Our good friend Neil (who's working on some kind of top secret travel RSS thingamajig, by the way) sends us this link to Download.com's Code Monkey. Looks like a fairly new "tips, tricks, and reviews" kind of blog, for beginning web designers. If you're a small biz "design-it-yourselfer," you might keep an eye on it. We bet it'll grow into something useful real soon (hey, c'mon folks, they've got a monkey! There's always potential when there are monkeys involved!). Hmm, on the topic of monkeys, you can never forget the Webmonkey guys, and their "Monkey Bites" blog. And one of our new favorites is Tip Monkies.
Using Loyalty Programs to Combat WalMart
Welcome back! Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? For those of you who went out shopping on "Black Friday," hope you made it back in one piece (especially if you actually tried going to a WalMart---sheesh, those shoppers are fierce). Speaking of WalMart, here's a case study from the HUB magazine about how Pueblo Supermarkets, based in Puerto Rico, ramped up their loyalty marketing program when WalMart entered their market. Unlike most retailers, they "faced down WalMart and lived to tell about it because they not only have a customer database, but they actually use it."
Top 4 Email Marketing Trends for 2006
MarketingSherpa's just released their 2006 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide, and published a free copy of the Executive Summary here: Top Four Email Marketing Trends to Watch in 2006. Pretty interesting stuff, like a cool new html email eye-tracking study they did (apparently, people read more when there are images somewhere in the email). They also talk about deliverability issues, misleading deliverability reports, and campaign experimentation. Thanks again to the sherpa folks---where the heck do they get all their energy?
Email Marketers Don't Test Enough
This article from BtoB Magazine rants about how most email marketers just aren't doing enough testing. They're not talking about the technical, "do my hyperlinks work, and do my tables break in AOL?" testing (although that's important too). They mean testing offers, subject lines, from-names, day-of-week, time of day, etc. A/B splits and stuff. Good advice and ideas for testing your own email campaigns.
Double Opt-in "Thank You Screens"
I'm an opt-in freak. I'll opt-in to just about anything, just to see what happens (thank goodness for Gmail accounts). I mostly do it for MailChimp research. I'm going to start posting screenshots of things I find here. Maybe you'll get some ideas for your own email marketing efforts.
First example is New Scientist. I recently stumbled upon their article called, "Meditation Builds the Brain" and saw that these guys have a free newsletter, which uses the double-opt-in method...
When you use the double opt-in method, people submit their email address, then you send them a confirmation email where they must click a link in order to "confirm" their subscription. If the recipient doesn't click to confirm, they're not added to the list. This is the way to go nowadays, and it's the only way MailChimp's list management tool works.
Your Double-Opt-In Thank You Screen Sets Expectations
Anyways, when someone enters their email address on your website form, you take them to a "Thank You page," and remind them to 1) Check their email inbox, and 2) Click the confirmation link. You might also tell them when to expect the email, who it'll be from, how to check their spam filters, etc (BTW, MailChimp lets you totally customize the look and feel, HTML, and CSS of your Thank You page).
I thought this was a nice "Thank You" screen from New Scientist's double opt-in process. They really cover a lot of ground here, but it was all very quick and easy to understand...
MailChimp v2.3 Coming Soon
We've been working on MailChimp v2.3 for about a month now, and we're almost ready to open it up to Beta testers. Strict orders from Mark and Dan (the chief nerds here) not to hint at any release dates this time. Something about "roundhouse kicking me in the face" if I ever do that again.
Anyways, v2.3 is in the works, and it's coming soon. It's not the "flashiest" upgrade we've made, but it's definitely one of the biggest, and it lays the foundation for the really kick-ass stuff in v2.4...
Basically, MailChimp v2.3 will be a complete email server overhaul. We're replacing our current email delivery engine with the same heavy-duty MTA used by AOL Advertising, Bank of America, Sony, Thomson Financial, Travelocity, and some other big names. We're also getting some powerful new hardware, in order to handle the recent growth spurt we've experienced this year.
Speed and Authentication
The result is that things should run a whooole lot faster than they do now. Nobody complained about slowness before, but trust us---you're gonna like how fast things get after v2.3.
Also, this change will allow us to get Email Authentication in place, to help prevent anyone's emails from erroneously being tagged as "suspicious."
Email Authentication is a technology that verifies that an email claiming to be from a server is indeed coming from that server. There are two major players in the authentication field (Read about Yahoo's DomainKeys and Microsoft's SenderID), and they're duking it out right now. It doesn't look like there will be a clear winner (let alone clear standards) anytime soon, so we'll be implementing both. It requires some pretty server-intensive stuff, which is part of the reason for our upgrade.
We haven't had any deliverability issues linked to authentication either, but some major ISPs have talked about implementing authentication sometime late this year, and we want to be ready for it. Thank the nerds for being a little proactive over here.
Beta Testers Needed
Would you like to get a sneak-peek at the new version, and take the powerful new delivery engine (and authentication features) for a spin? Help us beta test v2.3! Just send us an email from our contact page, and we'll put you on the invite-list. As always, beta testers will get cool prizes in exchange for their help.
The Really, Really Cool Stuff: v2.4
What's really cool is that once we get the new email delivery engine in place, we'll have the server resources to finally launch some super-duper email campaign reports, that'll allow you to track---hey, why are the programmers circling around me with the numchuks?
Sirius / Howard Stern Email Trailer
The Wall Street Journal posted an article (membership required) about the heated battle between Sirius and XM. What's interesting is that Sirius just launched a video trailer about Howard Stern's January debut, but since it's too "raunchy" for TV, they're showing it during previews at R-rated movies, and---here's the part we like---they've sent it via email to Howard Stern's opt-in list. We found a copy of the Stern email trailer here (Flash animation with sound. It's raunchy, but not graphic). Say what you will about Stern's show, but kudos go to Sirius and Stern for using email to keep things true to his personality (you know TV woulda blandified it).
Starbucks "Red Cup" Email Newsletters
Pretend you're Starbucks. You want to gently remind people that throughout the holidays, while they're running around shopping for gifts at the mall, they should stop off and have a warm cup of Starbucks coffee. Mmmm. You want people to dream about those little Red Starbucks cups while they're freezing their buns off out in the cold weather. And you want people to smile and think warm, happy thoughts when they see a Red Starbucks cup in someone's hand (Pavlov's dog: "Hmm, I want a Red Cup too!").
How do you do this? With email, of course...
Starbucks just launched, "The Red Cup." It's sort of a "countdown to the holidays" website, where they post simple, useful tips (like how to build a fire) and cheerful holiday ideas (like, "Bake some cookies for the office. Let someone cut in line. Leave candy canes in your neighbor's mailbox. Bring a bunch of tennis balls to your local dog park").
What's really nice is that you can sign up for their email newsletter, and they'll send you a list of those handy tips every week.
It's nicely designed, has a lot of personality, it's not too sales-y (c'mon, it's the holidays, Scrooge!), and it's actually kinda helpful and fun.
Keep 'em Simple
Email marketing doesn't have to be big, giant, monthly newsletters. They can be simple, fun, tidbits of useful stuff that remind people about your company every now and then.
Example of the email:
Holy Cow! A Sales Guy? Using Double Opt-in?!?!?
Just finished reading an interview in the Atlanta Business Chronicle with sales guru Jeffrey Gitomer. When asked, "How can CEOs best manage their customer base?" Mr.Gitomer suggests that managing addresses and phone numbers is only about 1/10th of the process.
You've got to build and maintain their email addresses, too.
Hmm, sounds like good advice (I admit I'm a little biased here). So I decided to check out his "Sales Caffeine" email newsletter to see what he's doing to manage his customer base.
Holy cow! One of the top sales guys on the planet? Using double opt-in!!?!?!?
You never see that. It's really hard convincing sales people (mostly newbies) that double opt-in is the way to go with their email lists, because it's about quality, not quantity. They usually reply, "But I'm worried nobody will click the confirmation email, and my list won't grow." Hmm. If you've got something worth talking about, they'll click. If they truly want the email, they'll click. If they don't, then would you really want them on your list?
I think the sales term is "qualified lead."
Thanks to all the anti-spam measures, phishing scams and viruses, we think single opt-in is going the way of the opt-out method (once popular in the old dinosaur era of the internet). Single opt-in's big weakness is that it allows too many erroneous and unwanted signups on your list. Over the years, we've even seen malicious signups from competitors (jerks who subscribe to lists, then regularly report you to ISPs for spamming them). Double opt-in requires users to confirm their subscriptions, and it keeps a digital record of when each subscriber confirmed, and from what IP address.
Watch a Sales Pro in Action
1. Prove it's gonna be worth their while.
On the email newsletter landing page, there's a list of testimonials from people who love getting Jeffrey's email every week.
2. Set expectations and back it up with a promise (and collect a little data along the way)
When you click the "Join" link on the landing page, he pops-up a small browser window (a great way to offset the fact that he's requesting 8 fields of data). And there's a little mini-Jeffrey making a promise: "We promise to deliver you up-to-the-minute, real-world, kick-butt selling information that will help you do one thing, make more sales!" Jeffrey lets you choose your preferred email format, and even recommends that Lotus Notes users select plain-text (he's got lots of corporate users, and he knows that Lotus mangles HTML email).
3. Tell them to confirm their subscription, and why it's a good thing.
After filling out the form, he takes you to a screen that tells people, "We don't believe in sending emails without your permission...click the confirmation link in the email..." He also includes the email address of the confirmation email, and asks users to add him to their "Friends" list (I like how he didn't say, "Email Address Book" but I still understood what to do).
4. Send confirmation email with big-ass confirm button, and make me laugh.
The confirmation email is Gitomer all the way. His subject line uses his name, first and foremost (so I'll recognize it in the blink of an eye). His email copy: "Sales Caffeine is almost yours." Click that giant confirm button, and you're a smart guy like the 100,000 other subscribers on my list, and "we promise to send you real-world, kick-butt selling information..." He's not afraid to show a little personality (hey, that's what he's selling!).
Gitomer really makes good use of each step along the way to reinforce his "brand" and dish out a little personality along the way. I'm looking forward to the emails.
Screenshots from Gitomer's double opt-in subscription process:
By the way
If you're a MailChimp user, and you're thinking about setting up a MailChimp Managed List (which only uses the double opt-in process), be sure to sign up for Gitomer's newsletter for some ideas. MailChimp lets you totally customize your signup page, confirmation emails (both plain-text and HTML versions) and thank-you pages for the entire process.
Stock Photography Resources for HTML Email Newsletters
Some of you might be looking for creative photos to use in your email newsletters and holiday e-cards. You don't have to buy entire CD collections---most sources let you buy individual photos from their websites. Generally, when you search for photos to use in your HTML emails, "Royalty Free" photos are cheaper, and you can use them just about all you want (but you can't resell them, or transfer their rights to another party). "Rights Managed" photos are restricted by use and time, and are often much more expensive, but much higher in quality (more info on rights). Here's a list of sources that we often use:
- iStockPhoto.com: Good, quality photos. Kinda works like MailChimp, so we like it. You pre-pay $20, then they deduct $1 for each picture you download. Handy "color scheme matcher" tool at the top of the page.
- Getty Images: A little higher in quality, the photos here are around $50 and up. Cool lightbox frame at bottom of page.
- Corbis.com: Very high quality photos at Corbis, but a little more pricey. Photos are around $75-$500+ here. Lots of (rights-managed) current events and celebrity photos here, too.
- Comstock.com: Always a reliable source for creative photos. Nice "brainstorming" section, and free research service. Prices are typical, at $80-$500 and up.
- PunchStock.com: This website searches across all the major stock photo resources. They're offering $50 off your first purchase for new customers.