May 14, 2014

4 ways to create an impactful email subject line

In the last few days, I have been reading up on best practices of email marketing in relation to a B2B email campaign I'm working on. It's quite fascinating to see the amount of research done and content available in optimizing one of the most important facets of an email - the subject line.

Having an appealing subject line is extremely important to get higher open rates. The email content then follows it up with a call to action for the reader.

Here are the 4 ways by which you can make an impact through the subject line. I have collated this list based on multiple sources for my reference. Hope it is helpful to you as well.

1) Convey the intent of the email in a crisp manner that provokes interest.
Use the language of the target audience - the words that either communicate an attractive opportunity for them or appeal to the problems they are facing. Research also says that subject line framed as questions have a higher open rate than average. Think about questions your target audience would be interested to get answers. Questions linked to business results such as increase in revenue, cost savings, time and effort seem to create much more impact. And make sure either the answers are available in the email body or provide a clear call to action to get answers.

2) Use effective words
The ideal character length of the subject line should be less than 50 characters (approx 7-8 words). You can use one or more of these five persuasive words ("You", "free", "because", "new", "instantly"). Avoid generic words like "newsletter", "report", "research" etc. Our human minds automatically block such words when we peruse through our never-ending flood of emails.

3) Keep it short, Optimize for mobile readability
As more people are reading their emails on mobile devices, it's imperative that you optimize the subject line in such a way that your target audience can understand the message comfortably. The ideal character length of a mobile optimized subject line is around 35 characters (can be extended to 50 characters if your target audience is not mobile savvy).

4) Be wary about personalization
Many emails do prefer to use the person's first name in the subject line to pique interest. But if the personalization doesn't extend beyond the first name, the person loses interest and treats the email as "yet-another-promotional" one. So if you want to personalize, ensure you go beyond the first name(if possible) in the email body. Include the organization or industry where he is working for. Add a couple of lines related to the problem statements specific to that industry which your product/service is trying to solve.

Any other ways by which you think the subject line can be made more effective?

May 8, 2014

Decommoditize your product


One of the best books I have read recently is "Rework" by the 37signals' founders. This book is filled with many interesting and innovative ideas on how businesses should run and adapt. One of the many phrases that left me thinking even after finishing the book is "Decommoditize your product".

The chapter in the book uses this phrase in the context of "Competition" and how you can protect your product/feature from being copied. The example of Zappos and it's obsession with excellent customer service is a good case study of creating a unique product experience.
"Pour yourself into your product and everything around your product too. Competitors can never copy the you in your product"
I started thinking about the relevance of this phrase to web products or mobile apps. It doesn't refer to differentiating your product alone, but rather investing more effort in giving a unique product experience and taking care of all the little details in every touch point - product discovery, on boarding, engagement, purchase, customer service, feedback, communications, content and more.

This is where I believe the practice of setting a vision, organization values and culture come in extremely handy. Many startups dismiss these ideas in the early stage, thinking these are just for the paper and that it's better to focus the energies in getting product-market fit and designing the right product. But these aspects can help a great deal in defining your identity - what makes you unique among the different startups in the same problem space. These can also serve as guiding light in the early discussions around everything you do (or intend to do) around your product experience.

I'm proud of having worked for an organization like Cleartrip which truly believes in its vision of making travel simple. This vision permeates down every single decision related to product design, communication, messaging and customer service. While competitors can get "inspired" by the interface flow, the basic driving factors need to be rooted in their organization's DNA to create any impact.
"One can steal ideas, but no one can steal execution or passion." - Tim Ferriss
The organization's vision and values serve as inputs to setting product principles. In the book "Inspired", Marty Cagan talks about the importance of setting them and how they can speed up the product discovery process.
"The product principles are a public declaration of your beliefs and intentions. It serves as a framework for evaluating the many alternatives and to get the team on the same page"
A few examples of product principles:
- Simplicity
- Accessibility
- Speed
- Reliability
- Friendly

Going through these 4 steps of setting your vision, values, culture and product principles help you to define your organization's identity and to ensure your offering is unique. And please, let's not treat this exercise as a one-day offsite discussion and leave it at that! :-)

May 6, 2014

10 steps to make "work-from-home" work


As a follow-up to my earlier post on remote work, here are the 10 steps if you want to make "work-from-home" work for you as well as your employer. I tried to keep them as generic as possible, without focusing on any specific role or industry per se.

1) Ensure you are extremely passionate about the work you are taking up
Be clear about why you are taking up a specific opportunity. Is it something you are passionate about? Is it something you want to build expertise on? How do you think this opportunity will take your career forward? Spend adequate time thinking about these questions.

My definition of passion is not about "do what you love". I believe in "love what you do". It's also important you connect to the work you do, in some level. If you are coming back to work after a break, do invest some time to keep yourself updated. Embrace active learning. I love to be a conscious learner all my life. It keeps me grounded and I know there's more to learn and understand in my area of work.

2) Decide and agree on the outcome
Have a good discussion with your employer/boss about what's expected of you - your role and responsibilities. See if the expectations can be fitted within your schedule. It would be easier to manage if the measure is tangible. But that shouldn't be the deciding factor for remote work, in my opinion.

3) Plan your work schedule
Observe how your time is getting spent during the day and how you can allocate time for remote work. When are you highly productive? When can you get some focused time without any distractions?

I started to take up remote work only after my daughter started pre-school. I planned my work schedule based on the few hours in the morning when I get some alone-time. I get back to work in the afternoons when my daughter takes a nap. Being a night-owl, I grab a couple of hours after I put my daughter to bed.  This schedule does go for a toss if my daughter is having a holiday in school, when she falls sick or she is in such a playful mood that she doesn't want to take her afternoon nap :-)

It's perfectly okay to diverge from the schedule when things are out of your control. Make sure you communicate the change in your schedule (in advance if possible).

4) Clearly communicate the days/timings when you will be available for phone calls/in-person meetings
Once you are clear about your schedule, you will understand the pockets of time when you can take up phone calls without interruptions. Plan for the days when you might have to visit the office premises for any in-person discussions.

In my case, I prefer to take up all phone calls and video conference sessions in the morning hours. I had also decided with my employer that I will be available in office once a week (which later changed to twice a week) from 11 AM to 1 PM every Monday (and Thursday). The key challenge that I had to face was that the timings were not working with some of my other team members since they prefer to start their day in the late afternoons. So we tried to shift the team calls to afternoons but I sometimes had to drop off when my daughter wakes up from her nap.

5) Be an over-communicator
Being a remote worker, it's highly imperative you communicate in extreme detail - be it in the form of emails, documents, task updates. It's better to be a proactive over-communicator than waiting for someone to ask you for updates. This approach works for me best and my team also appreciates the effort.

6) Be punctual for calls/video conference sessions
Communication is crucial in remote work situations. It is also equally important to be available on time whenever a call/hangout session is scheduled. It shows that you are committed and serious about collaboration. Use a calendar to schedule all meetings/calls and set appropriate reminders.

7) Take complete ownership of your focus area
According to industry, ownership and commitment seem to be lacking in remote workers and that's the reason why the industry is hesitant towards making remote work a norm. Though I don't agree to this reason, the only way to change this belief is to "be the change". Proactive communication, coming up with ideas and insights that will help your organization's growth and leading the efforts upfront are some of the ways by which this belief can be changed.

8) Setup your work environment
Allocate a dedicated workspace at home, where you can concentrate without any distractions. Get a high speed internet connection. This is extremely important if most of your discussions happen through skype/Google Hangout. You don't want to get dropped out in the middle of a conversation :-)

I have a dedicated work room in my apartment which has a desk, a landline phone and my iMac. I prefer to work with a desktop. I also use a laptop whenever I need to step out of my home. I capture all my notes and to-dos in Evernote and any detailed write-ups/documents/spreadsheets/ppts in Google Drive, which can be shared with the rest of my team.

9) Collaborate extensively through project management tools
Get familiarized with the project management tool being used in your organization. If there's none, invest some time in getting one setup. It's helpful to you and the rest of the team. Ensure you update the status of your deliverables. Follow-up with any team members through the tool, if you are waiting on someone's inputs (rather than through phone calls or emails).

10) Delegate, take help
This is one of my weakest areas, which I'm slowly trying to overcome. I have realized early in my remote work that I cannot be a super-mom, trying to take care of everything on my own and at highest quality. I hired a cook to prepare lunch, as I want to be completely focused in the morning hours, without thinking about when to make lunch. I also take help from my husband in the evenings and ask him to babysit our daughter whenever I need to take any calls.

Hope these steps were useful to you. Is there anything else you would like to add?

May 2, 2014

Remote work - make it possible

This is a topic I'm so closely associated with and deeply passionate about.

To give you some context, I worked full time for 9 years before I took my maternity break for 2 years. I decided to come back to the industry early last year but I was sure that I would only opt for an opportunity that gives me the flexibility to work-from-home. I initially reached out to a few of my trusted contacts in product MNCs. Most of them replied that they want me to come on board full time. One of my acquaintances who runs a startup reached out to me around that time. After hearing about the kind of work option I was looking for, he said he will get back to me. I haven't heard from him after the first phone call.

I used to wonder - Why is remote working not a viable option in India? Why do hiring managers stop the process as soon as they get to know that the candidate is looking for a remote working model?

After a month or so, I stumbled upon an interesting startup focused in the health and wellness space. When I reached out to the founders of HealthifyMe, they were open about remote work. It was a memorable experience for around 10 months after which I decided to take up independent consulting.

Why did I choose to work-from-home?
I want to be there for my daughter when she needs me the most. At the same time, I also want to invest some time in areas of work that I'm passionate about, make a difference to myself and the organizations I work for.

I believe a new mother would feel comfortable to return to full time work if one of these 3 options are satisfied:
  1. She has a reliable support system at home, in the form of her mother or her mother-in-law
  2. She has hired a trustworthy nanny
  3. She has found a daycare she is happy with
In my situation, either these options didn't work out or I don't trust them completely.

Many mothers who decided to take a break would love to have flexible opportunities. They may not be able to return to a full time work-from-office kind of a role. But they would definitely have atleast 2-6 hours in a day which they would want to invest in shaping their careers.

Couple of my interactions with such mothers which I want to highlight to share more perspective:
Mom 1 - 10 years of experience in Quality and testing
"My times are unpredictable but I know I can easily get 3-4 hours of work done when my kids are in school"

Mom 2 - 9 years of experience in software development
"Which software job gets over by 6 PM? Even if I opt for day care, I need to pick up my daughter at around 6, after which I would like to spend the rest of the evening with her"

My sincere request to startups - please be more open and flexible. Think beyond the conventional hiring and working models. Don't be under the assumption that ONLY full time employees who are willing to spend 6 days a week in person can contribute to your success.

It's heartening to see initiatives like Sheroes which provides mentoring and facilitates a marketplace for flexible work options for women. Hoping to see more opportunities that are time and location independent.

Remote work options are not only relevant for mothers but for anyone in the industry who wants to allocate their time for other interests/hobbies and also to those who want to avoid long commute. It pains me so much to see productive time getting wasted in traffic every single day. If only remote work becomes a norm and not an exception, it would lead to less traffic on roads, less pollution, low stress levels and more time in the hands of people. 

What do we need to do to make this a reality? I will discuss some of my strategies in the next post.

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