How E-mail Impacts Society

This week I wanted to share something inspirational happening in the e-mail industry — and some best practices! It’s a recap of the Email Experience Council‘s (EEC’s) Eality project. The Eality project originated as a way to enable peers and competitors in the e-mail marketing industry to put business aside and work as a team to create the best e-mail efforts for a good cause.

In 2007, the EEC selected the Women’s Bean Project (WBP) as its Eality focus. Stephanie Miller from Return Path volunteered countless hours to lead this initiative and its team on behalf of the EEC. I spoke with Miller to get the inside scoop on the project.

Jeanniey Mullen: What is Women’s Bean?

Stephanie Miller: The Women’s Bean Project helps women break the cycle of poverty and unemployment by teaching workplace competencies for entry-level jobs through employment and by teaching job readiness skills in our gourmet-food-production business.

JM: Why were they a good Eality candidate?

SM: The WBP was sending one-off donor and volunteer announcements from a database created in FileMaker. The Women’s Bean Project came to the EEC with the following needs/goals:

  • Efficiency. Communicate effectively and efficiently with donors and volunteers and buyers (online and offline).
  • Impact and choice. Retain donors and buyers through a higher number of touch points, ensuring that each touch is meaningful but also reducing costs and the amount of staff time required for each. Also, allow each customer/donor to select the method of communication (on- or offline) that works best for them.
  • Cost savings. Continue to reach every customer, even as the number of buyers was increasing by 30 percent each year (raising the costs of printing and postage significantly).
  • Practicality. Launch and manage a program on a very small staff. Literally the equivalent of one quarter of one person was dedicated to e-mail marketing for all three audiences (donors, buyers, volunteers).

JM: How did the EEC volunteer team look?

SM: It is a testament to the e-mail industry and the EEC membership that very quickly we had 15 talented professionals volunteer to help and several vendors step forward and offer to provide tools and services free of charge. ExactTarget offered a free basic sending license and graciously donated nearly 15 hours of support throughout the project. Return Path donated a free rendering and deliverability account. Other companies represented included Blackbaud, Future Integrated Marketing, BlueHornet, Merkle, Wolters Kluwer Financial Services, Industry Mailout, and Leapfrog.

This team focused on six specific areas to create the program: content, design, deliverability, metrics, testing, and list growth.

JM: What was accomplished?


  • Content strategy:
    • Identified ways that e-mail can support the WBP mission
    • Developed a content strategy
    • Debated and finalized permission standards (double opt-in)
    • Developed a calendar for promotions around the holidays, including promoting some local events and fundraisers
    • Advised on sending an e-mail counterpart for the annual appeal to donors (direct mail)
    • Promotional content recommendations:
      • Developed special offers (e.g., 10% discount for National Soup Month)
      • Developed concept, copy, and photography for a Valentine’s day e-mail that would have viral impact
      • Developed a year’s worth of promotional themes based on holidays to boost sales during non-peak months (e.g., soup sales in summer are very slow)
      • Set up Google Analytics so we can measure the success of the e-mail program for driving sales and page views
      • Helped train the WBP team to review campaign results with an eye toward optimization
      • Design:
        • Developed wireframes for four types of e-mail
        • Designed templates for newsletter, postcards, double opt-in/welcome and donor appeals
        • Loaded the templates into ExactTarget and tested them
        • Helped launch an inaugural issue, which included list hygiene and deliverability with an old file as well as an opt-out strategy for the existing database:

          Beanstalk Newsletter

        • Infrastructure:
          • Worked with the team to set up an ExactTarget account
          • Uploaded the templates, and accessed the self-service training
          • Tested and mailed
          • Aligned with Yahoo Store and cleaned up templates
        • List growth:
          • Developed organic offline and viral list growth ideas
          • Recommended ways to optimize data capture on the Web site
          • Reviewed the subscription flow for permission clarity and growth optimization

JM: How did it turn out?

SM: We launched a program! It is practical; earns results; garners the praise and kudos of subscribers, donors, and the WBP board of directors; and has legs. The WBP can continue this e-mail program when the volunteer team disbands.

Subscribers love it. Stats for the inaugural issue of the e-newsletter:

  • 32 percent open rates
  • 15 percent CTR (define)
  • 25 percent bounce rate on old lists
  • 3.1 percent bounce rate on new data

Subscribers are great WBP customers. Page views from e-mail subscribers are two times higher than other sources.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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