The “email signature”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signature_block (“sig file”) is probably the oldest online marketing tool. Sig files originated when email did, way back in 1965. Originally the domain of geeks (and I use the term with the utmost affection), they often contained only basic contact information, but also elaborate creations of “ASCii art”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII_art, pithy quotes and self-classification systems (e.g. “The Geek Code”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geek_Code — yes, this collections of numbers, letters and symbols actually means something to geeks, such as my feelings about Star Trek, my dislike of Windows and my level of education).
And then, the marketers invaded.
Well, invaded is a little strong. Marketers figured out that they could use that space for more than just basic contact information. So, forty-some years after the advent of sig files, where have marketers taken them? The earliest true marketing use of a sig file (and one that is still considered one of the “best uses of sig files as a viral marketing device”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viral_marketing#Notable_examples_of_viral_marketing ) was by Hotmail; even prior to its acquisition by Microsoft, all Hotmail emails went out with an advertisement for the Hotmail service itself in the signature. This is now standard practice across email services and not nearly as effective as the early days. What has been the next step in the evolution of sig files?
Our metrics specialist at Petro-Canada uses her sig file to promote our current retail-customer campaign. This is an example from a recent Valentine’s Day promotion. The text, colour and call to action all change based on what is happening on the website; it is a simple and easy way to let your customers know about promotions that you have on the go.
This next example isn’t so much a sig file marketing tactic, but more a sig file trend. We’re all familiar with those long bi-lingual “this email is confidential” statements that companies automatically insert at the end of emails. Among private citizens and smaller businesses, I’m seeing more and more sig files that include permissions about the “bloggable” nature of an email. A sign that marketers and citizen journalists alike are recognizing the power of blogs.
But one of the best examples of using sig files as a marketing device is from “The Weather Network”:http://theweathernetwork.com/. They actually put a sample of the product in their sig file! Below are three examples from my account rep, Rob Dodds (he gave me permission to post his full details). The first is a simple weather forecast for Toronto. Rob can choose from several major cities, so when he is emailing a customer in Vancouver, his sig file has the appropriate city in it. The forecast itself is a snapshot in time (i.e. it doesn’t keep going back to the server to pull data). This one is from an email in January.
The second option Rob has is to include a Weather Network search in his sig; a customer types in their city and is taken to a forecast page on TWN’s site.
Finally, Rob has a variation of the more straight-forward sig promotion – but this time with a graphic about a contest that TWN is holding.
The TWN sig bits are small, lightweight and distinct. And they have never caused a problem with my email (something you need to make sure to test before you implement something like this!) Kudos to TWN… this is one of the best marketing uses of a sig file that I have ever seen! It shows the versatility of their product, contains relevant and useful data, and generally gives me a way to interact more with their product and their brand.