The Complete “Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast” Arc

Note: A nine part arc based on an podcast interview, all here

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 1

Email newsletters are incredibly goal dependant and email newsletter metrics must match their goals or they’re guaranteed to fail. That’s the rub; Is the email newsletter intended to contribute to a company’s revenue? Are newsletters part of the marketing channel (it’s not an obvious yes or no)?

I’ve written elsewhere about NextStage’s research into email newsletters and email marketing. Recently I was interviewed by’s Chris Bjorklund on the subject and that interview has become two podcasts (see links below).

I’ll also be posting the individual Q&A from that interview here for those who want a written record. Not everything covered in the interview is documented in print, so the best bet is to listen and take notes along the way.

First up, What are the key elements to think about in your design so that you get maximum ROI?

I think the thing I’d offer first is that, like everything else we’ve studied, certain rules and formulae emerge if you’re willing to put the time and effort into discovering them.

That said, the single most important factor was knowing what type of device your audience would most likely be viewing the newsletter on first. Let me explain that so your listeners understand.

We learned that it’s not uncommon for certain demographics to get their emails on mobile devices. Duh, right? But what we learned was that many people who get their emails on mobile devices either technically or mentally mark certain emails for “follow up”. Not in the sense of “I have to respond to this” but in the sense of “this is important so I want to devote some time to it when I have time to devote to it”.

One of the hallmarks of the mobile, pda, smartphone demographic is a metric we call “organization”. This means they value the concept of “organization”, of “being organized”. It doesn’t mean “they are organized” and this is crucial. We did a different and ancillary study that determined if this segment was more organized or less organized than other people and we discovered a micro-segment that actually used their device as a means of active organization. The rest of this segment pretty much all claimed their device’s organizational value and when you looked at their time-activity usage you saw that it was just another distraction and lowered their life-efficiency by measurable percentage points.

And this doesn’t begin to touch on the people who want to show you something on their iPhone, Smartphone or whatever. Sometimes these people (not all!) remind me of that Stuart character on MadTV that continually says “Look what I can do!”

So, whether these people are actually more or less organized than the rest of us, one of the things the majority seem to do is see something on their smart device and flag it as something they want to explore in a different setting.

This isn’t just true with mobile, pda style folks. Is your newsletter about family health issues and you know your demographic is 30-somethings with small children, for example? That email probably isn’t being read on a PDA. Also (and here’s a trick we learned), if you can time delivery to when you know someone in this (or similar) demographic is sitting at their family computer — note “family health” and “family computer” — and can deliver that email newsletter into their inbox when they’re sitting at their computer, you’ve just increased the relevancy of your newsletter to them.

This is a psychological factor that lots of people miss out on and it’s not specific to health. We saw it in finance, pet care, lots of places.

Once you get past knowing what device subscribers will be using when they first see your newsletter, you get into things like content, relevancy,

Relevancy is a demographic issue and it’s closely tied to distribution frequency and actionability. Distribution frequency is “how often will subscribers get a copy?” and actionability is “when can subscribers do something that benefits them based on the information provided within?”

Send out a daily newsletter without no immediately valuable action items and you can watch your subscription base go down to nothing. Send out a monthly newsletter that requires subscribers to act immediately to recognize value and watch your subscription base go away.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 2

This time out a brief note on color.

Colors were very market, gender and age group specific. This wasn’t surprising based on other research we’ve published.

Another factor that was demographic-dependent was “Content Completeness”. This goes right up there with relevancy, distribution frequency and actionability. Content Completeness is a measure of how much work a subscriber has to do in order to recognize value from the newsletter. If the subscriber can derive actionable value just from the newsletter, that’s very content complete. If they have to follow a link that goes to a page that requires them to read something then click on a box to accept a condition that goes to another page…, that’s not at all content complete.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3

This time we address “Your insights and advice about designing newsletters are based on studying more than 1400 Email newsletters, and then just 200 of those in depth.

What kind of patterns emerged?

What emerged was that the most successful — and success was defined by the newsletter authors — newsletters followed some very common patterns. We actually found six basic “styles”, if you will, that the most successful newsletters followed as far as layout, messaging, graphic element placement and so on. We call these styles “masks” because it didn’t matter what content was behind these masks, so long as your newsletter was wearing one of these masks it was going to work.

More significantly, different masks worked better based on audience, topic, distribution frequency. The one exception was the mask for mobile and handheld devices. Pretty much if you knew your audience would be oepning the newsletter on a handheld device there was only one mask to work with.

One group did something that I thought was very clever; they did some kind of programming that allowed the email to know what type of device it was being opened on. Don’t ask me how it was done because I’m not a programmer, but this was genius. The newsletter used the same basic mask if it was opened on an handheld, laptop, desktop, etc. This was done so that people who opened it on a handheld could then find the same information in roughly the same position on their desktop. But what the newsletter designers did was show more of each item’s story when the newsletter was being opened on a non-handheld device.

This was genius because people got hooked — as I mentioned before — using their handheld then got reeled in when the opportunity was there. Very nice.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3a

This time more answers to “Your insights and advice about designing newsletters are based on studying more than 1400 Email newsletters, and then just 200 of those in depth.

What kind of patterns emerged?

In general different masks worked better for different purposes.

Things that worked and things that didn’t — this is literally a two-edged sword. I will never be able to emphasize enough that knowing your market, your audience is key to success in any marketing. Let me give you an example.

I just started a newsletter for several reasons and I used our research to help me figure out what to do. Evidently a standard for email blast subscription response is about 10%. I did three email blasts and got almost 90% buy-in simply because I designed my introductory email along certain principles.

First, it was very much a “Joseph” email. People who’ve read my other writings, talked with me, seen me present or listened to a podcast could quickly and easily recognize my tone, my voice, my language. In other words, I made it as One-to-One as possible. This is a significant factor in getting people to respond.

Psychologically, people will respond to a person, to a personal request, far more often and far more rapidly than anything else. Now, I don’t know lots of the people on my subscriber list and most of them know me. I can still make it personal even to those people I don’t know personally by (essentially) demonstrating that “person” they are responding to. This is easy to do with a little training and listeners can contact NextStage if they’re interested.

So anyway, I knew my audience and MORE IMPORTANTLY I knew what they expected and gave it to them.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3b

We left off answering “What kind of patterns emerged?” with a discussion of delivering on audience expectations. We continue with a count of what’s important.

So let’s count things out know; 1 – Know your audience. 2 – know what they’ll expect and 3 – make sure they get it.

In my case I knew their first expectation was to get more of the “Joseph” experience and I made sure they got it. Also, in the first actual email, I told them what I’d be putting into future emails. Again, I’m setting expectations that I can meet.

Next, I gossiped. Not about the industry and not about people, but about a project I’ve taken on for fun but that also has pretty great significance in today’s social media world; I’m building a blog bullcrap meter for a company. They want to be able to determine if a person writing a blog believes what they’re writing about or is just, you know, cruising and making things up as they go along.

Note that we’re not talking about audience response. We’ve been analyzing if readers believe a blog is authoritative or not for a while now. This is a tool that determines if a blog’s author believes they themselves are an authority or not.

So think of it; does the person blogging about how safe an commercial airplane is really believe what they’re saying? Yes, take the flight. No, book another flight.

Also, who has more confidence in their industry? The company blog telling me that their baby medicine is safe better have more confidence in what they’re writing than the person blogging about their visit to Nova Scotia, don’t you think? But if they don’t, there’s a flag that medicine might not be as safe as taking part in Celtic Colors on Cape Breton.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 3c

So your listeners can benefit in their own newsletters by following some simple rules; know your audience, set expectations, meet expectations, create an extension of an already favorable experience. Another thing I did was reward them for simply signing up. I offered a discount on the newsletter research. The only way to get that discount is through the newsletter. We’re experiencing almost 3-to-1 newsletter to website conversion on that alone.

The reason all these things are two-edged swords is because — in my opinion — companies and individuals don’t do the right kind of market research to understand their audience. Especially in today’s world, this is imperative and is something I really emphasize when I talk on the topic; People want that human touch, that’s #1, and people want economy, simplicity, and are willing to pay any price to get it, that’s #2.

So know your audience, know what they want on every level — this is expectation — and give them what they want on as many levels as possible. This has often been called “managing expectations” and it’s really not. That’s old school and, although still useful in some situations, I think it’s losing its losing ground to waht we call “experience management”. This is tremendously important in today’s information-rich world. Give people the experience they want — indeed, they crave — and they’ll reward you by giving you more and more opportunities to manage their experience for them because they trust you to give them what they want.

This is basic.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 4

Here we answer “What are some of the ways to measure your audience’s response to your newsletter?

This is a hot topic right now – measuring response. To anything. I’m working with Eric Peterson and the WebAnalyticsDemystified group on what we’re calling “The Engagement Project” to come up with a metric and a way of measuring exactly what kind of response and how much of a response you should expect from your marketing efforts.

Measuring response at the machine level is fairly straightforward. Did they open the newsletter? On what device? How many times? Did they follow a link? Did they download something? Basically, did they do something the author wanted them to do?

Beyond that you get into reader psychology. This is where you find out why they responded the way they did and how to change that response, if required.

This is where Engagement and its different definitions begins to play a role.

Let me give you another example; did people get back to you about something in your newsletter that wasn’t a link or clickthrough? Did they call or email? With a comment or question. There are a few things in our newsletter that were placed just for this purpose, to get a very specific and very unobvious response because it allowed us to determine what was engaging them — what was driving them to perform specific actions, what was causing them to think, what were they reacting to and in what non-obvious ways.

This is a standard research method in cognitive science research and, amusingly, is also used in magic shows.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Part 5

Here we start the second podcast in the series and answer “If links are important — the next question is — how many of them should I have? (You said odd numbers are better.)

Again, this is something from cognitive science and psycholinguistics that is directly applicable to marketing materials. Give people a binary decision path — Yes/No, LinkA/LinkB — and they’ll essentially stop. Believe it or not, two links is too much information for most people to deal with.

But, three links? That’s fine. They can literally chose the middle road. This is something I talk about when I explain “Priming”, what magicians call “Forcing”. You can design a page or newsletter so that people will chose the link you want them to follow just about every time and not realize they’re doing it.

Once you get beyond three you start seeing Likert style responses. Likert and biasing responses are things researchers and questionnaire designers are very familiar with. You can basically force responses by the number of options you offer and their placement. Even numbers of options tend to be excellent for forcing results, odd numbers are good for getting real responses.

Key Elements for Maximum Email Newsletter ROI – Email Newsletter, Email Marketing Podcast Finale

Here we discuss how viral and newsletters merge.

Your regular listeners probably know we did a podcast about viral marketing. One of the things I wanted to explore was how viral “I” was in the newsletter. There’s a link in the newsletter itself to sign up for the newsletter. The only way to access that link is to have a subscriber send you their copy of the newsletter. There’s also a page on our website that’s a copy of the newsletter.

That web page is offered to people who are subscribing after the fact, so to speak. That web page also has a “sign up” link. We’re getting about double the subscription rate from that page being passed on as from the email itself being passed on.

This is what I expected. Companies that use NextStage regularly often consider us a trade secret and keep us on a short leash. This is an example of the same thing. People who got an email keep us close. People who find us after the fact tend to share.

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What does NextStage do?

Once again I was asked “What does NextStage do?”

This is an agonizing question for me. People expect a short, quick, succinct answer. I give them what I believe is a short, quick, succinct answer, “NextStage does research” and the conversation spirals downward from there. This happens a lot, the spiralling. I described it in The NextStageologist on Mars and Second Life? I don’t find you interesting in Real Life

This time, though, I got a completely different response, “Very interesting Joseph, let me chew on this for a while and get back to you.” along with a description of the individual’s position in their company.

The funny thing is that my response was my usual response. NextStage does research, tool development, trainings, presentations, consultations. The overriding theme is “How do people interact with information?”

This means what we do today can be very different from what we did last week and will probably be different from what we’re doing next week. Do we work on websites? Yes, and not exclusively. Do we work with print? Yes, and not exclusively. Do you work with video? Yes, …

But if you ask “Do you work on how people interact with information? So you help companies figure out how to modify what they do in print from what they do on the web and TV?” Yes, very good. That’s it pretty much.

A client once told me we do market research. Not sure I agree, but there you have it.

What amuses me is that this blog is pretty much a synopsis of what we do. Branding studies, how to use online video to capture market share and drive business, when to use sound files and why, how and why do audiences segment the way they do, …, and it all comes down to “How do people interact with information?”

So bear with me for a paragraph or two…

NextStage researches “how people interact with information”, something that grew out of my 1991 thesis, “How We Learn to Learn”, basically a blend of anthro, linguistics, semiotics and half a dozen other major fields and about 120 disciplines. The reason the research set is so rich is because, when I couldn’t find an answer to a problem in one field, I started modifying the problem model until it had similar macroproperties to solved problems in at least one other field and usually several. The next step was to determine how the macroproperties translated between disciplines, apply the learning of the solved metaphor to the unsolved metaphor, experiment with the translated paradigm to determine what properties were extant between metaphors then solve accordingly.

Because of this, Evolution Technology borrows from fields as diverse as quantum-magneto-hydro-dynamics and immunoassay development.

Okay. So how do companies use our research, tools, and consulting to help them?

Well…this is where it gets pretty interesting.

Higher Ed uses our tools and consulting to help them capture more of a decreasing market; first time college students. We’re helping them on several fronts; marketing, social networking, social media, creating rich personae of their target audience, …

All of which, to me, is “how people interact with information”.

Event organizers use our tools and consulting to help them expand into other product offerings via understanding how to translate their existing successful brand into recognizable brands in other markets.

Again, “how people interact with information”.

An F500 used us to help them understand why their employees weren’t accessing their employee site, and what to do so that employees would access the employee site.


Media buyers, media planners and some SEO firms use our tools to determine where to place ads online and in print so that the ads will have the greatest impact.


Companies use us to help them develop successful WOM and viral campaigns, …


Most engagements begin with conversations (a discovery process). Is the potential client having a recognizable problem? Can they explain the challenge? How is this a challenge? To what? In what way? What would be the best possible outcome? What would be the best possible solution? What would be an acceptable solution? What would be a horrible solution? … I’ve been told that I can be both intimidating and frustrating, but companies still come to us (we don’t advertise and have been reactive for a while now).

NextStage is blessed with being in a position to focus its attention on whatever catches my interest. I’m blessed with being interested in things that most people won’t care about for several years yet. Another thing that grew out of my thesis is NextStage’s proprietary Evolution Technology. Most of our tools are based on various models inherent in the technology.

I hope this helps. I much better talking on the phone. I’m much better answering questions, otherwise I tend to ramble (you couldn’t tell, I’m sure).
Also, my apologies if this seems glib. That is not my intent. I simply don’t know how to answer the “What does NextStage do?” question quickly and succinctly.

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The Complete “Using Your ‘Send Glands’?” Arc

Note: This was a 13.5 post arc, presented here as a single post

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 1

Yes, I’m coming out of another round of research, correlating, updating, analyzing, agonizing, … One of the research projects NextStage has recently completed has to do with emails.

There’s been lots of interest in email as of late. How can you market through it, how can you do this and that, can it be used in branding, what’s the real power of email campaigns? Stuff like that.

You’ll be shocked, I know, to learn NextStage’s research doesn’t directly concern itself with any of that. Because our research doesn’t deal with any of those items, it directly affects all of them. We’ve learned that this happens a lot; because we’re not answering a question from discipline A we’re not bound by their paradigms, because we’re not bound by the paradigms inherent in discipline A we’re free to consider a much wider venue of causes, actions and responses, because we consider a much wider venue of causes, actions and responses we discover and learn things that directly affect the paradigms inherent in discipline A.


So what did we find out this time? We learned a lot about how and why people interact with emails the way they do, and what happens before, during and after they receive an email from an entity at levels 0, 1, 2 and 3.

What does that mean?

This is going to be another of Joseph’s infamous blog arcs, so if you’re interested, read on. I guarantee you that you’ll read emails very differently than you do now by the time this blog arc is done..

What I’m about to share in this arc isn’t something I would have pointed at and stated, “This means that”, however, when I read the results I did agree with them.

Many people have what I call a “signature” file they attach to their emails. It usually contains contact information, company information, a disclaimer or confidentiality statement, things like that. The information will vary from person to person, of course, and the form is usually the same.

For example, the last three emails I received have signature files laid out as follows:

  • From a VP in online publishing

    Vice President, Publishing

    corporate website

    office: phone number

    Skype ID: skype id

  • From a professional web analyst

    Name – Senior Web Architect

    Member of the Web Analytics Association

    Complete profile on LinkedIn their LinkedIn profile

    mailto:their email address

    their blog

  • From a college administrator


    Coordinator of Graduate Programs

    Office of Academic Affairs

    their building and office number


    City, State, Zip

    their office phone

    their fax number

    their email address

You can see that the pattern is pretty much the same. Even when the signature file is an image based on some online service (such as an image of the sender’s business card), the information is pretty much the same. What these files reveal about their authors, however, is amazing.

And because I work for NextStage, you know I’m not talking about company affiliations and titles, right?

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 2

What this research discovered is how and why people interact with emails the way they do, and what happens before, during and after they receive an email from an entity at levels 0, 1, 2 and 3.

I gave examples of email signatures above. I chose those signatures simply by opening the last three emails in my IN box. The first thing to be aware in how people respond to email signature information is the relationship and level of intimacy between sender and receiver of an email and is what I’m referring to with “levels 0, 1, 2, and 3” above.

Think “Six Degrees of Separation” then add to it. There is a psychological distance and a sociological distance that separates people, not just a physical distance.
I may be part of someone’s social environment (a neighbor, a cousin) and that makes me very close to them in a social network sense. However, I may not be comfortable with the person for a variety of reasons. Perhaps I don’t trust them or don’t like their personal habits or lifestyle. I’m in their social network but am psychologically distant from them, what is often called “emotionally unavailable”.

Fair warning dept: I’ll be using myself as an example in what follows. I use myself as an example when I’m lecturing or presenting on different topics because I can be sure that when I mention negative and positive things about the example the only person who’s going to be upset is me and I got over being embarrassed, upset or offended by things I do or say long, long ago.

More than 30 years ago, during my first time through college, I started a journal. The only restrictions I placed myself under in writing that journal were:

  1. Everything I wrote had to be truthful and
  2. I would let anyone read it who wanted to.

I’ve pretty much held myself to those restrictions ever since and they form the basis for using myself as an example in writing, presentations and lecturing.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 3

Think of “0” level entities as people you’re very comfortable with, people you’ve established a level of social if not personal intimacy with. These, more often than not, are people one would consider “friends”. Maybe not close, close friends, yet you would consider myself on a “friendly” basis with them just the same. Historically this relationship and level of intimacy was reserved for immediate social groups; family, people in your village or neighborhood, co-workers in the same office or production floor.

Next comes level 1 correspondents. Maybe level 1 correspondents are people you have a business relationship with and with whom you’re friendly. You’re open and gregarious with them in emails and on the phone but you wouldn’t randomly call them up and invite them to a movie, dinner, something like that. However, you might go out to dinner with them or for a drink if you met at a convention or some such.

Historically these were people not in your immediate social group, perhaps people from the same village but and for example, they were landowners and you or your family worked their land or they were from the other side of town once your village became large enough to considered a town. If your village was still a village then people in this group might have been from one or two villages away. You might see them on market days and at the fairs, you might be cordial and share the off-color joke or two. In a nutshell, even if you enjoyed their company you didn’t trust them as much as you trusted the folks in level 0.

Level 2 correspondents are purely business. You’re always cordial and more importantly you’re always professional with level 2 correspondents. You may joke a little with them but you don’t tell them jokes, you may go out to breakfast, lunch or dinner but you’re both always talking business and taking notes while you’re at the table. Historically only the landed people, people of political or financial status, had level 2 interactions on a regular basis. Commoners may have had occasional level 2 interactions and they always had their hands on our swordhilts when they met and during most of the transaction. These people are even further away from the Center of Trust afforded level 0 interactions.

Level 3 and beyond? Who knows.

Psychological and sociological distance applies across all these levels in the following way:

  • Psychological distance plays the greater role when we’re dealing with personal matters
  • Sociological distance plays the greater role when we’re dealing with non-personal matters

This goes back to the example I gave in part 2; I may be part of someone’s social environment due to a living or work situation but not like their personal habits or lifestyle, hence I’m in their social network but am psychologically distant from them.

These relationships, these levels of intimacy between sender and receiver, play heavily into how people respond to what’s in signature files. It doesn’t matter the level of intimacy the sender assigns to the recipient (it would surprise me if people changed their signature files for each recipient. It’s more likely that recipients pass from business to personal emails as they go through levels of intimacy and enter the Circle of Trust), all that matters is the level of intimacy the recipient believes they share with the sender.

That stated, the next post will offer my current business signature file as the working example for what’s to follow.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 4

I’ll be using my current [[(as of 25 Apr 07, so now it’s a little different)]] business signature file as an example moving forward. As I write this my business signature file contains the following:

If we all insisted on precise definitions we all would be speechless almost all of the time. Definitions and precise theoretical constructs are the final product, not the starting point of inquiry. – Lawrence Weiskrantz

Joseph Carrabis, Chairman, CRO and Founder
NextStage Evolution/NextStage Global

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics

US Offices: 49 Brinton Dr/Nashua, NH 03064-1274/603 577 4575 voice/603 791 4627 fax

Canadian Offices: 7045 Edwards Blvd, Suite 401/Mississauga, Ontario, L5S 1X2/905 564 6929 x300 voice/905 564 9468 fax

This email message and any attachments are confidential and may be privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify NextStage by replying to this message or by sending an email to and destroy all copies of this message and any attachments. Thank you.

There’s quite a bit of information in my signature file. Let’s break it down item by item.

  1. First thing to notice is that I use a smaller font for my signature file than the rest of the message.
  2. The first item is a quote. All my signature files on all my email accounts contain a quote of some kind.
  3. Next comes a space, a visual separation between the quote and what comes next. We’ll learn that this is important later in this post.
  4. Next is my name and titles all in italics.
  5. The next line are the names of the companies I helped found, again all in italics.
  6. Next and in bold is the companies’ tag line, moniker, elevator pitch, call it what you will.
  7. The names of the companies I helped found. First the group I run, NextStage Evolution, followed by our sister company, NextStage Global. These are both in italics.
  8. Likewise, the next two lines are addresses and phone numbers. Again, NextStage Evolution precedes NextStage Global. These are also in italics.
  9. What comes next is a block. This block contains links to my latest writings, where I’ll be talking, presenting, things I want readers to take notice of. Note that it is visually separated from what comes before and after.
  10. The last item is the disclaimer, the “you have to be this tall to get on this ride” piece.

Everything in that signature file has meaning, and I do mean “everything”. One of the disciplines I study, Semiotics, is all about signs and their meanings. NextStage’s technologies and tools are based on how humans communicate with each other through signs, and my signature is full of them.

One of my mentors would often have us pile in his car and drive around. He would point to signs on the road and ask us what they meant, what were they communicating beyond the obvious.

Here’s an example; drive out of the center of Tyngsboro, MA, towards Rt 3 and you’ll encounter a sign indicating where to turn to get on Rt 3 South. There is a place named on the sign. Tyngsboro is about thirty miles from Boston, between 25-40 minutes drive depending on traffic.

But the place named on the sign is “Burlington”, a town about halfway between Tyngsboro and Boston. The sign is very old, probably from the 1950’s or early 1960s.

What is communicated beyond the obvious? Perhaps that when the sign was placed there getting to Burlington was more important than getting to Boston for most Tyngsborians? Was it possible that when the sign was placed people thought of Burlington as a necessary destination on the way to Boston, kind of a way-station demarcating a necessary stop on the greater journey?

More importantly, what did your understanding of the sign reveal about you, to yourself and others?

As my mentor often told me, “Everything is a sign. You just have to figure out what the meaning is.” Or “meanings are” in most cases. I wrote about the silences between musical notes and the spaces between words and images in Shared Traits of Great Web Design. The same is true here, with the concept of silences and whitespace coming through as “what’s not in the signature file is as important as what’s in it”. A small signature file, one that is sparse, tells just as much if not more as one as verbose as the example above.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 4a or “Where is he going with this?”

One of my regular readers (thanks, Kim!) emailed me to let me know that this Using Your “SEND” Glands? arc is fascinating and … confusing. Reading over her comments I was amused. Yes, this arc as written is confusing, I’m sure.

I usually don’t write these arcs right when I’m still excited about our research findings because (and Kim and others have noticed this) I’m like a kid telling his parents about all the fun he had at the carnival; all excitement and exuberance and the parents have to slow the child down to understand what he’s talking about.

That offered, my thanks to Kim for slowing me down. I’m going to use this post to provide some overview and explanation of this arc for readers with an interest. Do I still think these are exciting findings? Oh, yes, very much so.

So catching my breath…

NextStage spends a lot of its time researching how people communicate. We answer questions such as “Why was this arc fascinating and confusing?” for clients and ourselves. Much of what we do is directly applicable to online and offline marketing efforts, how, where, when and why the two should remain separate and merge, things like that.

Often we’re asked to analyze email exchanges with the goal of answering, “Is the sender of this email sincere?” This is a question asked more and more often by companies or individuals wanting to engage in some kind of partnership with another company or individual.

Think of it this way; you meet someone and just don’t feel comfortable with the person. You can’t point at something they’ve done to make you uncomfortable, it’s just how you feel. Because you can’t pinpoint anything you go ahead with whatever agreement you were planning only to discover later that you should have followed your instincts. People who do follow their instincts sometimes say they “had a sense” about the other person.

One of the things NextStage’s Evolution TechnologyTM lets NextStage do is very clearly pinpoint what is causing those instincts to trigger and you to get that “sense” about someone else, only in these cases, NextStage is doing it to online and offline communications.

Companies use this to refine their marketing efforts (making sure prospects and target audiences feel comfortable with marketing material) and to get a help them in negotiations. You can find an example of this on our Comments page;

“NextStage Evolution has repeatedly saved us time and money during contract negotiations and the interviewing process. It’s ability to find hidden meanings in what people write has always helped us win the upper hand.” – John Scullin, Director, Board of Health, Stoneham, MA

More and more companies are using our Resume Reader tool for this exact same purpose. This resume reader tool helps job seekers remove unintentional, offputting messages from their resumes and helps potential employers rapidly find the top candidates for a given position.

So NextStage has these tools we’ve been using to help companies and individuals communicate better and one of the places we’ve been applying these tools is to emails. One of the things these tools very clearly indicated was that the email signature files often influence readers far more strongly than the content of the emails themselves even when the reader stated they paid no attention to the signature file.

This caused us to turn our attention very strongly to what people were putting in their signature files and to match that information against psychographs of these same people. We’ve been making suggestions to certain individuals who were willing to take part in testing what we learned and the results were striking.

I’ll share one example that stands out strongly in my mind; a woman had been seeking a job for over a year with no luck. She was well qualified for every job she applied for yet never got a nibble. We suggested three changes to her signature file and she had three job offers within a week. One company contacted her the day she sent her resume to them and had her in for first and second level interviews that same week. Two other companies started calling every few days to get her in for interviews.

As I wrote above, her results were dramatic and we’re telling people that their mileage may vary. Never-the-less, these results are occuring with others.

So sometime last week NextStage decided yes, okay, it was time to go public with this research. We’d seen in the journals that other people had done similar research and we incorporated their findings with ours, seeing where things fit and where they didn’t, refining our results where other researchers had done tests we hadn’t, so on and so forth.

The end result of all this is that people’s use their email signature files the way animals use scent glands; to mark territory, to show dominance, things like that. Fascinating, once you see it applied and showing it applied is something I want to do in this arc.

That offered, let me clarify a bit and describe what’s on the horizon.

In Part 1 I hoped to lay the foundation for this arc. I used three “neutralized” email signatures as examples in that post and I didn’t explain them because (to me) that would have been a violation of trust.

Let me explain. I didn’t ask the people who owned those neutralized signatures if I could use them. Because I didn’t ask them and because they or others might recognize the signatures even though neutralized, I won’t share our findings on them.

Thus they are there only to show how similar they are and how a pattern develops and is propagated throughout cyber-time and -space.

In Part 2 I start explaining the concepts of psycho-social distance. These concepts are very important to the information and analysis that follows. I also included a caveat that I would be using my own signature file as the example going further. This choice and statement goes back to the reason I didn’t offer any analysis of the neutralized signature files in Part 1.

To that end, I’ve learned to share of myself either not at all or openly, to not be ashamed by what I’ve done or how I’ve lived. To do so would be worthless and foolish, don’t you think? I’ve lived as I’ve lived and nothing I do can change that. Because this is my belief (mind you, I’m not proud of all I’ve done, merely accepting and understanding of it) I know that some things I share or might share of myself can be troublesome to others. This is the reason for the caveat and the anecdote about my journal writing. Share without being afraid.

In Part 3 I go into detail about passageways distance.

In Part 4 I provided my signature file as it existed at the start of this arc for the example going forward. I also included a rudimentary analysis of the signature file as it existed. What followed was a “headaches” if you will of what to look for and how to go looking.

Part 5 will start with what we learn about me from the very start of my signature file. That entry ends with my saying “Ouch!”.

Part 6 addresses the question of personality and how it comes through in signature files.

Part 7 addresses what the signature file reveals about the sender’s self-concept.

Part 8 addresses the sender’s concept of their place in their immediate environment.

Part 9 looks at company tag lines and what they mean.

Part 10 looks at the meanings of multiple affiliations (should they exist).

Part 11 considers the most obvious and direct communication in a signature file, the information block.

Part 12 looks at the caveat that appears at the bottom of many signature files, why it’s there and its meaning in the sender’s psyche.

The last entry makes some reconstructs the signature file using what we’ve learned to communicate both better and more completely.

Happy reading and, yes, more to follow…

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 5

It turns out that most people use signature files, images, etc., in much the same way an animal will use its scent glands — to mark something, to show ownership, territory, boundaries, dominance, submission, equality and acceptance among other things. This aspect of signature files is non-conscious and non-intentional. In all things done by humans there’s a non-conscious and conscious component. NextStage’s value proposition comes from being able to synchronize those components because they’re often in conflict without people knowing it. An example of this conflict and its resolution is given in Site-Penetration Up 225%, Time-On-Site Up 300%, Conversions Up 20% in Four Months.

I had to laugh when I read that as a result of this research was that people and businesses mark their emails via signature files much the same way animals spoor their territory. Long, long ago (in internet time), one of my assistants likened blogging to dogs marking their territories in Where’s my Social Network?: The Reluctant Blogger, Part 3.

The research goes a little further than suggesting signature files are animals marking their territories, though, and one of the places it goes made me laugh. A lot of companies put what they think is important on their websites, not what their prospects and clients think is important.

It turns out the same is true with signature files. Most people put what they think is important in their signature files, not what people reading the sender’s email might find important. This aspect of signature files is conscious and intentional.

This offered, let’s analyze the signature file above piece by piece.

The sender has a somewhat large signature file at fifteen lines (counting blank lines but not counting word wraps). It contains a lot of information. However, the signature file uses a smaller font than the message. (I’m smiling as I share this analysis, by the way…)

The smaller font indicates that the sender (that’s me, remember?) believes they are not as important as the message they’re sending, something like “Spare the messenger for the message’s sake” applied to email exchanges.

However, the size of the signature file in lines (or the size of the graphic for image-based signature files, or space taken up by any combination of the two) indicates that the sender believes they’re someone of some achievement (I wrote before that I had a healthy ego. Ouch!).

We haven’t even analyzed the content yet. We’ve only gotten to the layout and we’ve learned that the sender believes the message is more important than the messenger and that the messenger is pretty important, too. Note that both of these items are at the non-conscious, non-intentional level.

Okay, I’m going to rest and lick my wounds before I get to the actual content of my signature file.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 6

So far we’ve learned that the sender believes the message is more important than the messenger and that the messenger is pretty important, too, and that both of these items are at the non-conscious, non-intentional level.

The sender includes a quote in their signature file as the first intentional, conscious piece of information. The quote is also visually separated from the rest of the signature file, so its position as the first intentional signature file element and its visual separation from the rest of the signature file’s content indicate the sender believes it is an important piece of information.

I know the sender so I know that quote changes periodically. Therefore the quote isn’t as important as the fact that the quote is there.

Recognizing that this is an intentional part of the communication of the signature file, what is the sender’s intention for including a quote? I’d suggest taking a step back. The sender isn’t including a quote, per se, they’re including a communication element. What are they communicating? Obviously something they believe is important. Again, not the quote but the inclusion of the quote.

The inclusion of a quote is important because it achieves some purpose in the sender’s mind. But what is that purpose? Because the quotes are included, they are important, because they are important there’s a good chance they’re not randomly selected for inclusion. Because they are not randomly selected the sender is communicating something about themselves.

Thus the sender is not communicating a quote, per se, but an indication of themselves. Literally, the sender is sharing something about themselves for those willing to accept the offering.

Hmm…interesting, but signature files should be part of your personal and professional marketing arsenal. One has to wonder if the inclusion of a quote adds or subtracts value from the overall communication as it is essentially a statement of either confidence or vulnerability; the sender is projecting a piece of themselves into the virtual world, much like explorers who journey into unknown lands. In either case, the sender is exposing a part of themselves and one must determine its worth in a business communication.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 7

So far we’ve determined the meaning of font size, file length and the use of a quote in the signature file. Here we go into the “I/Me/Mine”ness of an email signature.

The next line in the signature file is

Joseph Carrabis, Chairman, CRO and Founder

ie, the sender’s name as an email link and their title(s). Note that this is all contained on a single line. This placement is an indication of equality, that in the sender’s mind (and this is probably a non-conscious, non-intentional decision) their name is synonymous with their title, that they are one in the same. This kind of identification between person and function can indicate the individual’s a workaholic, very much enjoys their work or many other things. What we do know is that the sender sees their name and their title as having equal meaning.

You might remember that in Part 1 only the college administrator didn’t equate their name with their function. The college administrator is a female and gender plays a major role how signature files are laid out.

Does the sender communicate primarily with their own gender, with equal numbers of both genders or primarily outside their gender? Each element plays a role in the conscious and non-conscious, intentional and non-intentional communication that is our signature file.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 8

The next line in the signature file is

NextStage Evolution/NextStage Global

Because the sender places their name and title above the company(s) name the communication is that the sender believes they are more important than the organization they work for. As business is based on relationships between individuals, this is a good thing.

But notice that the company(s) name(s) are visually linked to the individual’s name and titles by the use of italics

Joseph Carrabis, Chairman, CRO and Founder
NextStage Evolution/NextStage Global

This is another statement of identity. Here we learn that the sender believes they are more important than their organization (visual hierarchy) and that they are also a part of that same organization (visual inclusion via use of italics).

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 9

Here we learn what people think their strengths are.

I will start here by sharing something one of my mentors gave me; Your every strength is your weakness and your every weakness is your strength.

I’ve shared that with several people through the years. Some understand it immediately and others don’t seem to ken it regardless of their efforts. Basically people will do things based on what they know they can do.

If they’re good mechanics and they hear a rattle in a car the “good mechanic” part of their psyche comes out and they starting thinking “Is that a muffler sound? Is that a transmission sound? Is that a carburetor sound?” and so on. They don’t think to look in the backseat, on the floor and at the child’s toy rattling now and again. This is an example of going with a strength that also creates a weakness.

You’ve heard about Maslow’s Hammer? If all you have is a hammer then everything looks like a nail? This is the ultimate statement of a strength as a weakness.

What about a weakness as a strength? If you’re presented with a challenge and you know you lack the skills to directly address it (a weakness) then you’ll figure out ways to solve it that bypass your lack or skills (thus allowing you to find a strength you didn’t know you had).

Much of my training involves repeatedly recognizing strengths and weaknesses, my own and others, and helping people learn alternatives to both. I mention this here because signature files are statements of identity and the use of bold, italics, etc., have rich meanings when used with identity statements.

Here, the next line in the signature file is

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics

The sender is making a statement, a strong or strength statement because bold is used, that they are comfortable in the worlds or areas of Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics, and that the sender’s company excels in these areas.

Remember that this is a statement the sender is making. Who knows if the receiver will have any idea of what those terms means, the sender is staking them out as being in the sender’s province (the dog marking its territory, establishing its dominance). Most likely the sender chose those terms because they had meaning to the sender and the sender hoped they had meaning to the recipients. If not a direct meaning, at least a recognition of meaning.

What is the weakness? All the terms and expressions that the sender could have used but did not. There is no mention of web analytics, business development, teaching, … . It doesn’t matter that the sender might be skilled in these areas or that the sender’s company might excel in these areas, all that matters is that the sender included some things and not others.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 10

Welcome to Part 10 of the Using Your “SEND” Glands? arc. We’re continuing the analysis of a signature files and what they’re communicating, whether the sender intends the communication or not. As with so many things, the bulk of what is communicated is communicated at a non-conscious, non-intentional level. This means people will be responding to subtleties in a person’s email signature without realizing it and without you, as the sender of an email message, intending it and is true whether your sending your own business email or your company is producing an email campaign. Follow this arc from beginning to end and you’ll know a great deal more about dealing with business contacts than simply what’s discussed in their emails.

Here we learn about priorities and affiliations.

We’ll take the next two lines in the signature file together.

There are many reasons these company affiliations appear in the order they do and we can never rule out pure chance. However, based on what we’ve learned about the author of this signature file so far it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to suggest that the ordering is intentional. It could even be intentional and non-conscious and that would be an interesting discussion in itself.

We know that NextStage Evolution is the author’s own company. Perhaps it comes first because of prideful elements, perhaps because it was formed first, perhaps a simple alpha-sort placed it first. Perhaps we’ll never know the reason, we’ll only know that it appears first in the list so in some way, shape or form we know it has a priority over NextStage Global in the author’s mind.

This may seem a niggling. Let me share another anecdote about my mentors.

We were observing people in a room, one of whom, a woman, was engaged in a conversation with a very gregarious gentleman. The gentleman was actually a visiting professor in my field of study and what we were watching was when the woman would decide this open, friendly, elegantly dressed, mannerly gentleman stepped over some boundary only she knew about.

At a certain point the woman, who had a sweater draped over her shoulders, pulled the sweater tighter around her and smiled at the man but not a face on, direct smile. This was a smile in which the woman faced one direction, slightly askew to the man, and watched him from an angle, “out of the corner of her eye” as it were.

I said that whatever the man said, it was at this moment that he crossed some line with her. “She pulled her sweater tighter and smiled without facing him,” I offered.

A fellow student disagreed. Perhaps she simply felt chilled.

My professor nodded and said, “It doesn’t matter that she felt chilled, it matters that she felt chilled now.” Remember that in Semiotics, everything is a sign, everything has meaning. All that’s required is that you understand what the sign means. If you don’t understand what he sign means at least be aware that the sign exists and has meaning. The actions of others familiar with the sign will help you understand what it means to them and in time you’ll learn what it means to you.

So the sender creates a priority in their corporate affiliations by separating the company names onto two lines. But the sender also encloses both company names in italics and in links. This indicates they are same yet different in the sender’s mind.

I won’t devote a separate entry in this arc to the next two lines in this signature file

US Offices: 49 Brinton Dr/Nashua, NH 03064-1274/603 577 4575 voice/603 791 4627 fax

Canadian Offices: 7045 Edwards Blvd, Suite 401/Mississauga, Ontario, L5S 1X2/905 564 6929 x300 voice/905 564 9468 fax

The theme mentioned above applies to these signature file lines, as well.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 11

Here we learn what the sender believes will demonstrate their knowledge and experience in their chosen field.

The next item to consider is an information “block”.

Again and because I know the author of this signature file, I know that these items change from time to time. What is always presented is three to four elements, usually the author’s latest writings, a link to the author’s blog and any future speaking engagements or recent television appearances.

The purpose of this block is remarkably direct — probably the most direct, obvious, conscious and intentional communication in the entire signature file. The author is drawing attention to items that (the author feels) demonstrate their expertise and knowledge base. Many people might not include such an information block in their signature file and experience has demonstrated that people will indeed look at these items and often click on them, especially if the items are topical.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Part 12

The last item to consider is the disclaimer that usually appears as the last item in an email signature file.

This email message and any attachments are confidential and may be privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify NextStage by replying to this message or by sending an email to and destroy all copies of this message and any attachments. Thank you.

Being at the bottom of the signature file is an indication that the author doesn’t believe this is a high priority item. This is also indicated by the even smaller font size than the rest of the signature file.

However, we must note that it is included, therefore the author does believe it has some value albeit little value to the sender.

Okay. We’ve deconstructed the heck out of this signature file. In the next post in this arc we reconstruct the signature file so that it plays a better role in the author’s professional marketing arsenal and consider the question, “Does anybody actually look at those things?”.

Using Your “SEND” glands? Finale

In this last entry in this arc we’re going to reconstruct my signature file so that it communicates a better conscious and intentional message, essentially synchronizing the non-conscious, non-intentional and conscious, intentional elements so that a unified message is transmitted to people who receive emails from this sender.

You can feel free to apply the concepts outlined in this arc to your own email signature files, as well.

The original signature file can be seen (wa-a-ay) above.

The goal will be to retain the sender’s personality while making the signature file a more compelling marketing unit. Here are the modifications we’ll make:

  1. Simplify the company identifiers to a single place of reference. Most people contact the author at NextStage Evolution so use that as the place of reference.
  2. Place all contact information with the first mention of the company name
  3. Modify the tag line so you don’t need a background in anthrolingualsemiotics to figure out what NextStage’s value proposition is

The end result?

If we all insisted on precise definitions we all would be speechless almost all of the time. Definitions and precise theoretical constructs are the final product, not the starting point of inquiry. – Lawrence Weiskrantz

Joseph Carrabis, Chairman, CRO and Founder

NextStage Evolution/49 Brinton Dr/Nashua, NH 03064-1274/603 577 4575 voice/603 791 4627 fax

NextStage: Results. Nothing else.

This email message and any attachments are confidential and may be privileged. If you are not the intended recipient, please notify NextStage by replying to this message or by sending an email to and destroy all copies of this message and any attachments. Thank you.

Another question which needs to be asked at the end of this research is “Does anybody read signature files?” The answer there is a definite yes. Again I’ll use my own experience as an example: I started using the new signature file and received a phone call that same day. The person — a regular correspondent — noticed the change and liked it. What prompted the change? they wanted to know.

People at the outer levels of relationship and intimacy will read them to learn about you, who you are and what you do. People at the closer levels of relationship and intimacy will read them to find out what you’ve been up to and if there’s something about you they should be paying attention to.

You know…I’ll bet I’ll stop getting emails for a while once this arc gets published…

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