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Your Sig File Is A Marketing Tool

The “email signature”: (“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”:, pithy quotes and self-classification systems (e.g. “The 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”: ) 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”: 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.


  1. Carolyn Gardner
    Carolyn Gardner April 25, 2006

    I totally agree that sig files are an important part of any email message. It’s frustrating to receive an email from someone that doesn’t include contact information like phone numbers etc. Plus why not extend your brand in the inbox? Having said that, I think e-stationery takes sig stuff to a whole new level. It helps ensure everyone in the company is using the same professional look. Who has time for sig areas with happy face backgrounds for example? Ask yourself this question – Would you send out important business information on plain white paper? Of course not, so why do you send emails out without the use of e-stationery? For our e-stationery, we use software that comes from a company called emailgen. To find out more about this product, visit
    Happy emailing!

  2. Jeff Ginsberg
    Jeff Ginsberg April 25, 2006

    Glad to see that the market has finally picked up on Sigs…
    We were just nominated for best Signature @ the Sherpa Awards and wanted to let you know that there is more to a signature than contact info.
    We have 3 that we are using now, each one has a different message.
    I will forward one off to Ken as a sample.

  3. Allen Ford
    Allen Ford April 25, 2006

    You’ve got to be kidding, right?
    No doubt, the sig file is an effective and subtle means to reinforce your brand, but the cited examples are such disasters that I am not entirely sure if Kate Trgovac has written a belated April Fool’s Day piece.

  4. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac April 25, 2006

    Carolyn .. great point about the stationary. I’ve seen mixed results with it, but will check out emailgen.
    Jeff .. I didn’t know Marketing Sherpa even had that category. Looking forward to seeing what you’re doing.
    Allen .. well, I don’t think the Geek Code bit is for *everyone* but I’m interested to know why you think they are disasters. Poor call to action? Poor brand representation/integration? Poor design? Tech issues (which impact brand more than people think)? Look forward to your thoughts!
    Cheers .. Kate

  5. Allen Ford
    Allen Ford April 26, 2006

    Sure thing, Kate.
    I think the common fault with the cited sig files is that I see them as undercutting (to varying degrees) the brands they represent.
    The Weather Channel sig files do so because of what I judge to be unsolicited marketing. Assuming the e-mail correspondence is of a business nature, the inclusion of anything outwardly promoting their service and/or a specific promotion is less than professional.
    The Petro-Canada sig file I think misses because of the same reason, but is also hampered by the writing. Using ‘Love’ in that colour and in such a prominent manner I think would cause a lot of readers to instantly dismiss it as some hokey inspirational quote.
    Which is why I see yours as missing the mark too. Using humour, as you do with the Dave Barry quote and the glib checklist, is always an iffy proposition. For me, if there is any question that an approach will be misinterpreted, I’d just as soon find another method.
    ‘Less is more’ may certainly seem a cliche, yet with these sig files I think a little less would definitely help them.

  6. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac April 26, 2006

    Interesting points, Allen.
    You raise a larger issue of whether or not someone should include any marketing message in an email sig file … which is one I didn’t address. And its a great issue. Almost a “who owns the sig file space” – the issuer (in which case I should be able to put anything I want in my sig file) or the receiver (in which case you should be able to say “no thanks” to marketing messages).
    It never occured to me that the Weather Channel example was unsolicited marketing, particularly since it is relevant to me. If the weather forecast were for Edmonton when I am in Toronto, I would find much it more problematic. The search box is similar … it’s there if I want to use it. The contest promo is definitely promotional. Its appropriateness depends on one’s view of the larger issue you raised.
    For the record .. the Dave Barry quote & Ascii art is not actually my sig file. Nor the geek code. This example was designed to show the evolution of sig file use .. from a geek domain to a marketers one.
    As for the checklist – it’s not a marketing tactic, but a communications one. With the continuing rise of social media and citizen journalism, this is actually becoming a big issue. *Anything* is bloggable. I’ve seen similar checklists from a number of companies and independent consultants who want to make it clear what can and can’t be discussed. It is the evolution of those confidentiality statements that most companies have automatically inserted into their emails anyway. But reduced to their essence.

  7. rikomatic
    rikomatic April 26, 2006

    Are there other decent custom sig services out there that aren’t too spammish?
    I’d love to just have a script in my sig that pulled the headline and link to my latest blog posting. I presume that’s a fairly trivial bit of code, but beyond me.

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