Laundry, man-drawers and Automations Published December 7, 2009 I own a reasonably high spec washing machine. It was a particularly easy purchase. The feature list on the machine I chose read like a phonebook, the stellar energy ratings absolved me of any rainforest slaughtering guilt, and (most importantly) it reminded me more than a little of R2D2, the little white droid from Star Wars. Once I had my reasonably high spec washing machine installed, it seemed as appropriate time as any to wash some clothes. The letter E on one of the dials had a 40o sign next to it. Suited me fine so I chose that, and was delighted with the nice clean clothes that emerged at the end of the wash cycle. That was 18 months ago, and I must confess for each of the many washes since, I have turned the dial to the trusty E & pressed wash. It was nearly very different. Last winter, after the purchase of a (very lovely) new Jumper, I was terrified enough by the stark warning contained in the special care instructions to decide to try a more delicate wash cycle. After some fun, yet unsuccessful rummaging for the instructions in my man-drawer, I spent a solid 5 minutes trying to decipher the (almost certainly alien) C/B/F/Red/Blue/Star hieroglyphics masquerading as a control panel on the front.. ..before I chose E and pressed wash. Life’s too short, right? (And the jumper was fine btw) Lessons learned from laundry So, laundry aside, here’s the rub. As product manager for Pure360, one of my major responsibilities is ensuring any new development strikes a successful balance between ‘I want one of those’ gadget bling, and friendly features that actually work in the real world. Effectively, I have to make sure our ‘washing machine’ has those sci-fi looks and killer specs that make it pop to buyers in the great ESP showroom – but that after delivery even a user that just turns to E and presses wash will be happy*. * NB – Our email marketing software does not actually wash clothes. Now, you’d think the laundry analogy would run out of steam a little here (no pun intended). See, as you’d expect, our audience of savvy marketers typically have demands from email marketing software that extend a fair way in complexity above a simple wash and go. But I’d disagree. You see, I’ve held on to the valuable lesson I learned from the delicate jumper incident, and no matter how advanced the feature, or complex the processing behind the tool, new features have been designed with the strict guidelines that they never, ever, send marketers scrabbling through their (equivalent of a) man-drawer, no matter how comfortable they have got with choosing E and pressing wash. In holding true to this, our latest development Automations has posed one of the biggest challenges so far. On the face of it, a tool that creates unlimited rule-based date and event sequenced email campaigns has man-drawer written all over it. Showroom sparkle We toyed with concepts from 3D icon based graphic interfaces to flash storyboards – after all, the email marketing world showroom isn’t short of ESP products to choose from, and being extra shiny never hurts, but after a record investment (both time and financial) in brainstorming, workshops and usability studies we found the answer was refreshingly simple. In fact, more specifically, it was as simple as painting by numbers. We made creating complex Automations a case of simply filling in the blanks (using multiple choice dropdowns) in clever sentences, which adapt to your choices as you select them. When you’ve finished adding sentences, your automation reads back (literally) like a confirmation of what you wanted to achieve, and you can tweak and shuffle around your sentences to your hearts content until what was a daunting subscriber life cycle sequence becomes an easily digestible short story. Fancy a spin? So, did we succeed in ensuring marketers with the email marketing equivalent of even the most delicate knitwear can satisfy their needs without fumbling around for the manual? I believe we did. But If you’re not already test-driving Automations, why not take a spin yourself. I’d love to know if your email marketing comes out whiter than white.