The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

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.)

Helping the city of Portland turn it up to 11

PDX11 logo
At Emma, we work hard, play hard and passionately support causes that change our communities for the better. Company-wide, we give 5% of our annual revenue to fund things we believe in, like Kiva, Donor's Choose, our annual Emma 25 and various causes that our staffers support.

Sometimes, though, we can make more impact with a time investment than a financial one. Out here in Portland, that means stepping outside of the proverbial work week and lending time and energy to projects that focus on creating the community we live in.

A compelling movement is brewing in Portland right now called PDX11 that hits all the right notes for us — so, naturally, we got involved. Fueled by Mayor Adam's office and the Portland Development Commission (PDC), PDX11 aims to put Portland on the map as the go-to place for software talent and investment opportunities. To accomplish this, a community of software industry professionals, local government leaders and interested citizens emerged to make this a reality.

Emma has been supporting PDX11 since the inaugural meeting in December 2010, and we're currently in the final planning stages for the PDX11 Unconference and Hackathon slated for April 1-2. It's a two-day opportunity to bring everyone together to share the progress we've made, craft strategy for the future and celebrate the diverse and vibrant contributions of everyone involved.

In conjunction with the Unconference, we're also hosting a Hackathon for assembled developers to work on some key software that supports PDX11, like Calagator, ePDX.org, CivicApps inspired projects like PDXAPI, and open source Trimet data processing applications. Another group of developers will pair up and hack code like Ruby, Python, PHP and Javascript.

All and all, it's going to be a great weekend. If you're in Portland, consider this an invitation to join the revolution. After all, who doesn't want to turn it up to 11?

What do Smart Labels mean for your inbox?

Last time I posted here, I talked about Gmail's Priority Inbox, its potential effect on your readership and how to combat that by engaging (or re-engaging) your audience. Well, now we've got to talk about Gmail's new Smart Labels, a Gmail Labs tool that automatically marks emails as "bulk," "notifications" or "forum" in order to better equip you to get through the onslaught of emails you receive each day.

There was a time pretty recently that I wouldn't have turned on this feature (that's right, it's not automatic and actually requires you to search it by name) because my inbox's organization — or lack of — didn't bother me. Lately though, things have gotten a little more hectic in there, so I decided I would donate my personal email life to science and see how I liked Smart Labels.

And the results, you might ask? Well, I do wish they'd warned me ahead of time that Smart Labels removes any emails marked as notification, bulk or forum from your inbox. I don't think that the majority of email users are going to like that once they realize that even emails they *want* to read are getting filtered out. Luckily, this option is easily turned off, and once it was, Smart Labels did help me take inventory of the emails I've received.

It's important to realize that this isn't a tool meant to do the work that your spam filter failed to do. It's a tool to help people who don't have an internal human email filter, or who don't have time, to get through their emails efficiently so they can get on with life.

As an email marketer using a service like Emma (or any other ESP), your messages will be marked as "bulk." How this will affect open and click-through rates is still up in the air, since we don't know who's really even using this feature yet or how they're assimilating it into their normal email-opening routine. What we do know is that the mere presence of something like Smart Labels reinforces the importance of engaging your readership in ways that make your emails more valuable than their "bulk" status might suggest.

  • Your subject line has to pop off the screen and immediately show recipients the value of your email.
  • Create content that, over time, makes each email more valuable than the last. Build trust in your readership that you have something to say — and that it's good.
  • Reward people who read the most. In your quest to stay relevant in your audience's inboxes, make sure they know they're relevant to you, too.

The best practices for email marketing may be evolving and assimilating new ideas, but they're not changing completely. Ultimately, it's all about giving people what they want and packaging it in a way that makes the decision to open, click and interact with your messages an easy one. As we're faced with new obstacles to reaching our audience — and we can only assume that more changes are ahead — our focus on those best practices will be the key to staying relevant.

Your email results are in. Now what?

Part one of four to building an effective engagement strategy
The Response
Use Emma's response metrics to see how many folks opened, clicked through, signed up and more.

Sometimes after you've worked so hard building your campaign's content, it feels as if your work should be done. You created, proofed, tested and sent your email. So what more could there be? Well, analyzing the response data from your send-off is an important piece of your marketing strategy. Over the next few weeks, we're going to explore the what, why and how of following up after your results come in. Reaching out to your least and most engaged audience members is an important first step.

You're getting engaged! Or, um, they are.

What: When we talk about engagement, we're not talking about you single folks looking for marriage. We're talking about attracting and holding the attention of your audience. We're talking about utilizing loyalty programs, triggers, content and social media to get your subscribers involved in your cause. After all, you're hoping for more than just a ring opens, aren't you?

Why: Analyzing audience engagement allows you to make decisions to target particular segments of your audience. Your least engaged recipients are the members rarely opening your campaigns. Have you done an Emma search to find those members lately? You can start by asking those recipients to update their information by clicking the manage preferences link at the bottom of your email. If you have subscribers that aren't clicking, let alone rarely opening, allowing them this opportunity — to change the email address where they're receiving mail — gives you a fresh chance to get your campaigns back in front of them.

You may also consider surveying these folks. The survey tool enables you to learn more about your audience's preferences, what topics they care about and how often they'd like to hear from you.

But it's also a good idea to make sure you aren't giving all of the oil to the squeaky, least engaged wheels, er, recipients. Your active readers deserve some attention too. Have you thought about creating a loyalty program? MarketingProfs recently presented a study showing that loyalty mailings boost email open and click rates:

  • Open rates for mailings sent to loyalty program members were a whopping 40% higher than bulk mailings that were sent to the same clients: 27.4% vs. 19.6%.
  • Click rates for the loyalty mailings were 22% higher: 4.0% vs. 3.2%.

If you're thinking that loyalty programs don't quite fit your organization, you can achieve similar results by sending targeted campaigns based on website or email analytics. Targeting audience members that show an interest in a specific event or feature gives those members further reason to open an email from you. You're offering something personal and informative about a topic they've expressed interest in. Seems like a no-brainer, right?

Marketing Sherpa reports that specific, analytic-driven campaigns like these bring in impressive response rates:

  • The open rate for the targeted campaign in their study was 48%.
  • The unique click rate was 43%.

These numbers are well above the Email Stat Center's industry average open rate of 22.5% open and click-through of 5%.

How: After thinking about what engagement really is and why following up with your most and least engaged members is a good idea, you may be wondering how to get started. First, make your content clickable. When you provide links in your campaign, you'll be able to track which audience members are actively participating. And Emma allows you to target these engaged, active subscribers in an easy, automated way: Set up triggers emails based on click-through behavior. If you provided a link for members to learn more about an event, set up a targeted trigger campaign that provides more detailed event info.

Trigger Event
Send an auto-responder to recipients who clicked on a link in a prior campaign.

Additionally, give your members the option to share your campaign with our Social Sharing feature. Enabling the share option puts your content in front of a brand new pool of people — and even potential subscribers.

Between purposefully targeting and speaking to your most and least engaged audience members, you'll be on track to a long and happy engagement. Congratulations!

Be sure to join me for the next part of this series, which will cover how to manage bounces and non-opens.