The WhatCounts Blog

Everything you need to know about smart, personalized email marketing.

Want to be an authority? Leverage your team.

Allen Nance speaks at our Chicago event.

There’s no doubt people who are authorities in their subject areas gain a lot of respect, not to mention business. So how do you become a known authority or expert within your industry? It’s not going to be an overnight phenomenon for anyone, but by leveraging the knowledge and input of your team, over time you can establish your organization as an authority in your field.

Use social media
Start by encouraging all your team members to participate in sharing your company’s content on social media. The more team members who do this, the wider your organization’s influence will spread. This tactic can be especially effective on sites such as LinkedIn, where there may be multiple groups for your industry. Having team members peruse these groups on a daily basis and contribute to discussions when necessary presents your company voice in an authoritative way. This not only gives you a little more breathing room since you won’t be solely responsible for posting to all those groups, but it also gives your resident experts a chance to shine.

Additionally, encourage team members to share your content, events, contests and other goings-on with friends on social media sites. When an organization’s own employees believe enough in what they’re doing to share it, other people will, too.

Use interviews
You don’t have to be the source of all knowledge. Members of your team are experts in various aspects of your industry, and you can leverage their know-how in your content. Interviewing colleagues not only produces content, but allows team members to share in-depth knowledge. The more people you can interview, the more your organization as a whole becomes an authority on your industry.

These interviews should be a part of content on your website, blog, emails and social media. The more places you share, the better leverage you’ll gain as an expert.

Use these tactics to build the authority of your organization over time. Don’t expect fast results; however, stick with it and you’ll see more and more engagement and growing ROI as people trust you as an expert in your industry.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

4 Digital Marketing Urban Legends De-Mystified

Email marketing urban legend or best practice?Best practices are necessary for keeping any successful industry performing at its best. But with technology constantly moving forward, some of these best practices have become outdated. How do you know which best practices are still relevant today and which ones can be labeled urban legends? We’ve put together some of our resources that address which one is which and what you should do about it.

When is the best time to send email: Part I, Part II, Part III

Some digital marketers are still under the impression there is a perfect time to send their emails. At this time, they believe their messages will get the most opens, clicks and engagement. However, every industry and every business within that industry is different. Each digital marketer will have his or her own flavor of subscribers, and the ideal time to send depends on those subscribers. Perfect time to send an email? Urban legend.

Email send time and day of week impacts reading method

Asking a question such as, “What is the best time to send email” completely misses the powerful changes in subscriber behavior your individual marketing program reflects. The time and day you send your email will vary how people read it, which in turn will change their behaviors for what they do after they read your email. One perfect send time and day may be an urban legend, but using metrics to find the ideal send time for your own email marketing should be a best practice.

Why industry average metrics are worthless

You may find this as a shock, but industry average reports don’t mean anything. Every company within an industry is different. Each email program and subscribers within it has its own particular nuances and needs. Comparing yourself to industry averages provides a skewed look at how a giant swath of your industry is doing. Industry averages are an urban legend. Measuring yourself against yourself year-over-year follows best practices.

R.I.P. Batch and Blast

When marketers first started using email, and for a long time after, sending one message to an entire list was best practices. In the last few years, though, segmenting users by geographic, psychographic, and other information has become the only sure way to engage with subscribers. Batching and blasting emails is an urban legend; it doesn’t work. Using segmentations and behavioral triggers to send highly personalized emails is now best practices.

Know any other digital marketing urban legends needing de-mystifying? Share them in the comments below or tag us on Twitter: @WhatCounts.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

How to Get Subscriber Consent for Canada’s Anti-Spam Law

Consent requirements for Canada's Anti-Spam Law UpdateAn important piece of legislation will go into affect on July 1, 2014 that will impact many email marketers. The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) is updating some of its provisions, and it’s vital you understand how to comply with coming changes. One of the main tenets of the update requires gaining affirmative consent to send any email to a subscriber. This means you can’t send any messaging without the subscriber first opting in. This consent falls into two categories according to Canadian legislation:

Express consent

  • The subscriber opted in through a compliant opt-in form to receive marketing messages from your organization.
  • This consent never expires unless revoked by subscriber.

Implied consent

  • The subscriber has an existing business or non-business relationship with your organization.
  • This consent expires after two years, but you can seek express consent during this time.

In reference to implied consent, an example of a business relationship would be someone who has made a purchase from you. An example of a non-business relationship might be someone making a donation to you or volunteers if you’re a non-profit.

It’s important to keep records of express and implied consent for subscribers. According to CASL, in the event a subscriber complains, the sender (you) is required to provide proof of consent.

Let’s dive into the specifics of express consent.

Express consent must be obtained via a CASL-compliant opt-in form. Wondering if your current form works or if you’ll have to create a new one? Here’s the goods on what the Canadian law requires you to include:

An affirmative action taken by the subscriber to sign up.

  • Entering an email address and clicking submit.
  • Checking a box requesting emails and clicking submit/continue. Note: A pre-checked box is not an affirmative action.

Clear indication the user is requesting – and knows he or she will receive – commercial email from you.

A statement saying the user can unsubscribe at any time.

The identity of the organization sending the email.

At least one piece of contact information.

  • Physical address (Yes, a P.O. Box works!)
  • Website address
  • Email address

The last part of consent requirements we’re going to cover is message content. As with CAN-SPAM, CASL also requires certain elements be included in the body of any Commercial Email Message (CEM). These include:

Clear identification of the sender (you).

  • Identify all involved parties if sending on behalf of a third party, unless any party had no part in determining the target list or content.

A working method to contact the sender.

  • Ditch the “No-reply” from address; it doesn’t comply with CASL.
  • A physical mailing address can be used.
  • A functional, regularly-monitored email address works best.

A working unsubscribe method.

  • Must be functional for at least 60 days after the message is sent.
  • Must not incur any costs, e.g. subscribers charged when replying.
  • Can be either an electronic address (email) or a hyperlink.
  • Sender must process requests without delay (10-day maximum).

That covers the consent requirements for CASL. To make it easier for you to comply, we’ve converted the information from this blog post into a downloadable checklist. This resource also includes additional information including knowing if CASL affects you, the violations and penalties, and an in-depth Q&A. Get it for free now!

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

What’s the Health of your Email Program?

What's the health of your email marketing?For many people, yesterday was a day to reflect on and be proactive about activities and education for better health. World Health Day was established to help us recognize public health problems in our communities, and do something about them.

Health is important for email marketing, too. Underperforming campaigns, disengaged subscribers, poor deliverability – all of these contribute to a sickly email program.

You can ignore the symptoms, which will only make the problems worse. Your disengaged subscribers will get so tired of your un-personalized campaigns, they’ll unsubscribe, or worse, mark your emails as spam. Because of this, your poor deliverability issues will escalate until ISPs block you. You won’t be able to send emails anymore. Nothing good can come of disregarding a serious illness, and the same goes for unhealthy email marketing.

There’s good news, though!

Instead of ignoring the symptoms of an unhealthy email program, recognize change needs to happen. Own the problems leading your email marketing in the wrong direction and make plans to reverse the outcomes. What does this mean? Personalize your email campaigns using segmentation. Send timely messages to subscribers based on actions they’ve taken. This will drive engagement.

Make sure your unsubscribe link stands out, so people avoid the spam button. Clean anyone off your list who hasn’t clicked into your emails in a long time. These people are only making you look worse to ISPs. Taking these steps will lead to improved deliverability.

If you’re not sure whether or not you have a healthy email program, don’t worry. The symptoms of a sickly email program will show themselves. Your job is not to ignore them once they’re obvious. Maybe you’re not sure how to implement the solution to your problem, or you’re not even sure what the solution is.

When you’re feeling a little lost on the prognosis, we can step in and help. Our blog posts cover topics ranging from best practices and strategies, to practical step-by-step tutorials. You can also reach out to us at any time. We love email, and always want it to be performing at its best.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

The News: Google, March Madness, and Email Newsletters

Get the latest news about Google, March Madness and email newslettersIs Google taking over the world? Should I be marketing for March Madness? How do I put together a stellar email newsletter? All these questions and more answered in today’s blog post covering digital marketing news from expert resources.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Google launched Gmail. Learn everything you ever wanted to know about how it went from a brainchild to the most successful email service available: How Gmail Happened: The Inside Story of Its Launch 10 Years Ago (Time Magazine)

Guest posts on your blog may not be such a good thing after all. The latest Google update penalizes guest blogging, drops some travel websites’ rankings (Tnooz). This doesn’t just affect travel marketers, but anyone who thinks about hosting a guest blogger on his or her site.

In the last of our Google updates for this blog post, we’re excited to tell you Gmail to Undergo Facelift With Snooze Button, Email Pinning And Extra Tabs (International Business Times). These updates may just save you a little time when cruising the inbox.

You can’t get away from it: March Madness is here, and marketers are taking advantage of peoples’ love for it. In March Madness Marketing Frenzy: 5 Ways Brands are Getting in the Game (Shoutlet), see how different brands are using March Madness-inspired campaigns to collect subscription information from users.

We can’t resist sharing this article from WhatCounts alum Chris Penn: How I Make My Newsletter Every Week (Awaken Your Superhero). Not only does Penn give great advice about deciding on content, he shows how he uses our Publicaster platform to send it on its way.

Read a great digital marketing article in the last few weeks? Share it in the comments below, or tweet it to our handle: @WhatCounts.

Only YOU Can Prevent Disengagement

Only you can prevent subscriber un-engagement.

Getting rid of inactive, unengaged subscribers – we know it’s painful. It hurts to see your list numbers go down. It’s like cleaning out your closet or your garage or some other room that’s full of way too much stuff. It’s not fun, but you need to do it. Getting rid of the items you hardly ever, or more likely, never see is a good thing. You’ll be able to more easily access the items that are important to you.

And just like cleaning out an overstuffed closet, getting rid of unengaged subscribers on your list on a regular basis means you can skip the once-a-year, time-consuming spring cleaning. Sending messages to a list of engaged subscribers not only feels good, it’s good for your email marketing deliverability, too.

Today’s ISPs are focused on engagement as the key to the inbox. This means they’re looking for good open and click-through rates from your emails. Unengaged subscribers who don’t do anything? Realizing these subscribers are only hurting your deliverability reputation should make it easier to kick them off your list when the time comes.

But how do you decide the right time to give inactive subscribers the boot? A good portion of your list may be unengaged with your emails, but that doesn’t mean you have to let them go all at once. An email re-engagement series is an excellent way to reach out to unengaged subscribers one more time, inviting them to reaffirm their interest in your emails. A re-engagement campaign is usually two or three emails long and includes specific content directed at getting subscribers to take action.

If you want to get a feel for what a re-engagement email campaign might look like, check out the series our client True Citrus put together.

The Subject Line

The subject line is important in a re-engagement email. Not that it isn’t in every other email, but this time you’ve really got to dazzle, wow, draw-in, and otherwise motivate those disengaged subscribers to open your email. Remember, you want them to give you a “yea” or a “nay” so you don’t continue sending them re-engagement emails. That being said, it’s not uncommon for email marketers to make re-engagement email subject lines bolder, funnier, and spunkier than regular emails.

I pulled some examples of re-engagement email subject lines:

  • Come back today and shipping is on us!
  • We’ve missed you (Enjoy 20% off)
  • [First name], we want you back/where ya been?
  • Is This Goodbye?
  • Don’t Hide Out.  Come back to redeem your points!
  • Come back and stay with us. (travel and hospitality)
  • 5 Bucks says you miss us, too
  • Let us prove our love
  • It’s been a while
  • It feels like we’re growing apart
  • Last chance! Your subscription expires in # days.

Hopefully, you’re inspired by these subject lines in the creation of your own. It’s never a bad idea to experiment to see which ones work best, and subject line testing is easy, especially if you’re using the WhatCounts platform. Brainstorm subject lines, pick a few of your favorites, and test them against each other. Use the ones showing the best open metrics for the rest of your re-engagement campaign series.

The Content

When you’ve got the subject lines taken care of, start working on the content of the emails. Here are some musts for re-engagement email content:

  • Don’t be shy; tell people exactly what you want them to do in the pre-header text.
  • Get to the point quickly. This isn’t the time to sell your products or write your life story.
  • Identify the email the subscriber is signed up for, and the benefits of that email.
  • Use a large call to action, e.g. continue receiving emails, confirm you’re still with us.
  • Ask people to stay friends with you by following your social media sites.
  • If they don’t opt in by a certain date, let subscribers know they’ll be unsubscribed.
  • Send subscribers to a preference site instead of an immediate opt out. This will give them the opportunity to opt down.
  • Include a survey for the opt outs, asking subscribers why they don’t want your emails.
  • Give the subscriber a reason to re-engage and confirm his or her subscription: Promote a sweepstakes, percent or dollar off, or a free gift.
  • Make sure the design is optimized for mobile device viewing.
  • Get creative! For example, check out this re-engagement email Urban Outfitters sent. The look, tone and content match the brand and its audience. This one from Piperlime also gets my vote.

Automate It!

Once you’ve got your re-engagement emails set up, it’s time to send them out. Automating to find unengaged subscribers and drip the campaigns to them means you don’t have to lift a finger. Well, you’ll have to do the final act of axing them from your list, but we’ll get to that soon enough.

Decide whom you’ll reach with this re-engagement campaign series. For example, in the above-mentioned campaign, True Citrus chose to send the first email in the series to subscribers who have been on its list for at least 240 days and haven’t engaged for the same time period. Depending on your industry and unique company goals, this number may be less or more.

Likewise, the next email in the series can be triggered to send to subscribers who received the first re-engagement email, but didn’t engage with it (or any emails) in the past 90 – or whatever number makes sense for you – days. Follow the same steps for sending a third email to subscribers if you so choose.

When the last email sends, decide how long you’re going to give subscribers to engage. After that time, unsubscribe people who haven’t taken any action from your emails.

If You Really Can’t Let Go…

It may be hard for you to let go of unengaged subscribers even after you’ve sent the re-engagement emails. For example, retailers may have subscribers who see emails, but don’t open them. Instead, they go right to the brick and mortar location to take advantage of the deal mentioned in the subject line. If you can identify with this situation, you can still get these subscribers to update their preferences. Do this by including some form of an email subscription update request at your brick and mortar locations.

Maybe your product lifecycle is longer, e.g. selling cars. You don’t want to unsubscribe people too quickly. Agreed: A re-engagement campaign looks different for different businesses. Use the same tactics for getting subscribers back, but simply space out your campaigns to a more appropriate time frame for your product lifecycle.

Before unsubscribing unengaged users, identify the people who’ve been most profitable for you and reach out to them with one more campaign. View past behaviors for these subscribers and create personalized content to send in the email to them. If they still don’t respond, sorry, it’s time to say goodbye to them, too.

Keeping your list full of engaged subscribers is essential to good deliverability. Don’t wait to put together your re-engagement campaign – start now and see better metrics on your email sends today. We can also help you put together a strategy specific to your company using our strategy module, which focuses on re-engaging inactive subscribers and winning back lapsed purchasers. Email to get started.

For more on re-engagement campaigns, sign up for our free webinar: It’s Not Them, It’s You: Ignite Subscriber Relationships with Email.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Gmail’s New Promotions Tab Layout: Good or Bad?

Just when you think Google has settled down for a while, it pops out another surprise. Remember last year when your emails got booted over to the third tab over from Primary and you didn’t know how subscribers were going to react? Now those Promotions tab messages are getting a Pinterest-style visual facelift.

Gmail's new promotions tab layout is Pinterest-esque.

According to Google, “To help you find what you’re looking for faster,” promotional messages will now be displayed as thumbnails using images from inside each email. Right now the feature is in experiment mode at Gmail, with people being able to opt into it. And once you’re opted in, you can switch from visually-stunning mode to plain-old-list mode with the click of a button.

So the primary question here is what does this mean for you? Is this update good or bad?

Let’s go with better for now. A lot of marketers despaired when Gmail moved their emails to the Promotions tab, but with the new display option, it could be a gift. Instead of your opens being determined by subject lines, images may lend a hand. If they’re relevant, engaging images, they could garner more opens. However, this format may also make it easier for people to dismiss your email more easily, scrolling right past it.

There’s no definitive answer yet. As with the release of the Gmail tabbed inbox, we’ll have to wait and see how events play out. We’re not our subscribers, and we don’t know how they’ll react.

While you’re waiting, don’t hesitate to optimize your emails so they look their best in this view. Don’t risk one subscriber opting in for Gmail’s new Promotions format and losing them because of a bad image in the thumbnail. So how do you pick what image shows up in the Promotions thumbnail? You can use several tools:

You don’t have to use these tools to choose an image from your email. A thumbnail will still show up, but it will be one Gmail’s mystery algorithm picks. And if your image is the wrong size, it could get cut off or display random areas of the image. So you don’t have to optimize your images, but we strongly suggest you do. Don’t wait to see if a lot of people opt in to the change or if Gmail releases it to everyone. Start optimizing your images now using the tools above.

Here are some other considerations to ponder as you wait for this change to play out:

  • The thumbnail will only allow for a 75-character subject line before truncating the rest. Keep those subject lines short and engaging!
  • Opens are usually detected when an image is viewed in an email. Google hasn’t indicated if the change will inflate opens. Keep an eye on this metric if the visual Promotions tab gains in popularity.
  •  There’s no mention of how this will affect viewing on mobile devices. But if the thumbnails stay, it may make for a more visually-pleasing and easier to read experience.
  • Don’t want a grayed-out, serif letter as your sender image? To get your company logo to show up instead, make sure you have a verified Google+ account.

One definite benefit of the new Promotions tab format is that email marketers are going to have to send better emails. Text-only emails won’t cut it, and sub-par images won’t do either. This forces email marketers to work hard at their emails, which leads to beautiful, relevant, engaging messages subscribers love.

As this update takes shape, we’ll be testing email design and sharing our results with you. In the meantime, let us know in the comments what you think of this change.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

7 Resources to Avoid Sending SPAM

Avoid delivering spam!It turns out we’ve talked a lot about spam over the years, mostly because we love email and it’s uber important to send email that’s not spam. What have we learned about spam after all this time? Primarily, it’s definitely not cool for email marketers to send. But we discovered a lot of other good information, too, and we gathered it from all over so you can avoid sending spam.

#1: What Is Spam?
Spam as it applies to email is multi-faceted in its definitions. But mostly, it means messages unwanted by subscribers. Seeing it that way should put smart email marketing in perspective.

#2: Where Does the Term “Spam” Come From?
If you’ve ever wondered how unsolicited email got its infamous name, this article explains it. Quench your curiosity!

#3: You Can’t Say that in Email! Do Spam Words REALLY Hurt?
There was a time when certain words automatically marked your messages as spam in the eyes of ISPs and subscribers. Find out if this is still fact, or if it’s more of a fiction for today’s email marketing.

#4: Spam Laws and Non-Profit Organizations
If you’re a non-profit and wondering how anti-spam laws fit into your email marketing strategy, you don’t have to worry about much. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore best practices.

#5: Reduce Spam Reports of your Email Marketing
Want to stop subscribers from reporting you messages as spam? There’s an easy way to do this, but it requires you to do something that may be hard: Make sure people have an obvious way to opt out.

#6: Avoid Misleading Subject Lines
Misleading subject lines is the number one factor between your email getting booted to the spam folder or being opened. Make it a good one with these tips!

#7: The Email Marketer’s Ultimate Checklist for Canada’s Anti-Spam Law Update
On Jul 1, 2014, Canada will update its anti-spam legislation (CASL). We’ve created a checklist to help you decide if these updates affect your email marketing and, if so, how to ensure you’re compliant.

Making sure your emails aren’t spam should be priority. We hope these resources shed light on what spam is and how to avoid sending it.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

In Search of Attention

Live Audience: In Search of Attention

For more than a decade, the business of email marketing has largely been concerned with The Big Six:

Send times
A/B testing
Subject lines
List segmentation and suppression

When is the best time to send? Did my message get delivered to the right tab or was it sent to the junk folder? What offer inside the email worked best? What was the winning subject line? Who should get this message and who shouldn’t?

Those are a tremendous number of variables to balance and test for.

With so many variables, there has always been a lot of wood to chop. And with the high ROI of email marketing, the effort to optimize against all these variables has kept many email marketers in the office until all hours. Email’s tremendous ROI has made it worthwhile.

In a environment where your opted-in subscribers could only be contacted via a 1st-party newsletter, spending this kind of time made a ton of sense. When you collected an email address, you intended to send email to it. And you needed to make the most of it.

But once you work through this playbook what else can you do? Triggers?

Now you can use your email data – your segments of lapsed, best, most recent, and or category customers – to reach your subscribers outside of the newsletters that you send. You can use your email address data to reach subscribers without sending another email message to them.

This is called CRM ReTargeting.

You may have heard this called something different. Facebook calls its version ‘Custom Audience’. Twitter calls its ‘Tailored Audience’. Salesforce calls its ‘Active Audiences’.

LiveIntent calls its LiveAudience.

What all of these applications have in common is the use of ‘encrypted’ or ‘hashed’ email data as a targeting element in third party media. Wow. I know that was confusing.

Email addresses are unique. Other than your grandparents, basically no one shares them. And email addresses have evolved to be the unique identifier and login credentials used for everything from the Apple Store, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Netflix, The New York Times and pretty much anywhere that has a username and password combination that grants access. Whenever you login to these sites, you use an email address and then the system uses a hashing algorithm (usually MD5) to convert your email address into a 32-character string.

Everytime you md5 an email address, it will convert to the same string. There is no algorithm that will convert it back. So you can send a file of these alphanumeric values to another party and they will not be able to convert them back to email addresses. So they cannot start sending mail to your subscribers.

What they can do is match the strings to their logged-in users.

Facebook was the first to popularize this. It let businesses upload segments of hashed data, along with an ad creative, a URL and a bid. When you are spending time on Facebook, you are logged in and paying attention. Facebook monetizes this attention by running an ongoing auction. Retailers and others bid to place ads in the newsfeed based on matching to their email segments. You only pay to place an ad when you match one of your users AND win the bid (which is CPM$ just like email).

LiveIntent did this first, but we are happy Facebook popularized it. What LiveIntent LiveAudience allows you to do is load up your segments – maybe lapsed customers or people who opened your last campaign but didn’t convert – to LiveIntent Bid Manager; assign creative, campaign timing, and a bid amount; and target these customers when they’re reading other publishers’ newsletters.

Your subscribers may only open up 15 or 20 percent of the mail you send them.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t like you. They’re just paying attention to another publisher or message. You don’t need to send them more email to reach them. You can reach them using display ad creative in other newsletters, Facebook, Twitter and soon many other publishers who have realized that known customers – email subscribers – are more qualified and have higher potential than mere cookies.

So before you decide your strategy is going to just be ‘mail more’, understand maybe email doesn’t have to be just about sending email.

LiveIntent is a valued WhatCounts partner, helping our clients market smarter every day. 

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