Author Archives: Jim Morton

About Jim Morton

I am a Marketing Communications specialist working in the field of email marketing technology. My goal is to make email easier, friendlier, and genuinely useful. Death to spam!

Drag-and-Drop Solutions

Drag and Drop interface
Perhaps it’s because I had already spent so much time learning HTML, or perhaps it was just prejudice, but, until recently, I gave drag-and-drop email design solutions little consideration. After all, how hard is it to create a few divs and tables then add images and text? It’s not rocket science; it isn’t even Python. But after spending a few weeks using the new drag-and-drop interface in Goolara Symphonie, I’m here to say, I’m a believer.

Since its inception, Symphonie has had a visual editor to help with the creation of emails, but not a drag-and-drop template builder. As most of our customers already have HTML designers working for them, adding a drag-and-drop builder to Symphonie was never a priority.

Then, when we started testing the new interface, something surprising happened. We found it was both robust and easy to use. Sure, it’s easy to write the code for a basic HTML email, but the template builder was even faster. Best of all, the finished designs automatically include responsive media queries and those pesky conditionals so necessary for displaying your emails properly in Outlook and IE (example: <!–[if (mso)|(IE)]><table width=”100%” cellpadding=”0″ cellspacing=”0″ border=”0″><![endif]–>).

Suddenly the thought of creating an email from scratch again seemed challenging. Using the drag-and-drop interface it’s possible to create a multi-section email template (example: Logo, hero image, salutatory text, three sections with images, text, and buttons, and a footer) in a little over a minute (yes, I really did time this).

Now I’m firmly in the drag-and-drop editor camp. Even for simple emails, it is faster and easier to use. Additionally, we’ve added lots of ready-to-use templates (all included for free) to make the process even easier. We think you will enjoy the new feature as much as we have. If you want to see it in action, contact us for a demonstration.

Pro Tip: Personalizing Emails for Your Sales Staff

Personalizing Emails
A powerful tool for any email marketer is the ability to personalize each email. Normally, when we think of this, we think of personalization for the recipient, but sometimes you may also want to personalize the emails for the sender. That is, instead of your mailings coming from one company source, they appear to come from your salespeople individually. You might see this as “faking” emails from your sales staff but it is a useful and important technique for any serious marketer. Here’s why.

Personal is Better

When we think of promotional emails, we think of colorful, image-laden messages that have been carefully designed by the marketing team. They catch the eye and entice the reader to visit the links. While there is certainly a place for this type of mailing in marketing effort, there’s another type of mailing that does well with recipients and offers more pull than push—that’s a mailing that is sent by a salesperson directly to the recipient. Take a look at these two “From” addresses:

sales@company.com
terry.martin@company.com

The first one is clearly a mass mailing, most likely promotional. The second appears to have been sent by the salesperson that is handling your account. Since this is the person you are most likely to want to speak to, this the email you are more likely to open and respond to.

Surveys confirm that emails that appear to come from individuals tend to be accepted better than obviously commercial messages. We may not be interested in the sales pitch, but if we feel like a person bothered to sit down and type us an email, we tend to be more receptive.

Having the salespeople send out personal emails might work for a small company with little or no client interaction, but personal emails can quickly turn into a burden for the salespeople—whose time could be better spent engaging in actual sales—and a headache for the marketing to keep track of. No marketing department worth its salt wants salespeople sending out unvetted messages to everyone on their contact list.

But what if you want to send mass mailings that will support each member of your sales team individually? These are emails that appear to come from specific representatives, with reply lines that go back to each rep according to which rep has been assigned to that individual. Can you achieve this? Yes, you can with the right email marketing software and an understanding of the mechanics of the process.

First, let’s address address the technology, and then we’ll offer some advice about how to structure the text of the email itself.

Assigning the “From” and Reply-to Addresses

Before you get started on the mailings, the first thing to do is to assign a sales rep for each prospect and store the data someplace the email marketing application can access. You’ll want a rep assigned for every prospect, but if you have situations where the salesperson is unknown you can choose a specific salesperson as your default choice. The prospect will expect to hear from that person again, so you’ll need to be careful to use that same sales rep for all further communications. For this reason, it’s best to save the sales rep information in the demographics for each recipient.

The best response rate comes from emails that appear to be “from” a specific salesperson. If the email comes in from sales@example.com, it is impersonal and will attract fewer people to look at the email. It would be a little better with a “friendly from” like “Betty Jones” ‹sales@example.com› but the email address is still the generic one. If the person is identified, the email feels more personal, and people are more like to engage. So make it from “Betty Jones” ‹BettyJones@example.com› whenever possible.

Doing this sort of substitution can be done by storing two values in the demographics—one for the actual email address, and one for the “friendly from” name shown, which are then glued together using the mail merge features, or by storing the full address as one value. Not all email marketing software will allow you to mail-merge into the ‘From” and reply-to address, so check your software.

The Signature Line

The email should close with the salesperson’s signature line instead of the usual footer. Even a hand-written email would include the signature line, so this wouldn’t seem out-of-place. Signatures usually includes salesperson’s contact details and either the company logo, or the salesperson’s picture. Here are two examples of signature lines:

signature lines

In Symphonie, you would do this using a “content block,” which is a way of saving pre-formatted combinations of text and images for later use. At a minimum, the signature line should be a few lines of text with their name, address, phone number, and social media contact options. You can format this however you want. The key point here is that signature lines are defined for each representative in a form that can be dynamically substituted by your email marketing software. You could set this up using multiple mail merge fields, but it would be tedious to copy and more error prone. It would be far safer to create the signature as its own element and be done with it.

Once a Content Block is defined for each rep, the next step is to define a dynamic content rule that substitutes the proper Content Block for each rep based on a lookup table. Email marketing vendors may implement this in different ways, but in Symphonie it is easy to define a series of conditions that says if the demographic column holding the sales rep’s email address matches a value, do the substitution. So, something like: if demographic column SalesRepEmail = bettyjones@example.com then substitute content block BettyJonesSig.

You can define these rules once, save them in your email marketing software, and then easily apply them to any new content you create.

Once you have the mapping of salespeople to content blocks, you can test the system and make sure it is working for every sales rep you have.

At this point you should have an email that has a “from” and reply-to address that reference the salesperson, as well as a signature line from them.

CAN-SPAM, GDPR, CASL, oh my!

An email written by hand by a salesperson is less likely to have an option to unsubscribe, although, by law, it should. Emails that come in with an unsubscribe link may cause people to think the email is automated, but not including it is risky. CAN-SPAM says that automated emails must include an unsubscribe link, as well as a physical address for the company. Some email marketing software won’t allow emails to be sent that don’t have an unsubscribe link. Others, such as Symphonie, allow you to choose, although we always recommend including it. In our signature examples above, you’ll notice that we have included an unsubscribe link at the bottom of each signature as a simple text link. This is the safest and least obtrusive approach.

Driving the Process

Often the automation system is used for prospecting emails, but once the prospect has started to engage with a salesperson, the automated routines are stopped. The prospecting emails can be sent via a workflow process built into the email marketing software or can be driven by an external program using the API to tell the email marketing software what to do. If the process is driven by a workflow in the email marketing software, there should be some logic that will cause the process to be stopped. When a prospect engages, the recipient should be pulled from the workflow, so the automated emails do not conflict with the actual emails of the salesperson. Often this would be an API call or the ability to set a flag in a demographic that causes the workflow to terminate for that prospect.

Workflows can be as simple as an enhanced drip program that sends an email, waits, checks to see if the status has changed, and if not, sends the next one. Be sure you pay attention to the time of day that each email is sent. If your reps only work regular business hours, don’t send the salesperson email at midnight; your prospects could find this suspicious.

The Email Style

Hopefully you now have a sense of what it takes to automate sending emails that appear to be coming from a salesperson. Now we turn to how the emails should look.

The whole point is to make the emails look human-written, so making them too fancy will defeat that effort. One solution to this is to send plain-text emails. They certainly won’t be fancy, with no pictures or colors, but not even any fonts or basic layout elements. For this reason, HTML is recommended. Even salespeople writing their own emails will likely be sending their messages as HTML, so it is not a give-away that the process is automated.

Just because you can send pictures and style the content to no end doesn’t mean you should. Keep the content almost entirely as text. The only place a picture should be used is in the signature line, which can look a little fancy, but most people recognize that the signature line comes from copy-and-paste, so some better formatting is expected.

The style of the content should be casual and direct and avoid letting the marketing department wordsmith the content too much. It should sound like something the rep would write. Remember, if the prospect does engage and the actual rep starts sending emails, we don’t want a large discrepancy in styles to come through.

You could consider allowing typos or poor grammar, as it seems more realistic. You might even consider statements at the bottom of the email with wording like “Sent from my iPhone”. A recent study showed how this helped people feel more comfortable with the content. It is not accurate, so you should consider the legal ramifications of this deception before employing this tactic.

Conclusion

Sending emails for prospecting is quite easy to setup if your software supports dynamic content across the “from” and reply addresses and “friendly from” information. You can define a salesperson’s details in demographics, and then use the features of the software to dynamically change the “from” and reply-to, as well as substitute a proper signature line. Drive the process using a workflow in the software or use the APIs to drive the process from your side. Make the content appear folksy and casual, written in HTML but using few features of HTML.

Privacy Report 2020

data privacy
The second decade of the 21st century is shaping up to become known as The Privacy Decade. Recent legislation, both internationally and in the United States, is primed to change the parameters regarding what information about a person you can or can’t collect, and the limitations on what you can do with that information. One thing these regulations have in common is that they don’t restrict their data privacy requirements to emails sent from within their borders. If your emails are sent to subscriber inboxes within any of these states, you are deemed culpable for those violations and can be subject to hefty fines. Unlike previous legislation, such as CAN-SPAM and CASL, these new laws are not aimed specifically at email but are intended to address privacy issues across all devices, platforms, and services. They all do affect email because email involves the gathering of private data in the form of email addresses and, in some cases, names and locations. Each of these laws comes with its own set of restrictions, some more draconian than others.

More Restrictions

While some people might not care if everyone knows where they are every hour of the day, most of us value our privacy and like to have some say over what a company may or may not know about us. Accepting this and working with it is the best tactic for any email marketer. Try to game a subscriber’s private data was never a good idea, but all signs point to more restrictions and greater penalties for doing so as every country gets into the act. While there are no plans for upcoming legislation in this Congress, states such as California and Vermont have created their own stringent privacy laws and 2018 saw the passage of data breach notification laws in several states.

GDPR Arrives

The legislation that started the privacy protection ball rolling was the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This regulation set a high bar for an individual’s rights to access any data about them that a company gathers, as well as the right to have that data deleted (for more on GDPR, see our three-part series on the subject). It covers a staggeringly wide range of data—everything from a person’s email address to the geolocation featured in many digital cameras. It extends to any person living within the European Union, regardless of their nationality. If you send email to a person in the EU, you need to be GDPR compliant. Full stop.

California Picks Up the Torch

Taking its cues from the GDPR, the state of California came up with its own privacy regulation. Passed in 2018, the requirements of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) goes into effect January 1, 2020, and features many of the same restrictions as the GDPR, including the right to obtain one’s data from a company and the right to be forgotten. No other state has, as yet, passed such a strict law, but it looks like Washington State is set to follow suit with their Washington Privacy Act, which is also modeled after the GDPR.

As strict as the CCPA seems, it’s got nothing on the GDPR. The California law applies only to for-profit businesses, so nonprofits can breathe easy. Additionally, for-profit businesses need to have a gross annual revenue exceeding $25 million for the law to take effect, and your active email list must exceed 50,000 subscribers. It also only applies to tax-paying residents of California.

Brazil Follows Suit

In August of 2018, the Brazilian government signed into law the Brazilian General Data Protection Act (Lei Geral de Proteção de Dados Pessoais or “LGPD”). Like the GDPR, after which it was modeled, its scope is global, with companies in any country facing fines for violating its rules. As with the CCPA, the Brazilian law goes into effect in 2020. One notable difference between the GDPR and the LGPD is the latter’s inclusion of terminology pertaining to “non-discrimination”). It also addresses credit and health records with more specificity. Originally, the law had provisions for the establishment of an independent data protection authority, but the President rescinded that in a line item veto. The LGPD is more punitive than California’s law but less so than the GDPR. The maximum fine under the LGPD is 2% of a company’s Brazilian revenue up to 50 million in Brazilian Reals per infraction (about 13.4 million in U.S. dollars). Compare that to the GDPR’s 4% of an organization’s annual revenue or 20 million Euros (about 22.6 in U.S. dollars), whichever is greater.

And Then There’s India

Also getting in on the post-GDPR drive for stronger privacy controls, the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MEITY) in India has been hammering out its own privacy regulations—a process they started back in 2010. Following the 2017 Indian Supreme Court ruling declaring that privacy is a “fundamental right,” the MEITY finally got on the ball and drafted the Personal Data Protection Bill 2018 (PDP Bill), which contains many of the same features as GDPR, but with a few curveballs that already have companies crying foul. The main one is the requirement that all “personal data” on people residing in India must be maintained at a facility within India (although the bill doesn’t define what constitutes personal data—they’re leaving that up to the government). India isn’t the only country mandating such a restriction. China and Vietnam have similar restrictions, but neither of those countries could be considered free. Their governments exert a great deal of control over every aspect of data transfer and Internet use.

India, on the other hand, has a free market economy—some might say too free. It also has an online market second only to China in size, with close to 500 million Internet users. Restrictions making it harder for companies to conduct business aren’t welcome, and this requirement is already meeting with criticism and opposition. When the MEITY requested feedback on the bill, they received nearly 600 recommended changes, from both businesses and governments, including the United States.

Perhaps this is why, since its introduction, the government has had a few opportunities to pass the PDP Bill, but decided to wait until June 2019, after the new government is in place.

Congress Changes Its Tune

In 2009, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont tried to get his Personal Data Privacy and Security Act passed, but the bill never reached the floor. It was too much, too soon, and nobody had any idea yet the extent to which sites such as Facebook and Google would use personal data. Still, data privacy restrictions would be a hard sell in Congress, even today, if not for the increasing number of states tackling the problems on their own. All fifty states have laws concerning the reporting of data breaches, and 35 states have laws regarding the disposal of data. To complicate matters, the laws in each state are different. Some state laws apply only to business, while others only restrict the government, leaving private businesses to do what they want with your data. Some are quite stringent, while others are written in such general terms as to be virtually unenforceable.

Mostly in response to California’s legislation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several other business-based groups are lobbying Congress to pass a federal omnibus privacy and data protection law that would pre-empt the CCPA and other existing and future state data protection laws.

Email’s Role in All of This

Unlike CAN-SPAM and CASL, this recent legislation doesn’t focus exclusively on email. In the case of GDPR, it regulates everything from website visits to in-camera geolocation. They all affect email marketing, although how much depends on your subscriber list. If your list is exclusive to the United States, and your gross revenues don’t exceed $25 million, then you can go about business as usual. None of the recent legislation will have that much impact on your email efforts. There is a lot more legislation on the books now concerning data breach notification, but that’s of more concern for the IT department than the marketing department.

If you have international subscribers or own a business that brings in over 25 million a year, we recommend you follow the rules of the GDPR. It is still the strictest of the current laws, so if you are in line with it, you should be fine for the others. For everyone else, there are a few things you can do to avoid problems. They include the following:

Make Your Terms Clear

Spell out in the clearest possible language exactly what you plan to do with the data you collect and make sure you include a statement to the effect that you will not use this data for other purposes or sell it to other companies.

Leave Boxes Unchecked

If you do any business in the European Union, this isn’t simply a suggestion, it’s the law. It’s less important in the States, but, like the single- vs. double-opt-in controversy, each approach has its supporters and detractors.

Respect the Privacy of Your Subscribers.

Email marketing is a double-edged sword. On one hand, we all like our privacy, but on the other, we also prefer receiving emails about things we are actually interested in. As an email marketer, the only datum you actually need is the email address, but, by itself, that makes for generic, “batch-and-blast” emails. Personal data helps improve the engagement and the receptiveness of your subscribers to your mailings. But don’t abuse it. Just because you can send an email saying “Hey Jill! I noticed you just visited our website fifteen minutes ago” doesn’t mean you should. It makes you look like a stalker, so avoid it.

The Ground’s Still Shaking

One thing is certain: This story is far from over. Right now, most of the fretting over the new laws has been a waste of time. How much they affect you is extremely variable. New legislation is cropping up in countries around the world every day and, as time goes on, it appears more and more likely that some national legislation in the United States will be enacted to bring the various states back into line. When that happens, we’ll take a look at this subject again.

The Year in Email

Happy New Year
Here we are again. Another year has come and gone. As always, there was no shortage of email flubs this years and we’ve collected a few of our favorites. Interestingly, we saw fewer of the “Dear [customer name]” errors that used to plague email marketing. Either people have finally made sure that their name fields contain information, or they’re starting to use dynamic content more. Either way, it’s nice to see that one go away. We’ll start the list with the one thing that doesn’t appear to be going away: the inactive unsubscribe link and CAN-SPAM violations.

Don’t You Dare Unsubscribe

unsub failAfter receiving ten unsolicited emails in just a few days from a company pretending to be Dawgs—a purveyor of ugly sandals—I tried to unsubscribe. This is what I got. How much of this is the sender’s fault and how much is the fault of their ESP, I can’t say, but needless to say, all of their emails went straight to the spam folder.

Unsubscribe? Never heard of it!

no unsub
How do I count all the things wrong with this email? From the needless word breaks to the disconnect between the offer (car rentals) and the company offering the deal (North Hills Clothing), this email cries “spam” at every level. How it ended up in my inbox is beyond me. I never would have clicked on the unsubscribe link on such a suspicious email, but this one doesn’t even have an unsub link!

See, We’ve Got an Unsub Link. I Think…

inactive link
East Midlands Trains does a good job of providing their physical address, and it looks like they’ve provided an unsubscribe link, but click on that link and nothing happens. A look at the email’s source code show where the problem lies:

<a href=”<%unsubscribe_link_text%>” target=”_blank” style=”text-decoration:underline; color:#333333;”>How to unsubscribe.</a>

There should be an actual URL listed in this href. Somewhere along the line, the unsub link got screwed up. Whether this was the email’s creator typing it in and accidentally using the wrong number of percentage signs, or HTML that was copied verbatim from a different ESP is hard to say.

Click Here. Go ahead. I dare you.

spammerYou can click on that unsubscribe link all day and nothing will happen. This is an odd one. If you look at the email’s source code, you’ll find an unsubscribe link that works and a physical address (Royal Caribbean Cruises), but you won’t find either in the email when it’s opened. There is an unsubscribe, but the one that’s displayed is missing its URL. It’s a sloppy piece of coding that has the body copy closing before the final content. Add to all of this that the email supposedly comes from Amazon but clearly does not. This is either badly designed spam, or phishing or both.

We’re Experts!

white text errorThe above example is the bottom of the page on an email. Yes, that blank white area below the signup button is part of the email. At first it may look like the information required by CAN-SPAM is missing, but it’s there. The problem is that the sender decided to use a dark orange background image and set the overlaying type (the physical address and links) in white. This email looks fine as long as images are turned on, but not everyone turns the images on. When the images are off, you end up with a seemingly empty white space at the bottom of the email. This error is bad enough on its own, but this particular email came from another email marketing service provider. Out of professionally courtesy, I won’t name them, but the “Friendly From” in their sender line refers to them as an “Email Markeitng” (sic) service. As if all this isn’t enough, the mailing is filled with buttons asking readers to “Read More” or “Check It Out!” but none of these buttons are linked.

We Prefer to Call It…

sneaky unsubThis runs dangerously close to violating CAN-SPAM, which specifies that mailings must have a clear unsubscribe link. Here they’re trying to be clever. It didn’t help that clicking on the link went to an unsubscribe page that requires one to enter their email address. Guess which email went into the Spam folder?

Readability is So Last Year

GucciGucci likes to stay fashionable, but sometimes fashionable and readability collide. Pink and gold might be an interesting combination for apparel, but it makes a lousy combination in a text box.

Did You Say &⁠#38 or &⁠#48?

weird codingThis one confuses us. The HTML clearly shows that special characters labeled “&⁠#38” were inserted between each word in this headline. That’s the HTML code for an ampersand, but there’s no reason for for ampersands to appear between each word in the headline. The most likely cause is the code was copy and pasted from one program to another, leading to the insertion of this character for no good reason.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

bad buttonsIn the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty minor infraction, but it’s if you are going to make a table cell in your email look like a button, it’s better to put the <a> tags around the cell instead of the type. In this example, you’ll only activate the links by clicking directly on the type. Clicking within the boxes has no effect.

We’re a Real Company, Honest!

stock photosWe can’t tell whether or not the way the words “social media” run down the left side of the image is some misbegotten design idea (we think not), but the CanStock watermark on the image is unforgivable. If you plan to use an image, either pay for it, or create your own version (paying for it is usually cheaper). Sending out email like this makes a company look suspiciously like a fly-by-night affair. Marketing Knowledge Cloud isn’t such a company, but you couldn’t tell it from this email.

Even Alt Tags Can Be Wrong

bad code
This one nearly caused my brain to explode. You can see in the text I’ve highlighted in yellow that the HTML codes for the right and left curly quotes are displaying instead of the curly quotes. That might have been okay, except that below it on the right, another article on the same page is displaying curly quotes in the same content. It that weren’t enough, as soon as I choose “display images” the HTML code disappears. A closer examination of the code revealed that this text appears as part of a styled alt tag (for more on stylized alt tags see The Finer Points of Styled Alt Tags). The code for the right curly quote reads: “&amp;#8220;” which will display as “&⁠#8220;” which is the correct code for that curly quote. Either somebody really wanted this to look exactly wrong, or they got confused. The right curly quote on the headline to the Page-Turner article has a value of x201C, which works, but it is hexadecimal code instead of the more common HTML code. If I had to guess, I’d say that the two article were written and formatted by different people and then assembled in the newsletter. One of them knows more about HTML than most people, while the other needs to go back to class.

All Tests Are Not Created Equal

media query errorThis looks pretty bad doesn’t it? The code contains media queries to make sure the content adjusts its size across various devices. The problem is, it’s wrong. This screenshot was taken from an iPhone. The first table is behaving as it should, but then the rest of the email goes all cattywampus. We suspect the person that created this simply tested the responsive results by resizing the window on their browser—a kind of poor man’s test environment. If you do that, this email looks fine, proving that there’s no substitute for the real thing.

I Are An Expert!

Speaking of testing, here’s an email from a company that that specializes in providing testing environments for all the various browsers and phones. Either they missed one, or they decided that the Mail program in Microsoft’s Windows 10 wasn’t worth worrying about. Either way, this isn’t something a company whose raison d’etre is testing email should ever be guilty of (to prevent further embarrassment, we’ve removed the company’s logo).

I Heard You the First Time

Amazon errorAmazon likes to send out notifications about newly available movies and TV shows. We’re not sure what happened here, but suspect that the API call that was suppose to register that the email had been sent wasn’t receiving the proper information and decided to keep sending until it was told to stop.

There’s Always One More Typo

misspelled glassTypos are the bane of every writer’s existence. So what’s worse than a typo in your content? How about a typo on the actual product you’re selling. This glass, offered by Bourbon & Boots, has what should have been a clever quote by Mark Twain, but we’re sure Mr. Clemens knew the difference between “then” and “than.” This error has gone uncorrected for over a year now.

Hey Everybody! We Value Your Privacy!

GDPR goofWhen the GDPR came into effect, lots of businesses scrambled to make sure they were compliant. Sometimes, these efforts were counterproductive to say the least. One of the worst came from Ghostery, who sent out an email explaining the steps they’d taken to ensure GDPR compliance. Too bad the included everyone’s email addresses in the “To” field.

Did I Say Mail Merge Errors Were Gone?

mail merge errorPerhaps I spoke too soon. Just when I thought I’d see a year without mail merge errors, this one landed in my inbox. It’s such an easy error to avoid with the careful use of dynamic content.

Our Next Speaker: Wyatt Earp

dead speakerOne of the more amusing apologies came from b8ta—a tech gadget store than sponsors meet-ups with inventors and start-up founders. We’re not sure how you’d confuse Ben Holt with Ben Einstein, but we guess it could be worse: They could have announced that Albert Einstein was going to appear at the b8ta store instead.

Don’t Do This. Not Ever.

fake oopsApology emails have a higher open rate than other emails, so one can see why a marketer might want to use this to their advantage. But apologies are a serous thing and pretending to apologize for the sake of sales puts you just one step away from being labeled a spammer. Don’t do it.

Okay, that’s it for this year. We hope you enjoyed that. In the end, the lesson to be learned is always the same: Test, test, test.

It’s Holiday Season again, and in keeping with past Holiday Seasons, here’s this year’s email game. This one is based on the classic “Shut the Box” but with an email delivery theme. We’ve modified the rules slightly to reflect aspects of email marketing and we’ve added a rule that simulates the difficulty of getting email delivered during the holiday season. It’s a very easy game to play and lots of fun. Enjoy!
Email Game

Rules

Players: Can be played by any number of players but will require additional printouts for more than two players. It may also be played as a solitaire game in which the player tries to beat their own score.

Requirements: Two dice.

Object: To get the most emails delivered. The winner is the person with the fewest remaining undelivered emails at the end of a round.

Before you begin: Print out the game, then cut out the player cards and the individual “Delivered” tags. Each player should have one player card and ten “Delivered” tags.

Start: Players choose who goes first by rolling one die. The player with the highest die roll goes first.
The first player rolls both dice and covers the numbered envelopes with the Delivered tags so that the total number on the covered emails matches the number on their dice roll. They may cover any number of envelopes as long as the total matches their roll. For example, if a player rolls a three and a six, they may cover the #9 envelope or cover smaller numbers to total nine (e.g., 5 + 4, 2+3+4, etc.).
It is then the next player’s turn to roll.

A player’s game ends when they cannot make any more moves. For example: If the player rolls a two and a four, but none of the remaining envelopes can be marked delivered to make a total of six (e.g., 2,5,7,8,9) that signals the end of their game. If the other player(s) can still roll and deliver emails, they continue until they have no moves left.

Scoring: At the end of their rounds, when no player can deliver any more emails, the players total the number of the envelope that has not been delivered. The player with the lowest score wins that round.

NOTE: In some versions of the game, the total number of points left are added to determine the score, but the goal here is to get the most email delivered, so the points don’t matter as much. A player who only had the #10 email left undelivered (total = 1) has a better score than the player who has the #1 and #2 emails left undelivered (total = 2).

Optional Holiday rule: From Thanksgiving until Christmas, getting your email delivered is notoriously more difficult. Mail that got through in October suddenly is landing in the bulk folder as the Holiday Season nears. To simulate this effect, we’ve created the Holiday rule. If you play the game using this rule, after you’ve finished your move the player on your right (or opposite player if two are playing) has the option of removing the delivered tag from one of your delivered emails. Using this rule does increase the strategic potential of the game.

GDPR and Email: Part 3, Data Portability

data portability
NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles addressing the GDPR and its effects on email marketing. For an overview of the subject, see our previous article: GDPR and Email: Part 1, an Overview.

Last time on this blog, we looked at the issues of forgetting and unsubscribing, and how the General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR) affects email marketers. That particular portion of the GDPR has received a lot of press, but there’s a far thornier issue lying in wait a few paragraphs further down in the regulation. I’m referring to the “right to data portability,” which gives the subscriber the right to receive all the data a company has collected on them.1 Compared to the other features of the GDPR, the right to data portability seems haphazardly drawn up, or, at least, drawn up without ever considering the difficulties and problems that its simple request could generate.

Acceptable Formats

Briefly put, the right to data portability says a subscriber has the right to receive any data about them in a “structured, commonly used and machine-readable format.” They don’t specify what this format is. “Commonly used” would suggest a comma separated values (CSV) file, XML, or something similar. Even then, there’s no guarantee that the data can be formatted in a useful manner. Every customer relationship management system (CRM) and email-marketing service provider (ESP) has its own structure, order of operations, and, to a certain extent, terminology, so porting the data from one site to another isn’t as easy as transferring the file. Try opening a Microsoft Word file in a text editor and you’ll see what we mean. Even when the two system can read each other’s data, it doesn’t mean than one system will have a place for all the data from the other. There is no standard for formatting things like click-throughs or deletes without opening. In Recital 68 (separate clarifications to the GDPR), the regulation states that “data controllers should be encouraged to develop interoperable formats that enable data portability,”2 but they make no suggestions as to how this would be accomplished. It is the bureaucratic equivalent to a mom’s admonition for kids to “learn to get along.”

Privacy issues

CSV and XML certainly qualify as commonly used formats, but they are also as easy for humans to read as they are for machines, which raises other privacy issues. If the “Right to Erasure,” presents the danger of someone other than the subscriber making the request, the Right to Data Portability is even more of a threat. With erasure, you’re simply asking to have your data removed from a system. Most people wouldn’t cry if to learn that their data has been accidentally erased by their ESP, but would hit the ceiling if they learned that their data was sent to someone else. Anything sent out in an email has a risk of being seen by others. Even if the format is not easily read by humans, the “commonly used” qualifier means anyone looking to steal someone’s data probably has a program that will have no trouble deciphering the information. But there are other dangers waiting in the wings.

Identity Issues

There are plenty of examples of people pulled aside by the TSA at the airport because their names matched people on suspicious person lists. This isn’t a big concern in the email marketing field, because every subscriber already has a unique identifier: their email address. Even if someone enters the wrong email address, the email will go to the person who has the account and they can choose to ignore the message. There is some danger that if an email account is hacked, the identity thief can now request all that person’s data from the ESP, and the ESP will, by law, be required to provide all the personal data for that hacked account. Depending on the data that is kept, this could provide the thief with a wealth of information about that person. Security on an email account is even more critical than ever.

Here Come the Lawyers

It’s ironic that a regulation designed to help protect an individual’s private data might be the very thing responsible for the theft of that same data. This speaks to the rather haphazard nature of this particular clause. This is why the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names (ICANN) has filed a suit against EPAG, its German affiliate, in an attempt to get better clarification of the GDPR’s restrictions. EPAG recently informed ICANN that when it sells new domain name registrations it would no longer collect administrative and technical contact information, as it believes collection of that data would violate the GDPR rules. For ICANN, this presented an untenable problem since maintaining this data is central to ICANN’s purpose. It’s a thorny issue, for sure. Right now, no one is sure where the balance between private data and public records lies. The courts have their work cut out for them.

While ICANN’s lawsuit is aimed at clarifying the regulations, other lawsuits are aimed at companies that are seen as already violating the GDPR. As of this writing, the only major lawsuits filed against companies under the GDPR are ones against Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and LinkedIn. These were filed shortly after the law went into effect and are intended as test cases. The outcome of these cases will determine what happens next.

Stay Frosty

We will keep watching the events involving GDPR as they unfold and keep you posted if anything changes. In the meantime, as long as you’ve followed the rules of the GDPR that we laid out in part one of our GDPR and Email Overview, you should be alright.

(This concludes our three-part series on the GDPR.)


1. Chapter 3, Article 20: Right to data portability

2. Recital 68: Right to data portability

GDPR and Email: Part 2, Unsubscribing and Forgetting

GDPR forgetting vs. unsubscribing

NOTE: This is the second in a series of articles addressing the GDPR and its effects on email marketing. For an overview of the subject, see our previous article: GDPR and Email: Part 1, an Overview.

No aspect of the General Protection Data Regulation (GDPR) has generated more confusion and misinformation than Article 17—the notorious “Right to Erasure” clause.1 Partly, this confusion is a result of the GDPR’s failure to address email regulations head-on, choosing instead to try and tackle the privacy issue on a grander scale (you won’t even find the word “unsubscribe” used anywhere in the GDPR or its “recitals”).

As we mentioned in the previous article, whether or not you’ll need to concern yourself with the ramifications of the GDPR will depend entirely on your subscriber base, and whether or not you actively seek subscribers in countries that belong to the European Union. If all your subscribers are in the United States, then you have things pretty easy. If a good percentage of your subscribers are in Europe, then you’ll probably want to make sure you follow the rules laid down by the GDPR. The fines for ignoring it are steep.

Forgetting Isn’t Unsubscribing

The most important point to remember is that “forgetting” and “unsubscribing” are two different things. When a person asks to be unsubscribed, they are saying: “I don’t want to receive any more email from this source.” Sometimes that means unsubscribing from a specific topic. For instance, you might unsubscribe from PC World’s Tech Deals newsletter but still receive their Daily News updates. Sometimes it means unsubscribing from all the mailings a company sends.

Forgetting—or the “right to erasure”—is another animal entirely. In this case, the subscriber is asking not only to be removed from your active mailing list but to have all identifying information removed from your system, with the possible exception of the email address used to verify the erasure request. When a subscriber asks to be forgotten, all personal data must be removed from the database.

Why does it matter?

Right now, nobody knows what effect the GDPR will have on email subscriptions, but some sources predict dire things. Pegasystems, a provider of customer engagement software, reports that 82% of European consumers plan to exercise their new rights to view, limit, or erase the information businesses collect about them, although the article goes on to say that only 21% of those surveyed had any idea what GDPR is or what it enables them to do. According to a survey commissioned by Veritas and conducted by 3GEM, 40% of British consumers plan to exercise their GDPR data rights.

One country that might live up to the dramatic figures for erasure requests is Germany. One need only compare Google street views for Germany versus any other country in the world to see that Germans love their privacy. People had to request that their buildings be blurred out, and Germans did it in droves. Will they do likewise with the GDPR’s right to erasure?google street viewFor most, we suspect that the unsubscribe will suffice.

How to Forget

How each email marketing software provider (ESP) contends with the right to erasure varies. Some ESPs instruct recipients to send them an email if they want to be forgotten, while others remain silent on the means to be forgotten. For our own part, we decided to automate the feature in Symphonie, so if it’s enabled by the administrator, recipients can choose to be forgotten with no manual labor. If the number of requests to be forgotten for European users climbs as high as some suggest this could be a big labor saver for Symphonie users.

As mentioned previously, the true test of these clauses in the GDPR will be put to the test over the next few months. Given the ability of people to find loopholes where the creators thought none existed, we’re sure to see some amendments to the regulation.


1. Chapter 3, Article 17: Right to erasure (‘right to be forgotten’)