Five external factors that can impact your email campaigns

The Festival of Marketing has finally arrived! I’ve already attended three fantastic talks, one of which came from the almighty Alan ‘not-so-marketer-friendly-but-still-full-of-sound-advice’ Sugar.

But one of the most interesting talks I’ve seen so far was on the Data and Analytics stage, where Return Path’s senior director of professional services Guy Hanson discussed how external factors can have a big impact on email marketing campaigns.

Hanson began by highlighting the fact that, while the average consumer receives more than 500 marketing messages each month, they open fewer than 1 in 15.

“Email senders aren’t just competing for share of market or wallet,” he says, “but also share of mind. If somebody spends 10 minutes with a competitor’s email that’s 10 minutes less with yours.”

The talk covered five external factors that can significantly affect the success of an email campaign, but that marketers have less control over.

The weather

When hurricane Charlie hit in America, Walmart wanted to find out whether they could learn anything from that in terms of consumer behaviour leading up to the event.

It found that sales of Pop-Tarts, specifically strawberry flavour, went up when a hurricane was imminent.

It subsequently increased marketing activity for Pop-Tarts following hurricane warnings and increased sales by 15%.

Hanson and his team did their own experiment to see if weather affected email engagement rates and found some interesting links through the data.

User-marked spam increased significantly during warmer temperatures while engagement decreased, but during colder weather this trend was reversed.

Hanson took the exercise a step further and tried the experiment regionally.

In France, both warmer weather and rain prompted a greater response rate to marketing emails from restaurants, whereas in the UK higher rainfall had a negative impact.

But what can you do with all that information? One of Hanson’s clients had a dynamic weather feed and served email content in context with the current weather. They saw a significant uplift in engagement as a result.

Economic factors

Hanson highlighted an Experian study that found a significant correlation between average earnings and email open rates.

He also discussed the impact of ‘payday poverty’ on email open rates, i.e. the idea that the further away people get from their payday the less money they have to spend.

“But it’s not all negative,” he says. “For some retailers there are opportunities.”

He discussed all-you-can-eat restaurant deals as an example, whose email campaigns generate 10% more engagement in the second half of the month.

Public sentiment

Research from the DMA suggests that many people will complain about a marketing email because they don’t like the brand, or because of a bad customer experience or lack of trust.

“If somebody has a poor experience with your business,” Hanson says, “the next touch point they have with your brand could be email.”

But events in the news that can have an impact on the way people engage with marketing emails too.

The tube strikes this year were a difficult time for TFL’s email marketers, but Uber on the other hand managed to achieve 40% read rates during that period by creating a tailored campaign in response to the situation and taking advantage of that public sentiment.

Nudge theory

Hanson also discussed ‘nudge theory’, which is a technique whereby you persuade somebody to do something without them realising they’re being influenced.

“It’s about social norms,” he says. “If you perceive that the majority of people engage in a specific behaviour you’re more likely to do it yourself.”

He mentioned the government’s recent campaign around tax collection, where it sent letters to people saying, ‘9 out of 10 taxpayers pay on time.’

Following the campaign HMRC’s revenue collection improved 4.5%, and when it personalised messages with location information the rates improved even further.

Can this kind of tactic be used in email? Hanson believes so.

“In Brazil, the general public refers to all marketing emails as spam,” he says. “But from a nudging perspective, 9/10 consumers say they’re happy to receive emails from brands they actually like (DMA), so why not use that in your message?”

Email fraud

“Why are new customers likely to join your email program?” Hanson asks. “Research says it’s about trust in your brand, and your reputation.”

Email fraud can significantly damage that level of trust, Hanson argues, and this can similarly have an impact on the extent to which people share and forward your email messages.

“We see a lot of email fraud in every sector,” he says. “Not just top level stuff like data stealing, but also just nuisance emails.

“Those emails appear to come from brands and not all consumers are sophisticated enough to tell they aren’t genuine. What we’ve found is that after the first fraud attack of this kind, legitimate email activity from that brand is filtered much more often, and with each attack it gets worse.

“So fraudulent brand emails are having a negative impact on real ones, at a big financial cost to the legitimate senders.”

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