Giving back through backpacks

How one of our favorite causes helps feed hungry kids … and gives us elementary-school flashbacks.

Some backpacks pack more punch than others.

We recently participated in a Giving Back initiative involving backpacks, which made me remember my all-time favorite: the hot pink thread, the pseudo-embroidery and that sparkling, bodacious red puff paint spelling out my name. Oh, yes — that was just the beginning of my life as a designer, and I couldn't wait to get to school and strut the halls.

Here at Emma, of course, we appreciate function as much as style, and our friends at Feeding America have taught us how a backpack can truly transform a child's life, and not just with puff paint or even books. They're using backpacks to feed hungry kids.

Formerly known as America's Second Harvest, Feeding America is a hunger-relief nonprofit that supplies more than two billion pounds of food and grocery products to hungry families each year. In 1995, they launched a backpack program that sends deserving kids home with non-perishable food items to help them stay nourished throughout the weekend. Most children who qualify for reduced or free lunches often struggle through those two days without sufficient supplements, and a backpack full of food is a discreet way to help.

When we heard about the initiative, we knew we wanted to get involved. We had an upcoming sponsorship at the annual SXSW Interactive conference, and we wanted to give those conference-goers a way to get to know us and also to support a worthy cause. So we proposed a plan to fill 1,000 backpacks with the help of the attendees — to be specific, it was a plan to super-awesomify the backpacks — and then we let the rest of the world in on the plan as well.

Anyone and everyone could super-awesomify a backpack with flames, mustaches and more. And once we reached 1,000 super-awesomifications, we started the process of funding several Feeding America backpack programs. We picked the food banks closest to our Emma offices, so that means we got in touch with the organizations in Denver, CO; Nashville, TN; Victoria, TX; Spokane, WA; and Minola, NY (those last three are the ones closest to our offices in Austin, Portland and New York City).

We think this backpack program takes an innovative approach to a difficult problem, and we're so pleased to be involved. If you'd like to learn more, click here to find a backpack program near you. And if you'd like to see some of those super-awesomified backpacks, you can view them online at, hot pink embroidery and all.

Feeding America's backpack program
More about Emma's Giving Back program

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Emma 25 is here! Meet some past honorees

Every year, we give away a lifetime of free email marketing service to 25 deserving non-profits from all around the world. It's called Emma 25, and it's one of our favorite company initiatives. We're kicking off our seventh year of Emma 25 by looking back at three past honorees and how they're using Emma to strengthen and share their organization's message.

Pearl Alliance

Pearl Alliance
Pearl Alliance, located in Palmer Lake, Colorado, is an outreach program of Messenger International, which was created to fight against human trafficking.

They were awarded an account in 2009 and use Emma's signup forms to capture new subscribers. Hannah Cusack works in Pearl Alliance's online marketing department and says, "We've seen our list steadily grow, in part thanks to the painless sign-up process."

Sending regularly and providing timely content — including video clips, goal-tracking visuals and personal stories — results in consistently higher-than-average opens and click-through rates. Their June/July update, for example, saw a 32% open rate and 35% click-through rate. Their Aug/Sept update drew a 25% open rate and another 35% click-through rate. (For some context, average click-through rate is about 5% across all industries, according to the Email Stat Center. For non-profits, average click-throughs vary by organization size but hover around 3% to 5%).

One of the most rewarding parts of Hannah's work is forging connections between Pearl Alliance's subscribers and the girls the organization serves. Hannah shares one of her favorite Emma moments: "In May 2009, we sent out an email asking our email friends to submit video messages full of hope for girls who were rescued out of trafficking and were now being sheltered in a safe house in Cambodia. It was an amazing moment to use our Emma updates to connect the rescued girls with the allies who help to fight for them."

At Emma, we can't think of a better way to make the email experience personal, meaningful and memorable.

Find out more about Pearl Alliance:

High Hopes, Inc.

High Hopes

High Hopes, Inc., is an innovative preschool and pediatric therapy clinic based in Brentwood, Tennessee. The group helps kids with special needs by combining speech, occupational and physical therapy in their preschool classroom. They also offer outpatient therapy to patients up to 21 years old, and they teach kids without special needs as well, creating an inclusive, supportive environment for everyone.

And they rely on Emma for their email marketing. Holly Beth Roach, High Hopes' Fund Development Coordinator, says, "I love that we have an idea of how many individuals are opening the emails, which helps us know when another form of communication may need to be sent and to know what may be of interest. Through Emma, we can now reach more people because of the forwarding features to email a campaign or post it to social networking sites, developing new friends for our organization."

High Hopes' fans are certainly involved. The summer newsletter to 751 folks had an impressive 37% open rate and an incredible amount of traffic from Social Sharing: Just eight people shared on social networks, but the traffic from these shares reached 136 visits, fairly remarkable for a mailing of this size. The announcement of their new website launch in September elicited a 34% open rate and 40% click-through rate. (Check out the new website here.)

Holly Beth says, "Previously to Emma, our primary form of communication was paper. We still use paper but have reduced it significantly because of Emma. This transition has saved [us] both money and time. The immediacy of it allows a parent to get an email and respond right away instead of getting a flyer at the end of the day and having to remember to go back and address it. We have a more informed parent population, and have increased the number of parent volunteers through using Emma."

Find out more about High Hopes:

Children's Trust Foundation

Children's Trust Foundation
Children's Trust Foundation works to prevent child abuse and neglect in Washington state by providing support and child development resources to families. Located in Seattle, they send out monthly newsletters, event announcements and invitations. (Check out their lovely 25th anniversary celebration announcement.)

Johanna Wender, Marketing and Development Coordinator, says, "Emma is so user-friendly and simple to use. We've had an easy and enjoyable time managing our numerous email campaigns."

And they're doing it in a smart way, by sending consistent monthly newsletters and unique email campaigns during holidays or events. For example, take a look at the Mother's Day campaign they sent in May, created on a custom stationery by Emma's Jennifer Kasdorf. This mailing saw a 20% open rate and whopping 50% click-through rate.

As a nonprofit, they depend on the support and donations of their subscribers and fans, and in each newsletter, they have fun with their donation buttons. Check out the clean, blue button in June's newsletter and the cheery flower in September's.

Find out more about Children's Trust Foundation:

Feeling inspired yet?
Head over to our seventh-annual Emma 25 page to learn more.

Holiday card design showcase

In this month's design showcase, we're highlighting some fantastic holiday card samples by two of our lovely ladies of design. These are unusual showcase items since they're not tied to any particular client, but they're also interesting since each one is, by its very unbranded nature, a peek into the designer's unfettered mind.

Our holiday cards, of course, are all completely custom; these designs are merely samples of what our team can do. If you're an Emma customer, you can request your own custom holiday design right over here. Let's bring on some of that holiday style!

Sample: "Welcome to Fall"

Welcome to Fall greeting card sample
Designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Custom greeting card

This fall greeting card flies in the face of convention, which should be no surprise to anyone who knows its designer. Elizabeth, known around here as the one who rides her Razor scooter to staff meetings, originally wanted to conjure a Thanksgiving feast with imagery of gourds. It turns out, however, that a good gourd can be hard to find. When her search for the perfect photo came up empty, she had to return to the drawing board. Via Razor, of course.

Instead of using typical "fall color" (reds, oranges and browns), she opted for a cool color scheme with hints of warmth for balance. And though autumn designs commonly use textures and typefaces that evoke early Americana, Elizabeth's card summons a different kind of nostalgia: home.

Her font of choice is not quite antiqued Western, not quite Deco, definitely quirky and decidedly vintage. The shapes and textures of the card itself call to mind an aged, clipped coupon and a classic, weathered money-clip made of engraved leather. There's also a touch of natural beauty from the sprig of rowanberries, though it's appropriately and seasonally sparse.

The feeling, then, is the spirit of fall on a smaller scale: familiar objects reminiscent of home, fall shopping with the family and minimalist, natural elegance. The gourds only *wish* they looked this good.

Sample: "A Joyful Thanksgiving"

Wishing You a Joyful Thanksgiving greeting card sample
Designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Custom greeting card

When it comes to Thanksgiving food, Kelly is all about tradition: casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and all manner of pie. Come to think of it, though, Kelly is really just all about food, regardless of custom or holiday. That's why, I think, we all expected her sample design to be an unabashed tribute to dinner, and I'm still a bit shocked that it isn't.

In the end, though, it's also true that Kelly never fails to surprise and delight, and this card certainly keeps with *that* tradition. In this design, she uses a variety of contrasting textures and styles that still work together to form one cohesive design.

First and foremost, the antiqued "paper" and ship illustration reference the colonial era, as does the vintage font for the header. These more traditional elements, however, are balanced with the more playful turkey handprint, the strips of tape along the top and the line-drawing flourish in the top left corner, all of which allude to grade school crafts for the holidays.

If you look closely at the content text, you'll notice that it sits on top of a background image instead of a solid color. That means that, for this particular design, the text would need to be flattened into the image itself, instead of being highlight-able live type. That's because certain email programs, such as Outlook, do not render background images correctly when they're behind live text (the background images get stripped out).

We could, however, place live type in the middle area if it were expanded. Kelly did a brilliant job of smoothing out the roughed-up paper texture and ripped-edge borders in the middle so that, if needed, the design could expand vertically and accommodate more live text.

Sample: "Merry Holiday Season"

Merry Holiday Season greeting card sample
Designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Custom greeting card

For her sample Christmas card, Kelly wanted something a little more understated and classic. Here, a shiny gold bow and a bit of sparkly wrapping paper transform the card into a gift, and the ribbon even appears to wrap the entire design. The rest of the image gets its depth from the shadowed curve that arcs across the bottom left corner.

Of course, the design wouldn't be complete without a touch of levity. Kelly's goal was really to create something conservative enough to work for a client of more traditional tastes, but still with a touch of playfulness to give the card an extra something special.

To that end, she added in a little paper snowflake, which peeks out from behind the ribbon in the top right corner. It's a subtle, minor addition, but it changes the mood and spirit of the card. It also introduces an entirely new texture, which keeps the eye interested. And maybe even more importantly, it mirrors the color of "Merry Holiday Season," which is the only other true white in the design. The snowflake and salutation work together, then, to make each other pop off the screen, all the while encouraging the reader's eyes to continue moving across the "page."

Sample: "Happy New Year"

Happy New Year greeting card sample
Designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Custom greeting card

The background imagery of Elizabeth's New Year card is intentionally ambiguous, but unmistakably buoyant and celebratory. Those lighter spots in the content area could be the glint of the Times Square Ball, the flashes of cameras capturing the festivities or even a dance of light off a bubbly flute of champagne. The exact source or identity of those floating spots of light is not what's important — it's the spirit of the design, the depth of the field and the unusual combination of colors that still, somehow, feels like News Year's.

In the bottom corners, the shooting sparks of fireworks are softened with a play on blur and opacity. They visually echo and reinforce the circular logos in the *upper* corners, strategically placed on either side of "Happy New Year." Elizabeth brings in contrast with the texture of that banner, as well as the rougher smudging of "paint" behind the year. In the end, it all comes together to make a nuanced but festive design.

And until next time … hugs and holiday cheer from the entire Emma Design Team!

Meet the University of Chicago

University of Chicago newsletter

How a world-class university stays on top of the curve with email campaigns.

About their newsletter.

As senior web editor at the University of Chicago, Laurie Davis sends weekly newsletters to a mix of faculty, staff, students, the Board of Trustees and other subscribers. Sounds like a pretty broad audience and lots of information to deliver, right? With smart formatting and careful analysis, Davis and her team handle the challenge with style.

"The newsletter helps us highlight innovative research at the university," says Davis, "showcase students and faculty who are doing fascinating things in the world, draw attention to prominent media stories that mention scholars, announce new appointments and highlight upcoming campus events."

With an audience of around 30,000 subscribers, keeping track of recipient behavior — and a mailing's success — wouldn't be possible without the ability to review who's received, opened, clicked or shared the newsletter. Davis continues, "We like the ability to review such a robust amount of data that Emma provides in the response section of the interface. The response metrics allow us to evaluate our content by seeing which stories our readers are choosing to click on."

Take their July 29th newsletter, for example. Of all clicks, more than one-third were on their top news story, "Sunil Kumar named dean of Chicago Booth School of Business." That's a pretty startling bit of data, and it shows how effective placement of a timely story can give you just the kind of response you were hoping for from your audience. (That's lots of clicks, of course.)

Why we like it.

It includes a 3-5 main stories that are summarized and followed by "full story" links, so curious readers can click to read more. This allows for overall brevity in the campaign itself and enables Davis' team to track reader interest, shaping upcoming stories and their placement in future newsletters.

In short: Heed your readers' busy lives and crowded inboxes. A typical reader probably won't weed through paragraphs and paragraphs of text to find the content that grabs them. Make that content easy to find and quick to digest. Your readers with a short attention span will absorb the summaries, while readers with more time to peruse will click to read the complete story.

Visually, UChicago News' format is consistent. A custom layout provides sections for Top Stories, Events, News Coverage and Announcements. Newsletter sections are in maroon text, with story titles in blue and story text in gray.

In short: Make consistent, intentional style choices. Choose font types and colors with an eye for readability (bonus points for you if these choices match the look of your website or brand). A well-formatted campaign draws attention away from the formatting and spotlights your content. And isn't that the point, after all?

The send-off, at a glance.

  • Sent on July 29, 2010 to 29,319 people
  • Open rate: 33%
  • 26 shares, 33 trackable visits
  • Subject line: Kumar Named Chicago Booth Dean / UChicago News / July 29, 2010
  • Created using a custom layout

More details

See the campaign online
See the website

Making the most of a trigger enhancement

Triggers Based Upon Group
Setting up a trigger for audience groups is easy.

We have a new audience group feature that lets you send more targeted trigger emails, and we're excited to tell you all about it and give you a few ideas for how you might set it in motion.

As you probably already know, triggers are handy emails that send automatically based upon a particular event. With Emma, you can set up four styles of triggers: when someone signs up to receive your emails, when someone has a birthday or other date-related event, when someone clicks a link in a campaign or when someone completes a survey. And now, for the first time, you can refine any of those triggers based upon audience groups.

Trigger emails are often under-utilized in the world of email — sometimes because marketers fear they don't look authentic. Sure, automatic emails have been around long enough that recipients know you're not perched at your computer, hitting the send button just as soon as they sign up or click a link. But your audience will appreciate smart triggers — such as coupons, an exclusive invitation to an event or personalized product content — and these strategic emails may generate some of your highest opens and clicks. Effective triggers let your audience know that you're listening to them and that you care about their interests.

How does this new enhancement change the trigger game? Pretty remarkably. By creating triggers with some truly targeted content, you can set the tone for future conversations with various segments of your audience — you don't have to rely only on those more general triggers that speak to everyone at once.

So now for the tips … with these four ideas, you can put these new audience-group triggers to work right away:

+ Welcome new subscribers with an email, based upon the group they signed up for.
Different group memberships may call for different welcome emails. If you're an outdoor adventure company, for example, you might display audience groups on your signup form so subscribers can select to receive communication about their areas of interest. Now you can set up separate triggers to welcome members to your "climbing" group in a different way than you welcome members to your "kayaking" group.

+ Send birthday coupons tailored to subscribers' interests.
A date-related trigger is a nice way to recognize special days for your members. If you own a baby clothing boutique, consider collecting the birth dates of your subscribers' little ones, and send out unique birthday coupons tailored to parents of baby boys and others to parents of baby girls. This method would also work if you'd like to send unique birthday emails based upon location, age or prior purchase behavior.

+ Follow up with folks after they've taken a customer experience survey.
It's a good idea to thank members for taking a survey. After all, they took time out of their busy days to provide feedback that you can use. If you've sent a customer experience survey to customers in different store locations, send customized thank-you notes to Austin customers and Houston customers. Of course, these triggers don't have to vary by location only — you can set them up based on any particular way you'd like to segment your audience.

+ Limit the number of people invited to an event.
The new trigger enhancement also lets you limit who receives follow-up. If you have a link in a campaign about your annual big event, any recipient can click to view the event's details. But you might decide that only clickers in your "members & donors" group will receive an invitation to the event by way of a trigger. You'll probably find lots of other scenarios too — link-based or otherwise — where you'd want a trigger to go to one group but not another, and this new feature makes that possible.

I hope these ideas have started you thinking about how you can make use of this new trigger enhancement. If you haven't set up triggers, or if you haven't updated your strategy in a while, now's a good time to use audience segmentation and personalized triggers to your advantage. The sooner you develop targeted relationships and conversations with your audience members, the easier they'll be to maintain. And it's likely that these folks will become your biggest fans, helping you attract new signups and customers.

Ready to implement triggers based upon audience group? Read more in our help pages.

And if these ideas for triggers based on audience group have raised any of your own, please share them with us in the comments section! We'd love to hear what you have planned.

Following up on our earlier security breach

About a week and a half ago, we reported details on a security breach at Emma that compromised the data of some of our customers. Today, we want to post a quick follow-up and share a few more details with you about what we've been working on since then and what's next.

+ We've conducted more security audits both internally and with outside advisors, and those audits have come back clear.

+ We've continued round-the-clock monitoring of our systems to prevent any additional abuse.

+ We've kept working with customers whose lists were compromised, and we've posted some some education here on the blog for customers who've been creating new, more secure passwords.

+ We'll be rolling out our new, more secure password system to all Emma customers in the near future.

+ And of course, we've continued with our standard security and data protection regimens. The safety of your data isn't a goal we'll ever just check off the list and be done with. Security here is always evolving, always improving, and you can always trust that it's a top priority for every Emma staffer.

As always, don't hesitate to let us know if you have any follow-up questions of your own.

About our new password system

The password system upgrade we released to the majority of Emma customers last week is designed to keep you and the rest of the Emma community as secure as possible. Providing great service means providing secure service, and these password system changes are an important part of protecting your data.

Of course, we know that managing a growing list of increasingly complex passwords is challenging (and can be frustrating, too.) We thought we'd share a bit more insight into why complex passwords matter and how to make managing them a little easier.

Why the password complexity?
We love keeping things simple here at Emma, but complex passwords are harder to crack — and that's important. Online security for companies like us is a layered system, and we're working on all of those layers, all the time. This password system is one of those layers, and having complex passwords in place gives us extra time to manage and contain any security breach that may occur.

For example, a password with eight characters using just numbers is easy to crack — it would take an average hacker about 10 seconds. If you take that same eight-character limit but use upper and lower case alphabetical characters, that password would take 62 days at most to crack. Add numbers to the mix, and you end up with about 253 days at most. This estimated timeframe goes out to 23 years if you add in punctuation characters. (And while 23 years may seem excessive, we're planning for a future that certainly holds faster computers, more powerful cracking programs and more persistent and skilled hackers.)

Pairing these new complex passwords with Emma's already sophisticated encryption makes it extremely difficult for any hacker to decipher passwords, giving us time to address any security incidents that happen and protect the entire Emma community in the process.

Password details and tips
Your new password will contain at least eight characters, including a combination of capital and lowercase letters, as well as at least one number and one symbol. And just because a password has to be secure, it doesn't have to be difficult to remember. Try a word that's familiar to you, and then meet the security requirements by adding symbols and punctuation. Or take the first letters from a familiar phrase or some song lyrics, and then substitute some of the letters for those more secure elements. (See more tips for creating and remembering complex passwords.)

We also recommend that you change your password at least twice a year … maybe when the time change happens and you're checking the batteries in your smoke detector. It's also a very good idea *not* to use the same password you use for other sites. If it's helpful, you can use a password vault application. These handy programs let you store and organize all your passwords in one place and access them with one master password. Some folks use KeePass, for example — if you've got a favorite, tell us about it in the comments.

Thanks for understanding. We appreciate every single member of our Emma community, and we know that you're trusting us with an important part of your organization. We want to do all we can to honor that trust and work with you to create even more email marketing greatness.

Details on a recent security breach at Emma

We're very sorry to report a recent security breach in Emma's system that has resulted in some Emma account information being compromised. Though a relatively small number of accounts are known to have been affected by the breach, many more accounts were exposed to potential threat, and we've taken a number of precautions (more on that below) as a result.

This morning, we emailed each Emma customer account with details on how their specific accounts were affected, but we also want to create a resource here on the blog with more information and details where we can easily keep everyone up to date.

What happened?

On the evening of September 7th, our regular security monitoring alerted us to suspicious activity and, ultimately, a breach in one of our databases. Immediately, our team began work to identify — and address — the source of the breach and investigate its scope. As our investigation has continued, we've learned that this was a sophisticated, deliberate attack with the apparent objective of targeting the email lists of customers in a particular geographic region of the world. (Since the investigation continues, we're not yet disclosing all of those details.)

In a small number of accounts (about 1% of Emma customers), the hacker was able to export email lists or access usernames and decode passwords to log into accounts and send spam. These customers have already heard from us directly, with details about the breach and an offer to help in any way possible.

In other cases, customer information — including usernames and passwords — was accessible to the hacker. For these accounts, we've expunged all previously stored passwords that may have been compromised and assigned each username a temporary, highly secure password. This step means that any login information the hacker has is unusable. Those customers will be asked to create their own new passwords the next time they log in. We've put in place new password standards to ensure those new passwords are strong and secure, and we'll be rolling those changes out to the entire Emma community soon. See our tips for creating strong passwords.

Some accounts were not affected at all, and at no point was *any* customers' credit card information accessible. That's all stored separately by a third party and is heavily encrypted.

Is it fixed?

We've thoroughly secured what we believe to be the source of the breach, enlisting the help, advice and scrutiny of outside database and security experts. In addition to the regular security scans already performed by an outside monitoring firm, we had an additional audit performed Wednesday night. That audit came back clear. We've set up additional sophisticated, around-the-clock monitoring to protect against and shut down any further abuse. And as we mentioned earlier, we've shut off further account access by this hacker by replacing compromised passwords with secure temporary passwords.

Each and every person who works at Emma knows that a breach in the safety and security of data acutely impacts the brand and business our customers have entrusted us with. And we're deeply sorry not to have met that trust. Going forward, we're committed to doing whatever it takes to make Emma's systems impenetrable and are working tirelessly to make sure things like this don't happen again.

If you have follow-up questions or if there's anything we can clarify, please don't hesitate to let us know. We're here to answer your questions and help in any way we can.

The Emma team

Tips for creating a complex password

The tough part about creating a strong password isn't making it up … it's remembering it. So the challenge we all face is creating passwords that are both hard to guess *and* easy to remember. These tricks are ones that security-minded geeks like me use to create effective passwords that are both memorable and strong.

Start by creating a base word by using one of the following ideas:

1. String together the first letters of a familiar group of words. Song lyrics, poems and famous quotes work great.
2. Connect small, unrelated words together.

Once you have your base word, modify it by using some of the following ideas:

  • Capitalize a few letters, while leaving the rest lowercase.
  • Substitute numbers and symbols for similar-looking letters.
  • Add some symbols to the beginning or end of the word (this can help if your word is too short to meet password length requirements).

Here's how it comes together:

For my base word, I'll use the idiom: "Life is not a bowl of cherries."

String the first letter of each word together to form the following base-word:

Modify it by capitalizing some letters (A and C):

Make some numeric/symbol substitutions (i=!, l=1)

Finally, add a symbol (?) to get the final password:

Here's another example:

Let's string "bat," "toe" and "up" together to create the following base word:

Capitalize some letters (O and P)

Substitute some numbers and symbols (a=@, t=7)

And add a symbol (!) to finish the password:

If you always use consistent modifications, you'll be able to remember how to reform the password.

For example, you could…

  • Always capitalize the third and last letter of the word.
  • Always substitute @ for a, 7 for t, ! for i and 1 for l. (Be aware that these examples are frequently used substitutions, so it's best for you to come up with your own.)
  • Always add a question mark at the end (or two, if that's what it takes to get to the minimum password length requirement).

Remember that Emma's new password system requires at least eight characters, including a combination of capital and lowercase letters and at least one number and one symbol. Hopefully, these tricks will help you create strong passwords that meet Emma's requirements and are easy to remember.