Email Marketing – Keep ‘em Coming Back

Give the people what they want

There are a hundred and one things to think of when planning out your email marketing strategies. Building a solid list, emailing it out efficiently, landing in the inbox, and eventually getting opened. Next you need to think of how to get the people who have opened your email to click through.

So sort all that and you’re done, right? Wrong. Unless by clicking through they committed themselves to your services or products for life, you need your recipients to open the email you send them next week/month, and the one after that.

You want them to be excited about your communications so much that they want to forward them to their best friend. You need them to be waiting eagerly for the next email you’ll send out and to mark you as “important” in their priority inbox if they’re using Gmail.

I hear you ask: How can I do that? Simple really. Stop thinking about you and start thinking about them. I’m not promoting anything ground-breaking here. In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie repeatedly stressed that to influence people you needed to see things from their perspective and to speak to them in terms they will be interested in.

Take a look at the ever-so-corny US TV commercials. What do they all start with? The picture of despair of someone doing something the “wrong” way before they discover the “magic solution”. They present a housewife in despair, something that most of us might laugh at, deem as sexist or antiquated, but, you know what? It works.

It works for one simple reason, the adverts make housewives feel like housewives, they play upon the boredom and lack of glamour.It works because it gives them a way out, a light at the end of the tunnel. The “housewife” in the “before” portion of the advert is a wreck. The “housewife” in the second advert looks gorgeous, she is fully made up and is using the new super-duper-vacuum-cleaner before rushing out to meet her friends.

Now I’m not advocating that we should all play on our readers’ insecurities to succeed, however if you take the time to speak to some of your current clients to see what their problems are, you might be able to use your next marketing email to also offer a solution, even if it is not directly related to your product.

By shifting your focus onto them, your readers are much more likely to engage. No matter whether you are selling teaspoons or islands in the Philippines, think of what your audience wants, give it to them and make them love you. Then you can sell them anything.

Photo (CC) by reihayashi (Flickr)

(#65 of 366 X 2012 project)

On making it to What’s Hot on Google+: Autopsy of a viral story.

This morning I woke up at 6.30am to attempt to cover a story for EuroTech. The $25/ $35 computer called the Raspberry Pi was about to be launched. At the time of writing, the post I wrote achieved:

653 +1s



I write for the online tech magazine on a regular basis and enjoy it greatly. In part because I love technology and in part because I’m committed to write something on a daily basis, so might as well do it for a good cause: revealing that European technology is worthy of coverage.

Whoever followed the story knows that the Raspberry Pi servers could not cope with the demand. They had a fall-back plan and served up a static site in a few minutes, restoring access to everyone. Their suppliers were not as well-prepared: both sites crashed badly and about ten minutes after I published my story online I learned that the whole stock had been sold out to those who had actually made it to the servers.

I finished my story at around 7.30am and was following what was happening on Google+ and Twitter. The chatter was initially good-humoured, but it soon turned very bitter. I was shocked by this and wrote a quick blog post but did not publish it because I wanted to see how things would turn out. I thought that if it went away quietly it would have made no sense to bring it up again.

My story (posted on EuroTech’s Google+ page), however, did not die a quick death. People were searching for Raspberry Pi like rabid dogs and by around 10am it had reached a respectable 10 – 15 shares. Then +Max Huijgen shared it around that time and the shares started growing slowly but steadily. By midday our time, however I realised  that we had made it to “What’s Hot” on Google+ and since then the story has just kept going and going all over the site, and till this evening it is still featured on the What’s Hot page, even if it has been pushed down quite a bit.

People kept complaining and at around 12.30 I decided to push the “Post” button on my phone’s WordPress App, and linked to it quickly from my profile on Google+. It drove quite a bit of traffic here, but thankfully nowhere near what was experiencing this morning (you can read my post here).

It had me wondering, though, about what makes a story go viral. I think it was relatively well written, especially when you consider that I churned it out so hastily. I also used the style we have developed at EuroTech (mostly thanks to Max’s expertise) to encourage speed-reading. What I think made the deal, however, was a combination of 3 important factors:

Subject matter that captures the imagination of readers: this is a computer that can perform most normal tasks being sold at 1/20th of the price of a normal computer;

– Timeliness: it is not only a case of being out there first, but of being there with fresh news when people are looking for it;

Connections: the story had already gained some mileage when I shared it, but it really caught on fire when Max (who is in many more circles than I am) re-shared it.

(#60 of 366 X 2012 project)

(P.S. #59 of 366 X 2012 project was published on Media Tapper: WikiTravel: An Online Community Success Story)

Review: Baker’s Crust

Foccaccias at Baker's Crust

Food writers are a strange breed. They write a 1000-word review but give the food about 100 words. We don’t have many of them on the island, but out of respect to the one who contributed to the Vida for two years (Ed, of Ed Eats – sorry but he’s stuck in the past, he only tweets), I generally tend to stay away from the subject.

I pretend to do it out of respect for him, but really I just avoid the subject because I know he can do the job much more effectively than I can. Ed knows the perfect age of every red wine in the world. In minutes. Ed can recite the cuts of meat in a calf moving in any direction (front, back, up or down) and will tell you where the best restaurant for each particular cut can be found. Ed can smell truffles from a restaurant’s kitchen, and will then proclaim that they are actually spring truffles (this, my friends, is not a hyperbole – I’ve seen him do it). Ed is basically what Chuck Norris would be hope to be if he applied himself to culinary delights.

I on the other hand, am a relatively crass eater. I like sushi as much as the next middle-class guy but you won’t find me travelling for food. I love eating well when I’m abroad, but I prefer to choose destinations for other reasons (music is usually the main one). When I eat I can appreciate the finer things in life, but don’t expect me to tell you for how long a steak was aged before it was grilled.

It was therefore quite fitting that my second restaurant review is not about a restaurant at all (you can find my first here: Badass Burgers). It is about a little take-out in Paceville – one of Malta’s seediest locations. If you want a quick, cheap and cheerful meal for lunch in Malta you usually have two options – the village bar for a ftira or a plate of pasta; or pastizzi, a pizza or a pie from a pastizzi place. Both are incredibly tempting options but none of them offers any brownie points for class or health.

Good food, in my books, needs two basic elements: good ingredients and some loving attention at the preparation stage. It might sound obvious to you and to me, but to so many people providing food for a living it seems to be a thoroughly elusive concept. Finding a decent roll was much easier when I worked on the other side of the Island. Stuzzico, for example, offers great baguettes made with some of the finest ingredients this side of the Straits of Messina – and all at reasonable prices.

Now that I’m working in San Gwann and have a half-hour lunch break, my options are severely limited. Enter Baker’s Crust. Having opened its doors only three months ago, one would expect it to be struggling to find its feet, however I’ve been going regularly for the past two months and have never been disappointed.

The variety of food on display is decent – among other things you have pizzas (which I have never tried); very fresh salads with generous portions of chicken, tuna, feta cheese or fruit – depending on the variety you choose; wraps; sandwiches; ultra-crunchy baguettes with fine ingredients (my favourite comes with brie and cranberry sauce); and delicious foccaccias (my favourite is a Sicilian foccaccia with aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes and basil and a healthy drizzle of tasty olive oil).

In addition to being very good, the food is well-priced and is usually ready in a matter of minutes. Does it have drawbacks? Yes, everything does. Parking is always a pain – but we usually car-pool, park in a, erm, compromising place and leave someone on watch with the car.

And that, my dear readers, is that. If I ever want to be a proper food writer I must now close the review off with a reference to the gag in my first paragraph. I dedicated 10% of my article to the food at the place I was reviewing. On second thoughts I think I have the credentials to become a food writer after all.

Food! On Sale!

P.S. If you work in the area you’re in for another bonus – all their food is at half price this week – gosh. You might even meet me there if you head over at around 1.

P.P.S. Just in case you’re wondering, Baker’s Crust is next to Champs in Paceville, opposite Melita Pharmacy.

(#24 of 366 X 2012 project)


The Secrets of Effective Writing

Y U NO...The internet is a brilliant medium for too many reasons to list, but giving a voice to so many people must surely rank up there among the top bonuses.

There are thousands of formats and mediums to publish yourself on, so there is really no excuse not to be writing about a subject you are knowledgeable about. In fact, well-written articles are some of the best ways to build a solid reputation online.

There is one major drawback though. No one moderates what is being written and published and as a result the general level of written English has deteriorated dramatically. Nowadays you do not need to be an exceptional writer or have something very interesting to say to get published.

Most businesses try to save a buck by handling content creation themselves and, as a consequence, the number of web sites and blog posts that are riddled with horrible grammar is staggering. What most people writing don’t realise it that most of us (and most of their potential clients) can tell an amateurish piece from a well-written one, even if we are not all professionals.

If you are writing for your own business or on behalf of someone else’s business, it is imperative to have flawless grammar. The quality of the material you present reflects your company’s image as much as a clean office, a smart uniform or your brand identity. Clients and the press alike will build their impressions based on what they read about you, so when you put poor-quality material out there yourself, you are communicating an air of mediocrity. I remember working in a newsroom where we received dozens of press releases every day. We used to simply ditch the poorly-written ones and publish the interesting ones which did not need lots of grammatical corrections – it made our lives much easier.

Every problem, however, breeds an opportunity. The more bad writers there are out there, the more you will stand out if you can write well. I have seen quite a few businesses flourish online simply because they could put themselves in their clients’ shoes and communicate effectively.

There are a few tips to keep in mind if you intend writing yourself. The first, and probably most important one, is to edit brutally. Hemingway is said to have believed in writing drunk and editing sober. It might not be wise to take him up literally on that, but my advice is to write what you mean to say in a stream of consciousness and then read it over and over again, fixing it as you go along.

Ask a friend or relative to read your articles and suggest ways to improve them. If you don’t have someone you can trust enough to help you, find someone online. There are many friendly writers on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ who would be willing to give you their input. If that fails too, you can find websites which can connect you to proof-readers all over the world.

Quality is not merely about grammatical correctness though, if you write something well but do not take the time to understand the wants and needs of your reader, then you have failed just as miserably. If you are writing on behalf of a business then take a step back, look at what you want to get out of the article and imagine you are the reader for a bit. If you’re selling a car with some special gadget that saves fuel, the manufacturer might be very excited about it and would want you to write all about the way that gizmo works. Your average reader, however, would be far more interested in simply learning that the car will be more efficient, and possibly by how much.

(#23 of 366 X 2012 project)

Communicating and Design: The 3 levels of engagement

Magazines - (CC) Leigh Jay Hicks/flickr

The best lessons are taught by experience. Vida magazine presented me with a problem I had never encountered before. I had to create a publication that would interest people from completely different backgrounds – effectively an entire nation. This might seem simple at face value, but took us a lot of thought and consideration to hit the nail on the head.

The most important commitment we had to make was that design and content would work hand in hand. The layout had to be planned with the needs of the message firmly in mind, but the content had to be written to match the peculiarities of the design. It was a game of give and take, as the Supremes would sing.

We found that the best way to do this was to prepare rough sketches of articles on a sheet of paper and then handing them over to the designers to work their magic within the parameters that had been set originally for the magazine. Getting to these parameters was the hard part though, and we only got there once we split the audience into the three levels of engagement:

Level 1: Skimming

The first level of reader is also the most common. These people will skim over the content in a matter of seconds. Both content and design must allow for maximum impact at this level. Readers who decide to remain skimmers must go away with the gist of the story, ideally knowing enough to recommend it to someone who might be interested in it.

How to achieve it: Lay out the article in a way that lends itself to easy absorption at a glance. Have large, meaningful pictures; legible and striking titles; intelligently captioned images; strong pull-quotes; and an engaging strapline (or by-line).

Level 2: Reading

Someone who has been tempted by all of the above and has a slight interest in the subject (and some time to spare,) will probably go on and read the whole article. Content is king here. The text must be well-laid out and readers must feel as if they have taken enough out of their effort if they stop at this stage.

How to achieve it: The crucial aspect here is the legibility of the longer blocks of text. Writers must keep the flow going throughout but they have to be helped (or at the very least not hindered) by the design. Use sub-titles and split the content into bite-sized chunks. Make sure that the text flows from one block to the next without visual breaks, place columns next to each other and do not try to place images all over the page “for variety”.*

Level 3: Following Through

When you have really grabbed the interest of a reader they usually want to know more. These are probably the readers you want to pamper most because they will be the ones who will read every word you write and look out for any follow ups you can provide. They are also the most likely to recommend you to someone else, and we all know that there is nothing better than word-of-mouth promotion.

How to engage them: Give them more. Use boxes to include information which is ancillary to the main subject matter covered in the article; find links to relevant websites and send them there to learn more; and encourage engagement by suggesting they get in touch with you about the subject.

Not all designs will need to appeal on all three levels. In most cases you will design specifically for readers who will go all the way (a specialist magazine), whereas in others your primary target is to be immediately striking (most adverts). 

If you keep these three levels of engagement in mind you will always have a head-start when designing or laying something out.

Even though this knowledge is gleaned directly from my experience in magazines it can apply itself to most design theory. The medium might change but the basic requirement is always the same. To communicate effectively.


This article is (#16 of 366 X 2012 project)

P.S. You can also go back to the article introducing communicating by design.

P.P.S. Did you know you can subscribe to a FREE photography course I will soon start giving?

*I will go into the ins and outs of legibility at a later stage – it deserves an article in its own right.

Do Big Words Impress?


No suspense here. Long and complicated words don’t impress, they lose audiences. We are bombarded with information in every minute we spend awake; your readers don’t have time to waste.

It is usually a great honour to be asked to write about a subject you are considered an expert in, but, unless you are writing for a very specialised publication, most of your readers will not be half as technical as you are.

I find that the usage of long and complicated words is usually the result of one of two categories of “writers”:

The Expert – To become an expert in a field it is not a requirement for you to write lovely flowing English. It would help, but you can usually find a good enough editor to fix your writing before having it published.

In my years in publishing I had to work with a lot of these. Was it worth the effort? Yes – every time. I would sometimes spend hours editing an article to bring it up to scratch and to “translate” it into appealing English, but there was no other way to get access to the subject matter. Nowadays I sometimes translate geek-ese into English in my day job. Once again I don’t mind doing it because I know that whoever wrote the original text was employed to program not to write.

The Idiot – You don’t usually find these writing articles, but you find a lot of them hogging your inbox with long and convoluted emails when all they need to write can be condensed into a few words. They will name-drop with long and “technical” words, but more often than not use them in the wrong context.

The solution:

The one cliché to rule them all – KISS, or keep it simple, stupid. You impress people much more when they can understand what you are trying to say. At the bottom if it all lies the same message of my earlier post about design. We write to communicate, and should let your content shine out through the words. If you need to impress by using big words, then you should reconsider whatever you were going to write.

(#7 of 366 X 2012 project)