Things we love: Weekly link digest emails

A few weeks ago, I started to hear some buzz on Twitter for a new site called JavaScript Weekly. It's a simple digest of notable articles from the past week curated by Peter Cooper.

This kind of site is fairly common: a link blog or "tumblog." What makes this site interesting is that it's not a blog — it's an email newsletter.

Sample newsletter from
A simple, smart way to deliver content.

This is such a great way to deliver relevant content to an interested audience. I immediately thought, "I could do that!" And if you keep up with articles and blog posts relevant to your business's industry, I'll bet you could too.

For example, if you collect links with a service like (the now nearly defunct) Delicious, Google Bookmarks or (my personal favorite) Pinboard, you're already collecting a ton of great content that you could be sharing in interesting ways. Grab some of those links, add some brief descriptions and wear out that "Create a New Mailing" button, folks.

P.S. Here's my collection of personal bookmarks in case you need some nerdy inspiration.

The Brainiac Guide to Welcome Email Automation

Design showcase: Some favorites from 2010

For this month's edition of the showcase, some of our designers picked a few of their favorite stationery creations from the year. The selection represents a diverse range of clients, and we like how each design clearly reflects both the personality of the brand and the skill of the designer.

Centennial Pediatrics

Client: Centennial Pediatrics
Emma designer: Elizabeth Williams
Design level: Concierge Design

Centennial Pediatrics is a Nashville-based health care center and a leader in pediatric research and parent education. They already had a solid logo and some good-looking supporting graphics to work with, so Elizabeth's primary challenge was to enhance those images for the world of email. It turned out to be a great working relationship, and the resulting stationery became one of Elizabeth's favorites from the year.

"I loved working with these guys, and they were super pleased with the stationery," says Elizabeth. "They weren't sure how to incorporate their website elements into the design at first, but it turned out to be a fun design for parents and kids alike."

Julie Hanna Photography

Client: Julie Hanna Photography
Emma designer: Kelly McClain
Design level: Concierge Design

When Julie Hanna requested stationery for her photography business, she wasn't sure about the style she wanted to convey. She wanted a visually compelling design, but nothing that would distract the eye or detract from her logo. She sent us a photograph of a woman wearing a scarf that she found particularly beautiful, and Kelly used it as inspiration for the design.

"I tried to create a look that had a similar, flowy feel to it," says Kelly. "I was excited to experiment with different styles because she was so open to trying something new. I ended up layering textures to achieve the final look, and it turned out really well."


Client: U Scoop
Emma designer: Taylor Schena
Design level: Stationery Suite

Maddy from Uscoop needed a decidedly collegiate feel in her stationery design, and she wanted it to be fun. Taylor had the additional challenge of creating a full stationery suite of three designs without a finalized company website to use as reference, and without any supporting graphics beyond the logo. Fortunately, Maddy gave her several inspiration files and the thumbs-up to try some new ideas.

"We talked on the phone about their company, their demographic and business goals, and what they wanted to accomplish with their stationery," says Taylor. "They really liked type with personality — scripts, academic looks and hand-made styles — and they also had an affinity for wood grain textures, old books and paper textures. But they didn't have anything specific to provide, so it was really fun because I had so much creative freedom."

Gillian Lindsay

Client: Gill Lindsay
Emma designer: Jessica Peoples
Design level: Custom greeting card

When Gill Lindsay decided to send her save-the-date notices via email, she went straight to Jessica, one of our senior designers. Jess also got married recently, so working on this design created a special moment for her to share with her friend. (Author's note: Congratulations to both of the happy couples!)

"I loved this one so much because it's personal, simple and inviting," says Jess. "It's always exciting to add drawn elements, and I love using design to make people smile."

For more examples of Emma brand stationery, click here. Ready to request your own? You can reach us here if you'd like to open an account, or here if you're a current customer.

Here's to a design-filled 2011,
Your Emma Design Team

Videos in email? Yes, please.

How two customers increased audience engagement with videos in their email campaigns.

You know how it's fabulous to celebrate your birthday for your entire birth month? (Is that just me?) We feel the same way about celebrating the new year: The month of January is meant for resolution and reinvention. Whether at home or at work, it's time to set new goals and pave the way for a smarter 2011.

If you aspire to refresh your email marketing efforts this year, resolve to add video content to your emails. Video is a personal, interactive addition to your campaign strategy, and it lends your campaign an extra boost of expertise — you can show off a new product, highlight the happenings at a recent company event or give a virtual tour of your store or office space. Further, you'll be able to track who clicks to watch your video, and then you can follow up accordingly.

Asking Matters
Take a look at this fantastic email from Asking Matters, a team of fundraising experts in New York who help their members effectively ask for donations and funds. The campaign received a strong 20% click-through rate, and the video was its most popular link by far. They've extended the conversational tone of their email in a video of the same ilk, and they've included friends and colleagues in the conversation. Asking Matters also got extra traction out of the video by posting it on their blog with a full list of resolutions gathered.

Visit their website
Sign up to receive their newsletter

You may have noticed that Asking Matter's video was not embedded directly in the email. Mail servers aren't fans of bulky videos, and many servers will often outright block an email that contains an embedded video clip. Keep in mind, too, that not all recipients will have the same video player at their disposal. And an embedded video clip cannot feasibly be tracked.

Instead of embedding the video in your email, a better bet is to post your video online — on YouTube, Vimeo or your company's website — and link your recipients to it. Take a screenshot of your video, save it as a jpeg or gif and add it to a 'your image here' placeholder in Emma. Then, link that image to the video clip.

Blue Ocean Ideas
Here's another great example from Blue Ocean Ideas out of Towson, MD. They help emerging and enduring brands design their logos and messages, build their websites and engage with their social networks. What do we find so engaging about this video campaign? It's simply designed and allows their subscribers to better get to know co-founders Greg and Brody. And their subscribers must be interested: This video received a whopping 60% click-through rate, a 45% increase in clicks as compared to their fall newsletter.

Visit their website
Follow them on Twitter

What if you'd rather not post your video on your website or a public video site? Emma's document library lets you upload Quicktime videos, MPEGs, Flash movies, WAV files and more, and then you can link to them right from your campaign.

Ready to try your hand at adding video to your email campaign? Keep these recommendations in mind:

  • Choose a video format that's compatible most everywhere, or consider offering a few different formats.
  • Post your video online or upload it to your document library in Emma rather than embedding it in the email itself.
  • Center a special campaign around your video content, or place your video in the sidebar of a regular monthly newsletter.
  • Remember to check your response numbers, and think about the most appropriate way to follow up with video viewers. You might create a link-based trigger that automatically sends to folks who clicked to view the video.
  • Get the most mileage out of your video by cross-promoting it on your blog or Facebook page.

If you've added videos to your email campaigns in the past, tell us about them. Or, grab the Online Version of your campaign and share it with us in the comments below.

Giving back and looking forward

We're looking forward to finding new ways to give back in 2011, and we're taking a look back at our favorite moments from 2010, too. We had fun finding new ways to push our efforts even further this year and to add in a little creativity wherever possible. I'm so proud of the work Emma does to give back. As you reminisce with us about our 2010 highlights, feel free to give us a shout with any community initiatives that are important to you and your company.

Jessica and Christy with Sam, a favorite on our Meals on Wheels route.

Mobile Meals at St. Luke's
Every Wednesday, two Emma staffers buddy up and deliver meals around the community for St. Luke's. The route lasts about an hour and is a perfect break from the regular workday. Not only do we get to chat with a colleague and maybe even discuss another new project we're working on, but we also get to meet some folks around Nashville and be a part of their lives. Sam seems to be a favorite — he loves the Emma crew, always keeps his yard pristine and is often at the door with a perfectly knotted tie.

Another good friend is Sergy, who's originally from Russia and has a to-die-for smile and peppy attitude. Sadly, his pup passed away a few weeks ago. We all knew and loved that dog, so we found the perfect card for Sergy — no words, just photos, so that he would know we were thinking of him despite the language barrier.

Our involvement with Kiva warms us up like hot cocoa. It's a fantastic organization that helps empower small businesses around the world with entrepreneurial loans. Throughout this year, we've lent money to 25 different people trying to start businesses in countries ranging from Benin to Lebanon, Kenya to Costa Rica, Nicaragua to Iraq. We can't wait to get this year's loans started; already on the 2011 giving list are start-ups in Uganda and the Kyrgyz Republic.

Did you hear about the lady who covered all of the DonorsChoose California requests? That was Emma. Just kidding — but we *were* inspired by that incredible example of generosity. We've been working with DonorsChoose for quite a while now, and the California story has been a great motivator for us to push ourselves further. In 2010, we covered costs for 35 classrooms in need. Many teachers go to work every day without adequate supplies to teach their students, and DonorsChoose allows teachers to post their needs online and request help from anyone who wants to give. As with Kiva, our staffers volunteer and select the classrooms online. Then the best part, of course, is seeing all the sweet thank you notes from the cute kids.

Kelli, Elizabeth and Mary Claire enjoying the Jack and Back ride.

"Bike to Jack and Back" Bike MS
Every year, Jack Daniel's sponsors a two-day bike ride from Nashville to their legendary distillery in Lynchburg, TN, and then back to Nashville. When a staffer forwarded an email about the event to the rest of the company, we quickly realized how many Emma friends and family have been affected by multiple sclerosis. For the first time this year, we had a whole team of riders and volunteers involved in the event, and we began our planning and training in April.

The best part was our not-so-silent auction. We created a sort of online marketplace where anyone from Emma could bid on goods and services offered up by other staffers, and all the money went toward Bike MS. Items staffers offered for auction included eating tapas with our CEO Clint Smith while listening to '80s rock music and one-day-only rights to have Community staffer Kelli Liszka do backbends on command. We had a blast and raised more than $5,000.

Some other organizations we supported this year:

Does your company also love to give back? Let us know what kind of groups inspire you … we want to hear your ideas.

Want to work at Emma? Our sales team is hiring

What is Emma's New Years resolution? To hire more sales people for our Nashville office, of course!

We're adding to our direct sales team here in Nashville. Our current roster includes folks with proven selling skills, strong customer service backgrounds and a healthy knowledge of technology and online marketing trends. Emma is a bastion of personal service, and that commitment infuses everything we do – so any potential customer's interaction with us starts with a top-notch sales experience that is decidedly not "salesy."

What might an Emma "non-salesy" sales person do all day? Allow me to take you on a tour (and we're walking, we're walking). My typical day starts with reaching out to folks who inquire about our services. We take a consultative approach to selling, so I dig beyond the basics to help small businesses and non-profits shape their communications strategy, teach them how Emma can be a part of it and help them get started in their accounts.

When I'm not on the phone, I'm answering emails, so excellent verbal and written communication skills are invaluable, not to mention a healthy dose of patience, flexibility and humor. Within an hour's time, I might find myself teaching a boutique owner how to effectively grow her mailing list, chatting with the IT team of a technology firm about the best way to implement our API and then responding to a non-profit board member with a joke about our shared love of all things bacon-wrapped. Mmm, bacon.

Now it's your turn to visualize. When you join our team, you'll be responsible for meeting (and exceeding) a personal sales goal, but you'll also be working with the entire sales team to reach larger goals. You'll spend some time each day researching industry trends and helping the sales team stay up-to-date on the changing landscape of marketing best practices. You might find yourself involved in an impromptu Hall & Oates sing-a-long before moving on to work on any number of exciting projects and initiatives around the Emma house. You'll work closely with other departments to enhance and improve the Emma product and the overall Emma customer experience. We're all responsible for shaping the future of Emma, and that's pretty darn cool, eh?

Emma's open, learn-as-you-go environment encourages an entrepreneurial spirit and a lively workplace atmosphere. That leads us to have more than your average amount of fun on a daily basis, but we're also focused on our goals. The right candidate to join our team will have that same spirit, drive and work ethic. Love of bacon not required. (Love of Hall & Oates is another story.) Sound like the gig of your dreams? We hope so. Learn more about the position or apply here.

Top 10 2010 Emma blog posts

We loved the way Cheekwood used email and surveys together this year.

Our staff picks for this year's favorite blogging fun.

We didn't cover any political shenanigans on our blog this year, or even Lady Gaga's meat dress, but we did cover lots of ground when it comes to email marketing. (We may have considered making an email replica out of meat when we saw that dress, though.) To celebrate 2010, we're making our picks here for this year's favorite blog posts.

1. What Leonardo da Vinci knew about email: Geoff Alday taught us a new phrase and showed us why Foveal viewports matter.

2. The changing email landscape: Art Quanstrom made some sense out of this shifting industry and shared three tips for staying ahead of the curve.

3. Welcome trigger know-how: Molly Niendorf paved the way for setting up simple welcome triggers and boosting your ROI.

4. When you make a mistake: Cody De Vos outlined what to do when you say something in your email that you didn't quite mean.

5. Our impressive customers: Emily Konouchi took a look at Cheekwood's gorgeous stationery and smart survey they used for their popular Dale Chihuly exhibit.

6. Facebook's big announcement: Grey Garner weighed in on the social network's plans for a new mail and messaging system.

7. Tips from a designer: Kelly McClain gave five ways to improve the visual effectiveness of any email campaign.

8. The Emma 25 check-in: Molly Niendorf put the spotlight on what some of our previous Emma 25 honorees have been doing with their free accounts.

9. Emma hot spots: Suzanne Norman and Kris Wetzel had the scoop on this year's goings-on in New York and Portland.

10. Making the most of social media: Jim Hitch made a compelling case for integrating social networking into your emails.

More to explore

  • Want a little more inspiration? Take a look at our monthly designer showcases and customer stories.
  • Have a favorite blog post of your own? Please let us know in the comments section.

Meet Stroller Strides

What's in, what's out and what's really out when it comes to email campaigns and ponytails.

Here at Emma, we're always keeping an eye on email marketing trends and figuring out the best ideas for our customers. One of the fun parts of my job is relaying that information to some of our key partners such as Stroller Strides, which is a fitness program for moms. In fact, I got together with the franchisees, trainers and staff over at Stroller Strides during their annual conference earlier this year. We talked about email tips and trends to help their franchisees grow their businesses — and these trends just might help you get the most out of your email marketing too.

In: Social sharing
Out: List sharing
Really Out: Side ponytails

Social Sharing
A Stroller Strides campaign with Social Sharing icons.

With the number of accounts added daily to the top social networks, the popularity of integrating with social media with email will only increase in the coming months. The moms at Stroller Strides understand that, so they're taking advantage of Emma's Social Sharing tool, a simple way to include Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn icons on your emails so that your recipients can share your mailing with their network of friends and followers.

Along with the ease of encouraging your audience to share, Emma gives you priceless insight into which audience members are sharing on what networks, and the number of individuals reading the shared mailing. With over 500 millions accounts on Facebook, 190 million on Twitter and 70 million on LinkedIn, Social Sharing is the perfect chance to expand the reach of your mailing and learn about the social spaces where you need to spend more time interacting with friends and followers.

In: Triggered Email series
Out: Sending to send
Really Out: Your NKOTB collection. Yes, even the comeback album.

A Stroller Strides trigger email with a fitness challenge.

Triggered email series give you an ideal way to keep your audience engaged with your unique area of expertise … even if that is boy-band trivia like Donnie's favorite holiday or Joey's nickname (Joe Bird).

At Emma, some of the best response data we've seen is from triggered series that include beneficial and relevant information to the recipient. We've made a couple of additions to the trigger tool in Emma. One update allows you to automatically send to anyone that has completed one of your surveys, and the other gives you the ability to filter any of the trigger events by group.

At Stroller Strides, using triggers means an opportunity to pass along welcome messages, event reminders, valuable meal plan information and fitness ideas. For you, it might mean some of those things too – as well as a world of opportunity to pass along daily, weekly or monthly messages that show off your unique voice and expertise.

In: Creating smart searches
Out: "E-blasting"
Really Out: Matching acid washed jeans and jean jackets

Creating smart searches can give you better results.

At this year's conference, we spent some time giving shout-outs to franchisees that received exceptional response data and reached significant milestones. As we looked for commonalities among these accounts, we found that folks using smart searches and highly organized grouping of member data really stood out. Searching through your audience groups for shared audience member traits allows you to compile a highly engaged group – then you can send them specific and relevant messages. This is ideal when you have a message with an especially interactive or important call to action.

Your mailings will be more effective when you send to those most eager to hear a particular type of message. The most useful part about creating a search in Emma? You can create it based on any data you've chosen to collect about your audience members. If you'd like to create a new type of search that requires collecting more data, encourage your audience to update their preferences, perhaps with an enticing mailing, special offer or simply further information about the new email messages they'll start getting if they give you additional data.

These three techniques have helped our friends at Stroller Strides increase their response rates and reach more folks, so we hope you'll see similar results. We'd love to hear your success stories … or your own lists of what's in and what's out. (But seriously, stay away from those matching acid-washed outfits.)

Things we love: Hand-drawn illustrations in email

The Boys & Girls Clubs draw some attention with the hand-drawn email look.

You know that warm-fuzzy thrill when you spot one hand-addressed envelope in your stack of mail that's otherwise bills and ads and statements and pizza coupons and whatnot?

Do you ever *not* open that hand-addressed envelope first?

Hand-drawn stuff is warm and personal. And in the mass-blasting, digitized and technical world of email marketing, it's especially compelling. After all, if we're all drawn (shameless pun) to the hand-written envelope among our stack of mail, an email with some hand-drawn design might also be more likely stand out in a crowded inbox. I've been looking for an excuse to highlight the lovely illustrated design in this email featured here from Boys & Girls Clubs earlier this fall.

More hand-drawn appeal from Sweet Leaf Tea.

I also love this hand-drawn "send to a friend" granny in Sweet Leaf Tea's newsletter.

How could you add some hand-drawn love to your next campaign?

+ Try replacing your standard icons or photos with illustrations.

+ Add a little hand-crafted texture to your plain email background.

+ Or come up with something entirely different. Find the chronic doodler in your office and report back with your own hand-drawn email masterpieces.

We even incorporated a variation of this handmade approach with our own December email campaign, which you can see here.

Want more handmade email inspiration? Take a look at these Emma customers:
The Button Company, United Kingdom
Pigeon Toe Ceramics, Portland

The year in email marketing

A few of our favorite 2010 email marketing trends, from integrating social networks to breaking design rules.

Among people who love debating inconsequential things, there's a bit of debate over whether we should consider 2010 the last year of the "aughts," or the first year of the "teens." While we're not particularly keen to join in that argument (both teams can get pretty fierce), there's no denying that, for email marketing, 2010 felt like a transitional year. Gone are the days of considering email strategy separately from social media strategy, and gone are the days of thinking of email as "that mailbox you have at your desk." As email becomes increasingly fluid, conversations about inbox behavior and audience engagement have woven their way into familiar discussions about sending frequency and open rates.

As we move into the new decade (or maybe we've been here for a year already?), here are some of the trends we saw in the past year.

Social Network Integration: Savvy email marketers have been synchronizing their email with social media for a while, but in 2010, the two truly became inseparable in the eyes of most marketers (not to toot our own horn, but it's also the year that we introduced our powerful Social Sharing tool). While email is still the most profitable marketing channel available, the way we use email is changing, and the best way to keep your email strategy relevant is to make sure it's suited to how your audience is communicating.

A school integrates email and social media.

Integrating your email and social strategy means recognizing that your followers engage with your brand on different channels for different reasons, and working across those channels to keep them engaged. You can do something as simple as tweeting a link to your email newsletter signup screen (or including a "follow" link in your emails), and it can grow to include multi-channel campaigns.

The best part? You don't have to be a tech wizard, a marketing guru, or a web, um, medicine man to be great at social media. In fact, some of the most inspired campaigns we've seen have come from smaller businesses and community groups who know how to stay close to their audience. Take this campaign, from Somerville Public Schools. Gathering everyone's favorite quotes about education on Twitter, then sharing those quotes in their next newsletter? Brilliant! Oh, and incredibly easy and affordable, too.

Blue Ocean Ideas encourages feedback.

Email-to-Blog Comment Links: Marketers also have been finding ways to bring the one-on-one direct communication power of email into other, more community-oriented spaces this year. If, like many companies, you sometimes share your blog content through email, invite your readers to join the discussion.

Blue Ocean Ideas, a Maryland-based full-service branding and design firm, does this in their blog and email series, "The Weekly Idea," where they share an idea with their readers and invite them to contribute their thoughts. But when Blue Ocean shares these ideas via email, they take one easy extra step to invite discussion: Following the content of each email, they post a link to that blog post's URL with the title, "Comment on this week's idea." It's simple, and it brings their audience into the conversation with one easy click.

Expanding the "Special Event": Around this time in previous years, if you'd mentioned "Cyber Monday" to a relative or neighbor, the odds are good that you would have been met with a blank stare, or possibly a slap in the face. But now Cyber Monday has entered the common vernacular as a sales event holiday for online retailers ("Black November," an also-ran term for extending the holiday sales frenzy throughout the entire month, didn't fare so well in 2010, but keep an eye out for it in 2011).

Email played a critical role in Cyber Monday sales events — according to a report by Responsys, Cyber Monday set a new all-time record for promotional email volume for the fourth year in a row. Some retailers, like Home Depot, even went for the controversial "double dip" strategy of adding another Cyber Monday promotion the following week.

Groupon developed a separate holiday program.

Around the holidays, when promotional email volume spikes sharply, some savvy marketers went the extra mile to let their audience know what they could expect over the next few weeks, effectively turning the entire holiday season into one prolonged email-driven event. Ever ahead of the game, Groupon even took the liberty of creating their own fictional winter holiday.

"Grouponicus" emails come separately from standard Groupon emails, and they feature decidedly holiday-oriented promotions (and a characteristically strange mascot, "Groupo" the snake-tailed bird). You can even opt out of "Grouponicus" mailings with one click while remaining subscribed to your standard Groupon messages. It's their way of offering extra holiday specials while letting their audiences know that this email volume boost is temporary and seasonal.

The holidays were far from the only extension of the "online event" that we saw this year. As retailers seek creative new ways to drive sales, marketers tried out some new tactics, like the Gap's "descending discount" 3-day sales event — act on the first day for a 20% discount, the second for a 15% discount, etc. They also revisited some tried and true methods, like the "2-hour" sales event for early responders.

Bending the rules with email design: When it comes to email marketing, there are "Do's," like keeping your most important content towards the top of your campaign, there are "Don'ts," like sending files as an attachment to your emails, and then there are those practices that fall somewhere in between. They can be risky, they don't always work and many email marketers who prefer to play it safe avoid them altogether. This year, we saw some savvy email marketers take some interesting risks with their email campaigns. Take animated GIF images, for example. They don't load consistently, and many of your readers won't see any animation in their campaign — just the very first image in the animation series. But for those readers who are capable of viewing animated GIFs in their email client, they can add a splash of style to your email. Nine West took this risk in a fall campaign, dedicating half of their email content to an animated GIF of a rotating shoe. Not all of their readers saw any movement here, but the ones that did were treated to a snazzy, runway-style reveal of their flagship fall boot.

Another oft-cited design issue is email campaign width. In order to be viewable in every inbox, the general consensus is that you should keep your email campaigns around 600 pixels wide (this is becoming even more relevant in the era of mobile viewers, smaller viewing areas demand narrow campaigns). But not every marketer wants to feel bound by pixel width, and some marketers decided to go wide — really wide. This email campaign from London's Le Cool Magazine did away with pixel width limitations and vertical orientation entirely, opting for a horizontal, magazine-style email experience. It's a bold move, and one that certainly caught our eye. But email, and the web in general, remains a vertical scrolling experience, and while there's always room for dreamers, it's not a switch we'd recommend for everyone.

More trends of note:
Those are just a few standouts we've noticed in a year of email innovation and experimentation — see our previous blog posts about the changing landscape of email for more, including our commentary about Gmail's Priority Inbox and Facebook's mail announcement.

Did you experience any of these trends yourself? Did anything new catch your eye in the past 12 months? Let us know in the comments section, and we'll keep the conversation going. It's sure to be more fun than the "aughts" vs. "teens" debate going on in the break room.