Author Archives: Fiona Robson

Fiona Robson

About Fiona Robson

.As MD of Rocketseed, Fiona is a strong advocate for maximising the marketing and data opportunities from email media, as well as from email marketing. Email media is about transforming regular employee email into a marketing platform & gaining business insights through email analytics. Fiona has over 15 years’ experience in sales & marketing plus ecommerce roles, and speaks regularly at seminars and industry events.

How far can email play the April Fools Game?

As a trusted channel, email is not usually the focus when it comes to April fools jokes.  We typically scour the newspapers every year, trying to spot which are the real stories, and which are the April Fools.

Was the Holy Grail really found in Spain? Will Man Utd’s Old Trafford Ground be renamed in a deal with Nike? Did a man really lose 14 stone from Morris Dancing?

But our inbox is more of a personal space. An email is not a general announcement – it’s a direct message to an individual, and therefore not typically a relationship that marketers want to jeopardise.  Why would a brand having invested so much time and effort in building trust, and sending content that is valued risk offending a customer?

Well, obviously there’s a good engagement opportunity here, but my point is that in email you have to be more careful, so that the joke doesn’t end up on you.  Here are a few examples that I liked this year, where they got the balance of fun and trust right.

Marketo’s approach was to err on the side of caution, and to make it very clear that it was not a serious communication.  Taking the theme of improving your marketing and making it “sky high” ,Marketo encouraged subscribers to download their guide to sky-based marketing, highlighting new marketing opportunities in ‘sky writing’, paper aeroplanes, and owls, amongst other things.


It’s not the most hysterical April fool I’ve ever seen, but it was a nice tongue-in-cheek dig at themselves, and an ironic wink at their own lead nurturing process, so probably a good relationship building exercise .  Of course the best bit is that they were also able to reinforce a serious core message, about elevating  marketing.   What they also did to be doubly sure, was to remind people of the date, and that it was an April fool, so that any one who did try to “download now” (and I’m sure there were a few….) could be brought down gently.

With the next example, I have to confess that for a split second, I did almost believe the email as it was so well done.  Zettasphere sent me the exciting news that there was now a way to animate subject lines. We’re all familiar with use of emoticons and images in subject lines now, and there’s so much cool stuff going on in email these days, so hey, why not animated subject lines as well?


The blog explained how this could be done by using a hack and exploiting a “discontinuity in the Unicode character set” which allowed a pointer reference to an HTML5 scriptlet block to be inserted”. Brilliant.

And they even showed how the animation could work in a hotmail inbox.



What I also thought was good about this email April Fool, is that as well as reminding those clicking through to the “full article” that it was April Fools, there was also some related content on how to improve subject lines, ensuring that both the trust was maintained, and that the recipient had not clicked through in vain.

Then lastly, as a different take on the email-related April Fool.  I loved the Gmail “Shelfie” idea.  There’s so much that Google are doing in the email space, with the new visual grid layout, the unsubscribe, the promotional inbox…. that it would be quite easy to believe in any development they announced.

In this announcement Google shared a way to enhance the custom themes they launched in 2012, with a “Shelfie“–a shareable selfie, that adds a nice social touch to email.

Their official blurb said;-

“Got an awesome selfie? Upgrade it to a Shelfie! Simply open or refresh Gmail on the desktop and share it with your friends. If you’re looking for inspiration, set your theme to Gmail’s top trending Shelfies. You can also see who’s currently trending on our Google+ page.”



And while it may not have been as funny as the April spoof they did with Google Maps (where they moved the blue pins to a slightly different place from the destination you were looking for)  it did nothing to impact trust in the Gmail Platform, and everything to reinforce a serious message, that email development is core to Google’s strategy and that it’s still an exciting channel.


The World of Email in January: Money, Dirty Politics, and Murder

In our January council round-up on ‘the world of email’, we were fortunately spared a review of “predictions” for 2014.  Instead, the January session was varied and exciting with all the hot news in email – a focus on the unsubscribe arena, plus other headlines involving money, dirty politics, murder and a… fridge.  Ha – try and get that lot that into a cohesive blog.

Email was under scrutiny again right from the word go, in 2014, with the revelation that a top aide to the US government was using their Yahoo email for government business – allegedly the official was orchestrating a political vendetta. (full story here.. ) This has again raised the whole question of how government staff can use personal email accounts and text messaging when conducting official business, sidestepping the public record laws.

One thing is unlikely though – that they will be using Slack, a new collaboration tool for the workplace, dubbed the “email killer” (see where the ‘murder’ comes in?). Slack ‘replaces’ internal email with real-time messaging and searchable content.  Unlike email where records would be personal to someone’s mailbox, Slack offers a kind of ‘institutional memory’ – so e.g new starters could catch up on recent history.  In our discussion, concerns were expressed that this could potentially generate a huge information overload, and email’s demise on account of Slack was deemed unlikely, but maybe we’re biased?

However in case anyone actually believes the general “email killer” myth, don’t be misled. You only had to be keeping one eye open during the festive season to know that email is still a hot commodity. In case you missed it, I’m referring to the acquisition of Responsys by Oracle for $1.5b.  Without wishing to get into predictions, it’s another reminder that multiple marketing forces are converging, again with email at the heart of CRM.

But aren’t subscribers just overwhelmed with email now?? Well Unroll me seem to think so. Their aim is to help you regain “control of your inbox” offering a way to unsubscribe from all unwanted email communications in one fell swoop.  The most recent DMA Tracking study actually showed that customers are not receiving too many emails, but leaving aside whether you think this tool is valuable or not, the data they have captured in the process does give a unique and public perspective on something that has previously been a discreet activity.

Here are the top ten companies for unsubscribes (via

  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ticketweb
  • Pro Flowers
  • Expedia
  • Eventful
  • Oriental Trading
  • 1800 Contacts
  • Party City

One of the key communalities on this list (eg of flowers, tickets, and travel) is the sporadic nature of transactions.  If customers are unlikely to buy these products on a regular basis it’s logical that demand for regular emails might also be reduced.

For me, this list highlights the importance of having an email contact strategy, with recency of transaction as a vital element. It also reinforces the need to maximise other email touchpoints  – transactional email, email media, abandonment emails… in addition to newsletters.

The second list published in this report is the top “Roll ups” – those emails that people want to keep but don’t necessarily want to read all the time.  Top Roll-ups include companies like Amazon Local, Groupon, & Living Social Deals.

This list speaks directly to importance of not being too quick to remove apparently “non-engaged” subscribers from your mailings.  Engagement needs to be measured over time, and not just per email campaign. The brand proposition for these companies is clearly understood, and the customer wants to hear from these brands as they expect some value from them at some stage. Here’s the link for the full report

And finally….

Finally, here’s something that I didn’t see on even the best list of 2014 email predictions. And (Monty Python jokes aside…) it’s unlikely that anyone ever thought that the words “spam” and “fridge” would be put together in the context of email.  But, actually a fridge was indeed discovered to be sending out spam emails over Christmas, after it was compromised in a web attack.   Perhaps this is the email equivalent of cold calling?…. [sorry, Ed] Anyway –  here’s the full story.

If you’ve got any more email news to share, (no pressure to beat the fridge story) please do add your comments.


Segmentation driving email…driving segmentation

The 2013 DMA tracking study will be launched on October 17th.  I don’t think I’m giving enough away here to merit spoiler warnings, but I was surprised again this year by the number of consumers who still feel that they are not getting enough relevant emails.  Of course, there are many jolly happy punters, but still around one third of the respondents felt that 20% or less of the emails they received were relevant or interesting.  The positive news is that this represents a massive improvement vs 2012, but clearly there is still a way to go.

The truth is that targeted communications can deliver significantly better results than batch and blast communications, and with all the advances in CRM and segmentation tools, there is really no excuse for not showing your customers that you do at least know a little bit about them.

If you’re not doing any segmentation at all, well, what are you waiting for! – If you need some help, the blog in last week’s DMA infobox on segmentation would not be a bad place to start.  I also like the Homebase / Ecircle segmentation study on Smart Insights, which explains how using categorised link tracking helped Homebase to zone in on selected customers in the ‘consideration phase’ for a kitchen purchase – ie those who had clicked on “kitchen links” in previous emails.

The other reason why I like this case study, is that it shows not just how using data can help improve the effectiveness of email, it also highlights how email can enhance CRM profiles and improve our customer knowledge. So if you reckon you are already doing what you need to do in terms of segmentation with your email marketing, then stand back for a moment and think about how email can help you further optimise your data.

Email can help you to see who is sharing information, who is engaging with what, what elements create a response.  The more that you use the data that email gives you, the more of a complete picture you will have. And an email address is really the foundation for any CRM profile.  It is unique, mobile (works cross-device) and as the basis for most log-ins gives us genuine attribution possibilities to measure transactions.

So, are you making the most of the data that your emails are generating?  And outside of your normal newsletters and trigger campaigns, how many additional email opportunities are you leaving on the table, where the behavioural data and email address capture could be contributing more to your CRM process?  Shopping cart abandonment emails? Transactional emails? Email media? A recent Gleanster whitepaper on email media, for example, suggested that 50-60% of the email addresses in communications sent by employees were not associated to an existing customer record. So here there is an opportunity both for learning more about your customers, and also list growth.  There are so many email touchpoints that could be supporting your CRM, where you can benefit from engagement analytics and data capture, and help improve your segmentation.

Segmentation tools in email platforms have increased significantly over the last few years.  We are no longer limited to creating static segments, based on gender and geography, but can do really cool things, based on purchase history, web visits, interactions, downloads,  non-engagement, or a combination of all of the above. Whilst the challenge for some is to get started with their segmentation, the challenge for all marketers is to know more about their customers, and to improve their segmentation to engage the “outliers”, – and emails (of all shapes and sizes) should be at the heart of this strategy.

Iran – powered by email?

Most marketers don’t typically look to Iran for inspiration on email but there are definitely some interesting things happening there at the moment.  Last week, for instance, saw the announcement that Iran has launched its own national email service. All Iranian residents from school age and upwards are now required to register for an email account, which will be assigned to them upon provision of their full name, postal address and, National ID number.


The new compulsory email address will be in the format, and is apparently intended to support “mutual interaction and communication”. The Iranian Minister of Telecommunication and Information Technology also confirmed that official communication between government and citizens would eventually be redirected through the national email service.

As champions of email marketing, we are all probably nodding, and saying “of course”. Makes sense, right?  Why on earth aren’t other governments modernising and streamlining their communications via email? As arguably the fastest, most effective (and cost-effective) way to have direct dialogue with your audience it would seem to be the obvious move.

And what a dream marketing comms job that would be?  Just imagine how successful your campaigns would be with a nationally controlled email service, (at least, once word had got out about email analytics and after a few police visits to “inactive subscribers”…) You could be absolutely sure that all your emails would be opened, You would be continuously gratified by all the engagement you received on every email. You wouldn’t have to worry about deliverability or how your lovely creative would render on different mail clients….

It’s difficult not to have a more sceptical view of this action however, and Iran certainly has a long history of control and censorship which a national email service could certainly support. Following the recent ‘Prism’ saga there has been a lot of focus on the whole topic of email metadata – which looks at intelligence garnered from analysing email flow patterns, recipient data, location of interactions etc. As well as enabling the government to communicate “safely” with their population, it is not too far-fetched to suggest that it might also enable the government to “safely” monitor their citizens, gaining visibility on networks, connection, and any unusual activity.

There are also other concerns being voiced about censorship and the potential threat to other email clients that are popular in Iran, like Gmail and Yahoo, which may be restricted.  There have already been reported examples where the Government has “disrupted” access to Gmail, and even an alleged phishing attack on Gmail users in Iran prior to elections, where duped users effectively surrendered access to their communications to their government.

There is a new President due to be sworn in later this year, and there is a degree of speculation that he will actually reverse this decision about the national email service.  If the major intention of this email platform is control, espionage and restriction of outside influence , then there will probably be many relieved citizens. The core idea of shifting the focus of government communication to email, and requiring an email address to be associated with each citizen officially (whether state-run or other) seems fundamentally sound, and surprising that more governments are not adopting.

What do your emails say about you?

In my last DMA blog I made the mistake of highlighting the “branding” gap in Apple’s emails. And I was duly punished by the “Apple gods”, who caused me to drop my new iPhone 5 in the loo. Actually, a recent YouGov survey showed that 21% of people check their emails in the toilet, and I can tell you that there are literally hundreds of web posts advising on how to repair iPhone water damage. So, though it probably wasn’t a personal punishment, I’m certainly going to be more careful about what I say in future. But I would still like to explore further one of the areas that this blog touched upon, and that’s the importance of keeping consistent and relevant branding in all email communications. There’s a profusion of advice on how to optimise your email marketing, a deluge of articles about how mobile is impacting email, and a large wash of commentary about new functionality – testing, responsive design, HTML 5 etc. And this is all good stuff. But there’s not much marketing advice on how to get your employee email up to scratch, for those one-to-one customer communications, and consequently there are still many email basics that businesses are not getting right. If you were to send a mail now from your work email address to a client, what impression would that give them of your brand? Would it help reinforce your business proposition or increase awareness of your company’s services? Well, I received an email today from one of the team at the DMA and I think this is a great example of how email signatures can be used as a marketing tool. (And I haven’t turned from criticism to sycophancy out of fear of retribution before you ask….). Here’s their current email signature:-


The email footer delivers the powerful message “180 days to save your industry”, with a strong call to action “Act now”, and this links directly to the event sign-up page for the DMA Data Conference. As well as linking directly to their site, and helping to promote registrations, it also helps to demonstrate one of the core activities of the DMA – that they lobby on our behalf, and ensure DMA members are informed about the implications of any proposed marketing legislation. And what’s good about their signature is that it also works on mobiles. So if, like me, you are reading their emails on the loo, you will still experience their branding. – And, actually, you’ll get an even better experience on your phone than on Outlook…they have used an animated gif in their signature, that looks particularly good on my (new) iPhone, creating a neat “countdown effect” that shows that time is running out, and increases the urgency of their message.


Having a good email signature can make all the difference to your communications. Here are my top tips of things to think about for your email signatures plus any headers or footers that you include, to help increase the marketing potential of the thousand individual emails that each employee in your organisation will send every month. • Define your objectives: Is it to achieve a consistent corporate look? To generate sales? To increase awareness? To distribute content? Do you need to measure the results? (These factors will impact the design style plus the kind of solution you’ll need to implement your signatures.) • Aim to keep image weight under 30KB • In terms of image size, don’t make your designs wider than 650 pixels or deeper than 100 pixels. • In signatures, use web safe fonts, so that they will render consistently for all recipients • Use basic HTML without nested tables as these can cause issues with reply mail chains • Try to avoid background colours in the HTML layout as these render differently in different email clients • Try to avoid using background images as many email clients do not support them • Minimum font size should be 8pt or size 1 for best legibility

EU Data Protection International Transfer of Data

The development of technology has enabled businesses to act globally and be less limited by geographical boundaries. From our sofas we can shop online from almost any country in the world, companies can achieve a market presence in a country without having a single employee there; and in the world of iCloud and Dropbox we can access our files wherever we are, yet have no idea where they are actually stored.

So, as digital “borders” blur, how is the EU Data Protection Legislation evolving and what are the implications for marketers?

Let’s look firstly at the existing legislation. The existing UK 1998 Data Protection Act says that “Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area (the 27 Member States of the EU plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway) unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data.”

Of course that’s not quite the whole story. You still have to adhere to other principles of the Act, informing individuals that their data is being transferred, and ensuring that you do it with the right security. Also, in the UK our current legislation allows a data controller to transfer data outside the EEA based on their own assessment of adequacy of protection – and this difference highlights another key challenge – that there are differences in national implementation of the 1995 European Data Protection Directive across the EU. Complaints have also been voiced about the complexity of the 1995 Directive regarding data transfer.

Those hoping for some advancement with the new European Draft Data Protection Regulation are, however, likely to be rather disappointed.

While some of the rules on transferring personal information to countries outside the EEA have been made more business-friendly the Draft Regulation arguably also takes a step backwards, and raises many more questions.

One of the proposed key changes is that the laws of the country where the data is held become less important than the question of whose data it is. So, for an EU Citizen, no matter where their data is processed, the law that would apply under the Draft Regulation is EU law. It’s nice to feel protected, but one wonders just how practical it will be to enforce implementation of this globally. How will organisations around the world even be able to identify that they are dealing with EU Citizens? In a digital world, nationality is not always obvious, and even if it were, why should organisations really care about laws in another country?

The differences in interpretation of the 1995 Directive between Member States were one of the key catalysts for the revision of the legislative framework. And, indeed, one of the key provisions of the Draft Regulation is for there to be co-operation between the national data protection authorities in the Member States to ensure consistency in the way the Regulation will be enforced. But in the revision, there has been an element of prescriptiveness which is actually more limiting for UK organisations than the current data protection laws – for instance, the Draft Regulation now removes the ability of an organisation to make their own risk assessment on data transfers to countries outside the EEA. Instead it reinforces the need to adhere to sanctioned processes and the Draft Regulation’s own definition of adequacy.

And this is one of the key areas that the ICO felt was not going in the right direction. The ICO have doubts about the way the Draft Regulation bases “adequacy” on the nature of the law in a particular country. It feels that “adequacy should be assessed more in relation to the specific circumstances of the transfer and less on the adequacy or otherwise of the law of the country the recipient is established in.” So, in other words, if I am transferring data to a reputable global firm in a country whose national data protection legislation is not adequate, why would that really be a problem?

Aside from the general concerns about the practicality of many of the proposed changes, the question of adequacy seems to be the hottest topic to debate. This is one of the aspects of the Draft Regulation that the ICO believes most needs to be amended to deal more realistically with current and future international data-flows. It (and we) believe that a future data protection framework should focus much more on risk assessment by the exporting data controller and that it should be clearer about data controllers’ responsibility, wherever they choose to process personal data.

What do consumers really want from their email?

In the media today, ether email marketing is associated with spam, and journalists complain that there is too much email flooding our inboxes, or they say that email is dead and will soon be replaced by social media. It’s all part of the “Fear and Loathing in Email Marketing”, that Dela Quist of Alchemy Worx is setting out to combat. Actually, what the DMA Email Tracking 2012 report shows is that consumers value the emails they receive from brands, and that customers are signing up to emails in greater numbers.I chaired the event last week, and can share some of the insights that came out of the report and the subsequent discussions.

43% consumers are now signed up to receive emails from 10 or more brands, but inboxes are not as crowded as you think – 40% of subscribers still only get less than 3 emails from brands a day, and 63% get no more than 6 a day. Presenting the report, Paul Seabrook, from FastMap, however urged marketers to ensure that they have a value proposition for their subscribers – over 50% of consumers give their secondary email address when subscribing, so by making it clear what the benefit of the emails will be, consumers are more likely to engage with the address that they actively use.

Email Consumer Tracking Study

It was not surprising to learn that they key reason to sign up for email was for offers – with 55% citing money off emails as their favourite ones, but what was also interesting to note was that offers like free delivery were no longer perceived to have such a high value. The report also found that people signed up to receive emails as they “liked the brand” (40%) or because they were “a regular customer “(42%), hence the need for brands to ensure they also provide value-adds like advance notification of new products, to develop the client relationship.

Paul also impressed up on the audience the need to look at wider attribution for impact of emails, not just direct purchases through clicks. The study showed that people take several other actions as a direct result of receiving an email, like visiting a store (27%), or going directly to a brand’s mobile app (32% of mobile opens).

Speaking next, Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx, stressed the importance of email as a mechanism to build brand visibility. He also urged the audience to focus on growing their database. “Who has a target for conversions of website visitors to sign ups?” he asked. The “shocking” answer was almost nobody. He reconfirmed the value of building your email list with a simple truth – “Driving traffic to your site is harder and more costly via search than it is via email”.

But what about social media? What did the study add to the email vs social debate? Well, in terms of social sharing, there was a small increase from 12% to 22%, of people who regularly share email content with their networks. The “social” talk at the event, however, was much more controversial (and entertaining). “Why do we keep talking about social? said Dela “It’s back to that Fear and Loathing in Email marketing again? Why would I want to grow my fans and followers on a social network for other brands to be able to target them? Preaching to the converted, of course, we were forced to agree.

So, email is still the best, most-cost effective way to drive business and foster our client relationships, and the DMA email tracking study, shows that customers still want even more.