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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

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

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.

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.