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Customer Retention. Automated

Are Your Emails Getting the Right Attention?

Posted by Andrew Pearson on Aug 15, 2013 4:03:00 PM
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With all the competition out there in the eCommerce world, it can be easy to forget that customers today want more than just free shipping. Consumers want products that are already relevant to their lives. They want convenience and clarity in your attempts to take up a portion of their day. They don't want to have to dig through a spam filter to find a 20% off coupon or scroll through lengthy newsletters on their phones in the two minutes between the car and the office. In this installment of the Windsor Circle blog, I'll be looking at a few emails that have been circulating around the eCommerce world this week and evaluating them on a few criteria:

  1. How likely is the email to land in an Inbox?
  2. Will the customers enjoy the content enough to read it once it gets there?
  3. If they read and like it, will this email help drive revenue? 

We'll start with one that landed in our company spam box. First, without the images:

And then with the images downloaded...

Just by looking at the screenshots it's not hard to see why Marty's Shoes didn't make it all the way to the promised land. The ratio of text to images is skewed drastically towards image, and the only copy that exists in the email outside of images is a list of repetitive store locations and “blowout coupons”.  Even the subject of the email has capitalization, an exclamation point and a dollar sign which can be obvious clues to even a less-clever filter than ours. Spam filters thrive off salesy copywriting, so this was Marty's first strike. The most detrimental element of this attempt was, however, likely to be the sender's address. The domain, “b1.mb00.net” has a sender score of 83 at the time of this post, which is decent but not great. Their domain is also shared with 5 other senders. It's possible that one of these senders is using their address to spam and has recently tarnished the whitelisting of the shared IP. The graph on www.senderscore.org shows that IP reputations fluctuate over time, but deliverability is the result of a combined score that measures both content and reputation. In this case, the retailer would have improved their chances by writing better copy within the message.

I received Marty's email at 4:25PM on a Tuesday. Although I, personally, check my email all day long, most Americans check it in the mornings. This would have been a better time to reach me, rather than on my way out of the office. Having opened this email in my mobile phone, the first things I noticed were that the links were off center, and I couldn't really tell why Marty was keen on contacting me at all. Once I downloaded the images, I thought “Oh that's nice,” and hit the back button to continue sifting through my Inbox.

Who is this advertisement meant for? Am I a loyal Marty's customer who is already familiar with the brand? Not in this case. In truth, I'm a new customer who has recently signed up for the newsletter in order to check them out before making my first purchase. Marty's Shoes were so insistent on getting out a coupon, they neglected one of the first tenets of marketing: tell a story! This can be difficult in a quick email, but the next case we'll look at demonstrates that it is possible, and always a great idea.


This email from ThinkGeek did make it through to our Inbox, and it's easy to see why.

And so on. Now with the images...

The text to photos ratio is massively in favor of text, and there is hardly a single mention of discounts, coupons or promotions. Look closer, though, and you'll see that ThinkGeek is certainly trying to sell product. This email is so well suited for Inboxes, they can slide capital letters and exclamatory punctuation into the subject and still achieve delivery. What's more likely, however, is that their ESP maintains their IP whitelistings well. With a little detective work, I found out that ThinkGeek's domain has a sender score of 96, and that this is thanks in large part to our partner, ExactTarget. Good job guys!

ThinkGeek has a story to tell us, which is ideal for marketing. As we've discussed, consumer encounters with email are brief, but ThinkGeek's story goes deeper than that. They have a relationship with their customers based on similar preferences and niche, genre-based products. This email is just one drip of a greater story, citing relevant events of the recent past and current internet memes.

The email came to me on a Wednesday at 1:56PM, right around the time I got back from lunch to check my Inbox. I'll admit, I spent a few minutes reading the headers and since they were clever enough to keep my attention (I wanted to know how to get engaged at ComiCon) I kept reading and clicked a few of their links. Without downloading the images, although there was plenty to read, I was perplexed by the caption “Pet-Casso” and would never have known about this gem without taking the extra step. (It's a canvas on which pets can express their inner modernist.)

As you can tell, it is is quite long, which leads to the conclusion that someone spent a lot of time, money and effort on a promotional effort that is unlikely to be read all the way through. My screen shot captured around 13 pages worth of email on a full sized screen which is surely too much to bother sifting through for the average consumer. Thinking of the mobile application, this email may have only scored a casual glance before being marked as read.

ThinkGeek is smart about their advertising, though, to be sure. New products are at full list and there is a host of over-aged products with slashed pricing for the bargain shopper. However, there are too many things to see in a single email, as shown here. As a previous ThinkGeek customer, they should already know my preferences and buying patterns. I'm a loyal, regular customer and I buy a certain set of replenishable products from them every month. Modern analytics make it possible to determine a shopper's gender, location, and purchase history with minimal effort. Although ThinkGeek does an excellent job of capturing attention, they should be segmenting their lists better instead of trying to be everything for everyone. Providing only relevant content would shorten their promotions and increase the likelihood of selling a product or two.

This brings me to my last case: Football Fanatics.


And with the images:

By deliverability metrics this email is perfect. Although they mention products available for retail, the message is subtle and not overstated. There are no exclamation points or mentions of coupons or clearances. Football Fanatics also uses ExactTarget for their email marketing, and has a sender score of 96. What's more, the end of the email asks to be added to the recipient’s address book for ensured future deliverability. And, even without downloading the images, there is a clear message of what the company offers and the host of products they have for sale.

The email landed in my Inbox at 7:48AM on a Wednesday, which is perfect timing for a thorough read on a full sized computer screen among the first minutes of a work day. Should they catch their audience on the go, they provide a mobile option that's much easier to scan. Although the design of the email is rather sparse, brevity is something to strive for in this medium. They mention a few of their products and there is a clear call to action geared towards garnering more business. With football season approaching, they are advertising products that are relevant to the time of year and know enough not to offer a discount on the first volley.

The biggest advantage the guys at Football Fanatics had was the presence of a familiar team name as I scrolled through my Inbox. Although I had never told the company my preferences, they must have used my zip code to determine my location and suggest the most popular team in this area. On the lower left side, they suggest other local teams I am likely to follow using dynamic merge codes in their email service provider.

Their biggest mistake, however, was suggesting that we at Windsor Circle are Duke fans when the CEO, VP of Marketing and I all went to UNC Chapel Hill. (Which is absolutely unforgivable!) The quality of this email, however, suggests to me that were I to purchase some glorious UNC gear from their site, my next email would be full of Carolina blue.

Marketers should remember that effective emails are brief, relevant and easy to read despite the user's type of Inbox. Mobile optimization and targeted segmentation are among some of the techniques available to advertisers today, but the majority of emails we receive at Windsor Circle ignore these basic principles. People are pressed for time, and advertisers have only a few seconds to capture their attention, which is why retailers like Football Fanatics devote so much strategic thought and effort to their messages.

Even Football Fanatics is missing a huge opportunity by relying on demographical data to direct their dynamic content. Their mistake of assuming we were Duke fans because we're located in Durham would never have been an issue had they segmented their lists based on behavioral data instead of geo-targeting. A less email-savvy Carolina fan may have seen the Duke logo and automatically hit delete.

In summary:

  • Make sure your ESP keeps their ISP reputations clean. If they're not, it may be time to switch or request a dedicated IP.
  • Don't exaggerate your copy for effect; a more subtle, creative approach is best.
  • Find a balance between images and text, so the email can be read without a download.
  • Optimize for mobile devices whenever possible.
  • Time your emails strategically so they're more likely to be read.
  • Be brief and relevant, with a clear call to action.
  • Personalized, relevant email campaigns come from good segmentation of behavioral data and the use of dynamic merge tags.
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