Winning email pitches customers are sure to swing at

As we approach the mid-season of Major League Baseball, it's time to reflect on the season so far. Of course, my Chicago White Sox have already given me the fits with their continued flirting with the .500 mark and a number of ninth-inning collapses. But I guess that's one of the things that keep so many Americans tuning into the games on a daily basis. It's also been a season where we have been able to enjoy many examples of outstanding pitching performances. For the second year in a row, shutouts are up, and every other day someone get close to another no-hitter.

So in the spirit of baseball, and particularly in the art of pitching, I decided to think about whether there was anything Major League pitchers could teach us email marketers about our business. It's particularly interesting to ponder because we marketers often use the word "pitch" to describe an offer to a customer or prospect. So perhaps not surprisingly, there were several things that became apparent as I watched my White Sox.

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You should always be working on a new pitch
Sports Illustrated recently had an interesting article about how some pitchers have become dominant -- including some who might otherwise be at the end of their careers -- by perfecting the art of the cut fastball, otherwise known as the "cutter."

Many marketers have a tried and true email offer strategy that reliably delivers a certain level of list engagement. So week after week, month after month, they rely on this "pitch" to their lists. In baseball, the more pitches a batter sees during a single at bat the more likely he is to whack one. The opposite is true of your email recipients. The more often they see the same pitch, the more likely it is that they won't swing the bat at your offer. So like a good major league pitcher, you should also be working on developing a new pitch for your email marketing. The ease of doing A/B testing these days means you can perfect your new pitch, while continuing to throw your tried-and-true pitches.

Great pitchers rely on solid fielding
Most no-hitters have that one outstanding defensive play that saves the no-hit for the pitcher. And routinely pitchers get help from great defensive plays as they pitch to victory. For email marketers, you need to think about the support you surround yourself with on an everyday basis. Have you optimized your landing pages so they are more likely to convert rather than confuse? Are you working closely with your call center so it understands the offers you are emailing, and have the information required to cross-sell and upsell your customers? Does your e-commerce site have the capacity to handle the volume of customers your offer might spur? And were they even alerted by you to expect a traffic spike? You should always be working with your team so that you have all your bases covered, and don't lose an opportunity due to an error by one of your fielders.

Walking the lead-off batter is a bad way to start an inning
Back when I used to coach Little League, it was it was a sure sign of trouble when our pitcher walked the lead-off batter. For Major League Baseball, one study I looked at reported that close to 40 percent of lead-off walks result in at least one run scored that inning. Any Major League pitcher will tell you that's not a good way to start an inning.

For email marketers, think of that new customer in your email marketing database as the lead-off batter. If you don't give her anything she might possibly be able to hit, that will spell trouble for you as well. Pitchers decide what pitch to throw a particular hitter by studying his tendencies and pitch preferences. You should be doing the same with your new customers by providing a good email preference center, noting where the customer came into your database, and tying that email address to any information you might already have on that customer. This will enable you to make good pitches right away, encouraging that customer to stay engaged with you and continue to open your emails.

A deceptive pitch is a great way to frustrate a hitter
There's no better pitch than one that looks to the batter like a pitch over the plate, but it moves at the last minute, too late to stop the batter from swinging and missing. It can make the batter look foolish, and does a great job of frustrating him.

If for some reason your marketing goal is to frustrate your customers, then sending a confusing offer -- or one that turns out upon clicking to a landing page to be not exactly as it appeared to be in the email -- is a great idea. For the rest of us, we should do everything in our power to ensure that our offers are clear, relevant, and don't contain any "catches" that might cause that customer a moment of frustration. You rattle a batter, he is less likely to hit your next pitch. The same holds true of your customer.

Of course, in the world of email marketing, we want as many "hits" as possible. Major League pitchers want the exact opposite. But the point to remember is that we both want to throw as many "strikes" as possible. After all, if the ball isn't in the strike zone, no one is going to be able to put it into play. So the next time you're watching a game of baseball at the office (we've all done it at one point or another), you can now tell everyone, "Hey, I'm just looking for some new ideas how to improve our email marketing program."

Chris Marriott is vice president, agency services at Acxiom.

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Comments

Spencer Broome
Spencer Broome July 11, 2011 at 9:20 AM

I like this not just because I am a huge baseball fan and, therefore, appreciate the analogies, but also because email marketing is such an integral part of successful services. The "solid fielding" comparison is so true, in both avenues. Oh yeah, and Go Braves!