Ann Taylor, What Have You Done?

I don’t normally name names, but recent emails I received from Ann Taylor, the specialty apparel retailer, reminded me of an email marketing best practice that is too often overlooked:

  • Tell recipients WHY they are receiving your email.
Email Marketing Best Practice: Tell Recipients why they are receiving your email.

Don't let this be a recipient's first reaction to your brand: "What? Why am I receiving this? Unsubscribe! DELETE!!!"

Since last Tuesday, I have received an email newsletter from Ann Taylor EVERY DAY.  Why?  I have no idea.  I’ve never purchased from Ann Taylor, LOFT, or what I can tell are its affiliate brands.  I don’t visit the Ann Taylor website.  And, while I appreciate a pretty email (they do have beautiful images), I do not take kindly to receiving unsolicited commercial email.

The problem? Nowhere in the welcome email (right) did I get a why.  Not even in the tiny print at the bottom.  Nada. The most I got was “Now that you’re on our email list…”

A brief intro goes a long way.
It really only takes a little snippet of text, preferably above the main body of the message, that says “You are receiving this message because…” or something similar to introduce yourself, your brand, and explain why you, the sender, feel the message is relevant to the recipient.

The when for the why: Any time you are sending to a list of new recipients, an introduction is a good idea.  Also, if you are mailing to an older list, be mindful that recipients may not remember who you are or that they opted to receive email from you.

Ultimately, a little explanation of why an initial email is being sent will:

  • Demonstrate that you’re a responsible sender, showing respect for your recipients’ time and interests.  Brownie points for transparency and valuing your relationship with the recipient!
  • Build trust for your brand and lessen the likelihood of spam complaints and unsubscribes.  Spam complaints are brutal, and depending on your ESP, they can damage your sender reputation and possibly result in your ESP threatening to ditch you as a client.

Also, although it should go without saying, be sure the list you are emailing has been acquired in a legitimate manner. List renting or buying is generally frowned upon and can do more damage than good to your brand and sender reputation.  Really… think of the puppies!

Got any email marketing horror stories to share, either as a sender or a recipient?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for an example of a good intro to share.  Sign up for email notifications or like Blue Tomato Creative on Facebook to receive instant updates!


You Have Customer Emails, Now What? (Developing an Email Marketing Strategy)

Hooray, you’ve been collecting customer email addresses! That’s fantastic! Now what?

Develop an Email Marketing StrategyBefore loading all your customer emails into a mailing list and firing away, consider what you have at stake – brand reputation, penalties for not adhering to best practices, and, in general, a high risk of doing damage to your Email Marketing program before you even really get started.

First Things First –
Develop An Email Marketing Strategy

TIP: Develop your Email Marketing Strategy BEFORE selecting an email service provider. It may help to think of this initial Email Marketing Strategy as a wish list that you can reference when researching email service provider options.  Believe me, this will save the pains of moving your email file later!

Begin with a 5 year time frame (or 3 if 5 is too daunting) – Set your Email Marketing goals (for at least the first year) and brainstorm as many types of emails as you think you may want to send, plus some.  Also, keep in mind how you will measure the performance of your email campaigns and how you will utilize reporting to build a more robust Email Marketing program.

Set Email Marketing Goals: Setting goals is an essential first step in your strategy as every subsequent element of your plan will hinge on whether or not it is helping meet them. Depending on where Email Marketing falls in the grand scheme of your organization’s marketing plan, your goals may range anywhere from simply opening up the Email channel as a means of communication with your customers to growing your subscriber list to increasing revenues – or all of these and more.

Brainstorm Specifics about Email Campaigns: Make as many notes as possible about the types of messages you want to send.  Some questions that may be helpful:

  • What types of messages do I want to send? – personalized, informative, marketing, press releases, etc.  Consider your audience as well as whether you will send plain text or html or graphic-heavy messages.
  • With what frequency will I send emails? – Keep in mind you may later choose to add options to allow recipients to specify how often they want to hear from you.
  • How will I segment my list? – Advanced email segmentation takes time, so initially, it can help to reference what segmentation you are already using for “offline” customers.
  • Do I want emails with dynamic content? – Emails based on past purchases, interests, etc. can be very powerful and receive great response. My advice? This is definitely something worth looking into, even if it is not something you want to do immediately.
  • Do I want to send triggered email messages? – Automatically generated emails from your website or backend system triggered by customer actions.

Remember that your Email Marketing Strategy will evolve over time, so if you miss something, you can always add it later. Asking basic questions will get you started in brainstorming, but do not forget that analysis of key metrics and testing will also need to be built into your plan.

Email Analytics:  To determine your key metrics, ask what you want to know about how recipients interact with your emails – even beyond opens and clicks – and consider how you might use that information to determine which aspects of your Email Marketing Program are working and which need adjustment.

Testing:  Testing goes hand in hand with analytics, helping you hone in on successes and push poor performers aside.  When putting together your Email Marketing Strategy, make note of what you feel would be worth testing, then determine the types of tests that make sense for your email list and its segments (ex. A/B subject line or content split tests).

Do you have tips on how to build an Email Marketing Strategy? Feel free to leave a comment below.

Questions about developing your Email Marketing Strategy or anything mentioned in this post?  Click Here Now to contact me.


Is Social Media Changing the Way We Think?

Social Media Laboratory

Are your customers starting to think in 140 character snippets? Are they communicating in images or videos instead of text?

These days, it’s apparent that nearly all of us have accepted and embraced the idea of social media, whether we call it social media or not. The technology is there… it’s just another way to communicate, right? “I’ll tweet John.” or “I’ll post this on Sarah’s Facebook wall.” or “I’ll share this video on YouTube and see what my subscribers have to say about it.” or “I’ll upload this photo to Flickr to see if my contacts like it.”…

But is social media changing the way we think?… affecting our attention spans, altering the way we think about ourselves how we perceive what is valuable?

This is an important question when it comes to considering how to utilize social media as a marketing tool and determining how to communicate in the language of the end user.

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Think back a bit on the evolution of email. When email first came around, wasn’t it just a intended to be an electronic letter (Oh that’s right, that “e” stood for something.)? A faster way to convey the same amount of information that would have otherwise been transmitted via “snail?” Well, yes.

But then something happened. Email became a tool for marketers, to transmit ads… and for a while, people paid attention… and then we all got sick of looking at our inboxes. Enter CAN-SPAM regulation which led to marketers jumping hurdles of deliverability in the midst of internet and webmail service providers changing their rules about SPAM messages (I’ll delve into email best practices another time.).

At the same time, those marketers struggled (and still do!) with trying to figure out what works to get their prospective customer’s attention (also, another time).

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So what does this have to do with social media and the way we think? Well, once established, popular communication platforms develop somewhat of a “chicken or the egg” scenario.  The platform yields the format, which in turn forces the user to think within specific boundaries.

So, if Twitter only allows 140 characters, language has to be adapted for effective communication, and users have to seriously pare down a message to the bare essentials.

Same goes for Facebook.  While there isn’t so much a character limit ruling how much can be said at once (although Facebook does truncate lengthy posts), users can quickly see which types of messages get more attention and begin self-editing to post status updates, comments, and rich content posts that are witty and more likely to get a response.

In addition, users of these platforms have inadvertently become self-marketerers, marketing their own brand.  They are savvy, they are familiar with what’s catchy and popular, and they want to have their voices heard.

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As marketers, how do we step into this new way of thinking without falling on our faces?  Here’s the good news: hopefully we already have an edge with quick quips.

Appropriate initial steps would be:

  1. Choosing a platform that matches where our target demographics spend the majority of their social web time.  (Last I checked, platform demographic info could be found easily by poking around the web.)

  2. Improving upon and abbreviating stiff marketing copy to become more transparent, more approachable, with a voice that is interesting, humorous, AND useful to our fans/followers.  One that cuts through the static of all the other updates that flow through their social media feeds.

  3. Responding thoughtfully to comments, posts, and even negative feedback as we start to grow our fan/follower exposure.

  4. Studying what gains response among our target demographics and tailoring our messages to those groups.

Easy enough, right?  In another post, I’ll elaborate with tips on developing and improving your social media “voice,” as well as types of things to look for when evaluating response.

Looking for help with your social media program?

Click Here to Contact Blue Tomato Creative!

Do you have thoughts about social media’s impact on the way we think?  Your comments are welcome.


Everything I needed to know about Social Media, I learned from Instagram

I ❤ Instagram: an iPhone-based Social Media service for Photo-Lovers

Lessons learned from my favorite Social Media service, Instagram – a social photo app for iPhone.

Obviously, there isn’t an all-knowing source for what works and what doesn’t when it comes to Social Media, but through observation and the use of several services, I have gleaned a better understanding of the Social pulse and what drives users to get so involved.

My favorite example of a Social community explosion is Instagram. Not only do I love and use the Instagram service, but I can honestly say that my experience with this app has made quite a difference in my approach to working with Social Media on a professional level as well.

A few of the lessons I’ve learned from Instagram:

Be in the moment. – It’s not about perfection, it’s not about being cool… It’s about being real and right there in the moment, and it’s about expressing a notion, an idea, or a personal style.  Some of my favorite Instagramers, or IGers as regular users say, share a moment here and there throughout their day, even if it’s something that is as common as a view of the sky, gazing down at blades of grass, or what they’ve made for dinner.

The power of making even common moments magical is where Instagram really shines.  Using the app’s filters and effects, a very personalized approach to everyday moments is possible.  Plus, if you’re an app nerd like myself (I’ll share my favorite photo editing apps in another post.), you can edit a photo with a wide assortment of filter/editing apps and post it to reflect any given mood or artistic whim.

Get involved. – One aspect of Instagram I’ve enjoyed from the moment I began using the iPhone app (late 2010) is participating in “forums” or “challenges.”  Some IGers such as @joshjohnson, @jaywintermeyer, and @kewiki – to name just a few – often post challenges to get their followers engaged in the IG community.  These challenges can be based upon anything from a color theme to editing a specific photo using any combination of photo editing apps.

My Word of the Day Challenge@joshjohnson is an Atlanta, GA based photographer who has probably been the most prolific Instagram challenge maker/influencer as he posts daily AND weekly forums/challenges, plus “Instatips” – daily photography tips on everything from capturing the perfect light with your iPhone to SLR gear.  If you’re an Instagram user, I highly recommend checking him (and the other two users mentioned above) out!

I was even inspired to create my own challenge about a month ago – check Instagram’s #WOTDProject hashtag for my Word of the Day project feed.  Basically, this consists of a group of a few folks posting shots based around Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day.

It’s less ME than it is EVERYONE. – The sooner you stop soap-boxing, or in this case, focusing on only receiving feedback on your own photographs, and stop for a moment to HEAR – and SEE – what others are doing, the faster you will improve your Social Media skills.

I really dislike artificial ploys to grow your ‘follower’ or ‘friends’ lists when it comes to any Social Media service as they seem counterintuitive.  So, what to do?  Look at what others are posting, give honest and thoughtful feedback, follow people you are genuinely interested in… and pretty soon, you will develop real connections.  You will find yourself part of a conversation.

Charleston, SC Instameet on May 7, 2011 at 12pmAnd, like Twitter, Instagram has given way to in-person Instameetups – In fact, there’s a Worldwide Instameet happening this Saturday May 7th.  I’m attending one locally here in Charleston, SC.  Is there one in your town?  Click here to find out.

As with a lot of what was considered “web 2.0” (Wow, that sounds antiquated.), I had to come around to Social Media in my own time… and find something that appealed to me before I could wholeheartedly say I loved it.  Instagram really pushed the needle, which is something that Facebook and Twitter just couldn’t quite do for me.  I can now say, “I LOVE IT!”

I’m pleased that the takeaway from a passionate personal experience with a service such as Instagram has been a greater appreciation and understanding of the fundamentals of Social Media as a channel for connecting to an audience, sharing common interests, and building relationships.

Do you use Instagram?  If so, find me: @mockturtle!

Any other Instagram users our there?  I’d love your comments.


New! Recipes – Spicy Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry

 

Spicy Tofu and Veggie Stir Fry, originally uploaded by mockturtle.

Let me preface this post with this:
I do not intend to turn my professional blog into a food blog. But, I thought it couldn’t hurt to share a bit of a twist on a common subject in my photography, cooking and food!

I enjoy the “behind the scenes” aspect of recipes that accompany food-ography, so here I’ll try to share my experience with flavors that go well together plus any tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way.

I by no means claim to be a culinary expert, but I know what tastes good to me and like getting feedback from others. So, if you like, read on for one of latest culinary experiments.

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I’m a bit of a noob when it comes to cooking with tofu, so I could not believe how tasty this randomly tossed together recipe turned out. The spice, the texture, everything… yum!

Steps/Recipe:

Step 1) Marinate Tofu

1 pkg, cubed, super firm tofu
Sesame oil
Low sodium, dark soy sauce
Ground ginger
Cayenne pepper
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Drain tofu on paper towels and transfer to a sealable container, drizzle with sesame oil, sprinkle liberally with ground ginger and cayenne pepper (careful with the cayenne if you don’t want it super spicy), then sprinkle very lightly with a dusting of garlic powder and onion powder. Add several splashes of soy sauce (not enough so the soy sauce pools at the bottom of the container, just enough to give a good coating). Stir to coat tofu, cover, and set aside

Step 2) Prep Stir Fry Veggies

1lb. cut, frozen broccoli, thawed (or fresh)
4-5 celery stalks, cut into pieces proportional to the broccoli pieces
1 can sliced mushrooms, drained (or fresh)
1-2 thinly sliced green onions
2 cloves minced garlic

Step 3) Sear Tofu

In a large skillet, heat sesame oil (about 1 tbsp) over medium-high heat until hot and add marinated tofu. Stir fry for about 4 minutes stirring periodically until sides of tofu cubes begin to sear. Add in green onions and minced garlic. Continue to stir fry a few more minutes, keeping an eye on the garlic to be sure it doesn’t turn brown. Remove tofu, onions, and garlic from pan, set aside (I just tossed it back into the container I’d used for marinating.)

Step 4) Stir Fry Veggies

Add more sesame oil (a couple of tablespoons this time) to the hot skillet and let it heat up. Add broccoli and celery and stir to coat with oil. Then sprinkle with a little sea salt and ground black pepper. Stir fry just the broccoli and celery until they get slightly tender, then add mushrooms and a splash or two of soy sauce.

Step 5) Reassemble!

After a minute or two, add the seared tofu, garlic, and onions back to the pan with the other veggies and heat through.

Serve hot with or without rice.

Any suggestions for alterations to this recipe are welcome.


Cabbages and Kings

Cabbages, originally uploaded by mockturtle.

Not that this explains my lapse in blog posts, or has anything to do with anything really, but I enjoy this image and wanted to share.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”

The Walrus and the Carpenter – Lewis Carroll

Oh, and if anyone wants to share a yummy cabbage recipe, comment away! ❤


Seagull Eating a Starfish – When Quirky Works

A seagull eating a starfish smells like: “Tidelands, driftwood, downy bird musk, and the gingery spike of starfish terror.”

marf, marf, marf... mmm... starfishThanks to ZOMGsmells.com, I am now aware of this…  and the fact that seagulls really do eat starfish.  This unfortunate seagull snacking preference and the suggestion of its associated fragrance got my attention.  Quirky worked to draw me in. I quickly found myself lingering on the ZOMGsmells.com website, looking around for the next odd thing to catch my eye, and I didn’t have to look far…

ZOMGsmells.com sells unique fragrance blends, each curiously named.  Aside from the alluring scent of Seagull Eating a Starfish, I found gems such as: Coronal Mass EjectionKudzu Doom, Spacebat, Candy MechanicBaby Gorgon Birthday Party, and many more.  Each name just begged to be clicked to figure out what the heck that could possibly smell like.

Upon clicking through on each name, I was rewarded with a humorous little backstory and image, along with a very specific description of the scent (the oils included, etc.).  Win!  Quirky worked to keep me browsing, increasing the time I stayed on the site.

Now, the big question: Will quirky work to make me buy? Quite possibly… we shall see.  I could at least sample a “squee” or three.  (But, even though it got my attention, I probably won’t go with Seagull Eating a Starfish. I wouldn’t want to wander around my coastal home smelling of starfish terror.  I might get swarmed.)

And, on that note, I leave you with a bit of my YouTube research: