Surj Gish attending SMX West← Check out my spiffy badge – I just registered for SMX West. Are you going? Let me know and we’ll hang out.

I’m looking forward to this conference. I went last year, and it was very good: good sessions, good folks, and a good time watching Steve Ballmer get a little nutty in the keynote conversation with Danny Sullivan.

It always bums me out when I’m talking email marketing with someone and they say something like “Why do we have to use all this text? Can’t we just put some images in there? [some huge brand] does it, and they must know what they’re doing!” I’ll usually go through the explanation of how images don’t always load, and it’s good to have your call to action and other messaging visible even when they don’t. Sometime they get it, other times they fall back on “Yeah, ok – but what about [some huge brand]? Why would that do it that way if it wasn’t the best?” Because we all know how every large brand is awesome at email marketing.

Anyway… Trolling through my emails this morning, I noticed this subject line: “We’re missing Christmas! Holiday favorites starting at $9.99.” Christmas, eh? Seems a little late for that messaging. But I was intrigued, and opened the email. Nice work, Jockey Email-Jockies!

But what did I see when I opened the email? A whole lot of nothin’!

As you can see, without images loaded there’s not a whole lot to look at. The bummer is, it’d be super easy to do something cool with this by slicing up the image a bit more creatively, and using text in the white area. In the first image below, you can see the slices the Jockey email marketers used. In the second image, I show you how I would have done it.

Instead of just slicing up a mockup and calling it a day, I’d slice the images a bit differently, put ’em in a table and leave a white cell to place the text in. My basic table structure would look like this:


<table border="1">
<tr>
<td rowspan="2">Slice 1 here.</td>
<td>Slice 2 here</td>
<td rowspan="2">Slice 3 here.</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>Text here!</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td colspan="3">Slice 4 here.</td>
</tr>
</table>

Easy, right? Well, those of us who code an email now and then know it’s not that simple, but that’s the gist of it. Now, if images don’t load, the recipient doesn’t have to wonder whether it’s worth loading images to see the message – it’s there in all its textual glory! Just be sure you test your code in the usual email clients to verify the text won’t blow up your table.

Look, I get that sometimes brand guidelines require certain fonts for everything, so you have to use images with those fonts in them. I also get that sometimes things are rushed. But it often doesn’t take much extra work to make sure folks are seeing your message whether images load or not, and it’s worth it. Text rules!

I’m a total workaholic. I have trouble falling asleep many nights because even though I’ve “stopped working” my mind is still rolling through what happened today and what’s gonna happen tomorrow. I’ve long forgotten how to set up the autoresponder in my email clients because I never stop responding to email.

On one hand, this is good – I’m “driven” and “motivated.” On the other hand, it’s easy for important stuff to fall by the wayside. My own projects, working on my bike, riding my bike, this blog (almost every day I have entire posts constructed in my head that I don’t find time to actually type), happiness, life, love. So before the new year hit, I was already thinking I need to make sure I make time for real life.

I’ve noticed that one of my colleagues closes his office door in the middle of the day. What’s he doing in there? My office has a door? It does! Turns out he’s simply insulating himself so he can enjoy a few minutes of peace and quiet while he eats his lunch. Genius!

I’m not much for resolutions, but I’m going to start taking a lunch. I think I’ve only taken an actual “lunch” once in the past 6 months. Once. NOT OK.

So I’m going to start setting aside 30-45 minutes a day, around lunch time, to eat lunch (wha?!), catch up on the latest tidbits at The BARF and HellForLeather, read, and work on my own projects – including this blog. Here’s where I make my grandiose prediction of about how I’ll be less-stressed, more effective, and happier. There it is.

I almost always spend at least a few seconds (practically a lifetime, in the context of email marketing!) looking at the emails LinkedIn sends my way. The “LinkedIn Network Updates” are particularly interesting. I’m curious – I like to know what folks are up to. Previously, these emails have been pretty much html text with links on my connections’ names. Last night, LinkedIn sent the first email I’ve seen from them that really takes advantage of one of the powerful assets they have – user photos.

This isn’t an entirely new concept – MailChimp has had some social features for a while, although they had to rework them recently. One of the changes was the loss of the Faces feature. And Twitter’s “”new follower” email has incorporated the user icon and basic info for a while now. But this LinkedIn email takes it further.

Screenshot of personalized email from LinkedIn.

"Surj, 48 of your connections changed jobs in 2010 - and here are pictures of every last one of 'em!"

“Email personalization” still means “insert FNAME in the body somewhere” to a lot of email marketers. LinkedIn sent me an email with pictures of 48 people I know. You’re damn right I clicked on every one of them. Ok, maybe it was just most of them, but this is a very compelling way to drive visits to LinkedIn – here come the ad impressions!

Is this a test to see how users respond to photographs, before including photos in the network update emails? I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing photos in the regular updates emails soon.

What can we learn from this? The vast majority of email marketers don’t get to send their subscribers pictures of their friends and colleagues. We personalize based on purchase history, previous activity, and (hopefully) intelligent guesses. So how can we get creative and take our email personalization to the next level? Yes, I said “take it to the next level” – sorry. How about “raise the bar” instead?

Another question – why is Facebook still sending plaintext email notifications, instead of taking advantage of the vast wealth of stuff they have at their disposal? Is it concerns about privacy and privacy settings, or is just that most Facebook users are simply on the site so much more than LinkedIn, and don’t need as much enticement to be sucked back in?

© 2013 Surj's House of Awesome

Surj's House of Awesome

Surj Gish – eCommerce & Online Marketing Expert / Gearhead / Musician