The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

What’s on your walls?

When we moved into the new Emma digs in January, we weren't sure what to do with all the extra wall space (not to mention other amenities like "more than two restrooms" and "hey, it doesn't smell weird"). We framed some marketing and campaign creative and put up some of those famous Hatch Show Prints, but when it came to painted stuff, we just didn't think a corporate art rental program was our style.

Instead, we invited the kids of Emma employees who attend Children's House Montessori School in Nashville to create the art for us, asking them to look at Emma's logo and create an entire picture of Emma around it. Another team helped to paint a cityscape. So now we have something of an art gallery to welcome folks who visit the shop, complete with gallery-like descriptions for each work of art. Here are a few for your artistic enrichment…

Emma with Tiny Chicken Arms, and Perfectly Okay About It

Emma Art
Watercolor on Canvas

A classic study in human and fowl proportion, Tiny Chicken Arms is believed by some art critics to be the first attempt to combine a human body and chicken arms in a blouse that was clearly intended for much larger, non-chicken-like appendages.

At first glance, the work appears to feature legs of differing lengths, almost in an accidental way, but note how the subject's earrings follow the same long-short pattern.

Also, the subject has no nose.

Patrons interested in further researching the early career of O. Smith can see also:

Figure with Large, Bulbous Right Leg and Normal-Sized Left Leg, Four Fingers with Two More Sticking Out of the Wrist Area, and Boy With Unintentional Extra Neck.

Artist: Owen Smith (age 5), Children's House Montessori

Emma with Blue Hair and Dark Skirt/Innertube

Emma Art
Watercolor on Canvas

Hooper is widely considered to be the philosophical leader of the Buoyant Attire movement, a group devoted to furthering the idea of clothes that can also be used as flotation devices.

In this particular work, it's as if the subject is saying, I can stand here possibly waving at you, or I can tube down Category Four rapids if the mood strikes me.

Many believe the artist's later effort, Look At Me, Now I'm Tubing Down Category Four Rapids, may be the logical companion piece to this canvas. Innertube is not without controversy, as some scholars question its inclusion in the Buoyant Attire movement.

They point to the artist's use of a dinner napkin already tucked in as a clear nod to the Post-Tubing Cheese Crackers movement, a splinter artist group fervently opposed to the idea of tubing without proper snacks.

They are based out of Nebraska.

Artist: Maggie Hooper (age 4), Children's House Montessori

Emma in Purply Gown and Red Gloves or Possibly Smeared Cupcake

Emma Art
Watercolor on Canvas

Known for her work in carefully arranging wood blocks, artist Julia Spessard displays her versatility with Emma in Purply Gown.

This work is her first foray into painting — or, in her words, "making pretty pretty."

With its use of heavy brush strokes, serious tone and tiny nose, Gown is at once a commentary on the absurdity of society life and a challenge to the world of fashion designers.

This challenge is namely to make more things that are purple.

This is a theme that would resurface in J. Spessard's subsequent oil series, My Purple Daddy and His Giraffe, Which is Also Purple. Allusions to smeared cupcakes in her later works are more pronounced.

Artist: Julia Spessard (age 3), Children's House Montessori

Emma in Slightly Mannish Sweater Suit

Emma Art
Watercolor on Canvas

Part of the watercolor series Sweaters: Not As Ladylike As You Might Think, Slightly Mannish is generally considered to be artist Woods Spessard's most important work.

This triumph follows on the heels of the somewhat less regarded efforts Half Flower, Inside My Nose and Orange-y Blob.

Note the use of the horizontal lines, earth tones, and large, gangly google-y eyes favored by artists of this period.

(This period refers to the time right after nap time and before plastic stove baking time).

Discerning viewers may also spot the subtle influences of Van Gogh and Cezanne.

Other views may note the subtle influences of the Dress Barn's winter line, circa 1997.

Artist: Woods Spessard (age 5), Children's House Montessori

Future, and Possibly Architecturally Unstable, City

Emma Art
Watercolor on canvas

One of three works in the series Whimsical Buildings You Might Not Want to Stand Underneath, Future City re-imagines the modern skyline in vivid blues, yellows, reds, and the ever-popular architectural color Bubblegum Pink.

The work blends whimsy and irreverence to create an abstract paradise for everyone but building inspectors, window makers, and the poor sap who rented the elevator-less rocket-launcher penthouse.

Artists: The boys and girls of Children's House Montessori (ages 3 through 6)

Help us plant 326 trees.

If you're new to Emma's blog, you might not know that we plant 5 trees for each new customer that chooses us as their email marketing service provider. You also might not know that we ask our fearless blog readers to help us choose where each month's batch of trees should go. Ohio was the winner of last month's poll, so we'll be working with Plant-It 2020 to plant half of May's 1,630 trees in the Buckeye State and the other half in the equatorial region of Plant-It 2020′s choice.

Of course, it's a new month, which means it's time for a new poll:

[poll=6]

Thanks for voting, compadre…

How long should my subject lines be, anyway?

If you often peruse email marketing statistics (which is perfectly fine, by the way, but maybe the kind of personal information you'll want to gloss over at parties), you may have run across a fair amount of research on the length of subject lines. MailerMailer reported that shorter ones perform better than longer ones. Then MarketingSherpa's research just came right out and said that 35 characters was the magic number. But we experimented with subject lines here at the Emma shop and found just the opposite – our longer subject line boasted both higher open and clickthrough rates than its shorter counterpart.

So I was thrilled to see some new research on subject lines hit the wires this morning, from Mediapost's Email Insiders' Summit. One of the conference speakers, Dala Quist, presented his own research about subject line length. He reinforced the idea that shorter subjects – 50 characters or so – garner better open rates, but he didn't stop there. His research showed another spike in performance for subject lines around the 80-character mark. The slump in open rates happened in the middle range (60-70 characters).

From the article at MediaPost:

Research culled from 250 million messages sent over the past two years, with 660 different subject lines, has led him to believe that a 50-character subject line touting a "powerful" offer is appealing (30% off Spring Getaway flights to Florida on Delta).

And a longer 80-character-plus line describing a newsletter in enticing fashion works (Find out Secrets to Spice up your Barbecue this weekend and all Summer Long and enter to win a New Weber Grill.)

It's great news for a couple of reasons – one, it helps me feel better about our own longer subject lines, of course, but second, it recognizes that the ideal subject line's length depends on what you're trying to accomplish with your campaign. If it's an offer you're promoting or a particular call to action you want people to take, shorter's better. But if you're using your email newsletter with an eye toward retention, relationship-building and content, a longer subject line will give you more chances to tease the content that'll get your readers engaged with your email.

Not sure what'll work for you? Try splitting your audience in half and try two different subject lines for the same campaign, and let us know how it goes…

Calling all designers who like prizes.

create awards 2008
For all you designers out there, here's a friendly reminder that the folks at Create are accepting submissions for this year's Create Awards. If there's something stylish in your portfolio this year that you feel particularly proud of – whether it's advertising, photography, print, interactive, or something else – you can submit it to Create for, you know, prizes and stuff. The early-bird deadline is May 31, and the final cut-off for submissions is July 7. Good luck!

Trees, meet New York. New York, trees.

As a part of our continuing efforts to plant a whole lotta trees in 2008, we've just asked our friends at Plant-It 2020 to send 1,920 indigenous saplings in honor of the 383 folks who joined Emma in April (like who?). Those trees are heading to the state of New York, where you voted to plant April's trees. Where May's trees go is up to you, as always:

[poll=5]

Oh, and thanks to all the lovely people who joined us in April. By signing up with Emma for their email marketing, they're not only planting *new* trees – they're also doing something nice for *all* trees by sending paperless email newsletters and campaigns.

[tags]environment, myemma.com, new york, plant-it 2020, trees[/tags]

What candidates are on your From Name list?

From Address sample
Back in August, I spent a quick thirty minutes surrendering my email address to a handful of presidential hopefuls. I wasn't picking sides, mind you – just hoping to learn something about email's place in our political process.

Today's observation happens to focus on Barack Obama's email strategy with From Names. Over the last eight months, his emails have appeared in my inbox with several different names in the From Line. Here are seven unique ones worth mentioning and some quick notes on why Obama's marketing team chose to use 'em instead of the standard 'Barack Obama.'

Sen. Ted Kennedy - An endorsement from a member of one of the most prominent political families of all time.

Michelle Obama - A personal message from a family member.

John Kerry – An endorsement from a Senator and well known presidential candidate of recent years.

Jennifer Buck Wallace, Tennessee State Coordinator – A quick primer on early voting in *my* state.

Bob Tuke - A locally known name for folks in Tennessee (Former Chairman of my state's Democratic Party) with a message that encouraged voting in the Tennessee primary.

David Plouffe, Campaign Manager – An insider's message about the campaign.

Chelsea Kammerer, Ohio Field Director – A message about Obama's status in a key primary state.

Even though many of these names are brands in their own right, there may be an application for your own From Name strategy. Take a few minutes to make sure yours is making the strongest connection possible with your audience. Would changing the From Name better suit the message or grab the attention of the particular audience you're aiming to reach? For example, your emails to stockholders might come from the CEO while your newsletter sticks with the standard company name in the From line.

Of course, on the other hand, there's a real benefit to keeping a consistent From Name,* and it's possible that some readers overlooked emails from the Obama campaign because they lacked instant name recognition. Why not divide up your audience and do a little experimenting? Put your trusty default to the challenge by mixing it up. If you do, please let us know how it goes…

*In case you're curious, the *From Email* was pretty consistent throughout the eight months. A few messages were from state-specific email addresses like tennessee@barackobama.com, for example. Our recommendation for you, though, is to stick with one address, since your audience may already have it stored in their address books.

A tale of two APBs, part deux*

A couple of weeks ago, we sent an Emma APB to our customers letting them know about a new feature in their account that gives them more control over their monthly email sending plans. Just for fun, we sent two version of that campaign – one with a screenshot showing the new feature in action and one without it. At the bottom of each version, we let everybody know there were two versions of the campaign, adding a link to a blog post that featured both side by side.

We were curious to see what impact a screenshot had on people's involvement with the campaign, and most of us figured that the campaign with the screenshot would boast higher clickthrough rates than its image-less counterpart. After all, a lot of email marketing research and best practices will tell you that images help to grab your readers' attention and draw 'em into what you have to say.

To our surprise, though, the overall campaign results for open rates and clickthrough rates were statistically identical between the two versions, almost to the decimal point. At a glance, it looked like our campaign would have been just as well off without that beautiful screenshot. But we also took an in-depth look at the link-by-link breakdown, and that's where we learned something interesting about what people responded to.

There were two places in the campaign where you could click to log into your account to see the changes in action – one near the top and another in the very last sentence. In the version without the screenshot, the clicks were divided fairly equally between the two, with 55% of clickers opting for the top mention and the remaining 45% preferring the bottom mention.

With a screenshot, though, those numbers changed dramatically. In that case, 80% of people who logged in did so through the top link while 20% used the lower option. It's not that the screenshot had no effect it all. It's that it galvanized people to click sooner, having already seen the feature, rather than bother to read through the whole campaign to understand how that feature might work. It didn't help us get *more* clicks, really, but it did help us encourage people to click sooner.

It's so important to read all the best practices out there – to see what other organizations have found to be effective for their email campaigns and to learn what your fellow email marketers are talking about. But if you want to answer those burning questions like when to send your campaign, or how many images to use in it, or how long that subject line should be, why not just try two options and see how it goes? If our tale of two APBs has a moral, it's that the best research you read may be your own.

[tags]email marketing, a/b test, a/b split, myemma.com, emma apb[/tags]

*This is all the French I know.

Another month, another forest.

The world is getting a little leafier, thanks to the new customers who've joined Emma since December of 2007. Over the past four months, we've planted 6,130 trees – one for each new client who has chosen Emma to power their (paper-free) email newsletters – in the states of Oregon, Georgia, California and Tennessee.

Our partner in all this planting, Plant-It 2020, has suggested that we devote a portion of each month's trees to an equatorial region that they expertly select. Why? Trees planted there grow more quickly, what with all the sunshine and moisture, and as a result produce more greenhouse-gas-fighting goodness. Where the other half goes, as always, is up to you.

[poll=4]

Oh, and the 1,790 trees that our March customers helped us plant will be finding a home in Tennessee soon. Thanks for voting!

[tags]tree planting, environment, email newsletters, myemma.com, plant-it 2020[/tags]

If I use the phrase ‘animated GIF,’ will you keep reading?

Or will you assume that this is actually a blog post from 1996 that was somehow mistakenly sent to the future? As great as the mid-90s were, you can't think about web development in that era without also reminiscing about frames, guestbooks and, yes, animated gifs. Lots and lots of animated gifs.

Those of us in the email marketing industry appreciate mid-90s web development techniques, since a lot of what was in vogue then is really what's best suited for email now. We still, ahem, know how to use tables. We still code our styles inline. We wouldn't think of using rollovers. Thanks to Outlook 2007, we don't even get to use background images. Oh, and adding Flash will get our content blocked and our messages filtered, so if we want animation in an email, it's gotta happen with the animated gif.

But much like those of the 90s, a lot of the animated gifs I see in email today don't seem to do much to enhance the content of the email itself. That's why I was pleasantly surprised to see this great-looking email from the retailer Lands' End. They used an animated GIF to show off their new bathing suit top, which can be cinched up or tugged down, depending on whether you're in a cinching or tugging mood.

Cinched:

Lands’ End animated gif - frame 1

Tugged:

Lands’ End animated gif - frame 2

Using an animated GIF here was intentional – it actually helped to actually illustrate how the product worked, with each frame alternating between the two adjustable options. I think it's a great example of intentional email design, a principle to which animated gifs are not immune. If you're thinking of using animated GIFs in your next campaign, here are a few ideas and suggestions:

1. Keep your animation simple. If you can say the same thing in 4 frames that you can in 8, opt for the shorter sequence.
2. Make sure your animation reinforces a major point of your campaign. If it's just for show, it's, well, just for show.
3. Consider combining animated GIFs with Flash. If you've got a compelling Flash presentation on your website, put together a simpler version as an animated GIF. Include the GIF in your email, but link it to the fancy Flash page.
4. Try a simple test. If you're not sure whether animation will help you make your point, try sending an animated version to half your audience, and send a regular image to the other half.
5. Watch your file size. We recommend keeping your entire email's size to under 40K, so it's easily managed by servers and inboxes. Plan your animated gif accordingly, and opt for simpler colors and graphics in your frames to keep the gif's file size in check.

[tags]email design, lands end, email best practices, animated gifs[/tags]