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The Coming of Age of Socialised Emails

The introduction to Groundswell, a book by Forrester, says:  “Right now, your customers are writing about your products on blogs and recutting your commercials on YouTube. They’re defining you on Wikipedia and ganging up on you in social networking sites like Facebook. These are all elements of a social phenomenon — the groundswell — that has created a permanent, long-lasting shift in the way the world works. Most companies see it as a threat. You can see it as an opportunity.”

Socialised emails can be used as an opportunity to contribute to the Groundswell positively by providing your customers with shareworthy content. Moreover, socialised emails can be used to spread the word far and wide with very little effort from the marketer. SWYN (Share with your Network) has more potential than FTAF (Forward to a Friend) ever had.  The concept of viral emails is easy to grasp – by their very nature, email is a viral medium. FTAF recognised this and tried to harness this viral effect of emails, but essentially it was an uphill battle, for as the name implies, it was asking the subscriber to forward the email to a friend (singular), SWYN is altogether a more virile beast and utilises the subscribers networks to spread the word, thus benefiting from the exponential effect.

 Socialised emails are still in their infancy as a tool in the marketer’s belt.  However some there are a few reports about which can help us to understand their potential, so let’s get to and check out what has been discovered about them so far…..

Does socialising your email result in increased CTR’s?

In a report by GetResponse, they state that by socializing your emails you can increase on average 30% higher CTR over non-socialised emails. This varies according to how many networks you offer to share via – for example if you provide 3 networks in your email, then your CTR can increase by 55%!

So, how many marketers are socialising their emails?

GetResponse, states that 13.5% of their clients are using their SWYN tool whilst eROI, states that 59.1% of their clients are using their sharing tools. In a Smith-Harmon report released a year ago, they determined that 13% of USA online retailers were using SWYN as a strategy.

Glancing in my eclectic, international inbox, I calculate that 25% of B2C emails are using SWYN icons with the most popular being Facebook and Twitter, B2B emails however are up around the 45% usage with the Linkedin, Twitter and Facebook being the majority of icons used.

 So, which networks are being utilised the most?

 In the USA retail industry according to Smith-Harmon, the top 3 are Facebook, Twitter and MySpace; eROI – Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin; GetResponse – Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. 

Interestingly enough GetResponse reports that Twitter has the highest CTR (Click-Through Rate), with Facebook coming second and MySpace in third place.

Is it necessary to track the results?

More than ever we need to be listening to our subscribers/customers and give them what they want…the impact of not doing so is greater now than ever before. I don’t just mean looking at unsubscribe rates, complaints and CTR’s – but the SWYN statistics can provide some invaluable information about what your subscribers/customers consider to be valuable and shareworthy.

Due to the ‘newness’ of SWYN, it is not as yet mainstream, and neither marketers nor subscribers are fully au fait with the nature of it or in fact, I believe, its full potential. So if you are thinking of utilising SWYN within your campaigns, be sure to introduce it and educate your subscribers – don’t just lump it in your email and hope they pick up on how it works. With the majority of Email Service Providers offering SWYN tools, implementing socialised emails isn’t a major headache and could well end up being a handy tool in your marketer’s toolbox. If you are currently socialising your emails and have a great case study or some more interesting statistics available, I’d love to hear from you.


“Groundswell: Winning in a world Transformed by Social Technologies” (, Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li, May 2008

 ”FTAF va SWYN: The State if Email Sharing”, Smith-Harmon, August 2009

“Email Marketing and Social Media Integration Report”, GetResponse, May 2010.

“The Current State of Social, Mobile and Email Integration”, eROI, May 2010

It’s time to get tough on Open Rates

When I first moved from traditional direct mail into email marketing way back in 1996 it was all terribly exciting.  Here was a shiny new medium that could do what direct mail did – and more – for less.  Nothing seemed more thrilling than “open rate tracking”…being able to spot people who had engaged with our message but for whatever reason decided not to pursue the relationship further.  This was as good as looking over people’s shoulders as they read their mail in the morning.

And yet.  Over the years the value of an “open rate” has been devalued so much that I am beginning to believe it can cause more trouble than it’s worth.   Sweet, pure, innocent email marketers regularly ask me at training courses and seminars “what’s a good average open rate?” and my heart goes out to them.  What kind of a world have we created where people truly believe that an “average open rate” is both a useful and necessary benchmark of email success? 

It’s a render rate, not an open rate.

People who do email for a living know that an “open rate” is not the same as an “engagement rate”.  As email programmes have become more suspicious it has had a direct impact on our open rate.  In 1999 pretty much everything opened by default with images enabled for the whole wide world to see.  Today, image-enabling by default is non-existent…and let’s not pretend that “safe sender list” status and authentication programmes have made but there merest dent into campaign open rates. 

We know that people who lovingly read text versions of messages or look at our email off-line will never make it into the “opened” segment.  We also know that people who have enabled images to be shown may not really be on the cusp of buying, but they did want to see a little more of what you sent them, and that could be a good or a bad thing…

The thing we have been poor at communicating is that the open rate tracking system is a technical process and not a customer engagement one.  Sit somebody down and explain how it all works and most people “get it”.  Pretend that an open rate is a critical success factor of email campaigns and we are doing our industry a disservice.

Improve your open rates – design your emails badly

Here’s a funny thing.  I have been aware recently of having to “open” a message in order to confirm that the message was NOT what I was interested in, and at least one time when I opened by accident!  Big brands who should know better (at least their agencies and brand teams should know better) have sent me emails with so little chance of being effective with images disabled that I had to do all that double-clicking lark just to prove that it was an irrelevant offer/message.  Yet on the other side of town there is some poor email marketer who has just noticed that David Hughes has opened their latest promotion and is probably a couple of clicks away from being a purchaser.

So shouldn’t we be helping these clients understand the rendering challenge and tell them that it may mean your open rate suffers, but that’s not a bad thing.  Here’s some advice from Campaign Monitor:

“From a designer’s perspective, an email is successful when it meets the following goals:

  • Retains visual integrity in the most commonly used email clients with images enabled.
  • Retains readability in the most commonly used email clients with images disabled.”

So, the concept of “graceful degradation” is still ignored by many email marketers.  Brands are often the worst offenders (“we need our logo as an image to take over the top of the email”), closely followed by publishers (change “logo” for “masthead”).  They’re getting a few people to “open” just to see whether the message is relevant.  So, bad design can help your open rate, but probably not your “engagement rate”.

So where can an open rate be vaguely useful?

It’s not all doom and gloom in the 1×1 gif/HTML sniffer/web beacon world.  Sometimes open rate scan be really useful:

  • Tracking if a segment of key individuals are still opening messages
  • Finding out who has opened an email for the first time in a re-activation programme
  • Anybody who has opened, but not clicked in a particular recency window (assuming I know the difference between “rendered” and “engaged”

 Maybe a few others – but it’s a depressingly short list.  So here are some scenarios where I couldn’t care tuppence about an open rate:

  • Anybody who has requested to receive text versions of messages
  • Anybody who has clicked on anything in a time period – I may be interested in channel engagement more than campaign engagement

 So there we have it.  In my opinion open rates are a blunt tool for measuring anything but the most basic email success.  There are a range of tests we could take an un-engaged segment of recipients through to improve open rates and that would include:

  • From field
  • Subject line
  • Preview Pane
  • Day and time of send
  • Long v short copy

I dare say that I could bump up the average open rate a bit along the way.  But, if a client asked me “how do I improve my open rate” I’d probably have to say:

Option 1.  Send an HTML only email to everybody and make sure they can’t understand it with images disabled.  That should do the trick.

Option 2.  Ask “how do I improve my email success rates” and we’ll have a chat about the limitations of tracking technology and the need to track “outcomes” by segment, not averages.

So there.

Ford versus Ling's Cars. Email Address Gathering

Let me start with an apology.

Dear Ford, I am sorry that your email registration is so bad that for 3 years I have been using it as an example of how not to do it.  I am the owner of a Ford Galaxy and a Ford Fiesta and have owned more Fords than any other car brand.  My mother recently bought her 14th Ford car and so it is in my genes to be brand loyal.  It’s only because I care that I choose to write about my on-line experience.  So there.

Now I’ve got that out of my system here’s the business issue:  The aim of an email marketing programme should be to acquire, convert and retain customers.  When we focus on the start of this process we should be looking to convert as many vaguely interested web visitors into qualified prospects by encouraging them to part with an email address or some other direct relationship (RSS subscriber, or Twitter follower, or Facebook Fan, and so on).

I’d like to think of these as “visitor-based micro-conversions”.  Having the mechanism to get back in touch with people is an important first step in a long sales process.  So, maybe one of the most important things you can work on is turning a visit into a lead, and I did a little blog on that a year ago to help you with the maths.

Gentlemen, start your engines

OK, which one of these 2 sites do you think offers the best email registration experience?

Now, on first impressions it’s a walk-over.  The sleek engineering of the Ford site will power past poor old Ling’s Cars and their (deliberately) amateur look and feel.  And yet…

First challenge is to find the button that allows people to sign up.  It’s in the top navigation on Ling’s site and also a long way down the right hand content bar.  It’s an image with a recognisable “Email Updates” or “Get Car Updates” heading.  In one click I am on my way.

However, on the Ford site there is no obvoius link for people to begin an email relationship.  The call to action people may be looking for is something like “click here to sign up for our newsletter”, but it’s nowhere to be seen on the Ford site.

Right at the very bottom of the left hand navigation is a cryptic “keep me informed” link.  Could this be the one we need to follow?  Who knows.  So, in terms of clarity of the navigation, Ling’s Cars is a bit ahead in the race to generate a registration…even though it is harder to find, the objective is clearly shared.

Lap 2 – what happens next?

In my breathless haste to sign-up for the Ford newsletter I click on the least important link on the home page (that’s what the Home Page Committee thinks of the importance of building relationships eh?).  I go to a new page that is strangely deviod of any of the magic and sparkle that was on the home page.  It is as if I have arrived at a completely new site, designed in about 1975.


Where is the persuasive momentum in that journey?  There is nothing on this page suggesting that this is the right journey, how long it will be and what the rewards will be.  It’s a leap of faith to click a button and proceed to the next page.  But, as you know, I love Ford and so I click the New Galaxy box and click in faith…  

Meanwhile, on Lings Cars, I’m on a page that delivers the value proposition, asks questions with explanations why you need to share the data and it is all done in a seamless, humorous way.  It’s pretty good.

Not only that, the Ling’s Cars registration page is dynamic, using client side rules to make the experience swift and painless.  And how about this for humour…the map of the UK alters dynamically based on your Post Code selection and comes up with some on-brand opinions about where you live…its about as fun as email registration gets…well done Ling! 


Better still, as you work through the form more dynamic content appears…like images of the car make and model that you have selected.  The whole process is engaging, relevant…even exciting!


Error Messages?  Sorry again, Ford

In June 2008 I wrote a Blog piece entitled “The 1 Million Pound Error Message” and ventured to suggest that the way Ford told people off could be costing £1m of lost sales a year.  It’s a pity that 2 years on we still have the same error messages.  Here is Ling’s one, and beneath it Ford’s version.  I venture to suggest that Ling’s Cars uses red imagery and rude tone of voice in a horrible font because they are pretending to be un-professional, whereas Ford….?

Anyway, my point here is that “error messages” should be called “sorry, we didn’t explain things very well messages” and we should be using all our persuasive techniques to re-assure people that they should continue in their journey.

Page 3 – and Journey’s end for Ling’s Cars

Well, it’s been a short, pleasant drive and we’re greeted at our destination by Ling with a personalised landing page in the form of a sample email.  Delightful.  And at the same time a welcome email has pinged into my in-box and I am re-assured that everything is now under control.  Put the kettle on.  Have a cup of tea.  After a little while look out the window and see if there is any sign of the Ford email registrant.  I have a feel they are a very long way from home….



Where are they?

It’s getting dark.  the Ford subscribers should have been here hours ago.  So you go out to find them and discover why they are so slow.  On page 3 of the Ford registration we are asked for our Post Code.  Now, that might be enough to dissuade plenty of people from going any further, and it seems a strange time to ask for such details.  I think Steve Krug sums up my views with a cartoon from his excellent new book.

Anyway, as I LOVE the Ford brand I am willing to share my postal details and I get to the next page.  But Ford have done the web equilavent of changing road signs at this stage of the journey:  On most web sites the “next stage” button is at the bottom on the right, so I click on that button and find myself going round and round in circles wondering why they want my post code AGAIN.  After a few loops of this process I see the right sign post and, clicking on the left hand button I get to the next page.  This is what Her Majesty the Queen would see if she was popping her post code in…

Are we nearly there yet?

By now the passengers in the Ford car are getting a little fractious.  They set off on this journey a long time ago and its taking much longer than planned.  Only the people who REALLY want to get to the end will be still travelling (more of that in a minute).  We round what we think is the last corner and we are greeted with the most confusing, demoralising page so far…

So, what a frightening form.  And look at all those mandatory fields – Phone Number as well…so unless I share my phone number my whole journey has been a complete waste of time.  Anyhow, let’s just put our foot down, grit our teeth and drive on into the night and we should be home soon.

Eventually I get to a thank you page that does include my name, but there is little else to re-assure me that this is the start of a wonderful journey.  I’m tired, stressed and not really sure what I will receive and when.  A quick look in my in-box and, Surprise!, there is no welcome email for me.

What have we learned from all that?

Using Ford as a metaphor for any customer form we see that we should try and keep data gathering to a minimum, unless we are building the value exchange and encouraging people to keep going all the way.  Think about “persuasive momentum” as people are going through the process, remembering to make your error messages and any other navigation as on-brand and encouraging as possible.

The delicious irony of all this is I reckon Ford probably get really good results from their email marketing…their open, click rates and outcomes are probably better than average.  But they have probably put off most of the prospects due to the lenghty registration process and the people who make it to the end really really want a Ford car.  Like me.

Happy motoring.

The Best Election Email Ever?

We’re gripped with election fever in the UK right now.  We’re being told to vote with our hearts by some parties, and tactically with our heads by others.  One thing we do know is that this election has been dominated by the old medium of TV and not silly old new media.

However,  to show just what is possible, here is a great viral campaign from the Obama camp a couple of years ago.  Pretend that you’re called David Hughes (it’s easy for me) and you’ve just been sent an email from a friend worried that non-voting will ruin Obama’s chance of victory.  Click on this link and enjoy great personalisation, fantastic re-statement of the issue and some really nice calls to action to spread the word.

Happy voting

Flybe fills the skies - and in-boxes

Nice touch from FlyBe this morning, a few hours after planes are allowed to take to the air over the UK again.  They have sent me an email thanking me for my patience.  I have not been affected by the current disruption and was not pacing around waiting for the cloud to lift.  And yet, as a regular customer of Flybe I feel involved, valued.

It’s a one-size-fits-all message with no personalisation or apparent segmentation, but sometimes, when the message is relevant and timely, that’s good enough.  I’m still waiting for BA, Easyjet, Malev, Finnair, BMI and Virgin (all who I’ve flown with in the past 12 months) to get in touch, so well done Flybe for being nimble-footed!

Life Time Value - a free spreadsheet to help with all the tricky sums

My last blog post in collaboration with Avinash Kaushik included a wonderful free souvenir. It was an Excel workbook that we created to help with all the tricky sums you’ll need to crunch when you begin a life time value analysis of your business. The blog has generated lots of queries about the topic that we thought we would remind people there’s a tool to help!

So, feel free to download the “Life Time Value Workbook” and use it to kick-start your LTV journey. One Worksheet helps you understand just how different your “best” and “average” customers may be. Simply plug in a few facts about order values, number of sales a year and how long they have been customers for and BINGO the spreadsheet shows you how much profit you make from different customer types.

The second worksheet takes you though a much more complicated LTV model for a specific customer segment. It lets you make projections up to 5 years ahead and builds in the “Net Present Value” calculations so that you can impress your Bean Counters that you recognise there is a risk involved in spending money on marketing.

One final thought. You’ll need to do some rummaging around in buckets of data to get some of the customer information – don’t expect it all to be waiting for you in your web analytics tool. For example, you may not have “repeat orders” consolidated for individual customers – you’ll have to run a few reports to get a basic “single customer view” and then tot up their total spend and total orders for a given period.

Once you have that data, you can rank and segment the customers into best, average and worst. Or, by adding a source code, you could split your file down between “email list rental” versus “affiliate” customers, or people recruited by “price offers” versus “partner offers”. You should be able to see patterns emegring that will have a profound impact on your future acquisition and retention activity.

Our blog and the comments will give you much more food for thought.


Life Time Value - solving tomorrow's problems today

I have been meaning to write a piece about life time value for many months.  It’s the most important metric for marketers focussed on optimising long term value for their organisations, yet in the digital world we have not really embraced it.  This is partly because the industry is not old enough to need to worry about customer segment performance in 3 or 4 years time, so we could put it down to a “capability-maturity” thing.

However, as we drag ourselves out of recession now may be a great time to consider whether you are recruiting the “right” customers and using the “right” metric. By happy co-incidence I was invited by the wonderful Avinash Kaushik to work with him on a piece on life time value and the results of our endeavours can be found here on

Happy reading!

Email and Social Media

Are you responsible for growing your email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter followers?  Have you tried asking people from one channel to follow you in another?

Just received an email from Thomson holidays with the subject line “Customer top rated holidays from £197 plus follow us on Twitter”.  Shows that they think growing their Twitter following is worthy of a bit of prime email real-estate.  And having become the 438th Twitter follower I’m guessing their Email to Twitter ratio is in the 2,000:1 area.  And with only 60 fans on Facebook for their Ski pages we can probably say they are just setting off on a long-haul social media strategy.  So, let’s not get too carried away with all those boutique destinations for poking and tweeting when the big crowds are still to be found in Emailmarketingland

Deliverability Issues

Does it seem to you that when you view “openings” within your statistics, that fewer recipients seem to be opening your campaigns?…

Where: There are 3 places your email can go once you have hit ‘send’ on your latest e-marketing campaign:

1. The Inbox. Safely delivered (and hopefully read!)
2. Junk Mail Box. This has negative implications on:
a: Brand image
b: Decreased profile
c: Inaccurate campaign reporting
3. Undelivered. (…or are they?)

Why: The 3 main reasons why your statistics show less recipients are opening your campaigns:

1. Filters.

2. Fallen out of favour.

3. Statistics not accurate.

How: Let’s talk about how we can improve both the deliverability and the statistics of your campaign:

1. Filters. When an email is wrongly filtered out as Spam, this is known as a “False Positive”. Here is a list of the most commonly used filters.

a) Community: This is based on the community joining together and installing the filters, then reporting any occurrences of Spam. False Positive occurrences should be low, but in reality they aren’t. This is due to a couple of reasons: The first being the weed theory. What one person regards as a weed, another may regard as a flower. We all have different opinions. The other is that many people are now reporting once wanted email as Spam instead of unsubscribing.

b) Blacklisting: ISP’s generally use their own proprietary lists of known Spammers, created by themselves. Third party blacklisting companies also publish databases of Spam senders. False Positive’s are extremely high, as these third party blacklists have no accountability. In fact anyone can report an IP Address as a Spammer and do not have to qualify their reasons.

c) Address recognition: Sender’s email address is in the recipient’s address book or the server’s/gateway’s acceptable list. Email senders must earn their position within these lists.

d) Trapping: The filter company plants email addresses all through the Internet to attract Spam Harvesters. Once the false addresses receive Spam, the source of the Spammer is identified; the sender is then blocked immediately across all users of the filter. False positives are extremely low.

e) Challenge-Response: This white listing concept is based on all emails being Spam and the sender having to prove otherwise. Before an email is delivered, the ISP or PC that uses the filter challenges that a human sent the email. The sender has to then manually click the link and then they are added to the subscriber’s permissible list. Any auto-responses such as Double Opt in responses do not work well with this type of filter.

f) Rule-Based: This is the most commonly used type of filter on a server. It catches Spam by rejecting/accepting messages based on predetermined rules of what is acceptable.

g) Bonded Sender: Email markers gain status as a non-Spammer through these bonder senders and are therefore permitted through the filters.

h) Volume Blocking: Spammers are known to send high volume emails without thought to speed, volume or list cleanliness. The ISP sees the large amount as well as the other problems and terminates the connection.

i) Probability: Using rules, this filter “learns” the user’s definitions of Spam and decides what may be regarded as Spam. False Positives increase as rule-based Spam is reduced.

To combat these filters and to work towards not being a “False Positive”, you should make sure that your Email Service Provider:

1: Manages delivery list hygiene and opt outs (or provide tools for you to do so and automate opt outs etc)
2: Manages ISP relations
3: Provides Anti Spam tools and testing functionality
4: Provides Copy advice or tools
5: Provides Copy rework and testing cycle
6: Separates your campaigns from everyone else’s i.e sends them separately
7: Monitors delivery outcomes
8: Check blacklists often

You should also ensure that:
* Your recipients want to receive your emails
* You only send emails meeting the permissioned purpose
* You are explicit-what, when, how often
* You provide easy to use unsubscribe links
* You invite recipients to add you to known senders list

2. Fallen out of favour, but not unsubscribed. An unfortunate trend nowadays is for recipients to report as spam or assign to the junk box, rather than to unsubscribe from the newsletter. For this reason alone, make sure your unsubscribe action is easily achieved. According to Jakob Nielsen’s Newsletter Usability Report, the 3 main reasons for newsletters falling out of favour are:
1) Too frequent
2) Irrelevant Content
3) Not signed up
If your statistics are showing less openings, then reviewing your list, your content and your frequency maybe applicable.

3. Statistics not accurate. This can be caused by 3 main reasons:
1) An increased amount of text only recipients. Most ESP’s deliver using MIME Technology, which ensures the recipients receive the correct format for their requirements. Increasingly more recipients are able to receive HTML, although with “text only” email providers such as Gmail coming on this scene, the balance maybe maintained.

2) Delivered to Junk mail box. Emails that are read by the recipient in the junk mail folder may not produce any response or statistical information and so can affect the accuracy of the campaign report.

3) Image blocking, which means that the campaign ‘opens’ cannot be tracked, hence giving you an incomplete report. This is one reason to educate users about the need to add trusted senders to their address books, as AOL and MSN (Hotmail etc) don’t display images in e-mail from unknown senders by default. However, if you can convince your recipient to add you to their address book, thereby ‘whitelisting’ you, the images will display by default and they will receive your HTML email as it was intended to be seen.

A solution to this is to run an “Add to Address Book” campaign. The aim is to get subscribers to add senders to their address books. Add this text to the Thank You page after a new subscription is collected, add it to a Confirmation Message and the Welcome Message, and add it to the top of the HTML and Plain Text versions of the email. Make it part of your template, add it near the top of your template as well as near the unsubscribe link. Some examples are: “Want to unsubscribe? Click here!” “Want to make sure that you keep receiving our valuable publication? Be sure to add [insert your sender address here] to your address book!”).

Hopefully these hints and tips will better equip you in getting your campaigns delivered into your recipient’s inboxes.

Weekend Trends: Retailers continue to throttle back post-Valentine's

It seemed like Valentine’s Day was a great excuse for sharing some love. Pretty much all the usual e-commerce email marketers had some angle on it. My personal favourite has to be the wonderful Screwfix’s effort of…

“Nothing says “I love you” better than a pink drill”

Wonderful stuff!

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