Category Archives: Personalization

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.

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.

The Past Year in Email

Happy New Yer!
Another year has come and gone, and although after the events of last year it seemed like the earth was about to spin off its axis, we’re still here and email is as strong as ever. It’s time once again for our annual look back at the best and worst examples of email of the past year. There are a few old favorites and a few surprises. We’ll start with that old chestnut that never seems to go away: The Bad Mail Merge.

Dear your name here,

bad mail merge

A few years ago, faulty mail merges, like those in the example above above, were the most common mistakes we saw. Attempts to sound personal suddenly have the opposite effect, pulling back the curtain and showing that the email for what it is: a pre-written script with information inserted as needed. This particular template called for both a first name and a company name, neither of which was available. The use of dynamic content instead of a merge could have avoided this problem by given the mailing other options when information was missing. It’s never good when a company that is trying to sell you on their technological prowess can’t assemble an email correctly.

The example below is even more egregious since it purports to be aimed at a specific person. This, coupled with the formatting errors in the apparently meaningless text below the main message (see UTF-8 discussion below), sent this one on a quick trip to the Spam Folder.

bad mail merge #2

While not as bad as either of the errors, another problem that cropped up in a new mailings was the repeat of my first name. Since I’m sure I never put my name in a field twice, I have to assume that the problem is somewhere in the email’s dynamic content structure.

merge error

Aw Gee-Mail

Weather error

Personalization can be a great way to start an email, but it has its limitations. The example above has my name, and a shout out the weather. The only problem, here’s the weather in Moraga for the day this email was sent:

actual weather

Not exactly sunny. I’m not sure if the “sunshine” comment was a dynamic insert based on some erroneous weather predictor, or simply an educated guess on the part of the sender. Either way, receiving this message on the coldest, most overcast day of the summer made us chuckle.

Time’s a-Wastin’!

jumping the gun

It seems like stores push closer and closer to Halloween when it comes to holiday sales. Kohl’s takes it one step further by announcing that you just have a few hours left for your Black Friday deals three weeks before Black Friday! From the content, it looks like this mailing was intended to be sent out on the 1st, but Black Friday threats simply won’t work in that case.

Musicians Who are Pushing

snippet cutoff

Gmail and other email clients like to give you a peek at what to expect before you open the mailing. You can use this your advantage with a preheader. Just make sure that when that preheader is abbreviated, you don’t end up with a different message. Musicbed made use of a preheader, but didn’t take into consideration what happened to the preheader when the window wasn’t big enough to fit the whole thing. They ended up with “musicians who are pushing,” instead of “musicians who are pushing the genre to new place.” Perhaps out of paranoia, Patrick James avoids the problem altogether by using a short preheader message followed by a long series of periods.

Amusingly, this particular problem isn’t limited to email. In 1998, a campaign in New York state to provide schools with pencils that featured an anti-drug message had to be pulled when kids started noticing that the more you sharpened the pencils, the more pro-drug the message became.

too cool to do drugs
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/12/nyregion/slogan-causes-pencil-recall.html

It’s All Ελληνικά To Me

How you code your email can make the difference between a readable message and gibberish. An email written using 8-bit Unicode characters and then coded for 7-bit ASCII is going to have some problems. Some times you see this immediately in the subject lines:

utf errors

And sometimes it appears in the body copy. Normally, these snippets of code standout, and do little more than interfere with the design, but if you’ve created an email that relies directly on UTF-8 Unicode to get its idea across, you’re going to be in trouble. That’s what happened with ThinkGeek’s otherwise clever mailing:

thinkgeek

The text below the image was supposed to be a humorous paragraph printed upside-down and backwards, as an in-joke to the Stranger Things TV show. If you look at the source code, you’ll find the original message was:

“˙soƃƃƎ puᴉɟ ll,noʎ ‘ɹǝzǝǝɹɟ ǝɔᴉɟɟo ɹno uǝdo noʎ ɟI ˙pǝʇᴉɔxǝ ǝɹoɯ sn ƃuᴉʞɐɯ ʇsnɾ s,ʇɐɥʇ ǝsᴉpuɐɥɔɹǝɯ unɟ ɟo sʇɹos llɐ uᴉ ƃuᴉʇʇǝƃ ǝɹ,ǝʍ pu∀ (˙ɥʇuoɯ sᴉɥʇ sn pǝʇᴉsᴉʌ ǝʌ,noʎ ɟᴉ pǝɔᴉʇou ǝʌɐɥ ʎɐɯ no⅄) ˙sƃuᴉɥ┴ ɹǝƃuɐɹʇS ɟo uosɐǝs ʇxǝu ǝɥʇ ɹoɟ pǝʇᴉɔxǝ ʎʇʇǝɹd ǝɹ,ǝM”

Which, when view right-side up and reversed, reads:

“We’re pretty excited for the next season of Stranger Things. (You may have noticed if you’ve visited us this month.) And we’re getting in all sorts of fun merchandise that’s just making us more excited. If you open our office freezer, you’ll find Eggos.”

Unfortunately, the email was sent without the Unicode specification required to render the sentence, turning the message into gibberish.

Email Tourette Syndrome

unwanted code

Sometimes you can end up with gibberish inserting itself in an email for other reasons. In the example above, it looks like the URL was accidentally and replaced with the ALT tag, leaving only the query string. In the examples below, the problem was a matter of placement of conditional comments. Conditional comments are a way to assign special instructions that only Internet Explorer will read. To everything else, they will appear as comments and won’t display. The problem is that they can sometimes show up as text depending on where they are placed in an email.

While we understand the value of conditional comments, people are beginning to migrate away from IE, in favor of better alternatives. You might want to check your subscriber base and see if you even need them anymore.

A Bad Case of Mono

monograms or monographs?

This image came in an email from the normally exceptional email marketers at Email Monks. For the moment, I’m going to ignore the grammatical error in the ribbon banner at the top and concentrate on the type categories shown. I have no problem with Serif and Sans Serif, but there’s no such type style as “Monogram.” These are monograms:

monograms

What they meant was “monospaced.” Their description doesn’t make much (if any) sense either (and one more grammatical error to boot). A monospaced font is a font in which every characters takes the same amount of space, so a lower case “i” will take as much room as an uppercase “M,” even though the two characters clearly require different amounts of space. While the fourth category (Calligraphy) is a legitimate font category, in this case I would have used the more general category of “Decorative” as the final classification (of which Calligraphic fonts are a subset).

Give Me Some Room!

tanga on iphone

This email from Tanga looks fine on a desktop computer, and even a tablet, but reduce it to iPhone size and it suddenly turns into this scrunched up mess. Looking at the code, we see that whoever designed this is much more comfortable with HTML than CSS. The content is rife with deprecated attributes and the designer has used cells with non-breaking spaces to create margins. Either this was created many years ago, or someone needs to brush up on their CSS.

As bad as this is, at least all the content still appears on the page (albeit in a very squished format). Not so for Vibes’ webinar announcement. While it will appear just fine in most email clients. Something in its code just falls apart when opened in Live Mail. We’ve discussed the problems with Live Mail in previous year-end reviews, but now that Microsoft has abandoned it, maybe the folks at Vibes didn’t think it was worth the effort to fix.

Responsible Responsive

Responsive design was all the rage a few years ago. As we discussed in Part Four of our Responsive Email Design series, if you use a standardized template, then setting up a responsive template has advantages. It will mean a little extra work at the start but will yield dividends later on. Clearly, the folks at BangGoods didn’t read that article, because this is how their mailings appear on an iPhone:

This is a perfect layout for a responsive approach. The three columns across is fine for a desktop monitor, but it is rendered almost unreadable on most phones. Media queries that realigned the three columns and enlarged them according to screen size would do a world of good here.

The British Film Institute (BFI) takes a different approach. They do use responsive design, but they only use one column, so the main purpose of the media query is the adjust the size of the tables based on the screen size. This works well for the iPhone:

But not so well for the iPad:

They had the right idea, but set the size change at the wrong point, leading to an unnecessarily small display on the iPad mini.

Unsubscribe? Fuggedaboutit!

Until this point, most of the mistakes we’ve listed have been embarrassing at worst, but these next two aren’t simply bad mistakes—they’re against the law. CAN-SPAM requires the ability to unsubscribe. That can be accomplished a number of ways, but the most common is with an unsubscribe link. If you put an unsubscribe link in your email, it better work. That’s not the case for Proline Tools and Longchamp. In the case of Proline Tools, clicking unsub takes you to the following page:

This suggests that the problem only was temporary, but a second attempt to click on the unsubscribe link a two weeks later yielded the same result.

Similarly, clicking on the unsub link from Wengtek.com takes you to this page:

On the plus side, clicking on any link in the Wengtek mailing took me to this page, so this might simply be an ESP issue. Since the email purported to be from Longchamp, I would classify this one as Spam and move on.

tl;dr

A related problem occurs when you have too much text in your mailings. Some email clients, such as Gmail, will choose to cut off the message with the following notice:

This particular email is from Kohl’s whose list of caveats and cautions could fill a book. When this happens, the unsubscribe link is not displayed. Does that mean the email is breaking the law? Probably not, but it does mean one more step to get to it. In case you’re interested, here is the entire block of legal notices at the bottom of that email (reduced for the sake of brevity):

At least, in this case, the only thing missing besides the footer is a lot of legalese that no one ever reads anyway. Not so for Touch of Modern, whose email gets clipped like this:

Touch of Modern specializes in expensive products for gadget lovers and technophiles, and their emails are often a solid wall of these products. So much so, that they often get clipped for being too long. So how much is missing? When you click “View entire image,” you not only get the footer, but an additional 132 products are displayed as well. They would have been better off reducing the size of their email, concentrating on a few items each time, and using the website to present additional items.

The Good

This year we also saw some nice use of animated gifs and clever subject lines. The leader this year was EmailMonks, who offered games for Easter and Thanksgiving, an interactive Halloween mailings, and some clever videos and gifs. Where the email clients could interpret the code, the games could be played right there in the message. When that wasn’t possible the viewer was linked to the online version. The also get points for their clever use of poster gifs that do a good job of leading the viewer to the linked video (see Using HTML5 in Email: Video).

Cinemagraphs

One technique we were hoping to see more of this year was the use of cinemagraphs. These are the animated gifs that use animation sparingly to create the effect of a live video image. One company that put the technique to good use is Bourbon and Boots, who used a smoking cigar to draw the eye to the image. Subtle but effective, and it captures the essence of the company’s brand.

One of the cleverest uses of an animated gif came from Netflix, but they didn’t stop there. The design concept started with the subject line:

The blacked out lines and the subject matter make us slightly uneasy, but still curious. Upon opening the email, you are presented with a startling animated gif:

[Note: The original gif only goes through its animation one time, I’ve set it up to repeat to make it easier to view.]

A very clever combination of subject line and content used to create an effect.

Until Next Time

That will do it for this year. As usual, most of the errors could have easily been avoided by a little testing before sending. We were happy to that certain errors that were once very common, now only happen occasionally. Marketers are getting more email savvy and template designs are improving. As an added note, I recently heard from Jordie van Rijn from eMailMonday, who has created this pre-launch checklist you can use to make sure everything in order before you hit the send button.

Happy New Year!

To IP or Not IP, That is the Question

IP graphic
Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are how the Internet keeps track of who is where. They aren’t necessarily attached to specific email addresses, but they do contain potentially valuable information about a person’s geographic location (although, as we’ll see, this is an imperfect science). It stands to reason that the more information you know about your subscribers, the easier it is to tailor your content to fit their interests, so there is some value in attaching IP information to each email address, but be careful: Where you and your customers reside can affect the legality of this practice.

Using the IP Address

Your computer’s IP address is like a landline telephone. If everyone in a household is using that telephone, then everyone will show up under the same number. Like a telephone number, an IP address can give you a good idea as to where someone is located without showing you the exact address. A search on our own IP, for instance, turns in different results, but they are all in the Bay Area, which is where our headquarters are located. Even with this limitation, an IP address will narrow down the possible location of the subscriber, which can, in turn, help greatly with certain types of marketing.

Dynamic vs. Static

There are two kinds of IP addresses—dynamic and static. Their names suggest exactly what they are. A static IP address is one that never changes. Companies, for instance, will often be use a static IP address to help them send and receive data and allow others to easily log onto their servers. A static IP address is mandatory for certain activities such as VoIP and VPN to ensure stable connections. Individuals might also opt for static addresses if they plan to host a website on a server, or are highly active in the online gaming community.

Dynamic IP addresses are often used for home connections. They are considerably cheaper and the end user doesn’t have to worry about network configuration since this is handled automatically. As one might expect, geolocation is a little more reliable with a static address than a dynamic one, although both have some value here.

Linking IP addresses to the email addresses gives you ability to provide information as to when and where a person opted to receive email from you, eliminating potential claims that your mailings were unsolicited. Some ISPs ask for this information when investigating spam complaints. But there is a big caveat to using this approach: It might be against the law.

IP Addresses and the Law

The legality of linking IP addresses to email addresses changes from country to to country. In some countries, it is perfectly legal, while others see it as a violation of privacy, allowing it only after the subscriber has agreed to let the ESP use that information. In the US, for instance, there is no single, comprehensive federal law regulating the collection and use of personal data. Even if there were, the odds of it being enforced are slim considering that the FTC only brings a handful of cases against emailers to court every year, and most of those are because the products these companies are selling don’t work, rather than privacy breaches or CAN-SPAM violation.

In Canada, which has some of the strictest spam laws on the books, a record of an opt-in is required. Canada has strict rules about what information the government can gather about a person, but the laws concerning the private sector appear less well defined. If businesses aren’t allowed to attach IP information to email addresses, then the verification of subscription becomes a lot harder. This summer, a second aspect of CASL takes effect that lets individuals challenge a company’s email programs, meaning anyone can bring any company to court. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but only time will tell.

In Great Britain, you can collect IP addresses, but you start treading into the danger zone once you connect those IP addresses to individual email accounts. An IP address by itself isn’t considered personal data, but when it’s combined with other information to build a profile of an individual, it suddenly becomes personal data—even if that individual’s name is unknown. You’ll need to get permission from the recipients to do so. This isn’t a big deal., although most British companies use these additional requests for more specific information, such as the location of the recipient’s preferred store.

In most of the rest of Europe, things get even even trickier. In Europe, static IP addresses have been considered personal data for some time now, but on October 19, 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that dynamic IP addresses can also qualify as personal data under EU privacy law. Additionally, the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court has ruled that collecting and storing IP addresses is in violation of the Personal Data Act.

These laws have been further enforced with the approval of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The regulation was passed by the EU Parliament in April of 2016. Although not specific to email, the regulation does require businesses to keep tight controls on their private data and gives your subscribers the “right to be forgotten.” Any data you have on them needs their approval and they can nix it at any point. This includes their name, photos, email addresses, bank details, posts on social networking websites, medical information, and computer IP addresses. The regulation has a two year grace period before they start cracking down on violators, and applies to any business doing business in the European Union.

The irony here is that by not allowing the ESPs to use this information, it makes it harder to verify when someone not associated with that email address is pranking the actual addressee, making it far more likely for that person to receive spam than they otherwise would.

Over in China they have a completely different take on the matter. As far as they’re concerned, an IP address in isolation isn’t personal data because it’s focused on a computer and not an individual. This reasoning was applied by the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner in a complaint about Yahoo!’s disclosure of information about a journalist to Chinese authorities.

Approach With Caution

So what is the best technique? If your company does no business outside of the United States, and never plans to expand past that country’s borders, IP collection isn’t an issue. If, on the other hand, your clientele is international and you need to stay compliant in several countries, you’re better off either forgetting about collecting IP information, or adding a check box to the sign-in process to verify that the recipient has approved your use of their IP address information. Given the constantly shifting landscapes or laws on this subject. Some type of verification from the users that it’s okay to note their IP addresses is the safest route.

The Year in Email: A Look Back At 2016

By all accounts, 2016 was an extraordinarily eventful year. It saw the deaths of Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Leon Russell, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Wilder, and a whole host of others. Politically, it was the year of Brexit and a presidential election that caused the New York Times to take a hard look at their polling methodology. In sports, it was the year that the Chicago Cubs, after 108 years of losing, finally won a world series in a final game that played out like a movie script.

It was an eventful year in email too, but not necessarily in a good way. Some might argue that email—or, at least, email that wasn’t meant to be seen by the general public—helped lose the election for Hillary Clinton. August saw an organized subscription bomb attack of suspicious origin that temporarily landed several respectable news organizations on spam lists and caused Spamhaus to update their opt-in verification recommendations. In one respect, 2016 was a better than previous years. We saw fewer of the kind of clumsy design errors that we’ve seen in the past. Most of the really terrible errors came from sources that were questionable to begin with.

The Importance of Testing Across Platforms

It should go without saying that whenever you send out a message you should test it. If you are using Goolara Symphonie, or another ESP that has a preview feature built in, I’d start there. If you want to be extra careful, you can also send test mailings to several different addresses, or use the email previews available from Litmus and Email on Acid. Sometimes, a message looks fine in one email reader, but not so good in another. Here are some examples.

Aw Gee-Mail

misaligned iamges

If you’re going to have a problem displaying your email design in one provider, the provider should never be Gmail. After all, it is the most popular email reader out there, and it doesn’t cost anything to get an address, so what’s the problem? The folks at Orchard apparently didn’t learn this lesson, though. This particular email looked fine everywhere else, including the always problematic Live Mail, but completely fell apart in Gmail.

Dynamic Content Mishap

Bad dymamic content

One time when you absolutely must test before sending is when you are using mail merge or dynamic content.1 The example above is an actual email, sent to us with the subject line: “Your email.” A blank space between “Hello” and the comma would have been better than this. Well constructed dynamic content instructions would have prevented this from happening.

Hide and Seek

images covering type

A picture’s worth a thousand words, but this is email is pushing it. At first glance, it looks like Wired expects these images to do all the work, but look closely at the right edge of the top photo, just below the horizon. There’s a series of small dots there. A closer investigation reveals that those dots are the text hidden under each photo. This particular problem occurs in Microsoft’s recently abandoned Live Mail, and if Live Mail was the only email reader that had trouble with this mailing, I probably wouldn’t bother mentioning it. But Thunderbird also has trouble with the file, pushing the text and social links out to the right of the main table. Live Mail, at least, brings the text and social links back into the area where they belong, but then plops the photo down on top of everything. This wouldn’t matter if Wired bothered to provide meaningful alt tags, but the alt tags read: “Image for story 1,” “Image for story 2,” etc. Not exactly helpful.

A close inspection of the source code reveals the problem. Whoever put this email together did go to the trouble of using tables, but then they inserted divs into the mix. The code is also littered with ids and class tags that have no corresponding style instructions. It’s worth noting that all of the other mailings from the magazine look fine, and the ones for subscription offers include highly descriptive alt tags.

Honestly Missing Logo

Missing logo

That “Honest Mail Email Marketing” logo, looks suspiciously like nothing at all. A quick check of the HTML code reveals the problem:

<img src=”” alt=”Honest Mail Email Marketing Logo” width=”160″ height=”50″ border=”0″ style=”width:160px; height:50px;” />

They remembered to include the height, width, and border information. They even added alt text There’s only one thing missing: the actual source location for the image. Honestly, one test preview would have revealed this problem. There’s no excuse for it.

Code Fails

Some problems are simply the result of bad HTML. Sometimes it’s an out-and-out typo, but sometimes the problem is something subtle like including the DOCTYPE and HTML tags when you paste the email into the ESP app. Test previews and test send should catch most of these problems.

It’s Important, Procrustes

Bad image sizing

This email from Keurig suffers from a few problems. The image of the people chatting over coffee and the “Shop Today” button are obviously stretched. The designer put the correct size information in the properties for each of these images, but they forgot to add !important, so the sizing information was overridden in favor of the master table, stretching the images to match the master table’s 100% width requirement.

Knowing When to Link

button design

Having linking buttons is always a good idea, but knowing where to put the link is important. In this example from Camper, only the words “Women,” “Men,” and “Kids” are links. Since this text is placed in its own table, and that table has a bordered cell, it would make more sense to add the link to either the table or the cell. As it stands now, clicking anywhere inside the black border does nothing unless you click directly on the words. It’s a minor thing, but one worth remembering. Judging from the number of div tags in this email, I suspect that the author of this email is new to the form.

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?

fake button

Providing buttons that link to web content is never a bad idea. What is a bad idea is providing a button that is not a button at all. This email from Template Monster makes that mistake. Clicking on “Learn Now” simply brings up the image. To make matters worse, they’ve given it a blue border, further enforcing the perception that this is a link and not just an image.

Oops, I Did It Again!

Not to rag on Template Monster, but they don’t seem to have anyone checking the email before they send it. Here is the top of one of their emails:

Missing code

And here is the code for the logo at the top:

<a href=”#” style=”border:none;” target=”_blank”><img alt=”TemplateMonster” border=”0″ height=”40″…

Look at the href at the beginning of the line of code. This should link to their website, but it doesn’t. The pound sign (#) is a placer that indicates that although there is a link, it’s not going anywhere. Hover over it and it appears active, but clicking on it accomplishes nothing.

A little further down the page in the same email we get this:

Typo

The text in the orange button reads “Download You Gift.” I confess, I am always typing “you” instead of “your” so I can relate to this one, but a second pair of qualified eyes would have caught this immediately.

In the same email, every headline and image has a different link, even when they go to the same place. The headline about 20 free writing tools goes to the same page as the image next to it. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt on that one, and say that they did this to find out whether the images or the headlines are responsible for the most clickthroughs, but in the long run, isn’t that less important than the fact that they did click through?

That’s Code for …Code!

badly coded spam

I love it when spammers screw up. This was already obviously a spam message without having to even open it, but upon opening you’re presented with the HTML code for the message. When putting together a mailing in your ESPs visual editor, always make sure you are in the right tab (usually marked HTML) before pasting HTML code. Otherwise this might happen to you. Of course, any decent email marketer would have previewed the mailing, but these people tend to work fast. I’m surprise this doesn’t happen more often, actually.

Shopping Links

Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with an email, until you click on one of the links. Then you suddenly find yourself staring at a page that has nothing to do with anything. Retail stores appear to be the worst offenders, which is odd since so much of their business is contingent on people getting to the right page and ordering the product they want.

I Know It’s Here Somewhere

missing products

Fab has, in the past, shown products in their mailings that aren’t on the landing page. In most cases, the products shown are available, but buried on the second or third page of the sale listings. That’s fine. Lots of companies do this, so the public is used to it. But in the email shown above, the “Cosmo Complete Set” and Captain America print don’t even show up in any of the lists. Clicking on them takes you to the a sale page, but neither product is on any of the sales pages. If you want to buy either of these items, you’ll need to enter them as search queries on the web site.

Now Go and Find Me

not on site

Normally, Bed, Bath & Beyond is one of the better companies when it comes to email marketing, they always provided meaningful alt tags, their design is easy to read on both a desktop computer and a mobile phone, and their links, in most cases, go directly to the products shown. Here is one of their rare missteps. Clicking on this product does not take you to the products, or even anywhere near the product. A clue lies in the button labeled “Find a Store”—only it’s not a button. Clicking anywhere in the image will take you to BB&B’s Find a Store page. I suppose they justify this by pointing out that the product isn’t available online, but that’s no reason that this couldn’t be included on a page with more information on the product.

Alt, Right?

I bring it up every year, but every year there are plenty of examples of companies forgetting to add alt information to the img tags. While it’s true that services such as Gmail and the iPhone display images as the default, some people still prefer to keep the images turned off. Alt tags not only impart information on what they are missing, they also can provide incentive to display images as well. Here’s an example from Warby Parker that demonstrates the worst case scenario:

no alt tags

Now here’s a company that knows how to do it right, Bed, Bath & Beyond:

Good alt tags

Quite a difference. Perhaps the guys at Warby Parker assume that people will always want to display their images, a questionable assumption.

Unsubscribe Catastrophes

Unsubscribing should never be a hassle. Nobody is happy when a recipient unsubscribes, but it’s better than having that person mark your mailings as spam because they can’t figure out how else to get you to stop sending them things. Some marketers go to extraordinary lengths to making unsubscribing difficult, treading very close to the legal requirements of CAN-SPAM. A few cross over to the dark side. Here are this year’s worst offenders.

Unsubscribe? fUGGedaboutit!

No unsub link

CAN-SPAM has a few hard and fast rules. One of them is that you have to have an unsubscribe link. You also have to have a physical address. This email has neither. The supposed unsubscribe link takes you to the home page for the company. Not surprisingly, this email is not from an official UGG site at all, but a spammer that is trying to make their site look as legitimate as possible.

Email Purgatory

Missing unsub link

Unlike the previous email, this one is from a legitimate company (T-Mobile). This part of the email—which is commented in the HTML as “legal footer”—contains the physical address, privacy policy information, links to their various plan options, and instructions for how to ensure that email from them does not wind up in the spam folder. What it doesn’t include, however, is an unsubscribe link—an unequivocal violation of CAN-SPAM.

Go Ahead and Try to Unsubscribe! I Dare You!

bad unsub link

When it comes to anti-spam laws, the USA is about the most lax, but they still require two things: A physical address and an unsubscribe link. So when I get an email like this, it makes my blood boil. Here’s what you get when you click the unsubscribe link:

unsub fail

As one might imagine, this one went straight to the spam folder.

Crouching Promo and Hidden Unsub

unsub in image off

A nearly as devious method of hiding the unsubscribe was used by Lids, a company that specializes in sports caps. Here’s the bottom of their email with the images turned off:

You can see there’s a physical address, but where’s the unsubscribe link? Now here’s the same section of the email with the images displayed:

unsub in image on

Ah, there it is! They’ve made unsubscribe part of an image. To make matters worse, they used an image map to separate the various categories shown. I’m not sure what the thinking was here. Attempts to reach them went unanswered. Just to add insult to injury, I never signed up for this email, it was someone entering the wrong address either accidentally or on purpose.

Sure, There’s an Unsub. It’s Just Not Yours.

Another highly questionable approach to handling unsubscribes came from, of all companies, Salesforce:

Salesforce CAN-SPAM violation

I’ve blurred the names to save some embarrassment, but I can verify that the author of this email comes from Salesforce, promoting a webinar Salesforce has co-sponsored. Yes, there’s an unsubscribe link, but only in the forwarded content. Presumably that will only work for the original recipient, not for the person to whom the email was forwarded. This means that Salesforce, the largest SaaS-based, customer relationship management (CRM) provider on the planet, a company with its own email marketing solution, just sent me a promotional email without an unsubscribe link. It is a tactic worthy of a Viagra spammer. It doesn’t help that there’s a typo in the very first sentence. I dearly hope the author of this email is new to Salesforce.

Subject Line Fun

The subject line is the most important part of your mailing. If a subject line doesn’t provoke the recipient to open the email, then all your hard work providing good content and responsive design is for naught. Here area few subject lines that either failed miserably or worked brilliantly, or, in the case of the first example, simply overdid things.

Hello, It’s Me Again

Too many emails

Some email marketing experts are big fans of the practice of sending high quantities of email to your recipient list. It is a topic hotly discussed on email marketing forums, and each side can back up their position with plenty of facts and figures. But even the most ardent fan of high-volume sending would agree that Travelocity is pushing it here, sending an email every hour or so from two in the morning to five. It doesn’t help that all of these were sent at times when no others were sending out email, leading to all four messages being bunched together. Perhaps that was the idea, to create a sort of billboard for Travelocity residing in the inbox.

Did I mention…?

same email

It’s not usual for companies to offer multiple newsletters. Nor is it unusual to send these newsletters out on the same day. What is unusual is the use exactly the same subject line and content on both mailings, right down to the “You are subscribed to PCMag Tech Deals as…” at the bottom of each page. Given that a normal announcement from PCMag reads “You are subscribed to PCMag Announcements as…” and is usually some sort of deal on a PCMag subscription, I’d chalk this one up to either a mistake or laziness.

I’m Either a Realtor or a Marketer

email goof

Even we email marketers make boneheaded mistakes. To their credit, the folks at EEC caught this and quickly followed up with an apology.

A Special Odaer, Ordrre, Ordeorr…Oh Forget It!

typo in subject line

“Order” is a hard word to screw up, but whoever put this email together seems to have had a terrible time with it. They misspelled it in the subject line, and then again in the content.

Okay, I’m not REALLY Out of the Office

Out of Office trick subject line

I think I know what Sephora was trying to do here. This was an attempt to equate being out of the office with their summertime contest. Sending a fake out-of-office autoreply isn’t the worst misuse of a subject line, but it’s pretty sneaky and isn’t likely to endear you to anyone.

You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Game sof Throne subject line

As a fan of Game of Thrones, I enjoyed the use of GoT references in the subject line and “friendly” from, but I’m not sure that a company that specializes in predictive marketing is the right place for this approach. This link leads to a series of videos in which they try to show the marketing lessons available in the HBO series. That is more a testament to the ability of the human brain to find patterns where none exist than any marketing subplots lurking in George R.R. Martin’s on-going saga. This kind of subject is better served on a site such as ThinkGeek, which specializes in products attached to all aspects of geekdom, from TV shows or computer games. For them, even this is acceptable:

Konami Code subject line

A combination of keystrokes known as the Konami Code, a cheat that gives gamers additional powers while playing. If you’re in the real estate business, this probably isn’t a good subject line, but it works quite well for a company whose primary audience resembles the cast from The Big Bang Theory.

Location, Location, Location!

Deliverability fail

Sometimes, a subject line, by itself isn’t anything special, but where you find it makes all the differences. I found this one in my spam folder. I could say “Physician heal thyself,” but this just demonstrates what a complicated subject deliverability is.

That’s it for this year! We can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring. We predict more email address providers will follow Gmail’s lead in allowing CSS in email. On one hand, this means we can get more creative in our email designs, but on the other hand, it means more places for things to go wrong. If there is a moral to this blog post, it should be obvious by now: test, test, test. For more on the subject of how to deal with email mistakes, check out our white paper on the subject: Oops! – Handling and resolving email marketing mistakes.


1. If you’re not using dynamic content, you’re missing a real opportunity to improve your email engagement results. Jordie van Rijn explains how and why in his article, Making the most out of Dynamic Email Marketing. For more on Goolara Symphonie’s powerful dynamic content visits, visit our dynamic content page.

The Holiday Season is upon us, so we thought it might be fun to offer an infographic in the form a simple game of chance. Of course, your email marketing efforts should be anything but a game of chance. Careful planning, design, and testing will go a long ways toward improving your open rates. Keeping aware of your metrics and avoiding quick fixes, such as list purchasing, will keep your deliverability out of the red zone.

emailgame

You can find more on information on the topics listed in the Email Game in the following blog posts and in the guides and white papers in the Resources section of the main website:
The Complete Preheaders and Snippets Tutorial
Personalizing Your Email Marketing
Using Content Blocks and Dynamic Content
Deliverability Enhanced (downloadable white paper)
Oops! – Handling and resolving email marketing mistakes (downloadable white paper)
Using Text & Images (downloadable guide)
Best Practices Enhanced – Vol. 1: Content, List Management, and Testing (downloadable guide)
Best Practices Enhanced – Vol. 2: Design and Image Management (downloadable guide)
Responsive Email Design (downloadable guide)

Coupon Techniques for Email

coupons in emailThere is a segment of society that loves coupons. They will go to local store armed with a stack of coupons or only log onto their favorite web-based retail sites during sale times. The love of coupons isn’t restricted by economic factors either, Lady Gaga, Kourtney Kardashian and Carrie Underwood all admit to loving coupons, and Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell even admitted to stealing her neighbor’s Bed, Bath & Beyond fliers for the coupons. Coupons represent savings, but much more than that: they represent limited time opportunities and exclusive savings that the rest of the world might not know about.

What is a coupon?

Until recently, a coupon was strictly a physical item—a small slip of paper that you handed to the cashier upon checkout. In today’s online world, the term must take on new meanings. Coupons can be anything from a printable gif file, to a special code the recipient has to enter, to a link with a unique query string at the end of it. In all cases, the idea is the same: The customer is receiving a discount in exchange for the desired marketing information.

Link instead of coupon

With PIZZA EXPRESS, the code is built into link. Clicking on “Get Code” takes you to the Pizza Express website, although the offer is the same if you visit the site on your own, so the opportunity is wasted.

These techniques offer email marketers effective tools for improving open rates and engagements. Various studies show that emails containing coupons have open rates anywhere from 14% to 34% higher, and revenues up to 48% higher. Of course, these numbers might be due, in part, to the fact, that coupons leave a marker. If a person shops in a store because of something he or she read in an email, we may have no way of knowing it, but if a coupon is used, now we have a direct link between the mailing and the purchase. Even more importantly, it is possible to make every coupon unique, which makes the data even more valuable and helps control the use of coupons that are intended for single use.

Coupon techniques fall into one of three categories: Online only, in-store only, and “Buy Online, Pick Up in Store” (BOPIS). Each serves a specific purpose and its value is based on the type of business you have and the type of information you are trying to gather.

Online Only

An approach often used, especially by stores with both physical locations and on-line sales departments, is to offer specials that are only available online. In these cases, the retailer may choose to forgo the coupon entirely in favor of either an alphanumeric code that the customer must enter to receive the discount, or a direct link to the sale page. In the case of the latter, a query string may be attached to the end of the URL to help identify the source. A typical query string looks something like this (query string shown in red):

http://www.companyname.com/sales/octobersalepage.asp?id=Bh9vDkFyIaI
UIOTSgkDgxCHC5VWgNfIKzsKGhwYEyFWl4yBBtsGoqBy1eUFFUL3JpV1YDZQPCgGN3g

A direct link of this type makes it easier for the recipient, but might also eliminate the perception that the recipient is getting something unique. In truth, a dynamically-constructed query string can make a link as unique as any coupon, but you should design the sale page so that the customer is aware of the exclusivity of the link. Access to an exclusive sale page should not be possible from the website—only from the links provided in the mailings.

If an alphanumeric code is included in the email, then the recipient must enter this code just prior to purchase to receive the discount. In this case, it is a good idea to make this code selectable text rather than part of an image. This lets the recipient cut and paste the code rather than retype it and run the risk of errors, or the need to refer back to the original mailing during checkout. It is likely that a certain segment of the audience will overlook the possibility of copying the text, it is usually not a good idea to make these codes too complex, or, at least, provide some explanatory text in the email (e.g., “copy and paste this code for additional savings”).

Enter code

Shutterfly has no physical locations, so all offers are online only. The code here is rendered as text, which is a good thing since entering a code this complex accurately could be difficult. Nonetheless, for the less tech-savvy user, the fact that it is copyable might be overlooked.

While, technically, no actual coupon is needed for online only purchases, a design that mimics the feel of a coupon can have a psychological edge. The use of dynamic content can also help personalize a mailing and increase the recipient’s feeling that the mailing is unique.

In-Store Only

For in-store purchases, a more traditional approach to coupons is used. In this case, features such as Goolara Symphonie’s dynamic barcode capability come in handy. The email contains a coupon that is scannable by the companies point-of-sale (POS) system. This can be presented at the cash register in the form of a paper print-out, or, more often nowadays, directly from the email on a smart phone. The most commonly used type of barcode in these instances is the Code 128. UPC-A codes may also be use if the data in the code is restricted to numeric values only and must be set to exactly 12 characters. Code 39 is another alternative, but is restricted to the 43 upper case letters, numerals and a few special characters. Code 128 allows for a more complete set of alphanumeric and special characters.

Code 128 has no length restrictions, but if you’re not careful, you can end up with a barcode long enough to interfere with the appearance of your mailing. In these cases, the QR-Code has a distinct advantage, although not all POS systems can read QR-codes. If your system is capable of reading QR-codes, you’ll find that these are more suitable for scanning from phones than the other barcodes, which might appear too small on a phone’s screen to be easily scanned. In the airline industry, you’ll see the PDF417 code used sometimes, although these are giving way to QR-codes due to the latter’s ability to store more data in a smaller amount of space.

in-store coupon

The Gap is using a Code 128 for their store only email coupons. This one is a fairly simple code, that is shown in text below it (“5TOSAVE”). Since this code is compatible across the largest number of POS systems, it’s a safe choice, and the code text (shown below it) is short enough to keep the barcode from being too long, and ensuring that the cashier can enter it manually without much difficulty if necessary.

The BOPIS Approach

A third approach, and one that appears to be the most popular, is to offer a “Buy Online, Pick Up in Store” option. This option is offered by nearly every retail business nowadays, from Apple to Nordstrom. Even stores, such as Kohl’s, that only a couple years ago had no such policy, now offer this service. With the BOPIS approach, a store can keep their in-store inventories reasonable, and still offer a complete selection of products.

As with the online only approach, physical codes are not really necessary, but a company might want to use a barcode for verification purposes during the in-store pickup.

BOPIS approach

Guitar World has large stores in many urban locations, yet they often feature online only sales notices. This helps keep their customer base engaged with their email and allows them to make offers without worrying about a product’s availability at the local store. In most instances, GW offers their customers the option of picking up the purchased item at a local store.

Covering All Bases With BISBO

BISBO stands for “Buy in Store, Buy Online” and offers the whole enchilada. With BISBO offers, the coupon code again becomes useful. In this case, the store might place a scannable coupon in the email, that also contains an active link containing a unique query string, and a text promo code. This is a bit of overkill, but it is possible to set-up the link with its own query string, which will help you identify which recipients used the online services and which ones went to the store.

Multi-purpose coupon

Kohl’s is taking no chances and offering their coupons for use in-store or online, with a scannable barcode, a special PIN, and unique promo code. The only thing wrong here is that the promo code is rendered as an image, forcing the recipient to reenter the data.

Of all of the techniques listed here, the most useful for stores with physical locations is the BISBO approach, because it is possible to set up each part the discount information to respond differently—query strings for online purchases and barcodes for in-store use.

As Always, It Depends…

We are all tired of hearing “it depends” as the answer to concrete questions about email marketing techniques, but there is just no way around it sometimes. If your business is primarily a brick-and-mortar establishment, then redeemable coupons is probably the way to go—especially if you are using a POS system that can scan barcodes. For the online only store, the physical coupon is less necessary, but it does have the psychological advantage of looking like a coupon, which, as Lady Gaga, Kristen Bell, and Carrie Underwood can attest, still holds a powerful attraction.

For more information on using dynamic content with query strings and barcodes, you can contact us at info@goolara.com, or call (888) 362-4575.