promotion.
  • Age. If you're collecting the birthdays for your new audience members, you can easily segment them by age and target a specific age range with your new product.
  • Gender. If you have separate product lines for men and women, have new subscribers choose their gender on your signup form. Send targeted messages by dividing those guys and gals into separate groups.
  • Customer status. The types of messages you send prospects should be different from those you send to established customers. Track where audience members are in the customer lifecycle as a custom member field so you can send prospects more promotional messages and send existing customers a feedback survey or event invitation.

2. By response information
Divide your subscribers along activity lines. Audience activity is a good representation of how engaged your subscribers are, and you can treat your most engaged subscribers a bit differently. Since engagement is monitored in the response section through opens and clicks, you can create segments based on those numbers.

The benefit of response-based segmenting is that you can connect with your more engaged groups more regularly, or with special VIP offers. It also highlights which audience members are less engaged, and you can decide whether it's time to drop them from your regular mailings or attempt a re-engagement campaign to get them back in your good graces.

Keep in mind that each year up to one-third of email addresses become inactive or turn over due to job changes and deleted email accounts. Emfluence Insights has some handy tips for reconnecting with subscribers who hard bounce, but try not to take it too personally if audience members don't re-engage. You're better off reserving your marketing efforts for those who already care about who you are and what you're doing. Check out Mary's series on engagement for more advice.

Want to share your own secret to great open rates? Comment here and let us know your success story.

This is part two in our holiday series where we answer email marketing questions provided by our customers. To see part one, click here.

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