Monday, 27 August 2012

Responsive Email Newsletter Design: Increase Mobile Readership

Posted by: Christian Vasile, in: Design, on: August 27, 2012 | 0 Comments
We’ve been talking about the concept of Responsive Web Design (RWD) quite a lot lately and we took it even further away with tools for responsive images and others. Soon we will also provide an article covering the subject of Responsive Typography, but until then let’s focus on email newsletters and how we can turn them into responsive layouts, so they can fit the screen of the device they are viewed on.

Why responsive design again?

Many of us read emails from our smartphones – in the car, train or even airplane. We try to do as many things as possible on the go, so we can enjoy some more free time with the family, in the gym or with a hobby.
If you read your emails from a smartphone once, you already know that while this can be a positive experience, it can also turn into a negative one. We’ve experienced small fonts, narrow columns and broken layouts way too many times. But we are in for a change now that Responsive Web Design is on the verge of becoming one of the most important concepts in web design history.
If you are one of the ones who send email newsletters and you are not aware if it, I am informing you that around 20% of the emails sent worldwide are read on a smartphone or tablet (according to a survey from 2011 – almost 16% more than in 2009). Surprisingly or not, approximately 90% of these devices are running iOS.
So each fifth of your potential readers use a portable device when accessing their inbox. Few years ago people were concerned with making these emails look good in Gmail or Outlook. Now that this is sort out, making them look good on portable devices is as important as that and requires immediate attention.
With these portable devices quickly taking over, it is clear that providing a negative reading experience on a small screen will likely cause you to lose some followers, maybe even the majority of them.

Devices to target

Devices to target
You might ask yourself which are the devices you can design for – and I can tell you that, more or less, you can design for all of them. Devices running iOS should be no issue, as they are optimized very well for HTML and CSS. While you might encounter some issues with Android devices, this is also straightening out through regular updates from Google. Basically, there are no limits for you.

The design elements

Before jumping into a bit of coding, we should take a look at some design elements that fit mobiles well and the ones that should be avoided. The same concepts of Responsive Web Design will be used for building responsive email newsletters. In case you don’t know much about Responsive Web Design, this article might not make too much sense for you, so you should go back and read something about the basics of the concept.
The basic idea is that, as usual, we will build two CSS layouts of the same content – one will fit desktop and webmail clients and the other will look good on smaller screen.
In order to make a layout look good on mobile, there are some CSS specifics you will need to take into consideration:
  • Columns – there should never be more than one column, not wider than 500 to 600 pixels.
  • Links and buttons – these should have a minimum target area of 44 x 44 pixels, according to some guidelines provided by Apple. This will ensure you will be able to actually click on links and navigate through.
  • Font size – you will obviously have something to say, so you will use words and letters. Make sure the minimum font size you use is 13 pixels. According to the same American giant, anything smaller will be upscaled and could break the layout.
  • Length – messages displayed on portable devices should normally be very short and concise. The important elements should be in the upper side and scrolling should be reduced as much as possible.
  • Hiding elements – on desktop you can afford to use much more space than on a mobile platform. Therefore it is a smart idea to use a simple CSS property to hide different elements: display: none. If you want an example of something that should be hidden, then social media buttons are those things. While they might be great and useful on desktop, they are cluttering the layout on mobile.
In order to develop a good solution for portable devices, it is a good idea to start mocking up two layouts right from the beginning, one for desktop and one for mobile. Keep in mind that on mobile you have much less space above the fold – and this is the place where all the important elements should be placed, including the CTA button (also called call-to-action button). The recipient should not scroll in order to see it.

Let’s see some coding!

In order to help you off a good start, I will tell you a bit about how to actually start coding such a responsive newsletter design. When we said earlier that we will have two stylesheets, I didn’t mean two different ones. You will only have a stylesheet, but you will use media queries to display the elements different on some devices.
Elements different on some devices
The @media declaration is all about recognizing the screen size. The @media declaration specifies that this stylesheet has to be used only when the screen is narrower than 480 pixels. This value can be accommodated according to which devices you target.
If you want to be ultra-specific you can use the same declaration type for different sizes of screens, like below.
Different sizes of screens
From here on, you just code the same way you always did. It is that easy!

Other tricks

While designing a layout with one column and narrowing it down would be much easier, you can also design one with two columns for desktop use and customize it for mobile by putting the columns on top of each other with the help of CSS.
Another thing you can use is the so-called “progressive disclosure” technique. Wikipedia uses it on mobile devices a lot. It basically means hiding content under specific elements that once tapped will display it. If tapped again, they will hide the content. This ensures that the user doesn’t have to scroll too much in order to reach the content placed at the bottom of the newsletter.
This technique works very well for newsletter emails, where you can display all the news and a short description of each and then, if tapped, each link will show the respective content.

Focus and fluidity

What many people are not aware of is the fact that media queries, which I’ve been using in the examples above, can be quite focused. This means you can both design for landscape and portrait orientations and for as many exact resolutions as you wish.
Focus and fluidity
The code above tells the stylesheet that the screen should have a width of more than 320px, but no more than 480px. To this you can add another rule, and another one, and another one, and so on. You can design for as many devices and screen sizes as you wish.
Media queries can also be used for creating fluid layouts, which basically means you won’t have to be so precise about different screen sizes, but you will define elements in percent of the screen size, narrowing them down according to how wide the screen is. To apply a left margin, you simply use: margin-left: 3%. This will ensure that regardless of how narrow or wide the screen is, the margin will always be 3% of the width.

Optimizing images

Some designers recommend you to resize images at the exact size for the screen you display it on. I, however, would recommend creating a new image for the small sizes. A big image scaled down might not be so useful or visible, so creating an image where you crop corners out would be a solution.
If you design for Apple devices, I would recommend creating an image at the double size of the one you wish to display on, simply because of the Retina displays Apple devices feature. This small trick will make images look sharp and crisp and therefore will improve the user experience.
Optimizing images
Resizing images for fluid layouts should simply be done by using background-size: 100%. However, it seems there are some more advantages to background-size: cover, so do a bit of research and see which one fits you better.


To put and end to this article, I want to tell you about how important it is to actually test the newsletters on as many devices as possible, and not only in resized Safari or Chrome desktop browsers. Portable devices usually interpret different things a whole other way than computers do, so you have to make sure your mobile newsletter version really looks like you wanted it to.
Soon most emails will be read from a portable device rather than from a desktop screen. I am sure you would like to make that content readable and offer a good user experience to those followers reading on the go. If you provide a list with such emails, you should go and research a bit more about RWD for email newsletters and start designing and developing for these portable devices right away.
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Pricing your product: it doesn’t have to be so complicated

Written on 25th August, 2012 • 21 Comments
In the last week I’ve talked with a few early stage startup founders about pricing. It seems pricing is often a large block for many. It’s understandable, since there are so many decisions to make: When do you start charging? How much do you charge? Do you have a free plan? Do you have a trial period? How many tiers do you have? If you’re like I was, it can also be very difficult to imagine anyone would pay for something you build. To add to that, pricing can feel very final, so it can be hard to take the leap and charge.
I want to share some of my thoughts around pricing based on my experience with Buffer and talking with others who have successful startups out there with pricing plans.

Why you should charge early

One of the most interesting things is that whilst pricing can be the single biggest block for startup founders, I think it can actually also be one of the most powerful things for a startup founder to do. To start charging is a leap of progress:

Paying customers are one of the best forms of validation

The eventual goal of a startup is always to make money, so why delay? No matter how much validation we get in other key metrics, revenue is clearly the one where when we see money hit the bank we have very good reason to celebrate.

Paying customers will motivate you more than anything

I remember that motivation was a real struggle in the first couple of years of trying to create a startup. It’s definitely tough when you’re working away and feel like things aren’t working, or that people aren’t noticing. Even when you’re getting signups, it can be hard to stay motivated. Since I was working on the side, seeing the first few payments come in for Buffer was a huge motivation boost. It was easy to stay focused when I had the ability to imagine the monthly revenue growing to a stage where I could drop my other work.

Revenue gives you freedom

Having paid plans for Buffer from day 1 is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. As a first time founder, I’ve found that it’s difficult to raise money with just an idea. You’re much better off focusing on building traction. After we reached ramen profitability, we were able to raise funding and since then it’s also given me the opportunity to travel the world.

Why pricing doesn’t have to be complicated

There are many questions around pricing, and it’s easy to think that they all need very good answers. In addition, we often fall into the trap of thinking that we can’t change our pricing once it is decided. What happens to existing customers?

There’s no need for perfect

As a result of making the decision to charge from day 1, and also to launch a truly minimal MVP, the first version had many rough edges. It didn’t do much, it had many bugs, it had paid features which hadn’t been built yet, and the upgrade process was me getting a PayPal payment and scrambling from my email to the database to upgrade them manually.
None of it mattered, though. Despite the bugs and missing features, I had myfirst paying customer after 3 days. I think it’s important to remember the early users are a different breed and they not only tolerate, but enjoy being part of the early stages where imperfection is prevalent.

You won’t get it right first time

“It’s unlikely that you’ve got the price right the first time regardless how much research you put into it” - Dharmesh Shah
One of the most useful concepts I’ve come across in my journey of working on startups is that a key characteristic of a founder is not for every decision to be perfect, but to make decisions quickly:
“[Entrepreneurs] know that they need to move the ball forward everyday and make decisions with incomplete information. They know that at best 70% of their decisions are going to be wrong and they find ways to correct their direction.” - Mark Suster
It’s not possible to know how users will react until you have something out there, so let’s spend less time planning and more time building and seeing what happens.

It’s easy to change your pricing

I remember I used to think that it wasn’t possible to change pricing. What happens to existing users? Won’t there be outrage? Then we came to the point with Buffer where we felt that the pricing needed to change. So, we changed the pricing. It was no big deal, in fact it was quite amazing. We followed this simple rule:
“we have a rule at HubSpot, it’s been in place for five years, we’ve changed prices, increased prices, consistently relatively for 5 years maybe twice or so a year, we continue to do that step up and there’s lots of goodness that comes out of that, but we don’t screw existing customers.” - Dharmesh Shah
The key part of what Dharmesh says here is “don’t screw existing customers”. If you stick to that, changing the pricing is easy and becomes much less of a big deal in your mind. What it means is that you do what is best for the customer. If you put the price up, keep existing customers on the original price point. We even offered the previous price to anyone who signed up before the pricing change.

The pricing you have at the start will eventually be wrong

The interesting thing we found is that the pricing actually must change at some point. It’s almost inevitable. The reason is this: you’re working away, every single day, to make the product even more awesome. If 3 or 6 months down the line, the product is not worth more, then surely something has not worked out?
In addition, your goals might change over time. At the start of Buffer, revenue was the number 1 priority. We needed revenue just so we could eat. Now, we’re lucky have a very solid model and we make more each month than we spend. We also have funding. Our 100% focus now is growth, and revenue is less of an issue. We know that if we focus on growth and we get more users with the same conversion through our funnel, that can be better than optimising revenue with our existing users. With that in mind, we simplified our pricing and now have just a single paid plan: the Awesome Plan. Our upgrades actually doubled pretty much overnight.

Every product has changed its pricing many times

The interesting thing is, the more I speak with established startups, the more I found that they’ve all changed their pricing many times. The reasons are always one or more of the above, and it has always worked out well for them.Dharmesh mentioned that HubSpot has changed it’s pricing roughly twice a year for 5 years. If that’s the case, surely we don’t need to worry so much about getting it right?

Free your mind of “pricing”. Just start charging.

With all of this in mind, I think we can agree that the pricing decision is temporary, and the best thing to do is to start charging and give yourself a chance at the amazing benefits ahead along that path.
“go ahead and act as if your decisions are temporary. Because they are. Be bold, make mistakes, learn a lesson and fix what doesn’t work. No sweat, no need to hyperventilate.” - Seth Godin
Have you started charging for your product yet? Or are you thinking about how you’ll price your product? I’d love to hear from you.
Photo credit: Teddy James

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Why and how you should improve customer loyalty right now

An impressive percentage of marketing budgets is spent to drive traffic, acquire new customers and increase market share. It’s often the part of the marketing budget where businesses waste most money. Driving traffic is one thing, seeing it as an opportunity to engage the people of flesh and blood behind the stats in a valuable way another.
Low marketing optimization budgets prove it, as do limited customer loyalty efforts. Indeed, businesses ignore a lot of untapped potential in working with existing customers.  Here’s why you should pay more attention to customer loyalty and how.
While getting more customers is an obvious must, it’s important to increase the share of customers as well. Building loyal relationships based on real value, with existing customers works. Growing revenue through up-selling and striving towards brand advocacy works also.

Customer loyalty for customer acquisition: two birds, one stone

Providing great customer experiences and touchpoints across all channels is the basis of customer retention, and a must if you want to be credible and perceived as trustworthy and valuable, a key challenge for most businesses.
In these connected times, there is an increasing focus on customer loyalty and the next stage, advocacy or evangelism. They are drivers of social proof, recommendations, word-of-mouth and the ripple effects of reach in a connected space. Developing and strengthening relationships that focus on what the customer needs to succeed, and having a human and transparent approach are determining factors to get your best customers to that next level.Advocacy is the best form of advertising.
Efficient and channel-agnostic interactions that tap into the power of the existing customer and of loyalty are a fast route to credibility, trust and word-of-mouth. By doing it right, very loyal customers bring new customers to the company and sales cycles get shortened.
Of course, there is a cost involved. However, why not use a portion of your traditional ‘traffic and reach’ budget to enhance customer loyalty? This allows you to kill two birds with one stone. Reduce churn, up-sell and get higher margins on one hand. Acquire customers via peer recommendations, endorsements, credibility and social proof on the other.

The business case of customer loyalty

Customer loyalty was traditionally defined from the perspective of purchasing intensity and the ‘rate’ of usage’. It segments loyal customers as heavy, medium or light users.
The Pareto rule, a.k.a. 80-20 rule, says 20% of customers are responsible for 80% of profit. In practice, the real percentage depends upon many parameters and typically varies between 20 and 40%. However, it’s clear loyalty in the sense of buying behavior and usage intensity is important.
There is also a very strong emotional aspect regarding customer loyalty. Opinion Research calculated that 90% of customers who love a company will repeat but only 30% of customers who like it will do the same.
While you can segment your customers according to repeat buys and customer satisfaction levels, it can be worthwhile to also segment your satisfied and loyal customers from this emotional perspective to identify potential brand ‘lovers’ and advocates.
The business impact is obvious: Reichheld and Sasser calculated that a reduction of 5% of defective customers may result in 80% increase in profitability. Furthermore, an augmentation of loyalty levels and brand advocates leads to undeniable scale effects. And, as said true brand loyalty can lead to average higher revenues through up-selling but also the willingness to pay more for higher levels of service.
On the emotional level, loyalty is related to trust, perceived value, feeling of status, feeling of accomplishment, success, satisfaction, degree of personal attention, sense of exclusivity and credibility, to name just a few. These same emotional dimensions play a key role in word-of-mouth.

6+ steps to improve customer loyalty using a segmented approach

We often talk about customer loyalty programs. While loyalty can indeed be planned, you should remember that some conditions such as a sense of exclusivity and emotional attributes are essential for successful customer loyalty programs.
Enhancing customer loyalty
Enhancing customer loyalty
  • Identify the segments and their needs. Look at emotional and rational elements. Identify how you can better educate and inform so your customer succeeds better thanks to your help. Take into account several pains. Look at ways to take them to the next level. Analyze what leads to higher loyalty by tracking customer behavior, conducting surveys and having personal interactions. Don’t underestimate emotional benefits and attributes.
  • Define the right mix per segment and identify potential sub-segments based on behavioral analysis and other patterns such as which channels are preferred. Analyze media consumption and content/information needs.  The mix can consist of tactics such as community marketing, email marketing, segmented content programs, etc.
  • Create tailor-made propositions using the channels your best customer segments prefer. Look at propositions across the value chain of your customer (including his customers) and ask how you can help him succeed by making his customers and peers succeed of these indirect segments.
  • Detect segments that might be undetected potential loyal customers, passing under the radar of your teams. Build more personal programs to identify untapped potential.
  • Design for customer loyalty. List what you need to be able to build a relationship culture across your organization and within the departments that come into contact with loyals. Make sure your collaborators understand the importance, train, develop different strategies per segment and prepare.
  • Involve and highlight your best customers where possible and collaborate with them on recommendation and advocacy programs, for instance, using content, that are beneficial for you and them.
And of course: constantly optimize customer experiences across touchpoints.
Obviously, this list of steps is not exhaustive and should be adapted to your context. What matters is that you start focusing more on loyal customers. They deserve it, your bottom-line demands it and your brand reputation can’t live without it.
About J-P De Clerck
J-P De Clerck is a customer-centric marketing consultant. You can follow him on Twitter via @conversionation. Connect on Google+ via +J-P De Clerck.


  1. [...] Brand advocates are among the most powerful sources of social recommendations, word-of-mouth and sales in this social era. However, businesses ignore or forget many possibilities to get more brand advocates, including loyal customers. [...]

Defining Brands and 4 Ways to Alienate Them

Defining Brands and 4 Ways to Alienate Them

branding“Reconnect your brand.” That’s the slogan one of my customers, who is active in the marketing automation space, started using recently as part of a rebranding strategy. However, it’s more than a slogan. Brands and businesses are really disconnected from their customers, trust me. Marketing is broken as I recently wrote. It has to do with personality, processes, trust and living up to promises. Furthermore, the changes in how people inform themselves, interact and decide, alienate brands even more. So, if brands are alienated, the question is how they can “reconnect” as in my customer’s slogan? Time for some ‘tips’.
It was once believed that a brand was primarily a matter of positioning. However, the role of perception and reputation plays a more significant role in defining what a brand and business really is.
A brand is more than the sum of experiences and perceptions
In that regard, all touchpoints play a significant role as they define customer experiences that get shared nowadays. A brand is really a promise of meeting the needs, expectations and promises of prospective customers and other people in the ecosystem of the business.
Although branding and PR obviously remain important, many rules have changed and the public dimension of social has even strengthened this evolution. The value of a brand is in the eye of the beholder and revolves around credibility, personality, trust, openness, transparency, relevance and the level of participation that is necessary in social business for instance.
Having more personal relationships and putting the preferences of the connected customer in the centre is essential to succeed in marketing and building a strong brand reputation. In the end, it’s a very human and emotional approach in all aspects, one of the reasons why nowadays we often talk about people-centricity instead of customer-centricity. This means it’s not (just) about your mission, vision and values anymore. It’s about those of your customers, in the largest possible sense of the word. Buyers, prospects, partners, employees, visitors and their connections: everyone in the ecosystem around your brand.
People want to buy from people and know how they are buying from. They want to know who will answer their questions and experience the personal approach they had in the good old local grocery shop, being able to talk to a person instead of a corporate building. They want authenticity.
So, reconnecting your brand is about reconnecting people. After all, that’s also what social media is about. A brand is about more than experiences, slogans and perception: it’s about people. Now, how do you reconnect your brand? Personality is one of the answers.
Just look at the four ‘tips’ to alienate your brand below…
1. Send general messages with the same content for everyone
Forget personalization, segmentation, behavioral profiling, scenarios, event-driven marketing, etc. After all, sending the same messages to everyone, without taking into account individual behavior, preferences and needs, works perfectly, as long as we keep repeating it. Sticking to the old rules of broadcasting is the perfect way to disconnect your brand. Ignore the fact that people actively seek information themselves and control their buying journey. Ignore what we know as ‘inbound’. Just push out the same messages over and over.
2. Ignore the data and control your brand at any cost
You define what your brand stands for. Ignore the reality of what people say on social networks or what feedback they give you elsewhere and strictly follow your rules. Don’t let go of your brand, even not a little: control. Of course, you need to have lots of data but don’t use them to make your marketing more relevant. You are in command, and the customer is not empowered at all. Stick to that approach and you will surely alienate your brand.
3. Disconnect your marketing and customer systems
Make sure you have different applications for all your marketing and customer-facing needs. One to send emails, one to analyze and track, one to listen to customer (or act as if you do), one to manage your marketing resources, one for mobile, etc. The consumer doesn’t use multiple channels; he simply clicks and buys. Or he comes into your store and buys. Do not choose an integrated marketing approach. Alienating your brand means disconnecting your applications too!
4. Never mind the silos
The best way to run your marketing is by putting everything in silos. Every marketing channel deserves to be siloed. After all, your customer is not one single human being. Now he’s a subscriber, next he’s a fan, then a follower and in the end just an anonymous target. Furthermore, make sure that all marketing interactions are handled by various marketing and customer departments (product marketing, etc.) without any coordination whatsoever. Marketing fatigue, banner blindness and skipping TV ads are just an illusion.
Bonus tip: don’t involve other departments, outside of marketing either. And never ever involve the customer.
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