Why Shifting from Internal Template Generators to Newer Platforms Makes Sense
Everyone has an opinion on how to build the best ’email templates’ that capture a customer’s attention and leads them to a call-to-action. Some leverage great graphics. Others use captions like, “The 10 Best Mistakes That Cost You Millions of Dollars That You Will Do Again!”
What’s often neglected is ‘how’ to build these email templates in a flexible manner that supports the dynamic needs that drive today’s complex business. At SparkPost, we have found that most companies moving from either an on-premises MTA or a self-service cloud ESP were forced to build their own template generators. Some are fairly sophisticated and flexible with a UI. Most, however, are complex pieces of code that build the email through a series of conditionals and saved text.
Over time, these applications have become fragile systems so changes or upgrades are rare, if any. Even simple changes to text within an invoice email can take weeks given the backlog of work development already has. Plus, they need to test it to make sure they’re not introducing further bugs.
With this in mind, I’m writing this blog, and eventually a series of blogs, to help our SparkPost customers see a vision of how they can move from these older systems and leverage the SparkPost templating system such as:
- Why making the shift from internal email generation systems to newer platforms makes sense
- The simple stuff, moving from SMTP and fully built emails compiled by development
- White labeling email templates; Using substitutions to modify look and feel of the HTML output for branding and white labeling
- Shared or Global data versus Recipient data
- Arrays and how to leverage them
- Dynamic output with multiple rows and columns of data
- Multi-language support
Many customers write their own templating system out of necessity. And since most are code-rich and depend on development to make the simplest of changes, Marketing gets hamstrung in their ability to keep up with the demands of a rapidly changing world. Because of this demand for change, when possible, it’s better to separate Marketing Design from Development; this is the key factor for moving to templating for many customers. This doesn’t mean that development won’t help build or customize some of the email templates. It just means that much of the work they were doing is minimized. In a perfect world, development worries about obtaining the right data that goes into the message. And marketing worries about the aesthetics and wording of the message.
In the long run, the speed of change that takes place by separating the creative from development is well worth the change.
Now that development doesn’t need to worry about the creative, they can simply focus on three things:
- What data to send each customer,
- What events trigger sending the content, and of course,
- Any segmentation to target the right users during larger blasts such as newsletters.
Another benefit of separating the creative from development is that pulling the data for each user becomes simpler. The need for conditional after conditional to get the proper data for a given template can be simplified to gather all the data for a user, then letting the template decide which data to use. If the template doesn’t use the data, we only lose the cost of transmitting it from the back end server to the SparkPost platform. However, don’t take this approach to the extreme by sending obnoxious amounts of unused data. Typically, there’s a bulk of personalized information that one can gather and send as a standard bit of personalization data for a template to use. Now, Marketing and Development can synchronize on what data will be available. Then, Marketing can ensure it’s used properly and presents itself in a manner fitting to their banding and messaging.
Now that we have a business case of why to shift from internally built email generation systems to newer platforms that separate out development from the creative, we’re ready for our next blog post. In the next one, I’ll discuss gathering the data necessary for substitution and moving away from fully built out emails sent via SMTP.
Sr. Messaging Engineer, SparkPost
Some Sample Email Templates
Why We’re Partnering with Iterable to Deliver Growth Marketing
I’m certainly not the first to say that the digitization of information has proven to be the most powerful development of our age. It’s revolutionized our lives. It’s changed the way we do business. And it’s advancing faster than many of us realize.
One really significant example of this impact of data is the increasing prominence of “growth marketing.” Growth marketing is one of those ideas that’s come at just the right time, when business needs and technology capabilities align to make an idea really take off. It’s all about using the exponential increase in data in our marketing tools to shape how our customers and prospects interact with our businesses—both to increase the value to our business and to improve our customers’ experience.
Marketers are helping increase profit margins by using data science to understand customers at increasingly intimate levels—who they are, what they want, and what they might do next. With that intel, companies are engaging customers with messages that are scientifically targeted to motivate customer movement through the funnel—and increase their own competitiveness.
While this sort of data-driven capability traditionally has required complex systems and a team of data scientists to really execute, a new generation of tools is making the core methods of growth marketing accessible to the rest of us. That’s a remarkable change, and it’s one of the reasons our team at SparkPost is really excited about our new partnership with Iterable, whose next-generation Growth Marketing Platform is gaining industry recognition in its own right.
In his announcement about working with Iterable, SparkPost’s CEO, Phillip Merrick, said, “We are happy to announce this best-of-breed offering to our customers. This combination of SparkPost’s high-performing cloud email service with the front-end growth marketing capabilities of Iterable provides customers with the ability to rapidly improve customer engagement through faster iterations of data-driven marketing campaigns.”
Phillip’s right. We’re really excited about this. The prebuilt, out-of-the-box email and data integration between our services let our joint customers take advantage of SparkPost’s strengths—like our email performance and rich analytics—and Iterable’s flexibility and ease of use to make a data-driven, growth marketing strategy reality. To put it another way: this combination makes it easy for email marketers to hit the ground running and be successful with growth marketing. Quickly.
Some other partnership advantages we are proud to be delivering to our customers include:
- Less drain on development
- Powerful multi-channel tools
- The ability to rapidly improve customer engagement
- Increased efficiency of data-driven marketing campaigns
I also want to say that not only is this a powerful combined toolset, but it just might be a lot fun to use! I personally was really impressed when I saw the way our tools worked together to use Iterable to define triggered emails as part of a growth campaign, for example.
By the way, SparkPost and Iterable recently shared some advice for turbo-charging growth marketing in a recent webinar together—it’s definitely worth checking out. And if you’d like to learn more about the partnership, you can read the entire press release here.
Avoid these mistakes and being labeled an Email Marketing Rookie
Everyone loves a good list. Letterman might’ve been the greatest list maker/reader/practitioner – inspiring and empowering an entire generation of copy writers that regale us with their amazing listacles all around the web! We thought we’d throw our hat into the fray and put together a list of common mistakes, with a heavy dose of snark, on how to avoid being labeled an email marketing rookie.
- Everyone wants to hear from us. No really, everyone! No, no, everyone doesn’t want to hear from you. Some only wanted to hear from you once to buy a specific item and then unsubscribed or marked your email as spam. Assuming everyone wants to hear from you is tantamount to ignoring your customers.
- Cadence, shmadence, I wanna be in their inbox every single day! How often you send email is important, the time that you send it can be directly tied to your business, e.g. you run a restaurant that wants to advertise lunch specials, sending it at 1145 might’ve missed the mark.
- Responsive design? What’s that? It’s what makes emails look good on mobile phones. Responsive email templates are not only the rage, but in our hyper mobilized world they’re an absolute necessity.
- Bounces? We didn’t bounce, we just didn’t make it all the way in so we’re gonna keep trying that email until it delivers! That’s spot on–NOT! So if you do that, you may look like a spammer to an ISP. Spammers don’t respect hard bounces, they send lots of emails that will hard bounce, and generally don’t do anything about soft bounces. Bounce policy is what sets you apart from the bad guys and helps you build a positive sending reputation.
- A friend told me that he knows a guy that knows a guy that has a really big opt-in database for sale! We could triple or quadruple our open rates! Don’t ever do this. Just don’t. It won’t end well. I assure you; and so will a lot of other experts in the field. This is not the marketing strategy you’re looking for.
- Use as many IPs as possible. If one gets blocked, just route the mail on another one! Again, this is a tactic commonly used by spammers. If you do this you will only decrease the likelihood your email will arrive to the inbox. Setup an IP for commercial email, and one for transactional and build positive sending reputations on both. That’s the only route to success.
- Unsubscribes are for losers. I can’t. No Seriously. Where do I begin? Unsubscribes are not only a good practice to avoid making your customers angry, but it’s required by the CAN-SPAM act of 2003. You must have a working electronic unsubscribe. That’s all there is to it.
- We’re going to make email great again by sending as much of it as possible! Then you might as well shutter your business now and save us all a lot of grief and clicks of the spam button. The right amount of email will change from business to business, but what’s universal is that everyone has a threshold where enough is enough. Experiment with different amounts of email for different users. This means having data to gauge how and when they consume your email.
- Targeting? We don’t target, we canvas! Ever heard the phrase the right email for the right person, at the right time and optimized for the right platform? Well now you have. Targeting an offer to a person most likely to be receptive to it requires past purchase history, preference centers, opens, clicks, unsubscribe data, all of the things that help you be smart about your digital communications.
- Segmentation? We use a segment of one: everyone gets every email. No no no no. This isn’t how it works. A segment of one means you know so much about your customer that everyone is unique and you personalize the heck out of every communication making it a unique experience. Yeah, it’s not easy, you need real time data, flexible templates with personalization capabilities in your platform and an appreciation for how different segments should be marketed to in different manners and with uniquely different content at times.
- Blacklist? Wasn’t that something that happened in Hollywood in the 50s during McCarthyism? Yes there were blacklists in Hollywood, and it’s also a show starring James Spader. However, blacklists are very real and very damaging should your IP or sending domain land on one. Having integrated tools like 250OK in your email platform reduces the likelihood of being on a blacklist and not knowing, and expedites remediation (along with a crack deliverability team) should you land on one.
- SPF, DKIM, DMARC, ARC… stop my head’s hurting from all these acronyms. Acronyms got you down? I know you how you feel. However this is important so listen up. SPF, DKIM, DMARC, ARC these are all part of a category of technologies called email authentication and they are really important because they help you protect your brand, and your customers, from phishing and spammers. You don’t want some criminal halfway across the world spoofing your domain and pummeling inboxes with email designed to defraud people do you? You know what happens then? You get laid off, your business fails and the dark side wins. Talk to your tech team, or our tech team and we’ll help you navigate the authentication waters.
- We should try and win back every customer that unsubscribes, you never know, they may change their mind! Whooooa, hold your horses there! I agree, you should try to win them back, but re-subscribing unsubscribers is a major no-no, you can land in hot water with numerous folks. However, getting inactive subscribers to become active is an absolute strategy and you should do it like so: slowly and with extreme caution. I’ve heard from ISP postmasters that re-engagement campaigns generate high complaints and that’s bad news for a sending IP or brand. Send these emails slowly in very small batches around the clock. Make it an ongoing best effort basis vs. a giant airdrop all at once.
- Subject lines need to be big bold and say anything to get them to click. No, no they don’t. No really, if you don’t believe me read the FTC’s guidelines. Truth in advertising. Be edgy, be bold, be creative, be all that, just be honest. If not, refer to rule #12.
- Put as many offers as you can into the receipt or shipping confirmation. It’s a guaranteed chance to get in front of them for more sales! I’m gonna say fuhgeddaboudit! Transactional email closes the loop on a transaction, generally initiated by a customer. There is an unwritten rule that says 80% of the content in a transactional email should be just that, transactional, 20% marketing. If you pack in too much marketing you change the fundamental content and nature of the communication. Transactional email should be sent on its own IP to create a ‘separation between church and state’ from commercial email for just this reason.
- Hey why don’t we make the font for our unsubscribe link white, like the background?! Once again I get to say don’t you dare! And why do I say this? I refer you back to the FTC’s guidelines. Let this be your guiding principle: clean and conspicuous. And if you need another reason chew on this: if someone unsubs they can always re-sub at some later point. If they mark your message as spam because they can’t find the unsub link, or you didn’t include it, then your entire reputation suffers, its harder to deliver email, your revenues decline, you get fired and the dark side wins. Which do you prefer?
- Someone said millennials like snark, can we just make our postal address 1600 Pennsylvania ave? Or maybe 666 Elm St.? Who reads that stuff anyway?! And you wouldn’t believe what will happen if you do this. Yeah, once more, FTC, CAN-SPAM, valid, physical mailing address is required. And if you need another reason: you’re not a spammer, so don’t act like one!
There you have it! A comprehensive list of email marketing rookie mistakes, and how to avoid them. Anything we missed or overlooked? Leave us a comment!
Jay Henderson, general manager of IBM’s Marketing Cloud business, was a featured speaker at SparkPost’s annual Insight user conference. In his talk, he delivered a great overview of how marketing is adapting to new technology and business models.
His highlights include:
- Noisy marketing chatter is cheap. And ineffective. The number of campaigns and emails and messages we encounter has soared. The right content is critical to breaking though the clutter.
- Mobile technology is ubiquitous. Mobile marketing isn’t a niche—in fact, it’s the most mainstream medium possible. Email and other marketing tools need to be mobile-first, not mobile-maybe.
- Cross-channel experiences are not optional. See above—customers use mobile all the time. But then, they walk into a store. Or switch to a web site at their desk. Does the experience you offer follow effortlessly, or at all?
- Marketers must manage their portfolio of marketing technologies—the martech stack—strategically. In a period of innovation, it’s easy to wind up with a jumble of technologies that barely hold together. The balance between streamlining technology investments while still pursuing competitive advantage and differentiation is a perennial challenge for all of us.
- Successful marketers cultivate a culture that bridges technology and creativity. Better-performing marketing teams collaborate with their technology providers and have the operational resources to make the most of martech.
I’ve included the slides from Jay’s keynote below.
Jay’s presentation stuck with me in the subsequent weeks, and I kept thinking about the implications of these changes for my profession. What does it mean to be a marketer today?
In most regards, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer. The technology’s awesome and has made all kinds of things possible that we couldn’t do before. The business models of growing businesses, be they cloud-based services or real-world retail, are increasingly dependent upon marketing expertise to understand customer behavior and engagement. The portion of marketing budgets that are considered strategic rather than discretionary is increasing. The amount of “marketing” that we all experience is going up, up, and up.
Yep. Good times.
But why, then, do I sometimes sense some unspoken anxiety from my peers at professional conferences and meetups? Why does it seem that a lot of us are “faking it ’til we make it?” Hey, no shame. I have those feelings from time to time, too. I think a lot of it is just human nature in the midst of change. Some of us welcome it, and some of us fear it, but there’s no denying that the marketing worldview has changed in lots of meaningful ways.
Maybe you’ve heard the comment author William Gibson made at the dawn of the modern Internet era: “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” And perhaps, at first, the different facets of digital and data-driven marketing seemed like specialized skills. But this change has been underway for a long time, and it’s now become so obvious that it’s impossible to miss.
Over the two-plus decades since Gibson made his quip about the future and the web ushered in commercial use of the Internet, several technology stacks have arisen (and sometimes fallen) to enable an ever more intimate (read: data-driven) customer marketing relationship.
So, for marketers, the future indeed already is here. It’s all about the long-term shift in how businesses think about connecting with customers. Conceptually, one of the biggest changes has been an explicit reorientation away from a relatively static notion of marketing—for example, that a customer’s decision to buy is based on a lightning strike of the right combination of the four P’s of product, price, promotion, and place. Instead, most of us today understand that a customer’s experience with a brand or a company really occurs in many steps over time. That experience over time is the “customer journey” that we strive to perfectly fulfill.
But one thing that sometimes gets lost in this acknowledgement of the primacy of the customer journey is that we marketers have been on a journey of our own. Sometimes that journey requires a fresh perspective on our craft. Other times, it means becoming facile with new technologies. And throughout, it depends upon bringing more “science” and empirical decision-making to our creative “art” of communication. But above all, it means not standing still.
By the way, do check out Jay Henderson’s presentation that I embedded at the beginning of this post. His ideas definitely are worth your time.
Do you agree? What are the changes you’ve experienced as a marketer? I’d love to hear from you!
Check out more from Insight 2015:
- Global Data Privacy Insight from 4 International Email Experts
- #SendLikeABoss – The Best of Insight 2015
In the spirit of the title, and because I’m at the Marketing Sherpa Email Summit in rainy Las Vegas, this will be a short post. Ok so reach in your pocket and pull out your mobile phone. Now unlock it and tell me if email is one of the apps on your 1st (home) screen. I bet it is. If the average adult smart phone user has around 80 some odd apps, then email is always on the home screen.
Great, now that we settled that, let’s get onto the meat of this—the perishable moment. Earlier today I saw a great study from Localytics; if you don’t know them, and you have an app, then you should check out what they can do for your mobile initiatives. Turns out that as the snows on the East Coast have fallen, app usage has gone through the roof. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise—quite the contrary it’s completely understandable given that mobile devices are filling in the moments of boredom we experience during the day. The more snow that falls, the more people are stuck at home watching the bleak winter and occupying their time by checking the weather, shopping, checking out photos, checking the weather to see if its safe to go outside, looking at more photos, back to the weather, then maybe some news or reading books, and then back to the weather. See a trend?
So I’m just going to throw this out there: snow days are perishable moments—they represent a distinct moment in time when a specific, regionally isolated event, creates a unique segment of users that should be marketed to differently than everyone else. What, if anything did you do during the snow-pocalypse of 2015? Did you promote snowblowers and warm booties instead of sending the routine 20% off discount that some retailers send with frustrating regularity to everyone, every week, sometimes 3x a week? If you did, then bravo! If you didn’t, then consider yourself on notice.
Perishable moments require data, a sense of creativity, the ability to quickly execute and a measure of ‘carpe diem!’ Email marketers should take a page out of the play books of the mobile crowd and realize that their recipients are more fluid than a defined segment based on age, zip code and gender. Recipients can move in and out of segments quickly based on not just the weather, but recent clicks, opens, browsing history, web activity, purchases or events that transpired the day that someone signed up. These are all defining criteria for micro-segmentation that begins to feel like a personalized approach. Think small, be light on your feet and take advantage of the moment by ensuring you can turn a snow day into a captive audience day.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the DM News Marketing & Tech Innovation summit in frigid New York City. Discussions ranged from content marketing, to email and personalization, to organizational transformation into digital and more! The day featured lots of smart folks, twitter handles below, numerous gems to ponder and stats that should help illuminate the scope of the problem: customers own the conversation and our efforts generate massive amounts of data. How do you leverage that data into actionable insights? Increase your earned media and drive engagement across channels? How do you make sense of the 1200 companies that comprise the marketing tech world? How do you leverage the technology you have and arm your team with critical infrastructure and tools without falling into the marketing system equivalent of analysis paralysis where you spend your time spinning tech wheels instead of marketing your company and brand? These questions beg for answers and are fundamental concerns facing every marketer today.
Originally posted on The EEC Blog…
Fans of Star Wars will know the reference ‘A New Hope’, it’s the subtitle to the first, ground-breaking film Lucas released in 1977. It’s now 38 years later—fans and nerds alike are pacing in circles waiting for the December release of episode 7. What does this have to do with email marketing? Nothing. Everything.
We’re a week into 2015 and I’m predicting we’ll see much of the same behavior that characterized email marketing circa 2014. My hope is that good holiday sales, a rebounding economy, and the general prosperous gestalt that seems to be everywhere finds its way into marketing budgets to adopt tools that ensure the ongoing success of email as a channel.
Here’s what you should be concerned with in 2015 that you may have tabled behind more ‘important’ initiatives in 2014:
- Your transactional mail is just as important as your marketing mail.That’s right! Transactional mail, you know that welcome message that nothing short of a ‘first date’, or the all-important password reset that let’s you use your account or make a transaction, these things have to be prioritized over the batches of 20% coupons that you’re sending. I’m guessing there are still oodles of companies out there that have no clue if their transactional and triggered messages are getting stuck behind batched campaigns. Spend the time to get it right: get the password reset out first, make sure welcome messages don’t arrive 3 or 4 days later with the information someone needs on day 1, and that receipts and confirmations that decrease calls for customer service get to where they’re going without being impeded by sales messages or newsletters.
- Yep mobile is still important. If you’re not responsive all the time then half of your audience isn’t getting the same rendering experience as your other half. With the number of devices in the wild today you have to assume that your email is viewed on dozens of different mobile devices and browsers on displays stretched to extreme letterbox proportions (and curved—coming soon to a desktop near you). So the importance of ensuring a smooth experience regardless of the device or platform is paramount. Part of a mobile device’s unstated purpose is to diminish the barriers from browse to buy by deep linking to a native mobile app via a received email; if the initial rendering of the email is poor the likelihood of using an app as the next step in the customer journey is scant at best.
- Inbox & Verse were unleashed by the Sith! Don’t worry, the sky isn’t falling because Google decided to reinvent email by launching Inbox, nor is IBM’s Verse going to cause CTRs and open rates to plummet. These are efficiency tools that were built in hopes that people agree to the fact that Google and IBM both know much better about how and what you want to read and experience in your inbox. When Google Tabs were launched the industry cried foul and proclaimed that the sky would fall. We’re still here. I predict that these tools will have a limited following and if their algorithms are worth their salt they will simply prove out that the most engaging brands and communications, the ones customers want to read, will remain top of mind and top of inbox. That is all.
- The proof is in the pudding. Now what?! Here’s what you need to know: depending on whom you read mobile traffic accounted for 45% of all online traffic during the holidays. Nearly a quarter of all online sales were generated via mobile. And finally, more men shop on smartphones than women, this is true in my house given my wife uses my Amazon account (or orders me to use it). The fact of the matter is that every holiday season results in a wealth of data—it’s stacking up all around you, petabytes of behavioral analytics that you should leverage throughout the year. My prediction is that some of the potential, and here I stress potential, that like the force, it’s all around you, it’s really up to each and everyone one of us to use the data at our fingertips in meaningful ways. The holidays are not an event; it’s the gift that should keep on giving through out 2015 and beyond.
Some quick thoughts and impressions from the OMMA Global Show from last week in San Francisco…. (more…)