Introducing a brand new help section for HTML designers
Sending an email is much like making a first impression. It's an opportunity to show off your brand, familiarize your subscribers with what sets you apart and entice them to stick around to hear what you have to say. That's why we want to help you create fetching and effective emails, no matter where you fall on the design chops continuum.
What might that continuum include, exactly? It includes the customer who's juggling 45 other tasks during the day and wants to log into Emma to send a quick-and-easy campaign. (That customer is best suited for a custom stationery and custom layout, by the way, because that means he's only responsible for typing in the content. No extra styling necessary.) It also includes the customer who'd like to spend a little extra time laying out copy and images, all within a custom stationery frame. (That customer might work with an Emma designer to get a Concierge Design, or even a Studio Design.) And it includes the customer who's an HTML wizard and wants free rein to design her own HTML email from top to bottom.
That last customer type — Is it you? Hello, our HTML-savvy friend! — is the one we're talking to today. (Not sure where you fall on the continuum? Take a look at all of the design options that Emma offers.)
If you're a web designer who's been tasked with creating code for your company's HTML emails, we want to help you build rock-solid HTML that's suitable for an email environment. You may have caught Taylor's post about the differences between HTML for email and HTML for the web, and the distinction is only becoming more true.
I know what you're thinking: Now I have to design HTML that not only works in all the browsers out there, but also works in all of the mail clients? This sucks.
But it doesn't have to suck. It's actually fairly simple — and even a bit fun — once you get the hang of it. Just ask Emma designer, Dean Shortland, a self-taught HTML expert and one of those guys who likes solving tricky problems. (Case in point: He recently sent around an email to our staff, inviting us to join a "Campaign Rendering Issues" collaboration group. Fun times.) Lucky for HTML designers building their own HTML emails in Emma, Dean's developed a brand new section of our Help Guide: HTML for Email.
In this section, you'll learn all about properly coding HTML for an email environment, including such topics as:
Nesting your content in tables and working with <div> tags
Using CSS style sheets and inline styles
Image specifications and image placement in your campaign
Troubleshooting common HTML issues
If you're an Emma customer who's already building campaigns using an "Upload Your Own HTML" template, make sure to check out the new HTML for Email help section, and spot-check your code to ensure it'll work in all email clients. If you're not using an "Upload Your Own HTML" template yet, let us know and we can easily add one to your account. Happy coding!
A few best practices and design ideas for the beginning email marketer, including how to talk to your designer.
Jimmy Thorn is a man of few words, but he's saved some of them just for you. And though he just moved to Emma's User Experience team, Jimmy's work has been an integral part of Emma Design for the last three years. We'll certainly miss our man JimJam, but we'll always remember these words of wisdom.
1. Keep your content brief. Your audience's attention span is much shorter than you think. Pique interest with teaser paragraphs, and link to the full story elsewhere.
2. Don't use too many fonts in one email. Call attention with different font sizes, not different fonts.
3. Using a lot of crazy, bright colors might sound like a great way to get attention — but in reality, it's a turn-off for your audience and a big turn-on for SPAM filters.
4. Comic Sans, Papyrus and other non-traditional fonts are suitable for a very narrow range of purposes. Generally speaking, they have no place in the majority of professional marketing materials.
5. Giant images do not tell the story well; they can actually get your emails flagged as SPAM. Live text is a much more efficient way of getting your message across.
6. The more information you can give your designer, the better your design will be. Despite our best efforts, we are not mind readers — so it's a safe bet that we are not going to design exactly what you had in mind.
7. If you say "clean" and "modern," we will take you at your word — and you will probably get a design with more white space than you actually want.
8. When providing art direction to a designer, descriptive words or tangible ideas will yield better results than "jazz it up" or "make it pop."
9. Designers are used to hearing the word "no." Don't feel like you will hurt our feelings if you do not like the design. Just give us some good, solid direction, and we'll move on and get it right.
10. Make sure your design reflects your company accurately and conveys its true story. Giant flames, for example, might be great if you own a motorcycle shop — not an investment firm.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of Jimmy's Design Tips, which will offer Jimmy's famously sage insight for the more advanced email marketer.
Back in November, we published a blog post letting the world know we were looking for the right someone to lead our business development efforts in Portland. In a magical ask and they shall come moment, we met Lisa Creamer and liked her so much, we immediately wanted to put a ring on it. Recently, we sat down with our newest Portland member to chat about her new role and her plan for friendly Emma domination in the city of roses.
You're been with Emma for six weeks now. What excites you the most about your new role? I think it's the opportunity that excites me the most. Portland is a hot bed of creativity. People feel a sense of freedom to bring forth new ideas, knowing that the town will embrace them and engage in their growth. Emma just seems like a logical fit. We fit the Portland personality. Sure, we're quirky and fun-loving, but we also provide the perfect venue to help people grow and flourish. Emma has the unique ability to help people communicate their ideas with simplicity and style without breaking the bank.
We're intrigued. Can you tell us a little bit about your grand plans for bringing the Emma brand to the Portland community? In a perfect world, I would have local indie darlings, The Decemberists, compose a love ballad to Portland from Emma. While we wait to hear back from Colin Meloy on that, I'm really looking forward to getting the Emma brand in front of the Portland community, to let everyone know we are right on E Burnside in the heart of the central Eastside neighborhood. We moved to Portland three years ago because we wanted to join and support this vibrant community.
One of the things I love about Emma is the giving back initiatives. It just fits organically into the lifestyle out here. At Emma, we do what we do very well. Outside of being an email marketing service, we pride ourselves on building relationships with our customers, making their experience as personable as possible while delivering an awesome product. You pair that up with giving back campaigns, like planting 5 trees for each new customer who joins, and it seems very Portland to me.
Okay, now that we've got the business stuff out of the way, let's have some fun. What's your take on IFC's break-out hit Portlandia? I think most of it is pretty spot on. Let's be honest. People are a little weird here. It's part of what we all love about Portland. And I gotta say that the "Put a bird on it" skit really has us pegged. We do love birds. On everything.
Portland's food cart scene is leading a conversation on a national level. What's your favorite cart in town? My favorite cart is Potato Champion. There's nothing more satisfying than a heaping cone of perfectly cooked fries after a bicycle pub crawl. My six-year-old son, Enzo, prefers PFE, a cart downtown that serves sushi and Chinese food. Whatever you're craving, there's a food cart dishing it out.
What are three Portland companies you would love to introduce to Emma? One company that is near and dear to my heart is Looptworks. Looptworks is dedicated to upcycling, repurposing abandoned materials into clothing and gear. It really addresses the issue of using what's already available and sparks an invitation for people to think about what they buy, where it came from and what natural resources it required to produce it. Plus, their product line is super cute.
Another brand that I love is New Deal Distillery. Add a little Hot Monkey Vodka to a Caipirinha, and I'm a happy camper. Portland's riding a distillery boom right now. Thanks to the DIY culture, it's always been a great place for beer, coffee and tea, and it's nice to see a notable number of quality handcrafted, locally distilled spirits join the scene. It's also worth noting that our office is just blocks from what's known as Distillery Row.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Powell's Books. Outside of being the world's largest new and used bookstore, Powell's is a Portland institution. I'd love to get Emma on their radar and find a way to unite two companies that bring quality service to the community.
There are few things I like more than birthdays and surprises, which is why a recent "Happy 1/2 Birthday" message from Ben and Jerry's literally had me applauding at my desk.
I've been a member of the company's mailing list long enough to know that a coupon for a free scoop of ice cream will make its way to my inbox right around July 23 (go ahead, mark it on your calendar), but this is the first time I've received acknowledgment of my half birthday.
And this wish was accompanied by a coupon for a buy one, get one free discount coupon, nonetheless.
I love that the folks behind ChunkMail have taken the notion of a date-related trigger beyond the typical birthday and anniversary email campaigns and worked it to their advantage in a super fun, entirely unexpected way.
How a few of our Portland customers build community with emails.
I love the city of Portland, and it's not just because I live here. Beyond its most salient attention-getters (the weather, the food carts, the breweries and bridges), there's a small-business spirit that's decidedly friendly and buttoned-down. To see some of that Portland spirit in action, take a look at these three Emma customers. They all send emails that are accessible and chock-full of content that goes beyond your average promotion or announcement.
PedX and Manifesto owners Maggie Yuan and Laura Donovan know a thing or two about stylish shoes and smart accessories. And we were tickled to discover they also know a thing or two about using email to create a community of fans and fellow shoe lovers in Portland.
Sally Mulligan leads their newsletter and social networking efforts. In this November campaign, she promotes pedX's winter trunk shoe. What's better than discounts on shoes? Discounts accompanied by hot beverages, treats and a raffle. The campaign also features the winners of pedX's Fan Photo Contest: Two customers win gift certificates to the store after sending in photos featuring shoes from pedX.
Their campaigns go above and beyond to engage subscribers in new sales, events and contests, and the store integrates email marketing with efforts on their blog and Facebook fan page.
In short: Use monthly emails to build buzz around a sale or special event. Encourage your recipients to share your emails on their social networks, or offer an incentive for recipients who forward to a friend.
The send-off, at a glance. Sent on Thursday, Nov 4 at 4:02 pm Open rate: 34% Subject line: Who Has Your Back in Sweet November? Created using Emma's simple 8 layout
Bitch Media, publisher of Bitch Magazine, has been creating community in Portland since 2007 (and in San Francisco for 11 years before that). The nonprofit publishes articles and interviews that are, according to the folks at Bitch, "fairly wordy," and their emails sometimes follow suit. (Take a look at January's newsletter.) Wordiness, in this case, fits the bill because the team — which includes the executive director, new media intern, web developers, the development director, the art director and more — knows that their subscribers care about in-depth analysis. And that they like a good read.
Bitch Media sends email updates with book club information, book recommendations, and in January's installment, the inaugural Bitch High 5, a staff and reader poll of their favorite things in a designated category.
In short: Connect with your readers through common interests, pop culture and play. Make use of a fun facts section, reader poll or staff profile.
The send-off, at a glance. Sent on Tuesday, Jan 18 to 16,398 people 52% of opens happened in the first three hours Most popular link: coffee mugs Subject line: Here's to a B*tchin' New Year
Modern Domestic is new to the local scene, and it's amazing to see how quickly they've built a strong community of followers in Northeast Portland. Their subscriber list has grown from just more than 250 folks to nearly 1,250 in nine months, and their response numbers are some of the highest we've seen this year.
They offer sewing classes and open sew hours, and they sell a range of sewing machines. Their email campaigns are a treasure trove of helpful tips and links. (Check out a recent campaign here.)
In short: Include relevant links in your newsletters, and then follow up with folks who click — either personally or using a link-based trigger.
How we created a plan full of emails, link triggers, surveys and rewards to help our customers with their own marketing strategies.
During a brainstorming session for our newsletter content last year, a group of Emma staffers tossed around the idea of incorporating a New Year's resolution theme into January's mailing. It's kind of a no-brainer, right? The new year lends itself to setting goals and checking off to-dos, so we decided to use our January newsletter to get the Emma community thinking about taking their email strategy up a notch. We provided a menu of resolution-worthy goals related to using a more advanced Emma feature or re-imagining their approach to email marketing.
We knew we had an arsenal of helpful content built into our in-account Help Guide, blog and Ask Emma library, so we created a plan to provide a mash-up of that content for our newsletter subscribers. And when we faced the question of *how* to deliver that ever-so-helpful content, we found an answer in the Emma application. Link-based triggers would allow us to send follow-up emails full of advice, each one tailored to the resolution the reader had clicked on. We think email marketing should be fun and rewarding, so we opted to dream up a "cereal box-worthy prize" for folks who clicked on a link and participated in a follow-up survey letting us know how it went.
Since design is such an important part of who we are, our brainstorming meeting also included a fun discussion about the look and feel of the newsletter and its accompanying emails. Creative director Allison Davis and designer Elizabeth Williams put their heads together and decided to not only create a bold, fresh design fitting for a new year, but also to stage an Amy Sedaris-esque photo shoot featuring our own delivery specialist and newsletter model (it's a working title), Claire Burns. What resulted was a stand-out design that was reminiscent of our Getting Started Guide. As Elizabeth says, "I wanted the design to be comfortably familiar but delightfully fresh — with a heavy-handed dash of 'It's the new year people, let's get empowered!'"
Emma's January roundup: The best email resolutions ever, video trends and more.
About those link triggers
Because Emma's link-based trigger feature allows you to send a follow-up campaign automatically when someone clicks on a link, we knew the tips related to the resolution would arrive when the recipient was most interested to read it. We created six emails total, the January newsletter plus five more detailed campaigns to cover each resolution:
Survey tips and tricks
Advice for segmenting your audience & getting new subscribers
Expertise for creating stylish, stand-out campaigns
Ideas for personalizing campaigns and send-times
Suggestions for incorporating triggers into an email marketing strategy
Just click on the slide show to the right to see all of the campaigns (and all of Claire's poses). Once we completed and tested each campaign, it was time to set up the triggers. We followed these steps and sat back to watch the opens and clicks on the response page.
About the survey, landing page & rewards
A week or so after the January newsletter send-off, we started working on the follow-up campaign inviting those who clicked a resolution to give us a little update on how they were faring. Since Emma's response page gave us all the details on who clicked which link, we took the time to personalize the message in each follow-up email. We sent one version to folks who clicked to embrace the power of surveys, another for those who wanted to finally master the steps to creating a trigger email and so on. Of course, we wanted to create a special follow-up message for the ambitious folks who clicked more than one resolution — that ended up being the largest group of recipients for our segmented follow-up.
We also created the survey embedded in each follow-up email in Emma. It was a simple, three-question form asking folks if they'd accomplished the goal and how it changed their marketing plan. As promised, we offered a reward: After submitting their survey response, the survey-taker landed on a page chock-full of downloadable buttons — and we also created that landing page entirely inside our Emma account, following the steps in this article.
Our team of designers had fun creating the buttons, and our hope is that the buttons will encourage our customers to follow the tips we outlined in our follow-up emails and become email marketing superstars.
Our results so far
With so many mailings and a corresponding survey to boot, we had gobs of response details to look through and analyze. But we were most eager to see which resolution got the most clicks (it was the one about style, if you're curious), how many link-clickers wanted to receive more than just one of our follow-up emails full of advice and tips (that was a whopping 43% of the link-clickers, believe it or not), and what folks were saying in their survey responses.
While we were pleased that 85% of the survey-takers had already taken a more strategic approach to their email marketing with Emma's help, we were even more pleased with the long-answer comments they left. We expected to hear more details on how these strategies were applied, but instead we received a healthy mix of success stories and requests for more help. This is our audience talking back to us, telling us what they need. Thanks to that unexpected result, we now have a natural next step: connect our support team with these customers for dedicated help and training.
Want to get in on the resolutionary fun? Sign up for our January newsletter so you can click on the links and get helpful follow-up emails. We won't make you take a survey in order to get the prize, either — we just uploaded the buttons on our Facebook page. And best of luck to you in your own resolutionary efforts!
The cobbler's children really should have some shoes … and all of you agencies out there really should have some marketing.
I can't tell you how many times over the past few years, when chatting with advertising agencies, marketers, designers, web developers and other companies about their own marketing efforts, that this old cliché has come up: "The cobbler's children have no shoes." My clients are too busy helping their clients with marketing to do any of their own. But really, isn't it time to get some shoes on your kids? I work for an email marketing company, so I'm a bit biased, but why not start with a monthly campaign? It's the most cost-efficient, stylish way to market your creative company.
Most articles about best practices suggest you reach out to your list at least once each month. If you don't do that already and are stuck for ideas, why not start with a few traditional holidays? You know, Valentines Day for February and so on. Using that basic framework will make planning your annual calendar seem simple. After you start with some of those favorite, more expected occasions, throw in a bit of your own style by emphasizing what makes you stand out as a company. You can start sending regularly anytime … even on Valentine's Day.
February: show 'em some love For a twist on Valentine's Day, highlight one or more of your current clients, a project you completed for them and the successful results of your work. Or take the time to highlight a client that just hired you for an upcoming project. And if you're looking for something that will really stand out, you can even create a custom, love-themed stationery to frame your email campaign.
March: lucky you Why not run a promotion to give away your free GoodWorks account? Every Emma Agency partner is granted a free charity account to pass along to a 501c3 non-profit. We waive their monthly fee, plus give them up to 5,000 free emails per month. For more about why this kind of promotion is effective, take a look at a recent article touting the benefits of pro bono work in Advertising Age.
April: go ahead, be a fool Make them laugh and include a link to a funny video. Who doesn't like to escape for a minute or two to see LOL cats, Charlie biting his big brother or the evolution of dance? One of my favorite Emma Agency partners does this regularly in their monthly newsletter, and I have to admit I'm disappointed each time they don't include an amusing link (which is rare). My favorite of all time? This Happy Father's Day email.
May: survey says Ask for customer feedback, referrals or testimonials with Emma's survey feature. (Surveys are free with every Emma account, so collecting helpful information from your audience doesn't cost you extra.) Want some survey tips? Just check out these blog posts full of ideas and best practices.
June: time for some travel Tell your audience where you'll be. Vacation is on everyone's minds during this time of year, so fill your folks in on upcoming speaking engagements, conferences you're attending or some training you've just completed. Maybe you can even offer to meet them on the road.
July: bring on the fireworks Show off some of your recent work, service or awards, or share a few things that your audience may not know about your company. Is there a particularly compelling story in your company's history? Or do you have a favorite non-profit that your clients may want to know about?
August: back to school Show your customers that you're a valuable resource for important information. Link to a recent article that your clients will find useful, or even a few. Actually, this approach is one you could do each month. See our recent blog post on link digests for another quick content idea.
September: help them fall in like with you Focus on your social networking savvy during this busy month. Ask people on your list to like you on Facebook, follow your Twitter feeds or subscribe to your blog. And be sure to add sharing icons to your email campaigns, like you can using Emma's built-in social sharing capabilities.
October: Scary good staff Introduce them to your staff or a new employee. Putting faces to names for your clients can add warmth and a personal connection. Consider writing bios for each of your employees, or asking them to answer some fun questions to show off the personalities on your team.
November: give thanks It's a novel idea — thanking your customers, both past and present, for their business. But trust me, it can go a long way. Just a simple thanks will do, but you can also think about using Emma's surveys & forms feature to invite them to an open house or party.
December: holiday greetings Save on the postage and printing costs for your holiday cards. Who has the time to sign, stuff and send those anymore? My favorite holiday greeting of last year came from an Emma customer, Fanscape. I especially loved how they incorporated each employee into the card with the videos.
January: resolve to get started Take this opportunity to look back at the year and recap some success stories. You might even suggest some new services your clients could resolve to add into their own marketing mix, or give them some inspiring ideas for starting the year off right.
Pulling together a calendar really doesn't take much time — it just takes a little forethought and some attention to detail, so that you're putting your own brand's stamp on the traditional holiday messages.
The Emma team has been growing, especially in the tech-related departments. I was among several of the new hires this past year that have, apparently, led folks to wonder exactly how many employees we have. After hours of intensive research (probably just someone skimming the employee directory) we found we'd recently crossed the 100-employee mark. Nice! And who was that 100th employee, you ask? (Cue another quick skim of the directory.) Hey, it's me! Double nice!
I began to wonder: What privileges might I, the first Emma hire with a three-digit employee number, be given? Extra vacation time? A key to the executive washroom? Final say on what music is played on the first floor? No, friends. The honor bestowed upon me is the chance to ask Clint Smith, co-founder and CEO of Emma, any questions I like. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it really is. See, Clint usually doesn't let us ask questions; mostly we just get him sandwiches when he's hungry, as you'll see.
Read on to find out how this cool work environment came to be, where we're headed, whether any of it involves using mind control and how you could be the prestigious Emma employee #104. (Trust me, 104 is just as prestigious as 100.)
It was clear to me right away how much effort Emma puts into giving both employees and customers a memorable, fun experience. Was it a goal from the start to have a workplace culture like that? How did it come about?
Really, it was the very simple notion of creating the kind of place *we'd* like to hang out every day. Nothing more. I guess if we'd wanted to hang out in a place that was stale and corporate and believed inspiration could be found in a handful of framed "Successories" posters (sorry, whale soaring through the air), things could have turned out very differently. Will and I also came to Emma with a lot of inspiration in hand – we'd worked in very open, creative, collegial environments at companies like Citysearch.com and Smallbusiness.com. So we didn't have to invent a workplace culture — we simply had to take some of the great things we'd already experienced and adapt them to our own style. And we felt the same way about the customer experience. Shouldn't it be the kind of experience we'd want as customers? (The answer was yes, by the way.)
I feel like that culture puts a lot of emphasis on a democratic way of doing things rather than a small handful of people dictating direction and goals. How do you "guide the ship," so to speak, while giving us so much freedom? Is mind control involved?
The fact that you're feeling a sudden urge to walk over to the kitchen and grab me a sandwich (roast beef and provolone, Josh, roast beef and provolone) should in no way concern you that mind control might be at work here (also, chips, Josh, chips – and not those stale baked ones you brought me last time, thank you). First off, there are too many smart people here for any handful of us to feel like we can figure this all out alone. Our job is to try and set a clear and compelling direction that gets everyone nodding and smiling and possibly jumping up and down, and to empower folks to help fill in the blanks, and even uncover new and interesting directions, along the way. Last year, for example, we pulled our values, vision and strategy off the wall and revisited the entire thing, and in the course of the roughly six-week project, we involved *every single staffer* at Emma. That's how much we believe in an open, collaborative approach. That, and the powerful combination of roast beef and cheese. This Q&A really is making me hungry, Josh.
Sorry. So talking about free lunches and beer we get probably isn't a good idea right now? Moving on then…
Okay, so you hired a few web developers recently, myself included, and there's talk of hiring more. What's in the works that we need to expand our team so much?
There's a ton of work ahead as we enhance and expand our core email product — new features to add, more data and insights to provide, new ways to integrate with other services and so on. And there are opportunities to expand beyond that core product, all within the umbrella category informally known as Helping Companies Engage Their Audiences in Cool, Stylish, Effective Ways. Emma is ultimately a digital communications and engagement service, which means the doors to things like Surveys, Social, Mobile, Analytics and more are wide open for us. And that means people, particularly people who are really talented at product design and development. If they're also talented at juggling or knife throwing, that's cool, too. We'll be looking for those talented designers, developers and jugglers in Nashville and in Portland, and potentially in our other satellites cities – Austin, Denver and New York – and beyond. So, Josh, if you happen to be throwing a party for say, 20 of your closest, most talented technology pals this weekend, we'll supply the fruit punch and disco ball. It's just one of the many awesome recruiting ideas we have.
And we all know that free fruit punch is the best fruit punch.
When we have all these new developers and designers, what is life at Emma going to look like for us? Other than the knife throwing, that is.
Marc, Kevin, Alex and the rest of our senior technology leaders have big plans not just for the kind of work we'll be doing, but how we'll go about doing it. We love the idea of moving forward in really nimble, collaborative, creative ways, using the latest platforms and approaches, all with a bit of Emma flair thrown in for good measure. We love the idea of small teams moving quickly on interesting projects and challenges. And we love the idea of folks being able to raise their hands with a good idea worth exploring, and to then be set free to do said exploring. Not like mountaintop exploring, Josh, but more like awesomely-cool-new-product-concept exploring. It requires less outdoor gear. So the idea is that, as a designer or developer at Emma, you get the chance to work with a variety of great people on a variety of really interesting projects, all aimed at expanding Emma's horizons in ways we probably can't even imagine.
Speaking of great people making great things, a huge part of what got me excited about working at Emma was all the awesome folks I met during my interview process. How does the hiring process work and why is it done that way?
We know that so much of a company's culture and, well, success, starts at the hiring table. (The table is made of mahogany, by the way.) So we put a big emphasis on making sure we're finding people who aren't just extremely talented, but who also *really* want to be a part of this thing called Emma. We're looking for that unique combination of capability and commitment. So we make it a bit of an elaborate process, from an initial set of 10 questions you might be asked to answer, to coffee chats with a couple of senior staffers, and a series of visits to the office eventually ending in what we call an "All Hands" interview, in which folks from a variety of teams come together for a candidate's final conversation. We know that every single person who joins the Emma cause will help shape the company and the culture in his or her unique way, so we're picky, and we're intentional, and we don't make this an easy job to get. In fact, Josh, you might be interested to know that people who inquired about work at Emma last year had just a 2% chance of actually landing a job. So you're in select company, my friend.
Select company indeed. Between that and being Emma's 100th employee, it feels pretty good.
Got any other food-related analogies or anecdotes about employees juggling on mountaintops for the big finish?
Given the amount of food that makes its way into and out of the Emma offices on a daily basis (there are, by my count, roughly *12* groups and clubs devoted to baked goods alone), I'm sure I could regale you with a week's worth of food-related analogies. But I'll just end by saying that I'm thrilled you're #100, Josh, and I hope you get some sort of plaque, or cheesecake, for cracking the three-digit ranks for us. Onward and upward, Mr. Mock. Also, there's Nutella cake on the second floor. It sounds even better than roast beef.
The main Emma blog has been alive and kicking since '07, so we figure it's high time to create a second, more specialized blog for our technology team. Now they have a place to share their expertise and geek out on all things Postgres, Git, Open Source, MongoDB and more. Seriously, the water cooler talk around here is confusing us non-techy types.
So we're excited to launch Emma Tech, where our developers have the opportunity to get as nerdy as they'd like. We hope that those of you interested in the engineering side of Emma will enjoy this inside look at the work our tech team is doing to re-architect and improve the Emma application and to enhance the experience for our customers.
In this interview with our main tech blog contributors, Alex Ezell, Kevin McConnell and Selena Deckelmann, you'll get a sneak peek at upcoming blog topics. You'll find out a bit about what they're doing to make our database better, plus what books are on their bedside tables (hint: Don't mess with Kevin). We've published an abridged version of the interview here, and if you're interested in the full version, head on over to Emma Tech.
What's your role at Emma, and can you give our readers an idea of the main project(s) you're working on?
Alex: I'm the Application Development Lead, which means I primarily focus on the development efforts that affect the application users see. My team integrates new features and design changes to the existing app using Python, Django, jQuery, and of course whatever HTML and CSS is necessary. Right now, the team is working to do away with some legacy parts of our app written in PHP, while I'm laying the groundwork for a from-the-ground-up overhaul of the app.
Kevin: I'm the Director of Engineering, which essentially means I'm overseeing our development, systems and QA teams, doing my best to help everyone work toward the same goals, and at the same time working with Marc Sexton, our Director of Product Management, to understand what we want to build and how we should be building it.
Selena: I'm a database analyst here, and I work primarily with the other developers on making the databases more responsive and friendly. I also work quite a bit with our sysadmins on monitoring, reliability and consistency in our environment. Lately, I've been helping with recruiting and getting Emma folks introduced to the kick-ass open source community in Portland.
Alex, you used to teach high school English. And, Kevin, I know you came to Portland via Houston via Scotland. I'd love to hear a bit about your nontraditional backgrounds and what brought you to Emma.
Alex: I started in software development out of frustration with the tools I was forced to use to publish my work at a sports publishing company. We couldn't afford better tools, so I just wrote them. That was 12 years ago. In the interim between then and Emma, I spent some time teaching high school English and used a lot of code and databases in my classroom despite the fact that freshman English doesn't really lend itself to technical intrusion. As for Emma, I came to Nashville for a failed start-up, but had met some folks connected to Emma, and so when I found myself with a lot of free time, I joined the team. The entire technology team was four people then. I like to think that being completely self-taught and coming from a mindset that's more concerned with metaphor and symbolism gives me a valuable perspective on our entire enterprise here. That said, it's been great to work with folks who come from more traditional backgrounds in computer science because the combination of that depth of knowledge and my sometimes lateral approach seems fruitful.
Makes sense. Selena or Kevin, any thoughts on finding your tech groove? Nontraditional versus traditional path, even though those distinctions are more fluid probably than they used to be?
Kevin: I started programming as a kid. I was just very drawn to it for some reason (to the point that I started trying to teach myself programming on paper before we got a computer at home; I know, I'm a nerd). I spent a few years just teaching myself, and then after a brief and pointless stint at playing in a band after high school, I predictably went to college to study it properly.
Alex: Kevin, what was so intriguing that you'd even do it on paper? Was it the problem-solving or something else?
Kevin: The intriguing part was just figuring out how to make a computer do things. I think sometimes if people aren't telling you how to do something, then there's a little more mystery to it. Trying to figure out how to repeat things when you've never been shown loops before, that sort of thing. Joining Emma was actually the first time I'd actively sought out a job that I wanted to do, though. Prior to that I'd worked at places where opportunities just sprang up, through people I knew and such, and that's what took me from Edinburgh, to London for a couple of years, and then Houston. I found myself at a point where I wanted to live somewhere else and find a company I could really identify with, and that was Portland and Emma.
Selena: I started out as a Chemistry major, and mostly had only played Mad Libs and Dig Dug on an Apple IIe before college. At first, I tried to rebel in college by skipping labs, taking music classes and playing the violin all the time. But then I got my first shell account, which led to system administration, a job at a help desk, and ultimately, to switching my major to computer science. Mostly what got me into all that were the people — I loved learning about all the drama on the linux kernel mailing list and reading horrible stories from alt.sysadmin.recovery. I loved the jargon and the crazy pranks people played on each other. My boss sent me to my first nerdy conference. I was hooked.
What kinds of things get you excited about Emma's direction and restructuring? What kinds of challenges are you encountering?
Alex: I'm excited about being able to explore new technologies as part of our platform project. Perhaps because of my background, I've always gotten a lot of pleasure out of figuring out the puzzle of how disparate technologies might fit together to achieve something worthwhile. I'm happy that we have the freedom and time to rethink everything that we're doing and possibly use some great new technologies that have come up just in the past year or two like Node.js, document-oriented databases and new ways of working.
Kevin: One of the things that excites me about Emma's direction is that there are still a lot of new areas we'd like to explore with the product, and we're in the lucky position that we have enough ongoing success to support that kind of experimentation.
Alex: For me, the biggest challenge thus far has been trying to keep up the high standards we have for our existing app while giving attention to the shiny new thing that keeps catching my eye. I suspect that's true about technology in general and most folks involved in it. It's part and parcel of what we do.
Sorting out the opt-ins from the permissions … and a few things between.
Understandably, there's plenty of confusion to go around about opt-in lists and permission-based lists in the world of email marketing. As a delivery specialist here at Emma, these definitions are on my mind a lot. And it seems that a lot of people have given a lot of permission. Know what I mean? It seems as if every list out there can be considered somehow permission-based, if you think about it just the right way. The question is, what does that mean? And while we're at it, is there even a difference between a permission-based list and one that is considered opt-in?
The very basic definition for both is that someone gave their email address to someone else. What we all need to be concerned with is to whom the address was given and for what purpose.
It's kind of like you're at a party …
Think about it this way: There's nothing more embarrassing than waving a big hello to a friend of a friend at a party and for them to have no idea who you are. We've all been there. Your greeting is met with a blank stare, and the person may even consider you a bit presumptuous to think you could speak to them. Thankfully, while this is an absolutely awkward moment, you can quickly remedy it by clarifying the relationship. Unfortunately, there isn't time for clarification in the world of email marketing. So if you send an email to someone who doesn't know who you are, the stakes are higher.
When I discuss the topic of permissions with our customers, the conversation starts with to whom the permission was given and then moves to the recognition of the relationship between the sender and the recipient. Permission is nothing if the recipient doesn't understand why they're receiving a mailing. In an instant, your mailing will be disregarded or even worse, marked as spam. The equivalent of social suicide! The point of having people give you their addresses is for your message to be anticipated, received and, hopefully, shared.
While this seems like a pretty easy definition, a number of email address collection methods still cause confusion. One common culprit is in relationships that a company with several divisions or affiliated companies may have with a list of addresses. Let's say you're part of a company like that. A recipient has a relationship with one entity, but not the entity's larger community. So the person gave permission for one part of the company to email them, but they didn't give permission to you because you're part of one of those affiliated organizations. Yes, permission was given at one point to someone that has something to do with the larger entity … but how is that recipient going to recognize you when you try to make contact?
So what's the difference between opting in and permission?
Often the words permission and opt-in are thrown around as if they share a definition. But, in fact, there is a slight difference. When an address is required in order to navigate your site or to make a purchase, it can be classified as permission-based because the address is relinquished to you. But the people involved on the other end haven't necessarily opted in to your mailing list. You should really only consider an address opted-in if someone gave it to you by submitting a signup form or by checking a box indicating they wish to be added to your list.
Taking it one step further, some only consider an opted-in email address one that is double-confirmed, requiring a second step by sending a confirmation link to the address given. The industry does not yet demand this practice, but we encourage any additional steps you take to confirm the validity of the address. Why? Because building a good relationship with your audience starts with showing respect and giving them a choice.
Taking an extra minute to put yourself in the recipient's shoes will go a long way when you're building those relationships. After all, we all want to be the popular one at the party … or at least have people know why we're waving to them.