Subject line personalisation


Is Rumpelstiltskin on your list?

Personalisation in the subject line is great thing, making an email more personal can only be a good thing, unless you go too far and get a bit stalky if you get too familiar.
The effectiveness of subject line personalisation is a combination of how you use it and the rapport of each recipient.

Back in the old days of B2B acquisition emailing where postal marketers applied the same method to email, ie: buy a list; they would use personalisation in the subject line to try and fool the recipient into thinking they had a prior relationship with the sender that they had forgotten about.

You see it in real spam every day, where they take the prefix from your email address to try to get you to open it. It’s a numbers game, sometimes the prefix might actually make sense but rarely.

Nowadays people are wiser because it’s been done to death and everyone knows, it’s also hard to make a subject line make sense with personalisation.
Subsequently unless the rapport is great, personalised subject lines are likely to be treated with suspicion.

The subject line is a title, a teaser, the start of a story, a brief contents list if you’re out of ideas adding my name to it will be hard to have it make sense, eg:

“Todays top deals for you Andy” or “Andy, here are the 3 best things to happen this week”
or even worse “3 super cheap holidays for Andy” – not even addressing me.

It’s like a brand is shouting “I KNOW YOUR NAME, YOU MUST NOW OPEN MY EMAIL!”.
That’s not going to work, unless of course I’m Rumpelstiltskin at which point I will of course be compelled to do so.

There are a few of angles which can help though:

Only do this if the data is right.

If there is a chance that you don’t have the right first name, don’t chance it.
Either get the segment perfect or do some build up and ask the question, link to a form and then personalise the people who update their profiles.

If you personalise the subject, personalise the whole email.
Just adding a first name to a subject and nothing else will be an obvious gimmick and will not be popular, unless it’s really really funny. If you can make the whole email personalised or at least seem it, the recipient will get that personal touch from you. This is more than just putting in the first name where you can and you need to use data about them which you have earned not bought otherwise they’ll hate you.

Don’t do it every time

you can do it every time if you like but the pattern will get dry and you’ll just be wasting inbox space. Your from name is where the rapport starts and the subject is the priority.
Adding personalisation every so often, for a special email, will get that boost.
This can be a handy tool for early re-engagement, people who haven’t opened for 3-6 months, for instance.

Get it in the inbox snippet preview

This is a cheeky little trick. As you know, most inboxes will take the top line or two (or three – iPhone6+) of your email’s copy and stick it after the subject line. The idea was to give users that extra bit of information to help them decide and help avoid the odd click-bait subject line. Of course lazy marketers haven’t noticed this and still insist on having “can’t this email…” blurb at the top so that’s what ends up in the inbox, doh!
The idea is to make that very top line in the very top left of the content elaborate and compliment the subject line.
This is a great spot for a first name. In the inbox, after the bold subject line, in lighter text will be your name and the start of the story cut off by the inbox where you will then be compelled to open the email to see the rest of the sentence that your name was in. Alright that might be a little exaggerated but the point is clear.

Here’s a little example from Gmail’s desktop webapp:



Why not give it a go or even do it on a content A/B test.



image created from screenshot of “Once Upon a Time” TV show and a photo of an iPhone 6+

Scrapple – spam-like but not quite spam emails



Scrapple is a new email genre to join the ranks of ham, bacn and spim.

Scrapple means “SPAM-like But Not Quite SPAM Emails”.

I spotted this on Word to the Wise recently, where Laura reported this word emerge from a load of Science fiction writers discussing a recent unsolicited email they were all CC’d on, from someone promoting them-self for an award, after taking their addresses from the Science Fiction Writers Association directory.

They went on twitter to complain and decided on a word to classify that kind of email and came up with “Scrapple“, this same thing got onto Storify later on for an easier read and the first post about the birth of Scrapple.

According to Laura, those who know will know that Scrapple is also a pork based dish and according to the coiner of Scrapple (@talkwordy): “Scrapple is the world’s most delicious meat bread”.

Normally i’d be simply happy to take their work for it, as I tend to for most modern American concoctions which sound like a heart attack on a plate, however, some of the pics don’t look so bad: with eggs for breakfast? looks like a nice hash 😉

But whenever I say the word I think of scrabble more than meat bread though.

Inbox Wars – Gmail images

inbox wars


As you may or may not have heard Gmail has decided to automatically load images for all of its users.

”yaaaay!” I hear you cry.

“But why didn’t they do this earlier?” … is a great question.

Images are blocked to stop spammers finding about live inboxes and to stop viruses getting into your computers and phones through images. This was a famous way of getting infected back in the late nineties when Outlook used the “open doorway to viruses” that was older versions of internet explorer to render emails. Now Outlook uses MS word, you are far safer, however the rendering is horrific. This is when the preheader “Can’t see this email? click here” was born.

On the back of this almost everyone started to block images for security reasons both in installed email clients and the web-app clients. Except on a Mac as they weren’t targeted with these kind of viruses to the extent Windows was.

Then along came the iPhone and suddenly Windows users were presented with an inbox that didn’t block images; at this point people started to wonder why this wasn’t normal practice.

Since Google is in direct competition with Apple for phones and in direct competition with Microsoft for cloud office, their email services had to keep up with Apple as well as stay ahead of Microsofts Office365 and

Outside of the inbox’s “always show images from this sender” button, Microsoft already had a few auto-load images options:

Senderscore certification: if you qualify, you can pay ReturnPath for a safelisting which tells most big inboxes such as Yahoo and Hotmail (not Gmail) that you are a safe sender. These inboxes will then let you in and generally auto-load your images. This is particularly good as the images off experience in Hotmail is terrible.

Recently with the rebrand to, Hotmail have been using their background reputation system to decide to auto-load images of some senders. This has not been consistent but a nice change.

Gmail meanwhile was not without it’s own tricks: Gmail’s images off experience was one of the best around. Gmail knows that their audience understand image blocking, so doesn’t go over the top like Microsoft has done previously. Instead Gmail will show alt text in most situations, it will show background colours and will let you style the alt text, Pizza Express used this very well!

Also if a user replies to an address more than twice, Gmail will decide that the sender is a trusted contact and start to autoload the images.

Today, Gmail will lead the windows, online and Android inbox experience with consistent autoloading of images, putting an end to having to load the images each time.

Don’t forget to turn on your Android phone’s email sync!

4 factors of disengagement


Engagement is currently one of the hottest topics in Email Marketing success at the moment because more and more ISPs and Inbox Hosts are using their users’ engagement with your emails to decide how to allow your emails in. In order to help optimise your inbox placement, content freedom and open reach: it helps to know what could be causing engagement problems and how to attend to them.

Here are four main factors for disengagement, unsurprisingly deliverability has the most copy about it but it should not be the biggest cause if you collect and treat your data well. All of these things need to be considered when you upgrade your programs to include engagement monitoring and targeting to optimise results

1. Disinterest.
The obvious one is list fatigue. People have been on your list for a while, you’ve been emailing them regularly with the same stuff for a while and some of them deprioritised you. They don’t opt-out but they don’t open.

You can get through to these people by mixing it up a bit, more with subject lines than anything else. These people are whom a re-engagement campaign are for; segment by engagement levels, find the people who have opened at all but not for a while and talk to them differently than those who have recently. These people are not opening your emails so the only touch point you have is the subject line, use it wisely, use it better. Be relevant, be novel, be different and even remarkable. Test, test, test!

And while you are at it, don’t forget: those that see your subject line still see you your subject line! So even if they don’t open the email, you have exposure, so consider the story you are telling them over time. Where is the ending? Christmas? Easter? Summer Holidays? All of them?

2. Abandoned inbox
The owner of this address has got a new primary address and just left this one alone. They have already updated their main subscriptions: Amazon, their bank, Twitter, Facebook etc.  They may have , at some point, intended to check it every so often just in case there is something they want to move over and may have done a couple that they couldn’t live without, eg: Groupon, Wowcher; and left some they found could, eg: Livingsocial etc etc. but now they are continuing their lives in joyful ignorance of the contents of their now long forgotten former email address.

At some point it is likely that this inbox will fill up and start to soft bounce, rejecting the emails because it has reached it’s storage capacity; where possible these should be spotted and opted out after 3 or 5 sends because you know it’s abandoned.

Eventually, the inbox provider or ISP, will see that this inbox is abandoned and decide to close it in order to save wasted space.

Once this happens, emails to this inbox will hard bounce, so as long as you are able to catch and suppress your bounces, you will not longer email it.

On some occasions, the Inbox provider will decide to re-open the inbox after a certain amount of months (commonly 7-14) and turn it into a spam recycled spam trap or a “zombie trap”. This email address will stop hard bouncing and start to accept emails; it will not register any other activity but will be very bad for your sender reputation in that particular ISP. As long as you have been emailing every address at least once a quarter since the day it signed up and you have been efficiently managing your hard bounces, you will catch it at the hard bounce and avoid the trap. If you, however, leave a list too long, try to wake up an old list or attain a list from elsewhere (purchase, rent etc.) you run the risk if acquiring spam traps which you will not know about until you have sent many emails to that list and you segment based on opens or lack of.

3. Typos
It may not be obvious but people sometimes spell their own address wrong. Email to these address might not always hard bounce either, they will simply swallow email up like a black hole.
Sadly some typo black-hole domains have been acquired by email security organisations and act like zombie traps.
It is worth while avoiding getting them on your list in the first place but look out for them as you analyse records which have never reacted to an email from you.
If the typo is in the prefix you may never know it is a typo, so it is best to try to help the user spell it right when they first sign-up.

4. Deliverability

One variable which really helps to eliminate is your ability to get the email in front of the recipient in the first place. You cannot really know if they are worth trying to engage or if they are abandoned etc. if they are not getting the email for some reason or another, so you need to test for deliverability at some stage in a re-engagement process.

Normally this is one of the last things you do in a re-engagement process…

These problems can come in 5 main flavours:

  1. High Risk Content
    Your content, from the copy to the HTML could be triggering content spam filters at recipient’s inboxes causing them to be catagorised as spam and consequently junked. This can from key words, image to text ratio, hidden content, phishing issues and more. How much of the content is tolerated can be decided upon by your sender reputation in that ISP…You get around this by experimenting with safer content just to get a reaction, eg: at least 60% text, upto 40% images & 3 images not all touching; plain text only with one or two tracked links or simply requesting a reply.
  2. Email Address & Domain Blocking
    In clients like MS Outlook, if someone hits the spam button you don’t get to know about it, like you would from an ISP with a feedback loop; this means that when they hit the button your from address is blocklisted in that inbox, probably forever. There are a few inboxes which work this way, some installed clients some server side web-apps etc. Some can even tell the mail admin about it and cause them block all mail from that address to all users. Most of these are business servers of course. Some of these servicesYou can get around this by targeting people who have not opened in a long while from a different email address all together with a reminder of who you are and how they know you.
  3. Bad Reputation
    If your reputation in a particular ISP is not good your inbox placement and general email acceptance can be at risk. As you may or may not already know, your reputation is a direct result of your recipient’s reactions to your emails in that ISP or inbox host. So recipients hitting the spam button a lot is bad and high number of opens and replies is good – the main point is to prioritise messaging rather than marketing and then give users the opportunity to manually safelist marketing emails with various flagging options.If you collect your subscribers in the right way, this should never be a real problem for you and you could explore Sender Score Certification to remove further ambiguity.
    If your data collection methods do push the ISP’s and recipients’ definitions of permission, this is likely to be a problem for you. You will need to do a very good clean of your existing data and alter your methods or collection and emailing, in some cases severely, in order to prove to the ISPs that you deserve the inbox placement you want because you are essentially in breach of all of their Ts & Cs for email senders.
  4. Block listing
    This is not really an engagement issue but more of a data collection and email compliance issue but will obviously cause lack of engagement because it is a sure fire way to avoid the inbox.
    If you have previously hit space traps or been marked as spam by many recipients, you domain or IP address could have been blocklisted, this could have either been on a specific ISP or a more open backlist which other filters refer to. Most of these will allow you to apply for a delisting but there are correct answers to their questions and they can tell if you are lying. IP backlisting is slightly more common because there are more IP lists out there because it is an older and far more proven tool to stop real spammers. Some backlists are worse than others and some you are likely to know about because your ISP may have been listed as a result eg: Spamhaus.
    The idea to avoid this is to only send to people who have provided their email address in the process of wanting to receive emails, not forced or sneaked; don’t buy lists, don’t scraped from the web and don’t guess addresses.
    Once you have tidied up your act you can ask for delistings, although it would be worth experimenting with a new domain and IP.

Can you think of any more reasons, could some reasons be more important than others, do some reasons only apply to some senders?

[image source]

Best open times ruined by mobile

In the last … forever … email marketers have studied the best time of day to send an email to get the most people to open it.

On a B2B level you knew they’d be at work 9-5, probably using MS Outlook, with coffee and lunch breaks.
Consumers would tend to be better in the early evenings when they turned their computers on after dinner.

Now we’ve all got smart phones not only can we check our emails on the move at any time, we can even get alerted to a new email by our phone, like we would an SMS.

This means more recipients will open the email within minutes of receiving it. So, to an extent, it does not matter when the emails are sent, a large percentage of the list will open it straight away.
Especially with iPhones loading the images automatically.

It does not, however, mean engagement!

This also means that most of the open times studies are now wrong. It’s no longer about the time of the open it’s about the time of engagement: opportunity, convenience, brand rapport, relevance;

Or has it always been this way and KPIs have simply distracted us?

(image: courtesy of Swagstein)

8 reasons to allow change of address


Changing personal email address is fairly easy, there are loads of services which let you create a free address. Obviously the big 3 providers are the most popular: Hotmail (inc., live & msn), Yahoo and Gmail.
When it comes to business addresses, people say you should expect more spam due to the corporate subscriber loop hole and people change jobs fairly frequently, e.g: about 2 years.
Here are a few reasons why your email program should give your subscribers the opportunity to change their email address.

1. Too much spam
The most common reason to change address is because of to much spam to that inbox and the vast majority of the time people will change provider at the same time.

Lots of people migrated from Hotmail to Gmail in the last 10 years. Their Hotmail account was full of junk they could not get rid of and Google was novel and cool.
Most of these people left their Hotmail account open as their “junk” account.

So once they’ve got their new address they have to decide which emails they want to see in their new primary inbox then go and update their details in places like Amazon etc.

2. Hacked
There are all sorts of nasties out there trying to get free money. Some of these try to get into free inboxes to not only spam your contacts but get personal information too.
Hotmail has been a common victim of this for years. Recently Yahoo have had some security problems which caused BT internet to take their entire email service elsewhere.
When an inbox gets hacked it is most common to move providers rather than create an new address in the same space.

3. New job
The average life span of a job is still around 2 years, so when someone moves jobs they might like to take some subscriptions with them to their new job.

4. Increased level of trust
Due to the high value of email addresses, many brands try to get people to provide an email address at every opportunity; sometimes they try too hard and people can feel forced, e.g. financial support sites asking for email in a credit check; or sometimes the site does not reassure people of the security and integrity of their email addresses.
This would then result in the user providing their old junk address or a temporary address.
As time goes by the brand could/should earn the trust it needs to get value from that address and the user may decide to swap in their good address for the junk address they provided at the start.

5. New phone or tablet
Android phones require a Google address for a Google Account. Mac offers, email addresses and Microsoft made in order to make Hotmail more like Gmail.
So when someone gets a new phone they may switch their primary email address to the new address they get for the phone or tablet.

6. New cool provider
Someone who is getting bored of their email address could be swayed by a, cool new provider. A great example of the creation and success of Gmail with no marketing. GMX has had some success with little marketing.

7. Interface update
When a provider adds a new feature or give a big revamp people like to check it out… was a very novel change which woke up a lot of Hotmail users.
Yahoo has woken up some abandoned usernames and revamped their interface quite a few times.
Gmail has recently added tabs.

8. What’s the alternative?
If someone needs to change their address with you but you don’t let them what do they do?
Go through the sign up process with their new address and opt-out with their old one?
Is that too much to ask?
Would you go through all of that?
Or would you just leave it and slowly fade out of that brand?

Which brands you would take with you to your new address? Would any of those ‘vital’ brands not let you change your address?

I expect not, any brand worth your time will give you enough control over your subscription! Does yours?

When you do add this functionally, please do consider a confirmation email to ensure the user owns the address they supply and to add that extra level of trust for the recipient.
It might sound like asking for too much but someone willing to go as far as updating their address with you is very engaged and will happily do it.