iMedia Connection

Emails that make you go "hmm"

Christopher Marriott

I spent the last two columns writing about the ongoing debate regarding how email marketers should treat the inactives in their email marketing databases. I thought this month I would return to discussing the pros and cons regarding specific emails that land in my inbox. As the title of this column suggests (and thanks to C+C Music Factory for the inspiration) I'm going to focus on emails that do more than just lead you to open and perhaps click on a link. Rather, let's take a look at some recent emails I received that actually made me pause and reflect upon the sender -- in one instance positively, and in another negatively.

Emails that make you go "hmm"

"Exhibit A" is an email I received from my favorite airline. The day before I received the email that made me go "hmm," I received an email announcing a limited time fare sale. The sale ended the very next day, so if I wanted to take advantage I needed to act right away. So I did. That very day I booked a flight to Chicago at a rate I thought was very reasonable. One more reason to like this airline! So imagine my surprise when the very next day I received another email from the same airline offering me the opportunity to save 15 percent on the next flight I booked. Since I had acted on the initial email immediately, the opportunity to take advantage of the 15 percent  savings was lost to me unless I booked yet another flight with the airline within the next few days.

What was this airline thinking? Perhaps the second email was intended to be an added incentive to act upon the prior email I received. However, since I had already acted on it, rather than being an incentive to book, it made me more than a little disappointed in the airline. One of the biggest mistakes an email marketer can make is to send an attractive offer that the recipient is unable or unlikely to take advantage of. In truth, this airline would have been better off never telling me about the opportunity to save 15 percent since I had already booked a flight without it. The lesson to be learned here is that email marketers must assume that every email they send will be read by the recipient. While most of the time that isn't the case, it's important to assume otherwise. Because if someone is opening almost every email they receive, they are clearly a highly engaged customer. And those are the last people you want to disappoint! If this airline had simply suppressed email addresses of customers who had recently purchased a ticket from the promotional email, people like me would have been none the wiser about a 15 percent discount I could not take advantage of. That really makes me go "hmm!"

"Exhibit B" is an email I recently received from a travel site regarding a hotel reservation I had made. I had booked the hotel a couple of weeks earlier, so this was just a last minute reminder. The email's purpose was to confirm my reservation details and provide me with some "useful information about the hotel." And boy was that information useful! As I scanned the email to make sure all the details were correct I noticed a link to customer reviews for this hotel. I decided to check this out -- something I should have done in the first place. Good thing I did, because the reviews were almost uniformly negative. Night club music pulsing through the hotel until 2am, noise in the hallways after that, dingy rooms, etc. And it wasn't just one review saying that, it went on and on. Clearly this was not the hotel I wanted to say at!

The same email offering me a simple link to my reservation on the site where with one single click I could cancel it and receive a full refund.  Having finished with that, I sat back and went "hmm". What was this travel site thinking?

The site didn't need to send me a last minute reservation reminder. It certainly didn't need to offer me easy access to customer reviews that were predominantly negative. And it didn't need to make it so easy to cancel my reservation. Had the company not sent me that email, I would have been stuck with a bad reservation for two nights. That would have made me sad, and unlikely to trust this provider for future bookings. So what I presume the company was thinking was that my satisfaction with its service is more important to it than this particular transaction. I should add that the email included lots of useful details about nearby attractions and restaurants, which had I not cancelled would probably have been very useful for me. But again, my take away was that this marketer values a happy customer over any individual transaction. The upside for them? I used the exact same provider to book a new hotel, although this time I did my homework before actually making the reservation. So instead of a disgruntled customer with a bad hotel experience, this single email chock full of useful information and links lead to a very satisfied customer who will continue to use the site for future travel plans. They didn't have to send me that email, but they did. And that also makes me go "hmm."

The lesson to be learned here is that the more information you provide you customers, the more likely they will have the details they need to make the right decision -- or correct a bad one! As a marketer, you don't always know whether your customers are making the right choices, so if you give them what they need to make better decisions, you're likely to have happier -- and repeat -- customers now and in the future.

As you parse the emails you receive yourself, it pays dividends if you delve into why some of them make you go "hmm." There will always be a nugget of wisdom for you and your future efforts if you dissect the cause of something making you stop and think. And regarding your own programs, take a look at your campaigns through the eyes of your recipients. Not on a single campaign basis, but the entirety of the messaging stream they are receiving. If one of your own emails makes you go "hmm," in that context, you've got to get that fixed!

On a parting note, should I be concerned that early 90's dance music is now providing me inspiration for this column? That certainly is one of the things that make me go "hmm!"

Chris Marriott is vice president, agency services at Axicom.

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"A question mark symbol inside an email" image via Shutterstock.