For most of our readers, Basecamp need no introduction. As long time Campaign Monitor customers (they were our 41st customer way back in 2004), I chatted with founder Jason Fried about how they use email to market their products, their recent switch from plain text to HTML emails and plenty more.
How do you see email as a marketing tool? Do you see it as a different audience than your blog readers, an extension, or something else?
An email can have such an impact. It's like calling an old friend every few months to catch up.There's some crossover between our blog and newsletter, but there are a lot of people who subscribe to the newsletter that don't read our blog. It's easy to think everyone reads your blog, but most people are way too busy to be a regular reader.
That's why an email can have such an impact. It reaches interested people who aren't paying attention all the time. It's like calling an old friend every few months to catch up.
What motivated you to make the switch from plain text to HTML?
A couple things:
- We wanted to track how many people were opening the email and clicking the links.
- Using simple design and color to call out more important parts of the newsletter.
Even though we're going HTML, it's still mostly text. The color and simple styling really helps make the point without having to get too fancy.
Have you seen an improvement in the traffic to your site or received any feedback since the switch?
We didn't really track newsletter results before, but it definitely feels like we're seeing great results. We usually include a coupon with the newsletters and we're seeing a nice uptake.
You guys typically design for the browser, how did you find designing HTML emails?
A pain in the ass, honestly. It's like designing web sites that have to work on 10 different browsers. HTML email display in mail clients feels like the mid 90s. They have a long way to go to embrace modern standards.
How do you decide what to put in your newsletters?
We usually go back through a month's worth of blog posts and pick out the ones we thought were most interesting. The more comments the better. We also announce a couple recent new features in our products and often include a coupon for a few bucks off a product. We try not to make the newsletters too long, so brevity is considered. We also use a URL shortening tool (like TinyURL) to keep the URLs from wrapping.
Do you and your team subscribe to many email newsletters yourselves?
I like Mark Hurst's Good Experience newsletter (also sent with Campaign Monitor). I think that may be the only one I'm consciously subscribed to. Unfortunately I get a lot of other ones I don't remember asking for ;)
Why did you choose to use an external service to send your newsletters?
"We looked around and tried a few, but nothing held a candle to Campaign Monitor. It is truly elegant, useful, and valuable."A long time ago we used to do this ourselves, but we didn't really have a good way of managing the list. We could blast one out, but we didn't really know who was on it, we couldn't send multi-part emails, we couldn't deal with bounces, etc.
As our lists grew (we have over 100,000 on one product list) we needed something to manage this process. We looked around and tried a few, but nothing held a candle to Campaign Monitor. It is truly elegant, useful, and valuable. We're proud to use it and thank you for creating it.
The Basecamp Newsletter
Not surprisingly, the Basecamp newsletters are a great example of simple, effective HTML email design. Each issue is predominantly text and smart formatting through inline CSS make them a pleasure to read in every email client.