Smarter email marketing in a recession

In an economic downturn, we know how appealing it sounds to send as many emails as possible to everybody on your mailing list. After all, email marketing is champ when it comes to making the most of your marketing dollars, returning $45 on average per dollar you invest.

But like that half-eaten eclair in the break room, you've got to resist temptation. When you email too frequently with generic information, your readers might start to ignore your emails, opt out of them, mark you as spam, or (worst of all) completely dump you as a sender. It doesn't mean you can't send when you have something to say. It just means you want to be smart about how you're sending. Here are three quick tips for staving off email fatigue:

* Target your email campaigns! – With email segmentation, you can make sure that your message is getting in the right hands. Rather than sending another promotion to everybody about the newest Snuggie, send it to the people who are mostly likely to take action. Perhaps that's people who've bought a similar product, clicked but *didn't* buy in your last promotion, or people whose survey results showed that they really love the idea of a blanket with sleeves. Either way, email segmentation allows you to send fewer, more targeted messages.

* Ask how often they want to receive it - Email frequency doesn't have to be a mystery. When new subscribers sign up for your email campaigns, it's easy to find out just how often they want to receive information from you. Give them the option to subscribe to a higher frequency than you would normally send — it might surprise you how many people actually want to receive extra content from you. Just be sure to honor their request.

* Give 'em what they really want – There's no point in sending a message if you've got nothing to say. When people fill out your email signup form, they're expecting a benefit for joining your list. After all, email marketing is a relationship. Reward the time and information your subscribers are giving you with a special coupon, product preview, whitepaper or VIP information.

Are you trying any of these? Has the downturn impacted your email strategy or email marketing budget? Did you actually buy a Snuggie? Leave us a comment and let us know.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

A great survey has a clear invitation

Let's face it, some folks have gotten greedy when creating a survey. Asking too many questions can overwhelm and frustrate your audience, and that's just no good for anyone. To get good feedback and keep the the positive vibes flowing, let your customers know in advance that you respect their time and have kept the questions brief. Here's an example from Levi's where the time commitment was very clear from the beginning. The email reads…

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PS It only took me one minute to complete the survey. Not bad at all. Nice job, Levi's.

Give a compelling reason to take your survey.

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Email is one of the easiest ways to invite customers to participate in a survey. Since surveys are a recent addition to Emma's lineup, we'll be covering survey strategy and creative examples on the blog. Here's the first post on the topic to get things started…

When you're inviting survey responses, be sure to communicate the larger vision to your audience. It's so important to let people know *why* they should participate. Will the next new product be chosen from the results? Will your pricing structure be based on the feedback you get? Will you open a location near them if the results call for it? If you don't tell them that their voice matters, and makes a difference in how you run your business, they won't know. And if they don't know, they won't be motivated to give you their time and attention.

This example from LinkedIn isn't terribly specific, but it is clear that the survey data will be used to shape the direction of the service. Keep your eye out for invitations that clearly communicate a compelling reason for participating. And if you think of it when you see one, send us a screenshot. There's nothing we like better than bonding over the little-noticed nuances of a marketing strategy. Okay, there are a few things we like better (eggnog, gingerbread cookies, flying reindeer and jelly-of-the-month clubs just to name a few), but you know what I mean.

Godiva bought my email address for $2.

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Last night I flew from Baltimore to Nashville, and while I waited on the flight I decided to indulge in one of my favorite small luxuries – chocolate. After the total rang up, the clerk offered me 20% off my order for signing up to the email list. I bought about 20% more chocolate than I should have, so it just felt like I was getting the last couple of pieces for free. A great deal, if you ask me.

Do you think it was a good trade? Would you, in essence, pay for subscribers using a strategy like this? If so, why? And would you treat them differently than the rest of your database?

Emma does well (and does good).

The number of businesses, non-profits and organizations that joined the Emma community in 2008 continues to grow. A lot. It's no secret, either, as this year Emma was named to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately held companies in the America. We're quite proud of that, thank you very much.

But doing well also helps us do good. One way we do good is through our Emma 25 program, which awards free email marketing setup & service to 25 non-profits doing great work on tiny budgets.

Last year, Emma awarded an account to Abeona House, a child care center in New Orleans formed by parents whose children attended one of nearly 200 centers that did not re-open after Hurricane Katrina.

In August, Hurricane Gustav took aim at New Orleans. Thanks to Emma, Abeona House was able to stay in touch with families and teachers during the disaster.

This year, we've asked for nominations from our customers, and we've posted all of 'em online. Now, it's up to you to visit the Emma 25 home page, get to know these great organizations and vote for a worthy cause. We've also set up a special page for non-profits nominated by our Nashville customers. Vote as often as you like. Same goes for all your friends. The last day to vote is Friday, Dec. 19th.

All you need is Internet access and about 60 seconds or so. And thanks for helping Emma give back to the community. It's something we're quite proud of, thank you very much.

I {heart} New York. I also {heart} trees.

There were 382 new customers who joined in November. Emma plants five trees for each new customer. If you just did the math in your head, and you came up with 1,910 trees, you're right. And you're pretty good at math.

Those trees are headed to New York State, thanks to the votes received last month on this blog. Our tree-planting partner, Plant-It 2020, will plant half of November's trees in the Empire State; the other half will go in an equatorial region of Plant-It 2020′s choice.

When we started this tree-planting thing this year, we hoped to be able to plant 10,000 trees, and we've doubled that (20,015) and there's still a month to go. Plant-It 2020 only lists 12 states where it plants trees, and only four have yet to be chosen by voters on this blog. One of them is getting December's trees. Tell us where.

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5 ways to bundle holiday cheer into your emails

Daylight Savings Time gets me *every* year. Seriously. I go from having evenings filled with activities, to feeling like I should be in bed by 8:15 pm. But the cool thing about this year of early evenings is it's given me more time to delve into the bounty of holiday emails starting to roll in.

So, in the spirit of giving, I thought I'd share a couple points that have stood out in my season-laden inbox.

* Make it easy to forward. Whether it's to pass on an invitation or drop a subtle gift hint, make sure subscribers have an easy option to move the information along.

* Keep the holiday related information at the top. You've heard us preach about the 'above the fold' importance before, but it bears repeating. Turn the top 1/3 of your email into a virtual hub of reader engagement. Which…I'm not so sure is a real thing. But you understand, right?

* Get personal. People have fairly full inboxes in general. When the holiday season hits, they get even fuller. So take a moment and find three ways to get a little more intimate with your readers. I know I've been more apt to click through emails that are tailored for, well, me.

* Balance those images. I've received more emails with one large image this month than I have any other month. While I know rich images are tempting, be careful. Find a nice balance of images and text, and be sure to make the most of your alt tags.

* Be thankful. Let your readers know they're important to you. Whether it be a white paper, discount, or even a separate campaign, don't miss the opportunity to let your subscribers know what they've done to help you out over the past year.

So, happy holiday season, Emma blog readers. I hope you've latched onto a few ideas that will take your communication efforts to infinity. And beyond. Which is not a hint that I want anything Toy Story related this year. Or is it?

We’re making Washington even *more* evergreen

For every new customer that joins Emma, we plant 5 trees and let you decide where. For October, you told us to plant them in Washington and I thought, well, how appropriate. After all, it's autumn, and when I think of Washington and autumn I think of apples (naturally), and when I think of apples I think of applewood-smoked bacon (not so naturally).

I also think of trees, apple trees, sure, but also evergreen trees because Washington is the Evergreen State. Thanks to the 411 customers who joined the Emma community in October, our tree-planting partner, Plant-It 2020, will have 2,055 new trees to plant. Half of the new trees will be planted in Washington; the other half in an equatorial region of Plant-It 2020′s choice.

Emma customers who've joined us this year have planted 18,105 trees so far. But we're not done yet. Let us know where we should plant November's trees. Thanks.

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Yet another way to use the alt tag - ask your readers to load the images

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Part five in a multi-part series on alt tags (read parts one, two and three and four)

I kind of thought four posts on alt tags was approaching overkill, but when this email came in, I knew number five needed to happen. I realized that sometimes the images aren't just part of the message, they are the message. Did you just breathe a sigh of relief? If so, this post is for you.

For NerdyShirts, no branding, styling or calling to action in the alt tag would quite do the trick. People only buy t-shirts after they've seen them (of course!), so they've dedicated the alt tag to encouraging just that – 'Enable Images to View Pictures!', it says.

I think they could take it to the next level, too. Something like, 'NerdyShirts is having a sale! Enable images to see the featured t-shirts.' Take a look at the before and after screenshots….

Pushing alt tags to the max

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Part four of a five part series on alt tags (read parts one, two and three)

For those who cringe at drab, electric blue alt tags, this post is for you. The alt tag doesn't have to interrupt the brand experience you've worked so hard to create. In fact, with some html knowledge, your backup plan can actually reinforce it – color scheme, font and all.

Take a look at this example from the March of Dimes. The header space is shared between the March of Dimes and Shutterfly, and each logo has an alt tag that is styled – the font face, the color and the size. All done to match the feel of the email once the images load. If you haven't turned images off in your inbox lately, give it a try for a few days and I think you'll share my appreciation. This email stands out in a big way because it doesn't have that 'I'm looking at code under the hood until I click to view images' feel. Know what I mean?

PS If you're uploading your own html and want to tweak your own alt tags, drop me an email. I have a screenshot of the code behind the March of Dimes email you can use as a guide.