Email UX is Easy. Said No One Ever.

Creating new emails is so easy, isn’t it?

Not!

It’s easy to say that email marketing has become easier over the years, and for the majority of us, email marketing is easier.

I Didn't Choose the Email Marketing Life. It Chose Me.

I was a young, naive, 27-year-old getting my first taste of email marketing with a “wonderful” ESP named Manticore. I would routinely spend days coding and fixing emails. The WYSIWYG editor wouldn’t have been state-of-the-art in 1995. It was a horrible experience.

Needless to say, once I started getting the hang of what it took to create HTML emails, I soon was on the hunt for a new, more user-friendly ESP. And about 18 months after I started, I led the drive and search for a new ESP, which turned into a search for a marketing automation provider as the industry changed. At the end of the day, we ended up with Pardot and haven’t looked back.

Marketing Automation to the rescue!

The difference between Pardot and the previous platform, Manticore, is night and day AND the effect on myself and our company was immediate. My time spent working on individual emails went from 3-4 days to maybe half a day, if not less. Today, I work on an individual email maybe once every 3 months because everything is pretty much on autopilot design- and coding-wise.

(As an aside, this changed me and my job role from that of email/web grunt to email/web strategist, and I now spend most of my time driving our email/web strategy instead of coding. FTW!)

WYSIWYG What?

One of the main criteria we used in our ESP/MA search was “how easy was it to create an email?” We wanted all of our marketing staff to be able to create emails on a regular basis without the need for fixing code on a regular basis. This is one of the main reasons we ended up choosing Pardot. Pardot’s WYSIWYG editor was light years ahead of what we were used to and what we saw among other enterprise-level Marketing Automation providers.

Design in IE MemeChange the Editor

Fast-forward 2-3 years and I realize now how difficult email design remains.

Yes, many tools exist to make design and coding easier. Tools to make troubleshooting easier. Guides on what CSS works in what client.

The million-dollar question remains: Why is it so difficult to create good emails these days?

It’s Outlook’s fault!

We all do this. You can hear me on a regular basis damning Outlook to eternal hell. It’s easy for all of us to blame it on the inbox – the Outlooks, the Gmails, and LotusNotes. But the blame also resides with us, the marketers, the designers, the technologists in charge of email marketing and marketing automation.

“Emails that provide a better user experience should be within reach of most marketers. They should not require any hand coding. All complexity should be hidden behind better, more powerful email creation tools. That’s our job as product people, and we are — at least partially — failing.” – OnlyInfluencers.com

There are plenty of what I call “email nerds.” The people who understand to their core, email is 600px wide, only use tables, Word sucks, inline CSS, and so much more. These are the people who know how to code the exceptions so the email renders correctly in Outlook. But in lots of companies, like mine, there’s only one of you (or me) – if you’re lucky. I think of other marketers in my metro area (roughly 200,000 people or so), and how many use ESPs like Constant Contact. These are the marketers who don’t have the resources, human or capital, to dedicate themselves to crafting hand-coded emails.

How to save the Everyman Marketer?

Where are the options for them? Where are the tools for the Everyman marketer? I’ve tried to make our templates or code-snippets “super simple” for anyone on our team to copy-paste into the email they’re creating. But the options are pretty much limited to creating one-off templates/emails for each email they create – which is tedious and time-consuming – or I create plain text code snippets and save them on our intranet for them to copy. This leaves our marketers open to copying or pasting the code incorrectly, and now the template doesn’t work as intended.

Where’s the drag-drop editor? How can I make that “snippet” process even easier? Even more simple?

Innovation in Email Marketing

Taxi for Email” is a good start in this direction. From what I’ve seen of the latest MailChimp editor, that’s a good start as well. While “Taxi” is something that anyone can use, most other similar tools are proprietary tools stuck within siloed software.

How do we move the email marketing industry forward and spread the knowledge outside of each of our silos? How do we get marketers and our budgets to place the same attention on email marketing that we do on social media? This despite the fact that email continues to be one of THE best ways to connect with customers and prospects.

No Best Solution. Right now.

The above missive isn’t really meant to answer those questions. Not for me, and not for you. We all have our own specific needs and wants, strengths and weaknesses. But we need to come together, as marketers AND consumers (because we are both), and push the marketing industry towards a more user-friendly email design future.

How language gives your brain a break

Here’s a quick task: Take a look at the sentences below and decide which is the most effective.

(1) “John threw out the old trash sitting in the kitchen.”

(2) “John threw the old trash sitting in the kitchen out.”

Either sentence is grammatically acceptable, but you probably found the first one to be more natural. Why? Perhaps because of the placement of the word “out,” which seems to fit better in the middle of this word sequence than the end.

Great read for all types of writing. (Via MIT)

How to work less and be successful

Most of us have heard about “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss at this point. If we haven’t, it probably means we’re not interested in working smarter, or we’ve been living under a rock or in a cave. Now, this post is not about creating a 4-hour work week. No, there’s been plenty written about that digitally and otherwise.

No, this post is about an article from Quartz, entitled “How successful people work less—and get more done.”

The study found that productivity per hour declines sharply when the workweek exceeds 50 hours, and productivity drops off so much after 55 hours that there’s no point in working any more. That’s right, people who work as much as 70 hours (or more) per week actually get the same amount done as people who work 55 hours.

To me, the most important part of the article is the idea of “Numero Uno comes first.” And definitely not in a selfish, “I am the most important person in the world, everything must bend to my will” Mussolini-type of “#1 comes first.” No, what I’m talking about is making sure that you and the most important parts of your life come first.

What are the aspects of your life you care most about?

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Hobby
  • Vacation
  • Experiences

These are some of the most important parts of my life, and they come first every day. Work, money, those are just tools to help us achieve what is truly important. The Quartz article does a good job of reminding us that success comes in many forms.

Funny how being successful at work means that we’re usually successful at home.

A Marathon of Experimental Photography

Stainless consciously calls to mind the realm of theoretical physics, with its references to the thought experiments of Albert Einstein. Magyar’s stationary camera aimed at a moving train bears echoes of Einstein’s hypothesis that “distant simultaneity”—the idea that two spatially separated events occur at the same time—is not absolute, but depends on the observer’s frame of reference.

Joshua Hammer‘s Einstein’s Camera is a terrific exposé on experimental photography. Einstein’s Camera paints the portrait of a man determined to explore his world, through travel, photography, and experimentation.

Magyar seems to be many things at once: a maker, a philosopher, an artist, a photographer, computer scientist, computer programmer, and mechanical engineer to name a few. He is, literally, a man on a multi-year, nay, multi-decade quest to find new ways of seeing the world around him.

Fascinating.

 

Don’t read this. It doesn’t apply to B2B.

Your competitors hope you keep saying about patterns found in consumer products "but this is B2B… that stuff doesn't apply here."

It's easy to say that certain tactics, strategies, or tools won't work for your business because you're B2B, B2G, or some other acronym. 

It's important to remember, though, that your competitors are more than likely trying to figure out how to make it work for them. And one of your competitors will get it to work for them

This post is not about misleading email content

I got up early this morning to work on a post about misleading email content. Exciting, I know!

The thing was, I wasn't excited about it, at least not at 5:30am. And I wasn't excited about it LAST night when I sat down to work on the post then. What I do remember is the feeling of excitement when I first created the note in Evernote, the feeling of "Everyone needs to know about THIS."

That feeling wears off.

And then what do you do? If you're like me, when that feeling wears off, it's extremely difficult to get back into the "excitement phase" and bash out that post. You say, "I'll write it tomorrow night," or "It wasn't worth writing about anyway."

The thing is, though, that post may be worth writing. There may be another person out there who was thinking the same thing about that THING you were going to write about.

You're the kid who's afraid to raise his hand in class, thinking no one has that question, when in fact, you need to be the one who has the courage to ask the question for everyone else.

Just do it.

So, when it came to actually writing something this morning, I just wrote. I wrote for a good half-hour, just stream of consciousness pouring onto the screen of the iPad. The quiet taping on the screen, my dog curled up at my feet, and the soft "pitter-patter" of rain on the windows.

And you know what? It felt good. *REAL GOOD.*

What I learned this morning…

In our lives we get caught up in the idea of something so often that we forget to create that idea.

I loved the idea of a post about misleading email content. I loved the idea of sticking it to the company, publicly, that they screwed up. But I loved the idea more than the actual post. And I created this instead.

How Long is Too Long?

The 9AM deluge.

It hits me every Monday-Friday. The post-coffee/caffeine hangover? Nope. The post-lunch blues? Nope, not that either. It's the onslaught of the newsletters I get between 9AM and 10AM every day. In fact, a few months ago, I tweeted such:

What gets me to open those newsletters?

That's the eternal question for email marketers, and it's not what this story is about. What this story is about is my love for one newsletter in particular and a random thought about its (seemingly) abnormal length.

MailChimp UX Newsletter

love getting the MailChimp UX newsletter in my inbox. When I see it pop up, I read it immediately. The times that I don't read it immediately, well, let's just say that I haven't had my coffee yet that day and am not making smart decisions.

And the MailChimp UX Newsletter is all about making smart decisions. The newsletter covers various aspects of the UX world, sharing stories and expertise from those people who bring you MailChimp. The most recent email – Issue 21 – covers the topic of "Teams", including anything from how to hire staff to the workflow and idea generation that works for the MailChimp UX team.

Does Size Matter?

So let's get to the point of this already! Does the length of a newsletter matter?

The newsletter presents a conundrum for us email marketers: What length is too long? At roughly 2800 words, Issue 21 of the MailChimp UX Newsletter is about 118 times longer than the average Tweet. I recently watched a MarketingProfs class on writing for the web in which the presenter talked about the ideal word count for a landing page be 200-250 words. So is 2800 for an email newsletter too long?

Here are some thoughts on why the 2800-word newsletter works:

Relevance.

Everything about this newsletter is about UX; from the name of the newsletter, to the audience it attracts, and to the topics covered within. The most recent newsletter focused on "Teams" with the main topics being

  • "Building a UX Team"
  • "Easy to Hire, Hard to Fire"
  • "Respect"
  • "Autonomy"
  • "Parallel Cycles"
  • "Create a Culture of Empathy"
  • "Tell Stories"

All of these topics are not just relevant to the UX field, but to many other creative/technical fields. Much of the writing and topic focus hit home for me as a jack-of-all-trades in the corporate world, generally outside the UX field.

Attention-getting.

If this was a standard newsletter, the content would probably have a short introduction paragraph followed by the headline items of the newsletter. In the case of the MailChimp UX Newsletter, the content of each section could even have been separate blogs posts on a UX blog.

I believe, however, that the current long-form iteration of the newsletter keeps the reader focused on the content at hand instead of distracting the reader by taking them to another page with potentially distracting content.

Single Thought.

Following up the last point, the newsletter presents a single, coherent message. Contrary to having several separate blog posts on similar topics, the newsletter presents a unified message created from several distinct ideas. In the example issue above, the overall focus is on your team at work with the deeper dives coming through the individual focus on topics like autonomy and Easy to Hire, Hard to Fire.

Conclusion

In my humble opinion, I believe the long-form newsletter works for the MailChimp UX Team. It keeps my attention, it has a singular focus, and it doesn't offer any distraction from its main message.

Would it work for you or your clients? Hard for me to say.

What I would tell you is this: If you want to hit home on a single idea and keep the attention of your reader, this is a pretty darn good format to steal. 

Wake Up, Cedar Rapids

The audience at the Corridor Filmmakers' 24-Hour Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Iowa's Creative Corridor.

I think of Sundance, Cannes, and Tribeca when I think of film festivals. I don't usually think of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nor would really anyone else have reason to think that Cedar Rapids, Iowa would be home to a pretty cool film festival. 

That is starting to change, and it started this last week with the 24-Hour Film Festival from the Corridor Filmmakers group, led by Will Lenzen, Jr. Created as part of a celebration of "all that is creativity" – Creative Week - Will organized the festival that took place from Friday afternoon through Saturday afternoon. Rules included:

  • All submissions must be initially shot on a mobile device (iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc.)
  • A prop, announced at the start of the 24 hours
  • A phrase, also announced at the start of the 24 hours
Framegrab from our video.

My wife, Caitlin, was a huge partner in the project, but she wasn't too worried. As she told me, "I wasn't worried about the quick turnaround – I used to work in news."

At the screening on Saturday night, Will talked about the genesis of the project, saying that would-be filmmakers sometimes hold themselves back because they think they need expensive equipment to be successful. "More often than not, people create their own limitations. We have this amazing technology in our pockets all day, every day. I want people to realize they can create their art with something as simple as a pencil or as commonplace as a smartphone."

Framegrab from our video.

The actual production of our short film was fairly uneventful, although we did have one bump in the road when I accidentally deleted one of our shots and we didn't realize it until we were editing. By then, it was too late to go back and reshoot that particular scene, so we ran across the street and shot something else really quickly.

Our production schedule was shortened due to the fact that my wife and I were at the Social Brand Forum conference all day on Friday. We started writing the script around 8pm on Friday night and finished our shot list around midnight. Here's what Caitlin said about the production:

"We woke up the next morning before sunrise and continued shooting until 10am. We gave ourselves an hour and a half to edit, with 30 minutes to double-check everything and export the final video. What really saved us was that we wrote a shot schedule and kept to it. We had 5-7 locations and only 3 hours to shoot video so we had to map out our shots in advance and stick to our schedule."

Caitlin had some great final thoughts on the whole event as well:

“It was fun, there were a lot of great videos and I’m glad we participated. I think each of us took home a valuable lesson – don’t set your own limitations, because creativity can be found everywhere.”

Not only was it fun, but it is bringing a lot of fresh ideas to both of our video production at work. Forcing us all to sometimes think of simpler ways of accomplishing a goal is a good thing! 

Enjoy! You can watch the video below: 

 

Social Email – Are You Doing It?

We've all seen them.

The ubiquitous social media icons that are popping up like spring dandelions on email messages, commercials, print ads, and table tents at restaurants, plus whatever your mind can think of.  So much social media used carelessly, it's lost their meaning. 

So, when I get an email in my inbox from KEH Camera that stops me in my tracks, I needed to share the awesomeness with you!

 

Social with Purpose

Right away, I'm presented with a call to action, telling me to connect with KEH. Very simple, yet powerful message. With the body of the email, KEH does a good job of giving me, the customer, reasons to go and connect with them on their social networks. 

I also love the fact that KEH has given each social network a different purpose, and therefore, a different reason for customers to visit KEH on each social network. 

Congrats to KEH Camera on a great social strategy, and showing it off in an easy-to-act email message.

What say you? 

Let me know your thoughts on social and email. How do you include social call-to-actions in your email marketing? 

How to Switch (Successfully) from Google Reader to Feedly

The world heard a collective "WTF" only ten days ago when Google announced it was killing off their RSS program, Google Reader. Here's what this post is not going to be:

There are plenty of people who have written articles much better than mine could be, so why try to reproduce those? Exactly.

But, in all of the noise, it became clear that the real winner coming out of this debacle was Feedly. They were the first, if not nearly, to come out and say, "Use Feedly, and the transition will be seamless come July 1st." I didn't even bother looking at the alternatives. Feedly has a Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and iOS solution (also Android). So, I definitely had all my bases covered. 

Let me tell you, the setup was pretty damn easy.

I went to Feedly.com and clicked "Login".

Automatically, I was connected to my Google account and was asked to give Feedly permission to access my Google Reader account. Once I did, I was presented with my new RSS home in Feedly! The home screen reminds me of the Evernote app in how information is presented — topics on the left sidebar, highlights up front-and-center, with some of my subscriptions on the right sidebar.

After perusing my feeds this evening, I definitely feel more comfortable using Feedly. It's nice to have a mix of the old Google Reader feel mixed with a little bit of the FlipBoard look as well.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that the transition goes as smoothly as Feedly says it will!

Let me know in the comments if you used Google Reader. What do you think about the news? How are you handling the transition?