The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Design showcase: Celebrate good times

You may have noticed it doesn't take much to warrant a full-on celebration at Emma. We are quick to bake a cake or raise a glass in celebration of one another — and our customers. And September happens to be a month of particular merriment for the Emma design family. In just a six-week span, six of us will turn one year older, including yours truly and my fellow design consultant, Kat Amano. (We actually share the exact same birthday: today! Bring on the cake.)

Naturally, we can't help but be a little merry when there is so much excitement in the air. We are in good company, in fact. Many of you have shared your special days with us and allowed us to create a custom design for the occasion — whether it celebrates you directly or your email audience. Let's take a peek at a few, shall we?

Client: First United Bank
Designer: Leigh Bernstein
Design Level: Concierge Design
Celebration: Birthday

First United Bank came to us needing a custom birthday greeting for their audience. They knew they wanted something "nice and colorful" but left the direction of the design to Leigh. The challenge was to bring out some playfulness, fun and color without losing the professional aesthetic of an established bank. Leigh hit the nail on the head by opting for the classic birthday accoutrement; you got it: balloons.

Knowing they would only need room for a small bit of text, First United asked for one editable text box, instead of opting for a fully expandable stationery. With that in mind, Leigh built the design as more of a card, which is what allows for the solid balloon border. (With a regular stationery, an image-based border would prevent the design from being vertically flexible, so it would not be able to expand and contract depending on its content.)

Now, these happy customers use their custom card design to send automatic trigger emails to their clients on their birthdays. It communicates a decidedly personal sentiment to a customer to be remembered on their special day, especially by their bank. Nice work, First United.

Client: Big Events Weddings
Designer: Taylor Schena
Design Level: Concierge Design
Celebration: Wedding

For many Nashville couples, their wedding celebration is made perfect by the genius women of Big Events Weddings. These savvy businesswomen, planners and designers came to us needing a stationery that fit them to a tee. Theirs is a sophisticated, stylish charm, and Taylor really tuned in to their aesthetic to create a stationery header and footer that dazzled them.

The golden Craspedia and the turquoise in the logo pop beautifully against the soft, romantic earth tones of the header. Taylor also incorporated a softly lit photo of a couple's first dance to visually support the theme and purpose of the stationery. And, of course, the color of the footer and the jewelry in the photograph reinforce the logo, and Taylor created custom social media buttons to help drive traffic to their various networks. The finished product is a bit of an experience in itself — and it seems only fitting, as the stationery is a vehicle for many a wedding fairytale waiting to be told.

Client: Vanderbilt Medical Center: LifeFlight
Designer: Taylor Schena
Design Level: Concierge Design
Celebration: Fundraiser

Any opportunity to work with our neighbor, Vanderbilt University, is a welcome one. The Medical Center's LifeFlight division is the hospital's critical care air transport service, and these fine folks met with Taylor to discuss the design for their annual fundraiser, which helps offset the costs of having four helicopters, two airplanes and an ambulance. Fortunately, the event attracts a broad range of attendees; in addition to the silent auction and elegant gala, there is a "late party" for the young set.

The fundraiser takes place at the beginning of fall, before Nashville has changed to true autumnal weather. As such, our friends at Vanderbilt wanted to avoid direct references to fall such as leaves and warm colors. Taking that into consideration, Taylor pulled the green from the event's tablecloths and created a classy, flexible stationery that will be used for the Save the Date, as well as event updates to follow. Its vintage aesthetic delighted the party planners at LifeFlight,and we can't wait to hear how the event goes next month!

Client: Loan Shack
Designer: Kelly McClain
Design Level: Concierge Design
Celebration: Birthday

Like First United, Loan Shack knows that wishing your customers a happy birthday is one of the simplest ways to really personalize your email marketing. With that in mind, they approached us for a new stationery design that would be unique from any other designs we'd done for them — and that would be 100% dedicated to client appreciation.

Kelly created a design that looks like a frosted cake, complete with "Happy Birthday" candles. The yellow "cake" portion is the content layout area, so any Emma's simple, newsletter and advanced layout options can be inserted there — and with the solid background color, the stationery is vertically expandable in case they decide to include more content. The lighter gradient in the footer creates a great visual counter-balance to the lit candles, which echo the brand colors in the logo.

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Do you have a special occasion you'd like to celebrate with a new design? We can help. Just fill out our online design form, and we'll take it from there. You can also learn more about surveys for event invitations and trigger emails for birthday messages and other pre-scheduled campaigns. Don't forget to personalize your celebration message — it's a simple way to make your email so more special for your reader.

Cheers,
Your Emma Design Team

And the winner of the Last Word survey is ... Stephen Colbert!

Can Tom Martin convince him to share his views on digital media?

Stephen Colbert captured 37% of the votes.

Ask big questions, and you'll get big answers. That's exactly what happened when we asked our audience to help decide who should have the last word in Tom Martin's social experiment, Talking with Tom, which we're sponsoring.

Each Monday since January, Tom has shared a new video interview with a leading digital thinker, asking them to answer the question, "What's next {in digital media}?" He's assembled an impressive list of folks, and as his last interview approaches in December, we wanted to help him kick it up a notch.

At the beginning of August, we drew up a dream list of possible interviewees for Tom's 52nd — and final — interview, and after a month of voting by new and old friends alike, the winner is … Stephen Colbert.

Colbert received 37% of the votes on a list of folks that included Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington, Steve Jobs, Marissa Mayer, Kevin Rose, Chris Sacca and Sheryl Sandberg. Steve Jobs and Arianna Huffington came in second and third place, respectively. We also encouraged write-ins and saw suggestions such as Jon Stewart, Bill Clinton, Warren Buffett and J.K. Rowling. Even will.i.am got a vote.

"We handed the reins to you, the online community, to tell us who you'd like to hear talk about the future of digital media. And you picked a doozy," says our CEO, Clint Smith. "But that's part of the fun. The challenge now will be to reach out to Stephen Colbert exclusively through social media and convince him to be part of the video interview goodness."

Yep, that's right. Now it's up to Tom to land an interview with Colbert via social networks alone. He can tweet at Colbert, send him a message on Facebook, try to join his LinkedIn network (A LinkedIn search reveals 256 results for Stephen Colbert – which one is the real Colbert?), make a video request and post it on YouTube, and, well, you get the idea. Think he can do it?

"To quote Yoda, 'Do or do not. There is no try,'" says Tom. "It's getting Colbert on camera or fail. I don't expect it to be easy. I imagine I'll need to spend a large portion of the rest of the year trying to Colbert to agree to give the last word."

To follow Tom's progress, subscribe to Talking with Tom here. And, while you're there, check out the more than 30 interviews he's already posted (they're around two minutes each). Tom will also post periodic updates on his pursuit of Colbert on his blog. And stay in-the-know on Twitter by following @TomMartin and @emmaemail.

Oh, and it goes without saying, if you know Stephen Colbert or someone who knows Stephen Colbert … or someone who knows someone who knows Stephen Colbert, tweet at us. Let's help make this happen, folks!

Yes, we have a content strategy

Part one in our content strategy series shows how a company of any size can tell their story effectively

These days, articles about content strategy are as easy to find as preposterous reality TV shows. But to be clear, the content advice is much more valuable, and is much less likely to get drunk on its sudden celebrity. A smart approach to content is important for any organization, whether you're selling some furniture, running an agency or saving the world. The right content — which basically refers to anything from a blog post to a video to your tweets to, of course, your email campaigns — means that you're intentionally telling your brand's story to the people at the right time in the right places.

Our own content strategy includes a monthly roundup like this one.

You can find solid advice for building your content plan in all kinds of places, such as The Content Strategist and A Book Apart. And you can keep track of what's new by following a few people who like to tweet about that stuff, from Emma's own Molly Niendorf to Brain Traffic CEO Kristina Halvorson.

We're getting in on the fun by doing this five-part series, and we're kicking it off with a few basics. I've been developing content strategy for more than a decade now (although we didn't used to call it that), for companies ranging from tiny start-ups you've never heard of (not that the content strategy was to blame for the organization's demise, mind you) to some corporate behemoths, and these are my top tips.

1. Know what you want to say. What's your story? Do you have a story, or do you just have a product to sell or a cause to promote or some other goal to achieve? Whatever you're aiming to do, spend some time figuring out the story that's driving it. Your audience will be much more engaged if you craft a narrative for them and help them experience what you're all about, instead of just telling them.

At Emma, some of our main story lines are that we have astonishingly talented designers, a supremely helpful support crew (who, like, actually answer the phone when our customers have questions or want advice), a super intuitive interface and a commitment to giving back to our community. So we find various ways to tell those stories on our blog and our website. What drives your nonprofit or business? What do you most want to say? And who's the audience that'll be listening? Telling your story will only be effective if it means something to people you're hoping to reach, so make what you say useful (or perhaps inspiring) to them personally.

2. Know how you want to say it. Create some documents that map out that story. You might have five main stories or a dozen or just one. Break it down into pieces, so that you can plan around each element. And make a checklist that reminds you and anyone writing for you about the tone you want to establish, AKA your editorial voice or your style. What's on that list? Is it important for each piece you write to seem trustworthy and approachable? Or do you see your style as more warm and quirky? Or maybe your tone is bold and authoritative. Know what best reflects who you are as a company and what best resonates with your audience. As you might expect, that also involves knowing the purpose of each piece that you write. Knowing your goals makes it easier to decide — to paraphrase one of my favorite reality show judges — what's in and what's out. If a story idea sounds fun but doesn't help you accomplish one of your goals, it's out.

3. Do your logistical homework. Fire up some spreadsheets and start planning.

  • Figure out what content you've already got and make an inventory. Use that inventory to see how you might get more out of what you already have before you start creating more content.
  • Then figure out how you're going to get more of it. Do you have in-house resources? Do you need to hire some freelancers? Will you do the writing yourself?
  • Develop several formats for telling those stories. Again, map it out. Will you post on your blog, Twitter and Facebook? If you're doing long-form writing, establish some clear writing guidelines and formats so you can easily communicate your expectations with anyone else who's helping implement this plan.
  • Think carefully about who needs to hear what when, if you have a large audience. If you're talking to both customers and prospects, for example, you may need separate plans for each segment of your audience.
  • Create a process and a schedule to keep all those formats rolling. Creating a schedule is as simple as adding publish dates and deadlines to a spreadsheet … and voila, you're the fancy owner of an editorial calendar. Congratulations, you. Your new editorial calendar will let you see your planning at a glance and share it with everyone else at your company.
  • Set up some measurements. What will make your content strategy successful? A higher CTR on your site and in emails that will lead to increased revenue? Know what you're going to track and how often you're going to look back at the numbers.

4. Focus on quality. There's a lot of pressure these days to tweet eleventy-hundred times every day and have your LinkedIn this and your Facebook that. You may start feeling overwhelmed with all of those tips that surface every day as you follow what's happening in the digital world. You may get content strategy envy as you look at what other companies do. Or you may even feel pressure from other people — your second cousin, perhaps, or someone in your own organization — who've read about content strategy and social media strategy and want you to follow the particular advice they found online.

It's important to keep up with the industry and tell your story in as many places as you can, but always remember that quality is every ounce as important as quantity. (It's eleventy-hundred ounces, by the way.) And not everyone who's decided to market himself or herself as an expert actually has the editorial chops to back that up. So be discriminating. Follow some of the advice you find, but also establish a good, old-fashioned editorial process. Put every new idea through that checklist you created and be realistic about how much you can do without starting to feel like a content factory.

5. Tell one story at a time, in a bunch of different places. As you map out your content strategy over the course of a few months, you'll see that you have plenty of time to develop the plot as you go. Resist the temptation to say everything to everyone all at once. You know those email campaigns you get that are so broad that they basically say nothing? Yeah, don't do that. It's not engaging. Pull out one story at a time and evoke a feeling. Paint an experience instead of merely selling a couch or asking for volunteers. Let one snippet of your story act as a hook that will become something bigger once your audience feels connected to you.

In sum (not that we did any actual math), here's a good place to start:

  • Your story, all mapped out like a summer road trip
  • A checklist that outlines your voice, tone, style, however you roll
  • A content inventory
  • A process for generating more and more — and getting better and better while you're at it
  • An editorial calendar that's simple to create but seems fancy
  • A list of what you'll measure
  • Inner fortitude to stand strong and not get overwhelmed by too much advice and too many tweets

We'll be back soon with part two, which will include content templates for your email strategy basics. See, we're even doing some of the writing for you. We like you that much.

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Susan will be presenting at Content Marketing World in Cleveland next week. Let us know if you'll be there, too. And talk content with Susan on Twitter.

Get your marketing ready for fall

Tips for updating your audience lists before the end of summer

Ilise is the founder of Marketing Mentor.

August can feel like the slowest time of year (unless it's your busiest time, that is), and it's sometimes hard to be productive when it seems like almost everyone is on vacation but you.

But this is actually the absolute best time to focus on your own agency's marketing and to prepare for the post-Labor Day blast of energy most people and companies have.

So, here's the marketing project that will prepare you for your own marketing blast. It's the perfect way to spend the last days of August, while it's still quiet.

Clean up your lists – all of them . You've been meeting people all year – online and off, at networking events, trade shows and online, too – but I'll bet some of them haven't made it onto your mailing lists.

Which lists? Indeed, there are so many different types of lists these days that "cleaning up" your list isn't as straightforward as it used to be. Between the various social media, you've probably got contacts scattered everywhere, which is good and bad. Whether they follow you on Twitter or have friended you on Facebook, you still need a reliable and easy way to get your message to everyone in your network. And you need them all in one place so you can reach out to them proactively with your targeted messages.

This week, do any and/or all of the following:

  1. Get everyone into Emma . Take all those scattered business cards and miscellaneous email messages piled in your inbox and import those valuable email addresses into your Emma mailing list.
  2. Find those same people on LinkedIn and invite them into your network. This way, they'll see your updates too. Be sure to personalize the invitation message, reminding them where you met, especially if it's been a few months. Make it short and sweet, but personal.
  3. See what LinkedIn groups those people belong to , especially if they're your prospects. Join those online groups to see what issues are on their minds and in their discussion threads. Could be fodder for content strategy (which I'll be writing about later this fall right here on the Emma blog).
  4. Check out their Twitter feeds . Follow them so you can learn about their needs and be there in their "moment of need."
  5. Update snail mail addresses , especially for your best clients and prospects so that when the holiday season rolls around, your list will be complete, and you'll be ready to send them something real in the mail.
  6. Pick up the phone and call , especially selected prospects and past clients to remind them you're here to help. Now may be the best time to ask if they have any projects coming up. Some people are more available to talk during August when things are quiet.

Devote an hour (or more) each day to this activity between now and when things start to heat up again. You'll be surprised how much you'll get done … and how good you'll feel about it. And don't hesitate to have your favorite poolside drink nearby. That can make the phone calls a little smoother.

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Ilise Benun is an author, consultant and national speaker, the founder of Marketing-Mentor.com and the co-producer of the Creative Freelancer Conference . Her books include " The Designer's Guide to Marketing and Pricing " (HOW Books), " Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive " (Career Press) and her latest, The Creative Professional's Guide to Money (HOW Books 2011). She also developed the Start Anytime Marketing Plan + Calendar for the Marketing Mentor Toolbox. Sign up for her Quick Tips, a bi-weekly dose of marketing tips, advice and resources, here .

5 questions with Lucid Marketing

Kim is the founder of Lucid Marketing, a Nashville-based agency.

We love connecting with the agencies that fuel our local communities, and chatting with Kim Phillips from Lucid Marketing was no exception. Kim was kind enough to let me pick her brain about how she uses Emma for her clients and how she stays inspired when the economy is less than booming. Read on to learn more …

Describe your agency and what makes you different.
We're a one-person shop that helps small and some not-so-small companies take advantage of all their communications options, from social media and website content management, to old school, tried-and-true solutions like direct mail. It's kind of rare to get strategy, writing and design all in one place, without using a large agency.

What's the most interesting thing you see changing and evolving in your industry?
By far, the most interesting thing is how technology is giving businesses of any size the ability to do the same kinds of marketing that used to be reserved for places with bigger budgets. Change is the operative word — daily, even hourly, new tools pop up. It's a whole new world, every day, and it's never boring.

How do you stay on top of trends so that you're a go-to resource for your clients?
Mainly, we stay curious. We subscribe to blogs by the experts in various aspects of online marketing, and we watch how others use technologies and techniques to see how they might benefit our clients. We network via social media, and we utilize partners for highly specialized and deeply technical work.

How has Emma helped you grow?
Being able to offer a technically rich and visually stylish email platform like Emma makes our job easy. We especially appreciate the metrics that are built into Emma, because they help us to analyze what our clients' readers are most interested in. It's so much more than the "open rate;" we track every link and use the information to create more content like that.

Of course, we use Emma for our own marketing in the same ways we use it for our clients. We try to cross-pollinate between all the ways someone can encounter our brand — through our website, blog, email, social media, direct mail. We repurpose and revise to reach people in the way they want to be reached. We use all the social sharing options; haven't used surveys yet, but soon!

Where do you draw inspiration?
Honestly, from our nonprofit clients — the combination of a tough economy and a mandate to spend donated dollars wisely makes it doubly important for nonprofit clients to be creative in how they reach people. They have to work really hard to understand what will move the public to get involved, to volunteer, to donate. The competition for philanthropic dollars is fierce. Luckily, technology has made it possible to reach a lot of people fast, like with email marketing and social media. We just have to get the messaging right.

Lastly (and maybe most importantly), what's your karaoke song?
Well, I don't do karaoke — but if I did, I could totally get behind Aretha Franklin's version of "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." I even accidentally sang to an entire Wendy's restaurant because I didn't realize the drive-through mic was on.

Meet UroMed, Inc.

Lisa Wells answers 5 questions and talks about increasing awareness

Lisa is a veteran of online marketing and e-commerce.

As the director of marketing for UroMed, Inc., Lisa Wells is armed with leadership experience in public relations, marketing communications and web-based product management at medical device and healthcare/human resources tech companies. She shares some of their most inspiring successes, including how the company helps thousands of people with disabilities.

What does UroMed do, and how do you use Emma to communicate with your audience?
Most of our customers have chronic conditions like Spinal Cord Injury, Spina Bifida, Multiple Sclerosis and Transverse Myelitis, or have recently undergone surgery for serious conditions like Prostate Cancer and are currently using catheters. UroMed is one of the nation's leading providers of urological and disposable medical supplies.

We began using Emma in January 2011 as a way to communicate more effectively with thousands of customers, as well as medical professionals and nonprofit organizations that help people with urological conditions. Our monthly newsletters employ a vibrant design and relevant, fresh content that caters to our readers.

UroMed's founder, Bert Burns
You sponsor a nonprofit program called Life After Spinal Cord Injury — tell us about a recent success using email and social media to share news about LASCI.
Our founder, Bert Burns, became quadriplegic as a result of an automobile accident during his youth. His desire to make a positive difference in the lives of people with disabilities led him to create a free motivational program for peer support and rehabilitation groups called Life After Spinal Cord Injury. Through email campaigns, we share a variety of helpful materials for our community, including information on LASCI events and resources.

As our visibility and outreach have increased through these campaigns, a variety of partners have aligned with us to further assist the wheelchair community. This summer, LASCI partnered with SPORTS 'N SPOKES magazine, published by the Paralyzed Veterans of America, to provide our peer support group on Facebook with a list of accessible programs, places and events, spotlighting one state per day across the country between July 15-August 15, 2011. Viewers can also post photos of related family vacations and weekend outings on the Facebook pages or in a photo gallery on the S'NS website for a chance to win a range of prizes.

We use Emma everyday to connect our customers and medical professionals with the online resources available at UroMed.com and LASCI's peer support community on Facebook. Regular visitors to the LASCI Facebook page come from as far away as England, New Zealand, South Africa and the Phillipines. For example, one lady in New Zealand uses content she finds on the LASCI group page to help inspire a peer support group that she leads for paraplegics and quadriplegics in her country.

What's your best advice to writing accessible, memorable emails?

  • Write for your audience's benefit – not yours or your company's.
  • Illustrate points with pictures the audience will relate to and click on for details.
  • Use a personal tone – no one wants to read an email that sounds like you have a banana stuck in your tailpipe. Treat your customers like they're your friends, but not in terms of slang or being overly familiar. Do use layman's terms, and answer questions or problems they may have.
  • Link, link, link and link some more. The more direct access you provide to customer relational touchpoints, the better.

What do you enjoy most about working with your team?
Many of UroMed's employees have a personal connection to understanding our customers' health needs, as 20% of our customer care associates either have a disability or have a family member with a disabling condition. Our company was started by four people more than 15 years ago, and three of them use wheelchairs. It's pretty hard to complain about your day when you know, firsthand, that your work helps serve your customers, your co-workers and your friends at the same time.

What events or milestones are your colleagues looking forward to this year?
In 2010, Life After Spinal Cord Injury helped more than 600 medical professionals, patients, former patients and family members with information, advice and encouragement. Thanks to the outreach tools provided by Emma and social media, LASCI has already quadrupled that number by July 2011, and our online peer support community has gone global! We are so excited about the impact this motivational program is having on the lives of people who use wheelchairs. The global awareness and accessibility of our resources is increasing tenfold because of the technology resources we've employed.

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Want to find out more about UroMed?

+ Thanks to an Emma-powered press release, 11 Alive NBC News in Atlanta heard about their efforts. Check out their take on UroMed's community impact.
+ Join UroMed's support community on Facebook.
+ Visit their website to learn more about Bert's story.

Lisa will be presenting on the topic of social media at the 2011 HME News Business Summit on September 11 in Charlotte, NC.

Helping nonprofit organizations communicate in style

Catching up with a few of last year's Emma 25 honorees

Each year, as part of our Emma 25 program, we award 25 nonprofits (sometimes more!) with an Emma account. The honorees receive a custom stationery design at no cost and free email service and surveys for life – or as long as they'd like. It's a great way to recognize their hard work, and to provide them with the opportunity to easily communicate with their members and donors. Last winter marked the seventh year of Emma 25, and this month I'm checking in with three of the honorees to see how they're using Emma to help others.

Literacy for All

Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle

The Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle in Virginia work to provide one-on-one, confidential tutoring in basic literacy and English as a second language to adults living or working in Charlottesville and Albemarle County.

Since being selected as an Emma 25 honoree in December, Jackie Bright says, "In just five months our distribution list has increased by 8% — nearly 100 new recipients (we have a small list, so this is huge)." Their emails campaigns are super successful, not to mention gorgeous — check out a recent one here — and their average open and click-through rates are around 26% and 9% respectively. Jackie adds that Emma has helped them provide better customer service and generate greater reach. She says, "We've been able to link all of our social marketing to this email, helping us cross-market and expose new people to our Facebook page and website."

+ Visit their website
+ Check out their Facebook page

Rape Crisis Center

The Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties

The Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties in northeastern Ohio serves sexual assault victims and co-survivors. Education and awareness are two driving themes behind their mission to help others, and it's important for them to get the word out quickly. Dana Zedak, who helps to plan and execute their email campaigns, says that Emma streamlines the sending process. Dana adds, "Any moment people hit reply and tell us that we 'do good work' or ask questions about our agency is a fantastic Emma moment. The more people associate our logo and our message with the work we do, the more clients will get to us and the more donors will give to us." And their response numbers indicate that subscribers are receiving the message with open ears — or eyes, if you will. A recent email campaign had more than a 20% open rate.

+ Visit their website
+ Check out their Facebook page

Heart Gallery

The Heart Gallery

Beginning as a community project, The Heart Gallery of Pinellas & Pasco is continuing to grow into a successful, independent organization. As an affiliate of The Heart Gallery of America, they display portrait galleries of local foster children who are awaiting adoption.

Their monthly newsletters and event updates reach more than 1,700 audience members and generate stellar 28% open and 21% click-through rates. Carol Hughes, Community Outreach Manager of The Heart Gallery, points out the value they place on stylishly adding images to their campaigns:

Our beautiful photos of children are used to promote an awareness of the need for adoption. The email layouts provided by Emma allow us to easily upload pictures for use in our newsletters, bulletins, announcements, etc. We are able to use various sizes of the images to accompany our publications, and we continue to receive comments about the quality of the photos in each campaign.

+ See a recent campaign
+ Visit their website
+ Check out their Facebook page

Want to learn more about Emma 25? Visit our list of the 2010 Emma 25 honorees, and stay tuned for details about this year's program. We can't wait for the submission process to begin this fall.

Things we love: Smartly using Facebook to gain exposure and grow an email list

How the Thunderbird Inn and Travel Retro cross-promote their brands and gain new fans

I'm a big fan of modern-day time traveling (I may or may not be currently seeking a DeLorean). But until I'm able to dial myself back to 1961, I take comfort in knowing that the Thunderbird Inn is ready for me whenever I'd like to make a reservation for "fifty years ago." The Thunderbird Inn is a retro roadside motel billed as "the hippest hotel in Savannah." It's no stretch to imagine that simply checking in would transplant me into a universe of Beach Boys music, poodle skirts and dry martinis.

I'm not alone — in fact, we road-tripping time travelers are our own niche. And organizations are springing up to serve us. Take Travel Retro, for example, a newer travel site for folks in search of that nostalgic feeling. They're the "Expedia" of vintage travel accommodations.

Travel Retro and the Thunderbird Inn: a match made in heaven, right? If I like one, I'm sure to be interested in the other. But how can they take advantage of their natural kinship?

The Thunderbird Inn raved about Travel Retro.

Brands can be great friends

Travel Retro and the Thunderbird recognized that they could gain fans by working together. They may have already been using some tried-and-true methods to grow their audience lists, like website signup forms, the old fishbowl by the register, and the like, but how could they gain subscribers that knew about one company but not the other? They turned to the most social of online spaces: Facebook.

In turn, Travel Retro shared the T-Bird's email campaign.

The Thunderbird Inn encouraged their fans to "like" Travel Retro, and, in turn, Travel Retro shared the Thunderbird Inn's email newsletter with their fans. Simple, but effective.

I love this strategy. As a fan of the Thunderbird Inn, I'm happy to find out that a similar company "gets" me and my travel preferences. But if weren't a fan of the Thunderbird, I may never have discovered Travel Retro.

How can you incorporate these tactics in your social strategy? Is there a company in your industry that'd make a natural partner? You may be surprised at how willing other companies are to align with you and cross-promote. Here are a few questions to ask yourself while you seek the right partners…

How can you find a partner brand to help grow your email list or Facebook fan base?

  • Consider brands you're already working with that fuel your business. Maybe it's your coffee supplier or even the bike delivery service in town. It's likely there's already an overlap of some fans — by nature of your location or business practices — and the potential for more.
  • Check with your sister stores and affiliate groups. Does it make sense to partner during certain times of year, such as leading up to your annual fundraiser? Do you have expert knowledge that would appeal to one of the groups?
  • Ask your loyal customers where else they frequent. Odds are the things they love about your business are some of the same reasons they go to other businesses.

How can you make the most out of cross-promotions?

  • Create a special signup form and audience group for these new subscribers.
  • Offer an incentive to join your list, like a coupon or a special downloadable resource.
  • Create a custom triggered welcome email to engage them right off the bat.
  • Be transparent about the partnership. Some partnerships are built on goodwill; others may involve an exchange of services. In either case, be honest with your fans. Let them know why you're cross-promoting the other brand and what makes them so fabulous.

Of course, Facebook isn't the only way you can work with partner brands to help one another grow. Try exchanging fishbowls in-store, making a call out to the Twitterverse, swapping ad spaces in your newsletters and more. If you could go back in time even just a year and lay the groundwork for these partnerships, think of how much more exposure you might have seen by now. On the other hand, one day you may find yourself wishing you could go back in time to today, so why not get started?

If you've had great success growing your fan base by partnering with other brands, let us know in the comments section.

An update on Emma’s API

We've launched the beta period for our API

Last week, I wrote a post for Emma Tech about our new API. It's officially entered private beta (Yay-PI, I say!), and we're excited to have thrown the door open to early adopters. For those who don't spend their days staring at computer screens, juggling ones and zeroes, API stands for application programming interface, and it gives software developers the ability to access their Emma accounts outside of the browser, allowing them to integrate their own applications with Emma. If you've got a developer on your end who'd like to try it out, now's a great time to sign up for the beta group.

However, if you've never thought about accessing Emma outside of its web interface and if you'll never use the API, you might be wondering why it matters. As part of my team's efforts, we've been converting the Emma app to the new API. Redesigning the architecture has taught us a lot about the challenges of the existing system, and we're making enhancements that will create an improved experience for all of our customers, including faster email delivery, more robust audience searches and international character support. We'll be sure to share more details over the coming weeks.

Check out my post for more information. And, if you're feeling adventurous, please consider signing up for our beta tester program.