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Creative Email Campaigns: Why an Online Education Company Sent an Email About Football

Can a coding company send a relevant email about football? Or will we just spam our friends and students?

Every week, over team brainstorms how to reach out to people in clever, funny, and interesting ways. We don’t want to clog up your email inbox (annoying!) or send messages that just push sales (boring). Our aim is to inspire, delight — and just maybe deliver something unexpected in your inbox. Our company is focused on accelerated learning, experimentation, and a little bit of quirkiness.

Last week, our team had to think about how to connect over football. (At least American football, because the Super Bowl was this weekend — some of us are soccer fans, or what the rest of the world knows as “football.”)

“I don’t understand football, honestly,” I admitted sheepishly to my colleague.

He laughed — “Me neither!”

“Wait,” I said. “Can we go with that?”

What if I sent an email about football and asked people to teach me what they knew? We crafted an email to reach out to people and sent the following:

What happened next was pretty cool. Over 200 people wrote back to me, and I spent Saturday morning hanging out and writing replies back to folks.

A lot of people had REALLY funny things to say, and I have to say, you taught me a lot about football. Moreover, I got to know several hundred faces in the One Month community and get to know a lot about who reads our blog, what they’re interested in learning, and — of course — what they know about football.

The thing is, we’re always learning here at One Month, and when there’s something we don’t know much about (like football), we want to learn from each of you. Thanks for taking the time to write in and teach us. It was a great way to learn about y’all.

Here are some of the highlights of what you shared and taught us about football:

“Football to me is all about memories, nostalgia and loyalty. Just like a group of developers get together and nerding out over the latest grunt or rails package, football is a common thread that we can all get behind to rally for — regardless of race, religion or any other preference.” — Andrew

“It’s like a new episode of a TV show every Sunday and Monday, except it’s a very real business with very real people.” — Shafiq

“The Super Bowl is like Thanksgiving in February: Your family wants to do a big dinner and bring everyone home for the weekend while you secretly wish you were drunk with friends watching the game without having to talk about what you’re thankful for.” — Saif

“I felt similarly to you, until I was watching the Ravens take on the 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl. Suddenly, I saw the strategy, the patterns, how each team used each play to advance further along the board. Each player had a role, a specific skillset and position. The coach and quarterback coordinate to take control of the game. The game is even more complex, as each position is dynamic with injuries and individual player performance. In order to win, you must keep track of a strategy that is constantly changing in response to the other team’s moves, players, and the end objective to move along the board and win the game. I’m now a fantasy football addict.” — Melinda

“It’s a national ‘Sickie’ day in the UK on Monday for those that stay up to watch.” — Howard

“You mean the Katy Perry concert? The show opened and closed by some soccer thing?” — John

“Loving a football team is like working at a company. So when your company/team does well you feel like you did well. Even if all you did was cheer in the stands or write emails asking about football, you share the glory of your team’s success.” — Taylor

“It may not look like it, but there is real grace and skill behind it, both individually and on the field and as a team. The things these players execute are as athletic and sometimes as elegant as figure skaters or gymnasts, even on the Offensive or Defensive lines (the pile up).”

“They are trying to open up or close down gaps where someone might run or throw the ball, and like sumo wrestlers, they push against each other to do so, leveraging their bodies to knock the opposing blocker down. The game is also deeply rooted in American history. Listen to this week’s Radiolab for the full version, but it does come out of a tradition where guys had to show they were tough…because previous generations of men had The Civil War and wars in the west against native Americans to really show their toughness. Teddy Roosevelt had to intervene to make the game less brutal (people were dying on the field playing the game)…the biggest thing to come out of that era was the forward pass.” — Ian

“Every play is an opportunity for strategy. It’s like playing a more complicated version of rock, paper, scissors. Whatever both players just picked will affect each player’s decision in the next round. And both anticipate the other side’s anticipation of their own behavior, leading to a sort of strategy arms race.” — Peter

“I’ll probably get punched for saying this, but one of my favorite things about football is honestly the food and beer/whiskey, then onto friends and family and lastly it’s the game.” — Brandon

“At a basic level movies are great because they transport you to a different world (the willing suspension of disbelief). Football fans experience something similar; when your team is on the field nothing else matters, you’re in a different world.” — Michael

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe these videos will:

In addition to all of the helpful commentary, we also got a bunch of links, videos, and references. Radiolab did an exceptional piece on American Football, and the YouTube videos we got were hilarious. Here’s a few of the best:

Andy Griffith explaining football in this 1953 commentary:

Bad British NFL Commentary:

And a Guide to American Football:

What about the haters?

As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …”

You can’t please everyone. As a marketer and a long-time communicator, I’ve learned this through trial and error. You simply cannot please everyone. One of my favorite branders and designers says that it’s better to have a brand that’s both loved (and hated) than to have something that people feel indifferent about.

With emails — the only way you can have zero unsubscribes is if you have no one on your email list, or if you never send any emails at all. We track all of our open rates, subscribes, engagements, and unsubscribes and we learn from every campaign. (The highest opened email of all of our blog campaigns so far has been the “Drunk Mode” video release.)

Everyone has different opinions, and for the football email we got a couple of replies (just a few, thankfully) that sounded like someone got out of bed on the wrong day. (In that case, I just crank out the T-Swift and keep going).

In one instance, someone said:

“Who the *bleep* is Sarah?”

Right. So, hey y’all. I’m Sarah. I joined the One Month team to help them with creative writing, copywriting, marketing, and content creation. You can see all the awesome people on the One Month team on our about page or check out the recent talk Mattan and I did on content marketing last week in our free webinar (info below). I’ve been writing a few blog posts and I’ll be writing new essays on accelerated learning, growth, and ideas here on the blog. (If you want us to cover anything specific, or you have a question, just leave a note in the comments or reach out to me by email, happy to chat).

Another person more politely asked: what’s the point of this email?

Emailing is a conversation — it’s not just blasting information and shouting at people. If you use it creatively, it can be a way to get to know more of the faces at One Month, including many of our students, friends, and alumni.

Out of 200+ responses, we had three grumps, hundreds of awesome explanations, and a lot of conversation. As a marketer — which to me, means conversationalist, you’ve got to hold space for dozens of conversations with tons of customers, students, and people engaging with your brand. How do they interact with you? What’s the overall tone and reaction?

Several people cheers us for not selling anything —

“Great (and engaging) email. Way to not sell anything, and not be offering anything, but still be interesting. Well done!” — Josh

“I admire your willingness to dive in and learn about this wonderfully complex game. I hope that you received some clever tutorials.” — Jay

In addition, being able to explain a game — a process, a strategy, a theory, a team — is much more similar to understanding coding and creation strategy than you might expect. Here at One Month, we think learning new things is fun, and we might continue to surprise you every now and then — with new classes, interests, ideas, and questions.

Or email campaigns.

In all the responses I got, I learned so much from everyone, which resonates with our own spirit of wanting to learn, well, everything. Lee is practicing to become a world-champion DJ, and Mattan is teaching himself to play piano. Chris and Mattan take improv classes and I just signed up for my first singing lesson. What can I say? We’re nerds who like accelerated learning.

Thanks to everyone who played along! Hope you enjoyed the sport, the entertainment, and the conversations. We had a blast doing this.

We’re constantly experimenting with what we send people — developing a style and then testing out new things to see what we can tweak, improve, and better. If you want to learn more about content marketing and how to communicate in a way that’s different, unique, and fun — check out our content marketing free webinar or our upcoming class launching the last week of February.

In the end, the highest email open rates come from creative emails.

In our free webinar, Mattan and I chat about our top ten quick-wins for making content that actually gets shared. We break down the definition of content marketing and share ten strategies for engaging with your audience in a more meaningful way. In our upcoming class, we’ll be breaking down what content marketing is, who’s doing it really well, and how to construct email campaigns, experiments, and incentives so you can grow your own business, brand, or project.

And last but not least, the email winners:

Also, I have to announce the winner!

We had so many creative replies. Congrats to Craig Morrison for having the funniest response. You made me laugh out loud.

Here’s what Craig wrote:

The best part about football is the singularity of the sport.

It’s just you, versus your opponent.

You’re both surrounded by thousands of people, staring down at you as you play, all intensely watching your every move.

It’s intoxicating, knowing those players and the pressure they’re under.

Seeing them play what is much more a mental sport than any kind of physical one.

The sweat on your hands, the racquet slipping from your grip as you swing.

The pain in your knees you barely notice as you sprint across the court to take a last ditch effort at hitting the ball back to your opponent.

Wait that’s Tennis, football sucks.

PS: Don’t get me started on football, with all those different clubs and the tiny white balls. It’s barely even a sport.

And congrats to the following people who also sent amazing emails:

Also, bonus congratulations to Melinda Pandiangan for your awesome storytelling and sharing that football is about patterns, strategy, and complexity. Scott Johns explained that that football strategy is more like game theory than crushing humans, Caroline Bagby for sharing her evolution from not caring to learning all about the game to becoming a marketer for the Patriots (and subsequently learning all about the game), Jeff Charleston for giving some insight into the game (having played a super bowl himself!), and Yonathan Ayenew for reminding me to stick to my guns and read a book if that’s what I want to do next. You all rock!

What’s the best email campaign you’ve ever received? What do you love getting in your inbox?

7 Quick Ways To Step Up Your Email Design Today

How many emails do you receive a day? Ten? Twenty? Fifty? Now, how many of those emails do you quickly skim and immediately delete? In today’s on-the-go, instant gratification world, we want to get the information quickly and make sure it serves a purpose in our lives. We tend to fill more and more of our time connected to our devices, and we want to make sure that our time is being used wisely.

This means that the likelihood of your email being read from start to finish by readers may be slim to none. Don’t be disheartened; email marketing is still one of the most valuable, not to mention free, resources at your disposal. Before the email you are getting ready to send ends up in the junk folder, make sure your email design has been carefully crafted.

Make sure your message is clear. You may only get one shot to connect with a potential customer, influencer, or colleague before they’re already on to the next message in their inbox. Once you have their attention, you need to make sure your email is designed to convert and engage.

You don’t have to be a graphic designer or an expert to put together an email with a high open and click-through rate, but you should put enough energy behind your campaigns to ensure their success. Rework your current email design by taking the following ideas and applying them to your brand and messaging.

Break Up Blocks of Text With Imagery

No one wants to wade through large blocks of text, especially in an email. The majority of people will be reading your email on their mobile device and will quickly lose interest if there is not something eye-catching. It can also be difficult to read long drawn-out paragraphs on your phone so breaking things up into digestible blocks of text can work wonder on your user’s experience.

Go Mobile Friendly

With about 50 percent of emails read on smart phones you can really miss the mark when you ignore users on mobile devices. While we love to see the rise in responsive email design, it is important to remember that not all mail apps, namely the Gmail app, support it and this can result in a pretty sloppy looking email. Instead of going full-on responsive designers can use mobile-friendly design elements such as easy to read text, appropriately designed buttons, and minimal layouts into their email design.

Have a Clear Call to Action

Nothing is more frustrating than sending out an awesome email, seeing that a good amount of people opened it but few people click through to your site. Often, we have a tendency to squeeze everything into one email making it hard for readers to sort through all the information at hand. Instead, lay everything out nice and clean making it nearly impossible for them to miss the mark. Think of each email as a landing page and pay attention to the flow of the design being careful not to oversaturate the user with content.

Select a Good Typography

If you are already have a specific font that you use for your branding, keep with the theme and use as part of all your email campaigns. However, if you haven’t chosen one, select a font that is reflective of your brand, but is also easily readable. Also, if you add banners and or call-to-action boxes in different colors, make sure that the text is legible. Less is typically more when it comes to email when things get too busy readers tend to lose interest. Remember that most readers are on a mobile device so a font that is hard to read when scaled down to size is a clear red flag.

Choose an Appealing Layout

Email marketing services, such as MailChimp, create easy step-by-step tutorials for setting up email templates. Scroll through their templates and examples when you’re in need of a little email design inspiration. Then, take the time to create a few to use whenever you are sending a new campaign.

When the time comes to send an email, it’s easier to build when you only have to swap out content and images and an email design from the ground up. You can use a newsletter format for weekly or monthly emails with snippets of information in different sections or you can use a more basic template for when you want to blast out a brief announcement. Think about the kind of content you’re creating and what makes the most sense for your brand.

Send a Test Email

Just as you would proofread any professional email before you send it, run your email campaign through a QA across all browsers and mail applications before hitting the send to all button. Email a formatted test, so you can see how it appears in your browsers. Did the text become skewed? Is the image populating correctly? Did it grab your attention? To avoid looking like spam, make sure all features of your email are functioning and the spacing is aligned.

Let the Numbers do the Talking

The key to any successful email campaign is to continue to iterate and run tests to see which subject line, content, design, etc. is resonating best with your users. Don’t just go with your gut, run some clear split tests that play around with different layouts and designs to see which one is truly generating the most engagement.

A good design aesthetic immediately captures the user’s attention and lays out your message in an appealing way. Gauge your analytics to determine what kind of emails your subscriber list tends to open most. Switch up your design, even if they are small changes, according to the audience feedback you are receiving. It can seem like trial and error for a while before you find the right formula. As long as you keep your audience in mind, you’ll have success in connecting with them and increasing engagement with your brand.

9 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Sending Email

How many hours a day do you spend writing emails?

We love it, we hate it — we can’t stop using it. Many of us spend a quarter of our working days in email, writing to each other, moving projects forward, connecting to new people.

Email is a form of everyday writing — and if you’re writing poorly, in a rush, or you don’t know how to compose your message for maximum impact, you can end up losing business, friends, or missing out on opportunities.

For all the hacks there are in email efficiency, sometimes we forget to hack ourselves — and use our words more cleverly to get what we want.

Here are 9 mistakes you might be making in email — and how to fix them.

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something. A friend of mine gets into the habit of sending five thoughtful emails each Sunday night to check in with people who he likes, admires, or thinks of. An email might look like a quick note of congratulations or a touch point to say hi:

“Hey, saw some great news about you — just wanted to say congratulations! I love watching what you’re up to through my various news feeds, and I wanted to send a note to say how much I hope you’re doing well.”

It’s a great way to remember to reach out to folks you want to be in touch with, and an actionable way of practicing gratitude.

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well.

“Hey stranger! It’s been a long time. If Facebook’s telling me the scoop, it looks like you had an eventful Spring…congrats on all of your successes!”

3. Using the first person too much

Many emails — and essays — are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out.

For example: “I’m teaching a new writer’s workshop this Spring, and I want help sharing the program. I think you’d be interested in it” (all “I” statements) can be turned into:

“Hey, Leslie. A while back we chatted about ways to improve your writing skills — and it seems you might like this writing workshop for creatives that just launched. Enjoy taking a look and let me know if this is what you were looking for.”

4. Sending the email at the wrong time

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning.

Scheduling emails to be sent in 24 or 48 hours gives you (and your clients) space to breathe between nonurgent projects, and it also sets up a rhythm of communication whereby your client no longer expects you to reply instantaneously. The more structure and parameter you give to the form of your messaging, the easier it is for the client to learn what to expect. You can either train someone to expect instantaneous answers at all times, or to learn the rhythm that’s best for you and your business.

Then, in the case of an emergency, if the client emails and you need to solve the problem straight away, you can send a quick message late in the evening or on a weekend. In this scenario, you become the hero to your client.

5. Sending to too many people

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened.

A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome.

The more specific you can be about who you ask, the better. Asking everyone in your network is bound to get you a bunch of silence in our over-connected world, or unsubscribes and un-follows across your various platforms. It’s better to ask three people who are very well equipped to answer your query than 15 people who aren’t interested at all.

The more specific you can get about who should be receiving the message, the better. One direct ask that results in a yes is better than asking 50 people who don’t respond (and spamming their inboxes).

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups — send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

Here’s some sample copy for you to use:

“Hey, friend. Just wanted to send a quick update about the delivery of our proposal. We’re set to get you something by next Friday, but we might be a few days early. Talk to you next week! Let me know if you have any questions in the meantime.”

“Hey, friend. I know we touched base last month and I’ve been far too slow in getting back to you. I’m still working through the pile on my plate, but I should have something in the next 2–3 weeks. Didn’t want to keep you guessing! Talk soon.”

8. Making messages too long

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order.

Some companies shift to using four-sentence emails and linking to longer pieces of work through Google Documents, Asana, or Basecamp (or other project management software). Here at One Month, we use Asana for project management and Slack for internal messaging, so email is never a nuisance in getting internal messages relayed.

9. Using email exclusively

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening.

Laura Roeder’s digital marketing team is distributed across multiple countries, and in order to stay in touch (and in concert with each other), they focus on “over-communication,” through the use of multiple tools at once.

Now, let’s talk about four ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories

Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story — who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing — it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule

Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective

Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote

Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel — and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer.The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve share-ability, and increase the bottom line.

Next week our Content Marketing class launches — are you on the list to find out when it opens?

What about you? What email mistakes do you see people making all the time that you wish they would fix? What’s the greatest email you’ve ever received?