I love LinkedIn’s email marketing – they do such cool stuff.

I got a kick out of this email from them yesterday. Apparently some folks are looking at my profile. Of course, 1% of 200 million members is still a pretty damn big group – so not real exclusive. But still a very cool engagement tactic. Two thumbs up from this guy who happens to have two thumbs to give.

LinkedIn 1 Percenter Email Marketing

Written on February 13th, 2013 , Email Marketing Tags: , , ,

One of the most useful pieces of feedback I’ve gotten from my mentors is “You rock. Don’t be so uncomfortable calling yourself an expert.” I hate talking about myself – it always feels like an exercise in self-aggrandizement, even if I’m just saying “Yeah, I guess I make a pretty good cup of coffee.” So every time I have to come up with any sort of bio, I agonize over it way more than I should, worrying that I’m not quite dialing the mixture of  my skills, knowledge and expertise with my punk/rock ‘n’ roll/DIY/gearhead roots and attitude.

Anyway, I had to write a new bio this week. Here’s my rough draft:

“Surj is a seasoned, passionate ecommerce devotee with experience in many industries. An online marketing generalist with deep experience in all forms of customer acquisition and retention, he’s most passionate about email marketing, search marketing, and affiliate programs. A die-hard gearhead, if he’s not contemplating his latest world domination perfect customer acquisition plan, Surj is most likely riding his motorbike in search of good rock ‘n’ roll or coffee.”

Aw crap, I forgot “Likes to play poker, but not very well.”

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 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?

Does this mean they're sending me an iPad? As I’ve mentioned before, I subscribe to a lot of emails. Marketing research and all that. Wading through my “lists” inbox tonight, I noticed that the Costco has a Kensington iPad case with a built-in battery. Now, I don’t even have an iPad, but Angelica does, and I reckon with its already amazing battery life and the extra five hours this thing claims to provide, the iPad oughtta last us through the next nuclear winter, at least. And, it’s got a freakin’ kickstand, which according to that annoying animated billboard on the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge is a REALLY BIG DEAL.

So I click through, and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A free iPad from Costco!

Ok, it doesn’t actually say I get a free iPad, but it does say “iPod not included,” which I’m assuming is intended to clarify (for the non Tech Crunch readers) that you get an iPad, not an iPod.

AWESOME. Placing my order now.

Maybe it’s just daylight savings time that has me a bit grumpy this morning. I prefer to wake up when it’s still dark, or at least gray.

Or maybe I’m grumpy because my iPhone – an allegedly smart phone – failed me this morning.

I knew, or at least suspected, that it was going to happen. Both Angelica and I have iPhones, and reset our alarms last night, but just in case, I set the regular old alarm clock too. This morning, I was awakened by the beeping of that dinosaur, not either of our iPhones.

Look, I get that software is extremely complex. Mistakes are made, and missed in QA. Fine. I’m not a developer, so I’m not even going to bother theorizing about the nuts and bolts of why my alarm clock didn’t go off today. (Even though I’d have thought there’d be some best practices in place by now for automatic handling of alarm clocks and Daylight Savings Time. It’s not like this is bleeding edge stuff.)

Apple has been aware of the issue for at least a month, and even created a support article about it. But in typical Apple fashion, they were pretty quiet about it. In fact, if I hadn’t heard about it from Angelica, I wouldn’t have known about it at all. I’m a busy guy – I don’t pay attention to all the iPhone/Apple chatter. I shouldn’t have to – this thing is supposed to just work, right? Judging by the noise on Twitter this morning, I’m not the only one who didn’t notice until too late.

Just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I connected my iPhone to my MacBook Pro and fired up iTunes. Nope – no software update, no warning, no messaging at all. I did have to agree to YET ANOTHER iTunes Store Terms and Conditions update – maybe there’s a new clause that explains that the alarm clock doesn’t actually work.

This is a missed opportunity. Apple should have sent an email campaign with the workaround instructions, rather than relying on the blogosphere and the media, maybe even done some PPC marketing on keyword phrases like “iPhone alarm clock fix” with the support article as the landing page.

Hell, even AT&T could have done it, by email or text message. It’s not like they don’t need every bit of goodwill they can get from iPhone users.

Instead, we get a support article that doesn’t even make the iPhone Hot News page. Instead, we get people waking up late for work. Instead, we get people pissed off at Apple and maybe looking at one of those slick new Android phones instead of following the default next-gen iPhone upgrade path.

Listen up Apple. I love your products. I’ve sent a lot of cash your way. But dumb errors like this (and even dumber handling of them) makes me want to drink someone else’s Koolaid.

Macworld email marketing subject line experiment screenshot.

Macworld getting a little crazy with the subject line.

I subscribe to a LOT of email – I like to see what other email marketers are doing. Because of this, I get so much email that I’m in constant email overload mode (sounds familiar, I bet) and it takes something pretty spectacular – or really lame – to get my attention.

Taking a peek at my subscriptions inbox this morning, I saw an email from Macworld with a three character subject line: –>. That’s not me pointing at something, that’s the subject line. An arrow.

Ever the jaded online marketer, my first thought as I glanced through my emails was “Oops, someone screwed up personalization again.” Then I thought maybe some really crappy spam had snuck into my inbox somehow, until I saw the from: Macworld Gems.

I think overly gimmicky subject lines can be a bit of a risk, and tricks like this are usually one-shot deals. But, as we always say, “test, test, and test s’more!” So what were the email marketers at Macworld thinking on this one? Maybe in a vertical preview pane, the “look over here” arrow mechanism works. Maybe they just thought it’d be eye-catching.

For me, it just looked weird, like a mistake. But… I noticed it. What would a “normal person” (non-email marketer) think of this?

© 2013 Surj's House of Awesome

Surj's House of Awesome

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