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Pop Quiz – which online marketing initiative has one of the strongest returns on investment but traditionally has the least amount of time dedicated to it by marketing teams? I may have given you a rather glaring clue in the title to this blog post… Yes, well done… it’s email marketing!

Why Email Marketing Is Important

I think the main issue with email marketing is that people in business perceive it to be relatively simple and straightforward. Similar to social media, where we see many people relying on personal experience from their own Facebook page when optimizing profiles for a business, the familiarity with email at an individual level may cloud people’s attitudes towards a business’s email marketing campaign. However, email can be so much more than a basic messaging tool or a medium to deliver a discount flyer.

A well-structured, strategically segmented and targeted email initiative has the ability to interact with customers at every stage of the buying funnel: bringing together the engaging and educational aspects of SEO Content Marketing, the hyper-targeted functionality of PPC campaigns, and the community feel of Social Media interaction. Email also acts as a veritable sponge soaking up great data from these other online marketing channels. This is where Wpromote’s secret sauce of Intuitive Search Intelligence comes into play. Our PPC ad copy testing can help guide text for email subject lines. Strong organic search keywords with high conversion rates can direct editorial content for the information in a “Newsletter” style blast. Images can be tested across Social Media platforms like Pinterest and Facebook, with those receiving the most “Likes” or “Pins” incorporated into the next email send.

The Plan

With all of this in mind, I decided to conduct a little experiment – effectively a mini-audit for some of the top brands. I say “little experiment”… But by the end of my planning day I had subscribed to the email blasts of 50 of the Top 100 Internet Retailers (2013 edition), ready to track their email sends for the seven weeks or so leading up to Cyber Monday. I set up a separate email account to monitor the messages I received and I laid out the different aspects of the email campaigns I would investigate.

This blog post covers the first four weeks of my experiment where I looked at growing subscriber lists and the use of lifecycle emails…

Growing Your List – Email Capture

In terms of opportunities for email capture, there have never been so many opportunities for brands to get sign-ups. From social media widgets, to Paid Search extension betas, and light boxes popping up on-screen, there is an abundance of ways to reach out to potential subscribers, rather than waiting until they’ve made a sale or created an account on your site.

Everyone allowed sign-ups on their website, as expected, but sometimes it was quite tricky to spot. Here’s what I found:

Email-Sign-Ups

I also looked at the use of other methods to promote sign-ups:

List-Growth-Opportunities

I found that only two brands used more than one of these additional options and not a single brand is using every tool at their disposal.

And a special mention of my personal favorite – the light box, courtesy of Hayneedle.com. Genius!

Hayneedle-Lightbox

On a side note, when considering what information to capture along with the email address, there is a fine balance to be struck between keeping the process quick and simple and getting some great data points to make your email sends as targeted as possible. It will vary from brand to brand, but a good option, which many brands studied opted for, is to have email alone as the primary capture field, then follow up with a preferences form and information capture on the next screen. Alternatively, you can gather further information in the Welcome Email…

Welcome Emails

The purpose of sending a welcome email is three-fold:

  • Firstly, it is a nice way to say thank you for someone showing an interest in your brand, which is step one on building strong brand loyalty between you and your customer.
  • Secondly, it is a great tool for striking whilst the iron is hot. This person has just signed up to receive emails from you. They must like your brand and might be considering an imminent purchase. Let’s help close that sale with an incentive in the welcome email.
  • Thirdly, it is the best way to set expectations for future emails. Being clear from the start with regards to frequency and what they can expect in terms of messaging will help avoid a subscriber feeling overwhelmed and clicking on the unsubscribe button. It is also a great opportunity for them to move you to their inbox right away and switch images on, ready for their first regular email.

And if that doesn’t convince you, you might want to consider that Welcome emails have the highest open rates of any type of email!

Welcome-Emails

Lifecycle Emails

Lifecycle emails are different from the regular email blasts as they are triggered by an event and sent to an individual, rather than to the group at large or a certain segment. The Welcome email for instance is initiated by signing up to the program. Other examples include a win-back email for non-engaged subscribers, a message on the subscriber’s birthday, and reminders for abandoned shopping carts on the site.

Birthdays

I added my (fake) birthday of November 1st to any account that asked for it or allowed me to include it in my profile, which was 20% of them. I felt that 2 weeks was sufficient notice. I got one birthday message on that day. (Rather oddly, I also got one on November 13 from another brand!)

I understand it won’t be appropriate for every brand to engage with their subscribers in this way, but for a good number of those I selected in this study, I think it would have been a great fit. Perhaps the brands are nervous that a birthday discount program would be open to abuse, but I feel it’s a real missed opportunity to send a message along the lines of “Happy Birthday! Treat yourself to something you really want with 10% off today!”.

Abandoned Shopping Carts

If someone from your subscriber base visits your site, adds an item to their online shopping cart, then doesn’t complete the purchase, you can send a follow up email specifically to them. This is one of the best converting email types, as you are armed with the knowledge of the individual product that your subscriber was on the verge of buying. This is a great opportunity to incentivize your customer to take that final step, provide the justification they might need for an impulse purchase by offering free shipping or a discount code. It doesn’t have to be a single email either. You could send a series of three emails for example, all targeting the same product, slowly increasing the incentive value or emphasizing diminishing availability.

I left items in carts for every brand, and after one week of waiting, these were my results…

Shopping-Cart-Abandonment

Stay tuned for Phase 2 of the experiment in the next blog post, when I’ll assess remailing tactics, email personalization, Social Media integration, mix of messaging, and the unsubscribe process. And finally, in Phase 3, the final blog post in the trilogy, I’ll lay out the big picture stats for the whole experiment reviewing seasonality and email distribution, summarizing Five Golden Rules for Email Marketing and divulging my blooper reel from the experiment.

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