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Is Email Dying?

For some reason people are getting more and more concerned that email is slowly but surely going away.  Some feel that social networking sites and text messaging will completely replace email.  This is simply not the case.  Email is here to stay.  Here is why.

10 Reasons Why Email Is Not Dying
  1. People still send hand-written letters via snail mail. They could easily  make a phone call, send an email, text message, or status update.  Email is familiar and useful.
  2. Nearly all sites on the web that require registration require an email address.
  3. Email notifies you of updates from social networks.
  4. There is not any evidence yet that Google Wave really is the next big thing and will catch on a large scale. Plus you need an email address to sign up for Google Wave.
  5.  Email is universal, and social networks are not. Nearly everybody on the web has an email address. Also, most places of employment give employees email addresses. Meanwhile, a great deal of employers are banning workers from accessing social networks while on the job.
  6. There are plenty of people who have no interest in joining social networks. Frequent news stories about security, privacy, and reputation issues do not help convince them.
  7. Email is still improving and evolving. It hasn't screeched to a halt with the rise of social media. There is still innovation going on, and integration with social media. Email and social media complement each other. They do not rely on each other.
  8. Even social networks themselves recognize the importance of email. Never mind that they update users about community-driven happenings via email. Recently MySpace launched its own email service
  9. More social media use means more email use.  The people consuming the largest amount of social media are also the people consuming the largest amount of email.
  10. As far as marketing is concerned, email is doing pretty well, as many companies continue to struggle to find the right social media strategy to suit their needs.
What are your thoughts on the longevity of email?  

Deliverability Update (and maybe a Game Changer): Yahoo!, Gmail and others create new commercial email folders

Yahoo!, Gmail and other email providers have started moving commercial email into separate non-Inbox folders, even organizing it by categories such as ‘shopping’, ‘travel’ and ‘finance’. 

This means that by default, email will no longer be delivered to the Inbox at those domains.  Some good news is that it appears when this occurs, it will also no longer go to the ‘spam’ folder either.  There also does not appear to be a whitelist workaround except for address book entries, not even for SenderScoreCertified or Goodmail Certified Email senders.

Does this mean the end of all of our deliverability problems?  Will it dramatically decrease domain performance to those email providers?    I can’t say now, but we’ve begun tracking it more closely and you should as well.  

What do you think about this technology?

Here's the screen shot from my Yahoo! account showing the new ‘Shopping’ folder:

This is an application developed by OtherInbox that users have to download to ‘sort’ their email.  It’s available only for Yahoo! And Gmail right now, but the other webmail and software providers will get added soon.  It doesn’t seem to catch ‘all’ commercial email yet, but the vast majority is identified and moved and I have verified clients who were in the Spam folder also got moved to the right commercial folder.

More details on this application can be found here.

Yahoo! describes and promotes it here.

It's important to remember that since it’s an application, it requires users to agree to separate terms.  As a result, it won’t reach critical mass anytime soon.

REPORT: Google share of searches at 72 percent for May 2010. Beats Yahoo!

Experian Hitwise announced that Google accounted for 72.17 percent of all U.S. searches conducted in the four weeks ending May 29, 2010. Yahoo! Search, Bing and Ask received 14.43 percent, 9.23 percent and 2.14 percent, respectively.

The remaining 74 search engines in the Hitwise Search Engine Analysis Tool accounted for 2.03 percent of U.S. searches.

Click Here to View the Entire Report.

Grow List Via Automatic Opt-In: Is this a Good or Bad Idea?

Email Marketers are always trying to find new and effective ways to grow their email list.  This can include noble and unscrupulous tactics.  One tactic I have noticed more and more is having an automatic email opt-in at purchase.  

It is a great practice to have an email sign-up box at checkout.  It is an acceptable best practice to have this sign-up box pre checked.  But now purchasers are being opted-in without even seeing a check box.  This is called an automatic opt-in.

The fact is that the check box can be removed and still CAN- SPAM compliant.  I have seen some retailers experience a 25% or more increase in email sign-ups from checkout.  These are already engaged customers.  Many of them might want to receive email from you.  But many of these new subscribers might not expect to be added to your list.

You will want to check with your internal legal and privacy council before making this live on your site. Also, you will probably need to make a change or revisit your privacy policy. Expect slight increase in opt-out from initial welcome email (you do have a Welcome email, right?).

So the question is: Is Growing Your Email List Via Automatic Opt-In a Good or Bad Idea?  

Share your thoughts with us.

Here is an example of a common checkout page.  In this case the email sign-up box is pre-checked.

Here is the same checkout page with an auto opt-in. There is not an email box at all. But once you enter your email address in the checkout form (anywhere on the form) you are opting-in to receive email.  This is not a question of legality but a question of good business practices.

A Mysterious New Trend In Email Marketing

Games of chance, and the allure of winning big, have captivated humans for as far back as anyone can remember.  From the infamous, and often crooked, shell game to making it big on Wheel of Fortune, people love to take risks with the hope of a big reward.

I have noticed a similar big payoff reward in email marketing involving mystery savings. The idea is simple.  Offer your subscribers the chance to win big savings, cash, or prizes. All they need to do is click a link, go to a store with a code, or enter a code a checkout.  The catch is that only a small percentage of the recipients will be a big winner.

Below are a few email creative examples utilizing this idea.  There are a variety of ways that a campaign like this can be run. One way is to break up your subscriber list and send each segment a different offer.  You could send 50% of your list the worse offer, 30% the second worse, 20% the next best, and 10% the best offer.  The segmentation on this type of campaign is almost limitless. Have fun and take a chance on this type of email campaign! Let us know your thoughts and experiences with mystery savings emails.

Love Your Customers

Lurking somewhere in your email list and hiding among your web analytics data, your best customers are waiting to be discovered.

This Saturday I received a letter in the mail.  The envelope was nondescript and the return address was a P.O. Box I did not recognize. It looked and felt like the type of envelope that contains a new credit or ATM card. When I opened it up I was pleasantly surprised — inside was a letter from the Director of Customer Care at The Home Depot and a $50 gift card. The letter was thanking me for my online business during the past year!

I have to admit, I did spend a lot of money at The Home Depot over the last twelve months. I was in the midst of a variety of large scale home improvement projects that required the purchase of a washer, dryer, refrigerator, barbecue, sinks, cabinetry plus much more — all bought online. Before I received this letter I did not feel especially loyal to The Home Depot, despite having spent a lot of money with them. But if something better came along, I would not think twice about purchasing from a competitor.

I put some thought into it and determined that I bought from The Home Depot for four main reasons:
  1. They have competitive prices.
  2. They have a strong online presence.
  3. They offered free shipping and other great offers in their emails.
  4. They have online ratings and reviews. I want to read what others think about a product before I purchase it.

What is the moral of the story?
  1. Know your best customers.
  2. Thank your best customers often and appropriately. The Home Depot not only thanked me with this letter, but they gave me a gift card, a VIP email address and VIP phone number to their customer service if I ever need it.
  3. Don’t assume that your best customers will always be your customers. Give them a reason to continue to do business with you.

Here is the letter I received from The Home Depot:

The Great Gender Debate

Online and offline marketers should always try to keep their marketing databases and lists updated whenever possible. This data can include current email address, postal address, name, age, and gender to name a few. Having this data is one thing. Using it successfully and appropriately is another. Sure, first name personalization is great. Geo-targeting is awesome. Age appropriate marketing rocks. But what about gender? 

Do men only want to receive content geared toward men? What if one of these men wanted to purchase something for a lady in his life? What about those whose gender is not known? What should these people receive?

There is a particular retailer that I used to love. I usually purchased items from them in-store. This past Christmas I purchased something for my wife from this retailer online via an email. From that point on I have only been receiving the female version of the catalog at my home. In this case this retailer assumed that since I bought one female item that I am an exclusively female shopper. This is a risky and potentially costly assumption - partly because of the way they have treated me since then, this retailer is no longer my favorite.

I recently saw an Express email that helps alleviate gender misunderstandings. There is a link towards the bottom of the email which links to the other gender. The female version of the email that links to the male version while the male links to the female. Brilliant!
It would be great (and maybe lucrative) for Express to highlight this feature and move it up in the email. This is like sending two emails to your list for the price of one! A simple test should tell if moving this link has any positive or negative results.

Here is the complete female version:
Here is the complete male version:

URL in the Subject Line? - http://www.R-U-Serious??

I was reading a ClickZ post today about what you should and should not do in email. One suggestion struck me as odd.  It was that you should put URLs in the subject line!  Really? Why?  The author thinks this is a good idea and might catch on.

With the popularity of Tiny URL and other link reducing sites this is entirely possible.   

How do you feel about this?

Would you click on an email with the subject line Click here to register:  Win Big!

Share your thoughts with us.

Think You Know CAN-SPAM? Prove It!

CAN-SPAM, officially known as the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act of 2003, is one of the most important online marketing topics. Take the CAN-SPAM quiz by clicking this link.  Let's see how good you really are.

Share your results with us. You can email them, tweet them, or post them here. GOOD LUCK!

Discount Codes in the Email Subject Line

The Retail Email blog did a great job with its Subject Line Hall of Fame 2009.

It found that the most significant subject line trend of 2009 was the use of discount codes. Rather than forcing subscribers to open an email to take advantage of a discount code, retailers decided to experiment with putting the full call-to-action in the subject line. This tactic puts business metrics ahead of email metrics and changes the game on email reporting since a subscriber can convert without even opening the email.

RitzCamera, 8/22 — Super Student Special, 10% OFF (Use Coupon Code 1828)

JCPenney, 9/9 — Use Code 32GIFT to Get Free Shipping!‏

JCPenney, 11/8 — Want Free Shipping? Use Promo Code 49SANTA At!

JCPenney, 11/26 — Use Code 25MERRY & Get Free Shipping!‏

Bluefly, 12/1 — Today Only! EXTRA 15% OFF Handbags & Shoes with Code HOLIDAY15‏

Ann Taylor, 12/8 — 30% Off All Full-Priced Items with Code WINTER + Free Shipping!

Sears, 12/15 — Hurry, savings end soon! Enter coupon code EXCLUSIVE‏

Linens ’n Things, 12/18 — Jingle your way to Savings! HOHOHO Coupon Enclosed!

Linens ’n Things, 12/19 — 4 Days Left to Buy More Save More! HOHOHO Details Inside.

Linens ’n Things, 12/21 — Hurry, Only 24 Hours Left to Save up to $24 with HOHOHO!‏

This is a great suggestion and well worth a test.

Email Mishaps and Remedies

It is inevitable that sometime in an email marketer’s life, there will be a mistake in a live email deployment.  This could come in the form of the wrong subject line, missing or broken images, mismatched offer codes, incorrect content, a down website just to name a few.

How should mistakes be handled?  Yes, sticking your head in the sand or pretending that the mistake did not happen sounds like a good idea, but facing the error head-on might be the better option.

Before you send a knee-jerk apology email (which could compound the original mistake) or yell at your fellow email marketers, take a deep breath and review these questions:
  1. What was the result of this error?  Is the error worthy of an apology email?  If there is not any harm in the mistake it might be best to do nothing.
  2. What is the upside of sending an apology email?
  3. What is the downside of sending an apology email?
  4. What should the apology email look like?  What about the subject line? Should I use humor?  Should I be serious?  Should I include an offer?  How much information should be included about the error?
  5. Who should receive the apology email?  Openers, clickers, purchasers, best customers, or everyone?
Here is recent example of an apology email a friend of mine sent me. Not only did this email deploy with a test in the subject line but it was also sent twice – at the exact same time!

In this case Boingo Wireless sent a very heartfelt and humorous apology.  They did not include an offer and did not ask the recipient to do anything.  In the end this might benefit Boingo Wireless as this “mistake” makes it rounds amongst email marketing circles.

Here are some other well-executed 'whoops moment' emails and subject lines that have graced my inbox recently.  Try to imagine the thought process these companies used when they designed their apology campaigns. A little acknowledgment can go a long way to keeping customers happy in the long run.

Subject Line: Oops, that was embarrassing… FREE SHIPPING EXTENDED

Threadless Newsletter
Subject Line: Oops! We're sorry.

Subject Line: Whoops, now it's working

Newport News
Subject Line: We're So Sorry: Take 20% off TODAY

Scottsdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
Subject Line: RESEND: Be Our Guest in Scottsdale

Subject Line: We’re Sorry...Take 20% off ANY PURCHASE!