The WhatCounts Blog

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

3 Secrets to Sending Better Email

Top Secret by Malakhi Helel, via FlickrIt’s no secret. Most of you know the return-on-investment numbers for email marketing are staggering compared to other marketing channels, which is why we’re all gung-ho for email. However, if you love email and know it can get you the most money, why are you spending the least amount of time to perfect it?

In a lot of marketing departments today, there are a few people doing a lot of tasks. Translation: Some tasks – even important tasks directly affecting ROI – get left until the last minute to do. Maybe you have a version of “email Wednesday” – you’ve heard that’s the best day to send emails, so Wednesday morning you spend an hour or two getting your email prepped and then you hit send.

Expecting a barely-prepared email to inspire opens, clicks, and conversions is expecting a miracle.

Want to see your campaigns succeed like they’re supposed to? Spend a little more time preparing them. Work on a specific strategy for the days and times your readers like to see emails – it differs across industries and companies.

Additionally, here are three other secrets to sending better email:

1. Include preheader text.

The preheader text, sometimes referred to as the super subject line, is the text visible after the subject line in most email client’s and device’s inboxes seen prior to a user opening your email. It’s pulled from the first text found in your email and depending on the device and the length of your subject line, it can be highly visible. Many marketers make the mistake of not including preheader text. You will commonly see “View in Browser” messaging taking its place.

In the WhatCounts Publicaster platform, you can automatically add preheader text to any email from the creative and campaign sending menus. The best part is, this tool separates the preheader content from the email content, meaning it doesn’t appear in the HTML message. If you wanted the preheader in both places, you can still do that. However, this allows the preheader to wow subscribers in the inbox while allowing you to leave it out of your email design.


preheader2As inboxes continue to grow crowded, getting an open is even more valuable now than in the past. Utilize the preheader text as additional space to expand on the message in your subject line and entice the user to open. The combination between a recognizable and trusted from name, a compelling subject line, and the added information from the preheader text can impact the open rates of your campaigns.

When it complements the subject line and includes a call-to-action, a preheader motivates a subscriber to open and read your email. Additionally, including preheader text in your HTML designs is especially important with the rise of mobile readership. Officially overtaking desktop, mobile opens are a thing of the present and the future.

2. Send from a real person.

You may be one of the email marketers who is testing different components of his or her email campaigns. Bravo! Testing is a great way to find out what your readers want to see – and to increase click-to-open rate.

What many email marketers don’t know is testing from address is equally as important as testing subject lines and content. Instead of sending from a generic company or marketing address, try sending from a person at your company. Subscribers might respond to an email coming from a real person. There’s only one way to know for sure: Test it!

3. Ask for help.

Sometimes no matter how much you want to put time and energy into email campaigns, you just can’t. Visit a forum or help center to find the answers you need. Or jump on Twitter and ping your followers or email marketing experts (like us!) with your questions. If your email service provider doesn’t have a customer service phone number with a real person on the other end, it may be time to find a provider that does.

At WhatCounts, we know figuring out how to optimize your email marketing can be challenging. That’s why when you pick up the phone or email us, a person is there all day, every day to help you. We love email!

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

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Be Where Your Audience Is

In yesterday’s webinar with Movable Ink, one of the themes that kept coming up was the need to remember A) that we (marketers) are not our audience,  and B) as a result of that, you need to be where your audience is, not where you expect or want them to be.

This was especially driven home by one of the slides that guest speaker Jordan Cohen presented, which provided data indicating that roughly one in a thousand people are opening email on BlackBerry devices.

How the mighty have fallen. Ten years ago, if you were reading email on a phone, it was almost certainly on a BlackBerry: The iPhone was still three years away, and Android was still in its incubation stage and nearly four years away from release. Now, seeing a BlackBerry in the wild is only slightly more common than sightings of a Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.

The takeaway from that for you, as a marketer, is that you can’t ever afford to think, “Well, this is the way it’s always been, so it’s going to continue being that way,” especially in the email marketing world, in which technology is shifting on an annual, monthly and sometimes even weekly or daily basis (think of how many changes have happened with Gmail in the past twelve months, and think of how we had little or sometimes even no advance notice of them coming).

I’m not saying you should strive to be omniscient – down that road leads folly. However, you can predict and adapt to trends by looking at your data. Google Analytics, your email marketing software’s reporting, and so on – you can drill into device- and operating system-specific information and use that to see where your customers “are,” which is to say how they’re contacting you and engaging with your content.


What does this chart tell us? Primarily, it tells us that by far the majority of the people who opened this email on a mobile device were iOS users, and it tells us that the Android audience was close to nonexistent. (It also says that Microsoft has a big problem with adoption of Windows 8 / 8.1, but that’s their problem to deal with, not mine.) Six months ago, this graph could have looked completely opposite – but that’s why I look at numbers like these every week, to not only identify trends – but to proactively be out in front of them before they hit.

Look at the numbers, figure out where your audience is, and make sure it’s as easy as possible for them to consume your message on the channels where they are.

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

Inspiration for July Email Campaigns

It’s officially summertime, and lots of people are taking vacations. How do you make sure subscribers keep opening and clicking your emails? Send them highly relevant emails. There’s no better way to do this than by focusing your email marketing on holidays and observances happening this month.

July 4th marks U.S. Independence Day. Be creative in celebrating this holiday through your emails! You can customize your email colors and copy, like Harley Davidson did with this Independence Day email it sent out. Not only does this message reflect the red, white, and blue associated with the July 4th holiday, it still retains the flavor of the brand.

This July email campaign celebrates independence.
Another unique approach to the holiday is showing gratitude. Grab subscribers’ attention by saving the selling for later in the email, and starting off with a thank you. After all, this is a day Americans set aside not just to celebrate the rights and freedoms we have, but to honor those who sacrificed their lives for that independence. Try starting your Independence Day email campaign off with a thank you, like Murdoch’s did with the hero image at the top of this email.

Murdoch's says thank you with this July email campaign.

July also marks summertime, and the picnics, swimming pools, lakes, beaches, grilling out, games, and general relaxation it brings. Take advantage of the overall laid-back, sunny atmosphere of the season by reflecting it in your email campaigns. For example, did you know July is National Ice Cream Month? Let the uncommon observances of summer such as this one inspire your July email campaigns. Try a Christmas in July email campaign to bring a little festivity to your messages!

Don’t forget about the subject line either. Tempt subscribers to open with “summery” language:

3 Ways to Celebrate Summer
What to Do This Summer
17 Things for Your Beach Bag…
5 Great Reasons to Choose Us This Summer
Must. Have. For. Summer
Beat the Summer’s Sizzle
The Heat is On

Have more inspiring ideas for summer emails? Share in the comments below!

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Get In the Digital Marketing Know

Get in the digital marketing know with these resources!

It’s that time again! Time to get in the digital marketing know with a bouquet of fresh resources from industry experts. All of these articles, eBooks, and case studies are free – so just click and read.

Kissmetrics: The Seven Commandments of Internal Linking

What’s internal linking and why does it matter? Get the answer to this question and tips for improving your content marketing and SEO.

Tatango: How to Grow SMS Subscribers

There’s one rule for growing SMS subscribers, and this eBook has it. Also learn how to create converting calls-to-action and what not to do. Stellar research!

MarketingSherpa: E-commerce Research Chart: Channels that drive significant traffic

Let’s just cut to the chase: “Email is the biggest driver of traffic for companies with e-commerce revenue above $10 million.” See the statistics for yourself in this research.

Windsor Circle: Building a Business on Automated Emails

If you’re interested in ditching batch-and-blast emails to get a 56 percent open rate and 14 percent click rate, this case study will show you how to do it.

Direct Marketing News: Why Email Marketing Remains So Effective

A simple reward, apology, thank you, or reminder can go a long way with email subscribers. How long of a way? Find out in this article.

Mobile Marketing Watch: Cut the SPAM, Bring the Ham 

Today’s consumers hate messages that aren’t personalized. This is true on any channel – advertising, email, SMS messages from companies – everything. Nothing proves it more than these numbers displayed in a nifty infographic.


Thanks for reading! If you’ve seen anything recently that has helped you stay in the digital marketing know, please share it in the comments section below.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


8 Dimensions of Leadership

This content has been re-posted from Allen’s blog with his express permission.

Recently, I’ve been studying all the leadership assessment tools. I have been finding myself in more and more situations where I am interacting with team members that I don’t have a 10+ year relationship with. Actually, its been the exact opposite: lots of new team members, lots of new challenges and opportunities, and clearly lots of opportunities for me to be a better leader. I’ve been looking for a standard assessment tool and framework we could implement to help facilitate leadership development. I took 20+ tests, some stupid, some good, but only one that was great.

What is your leadership dimension?Why is “8 Dimensions of Leadership” my recommended assessment and book?

- First things first, it says I am “Pioneering” – how the hell could I not pick the one that said I was “Pioneering”?

- It is a “self-assessment” tool and it is “free”.

- There is a corresponding book that is easy to read, easy to understand, and not full of psychology gibberish.

- The feedback in the book is “actionable” and it provides clear examples.

- Best of all, the feedback focuses on “blind spots” you need to work on to be a better leader.

So, what did the assessment and book point me to? It put me in the “Pioneering” group, with my opposite DiSC being “Humble”. All the good stuff was the standard: I see opportunity everywhere, blah blah blah, but the real value came from exploring my blind spots and how they effect my ability to be a great leader.

First blind spot or opportunity to get better: more attention to process and planning. Stop laughing. The book basically says I can have a meeting, draw a picture on a white board, snap a photo with my iThingy, and bingo, that’s the plan! What’s the blind spot? LOL. Maybe, just maybe, my team members would appreciate just a little bit more detail, process, and a clear path forward (next steps).

My second blind spot is holding people accountable. This one was surprising. I actually thought I did that; however, the more I studied it, I realized I don’t. I spend most, if not all, of my day believing everyone does what they say they will do, and everyone will just figure out how to get something done. So why would I follow up and close the loop? I am fully committed to being a great leader. I will continue to leverage my strengths, but I will also focus on my blind spots.

Go take the test and ping me – let me know what you are and what blind spot you are committed to seeing!

Allen Nance, CEO of WhatCounts
Twitter: @AllenNance

Why I Love Email

Find out why we love email.When you log onto the WhatCounts website, the first thing you see is our company’s philosophy: We Love Email. We hosted an event in Chicago to spread our love of email, and we have another one in just a few weeks in San Francisco. Everything we do is focused on helping our clients understand how to see the maximum possible return from their email efforts.

But what does that mean? Anyone can say he or she loves email, but what does it really mean? How can someone love the electronic transmission of messages from one party to another?

I can’t speak for everyone else at WhatCounts, but I can tell you why I love email.

At my core, I’m a storyteller … always have been, always will be. And while there’s no replacement for being able to communicate face-to-face with another person, email is the next best thing. There’s no communication channel allowing you to drill deep and personalize every message going out the door – and I’m not talking about putting the subscriber’s first name in a subject line, I’m talking about deep personalization. Dynamic content allows you to deliver the exact content individual subscribers want to receive. Can you do that with social media? Nope. Can you do that with direct mail? Not unless you want to write 15,000 individual flyers and mail them (and if you want to do that, then you need to have a talk with your boss about priorities). I don’t want to send one message to my entire mailing list – I want to send the right message to the right person – to tell them the story they want to hear.

I love email because I can track it. When I graduated from entry-level email to the big leagues, I fell in love with the ability to go beyond seeing how many people opened and clicked my messages. Conversion tracking, granular social media reporting, behavioral segmentation … and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I generally buy into the idea if it can’t be measured, it shouldn’t be done, and email allows you to measure essentially any metric by any dimension you wish. I can see a direct, 1:1 relationship between email and activity on my website, and that’s just plain cool.

Finally, I love email because it’s rapidly evolving on an almost daily basis. My relationship with WhatCounts dates back to 2010, and it’s almost impossible to put into words just how far the technology has come in those years. Between leaps and bounds on the email service provider side, as well as evolutions in the inbox side, email is a marketing channel that never sits still. There’s always a new challenge to overcome to get emails in the inbox, there’s always a new and innovative way to make your emails render in more attractive ways, there’s always a new way to test something, there’s always a new way to use your data more effectively … the list goes on.

These are just some of the reasons We Love Email, and I know the rest of the WhatCounts team could give you a hundred more. If you want to know more about why We Love Email, and how we can help you see more from your email marketing program, get in touch with us today.

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

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Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


How to Upsell and Cross-sell in Email Marketing

For better or worse, people are easily influenced be other people who are like them, or people they like. People will make a purchase if a recommendation to do so comes from people they trust. They also buy if it’s a product they’ve heard about before, or they’ve tried the product before. People also buy if the price is comparable to another product they usually purchase. Upselling and cross-selling take advantage of these behaviors.

Upselling is successful when the benefits of a more advanced version of a product or service respond to a person’s needs. When these offers hit the right customers at the exact time they are looking to fill a need, they gain the most traction.

Cross-selling is more of a tactic to raise awareness about similar products. It is essential you understand your audiences’ behaviors before cross-selling. Again, sent at the right time to the right person, cross-selling will build revenue.

For both upselling and cross-selling, subtlety is key. Pushing a sale shouldn’t be your main goal or the main idea people get from these campaigns. Instead, leverage the power of suggestion.

The first step in using this strategy is deciding if you’re going to send a dedicated email, or include upselling and cross-selling in parts of transactional emails. Many marketers choose to do the later only, but both can be effective. If you’ve never used these techniques before, it’s a good idea to test both options to see which one your particular subscribers like and which one works for the services or products you sell.

Basic Strategy

Upselling and cross-selling isn’t limited to one industry; any email marketer can use this technique to retain customers and increase revenue. Use cross-selling to introduce customers to a new category of products by offering a free trial of your products or services. You could also use upselling to move pay-as-you-go customers to monthly memberships.

In the financial services industry? Upsell a service the customer isn’t using. If someone has a checking account, but not a savings account, it’s an opportunity to cross-sell for you. In this dedicated cross-sell email from First Niagara Bank, the financial institution promotes its savings accounts:

First Niagara Bank cross-sells its savings account in this email.

If you’re in the travel industry, cross-sell with deals, tours, and specials from different categories in the area customers are traveling. If customers have purchased hotel rooms and flights, they may need a rental car. This is an opportunity for you to upsell. Travelocity cross-sold cars in this email campaign:

Travelocity uses upselling in this email campaign.

Retailers can definitely use this strategy. Use upselling to encourage customers to upgrade to a better version of a product or service you sell.  One way to upsell is by asking customers if they want to purchase insurance for their recent purchases, when they’ve purchased a high-value item.

There are more industries upselling and cross-selling apply to, and these are just a few ideas. But how do you go about sending these upselling and cross-selling campaigns?

Smart Data is Everything

You can’t use upselling and cross-selling without first having information about your customers’ behaviors. Many marketers have an abundance of data, but they don’t know how to access it or use it in email campaigns. If you’re storing your data in a relational format, you can conveniently track, store, and make use of subscriber data. You can create deep segmentations with customer data for upselling and cross-selling purposes.

For example, say you wanted to cross-sell popular and newly released games similar to ones customers purchased previously. As long as you are storing purchase history data, you can create a segmentation for those with a purchase history of buying games.

Also use your data dynamically inside email templates to create highly relevant offers. Insert if-then conditions into templates to draw in data that will populate dynamic offers. For example, if someone purchased a game, send them a gaming offer. To everybody else send them a different offer that applies to their purchase history.

Automate It

Automation is a marketer’s best friend. Once your segmentations and dynamically populated emails are ready to go, you can set up a triggered campaign to send them out based on time passed or subscriber behavior. For example, you could set a cross-selling aimed email to send 10 days after a person has made a purchase. Once you set the triggered campaign to run, you won’t have to lift a finger – just let the upselling and cross-selling do their thing.

Stand Alone or In Addition To

Remember, upselling and cross-selling can be used in an email campaign by themselves, or in addition to other content in a transactional email. Either way, it’s important to make sure the offers are relevant to the subscribers who are receiving them. Sending an email to thousands of email subscribers with a particular cross-sell offer in it won’t do you any good. Batch-and-blast is a thing of the past; personalized, relevant offers are essential to successful email campaigns today. So make sure you’re collecting and using smart data, automating your campaigns, and using appropriate upselling and cross-selling content for your industry.

Know additional ways to upsell and cross-sell in emails? Let us know in the comments below.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


Do-not-reply? Do-not-send.

Using a do-not-reply email address is putting up a not-not-disturb sign.

When you get an envelope or package in the mail, you expect to see a return address in the upper-left-hand corner, right? I’m not talking about something that just arrived from Amazon Fulfillment Services or the nearest Netflix distribution center, but any standard piece of mail sent to you from another human being – you expect to know where it came from and where you can send it back to if the recipient is no longer at this address, or you want to write a thank-you note, or you want to give the sender a piece of your mind, or … well, you get the idea.

Your email marketing should be the same way.

Let’s be honest: No one (or, at least, only a few people) believes there’s an actual human being on the other end when you get an automated email update from John Smith (or insert your favorite From name here). But we’ve been talking for years about the need to send smarter and personalized communications in order to treat subscribers well. And instead, what do many senders use as John’s reply address?

Sending from this kind of unmonitored, do-not-reply address is just wrong on multiple levels, because it tells your subscriber a few things:

  1. A robot sent the email.
  2. If there’s something wrong in the email, he or she isn’t able to tell you.
  3. And if subscribers can’t talk to you, it tells them you just don’t care to hear from them.

I’ve said it time and again that your email subscribers are the digital equivalent of precious metals, and when you tell them, especially in such a blatant way, you have no intention of providing them a channel to communicate with you after they receive your email, you’re treating that digital gold like used cat litter. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most basic transactional email or a complex, personalized newsletter based upon prior purchase history: If you don’t give your recipients a way to reply to you, you’re doing it wrong.

It isn’t just wrong from the perspective of treating a user poorly, it’s also wrong because it creates a blind spot in your email marketing program that has literally no reason whatsoever to exist. Readers have frequently heard me say you should not only welcome the opt-out / unsubscribe on your email, but you should be proactively monitoring those opt-outs and the reasons given for the opt-out (and if your email service provider doesn’t offer subscribers an opt-out reason, you should ask them why not). That’s legitimate, honest intelligence you can’t get anywhere else – whether you’re sending too frequently, not sending enough, sending weak content, what have you. Remember the Marketer’s Mantra: We are not our audience, so we need to listen to them.

The same applies to sending from unmonitored addresses. If you’re artificially closing that line of communication, you’re cutting yourself off from getting as much intelligence as you can and should have.

I’m not saying you need to have the intern who clicks “send” on your email as the person who sets his or her address as the reply-to. But, in this hypothetical example, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to create a address and set it as the reply-to. Next, create a filter to put “Out of Office” and other similar automated replies into a folder. Establish internal protocol the inbox has to be checked one, three, six, 24 and 48 hours after an email goes out, just to see if a subscriber has emailed you with something you totally didn’t realize – your email suddenly isn’t rendering correctly on iPhones running iOS6, you’re sending to someone deceased, etc.

Additionally, and finally, there’s one more aspect to consider: Deliverability. We all want to make it into the inbox, right? However, testing has shown delivery and inboxing statistics are very, very poor when messages are sent via non-existent email address. If they’re delivered at all, the chances are high they will land in the junk / spam folder. The reason for this is many ISPs and inbox providers not only can, but do, use address validation (meaning they check if the sending address is an actual, legitimate address).

It could also potentially be a violation of spam laws to send using a non-existent address. For example, the U.S. CAN-SPAM law says, “A message cannot contain a false header.” From / reply-to addresses are transmitted as header information … so if a from / reply-to address is bogus or otherwise nonexistent, then the message hasn’t come from that person, (if you’ve used a person’s name as the From name), and you could be potentially considered in violation of the law.

Just because effective email marketing is automated doesn’t mean effective email marketing should be robotic. Don’t just do email marketing … do email marketing the right way.

Tim Brechlin
Inbound Marketing Manager, WhatCounts

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


6 Resources to Aide Your Email Marketing

6 resources to aide your email marketingOne of our core values at WhatCounts is to learn constantly. On a regular basis, we’re scanning the blogs, podcasts and other digital marketing content online and sharing it with each other. Here’s some of the most valuable content we’ve come across recently to aide your email marketing program.

ClickZ: 4 Ways to Prepare for the Future of the Inbox

Business2Community: The 4 Ways You Are Sabotaging Your Email Marketing

Marketing Over Coffee: Monty on the Move

Mobile Marketing Watch: Email May Be Going Mobile But Getting Users to Click Is Still a Challenge

Kissmetrics: 6 Easy To Implement Tactics That Will Turn Churn Around

Intuit: How to Get People to Read Your Email Newsletter


If you love email marketing as much as we do, then you’re probably always on the lookout for innovations in email. Our partners Return Path, LiveIntent, and Movable Ink are all helping email marketers like you send smarter, more personalized emails. We’re happy to have them joining us for the We Love Email Innovation Tour on June 26th, and we’d love for you to be there, too. It’s a free event at the W Hotel in San Francisco, so all you have to do is reserve your spot to let us know you’re coming!

Also, one last note: Canada’s Anti-Spam Law is taking effect on July 1, 2014. Email marketers, this legislation is one of the strictest in the world, and fines are enormous. Please don’t ignore this update or procrastinate making changes to your email marketing any longer. We know the implications of the law are tough to navigate, so we put together a free checklist for you.

If you have questions about either of these events, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

Joy Ugi
Digital Marketing Coordinator, WhatCounts
Twitter: @ugigirl

Download our latest eBook

Your email list is your most valuable asset. Learn 57 tips for building it today!


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From the Blog

Learn digital marketing tips, tricks and strategies from some of our top blog posts:

The ABCs of Email Testing: Learn about top strategies for testing your emails.

5 Easy Tips to Make Your Subject Lines Stand Out: Get noticed in the inbox with these subject line tips.

The One Thing You Should Never, Ever Do: Keep your email marketing program healthy by following this one, easy-to-do tip.