Reduce, reuse, recycle your emails

Strategies for writing and re-purposing compelling content
Recycle it
Recycle your content in earth-friendly *and* audience-friendly ways.

Props to you for sending emails and doing your part to cut down on paper waste, which is something we especially think about every April as Earth Day rolls around. According to the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, the average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. Yikes. We figure that by sending emails instead of printing things, the Emma community has saved a mighty impressive number of trees through the years. Continue those tree-saving ways by applying the tenet, "Reduce, reuse, recycle" to your content strategy. Read on for tips.

+ Reduce. If you haven't done a content audit of your emails recently, now's the time. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, email recipients who open your email spend an average of 51 seconds reading it. These folks don't have patience for aimless verbosity and visual clutter. Reduce the following:

  • Unnecessary adjectives, adverbs and circumlocutious language. (Weak: It was a terribly depressing movie that bitterly affected me and left me feeling melancholy. Better: The movie depressed me.)
  • Multiple font sizes and styles. An overly stylized email distracts from its meaning. Keep it simple.
  • Multiple calls to action. Too many calls to action could turn off your audience. Focus on the primary action you'd like them to take.

+ Reuse. Just because you've shared an article or resource in the past doesn't mean everyone in your audience read it. Reusing content can be good, as long as you package it in a fresh way. Try the following:

  • Linking to past issues of your email newsletter so new subscribers have access to them.
  • Testing click-through rates on a white paper you developed by moving the "Download" button to different locations in your email.
  • Bundling a few of your most popular blog posts and sharing them in a new context. You'd be surprised how many folks may not have read them in the past, but will read them if they're packaged as "Our top posts of the year."

+ Recycle. If you've been churning out emails and blog posts for longer than six months, you've got a ton of content to work with. Don't reinvent the wheel every time you sit down to write content. Consider recycling the following:

  • How-to articles. Readers love a good how-to that's value-oriented and easy to follow. If you wrote a level one how-to article last year ("How to grow basil" ), follow up with its level two relative ("How to start an herb garden").
  • Customer success stories. If you profiled a customer in the past, write an update that illustrates where they are now, how their business has changed and what new projects they're developing.
  • Tips and best practices. Revisit a list of tips you provided for your customers, and write a check-in that identifies which practices are still recommended and which ones have gone stale.

See there? Recycling's never been so handy — or so good for your business.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

You say TEDx, I say amazing

Denver does the first TEDxMileHigh

Just when we thought Denver couldn't get any better, Annie Parsons and I had the privilege of attending TEDxMileHigh, the first public TEDx event in Denver.

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to ideas worth spreading that started as a four-day conference 26 years ago. TEDx is one of its many initiatives: a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. (Read more on their website.)

"Inspired Citizenship" was the theme of the TEDxMileHigh evening, and I am truly inspired by the citizens and natives of this state. Annie and I live in the company of big thinkers and even bigger doers. Doers like Casey Sheahan, the CEO & President of Patagonia (be still, my outdoor enthusiast heart). Casey spoke about Patagonia's incredibly successful 1% For The Planet initiative, and their new mission to create every product out of recyclable materials and also make every product recyclable.

Big thinker and doer (and recently elected Colorado Governor), John Hickenlooper, spoke about his gubernatorial campaign and how he was able to win on a positive platform. He also challenged us to volunteer in our schools. He believes that the change needed in our education system — especially given the budget crisis — is going to have to come one resident at a time. Listening to his call-to-action made me proud of Emma's Donors Choose efforts, but it also made me want to find a way to volunteer at the elementary school two blocks from my house.

From Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, to Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders, to Libby Birky, co-founder of SAME Café, the list of people who inspired me goes on and on. Among all the inspiration, the one idea that I walked away with, hope not to forget, and believe will inspire me to action is: "People forget that what's in it for us is that we're all in this together."

Indeed, we are. How can we make a difference in our communities? I'd love to hear how you're giving back and if you have any inspiring stories to share.

Hiring the right clients

Beyond the RFP: new techniques for pitching and selling
The founder of Converse Digital, Tom Martin is also leading the Emma-sponsored Talking with Tom video project.

Going back out on my own last year after many years working within larger organizations has reinforced one of my core beliefs for building a successful agency. Long-term success is about having the right clients and doing the right kind of work for those clients.

That combination determines an agency's ability to "break out" or "go big." Unfortunately for most of us, the traditional biz dev route (which includes RFP hell) is counterproductive to this goal.

Personally, I loathe RFPs and the whole pitch process. I've always felt it an incredibly flawed way of selecting one of the most important business resources a company has – its marketing partner.

I mean, I dated my wife for a year before asking her to marry me. But the vast majority of companies today want to get hitched after just a few dates. But much has been written on that subject, and I'm quite sure that most readers of this blog would agree with me. For those that don't, the comment section is at the end of this post. Fire away.

Stop being hired by clients

For those that do agree, I encourage you to try a new route. Stop being hired by clients and start hiring them. Stop waiting to receive an RFP or mailing hundreds of clients four to six times a year to stay "top of mind." Instead, pick the folks you really want to work with, regardless of how big they are or what agency they currently work with. But do your homework. Don't just pick those marquee brands or brands that seem cool. Study the company, its people, its press, its social media streams and try to figure out if you'd really want to marry them. If you don't, then move on, I don't care how cool or hip they seem.

But if you decide that yes, you really could fancy a life of working together, go ahead and invest some time understanding their business and marketing challenges. From there, dream up something truly brilliant — something they would be complete idiots not to consider, much less do. Then call them and offer to share the idea with them. Find the CEO, CMO, Ad Director or whomever you can get an audience with and ask for 15 minutes to share with them a groundbreaking idea that addresses [insert their business/marketing challenge here]. Then be brilliant and succinct. If they have an existing agency relationship, let them know that you are not asking them to fire their current partner — but that if they like your idea, you'd expect to be allowed to execute it.

If they truly are a smart marketer, they'll take the meeting. If they don't take the meeting, call their biggest competitor and make the same offer – assuming of course you'd be just as happy to hire them as your newest client.

The 15-minute sell

So why 15 minutes? Two reasons. First, it isn't a lot of time, so the "risk" to the prospective client is pretty small. Second, it isn't a lot of time. So you and your agency shouldn't have to spend a ton of time prepping fancy presentations. You'll just need an idea and an easy, quick way to explain it.

I recently took my own advice and dreamed up a project that I thought would make sense to any company that sells technology to other companies. I even went so far as to begin producing the project myself. After a few weeks, I got a chance to talk about the project during a speaking gig, and I spoke at some length about how it represented the future of what's known as "invitation marketing."

In the audience was a member of an email marketing company. She came up after, we talked, we emailed and we had a few conference calls with the team. During that time, I had a chance to gauge what they'd be like to work with and whether I wanted to seriously pursue having them sponsor the project. Long story short, within a few weeks I had a new client. You might know them … a little company based in Nashville, Tennessee, called Emma.

Now had Emma not liked the idea, I'd still be ahead of the game because I could have just gone directly to their competitors or to another technology services or information company. In fact, while interviewing the Chief Content Officer of just such a company, that person asked if they could sponsor the same project. By the way, if you'd like to see the project, visit Once there, you'll hear from 52 digital thought leaders all answering one question: what's next. But I digress.

The main point is this: As you prepare to enter the all-important third and fourth quarters, where the pace of traditional pitches always seems to pick up, step back for a moment and ask yourself if you really want to spend your time getting hired or hiring. Your decision and your willingness to stick to it could mean all the difference to the growth of your agency.

About our esteemed guest blogger
Tom Martin is the founder of Converse Digital, a social media marketing firm that works with ad agencies and their clients to create integrated content marketing platforms. The firm is based in New Orleans, LA. You can follow Tom on Twitter (@TomMartin) or email him.

Want to work at Emma? Our community relations team is hiring.

Spring has sprung! And wouldn't you know it, we're growing our customer support team.
Support team
Join us at Emma. We're cubicle-free.

Our Nashville community relations team is on the hunt for the perfect candidate to round out our team of customer service superstars. Superb customer service is a cornerstone of the Emma experience, which begins with a consultation with a member of our non-salesy sales team and continues with personal, friendly, helpful interactions with the community relations team.

The day-to-day work in Emma Support is a healthy mix of predictability and, well, less predictability. Sure, it's a given that you're going to talk to customers on the phone, in email and in Live Chat (think instant messaging), but the scope of the questions and the personal interactions with Emma customers makes every day different. You might answer a call from a new customer who has a question about his first email campaign. After showing him the ropes in his account, you might follow up with that new customer by sending an email with links to Emma resources and an encouraging note to let him know how to reach you if he has any lingering questions. Then, you might answer an email from a marketing director who needs advice for increasing the number of people who open her email campaigns. Later in the day, you might find yourself chatting with a small business owner who needs a hand adding a signup form to his website so he can gather the email addresses of new subscribers. After offering your technical expertise, you spend a couple more minutes asking that customer about his social media presence and suggest how he can promote that new signup form to his wider online audience.

While the more frequently asked questions will become familiar, the personal approach to service makes each interaction unique and strategic. We're not just out to answer the question a customer asks; we're out to answer their *next* question, too, even if they haven't thought of it yet. (Psychics, feel free to apply). Oh, and we also seek to empower our customers to become email marketing experts by partnering our technical know-how with helpful tips for best practices in the industry.

In addition to answering questions and solving problems for the customers who reach out to us, the community relations team is also focused on customer outreach, which may come in the form of an informal phone poll to help our product team conceptualize a new Emma feature, an email to check in on a customer who hasn't used her account in a few months or a handwritten thank you note to a customer who mentioned us in his latest blog post. We believe this kind of outreach sets Emma apart, builds loyalty in our customer community, and at the end of the day, makes our work more fulfilling.

The right community relations candidate loves interacting with people and garners every human feeling from empathy to excitement (no robots here) as you partner with customers to achieve email marketing greatness. Top-notch communication skills — written and verbal — are a must, as you'll be providing instructions and guidance to customers with a varying level of comfort with technology. While we don't expect you to be an HTML or programming guru, we are looking for someone who has an interest in technology, keen problem-solving skills and is a quick study. The Emma office is a lively, learn-as-you-go environment, but we've also got tons of resources for a self-starter to learn the ropes of the Emma application and email marketing.

So whaddya say? Are you a non-robotic psychic with mad customer service skills? Learn more about the position or apply here.

5 questions for Solar Velocity

The team at Solar Velocity

Jason Swenk is the CEO (or company commander, as you'll learn below) of Solar Velocity, a full service digital agency based out of Atlanta, Georgia. He took some time to answer a few questions I had for him on a far-too-rainy Thursday afternoon.

Describe your role in six words.
Company Commander. Visionary. Digital Leader.

What's your "thing?" What is it that you do that gets new clients in the door?
We solve our customers' challenges, whether that is building awareness of a particular product or service on the social side or through their website, or increasing client acquisition and how they interact with their customers. That could include creating an online community, or utilizing a product we're developing called Social CRM that helps promote, innovate and support their company and customers. Or, it could involve the custom development of an application.

For instance, we're working on a particular iPad app right now that's for a big bank. They'll actually send out an iPad to the people that they're trying to get to join their bank, with our iPad app saying "Play with it for a week, see how you like it, and we'll come get it later."

We do a mapping session with our clients. They know some of the challenges that they have, but through the consulting and brainstorming that we do, we identify other problems. We take the approach of learning what challenges our clients are solving for their customers, and how they can interact with their customers even better.

What features do you use to market yourself with Emma? Emails and surveys? Social Sharing?
We really just utilize email. It's more about awareness for us, and keeping our name up in front of the list that we've been building for years. We'll use the newsletter to showcase new tools, technologies and strategies, because the digital market is really changing with social media and mobile marketing. We're using email as a channel to say "Hey, have you thought about this?" and we follow up over the phone with folks that ventured to our landing page from the email.

Our lists are composed of all kinds of folks: current and past clients, prospects, folks that have been to our website, visited our blog, seen us in the news, or seen us speak at a conference.

Where do you draw inspiration to keep Solar Velocity humming successfully?
First off, any good company looks back at their clients as well as their employees. For me, inspiration just kind of hits me — when I go running or am away from the office — and it stems from wanting to be the best and never being happy where you're at. I'm always having to hit a moving target. If you're stagnant or if you're always talking about what you've done in history, you must not be doing too much today.

What are your thoughts about March Madness? Who did you root for?
Well, I went to Florida State University so I always root for them. When FSU's not in it anymore, I pull for the underdogs.

Geek out on new sample layout code for your HTML campaigns

Our most popular layouts now available as editable, email-friendly code for UYO and Stationery Builder users

The great Oscar Wilde, when commenting on the editing process, once said, "I was working on the proof of one of my layouts all the morning, and took out a <br /> tag. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Or … maybe I'm paraphrasing.

If you're like us, though, you could indeed spend a lovely summer's day tweaking every aspect of your code to make your email look just so. But when it comes to the basic structure of your campaigns (and their ability to render across email clients), we know it can be frustrating to discover that many of your hard-earned, über-fancy web design skills are, quite frankly, useless in the email environment. Hey, we've all been there. Email is simply a different kind of beast.

But cheer up – help has arrived. In addition to our updated tips on HTML for email, you now have access to the code that lives behind the scenes of our content layout templates. Feel free to incorporate these into your designs if you're using an Upload Your Own HTML template or if you're an Emma agency using Stationery Builder.

Layout Code

Each one consists of clean, email-friendly table structure that is Emma-tested and Emma-approved for proper rendering across all major email clients. Just replace "Insert your text here" and "<img src="insert your image url here" border="0″ alt="" />" with your own content, and you'll be ready to go.

The code is hosted by the folks over at GitHub, a secure web-based hosting service for code and software development. All you have to do is click on the layout link of your choice, and then it's just a matter of copying, pasting and editing the code.

So come on, go nuts! It's time to geek out on HTML and have a little fun. You can always come back to the source code if things start getting wonky (that, of course, being a technical term).

Just remember the cardinal rule of coding campaigns: test every email, every time, in as many email clients as you can. You might even consider using Litmus or Email on Acid to conduct more thorough testing, especially if you're going to be making lots of changes to the provided code.

And if you get stuck, never fear! We do offer code correction services through our design department. Just give us a shout and we can provide a quote for the work.

Ready to start coding? Click here to get the HTML for our most popular content layouts.

If you'd like to get more HTML help, check out Molly's post about the recent changes to our help section, or Taylor's aptly titled tip sheet, "Email Is Not a Website."

How’s your content balance?

Building a content plan around your areas of expertise

Marketers are familiar with the credo, "Content is king," a concept that's as wildly popular today as it was when Bill Gates started a craze with his column in 1996. With so many sources of content, it's a challenge to get your customers to pay attention to (and share) your content unless you're saying something pretty interesting — or, of course, unless you're sending a laughing baby video. While we can all appreciate the value of a good YouTube video, it can be hard to fully grasp how this trend applies to the average email marketer. Not every piece of content will go viral, nor should it. How will you create content that nonetheless stands out?

While special offers and coupons are an effective way to reward subscribers and increase revenue, and while a funny video can occasionally do the trick, recipients really want to hear the knowledge and expertise that you have. This is a form of content marketing that positions you to engage your fans and strengthen your brand. What sort of specialized knowledge can you provide? If you can answer this question — and build a strategy around your content — you'll expand your brand's reach without ever having to discount services.

This article does a great job of demonstrating this trend, even breaking it down by answers for B2B and B2C marketers. It includes a visual representation of ongoing research by the "RF Intent Index," which studies the reasons that people go online. Some examples are to shop, to do business, for personal expression and to learn. The results may surprise you.

Intent Index Visual

Hey, who doesn't love a good infographic?

As the article explains, selling, informing and entertaining make for successful messaging balance. We're all pretty familiar with sales goals, right? And entertaining finds its way into a content strategy pretty easily with the right dedication to a bit of humor. But, based on this research, the opportunity to learn is the clear winner that drives people to go online.

This concept is easy to understand but harder to implement in email. Still, it doesn't take anything revolutionary or out-of-the-box. Sharing your expertise in an accessible, human way is often all it takes.

Let me take a moment to share a few examples from my inbox. My insurance agency emails me tips on driving safely on ice and keeping my home safe from burst pipes, which is simple knowledge to them, but not necessarily to me. Since it's helping to keep me (and my home) safe, I'm always interested.

I also welcome advice from furniture stores and home-related blogs that teach me how to maximize a small space. I enjoy getting cooking secrets from well-known chefs, and a recent footwear brand's email included links to videos of "barefoot running," a new hobby of mine. Clearly, each brand is hoping that I will continue buying, and they're making sure that their sell/inform/entertain messaging is balanced to keep me interested throughout the entire customer life cycle.

Think about the best ways to share your expertise with your fans, or if you're an Emma Agency, how you can encourage your clients to effectively share their own. If you have questions along the way, let us know.

Jimmy’s design tips, part two

A few best practices and design ideas for the seasoned email marketer

Jimmy Thorn is a man of few words, but he has saved some of them just for you. Take a look at his tips for beginners, or skip right ahead and check out his more advanced ideas below.

1. If you have the capability, drop shadows on transparent PNGs are a great way to add a little depth to your email.

2. Rounding your image corners or giving your image a unique shape will add a visually interesting twist.

Kelley Kirker, with Brian the Bunny
Design Coordinator Kelley Kirker poses with Brian the Bunny, found this past spring in the Emma parking lot. Notice how rounded corners and a drop shadow give so much more depth and definition to the version on the right. (Disclaimer: It may *look* like Brian is in a death grip, but we promise no animals were harmed in the taking of this photograph.)

3. Similarly oriented images used in a similar manner should be the same size.

4. Make sure your design says one thing well. If you overwork your design, it will say several things ineffectively.

5. Wacky visual gimmicks might be eye-catching at first — but good, solid design will keep your audience reading, scrolling and clicking.

6. A certain level of consistency is key. If your first article headline is blue, bold, 14-point Times New Roman, then don't make the second one red, underlined, 16-point Verdana.

7. When you finish a campaign, ask yourself: What was my point? Did I clearly make it — both textually and visually? If not, go back to Edit mode.

8. If you're sending us a predesigned stationery for us to code — or if you're using an Upload Your Own template to design your own — make sure the borders can expand vertically to accommodate different amounts of content. (And keep in mind that images can't stretch.)

9. If you try to shoehorn your brand guidelines for other media into your email design, it will show (or you'll have delivery problems). Instead, try to adapt and enhance your branding for the specific world of email.

10. Use your data to improve your next campaign. Do your readers typically click text-based links? Buttons? Photos? Every time you send, your readers talk back. Make sure you're listening.

Emma’s email marketing and social media reading list

The best sites and blogs that we're reading now

A few weeks ago, I tweeted the following question to our Twitter followers: What's your must-read article, blog or book on email and social media this year?

Now, I'm slightly embarrassed to report that this tweet turned up not a single response and nary a retweet. Rather than feeling defeated — which I'm wont to do when any tweet or Facebook update looks like a, um, failure — I decided to use this ne'er-do-well tweet as fodder for a blog post.

It could be that followers weren't paying attention to their Twitter feeds at the moment I tweeted (in case you're curious, it was Feb 9th at 11:39 am CST), though this isn't very likely since the 11 am – 1 pm time slot is one of our most engaged. It could be that followers just weren't interested in the question (likelier than hypothesis #1), but we have some enthusiastic followers who unabashedly geek out on email stats, social media best practices and marketing strategies. Or, it could be that folks haven't found many must-read articles, blogs or books, at least not ones that they ultimately find shareable.

Come to think of it, I originally tweeted the question because I want to shake up my own reading list. So, I decided to take to the streets. Or, as the case may be, the hallways of the Emma office. I asked a few coworkers — folks who identify as Big-Time Readers — which sites, blogs and books are on their radar. Some of them stuck strictly to the email/social media theme, and others diverted just a bit.

Here's what we're reading at the Emma shop, including a few explanatory sentences from each reader:

Agency Relations lead Heather Dixon's favorite sites include:

  • ClickZ. "I get the email newsletter and stats newsletter daily. They cover a wide range of topics including email marketing strategy, social media, current industry buzz words and taking care of clients."
  • Email Stat Center. "This is my go-to for email statistics. I like how the site is organized; I choose a category like 'Non-profit' or 'Segmentation' and then scroll through one-sentence clips complete with statistics and sources. It's easy to find what I need there."

Geoff Alday, of our UX team, is partial to the following:

  • LukeW. "I started reading everything Luke writes after seeing him speak at a conference. Besides covering all the topics I'm interested in like product strategy, UX/UI design and mobile, he's incredibly detailed. I've never been disappointed by anything he's written."
  • Little Big Details. "A relatively new blog that focuses on fun little UX/UI details. These really show how far designers will go to create great experiences."
  • Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox. "Some love him. Others hate him. It really doesn't matter which side you're on; when he publishes a new article, everyone reads it."

Elizabeth Williams, a member of our design team, reads:

  • 99%. "This is by far my favorite blog. It is a veritable smorgasbord of amazing advice/ideas (business, workflow, freelance, productivity, inspiration, etc) for creative people."
  • Design Work Life. "I love this blog as well. It's probably my favorite blog for design inspiration and staying up-to-date with what is going on in the print world."
  • Cool Hunting. "I get their daily email that shows their features of the day. It is something I always check because of the varied products, services, causes, books, ideas, basically anything and everything they determine 'cool.'"
  • Veerle's Blog. "Veerle is an amazing designer and web designer. She gives great tips and always has great work to look at. She's very respected in the design/web community."

Agency Relations member, Carolyn Kopprasch, favors:

  • MediaPost. "I like this email-centric blog because it keeps things interesting (using tone and writing style), while offering interesting perspectives on best practices, without harping on the obvious."
  • Email Marketing Reports. "Mark Brownlow goes above and beyond the obvious best practices and offers real insight into the relationship and also the technical aspects for email marketing. He supports his claims with stats. Also, this is a great jumping-off point for almost any topic; he links out to other blogs and articles quite a bit."
  • Email Institute. "This site has a wonderful and free gallery of sample emails for any topic."
  • MarketingProfs. "I subscribe to their email newsletter, 'Get to the Po!nt,' because it's a fast and relevant read. It doesn't feel overwhelming in the inbox and still offers good info."
  • Econsultancy. "This site offers data about email's relevancy and connections to other marketing channels."

Looking for books? I recommend these: MarketingSherpa's benchmark guides, Return on Engagement (this one's written by Emma customer, Tim Frick), The Zen of Social Media Marketing and The Yahoo! Style Guide: The Ultimate Sourcebook for Writing, Editing, and Creating Content for the Digital World.

I hope you find this list helpful, and if we've jogged your memory, please share your favorite email-, social media- or marketing-related blogs and books in the comments below. (Come on, don't be shy.)