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Tell us about your email marketing goals, challenges and more so we can help with your holiday plans
Emma Holiday Survey
One lucky survey-taker will win. Click above to take the survey.

My Nashville coworkers remark on the strangeness of planning for the holidays when it's still 80 degrees outside, but here in Portland, the weather has taken a decided turn toward autumn. With a chill in the air, I can't help but think of scarves and boots, pumpkin-flavored lattes and roasted sweet potatoes. And, yes, even holiday-themed emails. The holidays start early at Emma, as our design team gets excited about crafting holiday designs for our customers (from fall-inspired stationery to more traditional Christmas postcards), and as our team of bloggers plans a slew of fresh email tips and resources. (Last year's included, among other things, holiday subject lines and a video of holiday email ideas.)

This year, we'd love your help as we get into the holiday spirit. We want to know what you want to learn this season and how we can help you reach your email marketing goals.

Take our 10-question survey here.

Want another reason to feel merry? By submitting the survey, you're eligible to win one of three prizes of your choice: a custom holiday design, custom signup form for your website or a free month of emails. We'll announce the winner in November, along with results of the survey. Now, go get yourself a pumpkin latte.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Turning clients on to opt-in email marketing

For Emma agencies, educating clients on the importance of permission standards and list hygiene is critical. But that doesn't mean it has to be stressful.

Send great emails to people who want to receive them. That's the phrase that rings in my head when I ponder how an agency speaking with a prospect might summarize the goal of permission-based email marketing. Pretty simple, right? The "great emails" part is easy to communicate, especially if they've seen samples of your work, or worked with you on other ventures. So now we come to the "people" part. Who are these people? Where did they come from?

This is where the conversation with a prospective client will turn to permission, and it's one of the most important conversations you'll have. Fortunately, our permission policy is pretty straightforward: To receive your emails, people on your list…

MUST BE:

+ Someone who is a customer, member or subscriber of your business or organization

+ Someone who has specifically asked to receive your emails by opting in or signing up in some way or

+ Someone who has bought a product or service from you in the past 18 months.

Emma's permissions policy is in place to minimize the risk to our customers' sending reputation, and to maximize the effectiveness of your email strategy. But the reasons for these standards may not be immediately apparent to a client who's considering renting or purchasing a list, or attempting to send to an audience full of email addresses that they haven't contacted in years. So when you're getting to know a new client's email list, it's important to communicate the value of a healthy, permission-based list. Here are a few points to focus on:

A healthy audience means a healthy sending reputation: In the United States, anti-spam legislation doesn't go as far toward limiting unsolicited messages as most email service providers (like us) do. It's not illegal to send unsolicited emails as long as you label them as ads, include your business address and offer a way to opt out of your list. But that doesn't mean it's a good idea: Email traffic is privately monitored, policed and regulated well beyond the limits of CAN-SPAM regulations. Most email clients and servers have their own rigorous standards to protect their users' inboxes from spam overload. And while your client may not realize it, their business builds upon their reputation with servers and spam blacklists with every mailing. Email campaigns to well-maintained, opt-in lists tend to yield high delivery, open and click-through rates, all of which look like little gold stars next to a company's name. On the other hand, mailings to rented, purchased or outdated lists are pretty easy to spot. They consistently yield low delivery and open rates, and high rates of opt-outs and spam complaints. Servers and spam filters take notice — a company with a history of poor mailings will have a notably harder time reaching their audience's inbox. In fact, they often have a hard time reclaiming their good name even after they've seen the error of their ways and changed their practices.

Our own reputation as the "carrier" of your clients' messages also comes into play. To maintain our exceptional delivery rates, we work vigilantly to ensure that all the emails we send are in line with our policy, so sickly-looking response rates are often a sign that we need to step in to diagnose the cause. In situations where we need to find out more about an email delivery issue, we always start by learning more about the email list. In most cases, the source of the problem lies with the manner in which the email addresses were gathered.

Smart list practices yield a higher return on investment: In the early days, a good deal of conversation around email marketing revolved around accumulating the biggest email address list possible. Growing your audience is still an essential piece of any smart marketer's strategy, but in recent years, email marketing specialists have increased their focus on engagement over simple accumulation. A good subscriber's initial points of engagement came before they saw their first email — they bought a product or service, or they asked to hear from you. There's a connection to build upon. An audience that hasn't made this connection, or made it so long ago that they've likely forgotten about it, won't be as responsive to your message.

A good email list is naturally grown: There aren't any shortcuts when it comes to building a healthy, responsive email list. But there are plenty of great ways to attract the right people to join your audience. Find the places where your intended audience makes contact with you, and make sure there's an opportunity to sign up waiting for them there. For some businesses, this may be a fishbowl for business cards at the cash register. For others, it may be on your company's homepage. If your client is a heavy emailer, have they considered including a signup link in their signature? As you grow your audience, find ways to enable them to help you find new subscribers. Tweet links to your email campaigns and post them on Facebook. Encourage subscribers to share your emails with friends. Give them options to choose to receive the content that they're most interested in. There's nothing like watching your email audience grow healthy and strong. If your client can get excited about that prospect, they're already well on their way to finding the people who want to hear from them the most.

Meet Mike Lieberman of Square 2 Marketing

5 questions with a twist: Read or watch our interview with one of Emma's agency partners

Mike is the co-founder and president of Square 2 Marketing.

I had the pleasure to chat with Mike Lieberman of Square 2 Marketing, a strategic marketing consulting firm focused on small and mid-size businesses. They help clients refine their brand identity and marketing goals through "Reality Marketing,™" the process from which they build unique strategies for all of their clients.

We covered everything from how email helped one of their clients land a $150k job to the best running shoes on the market. Read on to see how Mike handles Emma's 5 questions, and if you'd like to watch part of his interview on video, you'll find a link to do so below.

Tell me a little bit about your role at Square 2 Marketing.
My role has changed a bit over the past couple months — primarily I'm focusing on helping our company increase its national footprint. We already work with clients across the country, but I'm currently working on building some strategic partnerships with companies like Emma and a few other technology companies out there that will help Square 2 Marketing become a real national player. In addition to that, I'm the Chief People Officer here at Square 2, so my goal is to bring in the best and the brightest people and make sure they have a remarkable experience with our firm as well as providing our clients with a world-class marketing experience when they engage with us.

What do you see changing and evolving in the marketing industry?
If you readers want to *hear* what I think about the marketing industry, they can head on over to our site to watch the video. When I went to college and when most people think about marketing, they think about what they learned in school, which is, "reach and frequency." ("Tell as many people about your company as much as possible and eventually when they need you, they'll remember you.") That model is so far from effective these days, that when I mentioned how we help people think differently about their marketing, a big part of what we do is try and help our clients understand why that's no longer effective.

I read an article that said, "Consumers are inundated with something like 3,000 ads a day." We're all just numb to advertising. It's interruptive, and there are so many tools out there to eliminate advertisements from our lives, so the "reach and frequency" approach is no longer working. When you throw on top of that the things that have happened with the internet — social media, Google's dominance of search and the natural occurring conversations that are so popular these days in social media — you'll see that marketing has become an exercise in creating remarkable experiences for your customers and the kind of stories that they can share with other similar kinds of people. Then, those stories become the content that you use to leverage through social media, search, email and your website, which all facilitates sharing. There's a huge movement about how to re-educate people on how to market their companies. It's challenging because it's not easy to do it this new way. It's much easier to buy an ad placement and hope the phone rings, but it's no longer an effective use of your marketing dollars.

With Reality Marketing, a high return on marketing investment is one of the tenants. This new kind of marketing fits in very nicely with the kind of marketing strategy we create for our clients. It doesn't cost a lot to do a blog post. It doesn't cost a lot to do an email campaign, and they're very effective if you have the right content. The content is where we see a lot of clients falling down, and why we talk to our clients so much about marketing strategy, and why we have started an initiative to work with other agencies to help them with their strategy. We want to help agencies improve the performance of email marketing and other marketing tactics so that their clients are happier and offer more referrals. We've even created an eBook to teach them how. Agencies can be good at what they do — building websites, creating email campaigns, doing search marketing — and we can provide the strategy that guides the content and creates the stories that makes those businesses remarkable. I think that's the core difference between marketing now and marketing even two or three years ago.

How do you implement that marketing strategy into your clients' email campaigns and surveys? Do you have any success stories?
We implement our Reality Marketing and Marketing Machine™ approach the same way with all of our clients, and it's a requirement to doing business with us. We've literally turned down business of clients that don't want to do it our way because we know "our way" is effective, and we have a track record of making it successful. We know if we don't do it our way, we're not going to be doing our clients justice. When it comes to email and surveys, they all become components of our "marketing machine." Planning for that marketing machine is done within the first four to six weeks of all of our client engagements. Going into it we already know our email campaign topics, the voice of our client, the messaging strategy and the differentiating factors. When it comes to doing the monthly, weekly or bi-weekly emails, everything falls in line.

One of the things we learned from our clients early on is that it's not the desire to do emails or surveys that holds them back, it's the uncertainty of what to write about. That can be a big road block. When you're a business owner, or even a marketing person, and you're in your day-to-day, and realize it's time to do an email, yet you don't know what you're going to write about or how it fits in your overall strategy, it becomes a more daunting task. Typically what ends up happening is it gets put off and gets put off some more, and now what was supposed to be a weekly email campaign is now a bi-weekly email campaign, a monthly email campaign, or, even worse, it comes out sporadically — all of those things are ineffective when it comes to building up trust within your client base, sharing stories and getting them to think differently about your company. They have to see that you're organized, showing thought leadership, and that you have stories that are compelling. Then you have to educate them and advise them, giving them information that's going to help them do their jobs better or make their lives easier. All of that work has to be done upfront because when it is, the email campaigns become quite easy — we already know what we're going to say.

One of my favorite stories is of a client that we worked with very early on that was a little skeptical about email. This client builds very large additions or extensions onto fairly large homes. So, if you have a million dollar home, they would come along and put the $200k addition onto your home. We started working with them, had the strategy created and knew it was going to make this business special. Our client already had some fantastic stories that we were going to leverage. When it was time to do the first email campaign, he sent over his email addresses and was a little shy that he only had about 150 or 200 emails. He wondered if he should even do this, if we thought it was going to be worthwhile. Our advice was absolutely. We had to get started somewhere, and who knows what was out there with these 200 email addresses. We designed his template, wrote his email and then sent it to a couple hundred people. Within four or five hours, our client got an email from an older client, who he had done a $150k barn renovation proposal for. The guy replied to our client's email and followed up with a phone call to say that he was so glad our client had reached out to him, that he was ready to move forward with his project and he really appreciated our client's patience. Our client saw right away the value of having that ongoing communication with clients. In his particular situation, it resulted in a sale of $150k.

Who is a company that you think really knocks it out of the park with email marketing and branding?
My brand crushes are probably more related to the remarkableness of a particular company and product because I find that when it comes to tactics (we didn't invent email marketing or websites), a lot of companies execute them very well. When I'm impressed by a brand, I'm impressed by their ability to stand out in the market. For this question, I have an obvious choice and then a more obscure one.

My obvious brand favorite is Apple. They don't need to do any marketing. I think they do it simply to keep the board of directors happy. You don't need to see an advertisement for an iPhone or an iPad. Everyone is talking about them. Everyone is chatting and tweeting about them. The lines are out of the door for people to buy these products. They have a remarkable product and experience. When you go into that Apple store, the workers in there are using their own products, taking your name on their iPad to serve you. You barely have to wait, and when you do wait, you're entertained by their products and what's going on there. The amount of activity in those stores is unbelievable. I'm attracted to the Apple brand simply because of the remarkable nature of that business. But, that's an easy one.

My more obscure brand crush is Vibram Five Fingers. I'm a runner, and they make a pair of shoes that make it appear you're running barefoot. They're actually becoming more popular because a lot of articles are being written about them, whether they're good or bad for you. But, when I saw these, what my kids call "toe shoes," in a camouflage color, I couldn't help but wear them all of the time. It's a remarkable experience. I feel fantastic when I run in them. I can run farther distances, and my feet feel great. It feels like I'm not wearing anything at all, and no matter where I step, my feet are safe and secure. I'm hugely impressed with Vibram's ability to create a remarkable product and then get the word out purely through buzz. They don't market. They have a great website, but it's conversations on social media, referrals through friends and articles that people have written about them. They've taken the concept of being remarkable and leveraged it from a marketing perspective. They've created the space, and now the other sneaker companies are stealing their idea, which is fine — the more the merrier. I'm impressed with their ability to create a remarkable product and do something special with it.

Forget about marketing, most importantly — plain or peanut M&Ms?
Peanut M&Ms. No question about it.

Video: Quick tips with Emily

5 tips for using ads and sponsorships in your email campaigns
 

Have you thought about using ads and sponsorships in your email campaigns to help offset your marketing costs? You should — it's a fantastic idea. You can cover the cost of your email, or you can even generate a little profit that can be used to send more emails, or to fund your next beach vacation (it'll be our secret). Click the video above to hear my five tips.

And we'll be sharing more. Each month or so, we'll bring you a new video of tips on a range of topics, including how to make Emma work better for you and how to incorporate new email best practices in your marketing mix.

In case you prefer to learn by reading, we'll always include the tips in the text of the post, too. In fact, let's get to today's tips right now:

How to offset your email marketing costs using ads and sponsorships:

  1. Keep it simple. Choose a layout that has image placeholders where you'll want to insert company logos or ads. Emma's advanced 12 layout is a good example.
  2. Settle on what your ad specs will be. How many will you include? What about their size and location? Just do a little planning from the get-go so you're prepared to pitch to ad partners.
  3. Not sure which ads to promote? Include a "call for sponsors" in your next campaign and see what happens.
  4. When placing an ad in your campaign, be sure to link both the image and some text to the sponsor's website. Emma's link tracking will allow you to show your sponsors the return on their investment.
  5. Consider offering sponsorship packages at a discount. It'll cut down on the administrative work and encourage long-term buy-in.

Good luck, and let us know if you have questions along the way!

If you're already including ads in your email campaigns, we'd love to see some examples. Tell us what's worked well for you and what challenges you've encountered. Add a comment here to keep the conversation going.

5 questions with Peter Shankman

A bonus round with this week's Talking with Tom participant

Peter is the founder and CEO of The Geek Factory, Inc. , a boutique social media, marketing and PR strategy firm located in New York City. He's the author of two books, Can We Do That?! Outrageous PR Stunts That Work and Why Your Company Needs Them and Customer Service: New Rules for a Social-Enabled World , and he's participating in Tom Martin's social experiment, Talking with Tom . Go take a look at his interview with Tom, and then read below for more from Peter.

Describe your role in eight words or fewer.
Entrepreneur, VP at Vocus, Small Business Evangelist

What's the most interesting thing happening in your industry right now?
The horrible economy is inspiring tons of people to make that radical change and start their own small business. It's exciting as hell.

What inspires you?
Attempting that which has never been done before. Fear tastes good.

Which companies are leading the way in social media and customer service?
Morton's Steakhouse, United Airlines, Starwood Hotels

What brand do you love right now?
About to turn my whole bathroom into one giant Moen Faucets and Fixtures bazaar, so I'd say them.

And a sixth bonus question …

You can invite any four people to happy hour. Who'd be there?
Richard Branson, Hugh Hefner, Bill Clinton, Jason Statham

Behind-the-scenes of an Emma split test

Testing subject lines in our monthly newsletter

As the oldest of three girls, my childhood was evenly divided among three categories: eating, sleeping and Barbies. While my sisters acted out elaborate dramas (shocking revelations on the red carpet! a scandalous elopement!) and crafted decorations for our Barbie condos, I generally busied myself sorting, categorizing and organizing Barbie outfits and accessories. In fact, I became a lifelong sorter.

It's served me well at Emma, where we do our best to practice what we preach, and that includes audience list segmentation. Sure, you can send a monthly blast to all the folks who have ever given you their email addresses, and some of our customers do just fine with this approach. But if you can target audience segments based on their interests, preferences or history with your brand, you'll create a unique, personal relationship that may just result in brand evangelists.

We've got some big plans in the works for better engaging our current customers with variable content, based on their behavior within their accounts. And we send periodic, targeted content to different types of subscribers. At the most basic level, we segment our monthly newsletter list into current customers versus all other subscribers. Just tracking the response differential is really eye-opening. We use our CRM, Salesforce, to identify all of our current customers, then utilize the search and segment feature

in Emma to sort out all the newsletter subscribers who aren't in the Current Customers group — and we put them in a different audience group. Generally speaking, we see an increase in open rates when we've identified a reader as an Emma user; moreover, we see an average 10% increase in open rates with readers who are actively using their Emma accounts.

For our July newsletter , we took our response analysis one step further. In addition to splitting our campaigns up between Current Customers and Everybody Else, we did A/B/C testing to see how different subject lines played out. Take a look at the subject lines:

  • Version A > An easier way to send campaigns, an email success story and more in Emma's July Roundup
  • Version B > Emma's July Roundup: An easier way to send campaigns, an email success story and more
  • Version C > Click-throughs 10 times the average? How one company did it + much more in Emma's July Roundup

Before I reveal the results, can you guess which subject line performed the best?

Emma's handy compare mailings feature made it easy to line up our various versions and see subscriber behavior. Interestingly (or bafflingly, depending on how you look at it), the results weren't consistent between the two groups. Version A tested higher with our general subscribers, while version C got a better response from our customers. Version B, which was the closest to the standard format of our newsletter subject lines for the last several months, tested the worst with both groups. Perhaps our readers are trying to tell us to mix things up more often?

The only verifiable trend we saw was the one we were already expecting: current Emma users had much higher opens, click-throughs and shares. One version of the campaign showed a whopping 44% open rate. Our active customers were also interested in learning more; an average of 19% clicked through for additional content.

As a lifelong sorter, let me assure you: data and analysis are your (marketing) friends. Use your response statistics and adjust your communications to suit your readers' interests. Test out different approaches and see how your subscribers respond. And pat yourself on the back when you see your response numbers improve because of segmentation and targeted messaging — that extra works pays off.

Coming soon, we'll be excited to reveal split testing as a feature right in your Emma account. It'll make A/B/C subject line testing even easier. Stay tuned for more info on the Emma website and here on the blog. And if you're just dying to hear more about my childhood adventures in Barbie organization, you'll have to track me down.

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New to Emma? Give us a try for free.

A conversation with Emma’s CEO and co-founder

Clint Smith talks about leadership, Emma and, um, pecans with the Nashville Business Journal
Clint Smith of Emma Email Marketing

Last month's edition of the Nashville Business Journal featured an executive profile of our very own CEO, Clint Smith.

The Q&A covers a host of topics, including the leaders that inspire him, how he's overcome challenges and the exciting stuff Emma has in the works for the next few months.

Unfortunately, it's also publicized the incriminating information that our chief executive has no idea how to pronounce the word "pecan."

What is the simplest thing you never learned to do?
The ability to accurately pronounce the word "pecan."

Dubbed by pundits as "Pecangate," the scandal has rocked us to the very center of our snack closet and calls into question Clint's familiarity with the entire mixed nut landscape. Can he tell a pistachio from a Brazil nut? Does he even know that peanuts are technically a legume?!

All the pecan drama, as well as the other non-nut-related topics, is available here for your reading pleasure.