Inbox Zero to Inbox Hero

(Re-posted from my iMediaConnection blog post)

Email has been around for the longest time — about 40 or more years. Born before the Internet, it’s loathed by some; indeed from time to time we keep hearing “Email is dead!”, like when email address was launched.

We’ve tried to replace email with other tools, but it’s still a firm fixture of our lives. Our various social media accounts and purchase receipts are all linked to our email. Most Project Management tools unravel into email chains. Email has survived the dot-com boom and bust and the email marketing deluge.

While Facebook stream and chats, Twitter feeds and DMs co-exist with WhatsApp and SnapChat and other instant messengers, the volume of email still continues to grow. This interesting article argues that perhaps email is now becoming just another stream.

However, email is more than just a stream. The apps around email are helping it evolve into something far more potent. Some of these apps are a delight, some a little unnerving.

Read the rest of this entry »


Likes, #Fails and Emails

Changing Times – The Rise of the Marketing Technologist

Your brand speaks through all channels at once. What was once a simple Awareness to Action funnel is now a complex mix.

forrester(Click to enlarge)


Read the rest of this entry »

5 Key Questions and Focus Areas in Email Marketing for Small Businesses

Social, local and mobile marketing are changing the way content is delivered to consumers. With animated images, countdown timers, live social media content and rendering for different screens, email marketing has become fancy too.

While small businesses usually find it easier to adapt to the changing digital marketing landscape,  they also need to balance speed with limited budgets and do not always have the insights from bigger agency partners.

With the limited budget and resources, might it be sensible for small business to re-evaluate where to focus on some of the key email marketing areas?

Here’s looking at the 5 key areas in email marketing – D.E.L.T.A.:

1 Design
2 Email Content
3 List
4 Testing
5 Analytics

1. Design
More and more emails are being viewed on mobiles and smartphones. Coding your emails for mobiles and tablets is already becoming a norm.

There are various posts and articles on how-to code the emails for mobiles, one of my favorite one is here.

Key Questions: What percentage of your email views are from mobiles? How has that changed in the last 6 months?
Focus Areas: Can your brand communication make do with skinny email templates? Could a good mobile ready email template, that has room for small images serve your purpose?

Here is how the twitter emails look:

But you might say, that’s twitter, it’s inherently a 140-characters content, isn’t it? Which brings us to the next point.

2. Email Content
Content is  the heart of your emails and often the most time consuming activity that gets completed only near the deadline.

Key Questions: What is the reason your emails exist? What type of email communication can suffice your need?
Focus Areas: Emails are scanned not read. At best you have 2 to 5 seconds for you to grab the reader’s attention. Can your brand communication make do with a twitter-like email that has highlighted words, bold headings, links that readers can quickly click-through if interested and large call-to-action buttons?

For example, CopyBlogger sends very short emails for their Internet Marketing for Smart People series. The email itself is pure text; it’s four to eight sentences long, with one link that takes you to a post, that’s all.

3. List
Every email marketer will tell you that you should segment the lists and send personalized content.

An event marketing company, for example,  may carve out a slice of data and create a list of past delegates who have opened the email last 3 times so that a special discount email can be sent to them.

While this is a great practice, unless this data is fed back into the central repository, it might remain as a hanging piece of knowledge in the email marketing vendor’s system.

Key Questions: How will your campaign data feed into your central CRM repository? What percentage of your email readers also are on your social media?
Focus Areas: Personalize emails with data from social media, past email and website behavior. More importantly, get readers to reply, irrespective of the list, or segmentation.

In most cases replying to an email gets you in the safe senders or contacts list and improves email delivery. If one of the metrics to measure readers’ engagement with your brand is email click rate, then replying is an even bigger sign of it.

4. Testing
Do you know which words in the subject line were “hot” last quarter? Is A/B testing a regular part of your email sending process?

Most standard email marketing systems have subject line and content testing features at no extra cost. This is one feature that should be your BFF.

Many marketers want to reach the inbox at a certain time, expecting that their marketing messages will be read at that time or near about the time the email lands in the inbox. However, readers’ habits are changing.

Since the time I have started recording TV programs I have hardly watched anything “live”. I record the ones I want and watch them at leisure. More and more people want to read emails at a time convenient to them and not necessarily when the email arrives in the inbox.  Some “star” it in the priority inbox, others “flag” it  while many, like me, file it in folders for later reading.

Key Questions: What time are your readers reading the emails? What words in the subject line are “hot” for your business?
Focus Areas: Is the frequency of email more important for your business than the time it was read? How often should your messages reach your audience so that it serves your brand better?

5. Analytics
Time spent on site, and number of pages seen by the visitors are not the typical benchmarks one sees in Email marketing.

My experience, in a B2B environment has been that readers who take the trouble to open the email in an increasingly cluttered inbox, click the links and visit the website, are highly engaged. I have seen them spend more time on the website than social media visitors. But this could be different for your business.

Key Questions: What are my key email marketing metrics? What email marketing benchmarks can I measure my campaign against?
Focus Areas: What percentage of your email list has never opened your emails? What does this mean for your business and how can you get these people interested?

As a digital marketer I understand the need of rendering the email in 10 different mobile email clients, but as a consumer I  very happily read the eight sentence text emails of CopyBlogger as well as the simple email feed of the long blog posts of Avinash Kaushik.

Sometimes the mere fact that so many options are available can overwhelm digital marketers. It’s important to step back and re-evaluate how best you can use the new opportunities and at what point they are needed for your business.

(This article was published on iMediaConnection.)


Wednesday 18th January 2012 will go down in history as the day Wikipedia and many other websites’ pages went black intentionally to protest against two bills in the USA, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Wikipedia says that be bills are problematic because:

  • Among other serious problems in the current draft of the bills, the requirement exists for US-based sites to actively police links to purported infringing sites.
  • These kinds of self-policing activities are non-sustainable for large, global sites – including ones like Wikipedia.
  • The legislative language is ambiguous and overly broad, even though it touches on protected speech.
  • Congress says it’s trying to protect the rights of copyright owners, but the “cure” that SOPA and PIPA represent is worse than the disease.”

Wikipedia was launched in 2001 as a free encyclopedia edited by thousands of volunteers across the world. It is one of the sites with most traffic on the Internet. If they were to police links, we would not get the amount of information we do today.

This reminds me of my favorite poem By Rabindranath Tagore:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

Ironically SOPA and PIPA are actually well intentioned causes. They are intended to protect the rights and freedom of creators of content, the copyright owners.  But the larger question is how are we to control the dissemination of information? Technology allows us freedom that was not available to us previously. Who will police this deluge of information and in what manner? Is it even possible to police such large content? At what point do we need self-regulation vs government threat?

India is also asking websites to police the content. In December 2010, Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal asked social websites like Google and Facebook to ensure that uploading of derogatory material online is stopped. Sibal has said that the content posted on some of the sites was so offensive that it would hurt the religious sentiments of a large section of communities in the country. In that sense Kapil Sibal is being called the human SOPA of India, but SOPA and SIBAL stand for different things.

SOPA wants to protect the rights of content creators but by telling everyone to keep a watch on every link. Sibal on the other hand wants to impose his diktat on what should be our freedom of speech.

Everyone has the freedom voice their concern, debate on what someone said, including Mr. Vinay Rai who has gone to the courts alleging criminal negligence by Google, Facebook and other companies for not removing objectionable material from their sites. Read about him here.

We are dangerously close to losing our sensibilities as to how hurt we should be if someone writes inflammatory content. When should your freedom to get offended subdue my freedom of speech? When should my endeavor to stop copyright violation become my responsibility that will be a punishable offense?

These are very human questions and not as much legal. There will be courts and laws to guide but they will not settle the disputes. This must emerge as an issue that gets resolved sensibly by a mature society. Without such sensibility all Internet will be just illegal content full of venom and all of us will be up in arms against each other.

A healthy self-regulation like that adopted by the Advertisement Industry is the need of the hour.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements.

This is something the SMS industry in India has failed to do and has done too little too late. I recently changed my mobile operator and my number. Even before I could share my new number with my friends and family I was inundated with spam SMSes. The Do-not-Disturb registry kicked in only after 7 days and till then I continued to receive Spam. How is that remotely sensible?

Is it any wonder that SMS as a channel in all probability will show signs of slowdown?

I am a digital marketer and know the power of email marketing. However I know how bad everyone thinks email marketing is. I work with the team at and we have been making several attempts to bring the big email marketers together for a common cause – to self regulate and wage war on SPAM.

India has no SPAM laws. A report published recently cited India amongst the top destinations in the world where SPAM originates. (Read AFP: Spammers propel India to junk-mail top spot ). The situation may get worse before it improves. There are “email lists” up for sale everywhere, the same list are sold by agencies to multiple clients. I have heard stories of harassed customers receiving many emails on the same day from different companies. His name was perhaps on such list which was sold over and over to many companies.

Email is not invasive. At least not as much as SMS is. Plus Email providers sort out the junk email cleverly so the average reader does not feel the impact of the problem. When someone like Kapil Sibal becomes a victim of some clever phishing scam or becomes fed up with incessant emails, Marketers might suddenly find themselves scrambling for cover. This has severe implications for legitimate email marketing service providers and Email Marketers. It won’t be long before a DND like situation emerges in the Email Industry and the government turns around and puts demands that may not be well thought out on marketers as well as service providers.

Sure, we will find ways to delay and muddle any anti-spam laws, but prevention is better than cure.

So be it SOPA SMS or SPAM the answer to a sensible system of policing is to have laws that give overall guidelines and are supported by self-regulation by the industry leaders.

This post was published on

Digital Marketers: What’s the ONE thing to do this year?

I think the most typed words in January are “Happy New Year” and “Trends”. Come January everyone is predicting what to expect in the year ahead.  I have read some interesting advice and trends on what to expect in digital marketing this year. I found an interesting report which makes for a good sensible reading. I recommend it for digital marketers. I have also complied is a list of 5 good articles you may want to read on the trends in 2012 for Digital Marketing.

My recommendation to you? Just do ONE thing. I promise you it will have a massive impact on your marketing efforts.

But first here is the gist of popular trends on what to expect in 2012:

  1. “Expect more facebook apps and mobile media” –The 10 hottest media trends for 2012 (
  2. “If you don’t have a mobile website, get one NOW” –Hot new marketing trends for 2012 (

  3. “Showing ROI will be top of mind for marketers” –Top 10 Digital-Marketing Trends For 2012 From (
  4. “Multichannel Marketing will dominate” –Top 5 Marketing Trends for 2012 -(

  5. “Brands should analyze their own CRM data” –2012: The trends every marketer should be aware of (

While most reports are for US / UK, I read an interesting post from Medianama on why SMS or text messaging will decline in India this year. The rise of SMS Spam may have moved users away to BBM (black berry messenger) while IM chats, and mobile social networking are also getting popular by the day. The impact of the Do Not Disturb Registry on large companies has been to increase their communication via email. Did you know that, Email Marketing still generates the highest ROI (in the USA) for every dollar spent amongst all channels? In India too, Email Marketing is growing by leaps and bounds. I work at and we are reaching a higher volume benchmark every single month.

If you are a sensible marketer you already know that your heart of marketing is your CRM database. Behind the mountains of online and offline purchase data, loyalty points system and CRM servers is the data about your customer or prospect. It can be a name of customer, with her physical address or her loyalty card number. In short anything that identifies your buyer uniquely. This unique identifier in the online world is the email address. I call it the most important address on the Internet. If there is one thing you should concentrate on in the digital marketing space in 2012 it is this:

Build your Email List.

I am not saying that because I am an email marketer. I am saying this because it is the one thing that identifies your user in the digital world; and by build I mean, BUILD not BUY.

Why is this simple data point, invaluable? With email you can

Talk to the consumer directly via email marketing. Even simple personalization in the email, anniversary or birthday wishes builds a dialog with your reader.

This channel is two way. Consumers reply to emails. You will be amazed at what insights they have and communicate happily, if you are listening.

This builds a dialog, loyalty, brand equity like nothing else can.

It’s not rocket science, does not need huge IT investments, and in fact is probably lowest in costs compared to say your banner ads.

You can measure effectiveness immediately. You will know who opened who clicked instantly. You can even check your Open Rates against published Benchmarks in India and abroad.

Did you know visitors who come to your website via email spend 30% more time on your website?

The key with having your own email list is that it helps you start engaging the customer, if you have her permission. Don’t spam. It will only spoil you brand reputation.

Email is ubiquitous. If you are a digital marketer, your consumers are online. It’s highly unlikely that they don’t have an email. Compare this to an FB or a twitter follower.

So yes, while you balance, SEM, SEO, Banners ads, affiliates, social media and all other channels, if you do just one thing your marketing efforts will reap huge rewards.

How should you go about doing that?  That’s a separate discussion. There are tools, techniques, advice on how to gather email data of your customers. That is the task that you should concentrate on.

So, my advice to digital marketers in India in 2012, is to do just this ONE thing: “build your email list”.

So you thought Email was dead? About $25 Million funding for apps around email in 2011. Yes Email.

I have been writing about Email Marketing on  this blog for a while, but this post is not about Email Marketing. I read a post about how a VC fund is investing in applications around Email, particularly Google Marketplace. That got me thinking of all the applications I have been following that are around Email.

Email is far from being dead. The simple and humble email is the most ubiquitous web application on the Internet. Here are some applications around Email that are interesting to watch:

Yesware is an Email for sales people. The application is available for Gmail and smart phones and provides email analytics, customizable templates and CRM integration. They secured $1M in funding in September 2011. overcomes Gmail’s shortcomings in attachment search. allows you to search by file type, email address, or tag. In March 2011 they received a seed funding of $500K.

Spanning is not strictly an email related app, but it’s a business-class, cloud-to-cloud backup for Google Apps. In April 2011 they reported securing Series A funding of $2M.

Perkville is a loyalty card solution without any plastic card or any phone app. Your email address is your loyalty card. Neat, eh? The company’s profile on CrunchBase mentions a seed funding of $500K in Jan 2011.

Instead of constantly checking your inbox for important messages, AwayFind lets you configure when and how to alert you of urgent emails, SMS, phone calls or smartphone apps running on the iPhone or Android devices. Awayfind reported getting $800K funding in October 2011.

ShortMail – It’s like Twitter for email. It forces you to cut down your email to 500 characters. They secured $750K Series A funding in July 2011.

FanBridge is a Fan relationship management service. They had secured about $2M in funding in Jan 2011. FanBridge, helps bands, artists, sports teams, and even small businesses and brands manage their fan base through opt-in emails and sophisticated analytics. It manages more than 120 million fans via email alone.

ActivePath has developed a “patent pending” technology that allows Banks to send out emails such that readers can instantly take action on the email – transact immediately via email itself. ActivePath secured Series B funding of $10M in September 2011.

Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your Gmail inbox and includes information from sources like LinkedIn, Skype etc. I find this quite a useful add-on to Gmail. Last year they received $1M in seed funding. Gmail has introduced its own People widget in May 2011.

CloudMagic has built a browser extension that results in an extra search box in your Gmail interface that allows you to rapidly search for anything in your inbox, with results updating as you type and the ability to preview messages from a thread in a tab or open entire conversations with a single click.

LiveIntent helps sell and buy email ad inventory. They secured $8M in series B funding in September 2011.

There are a lot more interesting apps around email marketing, Email and CRM integrations, and browser extensions and so on.

Email, has still got its mojo.

Source: TechCrunch

Published on

What is SPF? SPF explained in simple words

Have you seen emails go out in the sun and get totally tanned? Well, they should have used a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 30. Whaaaa?

Ok. I am kidding. The SPF in your sunscreen has nothing to do with the SPF in email marketing. 🙂 In this post I hope to convey in very simple words, without getting into any jargon what SPF is about.<

SPF in Email Marketing is an “Authentication Mechanism”. It’s like a badge that your email carries and produces when the bouncer at the ISP asks for it.

  1. Who wants this authentication? The ISP who is showing you the email, for example Yahoo is the ISP that checks the email before letting it into your Yahoo Mail inbox. (Substitute Yahoo for Gmail, Hotmail etc.)
  2. What is being authenticated? The email is being checked to see if it was sent by a spammer.
  3. Who authorizes, or establishes if the email is genuine? Your website.

Here is how this happens:

  1. The ISP asks the email for its “ID” card or badge before letting the email in.
  2. The email then shows its “SPF” which is like its badge showing which website it has come from.
  3. The ISP then goes sneaking to the website, asking if the ID is genuine. The website looks at the badge and says “Yup. That’s my email, alright. Please let him pass.”

Here is this exchange in the format the “Internets” understand well, via stick people (who else?)!

SPF explained in simple wordsSPF explained in simple words

So you see the final authority in making sure that your emails land in the inbox is with your website. Your website needs to “authenticate” the email. The full form of SPF is Sender Policy Framework (seriously, I think the Internet people who come up with such names should go out in the sun more often!). If you don’t have SPF, you don’t get in the inbox. Simple. Just like you should not go out in the sun without sunscreen don’t start your email marketing without SPF.

How is the SPF thingy done? That’s for next post. In that post I will share the SPF details in slightly more technical terms.