Monday, 20 July 2009

What we learned from 150 marketing emails

In this day and age, you’d think that a significant portion of marketing emails would be personalised to some degree. I’m not talking about something sophisticated like a product recommendation based on previous visits to the company’s website; a simple “Dear Sherry” would do. But of the 150 emails that Miri and I tallied during the past week, just 13 had some sort of personalisation. That’s a scant 8.7 percent--even though studies have indicated that personalising an email greeting can increase both open and click-through rates. (For instance, in a study by MailerMailer, emails with a personalised message had an average open rate of 15.15 percent, compared with 13.01 percent for nonpersonalised messages. And personalised messages had a 4.12-percent click-through rate, compared with 2.59 percent for nonpersonalised ones.)

Personalisation, or the lack thereof, was just one of the basics that the majority of companies that emailed us got wrong. And even when companies did try to personalise a message, there were snafus. Stainless-steel equipment seller Teknomek tried, bless ‘em, but the salutation read “Dear –”. And health-food purveyor Higher Nature evidently thinks I’m a man (“Dear Mr Chiger”).

Judging by the emails, social networking is something direct marketers love in theory more than in practice. Only 25 of the emails—16.7 percent—included a link to the company’s Facebook page, Twitter feed, or other third-party social-media site.

Granted, more of the messages included some sort of “forward to a friend” link. But not that many more: only 29.3 percent. And it’s not as if adding this sort of link to an email template should be all that difficult. As Tink Taylor of DotMailer wrote recently for Catalogue e-business, “viral and word-of-mouth marketing is an inexpensive way to spread your marketing messages, drive traffic, collect contact information, and ultimately boost sales”.

Nor should proofreading the emails be all that difficult either, yet too many had obvious misspellings. The subject line of a message from menswear cataloguer Jolliman, for instance, read “Jolliman Summer Bargins”. A Pet-Supermarket subject line read “New website, 4,000 new product & 3 new animal categories”. Office and industrial supplies mailer Slingsby urged recipients to “Safeguard your employee’s health”, which would have been fine if that particular subject line appeared only on emails to people who supervised just one staffer. It was particularly depressing to see a company misspell its own name in the subject line, as The Children’s Furniture Company did: “The Childrens Furniture Company Summer Sale Now On!” Ironmongery Direct ended an email with this caveat: “30% Offer ends: 5th July 2009”; unfortunately we received the message on 16th July. In one of its emails, Staples labelled a link "Click here to view our full range of clearance itmes". Am I being pedantic? I don’t think so. Spam tends to be riddled with typos, so I think many consumers are immediately suspicious of messages that are misspelled.

Not all of the emails were dire. Some were simply uninspired. Nearly three-quarters (71.3 percent) of the messages we received promoted some sort of sale or discount in the subject line. Yes, I know that “Free” does translate to opens and click-throughs, and that “sale” and “one-third off” are similarly magical. And yes, chances are good that the people who receive your marketing emails probably don’t have as many competing messages in their inbox as we do. But the similarity of the promotional subject lines left me both overwhelmed (by the sheer volume) and underwhelmed (by the sheer tedium).

That’s why I liked the subject lines that added a sense of urgency to the promotion (“Free delivery on holiday shop - 3 days only!” from or did something clever with the offer (from Peeks Party, “How low can you go? Summer party limbo kit 27% off”).

Because I don’t want to end this lengthy post on a down note, I’m going to close with a few more examples of emails we liked:

* The sales promotion email from fashion brand Ben Sherman (above) had some eye-grabbing cartoon graphics that set off the silhouetted product shots gorgeously.

* The subject line from supplements mailer Trust William certainly stood out: “Every 10th Order Refunded!” Trust William planned to notify the lucky 10 percent within seven days after the specified time frame, so recipients couldn’t try to cheat the system. The notification emails also provided the company with an excuse to contact its customers again.

* The “denim heaven” email from plus-size womenswear retailer Evans (above) promoted a sale (two pairs of selected jeans for £30), but the email text gave additional reasons besides price to buy jeans from Evans. In bullet points, it spelled out “why our jeans are a great fit”: three leg lengths for most styles; stretch added to the fabric; “a higher waist for an amazing fit”; “we fit all our jeans on real women, which means you get a better, more-flattering fit every time”. That’s great, benefit-driven, easy-to-digest selling copy.

* In addition to promoting its summer sale, womenswear retailer Wallis used its email to encourage recipients to take a survey about the company, by offering participants the chance to win £150 in vouchers. Menswear merchant Brook Taverner did something similar: It included a link to its survey but rewarded all participants with a £20 voucher.

* The “minimail” message from Firebox (above) featured just one product, the Cool-er eBook Reader, but the graphics and the copy made a real hero of that item. My favourite line from the product description: “…this wafer-thin eReader is the greatest thing to happen to literature since Jeffrey Archer got banged up”.
My number-one lesson learned from this experiment? That next time I come up with a brilliant idea along the lines of "let's log and analyse all the marketing emails we receive in a week; how long could it possibly take?", I should ignore it.--SC


  1. Personalisation is important, however, consumers now require more than just their name to be included within the email. Personalised content is the way forward - retailers need to be savvy with their email marketing and include products or services that recipients want to recieive as an individual not mass market.

    A few years ago, consumers viewed spam as an email they didn't sign up for. Now consumers view spam as irrelevant content.

    It's time to get relevant.

    Sanjay Vadher, Tangent One

  2. Firstly, great article by Sherry!! And very true and relevant! The number of times that I have had a similar converation with clients, outlining the relevance and importance of personalisation.

    I also agree with Sanjay, though. You really ought to personalise your emails properly nowadays, which is relatively easy to do - as long as you have collected relevant info from your customers.

    And if you don't have that information? Get an email out to invite your customers to fill in a survey. We have literally just finished a similar survey for one of our clients!

  3. If you use personalization correctly in your email marketing campaign then you will have a better chance of creating a relationship and a bond between the customer and your brand. This is really important and it is just as important to ensure the personalization is done correctly.