A ‘Back-to-Business’ Email Optimization Checklist

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

Back to school is also back-to-business time. Set aside a few hours this final week of summer to freshen up your email program and take advantage of the silence before the rush. Here are six ways to quickly improve reader satisfaction and response rates:

1. Put on the proverbial tie. Just as we don suits again in September, smarten up your email look with a template minirefresh. A simpler, more streamlined template will focus subscriber attention on key content and calls to action. Gather your creative and content teams and do a quick inventory of all the changes made to your newsletter template in the past nine months. Remove those that no longer make sense. Nearly every program has them, including the following:

  • small image, link or headline additions requested by the brand, product or sales teams;
  • the multilink masthead that no longer matches the landing pages;
  • that extra banner at the bottom of your emails promoting a special event that never seemed to go away;
  • a bunch of social networking links that no one has clicked on (usually, you’ll find two or three that your subscribers actually use. Keep those and give them breathing room so they’re more appealing and inviting); and
  • extra legal or other language in the footer.

2. Insure against failure. Take a quick look at two key engagement metrics this year: unsubscribe requests and complaints (i.e., clicks on the “Report Spam” button). First, ask everyone on your team to make sure the unsubscribe link works. Then, take a look if the unsubscribe and complaint rates for your various types of messages (e.g., newsletters or promotions) are erratic, growing or steady?

If erratic, you may find certain message types or frequency caps need to change. If growing, your subscribers may be moving to a new lifestage and are now uninterested in your content, or a new source of data may be signing up subscribers ill-suited for your brand and/or content. Both of these are great segmentation opportunities.

3. Turn frequency into cadence. Back when everything reached the inbox, being present was enough to earn a brand impression. So, many marketers just broadcast often to be near the top of the inbox. People are now fatigued from inbox clutter, however, and are employing more filters as a result. Being relevant and timely trumps volume. Subscribers visit their inboxes expecting to see timely messages tailored to their interests. On the other hand, repeated reminders about last week’s sale may turn them off forever.

4. Adopt a new attitude. Gather new information about subscribers, and use it to test content or segmentation strategies. Run a few instant polls to gauge how important key demand drivers are to your subscribers. Ask for a vote on some product taglines you’re considering. To get higher participation, make it fun by featuring the results of the poll on your Facebook fan page, inviting comments that you can share. Or keep a Twitter tally of response in real time.

5. Arm yourself for the crush. Just as traffic swells on the highways and commuter trains this time of year, the email transit way also fills up as marketers promote their fall offerings and gear up for the holidays/Q4. Just like in any rush hour, the more email traffic, the higher the likelihood that your messages will wait in line or be filtered.

Make it a habit to check your sender reputation every day that you send broadcast mailings — it only takes a minute if you have access to inbox placement data. If you don’t have this data, get it from a deliverability service, demand it from your email service provider (ESP), or even check simple diagnostics such as my firm’s free email reputation service SenderScore.org or DNSstuff.com, another free email reputation service.

Sender reputation is directly tied to inbox reach, and the best senders enjoy inbox placement rates in the 95th percentile. Don’t be fooled by ESP reports of “delivered” (i.e., the inverse of your bounce rate). Even for permission-based marketers, about 20 percent of delivered email is filtered or blocked and never reaches the inbox, according to a study by my firm. You can’t earn a response if you aren’t in the inbox. Imagine the immediate boost on all your response metrics if you move your inbox placement rate up 10 or more points.

6. Make new friends. You likely already read a number of blogs or e-newsletters that cover topics relevant to your brand and important to your audience. Audit these for new, fresh voices, then regularly link to those websites in your own messages as part of a regular “view from the world” feature. Your subscribers will appreciate the additional heads up to interesting or helpful articles, and you’ll start to build a network of experts and potential referrals back to your business.

These might be tasks already on your to-do list. Do them this week and get back to business a bit stronger and ready to optimize. Let me know what you think; please share any ideas or comments below.

What’s On the Minds of Email Marketers

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood – or utilized – by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.
 

I lead a chat session with attendees of eM+C’s Retail Marketing Virtual Conference & Expo late last month and enjoyed the dialog and all the questions raised. It’s clear that even though email marketing is a pretty well-established channel, it’s still not fully understood — or utilized — by the people tasked with generating higher response and revenue from it.

Two questions came up repeatedly (perhaps you struggle with these issues, too, and will share what you’ve learned or offer other questions that challenge your program’s success):

1. What can email practitioners do to keep up with their brethren on the social marketing side, who seem to get all the attention and new resources these days?

Just because social marketing hasn’t killed email (all the dire predictions are well dismissed by now), it doesn’t mean that email marketers can rest on their laurels. You have to continue to innovate and improve the experience for subscribers. Email marketers must prove that the channel can grow revenue in order to get more funding and resources.

First, the solution is in smart segmentation, intelligent content strategy and the discipline to match message cadence to the needs of different subscribers. Automation and triggering technology is readily accessible from most email broadcast vendors. Be careful, however, because just sending more and more messages won’t build long-term revenue opportunities. (It might generate revenue in the short term, which is why too many marketers fall into that trap.)

Email marketers must send more of the kinds of messages that subscribers value — e.g., post-purchase offers or reminders; information that helps to make renewal decisions; or tips on how to improve productivity, lose weight this summer or look good in front of your boss (or kids). Try the following three ideas for improved results, higher customer satisfaction and more executive attention:

* Segment and customize content that’s regularly consumed on mobile devices.
If you don’t know what this might be, ask your subscribers! Optimize your mobile rendering by trimming out images and unnecessary links. Streamline your content by sending shorter bits of info more frequently than one longer message.

* Treat customers and prospects differently. They have different relationships with your brand. Even simple segmentation can make a huge difference in relevancy and response — and lowering spam complaints.

* Send fewer generic messages and product announcements in favor of custom content based on customer status, product ownership and recent activity. For B-to-B marketers, acknowledge products customers already own, and celebrate things like anniversaries and renewals. For B-to-C marketers, sitewide sales can be effective, but only if they’re perceived as being somewhat unusual and unique. Customize sales for key segments of your audience, even if that means just changing the subject line or which content is at the top.

You can’t earn a response if you don’t reach the inbox — something that’s becoming increasingly harder to do. Mailbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and corporate system administrators are using reputation data pulled from the actual practices of individual senders to identify what’s welcome, good and should reach the inbox versus what’s “spammy,” unwelcome, and should go to the junk folder or be blocked altogether.

This creates both friction as well as opportunity. Email marketers must keep their files very clean, mailing only to those subscribers who are active and engaged. And to be welcome, they must create better subscriber experiences. Sender reputation is based on marketers’ practices and is the score of your ability to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response.

2. How do I break through the clutter of the inbox?

The inbox isn’t just more crowded, it’s fragmenting, becoming more device-driven and crowded. Only the best subscriber experiences will break through. The number one mistake email marketers make is forgetting about subscribers’ interests. It’s not about sending out “just one more blast” this week in order to make this month’s number. Do that too often and you’ll soon find your file churning and possibly all of your messages blocked due to high spam complaints (i.e., clicks on the Report Spam button).

Focus on building long-term relationships with your subscribers. Change your metrics to measure engagement and subscriber value, not list size or how many people bother to unsubscribe. What drives the business is response, sharing and continued activity.

Defy internal pressure to abuse the channel by sending only what’s relevant. Work hard to customize content and contact strategies to meet the life stages and needs of each key segment. Ensure that your email program contains content that’s right for the channel. Don’t duplicate with Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make each channel sing with some unique and powerful value proposition. If you can’t think of one for each channel, then you probably don’t need to be in that channel after all. Tie your business goals to subscribers’ happiness and success. They’ll reward you with response, revenue and long-term subscription.

Thanks to all who participated in the virtual event and my chat session! For everyone, let me know what you think and please share any ideas or comments below.

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: 5 Essential Technologies to Ignite and Manage Conversations

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

In my first blog I talked a lot about how you can overcome the fear of social media and embrace the medium so it can become an integral part of your overall marketing mix. My next post shined the spotlight on understanding your customers in order to build ongoing and successful conversations. My most recent effort demonstrated how B-to-B companies, like B-to-C companies, have much to gain by embracing social media. I highlighted specific examples of several social media programs that are making a measureable impact. All of which leads us to this month’s blog.

This month’s blog is all about the tools necessary to support a successful conversation. Over the last decade, I’ve had the privilege to be involved in building solutions that help brands connect and communicate with their customers and prospects. It’s from that experience that I present the five most essential tools in creating and sustaining a successful conversation with customers and prospects.

1. Email. Perhaps the most obvious one of the bunch. While email’s promise of facilitating one-to-one dialogs never really panned out, the effective use of dynamically-generated email communications based on subscribers’ profiles and/or behaviors help build timely and relevant conversations. While automated or triggered communications have been in practice for some time now, they are, in my opinion, not used often enough and are typically isolated to individual programs within the lifecycle communication strategy.

Therefore, although effective, triggered emails can rarely sustain the dialog over long periods of time and across different stages of the lifecycle. But the impact email has on conversations is hardly over. More recently, the emergence of social tools within email is on the rise. These tools encourage individuals to share content with their social networks, which then enables the conversation to be continued with a larger group across the social internet.

Look for email to remain a force for years to come as brands use targeted emails and Twitter to ignite discussions that are then continued and discussed in-depth on Facebook.

Top providers with both capabilities: ExactTarget, StrongMail (full disclosure: I sit on the board of directors at StongMail) and Yesmail.

2. Inbound reply handling. Who among us hasn’t used email to contact customer service? Who among us has been delighted by the experience? Truth be told, few, if any, of us have been delighted. Lackluster email response times continue to plague many brands, and often contribute to decreased customer satisfaction ratings.

While real-time social tools such as Twitter and CoTweet have emerged as critical tools for handling customer service inquires, sophisticated inbound reply handling for incoming inquiries via email is still essential to building and maintaining great conversations and satisfaction with customers.

Top providers: KANA, eGain.

3. Listening/monitoring tools. I’m a huge fan of listening tools. For many brands, it’s a natural starting point as they continue to search for the content that will best resonate with their customers and prospects. Listening to what consumers are saying about your brand and/or products often yields important insights. It may even provide you the context you need to spark a conversation around a shared passion or related topic that’s of great interest to the community. Listen carefully and use learnings from this listening to build conversations with critical customer segments and prospects.

Top providers: BuzzMetrics, Cymfony and Radian6.

4. Social media platforms.
The emergence of social media networks such as Facebook and microblogging networks such as Twitter opens up a whole new opportunity to connect and communicate with customers and prospects. According to a report from Nielsen, the average Facebook user now spends more than seven hours a month on the social network, which is more than three times the average time spent on Yahoo.

As social networks become more popular, so will the use of social media platforms. Like email, social media platforms enable brands to create, execute and manage real-time interactions and communications with fans and followers. In many respects, the emergence of social media platforms picks up where email left off — enabling communications with both individuals and groups who like your brand.

Top providers: Hootsuite, Objective Marketer, Spredfast and StrongMail.

5. Social communities and networks. Aside from the emergence of leading social networks like Facebook, brands are increasingly recognizing the power and benefit of building their own communities. These collaborative environments help brands capture customer ideas and feedback, allowing them to glean critical information from conversations between customers. Often the wisdom from these conversations results in new products and a culture of innovation. Look to see the continued growth of these proprietary communities as social and software combine to help build critical conversations that drive business success.

Top providers: Communispace, Jive Software.

There you have it: five essential technologies to help every brand create, execute and manage real-time, relevant conversations.

‘Til next time!

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Why Good Email Gets Blocked as Bad

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

There’s no shame here. Every email marketer gets blocked occasionally, even if you have permission or generally follow best practices. The best defense is good offense: Be knowledgeable on the root causes of blocking, respect subscribers and measure inbox deliverability.

This is no tree in the proverbial forest. If your messages don’t reach the inbox, they won’t earn a response. It’s not something that happens to “that other guy.” In fact, about 20 percent of legitimate, permission-based email marketing messages and newsletters never make it to the inbox, according to a study by Return Path earlier this year. (Full disclosure, I work for Return Path).

Any lift in inbox placement goes right to the bottom line. All your metrics (e.g., opens, clicks, page views, conversions, ad revenues, etc.) will rise concurrently. The good news is that marketers can absolutely impact how messages are treated by ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail, and corporate system administrators.

Do not delegate inbox deliverability — a very important step to ROI — even if you delegate delivery. Your email broadcast vendor or ESP can’t do this for you. It’s a shared responsibility. A good broadcast vendor will operate an efficient delivery system, give you full reporting that includes actual inbox placement (Note: this is NOT your bounce rate) and help you follow best practices. However, no vendor can control your message content, frequency and acquisition practices. The buck stops with the marketer or sender.

You need the following four things to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response:

1. A solid infrastructure. For either an in-house system or a vendor, check frequently to be sure you know that your infrastructure is sound (e.g., proper reverse DNS, MX records, authentication and volume throttling) and your bounces are managed properly. Make sure you fully understand the metrics used in reporting as well.

2. Low complaints. There’s a penalty for irrelevancy in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other channels. It’s called “complaints.” A complaint is registered every time a subscriber clicks the “Report Spam” button. It only takes a few complaints to get all your messages blocked at Yahoo, Gmail or corporations (which use many of the same data sources). Subscribers complain when they’re not happy or interested in your messages, even if they’re customers and gave you permission. They complain even when they claim to love your brand.

Yikes! Imagine what would happen if Yahoo or another major ISP blocked all your messages for the next 30 days (the length of time many deliverability failures take to correct). Revenue would drop like a brick and you’d be under the spotlight to explain why your mailing practices earned such a wallop.

Relevant messages have low complaint scores. It’s the single most powerful factor in a good sender reputation, which dictates if your messages reach the inbox and earn a high response. It’s up to marketers and publishers to engage subscribers with every message rather than assume an opt-in gives you license to send whatever you want whenever you want.

Increase relevancy by developing a subscriber-focused content strategy. Address the editorial needs, buying cycles and life stages of your subscribers. New subscribers may welcome more email than long-time subscribers — or the opposite may be true. Tailor messages for subscribers who are up for product or service renewal, have recently purchased, visited a particular section of your website, abandoned their shopping cart, clicked but didn’t convert, downloaded a whitepaper, or haven’t opened or clicked in the last quarter.

3. A clean file. Keep a clean list by doing the following:

  • Be sure everyone on your email marketing file really wants to be there. Offer choices and make it easy to unsubscribe and change preferences.
  • Try to win back fatigued subscribers who are ignoring you early in the relationship. If you see a customer hasn’t opened or clicked in the past 90 days, you may have an opportunity to re-engage.
  • If someone hasn’t opened or clicked in 12 months, take them off your file.
  • Only accept subscribers from legitimate sources — e.g., your own website, partners you vet carefully and publishers with high sender reputations. It may be nice to have a large file, but it’s always better to have a file that’s more responsive and engaged.

4. Good reporting. You can’t manage or optimize what you don’t know. Track complaint data by signing up for all ISP feedback loops, and quickly remove those subscribers who complain. (Detailed instructions can be found here.) Be sure you actually know your inbox deliverability rate, by campaign and message type. This is not your bounce rate (typically 1 percent to 5 percent), but the actual number of messages that reach the inbox. You must seed your campaigns to get this data. If your email broadcast system or vendor isn’t reporting this to you, ask them for it.

What are you doing to better manage inbox placement as part of your response metrics? Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.

Attribution is the Word of the Day

I’ve just returned from a few days in sunny Florida, attending the Direct Marketing Association’s Retail Marking Confernce 2010, and the main takeaway I received from it was that multichannel retailers today are struggling with attribution.

I’ve just returned from a few days in sunny Florida, attending the Direct Marketing Association’s Retail Marking Conference 2010 (RMC), and the main takeaway I have from the event is that today’s multichannel retailers are struggling with attribution.

Attribution is determining which of your marketing vehicles is reponsible for generating consumers’ purchases. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. For example, a catalog and search can share credit for a sale.

While attribution in the retail world is often viewed strictly as a way to figure out which online marketing programs — e.g., search, affiliate or display, social media — are responsible for the most sales, it also refers to figuring out which sales channel (online or off) are bringing in the most dough.

It’s a tricky thing: Old-line catalogers at the event claimed catalogs drive more online sales than websites or search efforts. E-commerce guys, on the other hand, said websites are where sales occur, so attribution should be credited to them. Email marketers were in the mix, too. They believe email messages received by opt-in consumers are the main driver of in-store and online sales.

Attribution is even more important these days, as corner offices are closely watching marketing teams, who are operating with tighter budgets, to see if spending is being accurately assigned.

The issue of attribution was discussed in several sessions at the RMC. A preconference intensive session led by Al Bessin, a partner at multichannel direct marketing firm LENSER, for example, discussed how customer and transactional information from multiple sources, such as website reports, email service providers and order management systems, can help marketers figure out which channels are working to ensure they’re spending their marketing budgets in the best ways possible.

Attribution was also discussed by Chad White, research director at Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, in his his closing keynote.

White correctly identified attribution as the missing link, citing an Epsilon study that found 33 percent of permission-based email recipients said they usually visit a brand’s website directly after receiving an email about that brand, instead of clicking on an email link. So, he said, “online conversions attributed to email may be undercounted by as much as 50 percent.”

White also discussed an attribution experiment performed by REI, the outdoor gear merchant. In an effort to test email attribution, REI withheld emails from a certain group of customers while continuing to send them to another, and began monitoring sales. When the test was completed, REI discovered it was overstating the impact of email on online sales since a good portion of customers still bought even without receiving an email.

However, White said, “after determining email’s impact on store sales, which email previously got no credit for, REI discovered that email contribution to total sales was actually twice the level of cookied sales.”

So what’s the answer? Which channel drives the most sales? It’s really hard to tell, and it’s not an exact science. Whether you’re at a large company that has the resources to institute an attribution modeling system or a smaller company that performs witholding tests, it’s still a crapshoot, in my opinion. How can you really know why a customer decides to buy something?

How do you handle attribution? I’d love to hear from you.

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Email Storytelling Sells

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

Gone are the days of the passive email subscriber. Consumers and business professionals tire easily when publishers and marketers broadcast to them. It’s the online equivalent of shouting. Your customers and readers want meaningful conversations — and they know they have other options if you don’t deliver.

Combat the fatigue from crowded inboxes by embracing the role of storyteller. Telling a story, rather than just announcing a fact or blasting out an announcement, is a more engaging way to share information. The storytelling approach weaves a relationship through a cadence of touchpoints. This isn’t complex. Any nurturing or loyalty program is built on the same concept, and many B-to-B marketers are very good at telling stories to move prospects through a buying process.

It’s simply a series of stories about use cases, cool new features and real-life implementation of your editorial, products and services. So invite your subscribers to the proverbial campfire and build their anticipation with a question, “How can I help you today?” Email marketing is great for providing the answer.

Invite subscribers on a story journey
Instead of sending a generic newsletter or “special offers,” invite website visitors to accept a two to five message email series on a particular topic. Make it about how your products, services or content will help them: “Five ways to be beautiful this summer,” “Three strategies for impressing your boss,” “Doctor’s advice on buying contact lenses online,” “Ten things your CEO wants you to know,” “Five great summer games for kids under 10.”

Make it easy to sign up by putting invitations in prominent locations on pages that have related content. And be sure permission is clear. If the offer is just for two to five email messages over the same number of weeks or days, then say so. You’ll likely find a higher sign-up rate and higher response and engagement because the content is so targeted. If you’re also signing them up for your ongoing e-newsletter, be clear about that. There’s no reason you can’t encourage a further subscription after you’ve delivered the series, too. Earn their trust first, then sell. Consider the following strategies:

  • Make your story interactive.
  • Tap the socially connected nature of today’s digital experience.
  • Integrate opportunities for subscribers to share with their social networks or forward to others.
  • Invite subscribers to take a poll or survey or give you feedback.
  • Offer a page where subscribers can upload their own stories or photos, and then share that user-generated content back to the group in your series.
  • Ensure your customer service team monitors these pages so that you can quickly respond to any questions or direct prospects to your sales team or e-commerce site.

Why does it work? An email series strategy is based on a fundamental truth of marketing: Provide something of value and customers will continue to engage. A series makes it easy for you to customize messages to the interests of subscribers at that moment. The topic is top of mind for them, and that creates selling and relationship opportunities for you.

Another benefit is that when your email messages are more relevant, you won’t have as many people clicking the “Report Spam” button, which registers as a complaint at internet service providers like Yahoo or Gmail. Even a small number of complaints can result in a poor sender reputation and a block on all your messages. Make even some of your messages more relevant, and the response rates for all your messages will go up and complaints will go down.

For content, consider the following four options:

1. Make it easy to learn more. Offer website visitors a two- to three-part email series rather than a whitepaper. Most downloaded content never actually gets opened or read. Once a whitepaper is downloaded and saved, it’s out of mind. An email series forces marketers to package up content in bite-sized pieces (you can always link to more detail on your website), and gives them several opportunities over a few weeks to engage. Advertising CPMs for these targeted messages can be at a premium, as well.

2. Comparison shopping. Advertisers know that readers are researching and want publishers to help them shorten sales cycles. Use a series of email messages to help subscribers compare competitive sets — the more honest/nonadvertorial you are, the longer they stay on your site! — find testimonials and bloggers, and make a strong business case.

3. Move free-trial subscribers to paid circulation. A series can give prospects confidence in your content or technology. Help them actually use your service during the trial — help them find the best reviews or product feature comparisons, or let them download tools that help them forecast productivity, revenue or cost savings as a result of making a decision to buy. Test if increasing incentives as prospects move through the cycle helps or hurts your conversion (and margin).

4. Educate. Send one great idea each week, and include ways to practice or implement. The next week, ask for input or a story about how that idea worked or didn’t work. Then, the next day, send the next idea. This interactive cadence will build value for subscribers and let them engage repeatedly over time.

Storytelling lets you retain control over the content while giving subscribers the freedom, choice and interactivity they crave. Successful email marketing is built on a very simple concept: Give subscribers what they want, and they’ll give you what you want. Subscribers want you to help them. When you do, they’ll reward you with higher response and sales, positive buzz and sharing, and stronger brand loyalty.

Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Sears Experiments With a New Google Email Tool

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

The most interesting news of the week came to me via an email alert from Chad White, research director of Smith-Harmon, a Responsys company, and founder of the Retail Email Blog. The alert said Sears was testing a new Gmail functionality and, in the words of Chad, “was pretty cool stuff.” It directed me to his blog posting on the subject.

Knowing that Chad is an authority on email — and a very smart guy — I decided to take a look.

Sears, according to Chad’s blog post, “will be wrapping up beta testing of a potential new Google offering called ‘Enhanced Email,’ which allows a form of browsing to occur within an email viewed within Gmail.”

In a limited test of the functionality last month, White wrote, “Sears was able to include seven ‘pages’ containing 20 best-selling products that its Gmail subscribers could browse using the navigation within the module without leaving the email.”

Here’s where it gets even cooler: When a subscriber hits the “next” link in the module’s navigation, White wrote, “the current set of products slides out of the box to the left and the next set of products slides in from the right in one smooth motion.”

Pretty cool, indeed.

For his blog post, White interviewed Ramki Srinivasan, the manager of email innovation at Sears, who said the set of products for the browsing module is displayed at the time of open, not the time of send, “which allows the information to be as current as possible.” He also said the test saw “higher opens, clicks and revenue per email,” but stressed that it’s too early to make any final assessments on the functionality.

In closing, White said Enhanced Email is just one more sign that the inboxes of the future will allow much more activity to occur within them. As a result, marketers will have to come up with “new ways of measuring email success and of thinking about email strategy, particularly the relationship between email and website landing pages,” White said.

Have any of you experimented with Enhanced Email? If so, would you like to tell us about it? If you haven’t yet tried it, are you interested in checking it out? Let me know by leaving a comment here.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: 3 Great Things I Learned at the email evolution conference

I attended the Email Experience Council’s Email Evolution Conference in Miami earlier this week. Besides meeting many of my “virtual” contacts in person, doing some great networking, gathering content for our e-newsletters and acquiring leads for future cover stories, I learned the following the three great things from the show:

I attended the email experience council’s Email Evolution Conference in Miami earlier this week. Besides meeting many of my “virtual” contacts in person, doing some great networking, gathering content for our e-newsletters and acquiring leads for future cover stories, I learned the following three great things from the show:

1. Microsoft will launch its Outlook Social Connector this year. In his presentation, Jay Schwedelson from Worldata mentioned that this new addition to Microsoft Office 2010 will seamlessly bring communications history as well as business and social networking feeds into Outlook users’ inboxes.

LinkedIn will be the first networking site to support the Outlook Social Connector. As a result, LinkedIn/Microsoft Office users will be able to keep up with their LinkedIn connections right from their inboxes, email them directly from Outlook and keep building their LinkedIn networks directly from Outlook.

2. Make it easy for prospects to subscribe to your emails. Sure, you may be thinking, “duh, tell me something I don’t know,” but the message was delivered throughout the conference — especially since email acquisition is expected to increase as the recession wanes. Austin Bliss, president and co-founder of FreshAddress, for example, made the case that marketers should ask for consumers’ email addresses everywhere — on every page of their websites, during every phone call and on every paper form.

Lawrence DiCapua, director of interactive marketing/CRM for Pepsi North America, also discussed the importance of having email sign-up capabilities on your social networking pages, or links to your website’s sign-up pages there.

3. Don’t assume management buy-in. Sure, we all know how wonderful, inexpensive and results-driven email marketing is, but in many cases upper management just want the facts, ma’am. Jeanne Jones and Katrina Kithene, email marketing managers for Alaska Airlines, explained how they showed their executive staff the importance of their email marketing programs to the company’s bottom line. As a result, they were awarded with the resources they needed. They used four techniques to get their message across:

  1. defined the value of a marketable customer;
  2. presented regularly scheduled progress audits;
  3. focused on ROI; and
  4. presented detailed plans for higher conversion.

All in all, it was a great show!

Michael Della Penna’s Conversations: A Marketer’s 12-Step Program to Accepting Social Media

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

The rise of social media as a critical communication channel cannot be ignored. In fact, according to a 2009 Nielsen study, social media has overtaken email as the most popular online consumer activity. Yet it remains the most misunderstood and feared of any communication channel.

While the proliferation of social networks, social shopping and the corresponding tools needed to facilitate these connections is new and exciting, social media can also be overwhelming to marketers as they struggle to learn the new skills necessary to reach and engage key audiences across the social web.

Consequently, the thought of engaging customers and the fear that those conversations may not go as intended often cause the most experienced marketers to cling to the traditional marketing channels they’ve become most dependent upon. So, how to break free of old habits? Like any good rehab, it starts with a solid 12-step program.

1. Admit you’re an addict. Advertising, direct mail and, yes, even email are seen as comfort food. While still useful, they remain, for the most part, one-way communication channels. Recognizing this and embracing the need to change and be “open” to truly creating dialogues with customers is the first step.

2. Get wet.
Use social networking in your personal life to familiarize yourself with the tools. Don’t be shy because you’re new to the party — you’re not the last one in the pool.

3. Learn some history. Find case studies in your industry, as they’ll often help you identify new opportunities, best practices, cautionary tales and potential business models. Two dozen good ones can be found on my association’s (PMN) website.

4. Evangelize and find an advocate.
Often, embracing social media requires a sea of change, and support is critical. Find an executive sponsor to help push your program through, and continue to evangelize.

5. Get to work. I love starting with Forrester Research’s POST methodology. Take the time to understand your customers, set some objectives, build a strategy and search for the technologies you need to embrace the medium. You may also want to start by socializing some of your traditional channels to test the waters. For example, try adding sharing capabilities within your emails.

6. Build incrementally and listen. Ultimately, you want to be everywhere your customers are. But you need to start somewhere; take small steps. I always recommend starting narrow, but going deep. Take the time to understand each channel, and listen and learn before adding additional networks into the mix.

7. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Be open to the possibilities of the social web, but keep customers’ needs front and center.

8. Create value. Take the time to understand the value of each channel and how each channel and program can add value to your customers’ experiences with your brand.

9. Be honest, transparent and responsive. Anything otherwise will be quickly noticed in a social environment.

10. Be a team player. Create cross-functional teams to brainstorm and share learnings.

11. Measure success. Review and track activity, measure programs against your business objectives, and calculate ROI. And don’t lose sight of how your programs impact customer satisfaction, as well as customers’ likelihood to recommend and purchase more products.

12. Communicate success. After all, it’s about creating conversations. Share your insights and create excitement for your efforts both internally and externally so others can learn from your experience.

Building conversations and relationships is hard, but when it’s done right and with the best of intentions it can be very rewarding. Welcome to the Age of Conversations.

Michael Della Penna is co-founder and executive chairman of the Participatory Marketing Network, an industry association dedicated to helping marketers transition from push and permission marketing to participatory marketing. He’s also the founder and CEO of Conversa Marketing, which helps brands build social and email marketing programs. Reach Michael at info@thepmn.org.