Thursday, 3 May 2012


Announcing CSV bulk import and update for Sender Address Data


   The BrandFu Team is pleased to announce the release of the
   new CSV bulk import and update feature, for provisioning and managing your
   sender address data.

  Feature Overview


   Quickly and Easily Create and Update Sending Address Details


   You can now manage a single CSV file of all your sender address data and use
   this data source to create new address records, as well as upload the same
   file to apply any changes to existing address details.
   We'll manage the process seamlessly for you, so all you have to do is manage
   your changes and new records in the CSV and we'll do the rest.

   Easy Mapping of CSV data to System and Custom Attributes


   In addition the address import/update functionality allows you to quickly
   map CSV data columns to either system attributes (e.g. First Name, Last
   Name, Job Title) or to your own custom fields, which will be created as
   custom address attributes.
   These address attributes can then be quickly merged into signature fields
   for your senders signatures.

   How does it work?


   To begin using the CSV Import Features, visit the "Addresses" area and then
   click the Import Addresses button on the right side-bar:

 



   A dialog box appears, allowing you to choose your CSV file on your PC and
   then upload it:



 







Choose your local CSV file and then click the "Upload File" button.
 
After you do this, you will see a mapping dialog which allows you to map your CSV data columns to system or custom address attributes:



 






Once you click Import addresses, we'll either create a new address detail record for you, or if the email address already exists we'll update it.

NOTE: All newly created addresses are added to the system as inactive, so please remember to activate them one the import is complete.


Till next time...
Happy Branding

Sam Gelbart
Product Manager
BrandFu

Monday, 27 February 2012

Can Email Marketing be a Conversionation?

I am beginning to see a trend, and as more insightful folks like Rien van den Bosch over at
socialemailmarketing.eu and Scott Cohen from InboxGroup.com both point out, email marketing need not be a one way megaphone.

It should be relevant to everyday conversation, or at least a conversion starter.

Death to the no-reply@

Why not integrate more closely with and engage in an ongoing on a day to day campaign.
The advantages to this "new" approach are clear.

Rien, got me thinking about getting conversation started about this, I'd recommend giving the article a read.

I'd also like to mention a nice post at http://getintheinbox.com/2011/03/16/email-marketing-continuing-the-conversation/


Happy Branding.




Rolling your own A/B split testing framework for Google Analytics - Part 1

Why we Rolled our Own A/B Testing Framework

Any online startup out there knows the importance of A/B split testing their website pages so they can quickly and effectively make decisions about what pages, content, layouts, forms etc. are working to improve conversions versus those that are not.

There are many online services out there that help startup's make this process easier by allowing them to create and test landing page variations (for example) in minutes and then tie those variations to a conversion event so that understanding variation effectiveness becomes trivial.

One problem with this premise is what to do when your site starts to become more and more complex and you'd like to be able to create tests for many pages within your site structure or signup flow, and be able to test these variations in parallel.

This is the problem we were faced with a little while ago, and as I'm sure may people out there will attest to - sometimes its just best to roll your own and take full control over the A/B testing process.

Our Requirements

1) Easily add page test variations across multiple areas of the site concurrently.
2) Easily track where the source of the traffic came from.
3) Easily test page variations based on traffic source.
3) Easily use Google Analytics to associate variations with goal completions.
4) Accurately measure split-test results using Google Analytics reporting.

With that in mind we got to work and set about building a basic framework that would allow us to achieve this as quickly as possible (and it ended up taking us two days to do).

The Framework Design
Our framework for A/B testing pages on our websites starts with a front-end controller we created through which all resource requests are filtered.  The filter is activated through a .htaccess config in our web root:

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
  RewriteEngine on
  RewriteCond $1 !^(controller\.php|pages|scripts|include|images|robots\.txt)
  RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !^.*(.css|.js|.gif|.png|.jpg|.jpeg)$
  RewriteRule ^(.*)$ controller.php/$1 [L]
</IfModule> 

The mod_rewrite conditions above ensure that the controller itself, or any resources in subdirectories (such as  javascripts, css, and images) are excluded from the controller feature and are served directly.

For example, a request such as http://www.brandfu.com/images/logo.png would not be sent through the controller for a rendering decision, but requests such as http://www.brandfu.com/index or http://www.brandfu.com/tour would be. The example URL http://www.brandfu.com/tour would then be mapped to a site source file in the pages directory called tour.php.

To take care of requirements 1,2 and 3 above, we tell the controller to look for page variations that contain the channel in the source file name as well as the page requested.

Here's an example:

Suppose we have a channel called 'b2b' which we use in an AdWords campaign that targets direct end customers, and we'd like to split-test the landing page, in this case 'index.php', the URL we would setup on our ad destination URL would be http:///www.brandfu/com/b2b-index

And on the file-system we would explicitly create the following files with varying content:

b2b-index-1.php
b2b-index-2.php

Once a matching request hits our controller, it then looks at the request URL and breaks it down into it's component parts in order to:
  1. Identify and store the source channel parameter in a session. 
    • If no channel is specified we default to 'none'.
  2. Combine the source parameter and page variation to figure out what to look for in a variation pool.
    • In this example the controller would be looking for a file count in the pages directory with a matching file glob pattern of 'b2b-index-?.php'.
  3. Display a random choice of one of the variation options and store the page-variation number in a session so that the website visitor will see the same page as before when navigation around the site.
    • In this case we'd randomly select between 1 and 2 and actually render out the page that contained the chosen variation number.
  4. Send the 'channel', 'page', and 'variation' to Google analytics for tracking later on.
This process can then be repeated for all areas of our site so that we can test different pricing pages, tour pages, and signup pages at the same time across multiple channels, and always maintain a consistent browsing experience for visitors who are navigating the site.

Degrading Gracefully

To avoid the potentially embarrassing consequences of mistakenly omitting or updating a component of the URL structure, such as a channel name, we had to build some graceful degradation capability into our controller.

Here's another example:

If the URL we published in an AdWords ad didn't use the 'b2b' channel in its construction but rather used a channel name of 'direct' and the full URL read as http:///www.brandfu/com/direct-index, we still wanted the index page variation to display correctly and have the data sent to Google.

In order to do this, the controller looks at the channel-page parameter combination, sets the session channel parameter to 'direct' and if it finds no explicit file matches, it degrades its search and looks only at the page parameter by changing its file matching pattern to *-index-?.php and then randomly chooses a variation number. 
In this case the actual file rendered would still be either b2b-index-1.php or b2b-index-2.php but we'll send Google Analytics a channel of 'direct', a page of 'index' and  variation of either 1, or 2.

Here is a simple flow diagram of how our A/B Testing controller functions:
The A/B Test Controller Decision Flow



In Part Two we'll go look more deeply into the controller and how we integrate all the tracking data with standard and custom variables for Google's Urchin Tracking Module (UTM) for later analysis in Google Analytics.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

What Everybody Ought to Know About Email and Social Media.



There have been countless blog articles written about developing the most appropriate social media strategy to use for your company and how to implement them.

I decided to take a look at some of the current trends, in the marketing sector, just to get a feel for what the Pony Tails are getting up to these days.

Turns out they all seem to be jumping on the ol' band-wagon. Using all the same buzz words and more often than not missing the point entirely.

Most of them waffle on about Viral this and Networking that, and never getting to the point. Or even ask the question;

What is a Social Media Strategy?

Some "highfalutin" journalism use fancy phrases like,

"Target influencers with engaging 
assets to act as platforms for conversation"

A lot of words all trying to say that it is all about getting people talking about you.

According to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Report*


A massive 90% of marketers say that social media is important.


But do nine out of ten actually have a strategy, As more companies integrate social media into their marketing and communications plans, emphasis needs to be on creating a social media strategy.  Without one, you’ll be sucked into a social media black hole. So if you don't have one yet, get on it.

One-third of all social media marketers want to know how to monitor, measure and integrate their social media activities.



BrandFu.com gives you tools to do this. By incorporating Google's Urchin Traffic Monitor (UTM) technology into our campaign banner system, we give you the ability to track exactly who and what email is driving the most vibrant conversation. In an up-coming blog series entitled "Rolling your own AB split testing" Sam writes about  how we have learned to make the most of some of the more powerful free software out there to gain awesome insight into not only what variations (AB tests) have the best result on our web site, but also exactly how impact-full our day to day email is.

Social media marketing takes a lot of time: The majority of marketers (58%) are using social media for 6 hours or more each week, and more than a third (34%) invest 11 or more hours weekly.



BrandFu takes no time at all, in fact we spend a lot of energy focusing on making your experience as simple and painless as possible. You can be up and branding in under 5 minutes.


The number-one advantage of social media marketing (by a long shot) is generating more business exposure, as indicated by 88% of marketers. 


As a business your number one exposure is the email you and every one of your employees send or replies to. By generating valuable "back-links" with your everyday communication, you are missing a very valuable exposure opportunity.

The top social media tools: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs were the top four social media tools used by marketers, in that order
.

Drive more traffic to these social portals with the killer internet app. Email is and always will be the primary business communication channel. I find it surprising that most marketers only view email as a way to spam people who signed up for a news letter. This is a huge mistake. Email is far more that a fast way to send a letter. People do use it just the same way they use twitter, or other IM channels.

Think about the power that marketers are missing!

* You can read the free 41 page Social Media Report over at:
 http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/social-media-marketing-industry-report-2011

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Snow White Label and the Seven Deadly Dwarfs


Snow "White Labels"


"Seven things to lookout for when shopping
 for a white label solution."


If you have ever looked for a way to extend your companies service offerings, by on-selling a
"White Labeled" product, then you should bear in mind the "Seven Key Features" that every customization service should offer.





In an on going effort to make the experience of of using our email branding service as effortless as possible; we now offer the interface as a "White Labeled" product. To make it even simpler for ISP (Internet Service Providers) and ESP (Email Service Providers) companies to gain the leverage of a powerful product while keeping control of how there customers in turn interact with it.

Webopedia.com defines a "White Label" as:
A product or service, especially common in the in the financial sector, where the provider of the service purchases a fully supported product from another source, then applies its own brand and identity to it, and sells it as its own product. The purchaser assumes the seller is selling its own product. - http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/white_label.html
Seven Deadly Dwarves that have to be accommodated:

Before we could begin to offer a fully "white labeled" service there where a number of little obstacles that had to be overcome first. I've taken to calling then the seven deadly dwarves so bear with the corny references to the little blighters.
  1. Simple to provision a new re-seller:
    Making it as easy as possible for a new re-seller to sign up is a task not to be "Sneezy" - ed at.

    Our system's required a powerful back-end management system to allow for fast and reliable provisioning of new re-sellers. The SASY (Synchronous Applications for SYNAQ) system has been in production for over a year and is the backbone of our single sign-on and application roles and privileges engine. The system makes it possible for us to manage many re-sellers from a single console, thus giving our call center staff a powerful tool to resolve any question that a re-seller may have.
     
  2. Easy for the re-seller to manage accounts:
    Make it simple for a re-seller to manage accounts. We have put a lot of effort into our new  interactive re-seller "Doc" to make learning how to interact with the back end a snap.

    Gone are the days of reading reams and reams of technical documentation, to find out how to add a new company to you re-seller account, or how to get a list of addresses for a domain.

    With the simple to use application we not only describe how our REST interface works and give practical examples, but we also provide a working  interface so that it is as easy as providing your  name and password and you can begin adding accounts right from the documentation.
     
  3. Flexable framework to accommodate new Trade Dress:
    Not every re-seller wants to look the same. Most companies have spent a lot of time and money building their brand and will get rather "Grumpy" if the service doesn't fit with the trade dress.

    We have put a lot of thought into the way our system delivers the CSS and Interface javascripts and finally come up with a method that is both fast and flexible.

    Making use of a CDN (Content Delivery Network) allows us to not only ensure that all web app images and style sheets are as close to the end user as possible, it also allows us to "Cascade" all the layout from the basic "BrandFu" master layout down to each elements look and feel, including all the system email messages for things like resetting a password and reports.
     
  4. Dynamic roles and privileges:
    Not every re-seller wants to provide their users the same functionality. Even the most computer literate end user will occasionally do something really "Dopey" like removing the wrong address. This can be prevented by only giving access to certain tasks to the users.

    The SASY system I spoke about before, provides a powerful way for us to customize what each user can and cannot do and see. So that we can allow re-sellers to pick and choose from any of the services interface options.
     
  5. Powerful analyses to report on:
    The re-seller needs to know what the users are doing on the site, this will keep every one "Happy" all the activity on the site, including special actions and email links are integrated with the Google Analytics service, so that a re-seller can get reports on how their users are interacting with the application.
     
  6. Secure interface for peace of mind:
    Each component from the API to the Email transport and delivery has security as it's foremost principle. Security is not for the faint hearted and a "Bashfull" approach will not do.

    As mentioned before, we make use of a REST API, that uses a shared private key to ensure that every request is unique and secure. We implemented a range on methods that a re-seller can get email processed by our service,
     
  7. Hosted on the cloud or on the re-sellers hardware:
    Some re-sellers prefer to host the service on there own network and hardware, the reasons for this  are varied. Some networks can be "Sleepy" and by running our servers as a virtual appliance on their own local network this lag can be eliminated.

    How ever there is no need if you would prefer to use our more traditional cloud implementation, and simply route the email through our secure servers for transformation and or final delivery.

In my next article I will be discussing how all the branding magic happens, and what we have up our sleeves for the rest of the year. so watch this space.

Until next time, happy branding.




Thursday, 2 February 2012

Internet Explorer - New isn't always better.

Developing our MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for BrandFu was challenging to say the least. We had dome some initial prototype work to validate some viability uncertainties, but after that we wanted to spend no more than 3 months getting the first release out.

As with any lean startup development effort with tight deadlines, we spent a lot of time thinking about what was absolutely essential work, and what could wait for a future sprint. One of the things that we left out of our essential work was testing for the compatibility on IE 9.

The decision to not stress too much about IE 9 was that the browser specs indicated that it would work fine with our version of JQuery out the box, and that it's standards support was a great deal better than previous versions. And, as a result we spent a great deal more time testing on older version of IE (8,7) than we did on IE 9 .

This was not a good idea. As you know, assumptions are the mother of f***k-ups and, it turned out that a critical element in our App UI was broken on IE9 because of the way it handled certain DOM events, most particulary the element on-change propogation of element values back into the DOM.
These differences were solely due to IE9 idiosyncrasies that one simply coudn't forsee.

This of course meant that this discrete piece of functionality worked wonderfully well on FF, Chrome, Safari, and IE 7/8, but not on IE 9.  So much for cutting corners.

The moral of this litte story is that when it comes to cross- brower testing there really isn't any shortcut that you should take and when it comes down to testing on IE, newer doesn't always mean better, and of course - Assume Nothing.

Leesson Learned.




Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Reselling BrandFu

Digital Marketers - Heads Up!
As a start-up, we practice Lean Start-up methodologies and we're in the process of testing for our ideal target market.
One of the market segments we're looking at is the Digital Marketing arena.

BrandFu is an Email Branding service hosted in the cloud, and we'd like to know what Digital Marketing agencies think about offering this as a service to their customers.

But first, what is email branding?

To us Email Branding means the application of:
  • A consistent Corporate Identity in the form of a signature with a logo, optional strap-line, and color scheme.
  • A correct and up-to-date set of contact information for each email user in the business.
  • An ability to market your business (and drive traffic to your site, keep customers and partners informed) through linked banner ad's in your daily business-to-business email.
BrandFu offers this and more, by allowing customers to send their outbound day-to-day business email through our robust SMTP delivery and branding servers where we apply branding to each email based on the settings configured for a matched sender.

This eliminates the pain of managing email signature consistency for each individual in the business and allows for marketing staffers to centrally manage banner ad campaigns and user information from one central point.

From a reporting point of view, we provide banner click tracking with reporting, and real-time alerts when receipients click on banners. This gives Digital Marketers insight into which people in the organisation are receiving the most clicks as well as who is actually doing the clicking. Beyond this, it then becomes easy to A/B split test various banners to see which ones are driving the most traffic to your site and information resources.

The ability to continuously market a business and build it's brand, through the often overlooked landscape of regular business-to-business email, is one we feel needs to be looked at a lot more closely.

What do you think about all of this?

We'd really like to hear the thoughts of Digital Marketers on this concept and what questions you may have on the service. But here are some questions of our own for you:
  • Do you perceive and understand the value in BrandFu's offering?
  • Have your customers ever asked for this type of service?
  • What would would you need to easily integrate this service into your agency service portfolio?
  • How would you charge your end-customer for this service?
Please comment on this post with your questions and insights and if you'd like to contact us directly please email bml[at]brandfu.com to start a conversation.