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An Email Cinderella Story

Kurt Indvik
An Email Cinderella Story Kurt Indvik

Last week's ad:tech session "Email Marketing: The Cinderella Story" was all about transforming your frog of an email marketing strategy into a princely one.

Barry Stamos, senior director of strategy at email service provider Responsys, offered a litany of helpful take-aways for attendees to improve the effectiveness of email campaigns for customer acquisition, retention and conversion. He also brought along a couple of clients with successful case studies, including Dre Madden, strategy and new channel development at ticket site Stubhub, and Michelle Thomas, ebusiness strategist at skin care/cosmetic marketer philosophy.

Stamos gave some topline advice for marketers who are thinking of setting up an email program for the first time. First step, he said, is to find a reliable third-party to deliver your email messages. Next, begin growing your email addressable database with an acquisition effort that should first, and foremost, include a quick and easy email registration window on your website's home page.

From there, knowing that the average consumer is going to spend only about five to eight seconds viewing your email, and less than 50 percent will scroll below the fold, you have to design email messages that give the user a quick and clear idea of who you are and what your message offers, by:

  • Having your logo/company name right at the top of the message

  • Having a clear headline that delivers the main message of the email

  • Including a subhead line with a strong call to action

  • Showing a dominant single image that best illustrates your message, and use a caption

  • Offering above-the-fold jump links to benefits and other content

  • Encouraging a direct response with a button seeking some type of action (buy now, learn more, register now)

The panelists agreed that one of the most important opportunities to make an impact with your customer is the welcome email following registration, which often enjoys some of the highest open rates of any message you'll ever send. Instead of a simple text message, this is an opportunity to deliver an exciting message that positions your company and can immediately lead to deepening your relationship with the customer. In it you can explain in greater detail product offerings and benefits, perhaps ask for greater information about customer preferences to deliver more targeted messages in the future and present special offers.

Madden at Stubhub said the company transformed its welcome email with graphical and content upgrades to get users excited about using the five-year-old site, which allows users to buy and sell tickets from each other for sporting and cultural events. The message includes top benefits for buying and selling tickets from peers, a message from the CEO with his picture to show that he's a fan himself who uses the site and other customer service information to help customers easily use the sight.

An "activation" email that followed included a strong discount offer and featured listings of tickets available for top-tier events, along with image building testimonials from users and quotes from recent press coverage of Stubhub. The bottom line was that the company saw a 62 percent lift in its email open rate and a 191 percent lift in clickthroughs to the site.

Geotargeting content is important for a service like Stubhub, said Madden, and the company's visually stimulating email newsletter includes targeted information about regional events that provides great value to customers, which has resulted in 43 percent boost in open rate, a 132 percent rise in clickthroughs and a 233 percent increase in conversion to transactions.

"You have a short window of time, so keep your content creative," said Madden. "It's really about testing and optimizing the look and feel but also keeping a consistent brand message."

Michelle Thomas at philosophy said her company enjoys a customer acquisition cost of just 47 cents using effective email campaigns, and has enjoyed similar boosts in open rates, clickthroughs and conversions beginning about three years ago to the point now where email-generated business accounts for about 14 percent of the company's sales, which also includes retail and direct response marketing efforts.

Through a series of steps that took the company from simple email newsletters that offered general product offerings and specials, the company has implemented a growing strategy of sophisticated and personalized email marketing best practices to the point where when it temporarily halted email newsletter distribution because of some technical transitions, the company was inundated with calls from concerned customers asking where their newsletter was.

Stamos counseled attendees that effective email marketing doesn't end at the clickthrough rate. Marketers must increasingly look to build customized sites for their email promotions that continue the look and feel of the message and offer, and that can drive conversions.

The next level is designing email outreach that is triggered by an action (or lack of action) by the customer on a site. If a customer lands on a page from the email, starts the transaction and then abandons a shopping cart, a series of email personalized email messages can be triggered back encouraging the customer to consider other products, and perhaps offering a special discount on the product he or she was originally looking at purchasing.

"If you follow up with messages that target them personally, we have seen rescue rates of 20 percent and 30 percent," said Stamos. This sort of triggered response can be applied to all manner of transactions.

At whatever level a marketer's email marketing may be, the panelists agreed that testing at each step is critical. The industry's growing ability to go beyond A/B testing allows marketers to test a range of elements simultaneously, from subject line to headlines and image locations, et cetera, to see how each can be most effectively combined to keep open rates, clickthrough and conversions as high as possible.

Kurt Indvik

Kurt has been involved in b-to-b event and publishing for the digital marketing industry since 1998, and has more than 25 years experience in business-to-business media and events. He has held management positions with iMedia since 2006 including...

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