Creating Randomized Email Campaigns

What happens when you need your survey tool to act like an email delivery system and your email delivery system to act like a survey tool?

That’s exactly what I came across when my boss wanted me to survey our company’s current newsletter subscribers. However, rather than invite the entire list to take the survey, he wanted only enough to product a statistically significant sample.

This post is going to cover the steps I took to force Campaign Monitor to behave like a survey tool.

Step One: Scrub the Subscriber List

First, I had to randomly select people who would be invited to take the survey. I could do this manually if I was a glutton for punishment, or I could let Excel do the work for me.

To do this, I exported my subscriber list from Campaign Monitor into a .csv file and opened it up in Excel. I added a new column to my spreadsheet called “Random” and typed the Random Number function in the first cell: =Rand()

The function outputs some funky looking decimal, but it’s completely random. So I repeated the function for the rest of the cells in the column until every subscriber had a number. I selected the entire form and sorted the data (Data > Sort) by the Random field, largest to smallest. That left me with a completely randomized order for my subscriber list.

My boss determined that how many responses would be statistically significant for our survey. Knowing that our email campaigns typically average a 33% open rate, I tripled that number and used that as the number of I would use for my sample pool. I deleted every subscriber after that number to finalize my list.

Step Two: Set a Custom Field

I use Campaign Monitor for anything and everything related to creating and sending email campaigns and, while my love for it borders on the inappropriate, there seems to be no way to randomly select subscribers from a master list. Otherwise, I could have skipped Step One altogether, right?

It’s very simple to create a new subscriber list in Campaign Monitor, but you’re kinda screwed if you’re on a unlimited monthly subscription plan. We pay $250 per month for our account and adding this new list would have pushed us into the next payment tier, doubling our total to $500 per month. That’s an expensive survey!

So, I got a little crafty to avoid that charge. Campaign Monitor allows you to create Custom Fields for the purpose of creating more personalized messages, though can also be used to segment your lists for more targeted sends.

To take advantage of these features, I added a new column to my spreadsheet called “Survey Sample” and added the number “1” in it next to each subscriber in my random list.

Then I went back in Campaign Monitor to create a custom field. You can do this very easily by:

  • Navigating to the “Lists and Subscribers” tab
  • Select the list you want to add the custom field to
  • Click the “Custom Fields” option in the right menu

I named mine “Survey Sample” and set it to be a numeric field.

Step Three: Import the List

Among the many nice features of Campaign Monitor (I can’t name enough of them!) is its ability to de-duplicate subscriber lists. That means you can try to add the same email address over and over again, but it will only take it once.

At the same time, it recognizes whether new information is available for the address you’re trying to import. For example, if there is a new name associated with the email address, it will updated with the latest import.

That worked to my advantage because I was able to re-import my random list into the master subscriber list in my account (1) without creating a duplicate subscriber and (2) updating each subscriber with my new Survey Sample custom field. No harm done and my list is still completely intact with the new Custom Field information!

Step Four: Segment the Master List

My last step was to segment my master list of subscribers. Segments are a handy little way to create sublist of subscribers that share a common attribute. For example, if your list includes the state field, you can create a segment of all subscribers in California and send a campaign targeted directly to them.

Creating a segment is as easy as:

  • Navigating to the “Lists and Subscribers” tab
  • Select the list you want to segment
  • Click the “Segments” option in the right menu

Campaign Monitor does an excellent job of guiding you through next steps from there. I named my segment “Survey Sample” and based it on the “Survey Sample”field for any subscribers that equal 1.


After I saved my work, I was left with a perfect list of randomly-selected subscribers to invite to take our survey. We can argue whether or not the survey could have just been sent to the entire list, but this solution allowed me to accomplish exactly what my boss was looking for while saving us $250 to boot.

Maybe now I should solicit Campaign Monitor to extend the randomizing feature of its A/B tests to any sent campaign. (Wink, wink.)

Making email social

Email has been the dominant means for marketers to get a message out to as many (subscribed) people as possible in the shortest amount of time for many years now.

In the past few years, marketers have shifted more and more into the social networking arena, using free sites like Facebook to get he message out quickly and cheaply.

It’s been an either-or game that marketers have played with different strategies for email and social networking campaigns. Can’t they play together?

Mail Chimp recently added a slick new feature to it’s email application that integrates Facebook’s ubiquitous Like button into email campaigns with a few simple clicks. But that’s not very helpful to anyone not using Mail Chimp now, is it?

Fortunately, anyone else can do the same by adding a single line of code to an email template:

<a href=”[webversion]&t=[Campagin Title or Custom Title]”>[Your Link Text or image]</a>

The beauty of this link is the ability to customize how the post displays on Facebook when a subscriber clicks on it. To customize the title, description and even the default image for your campaign, add the following to your HTML inside the <head> section:

<title>Your campaign title</title>
<meta name="title" content="Your campaign title">;
<meta name="description" content="Your description">
<link rel="image_src" href="A URL to a thumbnail image">

It’s really that simple. When a subscriber clicks on the link, it will direct them to the social network with the option to add the post to their timeline.

Now that was easy, wasn’t it? The painful part will be aligning your email and social networking strategies so they complement each other and work together. Have fun!

Christmas email fail

I love getting emails marketing in my inbox. I love it so much, in fact, it makes up more than half (OK, three-quarters) of emails I get on an average day.

Yes, three out of every four friends I have are the ones I sign up for on corporate websites.

So getting a Merry Christmas email from my BFF Starbucks really brightened my day when I saw the subject line sitting in my inbox.

(Actually, it was a Season’s Greetings email but I don’t let that ruin the Christmas spirit for me.)

Email greetings are an excellent alternative to the traditional card, though they have to be done extremely well to make up for the feeling of getting something you can hold and show off on the fridge.

That said, the email I got (pictured above) was really disappointing and took the egg out of the nog on a number of levels.


Sure, I love the imagery (and will be changing my blog’s background image right away) but there is nothing here that tells me this is from Starbucks. I signed up for Starbucks emails but would no idea if they really designed this or some cousin I rarely talk to did. Just change the From field in the email and this could have come from anybody.

Lack of Personalization

I’m guessing Starbucks has a heaping pile of information about all their customers. Even if they don’t they should at least have my first name and make the small effort to put it in the copy.

There’s no better feeling than recognition in a brand-to-customer relationship and calling someone by their first name in a holiday email is the least a brand can do to foster that relationship.

No Call to Action

My hat is actually off to Starbucks for creating a truly selfless email during the most consumer-driven season of the year. There is no advertisement, gimmick, product, service or any sort of sales pitch going on here.

Kind of refreshing, but also kind of pointless.

I gave Starbucks permission to sell stuff to me when I opted into their email list on their website. Because of that, I really expect to see something of value each and every time they contact me. Unfortunately, there’s nothing here for me to be merry about—a free drink coupon, special discount when ordering online or even a link to print the email if I really want to hang it on my fridge—by the way, I don’t but would consider it if the email interacted with me a little more.


If you haven’t noticed by now, I purposely highlighted the text in the image because otherwise would be invisible. That’s right, black text on a black image on a brandless email that has no other call to action than to wish me a happy holiday. This could be filed under Design Grievances, but if there was some additional content or products to feature, this may not have been the blunder it appears to be.

Season’s greetings, Starbucks. I appreciate the sentiment but could have probably done without.