Coming Up With Email Newsletter Topics
Christopher Knight from EmailUniverse has some nice tips for coming up with email newsletter ideas.
One problem he talks about is how you'll always have good ideas and come across interesting articles, links, etc., when you're not "in ezine production mode."
One thing I've been doing lately is keeping next month's email newsletter in DRAFT mode in MailChimp. Then, as I come across ideas (or as I write blog posts), I go in and write a quick blurb in my email newsletter and save it for later. I'll schedule it to send (to myself) about a week before it's due to go out. Sort of a reminder to get it wrapped up.
Four Traits of Good Newsletters
Nick Usborne writes "Four Ways Good Newsletters Are Like Blogs."
I personally think a blog is a good companion to a newsletter. Mainly because with a blog, you can post your thoughts, links to other sites, etc. on a daily/weekly basis. Then at the end of the month (or quarter), write your newsletter and point to the blog for "the full story." It makes it a lot easier to put together your email newsletters.
If you haven't started a blog yet for your company, you should give it a try with Blogger.
St. Patricks and March Madness Email Templates
A little monkey love for the restaurant and bar owners who use MailChimp:
To use the graphics, log in to MailChimp, click "Create Campaign" and go to the "Layouts" tab, then look for "This Month's Free Postcard Graphics:"
Download the images you want, and modify them in your own graphics program (Photoshop, Fireworks, etc).
Then, you can use them in your MailChimp Postcard template.
Here's how they look in some example postcard templates:
Don't have an email template yet? Use MailChimp's built-in template designer. Once you get the template done, all you have to do is swap out graphics and content next time you build a campagn. Click here to watch a demo of MailChimp's built-in template designer.
Emails Blocked By Spam Firewall?
Companies have to deal with so much spam these days (here's a slew of stats for you), they're just outsourcing their email management duties to vendors like Barracuda Networks, Postini, and Symantec.
The nice thing about this trend is that those vendors can block spam a whole lot more efficiently than individual IT managers ever could. So that means IT managers can spend less time updating their home made blocklists, and more time supporting real problems around the office.
The bad thing about all this is if you send a legitimate email marketing campaign that gets blocked by one of these vendors, it's tough getting un-blocked. They're not the same as getting blocked by an ISP (like AOL or Hotmail). Big ISPs usually have feedback loops that help marketers prevent blocks before they happen. These email firewalls are very proprietary, and rarely, if ever, share information with senders.
This means you've got to learn how to tell when you're getting blocked (note that I said "when," not "if") then how to deal with the situation...
How can you tell if your email campaigns are getting blocked by email firewalls and spam filters?
After every campaign you send, look at your bounceback numbers.
You should have a feel for what's "normal" for your list. If you haven't sent enough emails to know "what's normal" for you, here are some email stats by industry.
If you see an abnormal amount of bouncebacks for a particular campaign, that's a clue that something has gone wrong, and you need to look into it.
How To Read Bouncebacks
I'm not going to go into detail about bounced SMTP headers, but if you're an email marketer, you should know why and how to read them. (here are some tips from our knowledge base).
This is as much fun as poking your eyeball with a hot needle. So you really only have to do this if you spot abnormalities in your bounce stats.
In MailChimp, click into a campaign report, then click on "Bounces." You'll see "soft" bounces, and "hard" bounces. Check them both, because some email firewalls are deceptive, and send their bounces as "hard," hoping you'll never contact the recipient again.
Click on the "See why these bounced" links.
Next, you'll see a list of whose emails bounced.
Tip: If your list is huge, clicking through all these email headers could take all day. So look for groupings of bouncebacks. Like if 4 people from the same company domain name bounced, read their headers first. It's very likely their corporate email firewall blocked your email:
If you're using Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer 7, use "tabbed browsing" to your advantage. Just CTRL+CLICK on all the emails you want to read through, and each bounce header will open in a new tab. Then just tab through them (CTRL+TAB) and look for common clues.
For the most part, you'll just find a bunch of "email doesn't exist" bounces.
But this is (roughly) what it looks like when you've been blocked by Barracuda or Postini or one of the spam firewalls:
and sometimes, you come across a SMTP-reply like this:
What's cool about that one is they actually give you an email address to report the mistake to. That's very rare.
What to do if you're blocked by a spam firewall
So now you can tell if you've been blocked by a firewall. What do you do next?
Your best bet is if you know the recipient. Contact him and tell him, "You know our email newsletter that you signed up for? Your company's email firewall keeps blocking it. You should tell your IT people to unblock us."
What normally happens next is the IT person will ask your recipient, "Ok, who's the sender, and what's their domain name or IP address?" If you use an email service provider like MailChimp, chances are your email was sent from a wide range of IPs and domains, so you'll need to give them a list of all the IPs we use (here's a list of MailChimp servers).
Or, if you have a dedicated IP address, you can just provide that.
If you don't know the recipient, you can try contacting the recipient's IT team.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
Keep in mind that when you're dealing with IT people, you're pretty much guilty until proven innocent. They deal with crap all day. So be prepared to provide absolute proof of opt-in for that recipient (MailChimp stores all that for you).
Did you just import an old list of people, and you never collected IP addresses or date/time stamps? Oof, this is going to be an uphill battle for you.
Do not, under any circumstances, tell the IT person that "we do not spam." The simple fact of the matter is, their firewall says you're a spammer, so to them, you're a spammer. Just politely explain how the recipient specifically requested your emails, and that you're being erroneously blocked, and gosh it sure would be nice if they'd unblock you.
If the IT person believes you're legit, they can whitelist you to prevent this from happening in the future. Sometimes, the IT person says it's out of their hands, and that you (or MailChimp) needs to contact their email vendor. That's a hint that they don't believe you're legit. No amount of explanation from MailChimp will help convince them either.
So long as you're sending valuable emails that people truly requested, it's really not that hard to get IT people to whitelist you.
On rare occasions, it's something that your ESP has to clear up with Barracuda (or Postini, or Outblaze, etc). For example, if MailChimp introduces a new feature (like our forward-to-friend link, or our unsubscribe link) that's embedded in all emails sent from our system, the link that we use for that particular feature will suddenly appear in millions of emails sent across the Internet every single day. That tends to look suspicious to the email firewalls, so they'll start blocking all emails with that URL in it (until someone contacts them about it). That's when we call them up or email them and explain what's going on.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. Luckily, email service providers (like MailChimp) have a dedicated abuse desk person to work with ISPs and Email vendors to keep these problems to a minimum. But a lot is on your shoulders, too. Never send to people who didn't opt-in, and always check your campaign stats for abnormalities. Alert your ESP if you think there might be a problem, but don't assume the problem's all theirs.
How Alasoop Uses MailChimp to Help Local Restaurants
I love this story. What's interesting about it to me (besides the whole "MailChimp" tie-in) is that it's a simple, down-to-earth, anybody-can-do-this case study about a small company helping local restaurants with email marketing. Not only that, but they're helping people avoid fast food by providing healthier, tastier options around town.
Here's the case study from our friend FJ:
Webstellung is a small but thriving and successful communication studio that I founded and am currently heading. We specialize in networked communication and bridging online and offline branding. We have worked with the likes of Apple, Peter Mayer, Opsound.org, Palais de Tokyo as well as many theaters and theater companies here in Paris.
As you may already know, Paris is one of the culinary capitals of the world, which means a great many companies within the city do not provide lunch to their employees and, instead, opt to give them food coupons that they can use at nearby, low-quality, high-fat, high-turnover restaurants. The end result is that most employees are left eating a re-heated sandwich in a gloomy company kitchen for lunch.
This sorry state of affair prompted us to team with great "business" restaurants offering good meals at a price affordable by most staffers and help them distribute their menus right into the employees' mailboxes. We branded this service "Alasoop", a tongue-in- cheek phonetic rendition of French for "Dinner's on the table". We place special pads in partnering restaurants on which people can sign up to receive menus. Twice or so a week a member of our team collects these pads as well as menus from the restaurateurs themselves. We then rely on Mailchimp or other email providers (though we are now aiming to fold all our lists back on Mailchimp) to send the menus to the audience of each restaurant on a daily basis. Keep in mind restaurateurs here are typically not computer users so they never need to touch a keyboard. Users, by getting their menus every day in their inboxes, are more likely to go out and purchase from their favorite outlets.
The service is entirely free to users. So far, our pilot restaurants have noticed a strong increase in to-go sales, better turnover and an increase in repeat frequentation. The lists are remarkably stable and we are considering declaring the pilot program over and spreading the word across the city. All coupons are processed, stamped and returned to the restaurants for safe keeping and archiving.
As you can see, not a revolutionary idea but one that requires precise logistics and reliable software to work. Thanks to Mailchimp, we can write letters quickly (keeping costs down), send them reliably (reaching out to users) as well as schedule sending (making the entire menu sending program possible). I thought your readers may like to know how we use your email infrastructure for what is a high- frequency, cannot-fail project that is helping local businesses in a simple, but very effective fashion – keep in mind none of these restaurants has an actual advertising budget.
Here is the site (in French): http://www.alasoop.com
We've seen lots of restaurants using MailChimp to send menus and 'recipes from the chef' but so far haven't seen any agencies taking such an active part in sending emails on behalf of restaurants. It's a great idea to provide the signup pads and visit the restaurant every week to get new signups.
Thanks for the story, FJ!
Valentine's Shopping Survey from Google Checkout
Yeah, I know Valentine's Day is over, but we thought you might be interested in this survey from Google Checkout & Harris Interactive on how people shop for Valentine's. Save the stats for next year:
Anti-Spammer Goes Ballistic (and how you can avoid this yourself)
There are a lot of classic anti-spam crusade stories out there. The Story of Nadine comes to mind.
Here's a new one. You can't help but drop your jaw in amazement when you read this story. Here's what happened:
- Someone submitted Mark Mumma's email address (probably as a dirty prank) to Cruise.com.
- Cruise.com sent him a followup email (screenshot after the link below).
- Mr. Mumma felt that the followup email was spam
- Instead of clicking the "unsubscribe" link in the email---well, you have to read the story (and interview) to believe it all.
Whichever side you're on (and each side has good points), you have to agree all this is a HUGE headache for all parties involved.
In all likelihood, it was a simple mistake.
There are some valuable lessons to be learned, and things email marketers can do, to prevent this kind of mess from happening to them...
- First of all, don't just assume that "As long as I include an opt-out link, I'm safe." Obviously, people won't trust your link if they've never heard of you before. They're more likely to report you as a spammer (or sue you!).
- When people opt-in to your list, how are your followup emails written? Are they written like you just walked right into their living room and plopped yourself on their couch, and went straight into your obnoxious sales pitch? Or do you stay at the door and politely introduce yourself first, making yourself look trustworthy, so that if this was all a silly accident or prank, they'll trust your unsubscribe link (instead of taking you to court)?
Here's a screenshot of the email that started all the trouble (click for full screen):
I gotta admit, that's pretty spammy looking. I mean, c'mon people. I know the courts sided with Cruise.com, because technically they didn't break any laws. But I think they could have avoided all this trouble with a better design.
Let me count the ways their email looks like spam:
I probably wouldn't spend $65,000 of my own money to sue them, but I know I definitely wouldn't trust this email's unsubscribe link. I'd report it as spam by clicking the "This is Junk" button.
How We'd Change The Design
First of all, how many people actually want cruise deals emailed to them every single week? I can understand if I'm planning a vacation. Weekly eDeals would be good research. But after I've booked my vacation, you can bet I'll be unsubscribing.
Maybe vacation planners or agents of some sort could benefit from the weekly eDeals. If that's the case, two separate lists might be in order here.
I'd definitely recommend collecting names on the signup form, and perhaps even "Date you plan to go on vacation," which could be merged into each email to create a subliminal sense of urgency.
Before sending eDeals to people on a very frequent basis, you better make sure they really want those emails. Double opt-in, while not 100% foolproof, will help keep your list clean, and will give you the "proof of opt-in" that you'll need if someone reports you as spam.
But if you absolutely refuse to use double opt-in (because you just enjoy the risk of getting in trouble), you really need to make sure your email looks reputable. Like you actually care about your brand. Don't make it look like a yard sale flyer you designed on your computer and copied onto flourescent pink paper at Kinko's.
Here's my suggestion for how they could re-design their emails:
The challenge with an email like Cruise.com is that it's full of unavoidable "spammy" looking content like "Lowest Prices Guaranteed" and "$Dollar signs" and stuff like that.
The double opt-in process would probably help a little by forcing the recipient to confirm their subscription (thereby giving you the opportunity to "train" their spam filters to accept future emails from you).
Otherwise, you've got to make up for all that spammy content with good, professional design work. Here's what I changed:
- I have nothing against center-aligning things, but not the entire message, please.
- Politely say hello, and merge the *|FNAME|* into the content. Yeah, everybody knows about mail-merge now, but it shows you've actually got more data about them than their email ("Maybe I did sign up for this").
- I created a title graphic: "This Week's eDeals" with the same font (and color range) as the logo, just to give the email some semblance of brand standards.
- Got rid of the bright red numbers, converted the prices to "hyperlink blue" and added cruise ship logos. Give them something fun to click. When everything is bright red and bright blue, it all cancels itself out. Just make the prices blue hyperlinks.
- Holy cow their email had lots of different fonts. I counted six (and some would only work on PCs). I'm just using one font in my version.
- If I were BBB or Disney certified, I'd definitely use their logos whenever possible in my footer. If you've been identified as a credible company, flaunt it.
- I'd collect opt-in IP addresses and date/time stamp for travel offer emails. That's your best "proof" of opt-in. Include it in the email's footer.
Your email design says a lot about your company's reputation. If you don't look reputable, why should anyone trust your unsubscribe link (let alone your content!)?
New Orleans Receiving Donations via Text Messaging
Thought this article at WIRED might be interesting for our non-profit customers.
New Orleans is working with PayPal Mobile to receive donations via mobile text messaging.
People who want to donate using cell phone text messages would text "NOLA5" or "NOLA10" to the number 78787 if they wanted to donate $5 or $10, said Jamie Patricio, a PayPal spokeswoman. If people want to donate another sum, they would text "NOLA" to the number and be prompted for an amount, she said.
I haven't got enough caffeine in my veins this morning to suggest other ways savvy guerrilla marketers could use this, but I'm sure the ideas are out there.
"Unsubscribe Link" vs. "This is Spam Button"
Returnpath has some very neat stats on how many people actually trust the "Unsubscribe" link, and how many people prefer to click "this is spam" instead. Best takeaway (IMHO):
"Make your email interesting and relevant! Subscribers in our survey report that the only factor growing in importance this year for why they open one email over another is "prior value" - they already received an email from you that was relevant. In fact, prior value with email falls just behind brand name in importance, and is more than twice as important as a discount offer."
Valentine's Email Case Study from MarketingSherpa
Here's a Valentine's related email marketing case study from Marketing Sherpa about how IdeaArt sent a campaign to a huge list of subscribers, and got so-so results. Then they decided to send a follow-up campaign to "people who opened but did not click." The new campaign went to a list that was 8 times smaller, but got more than double the sales.
The idea of "remailing" is discussed in the article. Some people send "remails" to "people who opened." Or, to "people who did not open." If you want to be able to do that with your MailChimp account, look into our A.I.M. Reports.