Behind the Scenes:

Behind the Scenes: How We Do Our Own Email Marketing at MailChimp

Last month, we sent an email announcement to customers about our new SMS appGather. I guess you could call it “email marketing,” though we rarely think of it that way (we just call it “talking to customers”). But the marketing team put it together, with some help from our mobile team, and a bajillion annoying edits from me. I thought I’d share all the edits I made, and why I made them, in case you find this sort of thing interesting.

First, here’s the final version of the email that we eventually sent:


Now, let’s go over the process we went through to get there.


The goal was simple enough: Tell our customers about Gather. Gather is an SMS app that’s designed specifically for people who host events. It’s not exactly foreveryone, so we certainly shouldn’t send it to everyone. Our list of users has more than 2.8 million subscribers. Not gonna lie–I was sort of tempted to send this email to that entire list. But that would’ve resulted in a ton of backlash, unsubscribes, account cancellations, angry tweets, and—worst of all—loss of trust in our brand.

So we started looking for segments of the list that we thought would most likely find this useful (and least likely find it irrelevant).

Our first thought was to segment by industry. There are quite a few people in our system who’ve indicated they’re in the “Entertainment and Events” industry:


That whittles the list down significantly, but it’s still a pretty big group.

Then we remembered that Gather was only available on the iPhone. And like many mobile app developers, we’ve learned the hard way that you really don’t want to irk the Android users out there. So we did this:


That static segment is a feature in MailChimp where we can use our API to sync data from our user database. Among many other things, our user database stores information about which external apps each account has linked to.

In the example above, you see MailChimp customers who are in the events industry,and who’ve logged in to our MailChimp mobile app for iPhone. But I felt a little uneasy about this segment of the list. The industry “Entertainment and Events” just seemed too broad (What, exactly, is “entertainment”?). At the same time, it was too narrow—there are plenty of people out there who host events, but wouldn’t consider themselves in the “Events” industry.

I really wanted us to focus on “tech-savvy people who host events.” So this is the segment of our list that we ultimately chose:


These are MailChimp customers who have used our integration with Eventbrite. Integrating two SaaS products like MailChimp and Eventbrite is a decent indicator that these people are tech-savvy, and wouldn’t be scared to try Gather.

We make the act of segmenting your list super easy. But the discussion of how we should segment the list took place over 2-3 days. That seems awfully long, but this is important stuff. Nine times out of 10, I also include the criteria, “is very engaged.” That little added element removes all the disengaged subscribers, who are more likely to complain or unsubscribe, or to tweet mean things about your brand. I believe your main goal of segmenting your list is not to increase relevancy (that’s your content’s job) but to reduce irrelevancy.

Content and design

After the segment of our list was settled, we tackled design and content. This was our very first stab at the email announcement:



It was such a pretty email. It took a lot to get that done. Back in July of last year, we built an online service that generates quick images of app screenshots inside of various mobile devices. That led us to creating a Tumblr of random hands holding smartphones, mostly for laughs (it’s pretty challenging to get a good shot of a hand holding a phone).  So you could say the photo at the top of the email was months in the making. The marketing team certainly was proud of it.

But I had a problem with it.

This was my basic feedback:



By the way, my actual feedback was mostly face-to-face. I didn’t mark up the email in red like these diagrams. I’m not a jerk, really! The red marks are just an easy way to recount my edits to you.

First, the subject line was a little too salesy, and was missing context:

“A Few Ways to Use Gather, MailChimp’s SMS App for Events”

We didn’t even introduce Gather yet—let alone say, “Hi, we’re MailChimp!”— to the recipient. So why are we already talking about all the ways you can use it? It’s a well written subject, but we were getting ahead of ourselves. Remember, this is an introductory email.

So we changed it to:

“Announcing Gather, a MailChimp App for Events”

It’s still a little slick and salesy, but hey–we’re selling something. It’s honest, and it’s a more polite way to introduce ourselves.

“Who the [bleep] is Gather?”

Next, I was concerned that our recipients would open the email, see the Gather logo, and think, “Who the [bleep] is Gather?!? This is spam!!!!” These customers signed up for MailChimp, and therefore are only expecting emails from MailChimp. So I asked for the MailChimp logo at the top of the email. Wouldn’t want to get shut down by my own Compliance Team.

Proper introductions

Finally, I wasn’t happy about placing that large photograph of the iPhone so high on the email. I wanted to get some text above that photo, where people can skim or scan really fast and decide if the email is useful to them. Plopping a giant image at the top is disrespectful, in my opinion. You’re asking the recipient to basically wait (or click) for an image to download? That’s kinda like the old “skip intro” days of web design (seriously, don’t be a Flashole).

So we moved the intro paragraph above the big pretty picture.

And here’s the second draft:


That’s better placement of the intro copy, but this didn’t feel like the way we’d write. It’s nice that we provide some context about why they’re receiving the email in the first place (“Since you use MailChimp and Eventbrite…”), but I still didn’t think it felt quite right. Our style has refined a little over the years, but we’re still trying to keep it a little weird. This copy was missing something MailChimpy.

My advice to all new email marketers is to figure out your brand’s natural Voice and Tone as soon as you can (we’re lucky enough to have ours documented by somebrilliant people). If you’re not quite there yet, blogging can help you write more confidently, and the feedback in your customers’ comments will help you calibrate your style over time. Once you’ve got that figured out, writing email newsletters gets soooo much easier, and you’ll be able to spot when you’re a little “off brand.”

My feedback:



Here’s the revision:


Okay, my writers are making fun of me. Clearly, they’re getting tired of my edits. But this is actually kind of funny, and does a really good job of explaining how the app works. Most importantly, it’s a true story! (I get lost a lot.) I loved it because it was humble, and it was human. That’s perfectly “on brand” for MailChimp.

With this new intro, it didn’t make sense to list all the ways you can use Gather. So the team chopped the rest of the email down to a very simple “go try it if you’re interested:”


By now, about 4 days had passed from when we started working on this email. And wouldn’t you know it, our dang mobile team went and launched the Android version of Gather. Sigh. People are always changing things around here. That means more last-minute edits (#agilemarketing). So we changed the image of the phone to Android (What the heck, we’ve got an app for that!), and we mentioned Android in the copy.


Always be useful

We try to include something useful in every email. If the announcement was totally useless, let’s at least give the recipient a case study, or something educational (even if it points to some other resource). So at the bottom of the email, we added a postscript that linked to one of our blog posts about Rockhouse Partners, an entertainment agency that uses our geo targeting feature to help them with their events. That was a blog post from November 2012. How lucky are we to have that content to point to?

Lesson: always be blogging.

The results

The campaign got an open rate of 32.6% (the list average for general announcements is 24.7%) and a click rate of 6.3% (average is 1.8%).  Meanwhile, 0.22% of recipients unsubscribed. And it only received one complaint.

Most importantly, sales went up. You can see clearly how sales picked up on the day the email was sent:


Word got out on Twitter, and sales are picking up speed. The different colors you see are the different price tiers. Cyan is the cheapest price plan, which has grown the most.


Being human is hard.

My point of all this is that sooner or later, you’re going to want to send an email campaign that sells something. When that time comes, it’ll be easy to just put on the Sales Guy Hat and run through the motions, doing the same stuff you’ve seen other companies do. You write a salesy subject line, throw in some aggressive copy, add a slick product photo, and “blast” it out to the masses. Because that’s what you see polluting your inbox, right? Please don’t do that. Email marketing is your chance to connect with your customers in a human way. Be human!


Do You know – How Things Found Their Colors ??

15 Fascinating Explanations for How Things Found Their Colors

You know pencils are yellow, and nothing points to a classy entrance like a red carpet. But do you know how these items got their iconic colors? Here are their back stories.


Knights who were part of France’s Order of the Holy Spirit, founded in 1587, wore a special cross on a blue ribbon, or le cordon bleu, around their necks. The French phrase came to be associated with honor, achievement, and a delicious chicken dish. And when passenger ocean liners started to race across the Atlantic in 1830, they did so for the Blue Riband, a coveted prize that didn’t actually exist in physical form until 1935. (Once it did, the winners claimed a trophy and a blue pennant they could fly on their ships.) Since then, the pursuit of blue ribbons—by land, by sea, by classroom science fair—has become an American pastime.


In medieval times, the trusted neighborhood barber didn’t just give men a trim and a shave. He also performed tooth extractions, bloodletting, and minor surgery. Thus, the white and red colors on the traditional barbershop pole are said to represent blood and bandages. The addition of blue to the mix on American barbers’ poles is probably an expression of patriotism.


Pencils were either unpainted or painted a dark color until 1890, when the L. & C. Hardtmuth Company introduced the Koh-i-Noor luxury pencil, named after what was then the largest diamond in the world. The writing utensil’s high-quality Chinese graphite was the real selling point, and the company painted the pencil yellow to connote royalty and heroism. The gimmick worked so well that competitors soon started making their own yellow pencils. Sharp thinking!


In the early 20th century, refs wore white dress shirts, bow ties, and beret-like hats, which probably made heckling them a little too easy. When a ref named Lloyd Olds got mistaken for a football player and passed the ball in 1920, he decided it was time to change clothes. A year later, he showed up at a game wearing the black and white striped shirt we know—and sometimes mock—today. Fans hated the new look, at least until they realized it really did help distinguish the referee from the players.


Long before movie premieres and snarky fashion commentary, red rugs and carpets were rolled out to welcome royalty and sacred figures. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus first mentioned the ritual in the play “Agamemnon,” and President James Madison stepped off a riverboat and onto a red carpet in 1821. By 1902, the red carpet was a more inclusive symbol of hospitality for railroad passengers. It was re-associated with royalty—the Hollywood kind—when it debuted at an awards show in 1961.


The white flag goes as far back as China’s Eastern Han dynasty (25-220 CE) and Ancient Rome’s Second Battle of Cremona (69 CE). The color was convenient before it was symbolic—white fabric was abundant, easy to see outdoors, and couldn’t be mistaken for the colorful banners armies carried when they were ready to fight.


Gendered baby clothes haven’t always been the norm in the U.S. For centuries, baby girls and boys were dressed the same — in cloth diapers and white dresses that probably didn’t stay white for long. When pink and blue baby clothes were introduced in the mid-19th century, there weren’t strict rules for how to wear them. Some people thought blue clothing looked better on blue-eyed, blonde babies and pink on brown-eyed brunettes. Others suggested that boys looked better in pink, because it was a stronger color.

Clothing manufacturers in the 1940s ultimately decided which colors were for which gender. They started making more dresses in pink and tiny pants in blue. The trend died down in the ’70s and came back with a frilly-or-football-printed vengeance during the ’80s once ultrasounds allowed expectant parents to learn their children’s genders before the babies made delivery room debuts.


Good eye! The association of red with fire hydrants goes back to the early fireplug, a well of water plugged with a piece of redwood. But there are plenty of hydrants out there that aren’t red. That’s because they’re color coded to give firefighters details about their water supply. For example, hydrants using public water systems are yellow with various colored tops and caps to indicate how many gallons per minute (GPM) of water they have available. The tops and caps of hydrants supplying below 500 GPM are red, 500-999 GPM are orange, 1000-1499 GPM are green, and 1500 GPM or more are blue. (Don’t worry. There won’t be a test.) Red hydrants use a private water system, the rare purple hydrant supplies non-potable water, and a black fire hydrant won’t save anyone because it’s inoperable.


In the 18th century, farmers were trying to break the mold … literally. They covered their barns’ wood with a mixture of linseed oil, milk, and lime that turned the wood burnt orange. When that still didn’t stop mold, farmers added rust, or ferrous oxide, to the mix. It helped tremendously, while also turning the wood that lovely shade of red known as falu. Then when mass-produced paints were made available in the late 19th century, red just happened to be the least expensive color available. Now the color chosen out of practicality and frugality is a charming tradition.


You know what they say—dress for success. In the 19th century, most physicians tended the sick while wearing street clothes. With quite a few quacks running around at the same time, this business casual approach didn’t feel very official. Doctors started wearing white lab coats in the early 1900s to give the profession an image makeover. The coats bolstered their reputations by connoting scientific authority and sterility. (Medical innovation and more thorough training eventually helped, too.) Ironically, some modern hospitals ban white coats, because they spread germs and cause anxiety in patients.


First came street clothes, then came hospital whites. But by the middle of the 20th century, doctors and nurses were tired of having to throw out uniforms once they got the inevitable stains that come with practicing medicine. Hospitals switched to blue or green scrubs that were easier to clean. Another advantage of colored uniforms: they make looking at the inside of a human body easier on surgeons’ eyes, since blue and green are opposite red on the color wheel.


It’s no coincidence. According to color psychology, warm reds and yellows subconsciously stimulate the appetite and trigger excitement and positivity. Fast food places use these colors on everything from logos to trays to décor to entice customers to happily gulp down food without hanging out too long. Cool colors, on the other hand, tend to suppress the appetite and slow everything down. The color of food packaging also affects how much people eat. White plates, boxes, and wrappings are said to encourage mindless overeating, even when a person is already full.


In 1957, regulation basketballs were either tan or, if both teams agreed to it, yellow. Butler University’s basketball coach felt an orange ball would be easier for both players and spectators to see, and the orange ball made a successful test run in the 1958 college championships in Louisville. Orange was added to the list of color options a year later and is now the standard.


Same story, different sport. The governing bodies of tennis actually approve both white and yellow balls. Because it was easier to see on color TV, the fluorescent yellow ball quickly became the norm after it was introduced in 1972.


The traffic light color scheme goes back to England in 1841, when the Liverpool and Manchester Railway—the world’s first twin-track inter-urban passenger railway—decided to step up its safety game with colored flags, semaphores, and lights. The scheme followed that of other industrial equipment at the time. Red was a sign of danger, while green meant proceed with caution.

The story Behind Ms on M&M’s …

What Do the Ms on M&M’s Stand For, and How Do They Get Them on There?

In the early 1900s, Forrest Mars, Sr., the son of Chicago candy maker and Snickers bar creator Franklin Clarence Mars, worked his way through Europe learning the ins and outs of the candy business. He worked for Nestle. He worked for Tobler. He started his own little factory in England. He sold some of his father’s brands. Most importantly, he found inspiration. According to confectionery lore, Mars was in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and noticed treats frequently placed in soldiers’ rations. They were chocolate pellets coated with a hard candy shell that kept them from melting (these might have been, or been inspired by, the “chocolate beans” made by Rowntrees of York, England since 1882).

Upon his return to the U.S. in 1940, Mars sought out another son of a famed candy man to put his own spin on the Spanish candies.

Bruce Murrie’s partnership in the new venture was essential to the candy’s success during World War II. His father was William Murrie, president of the Hershey Company, which meant Bruce and Mars had access to Hershey’s sugar and chocolate stores at a time when the ingredients were in short supply. It also guaranteed customers – Hershey had struck a deal with the Army in 1937 to provide chocolate for U.S. soldiers’ ration packs.

The partners Mars and Murrie dubbed their new candy with their initials, and M&M’s soon found their way around the world with U.S. servicemen (along with the 4-ounce, 600-calorie “Ration D” Hershey chocolate bar). The story didn’t end sweetly for Murrie, though. When chocolate rationing ended after the war, Mars bought out Murrie’s 20% interest in the product and went on to become one of Hershey’s biggest competitors.


Even with their partnership dissolved, Mars and Murrie’s initials stuck as the candy’s name and, in 1950, was even printed on it. Today, the Ms are applied to M&M’s in a process that Mars Inc. describes as “akin to offset printing.” Blank M&M’s sit on a special conveyor belt that has a dimple for each candy to sit in, and roll through a machine where vegetable dye is transferred from a press to a rubber etch roller that gently prints the M on each piece.

The printer can stamp some 2.5 million M&M’s an hour. Some candies make it off the line M-less, but Mars doesn’t consider these rejects. Minor variations in the shapes of M&M’s, especially the peanut ones, make uniform stamping difficult, and the machine is set up to let some blanks slip through rather than mark every one and break some candy shells in the process.