“Old style email – bash and blast – is wrong and we want to steer away from that,” says Suzannah Harten-Ash, email marketing manager at VoucherCodes.co.uk. “We want to develop an almost one-to-one relationship with customers by doing a lot more intelligent targeting and segmentation of our database to make sure email content is timely and relevant to each user.”
A greater focus on targeting and personalised content is working for many brands, particularly for campaigns to existing customers. Last Christmas, monthly marketing email volumes grew by 80 per cent on December 2010, according to the DMA, with retention emails to existing customers accounting for 83 per cent of all emails sent.
Segments of gold
Brands have long been able to capture reams of customer data but they have not necessarily known how to release its value. But a growth in data specialists, coupled with increasingly sophisticated technology, is enabling brands to build detailed customer profiles and tailor communications accordingly.
“We use purchase behaviour and history so we can see what brands and products people are interested in,” says Scott Taylor, ecommerce retention marketing manager at Office Shoes. Earlier this year, Office wanted to encourage existing customers to buy more products more often. Working with Emailvision, it accessed and analysed its customer data, allowing the retailer to carry out highly targeted campaigns. Office has since boosted click-through rates by 240 per cent, while open rates have increased by 64 per cent.
“We can look at the categories people are interested in, what time of year they purchased, how often they buy and whether they tend to buy full price or in a sale,” says Taylor. Office also has a ‘preference centre’, so people can update their details and opt in to be notified of certain campaigns or sales.
“That gives us another platform to capture information and further target customers. If we have a sale and we have lots of a particular size left, we can even target shoppers with certain size feet. That has a massive impact on revenue, opens and clicks.”
Hallmark Cards has recently worked with Dotmailer to further segment its email database. By tailoring emails based on insights from a mix of sales information and email engagement data, Hallmark targeted 60,000 recipients, seeing a rise of 25 per cent in open rates, while email revenue grew by 66 per cent.
Hallmark ecommerce manager Seb Villien says:”It’s about driving sales through developing that relationship with customers – so not the hard sell, but making email content relevant.”
Knowing more about customers’ buying habits is a powerful asset, but as Villien says, being able to generate compelling email content for different audiences is the next step.
For football club Bristol City, it has meant thinking more laterally around each fixture. The club has deployed email to promote upcoming matches to its existing fan database, targeting recent ticket buyers. Business development executive Charlie Lincoln devises themes for each game. “A recent one was built around a film theme, using the strapline ‘That’s entertainment’, because Ashton Gate [Bristol City’s ground] has seen the highest number of goals in the league this year. We won’t get high open rates simply by using game details.”
Brands are also becoming more ambitious about their visual impact. VoucherCodes worked with digital agency Responsys to move away from plain text emails and achieve return path certification, which means internet service providers accept it as a trusted brand and give campaigns preferential treatment, including automatic display of images. This has allowed it to be more creative without compromising deliverability.
“By moving to an HTML format and using images, emails have become more alive to the eye,” says Harten-Ash. Open rates have risen by almost 20 per cent. “Images are seen straight away, prompting instant brand recognition.”
Visual impact has also paid off for Office. Taylor found that plain text calls to action had a very low response, but as soon as it introduced an image-based button, click-through rates more than tripled. “It has had an excellent impact. It stands out a lot more to drive people to the site to make a purchase.”
Being more flexible and reactive with content is also working well for brands. Retailer GO Outdoors runs a loyalty scheme that gives holders up to 70 per cent off the retail price of products. To get the savings, holders pay £5 a year for the card, giving the retailer a rich data set on all purchases, online or in-store.
Working with technology firm Silverpop, GO Outdoors tailors emails to customers’ favourite activities and reflects the changing weather. “It is about being able to swap or insert relevant content at short notice,” says Gavin Garth, head of ecommerce. “If it’s going to be sunny weekend, people might be walking, but if the forecast is very cold, they will start looking for insulated clothing. We react to that.”
Bristol City’s Lincoln also champions flexibility. “We have to be quite reactive, so if Bristol City win and we have great imagery of a goalscorer celebrating in front of our fans, that is the kind of thing we want to play on in the next email. When we’re doing well, we need to push as hard as we can.”
Brands are also putting greater emphasis on ensuring their databases consist of active and engaged customers. Part of VoucherCodes’ re-engagement programme involves asking people to respond if they would like their details removed. “Best practice is to contact users who have not been active with us for three to six months but it depends on the level of activity from the user,” says Harten-Ash.
Office’s Taylor adds that actively asking customers if they wish to be removed from a mailing list has a positive impact because people are being given an option. “You give them some control and an action, and people appreciate that. Obviously some people unsubscribe but others start reacting to your campaigns again.”
Perhaps this approach explains why opt-out rates fell to a long-term low in 2011, according to DMA figures, despite the surge in email volumes.
Bristol City is also cleansing its database while offering people the chance to opt out, but it tries to re-engage lapsed supporters first.
“It’s all about catchy subject lines – if we can get [lapsed fans] to open an email, we can quickly see who is showing interest and who is clicking through. Our outbound team can then follow up with a call,” says Lincoln.
When the club is not playing well, however, Lincoln limits email communications. “We just target more regular fans then because I know those who haven’t come in a while are even less likely to visit if we’re doing badly.”
Another tack is to contact customers who have placed products in their basket but failed to complete the purchase – an action GO Outdoors takes if items remain in a basket for 48 hours.
“Customers will get an email from our chief executive saying: ‘How can we help?’,” says Garth. “That is a super-successful approach because our CEO is genuinely passionate about the outdoors and is a climber himself. He has built the business through his own passion and so it comes across as an open and genuine email. Rather than being a man in a suit, he is a man in a fleece.”
But while email is proving to be a very successful tool for many brands, it is only one weapon in a growing armoury of online marketing devices, and marketers are finding different ways to achieve integration.
VoucherCodes has introduced a right-hand column in its emails that promotes other media, such as its social channels. “We get a great response from our Facebook and Twitter fans and the team does a brilliant job in making sure we are developing a conversation with every user,” says Harten-Ash.
Office’s emails also include a link to its social media presence, but Taylor believes content on the two channels should vary. “We push offers we might have on Facebook but I try to keep the experiences for social media and email different so there is a reason to visit both.”
Ultimately, most brands want to drive people from an email to their website, push up sales and avoid having to pay for the same customers to visit the site via Google, but there is an acceptance of this reality.”We know that a proportion of the recipients of our emails might open them on their mobiles and we don’t have a mobile site, so they might come back to our site via Google. It’s just a fact,” says Villien.
“We make sure any messaging is consistent so the customer can find what they have on email on the site, even if they use a different channel to get there.”
Office has also identified mobile as an opportunity to minimise this potentially costly challenge, making its emails more mobile friendly. “Historically, it was very hard to navigate away from an email on mobile and you wouldn’t be encouraged to go further, but now the site is a lot more accessible,” claims Taylor.
According to the DMA, the number of respondents finding at least half of their brand emails interesting or relevant has tripled since mid-2010. Some brands are already reaping the rewards; the rest will have to raise their game quickly.
Case study: Swimshop
Europe’s largest swim specialist, Swimshop, stocks over 3,500 different products. While it has had a popular website since 1998, it had been lacking sufficiently detailed metrics.
One of the key issues it faced was the number of customers who read a marketing email and visited the site, returning to make a purchase later by searching for Swimshop through Google – meaning the sale was not attributed to the email. It meant that Swimshop was unable to understand which campaigns were working as it could not track where customers were coming from.
The firm called on technology provider LifecycleMagiq, which recorded individuals’ behaviour on the site, building profiles of each visitor and helping Swimshop understand people’s interests, behaviour and lifecycle with the brand. Using these profiles, Swimshop was able to work out which customers came from which campaigns and highlight the ones that were really working for the business.
This profile and lifecycle marketing data helped Swimshop improve its email marketing. Instead of sending out 130,000 untargeted messages, it now sends out 20,000 highly targeted emails. These come from data provided by LifecycleMagiq, showing where customers have been on the site and what products they are interested in.
“We can now identify our regular visitors and purchasers, as well as gaining an improved understanding of who responds to what campaign,” says Swimshop managing director Gaynor Willis. “When we were sending out 120,000 emails, we had opening rates of only 3 per cent. Now, with a targeted email sent to those who buy a specialist piece of swimwear, we have achieved an opening rate of 37 per cent.”
The partnership with LifecycleMagiq has paid for itself in the first month by improving the visibility of successful campaigns, says Willis.”We have increased our online conversion rate by 28.5 per cent. This increase has paid for our monthly subscription of £499 alone, freeing more cash for our wider marketing efforts.”
Head of marketing
Since the start of the UK recession, we have experienced a surge in popularity of daily deals sites and the emails that come with them. Their aggressive, scattergun approach has made receiving marketing emails – and lots of them – completely acceptable. While this approach has increased the volume of emails companies can send without appearing ‘spammy’, it does pose several challenges, the biggest of which is how to cut through the noise.
It all comes down to understanding your customers. What do they want and when do they want it? We’ve held several focus groups and discussed what information people want to receive and when. We use our social channels to encourage responses to content and, most importantly, we analyse our email statistics every time we send an email to work out how we can improve on the next send. If something is not being clicked on then it’s not working.
Brands should also take the rise of mobile seriously. There will be more people operating on a mobile device than on a desktop by the end of 2012, yet click rates on mobile are documented to be half that of desktop.
Marketers should be talking to their email provider and asking what they are doing about it. Think about how difficult links are to click on a mobile, enhance your call to action and consider the image-to-text ratio, all of which will provide a better user experience and allow you as a company to continue your analysis.
Through email, customers get to know our brand and it’s here that we showcase our personality and remind customers why they chose us in the first place. It is the single most important channel for retention – but it is not a standalone channel.
Integration of social media and email channels is an opportunity that should be relished. Email is the medium to make your message known and social gives you the opportunity to spread it far and wide; they go together like strawberries and cream.
Finally, it’s not what we think looks great that goes out in our communications but what we know our customers like. Be agile in your approach and never stop testing – what works now may not work in a month’s time – or even tomorrow.
NMA Explains: email marketing
Brands can make direct contact with consumers through email marketing, which can be used to provide a brand message in order to increase sales and boost customer retention.
This could be a general message destined for all appropriate consumers or a personalised email tailored to a specific user’s needs.
For example, if a customer abandons their basket before making a purchase, brands can use targeted emails to offer a discount on that product or service as an incentive.
Similarly, post-purchase, brands could use email marketing to sell additional products where relevant. If a customer has purchased a flight from a travel site, for example, the retailer could send that person hotel or travel insurance offers or provide general advice about the destination, such as a weather forecast for when they arrive.