One of these emails is not like the other

Alt tags: Part one of a three (or four, maybe five) part series.

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These two emails arrived in my inbox within about 20 minutes of each other. They're similar at first glance. Almost identical, really. Both are very image heavy, both came from brand name clothing retailers, both include simple calls to action, both drive traffic to an online store, on and on I could go. This time I took a look 'under the hood' to see how these two email marketing teams prepared their campaigns for the all-too-common scenario of images being blocked.

The Gap team (left) coded their html with a backup plan, since about half of the email programs out there don't display images by default. That backup plan is known to the html-savvy as the alt tag – the alternate text that shows when the images don't load. For a visual, peek at the screen shots to see how the message of free shipping still comes through, even when the images don't.

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Next time you create a campaign, be sure to think about your own backup plan. The general rule is to set an alt tag for all of your images. Sound complicated and technical? It's not at all. We've made it easy by offering to 'add a description' each time you upload an image into your campaign. (If you're working with an html designer, they'll add the alt tag before uploading the code your Emma account.)

Last, but not least, don't forget to test the email and see the alt tags in action. A simple preference tweak in your email client of choice should let you see the test email with the images blocked.

One note to Outlook users: Outlook has a default text that overrides these tags. You'll see a note about clicking to download images.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Font use for a web-safe world.

With only a handful of web-safe fonts out there, I find myself having to get a little creative with what's available. As you may know, a font that is considered 'web-safe' comes pre-installed on a wide range of computer systems and is used to increase the chance that the content gets displayed in its chosen font. If your recipient does not have the specified font, their browser or email program will select an alternative. The most current list of web-safe fonts include: Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Georgia, Comic Sans, Trebuchet and Courier New.

In my quest to take full advantage of these web-safe warriors, I've learned a few tips & tricks.

Style tips for web-safe fonts
1. Pick a font and stick with it.
While a menagerie of Times New Roman, Comic Sans, and Verdana sounds eye-catching, too many font faces can really take the look of your email 'over the top.' Instead, maintain consistency and style by using variations of the same font. There are many ways to explore this method through use of color, weight, and size. It should still allow for plenty of variety within the email and it'll also make your font choices easier.

2. Create headers with images.
Ever find yourself just wishing that you could use that awesome, free font you just downloaded in your next email? You can always use the font in an outside program and then bring it into your email as an image. I tried out this trick recently to add a bit of jazz, pizazz, whimsy, whatever-you-wills to my header sections. What do you think?

3. Gray's the new black.
Here's a new trend in email design: try using medium and dark shades of gray for your body copy color instead of black. It's a quick and effective way to transform the look of your emails into something a bit more friendly and casual (assuming that's the look you're going for).

Hopefully, this 'moment of fonti-ness' has inspired you to get out there and get creative with web-safe fonts. Feel free to stop by and let us know what tricks work for you.

Join us at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer!

There are all kinds of things to look forward to in October. Cooler weather, of course. Halloween, obviously. Columbus Day, maybe not so much. But we're also eagerly awaiting the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Mixer in Scottsdale on October 22-23, where lots of marketers are going to be gathering to talk about email, search and social media. We're sponsoring the event, but we're also looking forward to all the sessions, presented in the stylish way that the 'Profs pull off so well.

If you're thinking about going, you can save $200 on your registration just because you know Emma and you're reading this right now. Get more details and register here, or sign up elsewhere and use the code ESPNA08.

And perhaps the $200 you save might be a nice starter fund for a certain Columbus Day party you were hoping to throw?

[tags]MarketingProfs, Digital Marketing Mixer, myemma.com, Emma[/tags]

We’re at the Creative Freelancer Conference

Are you at the Creative Freelancer Conference in Chicago this week? We are. But you knew that from the headline of this post, didn't you? Our own Steve Turney is there, talking with freelance photographers, copywriters and designers about showing off their services with email marketing. If you're there, email Steve and say hello.

[tags]CFC, Creative Freelancer Conference, myemma.com[/tags]

Emma’s on the Inc. 500 list

Inc. Magazine's profile of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the U.S. hit the stands last week, and we're rather proud to be on this year's list. Specifically, we're #312.

Did you want more numbers? Okay, then. We're officially ranked #24 among advertising & marketing companies, #4 in the greater Nashville area, and #1 among companies who managed to sneak the word 'kickass' into their Inc. profile.

We're thrilled to be named in such a fine roster of companies. We're so thrilled, in fact, that we're ordering a plaque – partially to commemorate the honor, but mostly just to get the word 'kickass' engraved on something.

[tags]emma, Inc 500, Inc Magazine, myemma.com, nashville[/tags]

Is my email campaign any good?

In our latest Ask Emma (that's our email marketing Q&A newsletter, which you can sign up for here), we've published a 5-point checklist that's designed to help you give your email campaigns a quick review before you hit send.

It's *also* designed in 5 different colors, so you can download your favorite, print a copy to pin-up by your desk, then color-coordinate your checklist with your favorite pantsuit. Or jumpsuit. Or windsuit.

Okay, seriously, lose the windsuit already.

What are the things you *always* review before sending our your campaigns? We'd love to hear 'em…

[tags]email marketing, checklist, ask emma, myemma.com[/tags]

Learning from our podcasting friends.

I'm at the New Media Expo in fabulous Las Vegas this week, where hundreds of online content creators – bloggers, podcasters and the like – have gathered in 108-degree weather to talk about ideas, new technologies, best practices, and how friggin' hot it is. Tomorrow, I'll be teaming up with Greg Cangialosi over at Blue Sky Factory to talk about email marketing, but today I sat in on a podcasting basics class given by Scott Whitney at Podworx.

I was struck by the similarities between the process of creating an email newsletter and creating a podcast. For podcasters, you start by identifying yourself and your brand at the outset, much like email's From Name and From Address. You follow that with a short audio teaser about the upcoming podcast designed to entice curious listeners without giving too much away – a subject line of sorts. But I had to stifle a squeal when he flipped to the slide with ideas for episode content. If you're just getting started with email marketing, if it's been awhile since you sent an email because you aren't sure what to send, or if you're looking for new content ideas to help you move beyond an email newsletter, this list is the perfect starting point:

1. Interview an executive.
2. Create a series about your product/service.
3. Write educational, how-to tips and articles.
4. Interview a customer (or member, or fan).
5. Write about an event you're attending, from the event.
6. Share some behind-the-scenes information about your company or product.
7. Promote thought leadership articles.
8. Share company successes and awards.
9. Repurpose content from a seminar.
10. Showcase a partner company or service.
11. Interview an employee.
12. Broadcast news from your industry.

Hope this list gets you to thinking about your next campaign – or heck, your next twelve. If you've got another content type to add, please leave us a comment and let us know what you're up to.

[tags] email campaign ideas, email marketing, NewMediaExpo2008, podcasting, Podworx, Scott Whitney [/tags]

If 12,345 trees are wrong, we don’t want to be right

We here at Emma like trees. They remove carbon dioxide, produce oxygen and give songbirds a home. And so, to show them how much we appreciate them, we've been planting five trees each time a new customer joins Emma.

This year, with five months to go, we're up to 12,345 trees.

When 366 customers joined Emma in July, that meant 1,830 new trees would be planted. Half goes to the equatorial region of Plant-It 2020's choice (they're our fabulous partner in all this tree planting business). The rest is up to you, fair blog reader, as long as it's on Plant-It 2020′s list of pre-approved non-harvest sites.

For July, you chose Florida. For many, that's the land of sun, sand and sea. For you college sports fanatics, it's the home of Gators, Hurricanes and Seminoles. Very soon, the Sunshine State also will be home to hundreds of new trees, thanks to Emma's new customers.

Consider a city block, or a rural road, or a suburban park. Count the trees. Now think about this: 1,830 brand new trees. Now think about this: 12,345 brand new trees.

Did you plant any trees this year? If you joined Emma this year, thank you for joining and welcome aboard. We're glad you're here. Planet earth says thanks, too, by the way.

Let us know where on earth you think August's trees should go…

[poll=8]

Bay Books brings their customers into the book business.

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I love to really get involved with a company or product. If there's an opportunity to let a company know what I think, or take part in a test group, I'm there. Which means I fill out comment cards, surveys, even write reviews on iTunes as often as possible. So imagine the heaven I stumbled upon whilst meandering the streets of Coronado Island, California.

Bay Books is a small bookshop on Orange Avenue that has their own way of getting people involved. They give anyone the chance to write a review, then slide the review right below the book. It's incredible. I found myself picking up books I normally wouldn't have touched just because of strangers' takes on them. If I lived in Southern California, I guarantee I'd make the trip to Bay Books as often as time (and money) would allow.

What Bay Books is doing is something that really draws me in, and makes me feel like I can be a part of their shop. And this goes for any company or organization, online *or* offline. Emma tries to do this by giving all of you reading this (yes, you, in front of your computer right now. Nice shirt, by the way.) the chance to choose where we're going to plant trees every month. Through a partnership with the reforestation non-profit, Plant-It 2020, we plant 5 trees for every new Emma account. So, since you're here, won't you take a moment to get involved with Emma and tell us where we should plant our July trees?

What makes an email personal, anyway?

We toss the word "personalization" around a fair amount in email marketing, and most people associate it with "Dear Bob" personalization — that technological parlor trick of dropping a first name placeholder into the greeting of an email. But the people getting the best results are the ones going beyond first name personalization and customizing emails based on geography, loyalty, purchase history and more.

How do I know this? I've read the Aberdeen's report on email marketing, which Emma helped to sponsor. They identified the companies with high open, click and conversion rates in their campaigns, and they found the patterns of how those companies have set up their member databases, copywriting strategy and internal processes to create truly personalized emails.

My favorite part: They acknowledged that the best campaigns don't stop at personalizing the *content* of emails — they also personalize the *delivery,* using trigger emails to send campaigns based on recipients' schedules and actions. I was thrilled to read that 33% of those top-performing companies were putting triggers to work in their overall email strategy, basing the timing of their campaigns on a customer's behavior (buying a product, clicking a link, subscribing to the newsletter). By comparison, only 10% of the lowest-rated companies used trigger emails, which indicates that a triggers play some role in overall email marketing success. Of course they do. A feature that lets you send emails even while napping *has* to be great.

Even if you lack/can't afford/fear the technology behind personalizing emails, it's still easy to make sure your emails are written and designed with people in mind — friendly, conversational, human. Nobody wants to read an email that sounds like it was written for robots. With the possible exception of actual robots. For more inspiration on relating to your subscribers as *people,* read Mark Brownlow's excellent post on the matter here.