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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.