Email Marketing for Newbies

I’ve been teaching about digital marketing strategy and practice since 2002. It’s funny to think that I’ve been espousing various approaches to specific practice, but one area that I had been teaching in was something I’d never done in anger – creating copy for an email marketing campaign.

So it was with some trepidation that I embarked on creating my first email campaign this week with our Training Manager Gareth. We’ve spent some time evaluating different campaign management systems, but finally settled for using Constant Contact as it had the right features we require for running our campaigns.

So yes – I know the theory, I have got rafts of good examples and best practice, I can talk my way through creating the perfect template. But I hadn’t done one before. So – to live by the sword – I got out the good practice textbooks, downloaded (for the nth time) Econsultancy’s Best Practice guide and we sat down to work.

Based on emails I’ve received from others, writing copy for emails is obviously not something that comes naturally. But I like to think that we did our email by the numbers. So here’s a few things that I relearned whilst creating ours.

I had to make the email pass the “5S Test”. That is – the email has to sell (the whole point is that sales are going to come from this email). The email has to serve the reader – so what is it that adds value for the customer? The email has to speak to the customer – I’m using it to ask questions and to learn about them (it becomes a conversation and I can get closer to them if it works properly). The email has to save me something – costs in transactions, admin and so on. And finally it has to sizzle (something I learned from former colleague and ex old school ad man Roger Delves) – it has to extend our Brand in the online world and reinforce the Brand values that we want people to believe about us.

I had to make sure we used a distinctive subject line (this took ages to come up with) so that we could hook the reader immediately. We also had to make sure we wrote in chunks of text rather than a massive narrative (Constant Contact’s template creator actually helps you do this). We had to make sure there was a call-to-action (CTA) at the start and the end of the mail and that we used  a variety of CTAs throughout the mail. We made effective use of bullet points at appropriate intervals rather than constant verbage. Using our psychology heads, we wrote the mail as a two column item which aids on-screen reading and increases the speed which information is consumed. And we wrote the copy in a conversational “You-We” idiom to engage the reader – this was probably the hardest bit because University writers can’t write like that naturally.

Finally – we did the 2-2 test: we looked at the email for 2 seconds and tried to remember what we saw. We look at it from 2 metres away to see what stood out.

All this kept us rewriting and rebuilding the copy and the design until it was finally ready. Yesterday we cleansed our contact lists and identified the 500 or so Human Resource Directors the University has had dealings with. Our mail went out at 11:45 this morning hoping to capture the lunchtime readers.

So it ‘s been an interesting experience. Now hoping to see whether all the effort in crafting that mail actually generates some business and I’ll report on the analytics capability later. I won’t be so quick to trash emails now: I’m going to check them all to see if they’ve been built by the book.


Nestle PR Anti-Social Fail Whale

Nestle haven’t had a good day today. They launched a Facebook page in an attempt to break into the social media sphere. They must be badly advised, because they assumed that a Facebook page was something you could control like a walled garden. Unfortunately, it’s not really gone their way.

One of the risks of a social media intervention is that you cannot control or account for people’s fickle behaviour. Nestle has had a checkered history in PR and must employ an army of PR professionals globally. So today’s fiasco smacks of sheer amateurism when there are plenty of professionals who could have forecast in advance the outcomes of this little venture.

Attempting to control the conversation is futile. Facebook, despite being behind a wall, is still very much an open game for consumers. A Fan Page is designed to attract everyone, but Nestle’s fatal mistake was for them to build it themselves rather than have it built by evangelists. And Nestle is a not a fan brand, unlike Coca Cola which, despite its bad press around the world, has a significant fan base. Coca Cola is a lifestyle choice. Nestle is a corporation and I doubt whether it has many fans (although KitKats and Smarties do have fans) beyond its institutional shareholders. Unlike Coke which has nearly 5 million fans on Facebook.

Thanks to @MichelleDigital I was reminded that the Coke Page was set up by actual fans who latterly received money for the page to become more “pro”. Coke’s happy to leave it as a grassroots outfit – for now – and it seems to only garner fanboyisms.

Nestle’s visible bullyboy tactics by the Page admins (click on the thumbnails for more details) served only to inflame the already incensed palm oil campaigners. Aggressive and control-freaky, this wasn’t how PR professionals are supposed to operate. There was a lot of moderating and cutting of posts along with expelling members of the group and a lot of aggressive, almost flame-trolling language. It’s poor, it’s anti-social media and it’s unprofessional. I suspect a serious bollocking will occur somewhere in the higher echelons of the Nestle Corporation.

Lesson of the day? Don’t think you can control the conversation. Don’t abuse people in the conversation. Get your fanboys to drive your brand in Facebook not your PR person.

It’s a Mini Mockery

You may have seen links to the Mini E trial. This exciting outing for the new electronic Mini is likely to create some waves. The iconic little car is having a new power source, and it’s likely to make waves, because the Mini is already a cool car. The provision of environmental credentials – it doesn’t use fossil fuels in the creation of its motion (yes we know the arguments about electricity from power sources being equally fossil fuel derived, and we know that it is in the manufacture of vehicles that most of the damage to the environment is done) – will surely add credibility to its cool popularity.

Well that’s what I thought. And then there’s the Mini E trial. A cool research project in which the Mini E will be given for six months to a number of lucky research participants. Yes, a whole group of aspiring, not-tree-huggy-but-environmentally concerned drivers will spend six months living with the Mini E so that the company can assess what it is like to live with the product on a day-to-day basis.

There are some caveats. First of all, you have to live in the South East of England (they want built up areas to study but remain within a geographically compact region) so that’s Northern testers out (hey we’re pretty good at seeing how something will last up here). A South-East test means that most of the “team” on the programme won’t have far to travel. And you’ve got to have a private drive, carport or garage. So that means that most people who live in terraced, apartment or social housing won’t be able to take part (are they already socially engineering the electric car?)

And finally – you have to pay £330 for the privilege. YOU PAY TO TAKE PART IN THE TEST/RESEARCH. You pay money so that they can test the car on you. This cheap little marketing trick is strange. After all, testing will probably involve you keeping some kind of diary, being visited, maybe even filmed. Maybe they’ll look at you and how you live with the car. I can see all the UGC-derived adverts. Lots of video diaries, a kind of Blair Witch marketing story. And you pay £330 to for the joy of taking part. So – the rub is: you actually pay as you would for a normal car, which is still a prototype, still in beta. You pay as much as you would for a large contract hire diesel car (I’ve seen some C class Mercedes at this price).

I wonder what will happen if feedback is less than favourable. I wonder how it will work out, if I do a genuine test of daily use. “Day 3, and I drove the mini home pissed…… Crashed it into the private garage again. And now it’s been set on fire by outraged, impoverished product testers who live in the flats opposite me.” It’s going to be huge. It’s a Mini Adventure.

Traveling Geeks 2009: Econsultancy Roundtable

There are times in your life when you get to go on a gig that, on the face of it seems relatively mundane, but actually has some significant relevance to yourself, your work and maybe even your life.

Traveling Geeks, on the face of it, looks like another round of US entrepreneurs and commentators foisting themselves on a UK public. But for me a it was a bit different, the key thing being able to talk candidly, openly and at close range with some people that I have admired for a very long time. Not in a conference style, but round a table as equals.

Howard Rheingold and David

Howard Rheingold and David

For me, meeting and talking with Howard Rheingold was a particular lifelong goal. Howard inspired me in the 90s to start thinking about communities of people as the source of learning for each other, and inevitably caused me to develop ideas on community-based learning (we call it “social” now) that I used towards the end of my time at the University of Salford and in the development work that I did at Academee. I still use those ideas now in the work I do with students in their online learning communities. Nowadays I think of it as ordinary, but it’s great to think of them as coming from a time when they were classed as ground-breaking.

It’s also good to see that as Howard has got older, his dress sense hasn’t gotten any better 🙂 I hope I degrade as disgracefully as he does.

Hastings Direct AstroTurf FaceBookCreep

I wrote a little post about how I thought Hastings Direct had lost a little piece of business, because it was now easier to be part of an invisible community with a lot of power at it’s finger tips (see: Some time later, a comment appeared on the blog purporting to be from a “grass roots” user (this is a key term as we’ll see in a minute) and you can see this here: – look for Jackcat1’s comment. I particularly like:

“In contract however, but for a different reason (I had a claim with Hastings Direct) I found the call centre extremely helpful and put my mind at rest immediately when worried about my car claim. Everything was taken care off, I didn’t even have to dig for information like I have had to do in the past. The polite young lady explained everything I needed to know. Excellent service. Highly recommended and my renewal premium was competitive!”

Jackcat’s real name is Karen Sealy Bell (if her Hotmail address is anything to go by: nice trick). Karen Sealy Bell is Web Development Manager at Equity Insurance Group. You can check this by looking at her LinkedIn profile: You’ll note that Equity and Hastings Direct are one and the same company. Granted, this may be someone masquerading as Karen, but I can’t imagine why they would do this.

So what Karen has done is AstroTurfing – which Wikipedia describes as “formal politicaladvertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous “grassroots” behavior (sic)”

Karen has pretended to be a regular member of the public (and not mentioned she has an interest in the firm). If you look at the language, you’ll note that it doesn’t reference the subject matter of the original post (about the power of consumers in the digital age) but seems to focus on my apparent lack of understanding of the insurance market (I was once married to an underwriter so that’s not true). This is then followed by a personal anecdote of her own contact with the firm.

It doesn’t ring true – nice touch with the spelling and grammar errors. It’s too squeaky clean and lovely. People are rarely effusive about receiving normal service, especially about products where they don’t have an emotional involvement (I’m in love with my car but not the insurance).

So – a case of AstroTurfing: quite an old crime in social media, and one that can be used as an example of how not to engage with the public. Naughty Torty!

Thanks to @linkmonkey, @Buzzmartin, @Mattorchard and @Jenniferogrady for their professional twittered opinions.

Hastings Direct loses out to the Invisible Community

Should one write about personal experiences? Heck yes – especially as it describes how the power of the consumer dramatically overtakes that of the supplier.

Hastings Direct (bizarre name as they are an intermediary, or as we used to call them a “brokerso not ‘direct‘ after all) provide insurance which is underwritten by other companies. In fact they provide insurance from 5 other insurance businesses. You’ll have seen the advert along with the slightly irritating yet highly memorable “0800 double -oh 1066” tune. They are an MBO business as of this month, so this might be an interesting time for them to take stock.

I had been insured by/through Hastings Direct for 2 years, having been insured by Admiral (Parrot/Admiral advert) previously. They offered the best price at the time.

I’ve just moved house so I let Hastings know this – and I had moved from an area which would be regarded as substantially risky to one which is regarded as much less risky by insurers if you believe the tables they use (from an E which is pretty risky to a C which is about average) plus the car is to be housed on a drive instead of on the street this time.

The actuarial amongst you would assume this would make the remaining period of insurance cheaper – I should get a refund you might think.

But no – according the Hastings’ underwriters this was a riskier area to move to. And they wanted £53 for the remaining 2 months.

So no-risk-no-accidents-safe-car-no-speeding-fines-moves-to-nice-area-7-years-no-claims-40-something David gets told his annual fee for covering his car is now £500+

I tell them there’s a mistake. “Nothing I can do sir.”

“It’s got to be an error.”

“Computer says it’s not.”

I tell them I’ll have to have a think about it.

10 minute later and some nice times on gives me an annual quote of £225 which includes adding my beloved (and her previous claims) to the policy. I ring Hastings and let them know that I have to let them go (it’s like a relationship isn’t it?)

There’s even that special call centre button, “If you’re thinking of leaving us please press 2,” but the man at the end of it almost sounds resigned to the fact I’m off – even when I tell him how it’s half the price: he doesn’t event want to negotiate.

So – today’s lesson. The infomediary is dead. Long live the comparison infomediary. Informed customers are immensely powerful. Uninformed, non-learning organisations can survive this trip at all.

And I haven’t even mentioned anything about meerkats.

Twitter status and Facebook status: fussiness & following

Whilst we all get to grips with Twitter and try and find ways we can monetize this channel, I thought it might be interesting to look at a few ideas that seem to be circulating amongst the Twitterati (love this new word).

What do you use your status in Facebook for? Many put how they feel or some witty riposte. Twitter as a status seems to be used for far more informative reasons, like asking a question of your Twitter constituency or for providing a useful nugget of content that you’ve produced or that you’ve seen elsewhere. It seems quite a place for viral distribution of info (retweeting) and it happens in real-time. I’ve noticed that people rarely openly tweet the mundane, beyond possibly pointing out what project they’re working on at the moment (with a view to solicit useful advice/input from their constituency).

I’ve noticed form my own followers/following, and from talking to other Twitter users, that unlike my Facebook constituency, my Twitter constituency is far more cognate: given the subject of my research, teaching and consulting, many of my following are working in the industry – people following me perhaps less so – but an interesting conversation with fellow twitterers led to a conclusion that we’re very fussy who we’ll twitter with, and that many twitterers regularly weed and cull their following/follower lists, particularly if they’re a daytime business user. Many block a follower who doesn’t have much of a bio or whose bio seems quite irrelevant tor their professional or personal interests. Others stop following a twitterer who, despite initial impressions, is simply a self publicist and/or a twitter spam merchant. On the other hand, these fellow twitterers had hundreds of “friends” on Facebook  – many of whom they did not know.

So my growing opinion is that Twitter constituencies are perhaps more tightly knit and a lot more fussy about who they involve. A great example of this is how Twitter users like to introduce a new Twitter user to their followers on the basis of trust – “I know this person, I think you’ll find them interesting and appropriate in your Twitter world.”

I’ll follow Twitter culture with interest, because I think it says quite a lot about how people feel about privacy.

FAIL: It’s Time for Facebook to Die

So – here we are on the edge of the precipice.

If you’re looking over the edge, you’ll notice that some things have already gone over. Old world companies, famous banks. You might even see the remnants of the Dot Com boom (and bust) down there too.

But – and here’s the extraordinary thing – we might be about to see a global phenomenon pass by too.

I put it to you, that Facebook is about to die.


  1. It seems like ages since anything new has happened with Facebook. There’s no obvious new features since the palaver with the new interface. I’m sure new stuff has crept in but where’s the fanfare?
  2. Spend on on-line ads (banners, PPC) is declining slightly, which is a market saturated with content publishers means there’s less ad revenue to go around an increasing number of sites. This has got to hit a business 100% reliant on ad revenue hard.
  3. A true social network like Facebook often resents corporate communications, so a number of advertisers have stopped placing ads there.
  4. The ad mechanism seems really clumsy in Facebook and relies on content scraped from individual profiles and not on Facebook user behaviour (I can write any old garbage as content on Facebook, but why not observe my attendance at events or look at things “I do” within the network?

So – with this in mind, I can’t imagine how Facebook can be making enough money to survive. Flickr can monetize through it’s $12 annual fee (small but what a long tail of professional photographers you can pick up). Ning groups can monetize themselves because of their distinctive niche audiences.  Google Groups are really adept at having very contextually driven ads inside them as part of the overall Google ad network (yet another channel).

I give it a year.

And while I’m at it. What’s gonna pay for Twitter?

Will Google buy it? Or someone else? Or wil it die off?

How Can You Get This So Wrong?

This is really annoying me. No – I’m not decrying Dell’s socially responsible contribution to the whole [RED] campaign. That’s laudable. No – what gets me is how they really, really don’t get their (email) marketing right.


Come on Dell – you and I have been doing business for at least 10 years now – I really think you should know quite a lot about me. I mean, you know my details (I registered), you know my marketing preferences (no junk please). You know my browsing behaviour (from my registration). You know my buying behaviour (I buy a computer from you every 3 or 4 years). OK – you know I bought my first laptop from you nearly 8 years ago. You know I bought a desktop from you 5 years ago. You know I bought another laptop from you 16 months ago.

So why oh why do you send me something two or three times a month trying to persuade me to buy another one of your computers. PCs and laptops aren’t as expensive as cars but they are more expensive as CDs and DVDs. They are more expensive than iPods.

I am not going to buy a new one every month so why do you insist on sending me stuff. You know the one you sold me last time is going to at least last another year or two depending on how tight I’m feeling the pinch.

(You should know that I bought a MacBook by the way guys, Mind you – they’re as bad – why would I want to buy another now?)

I just get annoyed now. It makes me not want to buy your stuff.


It annoys me as much as Ocado. I’ve never bought anything there. I registered (just so I could have a look at what was on offer) and ever since you haven’t got the message that I’m not going to buy anything.

Honestly guys. You’ve been sending me this £15 voucher nearly every week for a year and I haven’t done a thing with it. Take a hint? Please do because I think you’re hurting your reputation as a firm that knows what it’s doing.

Congratulations to the “P04N” Spammer!

Much as we detest spam, particularly if it’s flogging some lurid sex, I have to take my hats off to the following guys!


If you’re like me, you’ll have some mental spam avoidance set-up. You’ll perhaps use an ISP with a decent enough firewall to bounce off the most obvious of stuff. You may already know that Googlemail has a really respectable spam filter (in comparison with other web-based email providers) and you may well forward mail through that. You may also then download to your favourite email client and that too may be protected by a reputable Internet security package that also monitors spam in your mailbox. So – belt and braces and your pants are also riveted to your legs to stop them falling down!

I’ve a set-up like this. Decent ISP for my host, forwarding to Hotmail, which then forwards to GMail, which is then downloaded to my email client protected by F-Secure. 4 walls each with their own particular take on spam.

So imagine my surprise to see this simple, clear English, unambiguous message sat happily in my mailbox, undisturbed by Bayesian probability or other magical tools to test its provenance. Just goes to show that the best marketing messages are the ones that are clear and communicate directly with the customer. No messing about with fancy language. Hell – even their domain shows no messing about.

These guys are the ones you need to get your email marketing into the right mailboxes!