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Email : First Impressions

Five keys to email marketing success in a multichannel world

November 2010 By Len Shneyder
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Direct marketers are much like the town criers of yesteryear. In days of yore, a crier would stand on a street corner with a bell in hand and shout the news for all to hear. Today, unsophisticated marketers use a bullhorn to spread the word and hope that they're casting a wide enough net.

Good thing we're not living in the past, because today's marketers have the means to cast not only a wider net, but a more sophisticated one across channels such as mobile, social, email, Web and direct mail.

The trick, if you want to call it that, is to understand that each of these channels has its own unique nuances and requirements. Successful marketers are able to integrate all of these in order to reach not just a broad audience, but specifically the right audience.

Here are five ways direct marketers can better reach that audience through email.

1. Focus Is Key
A focused message is the first key to successful email communications. The idea of focused messaging isn't new; we all know that a good message is one that takes into account the customer's needs and translates those needs into the right offer to the right person at the right time.

However, email is a more fluid channel with users who tend to be moving at faster "rates." The right message for an email audience is generally a limited message. Because the virtual inbox is a crowded place, marketers need to limit the calls to action and number of offers in any given email to what are most relevant for that particular customer.

Yes, less is more where email is concerned. By limiting how much you send, you keep people interested. Otherwise, their eyes glaze over when they get an email that resembles a newspaper ad. The days of three-column designs with every offer under the sun are over. The most successful marketers are focusing their email marketing efforts and engaging their customers in relevant dialogues.

2. Know Your Customer
The concept of relevancy brings us to another key tenet of email marketing: Know your customer. Successful email marketing means understanding how your customers consume your digital marketing. Consider providing them with a preference center so they can tell you exactly how often they want to be contacted. If they use mobile devices, analyze the addresses you collect and determine the most popular domains in your house file. By knowing how your customers read email—as in which email clients they are using—you can ensure that the emails you design meet the often nuanced and varying design criteria of today's email environments.

Successful email marketing is a cross-channel effort in today's world. Customers are reading the same email on a smartphone, in a webmail client and on a desktop email client. Every email you send has to be prepared for these three key environments. You have to design your messages assuming that email is a border-jumping medium.

The flexibility of email doesn't stop at the three primary email reading environments; mobile has long been fueling the uptake and use of social networks as a means of communication. According to comScore, 70 percent of mobile users access email, but 43 percent access social networks. Email can be and is shared on social networks; this drives a kind of second life for an email in the form of viral marketing on social networks. Having succinct subject lines, which will become the default titles of these viral posts, is a vital element of a successful cross-channel email marketing campaign.

3. Your Web Designers May Need Guidance
If you don't have a dedicated email resource in-house and are relying on your Web designer to code your HTML marketing emails, that designer may need a guideline or two to follow. Here's your crash course in HTML email design:

Do not use cascading style sheets between the tags or the tags. As a matter of fact, avoid the use of style sheets altogether; they simply aren't that widely supported. Style sheets allow Web designers to quickly make changes to the look and feel of a website with minimal code changes. Unfortunately, email clients such as Gmail do not support style sheets anywhere in an email. Emails coded with style sheets will not render properly in Gmail, and other email providers have limited support for style sheets. Instead of using style sheets, tell your Web designers to code emails using in-line styles, as they're more universally supported.

• Avoid using "float and clear." These two key positioning elements haven't been supported by Outlook since Outlook 2003. Starting in Outlook 2007, the rendering engine was switched from Internet Explorer to Microsoft Word. Float and clear became a no-no when this switch happened, forcing email designers to use tables to lay out their designs. Emails coded with float and clear statements would not align properly and looked "broken" when rendered by Outlook 2007 or 2010.

• Include text when sending a multi-part Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) message, assuring that the email client can render the message in either HTML or text. A common mistake of even the savviest email marketers is to omit the text portion when sending multi-part MIME. The MIME standard requires marketers to include both HTML and text; thereby making the MIME complete. Although we can assume that the majority of our audiences aren't reading the text parts of our emails, not sending a text aspect will cause your email to be filtered as spam by certain filtering technologies. Additionally, there's still a good chunk of the smartphone world which may be using older devices that will default to the text-part of a multi-part MIME. So you're safer to ensure that they, too, can read your email by including this lightweight and easily written component in it.

• Arrange your text and images using a single-column layout. This may not seem critical, but consider mobile devices with screens that are only a couple inches long. A multi-column layout will shrink your entire message to something completely unreadable. You want the first impression your customers have to be a positive one. Using a single-column layout will preserve the look, feel and branding of your design. It also will force you to carefully consider your call to action, because you're making a commitment to the right message at the right time, instead of a single catch-all message—there are far too many of those out there already.

4. Testing Is Mandatory
Test your email templates across email clients, browsers and mobile email clients. Know exactly what your clients see. If you don't have the means to leverage design and rendering tools, consider rounding up your co-workers and friends and sending them emails they can view on their smartphones, then asking them what they see. If they can take a screenshot of how the email renders (on an iPhone, hit the sleep and home button simultaneously), that'll be even more helpful.

5. Take It to the Next Level
Email marketing is a jumping-off point, really. The Holy Grail of email marketing is cross-channel optimization that leverages all digital properties such as Web, social and email. The most successful marketers don't stop with emails personalized for the audience; they go on to personalize the entire digital experience by leveraging online Web behavior in cross-channel marketing campaigns so that the Web pages linked in their emails are just as personal as the emails customers received. By incorporating Web analytics and customer analytics into email marketing and segmentation, you can create intimate experiences for each customer that will translate into increased ROI over the entire customer lifecycle, regardless of whether it is online or offline.

Len Shneyder is senior product marketing manager with Unica Pivotal Veracity, a martketing software company based in Waltham, Mass. He can be reached at


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Most Recent Comments:
email marketing - Posted on November 01, 2010
Direct Marketing works. All your points are crystal clear. We need to send the right message to the right audience. But, who is the right audience? That takes time, research, demographics and behavioral stats. The town crier most certainly would be crying if he had to do that.
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Archived Comments:
email marketing - Posted on November 01, 2010
Direct Marketing works. All your points are crystal clear. We need to send the right message to the right audience. But, who is the right audience? That takes time, research, demographics and behavioral stats. The town crier most certainly would be crying if he had to do that.