Well it's November, and we're heading into the biggest weeks of the year for email marketing. Inboxes will be bursting with emails seeking to stand out from the crowd and get us to buy, buy, and buy more. It's also the time to look back over the year that will soon come to an end. And it's time to name the best of the best in email marketing.
This wasn't a contest you could enter. You had to get noticed and/or shared to be included. There are no prizes other than bragging rights. The categories reflect the types of emails that are most strategic in nature and, when done right, can have the biggest impact on a marketer's business. But at the end of the day this list merely reflects my view and that of my company, The Relevancy Group. I've included the email service providers used by each of the winners, because on some level either their services and/or their platforms helped these emails get into our inboxes, get noticed, and ultimately, get on this list. Here are the best examples of email marketing this year.
Best abandoned cart email
Bare Necessities, Experian Marketing Services (Cheetahmail)
Abandoned shopping cart emails aren't new. They've been around for a while. The trick is in getting the timing and the message just right so that the subscriber isn't irritated or unnerved by the "big brother" nature of the email. Too many abandoned cart emails read along the lines of, "Hey dummy, you didn't finish checking out." Not here. Bare Necessities strikes just the right tone with subject line, "Thanks for checking us out." That thought is repeated in the email itself, along with dynamically placed pictures of what was left in the cart. Along with a reminder of "always free shipping," the recipient is left with two thoughts: "They appreciate my business" and "Maybe I should take advantage of that free shipping!"
Best coupon email
CVS Pharmacy, eBay Enterprise (eDialog)
At first glance, there doesn't appear to be anything all that groundbreaking in this coupon email from CVS. Granted the 30 percent off is nice, but lots of companies send people high-value coupons. The reason this email (and other similar ones from CVS) go home with the award is what happens after you click on the "Get Coupon" button. At that point, you are given a choice between printing a coupon or clicking a button to have it automatically zapped into your loyalty card. It's the second option that makes this email a winner. What could possibly be easier than having the coupon put directly on a loyalty card you already carry with you? I used to think that CVS only wanted to give the impression that it was providing good coupons. Who actually keeps the two-foot long receipt they give you until you next visit a store? This solution is the best thing to happen to coupons since the invention of, well, the coupon. And as an added bonus, it is really simple to attribute revenue back to this email.
Best request-for-feedback email
Total Wine & More, ExactTarget
Total Wine & More is one of the stronger content marketers in the email world, and one of the reasons is because it wisely takes advantage of the naturally occurring interest people have in the products it sells, particularly wine. This email is a great example of how the brand approaches requests for subscriber reviews. Both the wine visual and the headline appeal to wine lovers, playing off that love by asking them to share it. These requests lead to the generation of even more content of direct interest to email subscribers. And it likely leads to additional purchases of wine by the recipients who, in engaging with the email and the website, decide to make a purchase of their own.
Best deal of the day email
The trick with daily deal emails is to get them opened right away, as the clock is ticking on what is inside. So action oriented subject lines are called for. Of course A/B testing will lead you to the most effective subject lines, but sometimes you just have to make a subjective call, and in this case this subject line from Sears gets the nod. It humanizes the brand, and is engaging in its simple and direct approach to asking what it wants the subscriber to do. Open the email, for Pete's sake! How could anyone resist advice, because we've all been there and done exactly that in pondering whether or not to click on an email in our inbox. And over time, as Sears learns more about you through what you browse and buy, these daily deals get more and more accurate in regards to what you might be interested in buying.
Best welcome email
Trip Advisor, ExactTarget
A good welcome email is critical to a program's success, as a new subscriber is more likely to open an email from you than someone who's been in your database for a longer period of time. Elements of a great welcome email include a reminder of why someone might have subscribed in the first place, verification of the information someone has already given, and finally, something of immediate value to that new subscriber. This welcome email from TripAdvisor checks all three of these boxes. In the opening copy block it reiterates the advantages you gain by signing up. In the second copy block it delivers your first "perks" giving you access to "Top 25" lists of places and things that a frequent traveler would find valuable. And finally it displays your email and password, so you can confirm the company got the details correct. This email proves a welcome email doesn't need to be long to be strong.
Best triggered email
American Airlines, eBay Marketing Services (eDialog)
Triggered and automated emails are becoming a much greater share of overall email volume from many leading email marketers. The most common trigger is abandoned shopping cart, but we treated that as a separate category for the purposes of this list. Depending on your product or service, there could be literally hundreds of different actions (or inactions) that could trigger an email. The best triggered emails are those that are of perceived value to the recipient. Let's face it. It's a stretch to consider abandoned shopping cart emails as being valuable to a subscriber.
This example from American Airlines, on the other hand, was triggered by a website search on airfares between Chicago and New York. No ticket was purchased at this time. The rules behind the trigger assumed (correctly) that there was a price barrier to purchase at that moment in time. So when prices subsequently came down, an email advertising the new lower prices was sent. Even if the result isn't a purchase of the tickets, the recipient is left with the impression that American Airlines is looking out for its customers. This is a pretty good impression to be giving.
Best drive-to-retail email
Jos. A. Bank, Experian Marketing Services (Cheetahmail)
Jos. A. Bank completely dominates this category. The three finalists are all from them. Granted, when you have an offer as compelling as "Buy 1 Get 3 Free," you are already in a great spot to win this category. But where Jos. A. Bank really nails it is in the subject line: "Split the Offer with Friends & Family: Buy 1 Get 3 FREE - Suits, Sportcoats & Outerwear!" The subscriber doesn't even need to open the email, as everything he or she needs to know is conveyed in that subject line. Adding to its effectiveness is the message that you can use this as an opportunity to buy for people who might be on your holiday gift list in addition to getting something for yourself. Need a new suit? Come in and get it. Oh, and by the way, you can walk away with a lot of gift shopping done -- for no additional money!
This simplicity carries through to the email itself. If you do open it, the three key messages are prominently displayed: when the offer is available, what the terms are, and remember you can buy for you and for others at the same time. The only drawback to this otherwise excellent email is the fact that you don't really need to open it. It's critical that Jos. A. Bank tracks store purchases back to its email recipients. And if you think opens and clicks represent an accurate measurement of the effectiveness of an email, this example makes you rethink that assertion.
Home Made Simple (P&G), Epsilon
Let's face it. Email newsletters tend to be very boring. I've even written about that in these pages before. Most of the time they are really nothing more than sales pitches wrapped in a slightly different package. Not so with Home Made Simple. These newsletters focus on crafts, household tips and tricks, and seasonal activities of interest to the moms who are the target audience for the various P&G brands. Of course, when relevant, the various brands come into play -- but in an unobtrusive manner. While these newsletters will never be a risk to those magazines that target moms, they have created a strong niche and provided an email platform for a number of P&G brands that simply could not do it on their own. That in itself gets these newsletters on the top 10 list.
Best re-activation email
Clinique UK, ESP unknown
Every email marketer at one time or another needs to try to re-activate subscribers who have stopped engaging with the brand via email. "We miss you" is a pretty common approach. We had to go across the Atlantic to find the winner in this category. What makes this email from the UK the best in this category is its approach to getting the subscriber back. Oftentimes the lure is a discount on the next purchase. While effective, that approach doesn't remind subscribers why they signed up in the first place. While there is a free offer associated with this email, the real focus is on the things the subscribers have missed since they stopped engaging with Clinique's emails. While greater emphasis on that thought in the type is preferred ("We Miss You" gets better treatment), it's still a very compelling message and a great invitation to check out the products featured in the email.
Best timed email
Impulse purchases are a brand's best friend, and these emails from Domino's are great drivers of them. Domino's times these emails to hit your inbox mid to late afternoon -- just when you are starting to think about what to feed the family for dinner. If these emails come in the morning, your mind is not yet focused on dinner. And if they come in the evening, it may be too late. But what makes these emails so effective is not just the time they hit your inbox. With a simple click, you're taken to the Domino's site where you can order your dinner (using the coupon provided) and choose the time you'd like to have it delivered. So in a few short minutes, you've taken care of dinner, and Domino's has another sale.
Those are the top ten emails from 2013. If you take another look at each of the winners, you'll notice they have one major characteristic in common: They are all relatively simple layouts and are single-minded about the message being delivered. These emails don't try to do too much. The reward for opening each of them is clear and is likely to get the subscriber to open the next email received from that brand. That's the power of a great email: the ability to get the recipient to take immediate action and engage with the brand in a way that benefits both parties. As we close in on December and the frenzy of emails to come, this is great advice for email marketers to remember. Stay focused and offer immediate value.
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"Hand touching envelope" image via Shutterstock.