I have a special Gmail folder to keep track of bad marketing pitches. My folder overflows with mediocre messages and irrelevant buzzword salad that miss the mark — they miss my mark, and they’re not getting any better.Continue reading...
In today’s tidal wave of new social media platforms, smartphones, and streaming services, it’s easy to write off forms of “traditional” advertising as obsolete and irrelevant. That bias is certainly understandable — after all, it’s the message that experts in Forbes and LinkedIn have been hammering into marketers’ heads since the early 2010s.
But the latest research shows that print catalogs still offer a striking degree of insight into the minds of shoppers — and even more surprisingly, the millennial generation can’t seem to get enough of them.
That’s right — according to a 2017 USPS survey on direct mail advertising (DMA), a full 87 percent of Millennials report that they genuinely enjoy receiving at least some direct mail advertising. In fact, millennials are 54 percent more likely to read paper catalogs than customers of any previous generation, and quite a few of those flip-throughs lead to actual purchases.
What are some catalogs doing right that digital marketers may be getting wrong? The answers reveal some fundamental truths about the tactics that turn shoppers off — along with an array of time-tested approaches that generate sales on any channel, from print to email and beyond.
When paper beats (shallow) personalization
As convenient as it might seem to dismiss paper advertising as irrelevant in today’s digital world, direct mail sales techniques represent more than a century of intensive consumer research, not to mention decades of trial and error in a wide variety of print formats.
Even if many of those techniques strike us as outmoded today, millennials’ overall positive responses to paper catalogs hint that a certain amount of gold may lie buried among yesterday’s mountains of discarded snail mail. So what do paper catalogs have to teach us about marketing in the digital age — particularly in the email realm?
Most noticeably, catalogs have never contained “you may also like” product recommendations. One reason for this, of course, is that even if a catalog retailer had data on every customer’s individual purchase history, the high costs of printing would’ve made it prohibitively expensive to print a unique page of recommendations for every recipient.
But as it turns out, this lack of product recommendations has become a positive selling point for print catalogs — in contrast to emails, which can offer endless suggestions that often showcase products similar to those already purchased. Catalogs, on the other hand, present an ever-changing variety of hand-selected new and different products, exposing consumers to more merchandise while creating moments of magic and delight.
In other words, catalog purveyors carefully curate the content that will resonate most with their shoppers — which means they rarely have to rely on heavy discounting or other tactics to make a sale. By focusing on a combination of relevance and creativity, catalogs gain a reputation as art exhibitions in their own right, attracting readers who may have no intention of making a purchase, but end up making one anyway.
Finding the balance between relevance and excitement
As every email marketer knows, an effective email campaign focuses on relevant content above all else. But there’s a lesson to be learned from print catalogs here, too: product recommendations shouldn’t remind customers where they’ve already been — they should point the way forward to new discoveries, encouraging customers to comfortably branch outward from their core tastes.
Of course, this can be a delicate balancing act: present a category or product that feels too far out, and customers will be unlikely to follow you into the new territory. Timing and relevance are crucial when you’re personalizing offers — it demonstrates that you recognize what the customer’s tastes and aspirations look like at this moment and understand where they’re comfortable going next.
How do you find the balance, and present relevant recommendations that also feel creative and inspirational? By bringing together truths about each customer from a wide range of data sources, and synthesizing them into nuanced insights about that customer’s personal journey, evolving interests, aspirational tastes, and longer-term goals.
When an email campaign is powered by these deep insights into each customer, it’s possible to deliver recommendations that delight and feel as if they were hand-picked by a personal shopper. That’s the key balance at the center of impactful email marketing — and for many digital marketers, hitting the right notes can be a challenge.
Even so, this is a crucial balance to understand, because millennials aren’t just engaging with print catalogs — they’re checking email multiple times a day, which means their inboxes continue to represent prime advertising real estate.
By using email to deliver personalized, curated content that feels fresh and engaging, retailers can share areas of their product catalogs that traditional recommendation algorithms might never present to customers — and unlock new worlds of exploration and discovery.
Also, don't miss our Email Deliverability Guide to ensure you are following all critical procedure to deliver those emails to the inbox.
eharmony thrives by using algorithms and mathematical models to find the best match for their customers. Using big data and patented artificial intelligence, eharmony has found ways to predict how likely two people are to be compatible. The model is built upon an in-depth relationship questionnaire which gathers information on a person’s likes, dislikes and their personality traits to understand who they are, and how they rank on key dimensions of compatibility. This gives eharmony the best chance to find someone who is a good match for a serious relationship. Yet all of this modeling and math is useless if they cannot build an ongoing engagement with their customers.
To make meaningful relationship connections, you need to know a lot about the people you’re trying to connect. The same applies for knowing how to keep customers coming back. Oracle helps eharmony find its customers meaningful relationships by enabling better targeting, segmentation, and a more personalized and relevant experience across various touchpoints.
Email is a main channel of communication for eharmony customers. eharmony has built out an advanced email-marketing program to engage them with relevant content at all points in the customer lifecycle. These communications are designed to maximize the chances of connecting customers to one another by using their activity on the website and their communications with other members. The data informs eharmony all about the customer’s context, allowing them to achieve higher levels of engagement and keep customers coming back.
Timing Cupid’s Arrow
eharmony improves a customer’s experience by optimizing the best time to send an email to each individual. Using AI to model when each customer is most likely to engage with their messaging, eharmony can build predictions for when to send the next message and when an individual is most likely to open and engage. This resulted in an 11% increase in email engagement and an 18% increase in revenue.
The math of matchmaking has led to eharmony’s position as the #1 trusted dating site for relationship-minded singles. Dating is one of the most personal things we do as humans. Using artificial intelligence to create more personalized matches for their customers was a natural step for eharmony to ensure their customers keep returning to the service and help find those impeccable matches, or, that perfect match. In partnering with Oracle for building advanced email campaigns, eharmony can give their customers the best message, delivered at the best time, and make a perfect match for each person.
For our readers in the United States, eharmony is offering a 10% off any plan with the promo code ORACLE.
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As a marketing channel, email shows no signs of slowing down. Nearly 233 million of the world’s 3.7 billion email users are located in the US, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 255 million by the year 2020. It should come as no surprise then that over half of marketers plan to expand their budget for email in the same period to leverage this growing audience.
But as email adoption increases and brands invest more in the space, traditional KPIs like opens and clicks are falling behind money generated per email as the key decision and strategy driver for larger marketers. This begs the question, what happens to deliverability when attention is solely on the bottom line?
There is a perpetual concern in the email community that open rates are falling. Customers are receiving more and more mail—ignoring even messaging they’ve opted into—and subscriber fatigue is a real issue. Recently, email performance expert eDataSource analyzed “Back to School” email campaign performance YOY for 2017 and 2018, and noticed the same downward trend. Almost universally, email read (or open) rates underperformed from the year previously.
This made me curious – was it increased fatigue generated by a specific type of campaign that individuals could easily ignore, or was there something larger at work here? Leveraging eDataSource I decided to pull performance across a few additional industries for the entire month of July in both 2017 and 2018 to compare.
Apparel & Accessories
Apparel & Accessories
Restaurants, Bars, & Food Service
Restaurants, Bars, & Food Service
It’s Time to Refocus
The results were certainly interesting and confirm what others in the space are seeing. While Inbox rates did go up, open rates dipped across the board. Combined with numerous industry studies, a larger picture is starting to emerge here. Customers are receiving more mail, marketers are focusing more on monetary returns per campaign, and a deliverability impact is coming.
The importance of open rates cannot be understated. This is a key indicator to ISPs that an individual actually *wants*to receive and engage with a brand’s messaging. It sends a direct signal to the ISP to deliver this mail to the inbox. Essentially, the higher the open rate, the lower the spam rate, the better deliverability is likely to be overall. Not to mention the fact that a customer can’t spend money on an offer they never receive or look at in the first place.
It is critical that marketers don’t lose sight of traditional engagement metrics in their efforts to capitalize on returns. Standard best practices should always apply. Leverage a double opt-in, always apply engagement-based segmentation and cease mailing to customers who opt out or do not re-engage. These are the building blocks to ensure campaigns continue to deliver functionally to the inbox.
Email marketers, also make sure to read 'Tis the Season for Holiday Planning (Now!) from Kenna Hilburn, Director of Account Development at Liveclicker. She has four tips, to highly engaging email campaigns your customers will love.
We’ve all been put off by pushy salespeople. But have you ever been truly pleased with a salesperson? It’s not as often as you’d like, but every once in a while you get a salesperson you feel completely comfortable around, someone who genuinely seems to understand your taste and knows exactly what you want.
Inexperienced salespeople seem to either ignore you or follow you around with products that you’ve already put down or even purchased. Great salespeople, on the other hand, are attentive without seeming overbearing, helpful without coming across as pushy, and always on hand with exactly the item you’d been hoping for, even if you didn’t know it yet—just like a skilled personal shopper.
A successful personalized email marketing campaign is no different. When you take time to learn your subscribers’ tastes and delight them with perfect recommendations, they’ll reward you with repeat purchases and long-term loyalty.
Great personalization can make all the difference. Eighty percent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers a personalized experience, according to an Epsilon research report.Personalize Emails with Novel Content
A great salesperson is like your very own personal shopper. They aren’t trying to sell you anything at all. Rather, their sole focus is to manifest a better version of you. They are eager — but not too eager — to learn your tastes and preferences, and dazzle you with novel, yet appropriate, suggestions.
In comparison, the inexperienced salesperson uses the same script of pitches for the same products he tried to sell to the last customer. In a similar fashion, the average email marketer relies on automated product recommendation engines to show subscribers products closest to recent purchases, or, worse yet, already purchased. This may be why nearly 70 percent of marketers think they’re not getting personalization right, according to a study by Evergage.
A good email marketer, on the other hand, looks to the future. They gather data on the products a customer has already viewed or purchased and use that to formulate tailored suggestions for new products — or even entirely new product categories — the customer never knew they wanted.Get Email Frequency Right
A personal shopper doesn’t distract you in the middle of a thought to showcase another product. Nor do they talk about ten suggestions right in a row. No, their timing is impeccable: They patiently attend to your needs and seamlessly insert suggestions just as you need them.
Marketing emails need to be just as well timed. Following the common refrain to send out mass emails on Tuesdays between noon and 1 p.m. simply won’t do. Good email cadence requires a much more intricate strategy.
Marketers need to know exactly when and how each subscriber interacts with the content they send out — and when they’ll be most responsive to specific messages and offers. Only then can marketers effectively individualize content so that emails show up in each subscriber’s inbox at the perfect moment, with the perfect creatives, offers, and layouts.Dancing with The Data
Skillful sales is a kind of elegant dance. Salespeople who gracefully lead this dance are reacting to minute cues from their customers and adjusting accordingly. The result is happy customers who leave the store with armfuls of items they never knew they wanted.
In email marketing, these cues come in the form of data: knowledge of opens, clicks, user behavior, and conversions. It’s absolutely essential for email marketers to test varieties of wording, email structures, layouts, and creative assets to gather as much customer data as possible. When combined with an open-minded approach to customers’ preferences, this data enables marketers to deliver personalized email experiences that become even more delightful over time.
By Kenna Hilburn, Director of Account Development, Liveclicker
🎶 It’s beginning to look a lot like … September. 🎶
Which means your holiday planning is in full swing! Instead of writing an article with vague ideas that only add to your growing to-do list, we decided to give four specific tactics you can execute NOW to better position your programs for a successful holiday season and Q4.Tip #1: Test, Test, Test
The first item on your holiday prep list should be to A/B test. Now is the time to determine the right creative mix for subject lines and email designs so your content is fully optimized and ready for the holiday season.
It’s a real opportunity, especially when you consider a surprisingly high number of marketers still aren’t testing. In fact, research shows that nearly 39 percent of brands never or rarely A/B test their broadcast and segmented emails.
The good news is that there are tools that can help automate the process and deliver winning creative in real time. This reduces the effort needed to analyze results and send a winning version.
Your broadcast messages shouldn’t be the only touch points to benefit from a test – also consider testing your automated and triggered messages for maximum impact. According to the same research, successful email marketers are 70 percent more likely to A/B test their triggered emails at least once a year. Also, these marketers are 95 percent more likely to A/B test their transactional emails at least once a year.
Start your test now, and carry it through the holiday season with dynamic testing tools that continuously test creative versions to ensure the champion version is always deployed.Tip #2: Refresh Your Welcome Emails
The next item to tackle is a welcome series refresh. Your welcome series is your chance at a first impression, and if you are not personalizing that content, the impact of personalization later in the journey can be lost.
Here are a few suggestions any brand can implement to improve their welcome series – and generate better results:
- In welcome message No. 1, start your relationship off on the right foot by featuring first name personalization in a fun font over an image.
You can also begin to progressively collect user preferences via a poll to personalize future emails.
- In welcome message No. 2, dynamically serve up category or product recommendations aligned with the preferences you collected in the poll using a targeted webscrape. This email is also a great place to start telling your brand story – feature an embedded video that brings your company story to life.
- Finally, use welcome No. 3 and 4 to collect even more user preferences with additional polls, surveys, and other interactive devices. Just remember, use the preference data you collect to serve your customer with the personalized experience they expect.
Think quick: What is the one message all converted shoppers receive in their experience with your brand?
Shipping confirmations are often an afterthought in the marketing strategy – sometimes they are even executed by a different team – but think of the opportunity these messages represent. WIth high open and re-open rates, as customers anxiously await and track their precious packages, these emails are the perfect opportunity to keep a customer in your branded experience instead of sending them to a third-party tracking site.
For example, digital retailer Evine uses live business context data to display live package location information in its shipping confirmation emails. This tactic increased month-over-month click-to-open rates by 16 percent.
Tip #4: Plan Ahead with Time-Based Campaigns
Our last recommendation focuses on planning. The phrase, holiday rush, is not an exaggeration. Timely offers and communications are key for a consumer looking for the best deal, and driving urgency is one of the most effective tools in your marketing playbook.
This demand is the perfect opportunity to use time-based targeted messages. Create an hourly, daily, or weekly deals campaign, and drive urgency with a mix of countdown timers, add-to-calendar calls to action, and images that change in real time as offers expire and new promotions come online.
A Gift Any Email Marketer Will Love
As you start developing this year’s holiday campaigns, don’t resort to the same old, same old approach. This year, get creative with innovative new strategies and technologies that are proven to increase important email metrics and improve sales. With these four tips, you can truly give the gift that keeps giving – highly engaging email campaigns your customers will love.
Kenna Hilburn serves as Liveclicker's Director of Account Development, leading an international team of account management professionals in client services, satisfaction, and growth. In her role, she is able to share her expertise in both the email marketing and video commerce industries with clients targeting an ever-changing, global marketplace.
Every retailer knows that customer segmentation makes campaigns more effective. When you classify customers according to their interests and desires, it’s much easier to deliver content that speaks to them personally, creating a connection that builds long-term loyalty.
On paper, segmentation looks like a straightforward way to turn subscribers into delighted customers. But segmentation does have its limits. When you’re dealing with one-time purchasers, market segments don’t tell you what customers will purchase next. They don’t make accurate predictions and can’t tell you why customers purchase certain items together.
To understand those aspects of your customers’ preferences, you’ve got to look beyond segmentation, and implement advanced techniques.The Sweater Experiment
Imagine you’re a clothing retailer and want to promote two new red sweaters this season – a men’s and a women’s. You’ve got an email list of 25,000 men and 25,000 women. Do you segment your next email campaign? If so, how?
At first glance, the answer might seem obvious: If you don’t segment your list, and instead send a promo for the women’s sweater to all 50,000 subscribers, hypothetically you might only get about 50 percent opens, 50 percent clicks, and 50 percent purchases. If you send a promo for the women’s sweater only to female subscribers, on the other hand, you’ll get a significant boost: a potential 100 percent opens, clicks, and purchases.
While this might look like a major improvement, it comes with risks. Some of your male subscribers might’ve been interested in buying the women’s sweater for their girlfriends and sisters, but you’ve missed your chance to sell to them. And what about your female subscribers who already bought that sweater? You sent an unengaging email to them, when you could’ve shown a new item they might actually have been interested in.
For all these reasons, segmentation alone isn’t enough for effective email personalization.Stepping Beyond Segmentation
As our sweater scenario demonstrates, the core limitation of segmentation is that its improvements are often just smoke and mirrors. A metric like a “50 percent lift in clicks” sounds concrete and comforting – but it doesn’t tell you anything about missed opportunities for even more lucrative cross-sells and upsells, or about which products your customers might want to buy next.
Segmentation has its advantages, of course. It’s helpful for personalizing emails, which protects your emails from getting sent to spam. Email content aligned with each subscriber’s interests also helps safeguard against unsubscribes, reducing subscriber churn.
But to really connect with your customers, you’ve got to look beyond segments. Even within a given customer segment, each customer is on their own personal journey, interacting with your brand across a unique sequence of touchpoints — email included. That means to really connect with your customers where they are, you’ve got to start mapping those journeys and addressing each stage with tailored content.
When you understand where each customer is on their individual journey, and which products will meet them where they are, you’ll be able to predict what a customer wants even before they know it themselves. And by guiding customers through a personalized series of product discoveries, you can lead them to new areas of interest that can significantly raise your margins, while driving stronger customer loyalty.
Identifying suspicious sending behavior is the name of the game for ISPs trying to protect their networks from bad actors. They’re constantly updating algorithms and leveraging machine learning to identify spam and preserve the inboxes of users. To avoid being caught up in the same net, legitimate senders need to avoid red flags on their own sending activity. At no other time of year is this more critical than the holidays.
Why talk about Christmas in July? Because sending volume matters. To ensure the success of larger campaigns during the holiday season, you have to start planning and prepping your lists. Now.
In the eyes of ISPs, good senders are consistent. They have consistent open rates, consistent positive engagement with their recipients, and are sending consistent volume to their networks at regular intervals. Unfortunately, make-or-break holiday revenue will cause some marketers to ignore these practices and roll the dice with abnormally large volumes of mail. This typically manifests itself by senders overriding the engagement criteria on their campaigns, and batch-and-blast mailing to entire lists of subscribers with heavy frequency, fatiguing subscribers.It’s My List, Why Can’t I Mail as I Please?
The most obvious problem with this type of mailing behavior is that it is not consistent with the behavior a sender exhibits throughout the rest of the mailing year.
Consider the ISP’s perspective: A known sender to their network suddenly doubles, triples, even quadruples the amount of mail hitting their servers for a single campaign—and at a much higher frequency. Not only does the ISP detect a spike in volume, but spam trap hits increase, hard bounces increase, and a wave of fresh spam complaints are generated by the change in activity. Must be spam. Block.
Opening up campaigns to entire mailing lists means opening up sender reputation to a host of issues. ISPs determine reputation by 24-hour, 7-day, and 30-day performance trends, so week-to-week and month-to-month volume fluctuations are critical. If an ISP notices any dramatic deviations from a sender’s volume patterns, it will raise a red flag.
Slow and steady wins the race: By starting increases now, peaking around 2-3 weeks prior to the start of holiday mailing, this activity will appear normal to the ISPs receiving it.So, What Can I Do?
If larger sending is on your holiday horizon, now is the time to start expanding your lists in small chunks.
Segmentation should remain a key consideration as you expand:
- Users who have opted out should never be included in campaigns.
- Riskier segments—with lengthier and lengthier lapses in email engagement—should be monitored carefully. As segments trigger negative metrics (e.g., hard bounces, spam complaints, etc.), they should be removed from regular sending unless they can be re-engaged.
Actively weed out inactive addresses:
- Plan re-engagement campaign cycles now so users are active and up-to-date for holiday mailings.
- Use a confirmed opt-in to eliminate unengaged users from entering campaign lists right out of the gate.
- Users who decline to confirm an opt-in or re-engage should be removed from your lists.
The last thing you want to face is a blacklist or block going into the holiday season. Reputation damage, once it occurs, requires weeks of consistent sending to correct. Often by the time the damage is inflicted, senders don’t have time to recover before the holiday mailing season. Slowly increasing mailing volume, meticulously reviewing metrics to weed out and remove risky segments and contacts, and adhering to confirmed opt-in guidelines will help line up a successful holiday season.