On Email, On Marketing / 18 Nov 2014
The Anatomy of Email Marketing

One of the many wonders of the digital age is how the cost of reaching out to a large audience with your marketing messages has tumbled. In the pre-digital age the printers bill alone often made direct marketing the sport of a rich business. Now a days the cost of the actual broadcast is vanishingly small and, so long as you can afford a bit of decent design, a reasonable bit of copy and sound developer who really understands how to put together an electronic mail, then mass broadcasting is within the reach of any business.

The purpose of this article is not so much to teach you about direct marketing – that’s the subject of another post altogether; it’s about making sure you get things right technically so that everything you know about direct marketing is not lost in by failure to deliver

How Electronic Direct Mail (eDM) Works

When you send out an eDM, in essence, you are sending a web page to someone’s email – and this is where the trouble begins. The Internet is made accessible by browsers (eg Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari). What browsers do is to interpret code and deliver them up to your screen as legible text and visible images. Emails, however, are sent and received, for the most part, by email clients (eg Outlook). The thing about an email client is that, unlike a browser, it was never developed for interpreting web code – it will do it, but the coder really has know what they’re doing to coax and persuade them to serve up what the sender intended – and even then it’s not absolutely fool proof. I say ‘for the most part’ as a fair number of us used web-based systems such as gmail. eDMs sent to web mail perform a little better – as do those sent to phones and tablets – but it’s far from an exact science.

Make time for development

Coding an eDM (aka an HTML email) is far from straightforward. From around 2009 onwards the way websites were put together fundamentally changed; the mark-up code (html) was separated from the styling, so that changing things like layouts, colour schemes and type-faces became a single click. Previously all the styling information had to be entered line by line (known as in-line styling). If you had a page with thirty paragraphs in which you wanted to change the typeface it would involve thirty individual operations. Unfortunately this still applies to emails – you cannot separate mark-up and styling – and so they have to be coded in-line, making changes to styling very long-winded.

To make matters worse, the web code which evolved from 2009 onwards in order to accommodate the new mark-up/styling structure, is also not suitable for email clients. This means that eDMs have to be coded using a structure called ‘tables which is not so much clumsy as arcane. A bit like taking a horse and cart to the garage and asking for a service; only the old bloke at the back will know what to do.

It’s really important when planning an email campaign to make sure you have allow time for development AND crucially, you know exactly what you want it to look like before you hand it over to the coder; remember just how time consuming style changes can be.

Broadcasting your email

Once you have your email designed and built it’s time to broadcast. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT send out an email blast from Outlook on your desktop nor, indeed for that matter, out of gmail or any system you may use for sending regular mail. There are two reasons for this. Firstly the deal you have with your email and broadband provider, is you send out a nice steady stream of emails with an occasional CC or BCC to colleagues or other relevant parties. They are not expecting thousands of emails sent at once. If your email server goes down nine times out of ten it’s because of what’s known as a brute force attack. This is when thousands of emails arrive at once and unsurprisingly email providers take a dim view of it. It tends to spoil their day. If you do send mass emailings from your PC you can run the risk of your domain being black-listed resulting in your having to beg, plead and even pay for it to be restored.

The other reason is our old friend spam. The purpose of sending out marketing messages is that they are received, read and hopefully acted upon by the recipient. If the mail server sniffs spam then none of this will ever happen. Mass emails sent from desktop email clients reek of spam and so, if you do use your own email account then expect a significant proportion not to arrive.

So what’s the solution?

Use an Email Service Provider (ESP). Perhaps the best known is the badly named but truly excellent Mailchimp (http://www.mailchimp.com) – but there are many others. Apart from all the lovely features to help you send really effective mail and providing lovely reports on performance, ESPs like Mailchimp have spent a good deal of time and money getting to know all the companies around the world that handle email and convincing them that they don’t do spam and they won’t screw up their valuable servers. In short, they’re trusted and so mail sent via a recognised ESP tends to get through. It’s not 100% bullet proof but it’s 500% better than doing it yourself.

So that’s it for the nuts and bolts. Watch out for forthcoming articles on getting the most out of eDM and best practice for building a mailing list.

If you would like to talk to us about how you can improve your email marketing then we’d love to hear from you. 020 8659 1457