A blog by the Brick Factory The Brick Factory

Email Marketing: 5 Big Mistakes

How many unread emails are in your inbox right now?

I’ve got Groupon, Linkedin, The Boston Globe, my alma mater, Ticketmaster, Rent the Runway, Zipcar, Proflowers, Bluehost, and Seamless. I could go on.

I’ll delete most without opening.
The ones I do open? I skim them. Five seconds, tops. Then I delete.
An email that actually convinces me to open, read, and click is pretty rare.

Well…I’m busy.

I’m not the only one. Your followers are just as likely to trash your email.
Open rates vary by industry, but, on average, it’s about 20 percent.

Even people who do open your emails aren’t reading every word. They’re just as likely to skim as I am.
Users spend only 15 to 20 seconds reading the emails they do open.

But email is very important. For every dollar spent, the average return on investment is about $44. And for nonprofit fundraising campaigns, each usable email can net $12.46 in revenue a year.

You need to send emails.

But how do you keep people from clicking the trash can? How do you get users excited about your emails? How do you get the results you want?


  • Have something to say.
  • Say it quickly.
  • Make it easy.

With that framework in mind, here are the five biggest mistakes I see time and time again, mistakes that cause my cursor to hover over delete:



I just laid down some enticing stats about how your email list helping to generate revenue. But pause for a one second.

Your email list is not an ATM.

Every email in that database of yours belongs to a real person, a real person who is kinda interested in your organization.

You can’t send out email after email asking people to donate or register or whatever. Before someone will take action for you, you need to build your relationship and demonstrate your value.

Take donations…
If I’m going to donate I have to go get my purse, dig through who-knows-what to find my wallet, pull out my card, type in a sixteen-digit number, type in my address…it’s a lot. I have to have some pretty strong feelings for you before I’ll donate.

Instead of just peppering your list with donation pleas, you need to give them what they want. Why did they sign up for your list in the first place? What do you have to say that is relevant to them? What do they care about? Think about what your audience wants and give it to them.

Once you’ve got that going, you can send an email asking users to take action. But keep a good proportion.
For every five emails you send, four should be content your audience cares about.

And speaking of sending…


Sending Too Much

Tuesday and Thursday are still considered the best days to send your email because the open rates tend to be higher. However, everyone got the message. These days are becoming very crowded. It’s worth exploring other days, looking at your data, and seeing what works best for your audience.

Every audience is different.
I’ve got some clients that send an email every single day. I’ve got others that send an email once a month.

How often does your audience want to receive emails from you? How often can you send an email without them becoming annoyed?

It really can depend.
But a good place to start? Once a week.

If you’re seeing tons of unsubscribes and a low open rate, try sending fewer emails.
Interested in sending more emails? If you have the content to support it, try a pilot program sending emails twice a week. After this has been going for a while, check your stats to determine what your audience likes.

But even within a single list you might have some users that want more and some users that want list.
Which is why list segmentation is essential.

You’re going to have users who want emails once a day. Some, once a week. Others, once a month. Many email marketing platforms allow you to have an unsubscribe page where users can select their frequency. When a user is annoyed that you’re blowing up their inbox, instead of unsubscribing entirely they can just select “once a month.” Instead of losing leads, you’re letting them tell you exactly what they want.


Subject line

Should I delete an email or open it?
Often, it depends on the subject line.

In your subject line you’re explaining what you have to say and why it’s relevant to your audience. You’re explaining, immediately, the value of your email and how it’s something the user wants to read.

So first and foremost, your subject line needs to be relevant.

It also needs to be the right length.

A good subject line is short – it gets to the point. It displays well in your user’s mail clients and allows a little bit of a content preview.
I recommend keeping your subject line under 50 characters, including spaces.

Also, keep in mind that your subject lines can be big triggers for automatic spam filters. Using all-caps or special characters (including exclamation points) increases the chance you’ll be marked as spam.


Too much text

Everyone is busy. Most users are going to spend only 15 seconds or so looking at your email.

So, it’s safe to assume your users are not going to read your four paragraphs of text. (And this is especially sad since it took you quite a while to write.)

You need to get to the point right away.
And yes – your email should have just one point.
Say what you need to say, say it briefly, and provide users with links to more info.

Assume your users are skimming. Break up your text to make it easier for them to get the most important information quickly. Headings and bullets are your best friends. Find a way to make your links stand out. Use buttons, video thumbnails, or contrasting colors. If the purpose of your email is to send the user to your website, they should be able to find that link immediately.

I should note that you should be careful about relying solely on images to draw attention. Some programs, like Outlook, block images automatically.


Ignoring Mobile

With mobile, load time is always a concern. If a page takes more than a few seconds to load, a user will give up. This is also true for emails on mobile.

What’s the number one way users are reading their email?
Their iphone.

Today, more email is read on tablets and phones than on computers.

So why are so many people ignoring mobile?

You’ve likely heard about responsive design – how a webpage resizes and realigns content to display well on any device. But fewer people are using responsive design in their emails.

Often, a design that looks great on a computer will be unreadable on a phone. Sometimes the fonts are too small, sometimes the columns are too narrow.

You likely have a responsive template – whether it’s custom or out-of-the-box, most designers are making email templates responsive. But if you’re managing your own content, it’s likely not responsive.

Which means you need to test. And test. And test. Before you send an email, make sure you can read it on mobile.


Lessons in Requirements Gathering from our Search for a New Office

Since we launched the company three years ago we’ve made our home at an office building on 17th and M in downtown Washington, DC.  It is a nice space and the location is fantastic.  We are in the Golden Triangle area, which is walking distance from a variety of great DC sites and neighborhoods (Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, the Mall, etc.), near the Metro and close to more restaurants, food trucks and bars than we have time to try.  We have been happy here.

We found out a few months ago that our landlord will be tearing down our office building, along with 3-4 others, to build a new mega building that will be geared towards high-end corporate tenants as opposed to small businesses like ours.  We have to be out of our space by the end of the year, so with mixed feelings we began our search for a new office a few months ago.  We’re excited by the opportunity to craft a new space from scratch but apprehensive about all the work involved in moving offices.

As someone who has done project management in some form my entire career, when starting the search my natural instinct was to start gathering requirements in the same way I would when planning a new web program for a client.  As the owner of the company I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted in our new space, but I needed to hear from the rest of our staff about what they were looking for.  I needed to conduct a discovery process.

As a first step, I put together a short survey that asked staff what was most and least important to them in the new office.  We have a distributed team, with half of our twenty person staff working out of the DC office and the other half working remotely and coming into the office a few times a year.  So it was important to construct the survey in a way that differentiated the needs of these two types of users.

The results mostly confirmed my assumptions.  We are a Washington, DC firm and our office needs to be in the city.  Metro and bus accessibility are critical, as is access to plenty of restaurants and bars.  But the survey revealed a few things that were surprises to me:

  1. Our current space has windows on only one side. And those windows are only able to be enjoyed by three people who have offices that overlook M Street. The survey revealed that the rest of the staff are starved for natural light.  Katie even went so far as to forward me articles about how a lack of natural light negatively impacts sleep patterns.  As one of the few people with an office with a window, I had taken it for granted and undervalued how important light is to those that don’t have it.
  2. Nobody really cared that much about building amenities.  Perks like a concierge and fitness center just aren’t that important to our staff. People don’t want or need a lot of bells and whistles.  These things were more important to me than the rest of the team.

Based on these survey results and my conversations with staff, I put together a requirements list. Since we need to work within a budget, it was important to prioritize our needs in the same way I would ask one of our clients.  I separated our requirements into lists of “must haves”, “nice to haves” and “don’t needs” that were put into priority order.  These requirements  were very similar to the lists of user stories we create when planning a web program for our clients.  Here is what the list  looks like:

Must Haves

  1. Office is in Washington, DC.  We do not want to move to Virginia or Maryland.
  2. Office is Metro and bus line accessible.
  3. Office has space for four private offices.
  4. Office has space for eight other work stations.  An open space plan is preferred over cubes.
  5. Office has a main conference room capable of seating at least eight people comfortably.
  6. Office has a kitchen with refrigerator, sink, microwave and dishwasher.
  7. Office has small storage room and server closet with room for a server rack.
  8. Office has space for 3-4 large filing cabinets.
  9. Office must have access to extremely reliable Internet Service Provider.

Nice to Haves

  1. Office has more natural light/windows than current office.
  2. Office is in same part of town as current office.
  3. Office has extra space/workstations for telecommuters when they visit.
  4. Office has a small secondary conference room optimized for four people.  Primarily used for small team meetings and conference calls.
  5. Office has main conference room capable of seating 16 people.
  6. Office has area where people can eat lunch together.
  7. Office has gym/showers in building that employees can use.
  8. Office has in building parking garage.
  9. Office has concierge.

Things We Don’t Need

  1. Office has a formal reception area.  Our company has a flat structure with no admin staff, so we don’t need to waste space with a reception area.
  2. Office doesn’t need large work room. We have one in the current office and it has basically become a place for Ron to indulge his hoarding problem.

We sent our requirements list to our real estate team who are using it to narrow down our options and to construct our space plan.  We started touring offices last week.

In the context of web development the goal of a discovery process is to surface requirements and priorities early on to minimize surprises late in the process.  Work done up front saves time down the road.

While not nearly as involved as the process of planning a website, I think the simple discovery process we performed in planning our office will pay dividends down the road.  It will help us focus our search and provide a solid framework with which to make our final decision.

How the Rise of Smart Phones and Tablets Is Impacting Our Clients

With the proliferation of smart phones and tablets over the last few years, the hype about the mobile web has gotten pretty deafening.  While overall industry trends are important, at the Brick Factory we are more interested in understanding how the rise of the mobile web is impacting our own world of non-profits, advocacy groups and brands.

In an effort to truly understand how smart phone/tablet usage is impacting our clients, the last few years we have taken an aggregate look at visitor trends of the websites we manage (60+ sites).  Below are the key findings from our look at 2014 traffic data.

Overall Trend

Cutting to the chase, smart phone and tablet visits to the sites we manage grew aggressively in 2014.  Just under 32% of visitors came from smart phones and tablets in 2014.  Here is a graph showing the trend since we starting tracking this in 2010:


After more than doubling every year from 2010 to 2013, traffic from smart phones and tablets only increased by 70% from 2013 to 2014.  While I expect the percentage growth to slow further this year, I still project that by the end of 2015 close to 50% of the traffic to the sites we manage will come from smart phones and tablets.


While the aggregate trend is obviously important, diving into the data it is clear that each site has its own unique story to tell.  Traffic from mobile devices ranged from 2% to 70% among our client base.  Here is a graphic that demonstrates how much the mobile/tablet traffic percentage varied from site to site.


The audience and goals of a site/organization has a huge impact of how much traffic comes from smart phones and tablets.

As an example, one of our clients is a company that focuses on professional development for large corporations.  Since their clients are primarily accessing their web properties from work computers during office hours, their mobile/tablet percentage was only around 15%.  Due to the nature of their work, their target audience tended to access the site from desktops/laptops more often than our average client.

Contrast that with another client that is a large advocacy group.  This client maintains an active blog, sends out daily email alerts and frequently comments on breaking news.  50% of their traffic comes from mobile and tablets.

Smart Phones vs. Tablets

Smart phones were used to access the sites we manage more than twice as often as tablets.


Interestingly, we saw a moderate increase in overall traffic from desktops and laptops.  This increase was just dwarfed by the more dramatic increase in accesses from mobile phones and tablets.  For our clients at least, the story isn’t that desktop and laptop usage is dying, it is that visits from phones and tablets are exploding.

Android and Apple

Interestingly, more people accessed the sites we manage from Android smart phones than from iPhones in 2014.  The iPhone was the dominant device from 2010-2013.  The iPad continues to dominate the tablet market.


Bottom Line

The conclusion here is obvious: responsive design is now the rule and not the exception.

Back in 2010 and 2011, when planning projects we treated making a site mobile-friendly as a nice-to-have for most of our clients.  The percentage of visitors coming from smart phones and tablets often didn’t justify the added time and cost required to make a site mobile-friendly.  Creating a great mobile and tablet experience is now very clearly a requirement for every project we work on.


5 Easy Tricks to Boost Your Follower Growth on Twitter

So you want to be popular? Thought so. Well listen up, Elfie—I’ll make you my new project.


The first thing you need to know about follower growth is that it doesn’t happen over night. (I know, bummer.) The good news is that it will happen if you listen to this advice. (Yes, really. We know because we’ve tested it.)

First, write this down. Make yourself a checklist, stick it on your computer or nearest intern’s forehead, and be sure to follow it every day. (Yes, even weekends.) Any good social media manager will tell you that becoming popular is a commitment, but it is one that can reap great rewards if done correctly. You in? Great. Here we go.

1. A picture is worth 1,000 retweets.

Don’t believe me? Ask the experts. Last March, Twitter conducted a study of more than 2 million Tweets and found that including a photo increases the likelihood of retweets by 35 percent. Similar findings garnered by the social media whizzes at Buffer found that Tweets with images were 150x more likely to be retweeted and 18x more likely to be clicked than Tweets without images.

While these stats are exciting, proceed with caution. Twitter’s expanded images feature only works when you post photos directly in the app or website. Sorry Hootsuiters, HubSpotters, TweetDeckers and social media managers. This may require more work than you’re used to, but the results are well worth it.

Accept the challenge? Good. There’s more. Get creative with your visuals. Twitter now supports gifs and 30-second videos. Grool.


2. Engage with followers.

“But Jess,” you’re saying, “I’ve heard this before. What does it mean?!” In short, it means provide value and build relationships with your followers. Find out who they are, what they like, how they spend their time, and what could be most helpful to them. Then, give them what they want. (Yes, it’s that easy. No, do not push the button.)

Note: This does not give you the green light to contact your Twitter followers to promote your product. It means listen to what they’re talking about and find a way to contribute. Create a balance of promotion and contribution. Once you’ve built your credibility and reputation, people will come to you. Then—and only then—can you push the button.

Check out social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk’s Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook for tips and insights on social media strategy and the best ways to win competition in a cluttered market space.


3. Use hashtags to your benefit.

Hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a pound or number sign that collect similarly tagged messages into groups for electronic searching. Hashtags are important because they allow your posts to be seen by a greater number of users, even if those users don’t follow you.

Not only can hashtags increase your potential reach, but they can also increase your Tweet’s chance of being retweeted by 16 percent. So, why start a conversation when you can join one that’s already popular? Why introduce a topic when can contribute as an expert? As long as your Tweets are relevant to your brand, using hashtags are a great way to see and be seen by people with similar interests.


4. Aim for self-improvement, try A/B Testing.

At the end of the day, nobody knows your followers better than your followers themselves. There are only so many tips and tricks that can gain you business or popularity, but when it comes down to it, it’s the little things that followers will respond to, and the little things that can teach you the greatest lessons about how to act on social media.

“But Jess,” you ask. “What type of things are you talking about?” Good question, young Jedi. Things like time of day, tone of voice, and type of Tweet (i.e. question, exclamation, request, joke, promotion, etc.) all come into play, and it’s important to experiment with links, titles, images and inflection to see what your audience responds to.

If you want to gain followers, increase clickthrough, attract traffic to your website, and build a tighter network of influencers, you’ve got to optimize your public face through testing. In summary: try new things, track your trials, analyze progress, see results.


5. Show your voice and personality will follow.

The most beautiful thing about social media is that it allows you to create a voice for your brand and share it with the masses. There’s nothing more boring than a Twitter account that looks and sounds like a newspaper or corporate website.

Social media is communal, so it should be treated as such. Write for social media like you’re writing to a friend, and don’t be afraid to be witty or clever if your brand allows! Not only is humor a sign of emotion, but it’s also a sign that there really is a person behind the computer screen. That said, don’t be afraid to show some character every now and then. Our favorite is the youth-centric and culture-driven nonprofit @DoSomething. Take notes.



Portrait of Snapchat as a Profitable Business: How Snapchat Shook Stigmas and Molded a Competitive Business Model

At first glance, Snapchat seemed like a one-off novelty app. The self-destructing image-sharing app was cheeky, secretive, and short-form, not to mention convenient for teens looking for a new way to message their friends and migrate from overpopulated Facebook profiles. Regardless of it’s snowballing popularity, tech analysts and users alike never truly considered Snapchat as a competitive social network. But 2014 was a big year for Snapchat: through launching new features like Stories and Discover, Snapchat was able to not only gain traction as a profitable social network, but finally assert itself as one that’s here to stay.

My Experiences with Snapchat

It’s safe to say that Snapchat is one of the most polarizing forms of social media available. The first time I downloaded Snapchat back in 2012, I was uninterested in the idea of using it as much as I used Tumblr or Twitter. The concept was simple: take a picture (or video), choose how long you wanted the message to be available, select a friend, and send. The message would make its way to your friend and as soon as the time was up, the picture disappeared, hence the app’s quirky ghost logo.

Although I had many friends that were frequent users, the idea of sending disappearing messages and videos to friends seemed only fractionally more convenient than actually texting them. In fact, I could only think of a handful of reasons why I would ever need to send a message that would be instantly disposed of. And, as a reluctant and reserved college freshman, the reasons weren’t quite my speed. I begrudgingly kept the app on my phone, until one of their newest features catapulted Snapchat to becoming one of my favorite, most frequently used apps.

The Evolution of Stories

My Snapchat account was like a surprising little secret few knew that I even deigned to keep on my phone. But that was until Snapchat launched Stories: the new feature which allowed me to create a narrative of my day in pictures and videos that I could broadcast to all of my friends through simply tagging my story. It’s like a daily, super-informal YouTube channel, showing videos for a limited-time (24 hours or less) and exclusively to my closest friends.

Not only did Stories make it possible for me to publish content that was both personal and mundane without the burden of permanent archival I experienced on Twitter and Instagram, but it also gave me a peek into the exciting lives of my closest friends. Girls I went to high school with would post stories which were hundreds of seconds long (or, in Snapchat time, eternities), and were somehow just as entertaining and satisfying as the brief, sarcastic stories of introverted coders I met in computer labs around campus.

Most importantly, Stories finally gave me a reason to add more friends and check the app daily to see what was going on in their lives. It transformed Snapchat from being used for dirty little secrets to keeping up with close friends from all walks of life.

Stories stood as a landmark for the development and growth of Snapchat as a business; by offering other businesses advertising placement as stories in the newsfeeds of every Snapchat user, the company was able to reportedly charge as much as a whopping $750,000 for 24 hour story placement (comparatively, ESPN asks for around $408,000 to advertise during Monday Night Football).
Although the company had yet to capture meaningful analytics about the quality and reach of their ads, companies like McDonalds and Samsung still bit at the chance to reach Snapchat’s strong user demographic of over 100 million monthly active users. This helped to prove that Snapchat was well on its way to becoming an unstoppable force in the world of social networking.

The Significance of Discover

In light of the overwhelming success of the Stories feature on Snapchat, the company recently announced and launched it’s newest and potentially most profitable feature: Discover. Snapchat Discover allows users to view short-form media on dedicated channels within the app. Companies ranging from CNN to MTV to even Cosmopolitan Magazine all have dedicated channels through which they can host anything from commercials for upcoming shows to DIY tutorials and behind-the-scenes photoshoot footage. Even Katie Couric now hosts part of her Yahoo! news segments via the company’s Discover channel on Snapchat.

Discover is important because it serves as Snapchat’s first big foire into the world of in-app advertising. While offering Stories to companies served as a palate-cleanser in getting a hesitant audience used to seeing ads on their favorite social network, Discover is the main course, providing a new and different way to view news and entertainment commentaries in a short, accessible format.
It gives a more isolated foundation through which the company can fine-tune its analytics than the current, seemingly copy-paste view counts used in standard, non-discover stories. Plus, it’s a fun to use, beautifully designed way for users to access content from some of their favorite television channels and print magazines.

Additionally, Discover will serve as a convenient platform for companies looking to boost the visibility of videos made solely for online and mobile consumption, like those of Katie Couric’s aforementioned Yahoo! news segments and skits and outtakes from shows on channels like Comedy Central. As these channel buyers continue to create content more tailored to use in Discover, Snapchat becomes an increasingly influential stakeholder in the ever-changing realm of mobile media.

What’s Next for Snapchat

After being an underdog among social networks, Snapchat is finally establishing itself as a company which should be taken seriously. Just over a year ago, the tech world watched in awe as creator Evan Spiegel turned down a $3 billion offer from Facebook to buy out the messaging app completely. Now, after releasing such innovative and creative solutions to in-app advertising and content publishing, the company has been valued at around $10 billion and has successfully raised just under $500 million from excited investors.

For a company criticized for having lacked a clear business model just over a year ago, Snapchat has fought back by offering one of the most realistic and directly profitable solutions to putting the “media” back in social media. By improving their analytics and continuing to justify their channel and ad placement price, Snapchat will continue to be the unignorable yellow ghost on all of our devices.