Newsletters: a quick how-to

The first in a series of posts on how to make your startup marketing more awesome.

Screen Shot 2012-06-20 at 1.46.19 PMI probably get more marketing emails than anyone, for two reasons: I like love mail, and I want to see how other marketing pros make either great strides, or how to avoid their mistakes. 

I've spent a lot of time using newsletter services, both to build out regular customer communications, and to get feedback at the early stages of a marketing campaign. Here's a few tricks I've learned along the way.


Yo, dawg. I got you some pro tips!

Sell? Sell. Your company exists because you want people to pay for something. If you're not a revenue-based business, you're selling an idea that people want to use your product and VC's/advertisers will pay for things like "the light bill" and "all those free Diet Cokes we drink". Get real about this.

Social: a kabillion "likes" doesn't mean doodly squat to your bottom line if you're not using social to drive sales. More on this in another post, but for newsletters, add a link for people to get friendly with you, and especially to forward to a friend. Email is social, y'all.

Subject lines: people tend to open emails with subject lines of three words or less. Make them count. Try to think about what you're asking that customer to do, and what you want the end result to be. 

Keep it short. Too much text on the page confuses the eye, especially when there's graphics involved.

Speaking of graphics, your customers are able to see what they are. Zappos does a great job at this, selling a few items a week that people can click through to on a landing page geared to their past purchases. 

Subscribe & unsubscribe: these basic functions should be as easy as possible for your customers. Countless headaches can come from a customer who can't figure out how to sign up through your site, and ill will can quickly add up if they're forced to jump through hoops to explain why they're leaving your site.

Test, test, test. Send yourself the email first. Click around! Are your customers opening emails more frequently on certain days, or at certain times of day? I've gotten tons of email communications from West Coast companies that arrive after 4 on a Friday in my time zone. Sorry, pals, I'm going to delete those without a second thought. 

Mobile: do you know how many of your customers are reading their emails on their mobile devices? Find out. Adjust accordingly, and test – what looks amazing on a designer's monitor may look like a hot mess on a phone. Do more of your customers use PC's and Blackberries when your office is all-Apple, all the time? Get an emulator, or better yet, keep those most commonly-usde devices handy in your office for real-world QA.

Screen Shot 2012-06-20 at 1.43.57 PMDoes your message match up? If your marketing team is an actual team, then you'd better be sure someone who controls the overall corporate messaging either takes a look over the newsletter, or you're so versed in your company's lingo that you don't make a blunder. Anthropologie is great at selling this experience of some otherworldy life where everyone flits around in a perfect dress.

Updated to add: don't use all caps in your email titles! Anthro did this today, and I almost fell off my chair. Do we really have to go over this again? 


Comments are open on this post if you've got other ideas, comments, questions, or you just want to tell me I'm full of shit. 

we should blog more: the lay of the land

Reader beware: huge hunks of my professional career's been spent in the blogiverse. Lest you be tuning in from the distant past, I want to make it clear before we go on that if you're still picking sides on blogging software, you are probably old school and we should just go get drunk together.

"You should blog more," said one of my good friends. I agree. We all should blog more!

I could take the easy way out of explaining why I hesitate to push "publish", with a backlog of posts in draft. I could blame venue-vertisements like Facebook, tools like Twitter, or beat that old dead horse of the CNN scroll for ruining our collective attention spans.

Blogging is different than it used to be. Before I start to sound all "get off my lawn", I think short-form updates have been good for us as writers and for all of us as humans. People are truly unafraid to share snippets of their lives and connect: with former classmates, family, friends, strangers. Twitter's character limit has helped us get funnier. Brevity begat funny. We're more aware that we've got a limited space in which to capture your dwindling attention.

But, what to use to blog these days? As a writer by trade, and a geek second, I've never needed more than a pretty font, a link button, a big enough text area to type in, and a way to put a picture where I want it. Pretty themes? Bonus! Easy-to-install-and-preview themes? Crucial.

Is this a product chopportunity (challenge+opportunity)?

Tumblr: the hipster secondhand store of blogging. I love it. Like decoupage, collage, a bookmark in my favorite place. Like flipped on its head for 99% visual interest. Pintrest without controls. Kickass themes. A place to share the hey-looka-here-at-this-thing. But, if no one's gonna write on their Tumblr, well:

Mlkshk is better at sharing images for the LOLs. Mlkshk is the internet without the bad news.

Movable Type is and shall ever be my first love. As a freelancer, I haven't had a ton of interaction with the guts of it lately. However, I can't count the times I'll jump up during a TV show to declare "THAT is an MT site!" (Baseball that's so inside, it squares the circle: looking back through some old ProNet archives, I realize how many of my nearest and dearest are people I met at Six Apart. Le sigh.)

WordPress is for work. The interface of WP always makes me roll my eyes a bit, but it IS a powerhouse of features. It's not my fault that I'm right-brained and thus, just want to delete half of the UI.

TypePad is still my favorite thing for blogging long-form, and it's got its quirks leftover from the olden days that I find charming and you probably find maddening. It's like a kickass house my friends built: I know where to step down or watch my head, but you might not. You probably don't and shouldn't. 

So this still begs the question, and the app: if none of these tools are perfect in the Swiss Army Watch way? That makes me excited that maybe, out there, someone's working on something like OmmWriter combined with Instapaper. Something elegant. Something easy. Something to make writers' lives easier. 

Something that means we'll read the whole thing.

social music #WithMaroon5

Probably one of my most interesting experiences working with Wieden+Kennedy was to plan, participate in, and manage a “social music” event¬†for Coca-Cola with Maroon 5, live from London.

The gist: Maroon 5 had 24 hours to write, record, and produce a track, all based on audience input via Twitter. We asked the legions of @CocaCola fans questions about the form the song should take, and to vote via hashtag – ¬†“#electric or #acoustic”, for example. We displayed fans’ Twitter questions on the wall of the studio, and the band could use Kinect technology to interact with the displayed tweets. Sound like a lot of moving parts? You have only an inkling.

Here’s the end result.