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The results of Emma’s holiday survey

How you responded & what we've got in store. Plus, we announce the winner!

Last month, we asked you to take our holiday survey and tell us a bit about your email marketing goals, habits and interests — especially as they relate to your holiday marketing plans. We were thrilled to receive so many thoughtful responses, and I'd like to share the results with you. Some of the answers really surprised us, and the experience highlights just how important it is to eliminate assumptions and ask your audience.

Take a look at how you answered below, and hear what we've got in store this season to assist you. Plus, find out a few tips for creating your own surveys and the winner of our survey prize!

1. Choose 3 things from the list below that you'd like to learn more about.

 

Emma_Response _ Survey Overview

 

Since we asked you to pick three answers, we knew there'd be a healthy split among them. And we're already thinking of ways to provide quick tips and to make your holiday emails look as fresh and festive as possible. Take a look at Mary's five tips for retaining and attracting subscribers. Then, head on over to Emma's 2011 Holiday Design Spectacular, and check out the holiday templates we've designed for your seasonal invitations, promos and greetings.

2. What article types on the Emma blog are most beneficial to you? Choose all that apply.

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_2

 

We're glad to know that you continue to find value in our posts with email best practices and tips, and that you like our design showcases as much as we do. Throughout the holiday season, we'll provide even more, including this recent holiday design showcase.

3. Where do you most often read your emails?

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_3

 

There's lots of talk about designing emails for mobile these days, and with good reason — nearly 31% of mobile users in the U.S. access email on their phones. But, it's also important to remember that the vast majority of subscribers haven't booted email activity on their computers in favor of their phones. If we're ever in a pickle where we must decide between how an email looks on a desktop computer versus a mobile device, we can make a case for designing for our desktop readers.

4. How many email inboxes do you manage? (Choose closest answer.)

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_4

 

This response surprised us more than any other. Boy, you guys are busy! Three inboxes is a lot to manage, and 14% of you manage even more than that. Your responses encourage us to keep our Emma Roundups packed with solid offerings each month — we want to make sure ours is an email worth opening.

5. How many emails do you send out from Emma on a monthly basis?

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_5

 

These results are a fairly close match to the sending behaviors of our entire customer base; in fact, more than 60% of our customers send 5,000 emails or less each month. In an industry where it's easy to get hung up on list size, remember that it's the quality of your list, not its size, that matters.

6. Which social network do you use most frequently?

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_6

 

Another surprising answer. We expected Facebook to lead the pack, but we didn't expect it to lead by such an overwhelming margin. Perhaps it's a false consensus bias of mine: I use Twitter so frequently that I wrongly assumed that more of you did, too. This becomes a question that could launch a separate survey. We'd love to know more about why you use Facebook most frequently, if you manage a personal or business account and, if you use multiple social networks, how you differentiate your usage. And do say hi to Emma on Facebook, too!

7. What sites, blogs and resources do you use to improve your email marketing?

We had two motives when asking this question: to find out which sites you find most useful and to add some new sites to our everyday reads. We received too many great answers to list them all, but here are some of the sites that came up again and again (go ahead, add 'em to your Google Reader): Mashable, HubSpot, Email Experience Council, iMedia Connection, MarketingProfs, Marketo, Inc., Fast Company, ClickZ, CMO, Which Test Won, American Marketing Association, Sender Score, Open Forum, Marketing Sherpa, Seth Godin's blog and eMarketer.

8. Fill in the blank. When it comes to my holiday emails this year, I'm most concerned about ______.

 

Emma_Survey Overview_Question_8

 

Based on your response to this question, we're excited to be planning some style-specific articles for your holiday email campaigns. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, check out these articles:

9. Say that Santa has a magical elf who only answers North Pole mail dealing with email marketing questions. What would you ask him?

This was a fun one! We received so many excellent questions — some serious, some a bit silly — and we'll be featuring the most common in a series of Q&A posts this season.

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Want to send a survey to your customers? Here are five tips:

  1. Provide some intro text to explain the purpose of the survey, how long it'll take to complete and what respondents should expect to get out of it. If you neglect to provide this information, why should anyone respond? You've got to know your purpose first, then design and promote the survey.
  2. Start with a few fun, engaging questions. This helps to hook respondents and set momentum right off the bat.
  3. Design questions that get at what you really want to know. When I first designed our survey, question #6 asked, "Which social network is your favorite?" A colleague pointed out that it'd be a difficult question for respondents to answer — Favorite right now? Favorite of all time? A network I like the most but maybe don't use a lot? — and that it wouldn't provide information we'd be able to draw reliable conclusions from. So, instead, I changed the question to "Which social network do you use most frequently?" This more clearly gets at what I want to know — where folks spend most of their time.
  4. Save demographic questions for the end — and make them optional. Putting your demographic questions at the beginning is boring at best and alienating at worst. Leave them for the end, and give folks the freedom to answer some or none of them.
  5. Keep it short. Appreciate that your customers are busy, and they're probably not inclined to take a survey that requires more than five minutes of their time. You can still collect very valuable information in 10 questions or less. Giving yourself a limit also forces you to cut out the fluff and make each question matter.

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Who won the survey prize, you ask? We used random.org to pick a winner at random, and the winner is … Lauri Young of Quantum Bank. She's won a month's worth of free emails on us. Congrats, Lauri!

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Get into the holiday spirit. Request a Readymade design from Emma's design team.

 

With Emma, you're in good company. Meet our Customers.

Emma Agencies weigh in on Facebook’s new metrics

With the recent changes to Facebook's Insights, our agency partners are learning more about their audience

In the past few years, Facebook has embraced marketers more than ever. And, recently, they rolled out several changes to the data available to page administrators. It provides an even deeper look into your audience. In fact, you may be able to extrapolate and learn a bit about your market in other channels, too.

We asked a few of our agency partners to weigh in on what these changes mean for marketers and their clients. Let's take a look at the updates, and then we'll see what our agencies have to say.

What's new

As a page administrator, you have access to a tab called Insights. This has always been the destination to find, well, insights into the success of your page. Take a stroll over to that area now, and we'll walk through the new data:

Facebook Metrics
Facebook now shows Total Likes, Friends of Fans, People Talking About This and Weekly Total Reach

Total Likes: Likes are a familiar stat that's been here before. Also referred to as fans, likes is the cumulative number of Facebook users who have ever clicked "Like" on your page.

Friends of Fans: This is a sum of your fans and all of their friends, a significant number because it represents the potential reach that your page could have if each fan talked about you.

People Talking About This: We consider this to be the page's meat and potatoes (or its tofu and quinoa, if that's your style). In the past, you've been able to watch your Likes and comments to get an anecdotal sense of how many folks were interacting with your page. Now, you can see the exact number of people talking about you, which Facebook explains as "the number of unique people who have created a story about your page in the last seven days." More specifically, it includes folks who have liked your page or one of your posts, those who have checked into your Place and folks who have mentioned your page in a post or tagged it in a photo.

Notice that this metric is also a public number. Now, when someone visits your fan page, he will see both Total Likes and People Talking About This. This introduces a brand new success metric to report to your clients and to show potential fans.

Weekly Total Reach: With this update, you can find the number of Facebookers who have seen any content associated with your page. This includes fans who read posts by your brand and people who are not fans but saw someone on their newsfeed "talking" about you. It also includes people who saw your purchased ads. Naturally, as your talking metric rises and falls, your weekly total reach follows suit.

Post by Post: As you move beyond the large sweeping numbers, you can see more granular information too. Sorted by date, you'll see how each individual post affected your audience.

  • Reach tells you how many people were exposed to the post.
  • Engaged Users counts everyone who clicked anywhere on your post, ranging from liking the post itself to clicking on a commenter's profile.
  • Talking About This tallies anyone who commented, liked or otherwise interacted with that post.
  • Virality gives you the percentage of people who talked about your post compared to the number who saw it. This number allows you to compare your posts to each other to determine what type of content creates the most engagement.

Demographic Data: After you get a handle on the aggregate data, check out the Fans, Reach and Talking About This tabs. From there, you'll see a breakdown of those people by gender, age range and location.

Facebook reports your fans by gender and age range
Facebook reports your fans by gender and age range, giving you more details about your audience

What these changes mean for marketers

Buzz data

As with any tool that marketers use these days, more data is better as long as it informs a greater strategy. While these changes may not upend your efforts, you'll be able to track engagement and brand buzz at a much higher level.

People Talking About This provides both a new insight into the virality of your posts and a new metric by which others will judge your page. Craig Dunn, Vice President of Client Services at Music City Networks, one of Emma's agency partners, weighs in on the sudden combination of Likes and this new metric:

People Talking About This may carry even more weight than Likes in some ways, but you have to look at them together. They point to success of different strategies and goals. Sometimes we're trying to build an artist's fans on Facebook, but sometimes we'd rather have people click to the website. People Talking About This will help us measure what's generating real conversations and real sharing. Before, we could throw stuff out there and not really know what was compelling and what wasn't. This metric extends Facebook's numbers to be more like email, where you can actually see the direct results and drill down to what gets people excited.

Craig makes some great points. In fact, consider using the new data to inform your social media strategy in these ways ways:

  • Better engage current fans by taking note of the types of posts that elicit the most response.
  • Increase the reach of your page by encouraging discussion on topics that generate the most interest. (Compare your actual reach against your total potential, found in Friends of Fans. Then, use what you learned in the individual posts section and tailor your conversation starters to your audience.)

Giving your fans more of the content they love and react to is the obvious way to accomplish both. To get started, David Baser, a Product Manager at Facebook, recommends adding more photos and video in your posts, because those rich content categories are often more engaging. (Read the entire ClickZ interview with David Baser here.)

Polly Bibb, Social Media Strategist at JLB Works, one of Emma's agencies, agrees that it's vital to use the metrics to plan content:

You have to think about what's going to stand out. You always want something catchy, but of course it depends on the company. This new tool is fabulous for knowing what works and what doesn't. It definitely will encourage people to get more savvy with their status updates.

Demographic data

Beyond the buzz data, you'll also be able to use the demographic details to watch as new segments of your audience pick up the conversation. Polly explains:

It's going to help everyone in the online media world keep their game faces on because you'll be able to see if you're successfully targeting, or even if you're bringing in a new audience you weren't even aware of. It helps you assess and change your strategy a lot earlier than you otherwise could have.

Speaking of changing your strategy, keep the following in mind:

  • Embrace new segments who are talking about your brand by including them in your messaging. They may become your best evangelists, and the Insights tab will help you pick up on that.
  • Re-engage your core demographic if you are seeing a low response rate from them. Tune in to what makes them tick, or consider asking them what types of content they'd like to see. Brand updates, office pictures and videos, polls, events and questions offer a variety of ways to start a conversation with that group.

Onward

Ultimately, Facebook is still in the early years of its relationship with marketers, and we are going to see that relationship grow. Clients increasingly expect agencies to be experts on social media, and because these developments allow you to measure success a lot more easily, they will only enhance your expertise.

Julian Bibb, Principal and CEO of JLB Works notes:

Facebook is the rising tide that lifts all ships. It introduces the concept of social media and makes people more aware of all other social networks, like Twitter and YouTube. In years past, we were explaining to our clients what social was and why it was important. In 2011, they are coming to us with some of that knowledge. Facebook has become part of our clients' public consciousness a lot more than it was in years past, and as time goes on, they will become increasingly aware.

We've heard from a few of our agency partners, and we want to hear from you! Let us know how Facebook's changes are affecting your social media strategy, and how you're using the new metrics to inform your clients. Comment here, or reach out to Emma's Agency Relations team.

Want more details about Facebook's changes? Download their Product Guide for Page Owners [PDF].

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Learn more about becoming an Emma Agency.

From the forest to the classroom: Emma’s new giving back initiative

We're supporting DonorsChoose as folks join the Emma community

If you follow Emma's giving back efforts on our blog, you've likely noticed that Emma has a thing for trees — and making sure the world stays leafy and green. Since 2007, we've planted five trees for every new client we bring on board, and that's added up to well over 80,000 trees.

After all that leafy goodness, we're switching up how we give back on behalf of customers. Starting this month, we're supporting DonorsChoose.org with $5 for each new client who joins Emma. That money goes directly to classroom projects posted by teachers and funds materials that otherwise fall outside of tight public school budgets.

In the past, when we've given to DonorsChoose, I've spearheaded the classroom selection process. Now, the Emma staff will collectively choose the projects, and, this month, we narrowed the list by choosing classrooms in the cities Emma calls home. We're helping to bring sculpting supplies to an art teacher in Nashville, chairs to a music class in NYC, books to students in Austin, science supplies to an elementary school in Denver and a classroom computer to a Portland middle school.

This is the beginning of a really cool new chapter in Emma's giving back story, largely because it casts such a wide net. It's about you, our Emma community, giving us the chance to make a difference in classrooms across the country. Thank you for joining Emma and doing some good in the world.

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Want to follow along with this project? Visit our DonorsChoose giving back page.

Trick-or-treat, email marketing style

With Halloween around the corner, here are a few sweet moves to try & a few sticky situations to avoid

With Halloween just three days away, the holiday season is officially upon us, and we're kicking things off with an email-friendly set of tricks and treats. As you prepare your fall- and winter-themed campaigns, consider implementing the three treats below — and avoiding the three tricks. Your campaigns will bewitch your subscribers (in a good way).

And, remember, if you're looking for some design inspiration, you can request a $25 Readymade holiday design from our design team all season long.

TREAT: Birthday triggers that turn a profit

If you're capturing your subscribers' birth dates, consider sending birthday coupons by way of an email trigger — it'll increase engagement and profits, especially in the months leading up to Christmas. And it may have unexpected bonuses. Take this, for example: I recently received a birthday email with a coupon for a free breakfast sandwich from Star Bagel, a bagel shop here in Nashville. It's one of my favorite places so I was thrilled about the email. While I was busy running a few holiday errands (I'm starting early this year!), I redeemed my birthday coupon, and then I ended up purchasing more. (Nice work, Star Bagel.)

Read more from Clickz about birthday triggers bringing in the business.

TRICK: Not taking advantage of social media

Are you interacting with fans and followers on social media sites? If not, you could be missing out on an opportunity to boost customer loyalty and increase customer spending by 20%- 40%. Starting conversations on Facebook and Twitter is likely to increase the engagement of folks who may not engage with you in other ways (on the phone, for example), and as the become more engaged, they're likelier to turn to you for your expertise. (Engaged customers also spend more. See that bit about me and the bagel shop.)

Check out a solid 12-step social media plan by MarketingProfs here. And if you need a hand getting your email and social media working together, stop by to ask us on Twitter and Facebook, or send a note to our friendly support team.

TREAT: Using video to mix things up a bit

We recently posted a video blog, and we recorded and produced the whole thing with just a laptop and iMovie. Have your own computer camera or smartphone handy? Give video a try. It's a great way to add a human touch to your posts. And there are lots of helpful how-to's out there. Our friend, Tom Martin, shares 8 tips over on Social Fresh for creating a video with an iPhone alone.

Read how one online floral retailer boosted response metrics and conversions just by adding video to email campaigns.

TRICK: Forgetting your images' alt text or creating image-only campaigns

I recently got an email in my inbox with the enticing subject line "Get Dressed." I clicked to open, and to my surprise, I landed on a blank white page. If your campaigns are filled with images, make sure to include some alt text. (If you fill out all of the fields when adding your image to an Emma layout, alt text will be automatically generated.) Alt text ensures that you're providing some context to readers who don't have images displayed by default. It's much better for them to see "Click here to view our gallery of outfits," than nothing at all.

And make sure you're designing your campaigns to render beautifully without relying solely on images. Marketing Sherpa found that click-throughs increased over 83% when tables were used to add color and design to emails that had images blocked.

TREAT: Enable Social Sharing to grow your audience list

This might just be the easiest treat of all. With a simple click of the Add Social Sharing button atop your email campaign (in edit mode), you can add the ability for your subscribers to share your email on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Oh, and in doing so, you could be increasing your campaign's click-through rate by 30-55%. Not too shabby.

Want a refresher on how to enable your subscribers to share the love? Grab our Social Sharing how-to here.

TRICK: Sending your campaign to your audience without testing

Giving your campaign the once over and clicking a link here or there in preview mode might seem like sufficient testing when you're pressed for time, but it's not enough if you want to ensure a solid delivery. Your emails will render a bit differently in the major email programs, and it's a good idea to test all links from the inbox. Plus, getting another set of eyes on your email's content and formatting will help you spot typos and formatting inconsistencies. Emma makes comprehensive testing easy by way of your free Test Group. Store up to 10 addresses there — try to represent a mix of different email programs — and send unlimited campaigns without affecting your monthly sending total.

If you need a hand getting your Test Group set up, visit our Help Guide.

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I hope these treats and tricks have sparked a few ideas of your own. Please share your tips with our community in the comments here. And if you'd like to show off your holiday-themed campaign, share the link, too. We're ready to see the spooky and the spectacular. We may just feature yours in an upcoming post!

Liven up your email with animated GIFs

The '90s web animation staple isn't just for dancing babies - it’s perfect for spicing up your email campaigns
Haters Gonna Hate
There's nothing stopping you from featuring this jaunty fellow in your email campaigns. Click on the image to view the animation.

If you ever want to get a little perspective on how far web design has come since the '90s, pay a visit to Internet Archive's Wayback Machine and pull up Best Buy's home page from December of 1996. Yikes, right? Was there really a time when a well-heeled electronics megastore used an animation of a turtleneck-wearing, gift-giving pig on its homepage during the holiday season?

The Wayback Machine doesn't lie; back when the Internet was undergoing its awkward adolescence and everyone was infatuated with moving pictures, the animated GIF was king. It was a time of dancing babies, twinkling lights and bouncing smiley faces, all playing on endless loops. Not coincidentally, it was also a time of web-induced headaches. As the technology and language of Internet styling evolved, the bulky, simplistic animated GIF gave way to more sophisticated Flash- and Shockwave-based animations. Like the 8-track and the VHS tape, the once-revolutionary animated GIF became the butt of jokes (like this one, sneakily tucked away on our site).

Still, every format has its champions. Just as some filmmakers find inspiration in VHS camcorders and some diehard music geeks still make mixtapes, there are artists and designers who welcome the challenge presented by the animated GIF's endless animation loop, limited color palette and potentially restrictive file size. When the stunning GIF-based artwork of collaborators Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg caught my eye earlier this year, I began to wonder if the email marketing world was due for a GIF animation revolution. If it is, it's hard to imagine a better medium.

The Internet has evolved a great deal since the age of the four-frame animated firework. However, as our own Taylor Schena outlined in an earlier blog post, the countless display variations between email clients has kept email design frozen in a time before Javascript, Flash or CSS. Fortunately, animated GIFs' early web prominence means that, unlike Flash and most other animation styles, they're almost universally recognized (and correctly rendered) in the inbox.

If you've been wondering how to jolt a little life into your email campaigns, a moving element may be just the thing. But before you lay your newest email campaign on the slab for re-animation, there are a few things you should be aware of.

Not everyone will see your animations. When I say that GIFs are almost universally recognized, I mean that they're recognized by every major email client except for Outlook 2007. Holding true to its reputation as the bane of every HTML designer's existence, Outlook 2007 will only display the first frame of an animated GIF. While this is hardly a deal breaker, it does mean that the first frame of your animation should communicate your intended message clearly for Outlook users. So if you were planning a fancy reveal in the animation's final frames, you may want to think through your animation carefully to make sure the takeaway isn't lost on Outlook users.

Your animated GIF should be more Popeye than Pixar. Since every frame in an animated GIF can introduce a new or altered image, these files can get very large, very fast. If your image file size is too large, it could affect both your email's deliverability and the quality of the display, especially on mobile devices (only a couple of Beck and Burg's designs would be truly email-friendly). Limit your color palette and stick to basic movements with a limited frame rate, and your GIF will travel and present itself well.

Be bold, but don't go crazy. Hipster clothier Urban Outfitters has a long history of incorporating animated GIFs into their campaigns in a way that's both sophisticated and, sometimes, charmingly retro. When the design comes together well, like this spring campaign spotlighted by Email Marketing Voodoo, it makes for a fun, eye-catching email, and it's an excellent use of the format's limitations. When it goes too far, as many think this divisive psychedelic campaign did back in 2009, readers' first reaction may be to get away from it any way that they can.

Make your animated GIF updates before you upload your files to Emma. Emma email campaigns will treat your animated GIFs like any other image file, with one exception: you'll need to have your GIF file ready exactly as you'd like it to appear before you upload it to your account. Once it's in your Emma account, you won't be able to resize the image or rename the file.

If you're ready to experiment with animation in your email, but aren't quite sure where to start, Style Campaign has a terrific guide to creating animated GIFs in Photoshop.

Have you had any interesting adventures (or misadventures) with animation in the inbox? Share your story in the comments section.

It’s Emma 25 time, folks

We're giving away 25 Emma accounts to small, local nonprofits. Encourage your favorite cause to apply today!

Emma 25 is here, awarding email marketing service to deserving nonprofits

Fall is in the air, and that means it's finally socially acceptable to eat candy corn and dress like Snooki, which is not really something you can pull off in, say, April unless you're actually Snooki.

More importantly, fall marks the launch of our annual Emma 25 initiative. For seven years and counting, we've been awarding a lifetime of free Emma service to small, deserving nonprofits and hoping that our email marketing tools help these causes do even more good work in their communities.

Here's how it works. Nonprofits can apply at myemma.com/emma25 from today through Monday, November 21. We welcome any 501c3 nonprofit with 10 or fewer employees, including current Emma customers. Emma staffers pore over the applications to select 25 (it's unbelievably tough), and we announce the honorees in early December.

Of course, we rely on you to spread the word. Encourage the nonprofits in your community to apply, whether it's a group you support, volunteer with or that's made a difference in your life. And share the news and application page with your social networks, too, if you're so inclined.

And thanks for teaming up with us to do some good!

Write or die: Find the time to write or your business will fall behind

Tips for developing your writing & making proposals a thing of the past

We like Blair Enns' unconventional headshot. He looks a little bit like Clark Kent.

It's difficult to convince anyone of your expertise on any given subject today unless you write. We have Google to blame, or laud, for this.

Now, when we want to find the answer to a question, we just type or speak it into the various Google apps on our numerous devices and, voilà, answers! We do the same thing when we want to find a subject matter expert. The power of organic search has made content marketing the number one lead generation strategy for not just creative firms, but businesses of all types. In this manner, Google is also driving the increased pace of the specialization of knowledge-based businesses across the globe. With so many people writing content on so many subjects, to be seen as an expert these days requires one to write prolifically or to pick a subject area that's not already crowded. In this Darwinian manner, Google is forcing the world into specialized niches and is single-handedly increasing global productivity as a result.

It's clear to me that those who cannot write are going to find business development increasingly difficult. This is a relatively new phenomenon, but it's very real. Writing, I believe, is now more important to the success of a design practice than designing. But what if you are among the many who possess the ability to write but just struggle to find the time to do so? Are you destined to the same fate as those who lack the ability? Perhaps I can help you find the time.

In fact, you're probably still spending between 25% and 50% of your time writing. You're just writing the wrong things.

So I'll offer you this pact: I'll free up ten hours a month of wasted writing time for you, and, in return, you re-allocate that time to writing thought leadership. Deal?

Before we get to the source of the misplaced writing, let's cover some basic principles on your new thought leadership writing commitment.

  1. Go over 1,000 words. Most people can fake anything for 400 or 500 words. One of the hidden benefits of writing to a meaningful length, however, is that it forces you to get smarter. You can blog every day for less than 400 words at a time and still not be meaningfully smarter a year later, but once your word count gets up there (1,200 words seems to be the threshold where I can no longer fake it), you cannot help but be smarter afterward. Set a target of one piece of thought leadership per month and try to go over 1,000 words each time. I promise you that one year later you will be twice as smart as you were when you started.
  2. Go narrow and deep. Once you identify your subject — but before you start writing — do a quick search to see what already exists on the topic. Resist the urge to retread tired, old ground (this will eliminate pretty much anything to do with the topics of branding, transparency or authenticity), and go deep into the crevices of your knowledge base. You'll sacrifice reach, but the value of those who find relevance in the topic will be worth the tradeoff.
  3. Use a strong voice. Zillions of pages of new content are created every day, and so much of it is not worth reading. If you don't experience a meaningful amount of fear before you publish, then you've probably played it too safe. Tackle the conventions and the sacred cows in your writing; just remember to be hard on the issues and soft on people.
  4. Predict the future. You don't need to be right in your predictions to be seen as an expert; you just need to be thinking ahead. You're not an expert if you're not predicting the future.

Finding the time to write

Alright, now let's free up some content writing time. The culprit is proposals. Do a rough estimate on the number of hours you spend writing proposals every month (far, far more than 10 is my guess) and ask yourself, how much of that is wasted?

Ahh, but I'm not merely proposing that you somehow eliminate the proposals that don't get accepted; I'm proposing that you consider the idea that the written proposal does not need to exist and you eliminate all of them.

Intrigued? Want to learn more? Visit Win Without Pitching for tips on finding time to write in lieu of writing proposals.

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Blair Enns is a business development advisor to creative firms worldwide and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, published by Rock Bench. Contact him at winwithoutpitching.com.

Join Blair and ReCourses' David C. Baker at the Emma-sponsored ReCourses New Business Summit in Nashville January 25-27, 2012. Learn more here.

Design showcase: Let’s hear it for holiday spirit

Get a jumpstart on your end-of-year marketing goals with our new Readymade holiday designs

This time of year, it seems that my to-do list grows faster than I can check things off. From holiday shopping to travel plans, crafting parties to gift wrap, there's always something to make, plan or do. Of course, the holidays are particularly busy for Emma's design team, as our customers need top-notch design work for their year-end campaigns. It's a high-volume season, and we know how important it is to rise above the inbox noise.

And so, for the first time, our designers have created dozens of beautiful, handcrafted designs that are ready to go in no time. And each $25 design comes in two formats so you're covered no matter what kind of mailing you'd like to send.

Best yet, the Readymade designs will be available in your account within 3-4 business hours of submitting your request, so even a professional, handmade design can keep up with your holiday to-do list.

Let's take a look at a just a few of our Readymade designs …

Design: Fall Leaves
Designer: Lee Floyd
Design level: Readymade holiday design

Lee may be one of our newer designers here at Emma, but he has already wowed us with his great eye for textures and type, which you can see here in "Fall Leaves" and also on the fancy new holiday page he made. This is one of the few Readymade options with a vertically-oriented postcard, which works beautifully for this particular design because the dimensions give more breathing room to all its rich, varied textures.

Both the postcard and stationery maintain the same design concept, and you'll get both versions with each Readymade you choose. Postcards are designed at a fixed size; they're best suited for quick well wishes, short holiday greetings or brief messages of thanks. Newsletters, surveys and longer marketing pieces, on the other hand, will work best framed by the stationery version, which integrates with Emma layouts and expands vertically to accommodate more content.

Design: Christmas Swirls
Designer: Stef Atkinson
Design level: Readymade holiday design

This beautiful, more traditional Christmas design comes from another of our new designers, Stef, and is a great marriage of delicate, graceful lines and bold pops of red. The end result is certainly formal but still dynamic; the stationery version even has a hand-designed custom frame around the content area for added visual interest.

The postcard version takes up much less vertical space than many of the other postcard designs so your own message gets seen sooner. Like all the Readymade postcards, it includes an editable text box and image box for a personal greeting and branding just below the design. Here, we have a simple year-end message ("From all of us to all of you … Wishing you good times, good cheer and a Happy New Year!") and a sample logo to illustrate how you can add your own touch to the card.

Design: Season's Greetings
Designer: Taylor Schena
Design level: Readymade holiday design

Taylor, one of our senior designers, really wanted to convey the joy of the season with fun gift wrap and interesting textures, but without the traditional red-green color scheme. The content area's cream background adds another complementary but unexpected twist, and it definitely allows the red bow to pop all the more off the screen.

The cream-colored area in the postcard version is textured, and the message is in a specialty font because it's all image-based. The stationery, however, requires websafe fonts and a flat-color background, since textures would have required a background image — and that sort of thing behind live content doesn't work reliably in email. (Websafe fonts are automatically available for selection when you are working on a campaign in Emma in edit mode.)

Design: Shiny New Year
Designer: Stef Atkinson
Design level: Readymade holiday design

Stef's design for New Year's beautifully reflects her signature style; you can tell she has a wonderful sense of color and a photographer's eye for composition. In this design, the light spots and sparkles with hints of bright gold and copper balance well with the simple outer shapes and the classic folded ribbon in a flatter, muted color scheme.

And of course, the beauty of any "Happy New Year" design is that you can send it both before *and* after the holiday itself, such as for New Year's sales that extend through the holiday and into mid-January.

For more tips on seasonal campaigns, be sure to check out Molly's guide to wrangling your own holiday email marketing plan.

Here's to the end of the year, and to stylish, affordable design — we hope this season brings you lots of joy and a schedule full of good work and good times!

Hugs and holiday toasts,
The Emma Design Team

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Ready to create your own holiday campaign? Request one (or more!) of our Readymade designs for $25 each, or take an even more customized approach.

What prompts people to subscribe or unsubscribe from your emails?

Tips for increasing subscription numbers and keeping opt-outs low

We love interacting with our customers and fans on Twitter and Facebook because it gives us the ability to spark a discussion easily — and to learn from a pretty big range of opinions. In a quick poll on Twitter this summer, we asked, What's the most common reason you unsubscribe from an email? Later in the week, we followed up with the question, What's the best incentive for subscribing to a newsletter?

Both topics resonated pretty strongly with our followers — in fact, many of you also asked about these very things in our recent holiday survey — and the answers coincided with a few email best practices that we'd encourage you to implement.

Ready to grab new subscribers and hold on to the ones you already have? Here are five tips:

1. Cater to audience preferences, especially when it comes to frequency.

Not sure if you're sending too much or too little? Asking readers to manage their preferences is a great way to find out how often they're hoping to hear from you.

+ What our followers said about unsubscribing:

  • @ylbesos: I get too many! A biweekly newsletter is quite enough! Everything is NOT a special announcement. >1 a week and it gets nixed

+ Further reading: Marketing Profs lists frequency as the number one reason for opt-outs.

2. Keep content relevant and concise.

With inbox clutter on the rise — especially during the upcoming holiday season — it's as important as ever to say what you mean clearly and quickly.

+ What our followers said about unsubscribing:

  • @kylekutter: I don't find the email's content is relevant to my needs sometimes because there is so much to filter through.
  • @sandies2382: [I unsubscribe if there's] too much content in one email. Keep it simple.

+ What our followers said about signing up:

  • @DolphinTeacher1: [I'm likely to subscribe for] interesting info or tidbits – can't be too long.

+ Further reading: MarketingSherpa shares eight tactics for developing content that's relevant to your readers.

3. Add an element of surprise to your emails and keep the content fresh.

Diversifying your content gives your readers a reason to open — and to be pleasantly surprised with what they find.

+ What our followers said about unsubscribing:

  • @TTCEVENTS: [I opt out] when I realize that the last 5 articles are simply remixes of the first.

+ What our followers said about signing up:

  • @billyadams: [I sign up for] content that makes an impact on me. Not just a re-listing of what's on your site.

+ Further reading: Consider using video as a successful way to re-imagine content that holds your audience's attention. It's better to re-imagine than simply repeat.

4. Set expectations for what your audience will receive, and consider offering some exclusive content or goodies.

Offering rewards is a great way to attract new subscribers. Plus, it's an easy way for you to have fun and infuse your personality in what you do.

+ What our followers said about signing up:

  • @ThreeLakesWI: The best incentive is great content, always.

+ Further reading: One case study shows that offering exclusive content increased email opt-ins by 2,000%.

5. Make signing up quick and simple to do (and never send to folks who didn't subscribe).

Post your signup form where it's easy to find and only collect information that you plan to use later. If you're going to send birthday emails, collect birthdates. If not, leave that field off your form.

+ What our followers said about unsubscribing:

  • @AugustaGolfGirl: #1 [reason to unsubscribe]: Because I never subscribed in the 1st place.

+ Further reading: ClickZ attributes a successful email program to starting with an easy, obvious signup process and goes on to recommend considering a double opt-in to establish a positive relationship with your readers.

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Now it's your turn to weigh in. What prompts you to sign up for new emails, and what has you kicking current ones to the curb?

Contribute to the conversation and follow us on Twitter at @emmaemail.

Behind the scenes of the Atlanta Falcons’ interactive marketing team

We talk email marketing, social media strategy and staying focused during the holidays with Dan Levak, Director of New Media for the NFL's Falcons
Meet the Atlanta Falcons' New Media Group. Dan's on the left.

With the football season in full swing and the holiday season approaching, Dan Levak is a busy man. He directs the Atlanta Falcons' interactive marketing efforts and manages their digital media staff, keeping Falcons fans engaged with their favorite team on a variety of web properties, social mediums and mobile platforms. He took time to share details about the Falcons' email and social media strategy, plus how the team navigates their holiday schedule.

Read on for a glimpse at the Falcons' fine-tuned approach — you'll be as impressed as I was.

How do you use Emma to reach your fans, and how often do you send emails?
We understand that people have more email than they know what to do with so we try to be very disciplined about limiting and consolidating our messaging. We send a weekly e-report that's a digest of significant events, stories and news. We also send a "pre-game" season ticket holder email filled with useful game-specific information relevant to folks attending the game — such as when the tailgate lots open that week, pre-game entertainment options around the Georgia Dome, etc. We also send various one-off emails to fans that opt in for various value propositions: ticket specials, third-party offers, etc. Again, because of the avalanche of email people face today, we are very selective of these third-party offers — there has to be true value to Falcons fans, or we won't send it. On occasion our senior leadership team needs to directly address our fan base, and we use Emma's platform to send out "Letter From…" emails crafted to look like they're on Falcons letterhead. And we also utilize Emma for what we call operational purposes: season ticket renewal information, reminders for deadlines, applications for season-long parking passes, etc. It sounds like a lot – and in the aggregate, it is — but we are very conscious of timing and frequency of our mailings.

Who works on the Falcons' email marketing strategy, and how do you set priorities as a marketing team?
We work under an empowerment philosophy. That's one of the main reasons we're with Emma — the ease of use of the platform. I've used several large enterprise email marketing platforms throughout my time with the Falcons, and many of them require two-day training sessions just to understand how to deploy a single campaign.

Emma's platform was clearly designed with an emphasis on user interface — it's so easy to learn and use. We've been able to empower various departments throughout the organization to deploy their own email campaigns. Our Ticket Office is a prime example. Folks generally aren't experts using HTML or CSS, but we set up very flexible templates that allow them to enter their own content & graphics, schedule their emails, manage their own lists and even monitor their own analytics. It's taken much of the burden off of our digital media group, and it allows them to be much more spontaneous when spur of the moment campaign needs arise.

What's your most popular content, and how do you continue to come up with fresh topics?
We continuously ask the question: "If I were a fan, and I didn't have access to our players, coaches and front office, what would I want to know right now?" It's actually easy when you simply turn it around and always look through the fan prism.

You also use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to reach fans. What's your social media strategy?
The $64,000 question. smile There's so much focus on "social strategy," and yes, we have a very specific one with very tangible strategic goals layered with discreet tactical measures geared toward achieving them.

Without going into too much detail, our social media strategy is centered around two things: be consistent in our interaction and be authentic. We are all bombarded by so much information in our lives. Social media platforms –- especially Facebook & Twitter –- along with the mainstream penetration of smartphones and tablets has created shorter and shorter attention spans among consumers. The mediums are so much more efficient, but this has paradoxically made it more difficult to get your message across. So when someone takes the time out of their busy lives to reach out to us –- via an email, a message board post, a comment on our Facebook page, an at-reply on Twitter –- then we OWE that fan a response. Even a simple acknowledgement that "yes, we heard you" goes a long way. Rewarding someone who invests their valuable and increasingly scarce time with our brand is one of the most important things we do.

And authenticity is paramount. It's not just adhering to the basic customer service tenets of acknowledging your mistakes and not sugar-coating or trying to BS your customers. Authenticity is also about relevance. I created a filter internally that we all use when deciding whether or not to put something in front of our audience on Facebook or Twitter. It's very simple, really. We ask: "Why does this fan care –- what's in it for them?" There MUST be a genuine value proposition, or we're not going to clutter up someone's timeline and risk our users tuning us out on Facebook. For example, if an automotive corporate partner came to us and asked us if we would publish a wall post to our Facebook page announcing their new model year lineup, we would decline. It's not specific enough to our audience, and generic messaging is the bane of effective social media. But if we pushed back and worked with this partner to create a program whereby you visit a local dealership and purchase one of their vehicles in a given month, you get a pair of season tickets for next season –- well, that's different. That's something Falcons fans can embrace and want to know about.

Finally, we look at these social mediums as an extension of our online presence, and we're not focused on our dot-com site's major metrics the way we used to be. Uniques, page views, time-on-site is important, to be sure, but their significance is wrapped in the context of the overall universe — including social. I think making sense of social analytics and being able to derive truly actionable business intelligence from them is a major market opportunity.

This season, you'll play New Orleans the day after Christmas and Tampa Bay on New Year's Day. Any special tricks for maintaining focus around the holidays?
We never have issues maintaining focus. We're all so passionate about our careers and pro football in general — this is what we love to do. What is difficult at times is not being able to spend traditional holidays with your family because the NFL schedule requires you to either play a game or be traveling to a game on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Everyone in this business understands that taking a few vacation days or a full week off around the holidays isn't realistic. It's what we signed up for, and it's one small con in an industry that's filled (literally and figuratively!) with pros.

Do the Falcons have any holiday traditions as a team?
Hopefully we'll look back 10 or 15 years from now and say our holiday tradition each season was getting ready for the playoffs. smile Our owner provides a unique opportunity for all the business units that make up the Blank Family of Businesses to come to Falcons headquarters on a weekday for a mid-December holiday luncheon. It's a great opportunity to meet and visit with folks who share your culture, but not necessarily your day-to-day experience.

We also partner with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for an annual holiday ornament drive. Each year we design a unique ornament, and each one has the number of one of our roster players on it. We manufacture several hundred of each roster number, then the players get together and sign all of the ornaments with their number. Fans can then purchase the autographed ornaments (they're tax-deductible). Because of demand for our highest-profile players, fans don't specify which player's ornament they receive — they're randomly sent out, and it's the luck of the draw. It's a fantastic program that benefits one of the best nonprofit children's hospitals in the nation.

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Connect with the Atlanta Falcons:

+ Sign up for their email newsletter
+ Follow the Falcons' main Twitter feed or any number of staff members, players and cheerleaders , including Dan Levak at @FalconsDLevak
+ Like them on Facebook
+ Check out the team schedule