Email is the juggernaut of the digital messaging systems…period.  Recently, a lot has been published about email’s decline, aging user base, and more. Social media and texting have their place for marketers. However, email remains a tried and true, steady performer when executed properly.

Email + Texting + Social = A Force for Marketers

Texting can’t show imagery (unless you’re using MMS) and is limited to 160 characters. Social is mostly meant for sharing, entertainment and updates. Email is the marketer’s solution that allows for text, social, mobile engagement and instant gratification. Whether it’s for acquisition, cultivation or retention based messaging, email delivers clear relevancy with an option for more engagement. Each of these message systems can stand alone on its own, but when they’re coupled together, they become a force that is not only interesting, but drives a cohesive conversion result…a.k.a. ROI.

Today, one third of U.S. mobile phone users have a smart phone—cell phones with operating systems resembling computers.* Marketers need to understand the percentage of their audience/list using a smart phone for opens on a mobile device. Once this information is known, there are several options for catering to the audience of smart phone users. The goal is to identify your plan and begin executing it. And…if you don’t, you will be left behind as this group continues to grow and grow. Here’s what we know about smart phones;


* The Nielson Company, 3rd Quarter 2010 


Today, your mobile email options include;

1.)    Doing nothing and continue producing emails with best practices (i.e. 600 pixels wide) and make your recipients suffer.

2.)    Creating a text version that links to a Web hosted version of the email. Simple…yes. However, there are multiple issues with this approach. Most notably, it requires an extra click and relies on the smart phone connection to load a Web page in a browser.

3.)    Designing emails for both desktop and mobile users. While this is the best of both worlds, your budget might not handle it well. As well, it might drive confusion within your marketing team as you try to keep track of two versions of every email campaign and its versions.

4.)    Creating scalable layouts (leveraging a meta tag to change the logical window size) that look good on desktops, laptops and smart phones (i.e. 480-320 pixels wide). Today, this solution seems to be best for iPhones. However, scaling emails to fit the mobile screen is trending and should be the norm in the future.

Designing a scrolling, scalable email for mobile takes some communication hierarchy skills coupled with a solid single columned template. Leveraging the inherent scrolling behaviors of the smart phone enable marketers to stream long-form email content in a thoughtful and usable manner. To learn more ways to optimize your mobile email strategy, design and engagement, contact Ira Dolin, V.P. Digital Strategy and Email Services, Aspen Marketing Services,


This afternoon’s announcement about video calls on Facebook will likely produce a wave of positive news as some social media experts will focus only on the likely jump in the amount of time people will spend on Facebook, the mainstreaming of Facebook and the likely expansion of users within certain demographics. Zuckerberg himself called out grandparents.

And all that will likely happen in the coming months, but there are also sure to be some Unintended Consequences for brands as well. My top three cautions:

  1. Your competition just grew exponentially: There is a finite amount of time a person realistically can spend on a single online channel and we often talk about how a brand’s competition isn’t just other brands, but viewing family photos, posting on friend’s wall, etc. You’ll have to be smarter than ever to keep your engagement level on Facebook where it is today with video calls in the mix.
  2. Brands pages will need better focus and value proposition: Facebook has somewhat defied recent trends in “traditional media” of fracturing – just look at the magazine industry and the myriad niche titles. Video calls will bring in a surge of new users who, likely spurred by friends and family, aren’t social media savvy nor do they necessarily want to be. Do you want to be all things to all people or continue to refine your page’s value and risk not being of interest to everyone?
  3. Great Facebook ads will become more expensive and harder: I expect cost-per-click rates and bids to increase as targeting becomes more important than ever to reach the audience you want. Plus, those ads will need a stronger call to action than ever because clicking on your ad conceivably is keeping a daughter from video chatting with her parents back home.


That isn’t to say today’s announcement won’t bring new opportunities to brands on Facebook because we’re excited about a lot of the possibilities, including significant development opportunities. It’s just a caution from one marketer to another that the game has evolved and approaches to social media marketing must as well. What do you think?

Over the last 10+ years of email marketing , there were several rules you could always count on:

-   Subject lines are the key

-   Make sure you blend text and images

-   Keep your key content above the fold

That last one might need a bit of revising though.  Readers no longer have a 17 inch monitor staring back at them.  They could have an iPhone, an iPad, a Tablet, a Nook Color, a Kindle, a netbook, two monitors, a 23-inch HD monitor, their 55-inch TV, etc.  Each one of those screens will have a completely different viewing experience for a person reading an email.

This fact forces long-time e-marketers, who have clung to their creative filter of “Is the key benefit and the call-to-action above the fold?”, to re-evaluate exactly where the fold is.

This doesn’t have to be the end though for good email practice and the fold.  Just because “the fold” is now an antiquated term, the logic is still sound.

Your emails do need to keep the key benefit up near the top of an email, along with the call-to-action.  In fact, the preheader text needs to have those two items every time.  And, everyone “sees” the preheader text, no matter the screen size, the device, or the platform.

Maybe the next generation of “above the fold” should be “check your PHT”.  Or, maybe some creative copywriter can coin a better phrase for that.

What do you think?  What are the new rules that need to replace the old ones in today’s email world?  Or, do you have a replacement for “above the fold” that can help emphasize the important of the preheader text?

Last week’s announcement that Facebook pages could now have VIP-only sections (article here: accessible to those only with a certain Klout score has already caused some of our clients to ask for our POV on this.

Removing the arguments about the inherent flaws in Klout, such as its ability to be gamed and questions over what it really measures (good summary here:, it just doesn’t always pass the sniff test for how most marketers want to use it. Consider the following actions and the logic of them:

  • Would you pull someone out of line at a retail store and allow them to checkout before other customers because they have more friends?
  • Have you placed an exclusive key prompt in a toll-free customer care number for community leaders (e.g. PTA presidents) to give them a unique experience? Remember 90% of WOM is offline…
  • Do your print or broadcast ads come with a warning at the top limiting the content to those consumers who attend the most professional networking events

Now before you counter with loyalty perks (e.g. mileage programs), remember that there is absolutely no correlation between someone’s Klout score and their likelihood to buy, much less advocate a brand. Are you willing to gamble the potential lifetime value of thousands of customers who feel alienated by very publicly not being able to partake in the same content as someone with a few more friends and followers?

So when is Klout right? It can be an important tool for influencer programs or when a company approaches its social media engagement as a reputational effort versus an integrated customer care solution. But I would caution against using Klout in mass channels, where alienating the many to reward the select few rarely turns out well.


Aspen is expanding it’s North American headquarters outside Chicago to house around 600 employees. The official groundbreaking began this morning as our CEO, Pat O’Rahilly, spoke before gathered employees and community leaders about the company’s 25th anniversary and transformation into North America’s largest privately held marketing services firm.

We’re excited about the progress we’ve been making in introducing new strategies, approaches and capabilities to Aspen’s social marketing function in recent months. I’m often asked what makes Aspen different from other social offerings out there. My answer is always the same; we deliver real, measurable outcomes aligned with, not at the expense of, business goals. The other question that quickly follows is “why” word of mouth matters – we hope that our infographic helps to definitively answer that question.

Feel free to share/download the infrographic (html to insert into your blog/wesbite: <a href=”” title=”Hosted by”></a>) and we look forward to your thoughts.

Late last week I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion about the ROI of social media with senior marketers from Discover, Alberto Culver, NCSA Athletic Recruiting Network, Action for Healthy Kids and Brookfield Zoo. It was interesting to hear how each of these companies and the many organizations in the audience were using social media.

A common question among attendees at the event sponsored by the Kelley School of Business was, “what are the top free tools available for social media channels?” Being a list guy, here’s what I shared with attendees, albeit slightly updated, for this post:

  • SocialMention and IceRocket: Two free tools for monitoring, tracking and reviewing conversations outside of “owned channels” that can be an enlightening experience. You’ll find some interesting nuggets, such as how many times a keyword is posted about per minute, top sources for information (hint, Facebook is rarely #1) and top keywords.
  • Tweet Deck or HootSuite: Adding text, images and videos across all your channels, whether individual Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn account has never been easier with these tools. Plus, you can view others’ tweets in real-time to see what conversations you can respond to that will grow your exposure.
  • Google Analytics: The king of all free online measurement tools for tracking and analyzing the impact. This is a must have for anyone who manages a blog or other channels that can be integrated within the tracking mechanisms. It’s free to set-up and another nice value-add from having a Google account is the access to Google AdWords keyword tool to see frequency of search terms.

Tools and technology aren’t necessarily differentiators in social media and a smart, “listen first, respond next” strategy will meaningfully engage your social networks as much as the latest viral whatever. Need a second opinion or some other thoughts? Feel free to shoot me an email at

In these times, it doesn’t take much to delete a message, toss it in the garbage, unsubscribe, etc… Triage is happening from multiple places, 24×7. As a marketer, you only have a few precious moments before the reader decides where your message will go and if they’ll ever want to hear from you/your brand again. This begs the question: How can marketers determine if their message is relevant to consumers?

This Thursday I’ll be keynoting the DMA Detroit’s 15th Annual Advanced Integrated Marketing Symposium where I’ll will walk through the myriad obstacles marketers face each day and how to overcome them to be a truly relevant marketer. The topics will help uncover how you can obtain higher performance metrics that generate results. Most importantly, it will help marketers determine what is relevant.

A common refrain during the last two years has been “we need to stay in touch with our (fill in the blank).”  This is often immediately followed by another frequent euphemism, “let’s repurpose content.”

Tactically, those two directives manifest themselves into reusing press releases, community relations stories, and public affairs content; modifying them; and turning them into an email newsletter.  However, the reality of finding seamless ways to integrate these messages into a single communication is often more difficult than first realized.

While no silver bullet exists to make every email newsletter engaging, loyalty-inspiring, and content rich, there are some commonalities when it comes to best practices.

1. Establish your objective(s) up front.

High performing newsletters have a single objective and maintain that focus throughout its content.  If this is a customer retention email, than the content should focus on value-add information for the email’s recipients.  If this email is intended to cross-sell, than it needs to provide content that informs and educates the readers on why they need a certain product and why they need it from your organization.

2. Subject lines matter.  A lot.

The best content in the world will never be seen unless your subject line(s) give the reader a compelling reason to open it.  As Larry Chase states, “there’s a reason “How to:” subject lines draw people in”.  People want to know that your email is worth their time.

3. Give something of real value to the reader, not something the organization perceives as valuable.

A reader does not want his/her time wasted.  Tell them how they can save money, save time, stay fit, etc.

4. People want to read about people and not products.

Enough said.

5. Keep your email short and scanable.

Use the email to highlight the key points and then deliver the story on the landing page/microsite.  Be careful not to overwhelm your readers with too much content or stories in the email.  Recommendations, like those in Groundwire, say stick with 3-5 articles per newsletter.  The landing page should also allow the reader to quickly find the content they want.

6. Mix it up.

Readers expect you to keep both the content and the look fresh.  Thus, don’t fall in love with a subject line, email template or microsite design for too long.  Test, test, and test some more.

7. Create the email with both mobile devices and preview panes in mind.

This goes back to item 2), but even beyond the subject lines, make sure that the number of images and graphics used in the email is relatively few.  Plan for your most important content to hit “above the fold” in the first 300 pixels or so of the preview pane.

8. Develop a plan

A test plan?  Yes.  An editorial content plan?  Yes.  When/how to leverage Facebook and Twitter?  Yes.  In other words, the best email newsletters are proactive in design and development.  While they may leave some areas for “late breaking” stories or content, the majority of the content, the testing, and the integration with social networks has an established cadence and pattern to it.

9. Promote pass alongs.

Send to a friend functions are often dismissed as a necessary evil of a newsletter.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Make it a point to ask your readers to share the content and the whole newsletter either socially or via pass-along features.  You’ll be amazed at how your loyal readers will distribute your content for you.  In fact, the E-Newsletter Research Blog states that you can boost distribution by 40% or more by providing your readers with a way to share your newsletter.

10. Have fun.

At their heart, the best newsletters are ones that don’t take themselves too seriously.  While the content they provide is valuable, they deliver it in a way that makes people want to read it.  Remember, newsletters are usually talking to customers.  You have some creative license to engage with them in a manner that is encouraging, nurturing and light-hearted.  Scare tactics or “buy now” tactics rarely succeed in email newsletters.

When I was asked (by email I might point out) to write this post in response to a recent report that web-based email use was “declining” (, I joked that I wasn’t sure how to respond given the death of email.

As well, I couldn’t quite figure out a brief 140 character response that detailed out the differences and changing landscape of the availability of communication channels between generations over the past 3, 5, and 10+ years. As we continually evolve, more channels will become available, diluting them all in some way.  I could go on, but I’m fearful that my lengthy prose may result in some of the younger generation apparently losing interest.

P.S. All joking aside, I would like to point out that I wrote this missive using my smart phone’s built-in email functionality as I’m one of the 57 percent of US adults who use cell phones to send or receive email messages this way according to Forrester.