October 1, 2010, 12:35 PM

Sponsored Supplement: Getting creative with e-mail marketing

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One potential stumbling block e-mail marketers face with the use of video is that production qualities play a significant role in how consumers respond to video. “Video in e-mail is often seen as a trade-off for retailers because low-cost video can cheapen the image of the retailer’s brand and the cost of producing high-quality video for e-mail marketing often outweighs the uplift in response,” says Heys. “A great solution is to integrate customer generated videos sourced from the retailer’s blog or Facebook page—this makes e-mail campaigns more authentic and credible.”

First impression

While video can add a lot of curb appeal to an e-mail message, the subject line remains the core of any successful e-mail campaign. Without a subject line that conveys a call to action or appeals to the consumer in a personal way, the odds are the message will never be opened.

“The subject line is the first thing the consumer sees when she receives an e-mail and it influences her decision to open it or pass on it,” says Experian CheetahMail’s Ezrin. “Good e-mail marketers do a lot of analysis on the words that go into their subject lines, track performance and avoid overuse of successful phrases or keywords to maintain a high rate of performance.”

Effective subject lines set consumer expectations about the content of the e-mail, such as whether a sale is taking place at the local bookstore, thanking the consumer for posting a product review or sending a birthday greeting.

“The more specific the subject the line, the clearer the consumer’s expectations are about the type of information she will find in the body of the e-mail,” says Silverpop’s McDonald. “If the content of the e-mail does not match up with the expectation set by the subject line, consumers are likely to remember that and it can hurt the performance of future campaigns.”

Timing is everything

Relevant subject lines speak to where the consumer is in the buying cycle. A consumer that buys shampoo every 30 days, for instance, is going to be thinking about making that purchase again a few weeks after she last bought shampoo. Sending an e-mail at that time with a subject line that reminds the consumer it is time to buy shampoo again can get her attention.

“Every product has a different buying cycle and consumers expect retailers to recognize where they are in the buying cycle when it comes to e-mail marketing,” says Bronto’s Lowery. “The subject line should trigger an action. Whether it’s a follow-up to someone that abandoned a shopping cart offering 10% to 15% off to complete the purchase or a thank-you for a purchase, the most relevant subject lines address where the consumer is in the buying cycle.”

Another way to pique consumer interest through the subject line is to present it in the form of a question that states the value of the e-mail, such as, “Do you know why Ralph Lauren Sheets are 40% off today only?”

“Asking a question and stating the benefit in the subject line is a good way to cut through the clutter,” says Emailvision’s Heys. “The question can even be personalized by including the consumer’s first name, such as, “John, do you know ... ?”

Regardless of how clever a subject line may seem to the marketer who wrote it, it’s crucial to test every campaign to gauge consumer reaction. “It’s important to build a culture of testing and use the A/B split testing tools in e-mail campaign management software to learn what kind of response different subjects generate,” says Heys. “We have clients that have internally built a game around testing by encouraging all staff to come up with new ideas to test subject lines.”

Holiday tips

All these e-mail best practices take on more importance during the holiday season when retailers ratchet up the frequency of their e-mail campaigns. Finding the right frequency is a delicate balancing act. While consumers expect to receive more e-mail as the holidays get closer, a retailer that sends e-mail too often risks having its messages routed to consumers’ spam folders.

“Increasing the frequency of e-mail without reviewing consumers’ preferences on frequency or offering them a chance to reset those preferences for the holiday season can result in a lot of list churn,” says Bronto’s Lowery.

The cost of pumping out too much e-mail can be high. Silverpop’s McDonald recalls a client that one holiday season boosted frequency to a rate of 12 e-mails per month, up from a monthly maximum of five.

“While short-term revenues increased, their spam complaints and unsubscribes went through the roof,” recalls McDonald. “If the client kept up that pace their annualized churn rate would have increased to 42% from a very respectable 18%. While some increase in frequency certainly makes sense during the holidays, marketers need to be careful not to cross the line and offset additional revenues with increased costs to reacquire lost subscribers. Seasonal strategies need to be developed.”

It’s particularly advisable to test any increases in the frequency of e-mail to consumers who are rarely opening the marketing e-mails they already receive from the merchant. Even better is to create new e-mail campaigns that pique their interest.

“There are always a number of consumers that regularly don’t open e-mail, so they ought to be segmented out and approached with a new strategy,” says Experian CheetahMail’s Ezrin. “When employing a new marketing strategy with these customers it may be optimal to keep the frequency down until they show signs of responding. E-mail may be very economical, but retailers don’t want to turn off customers, even if they infrequently open e-mail marketing messages.”

Segmenting the mailing list based on consumer preferences for how much e-mail they want to receive can help retailers more precisely target their holiday marketing campaigns. “Retailers that want to offer daily deals should target those e-mails to consumers that have stated a preference for receiving them, or build an opt-in list in advance,” says Emailvision’s Heys. “As long as frequency does not exceed a consumer’s preferences and messages are relevant, retailers can send e-mails promoting hourly deals.”

Retailers have a big opportunity to increase the relevancy of their e-mails, and thus the consumer response, if they stay focused on the basics of e-mail marketing, while also integrating new technologies such as social media, mobile marketing and video.

“E-mail is not going anywhere,” says Bronto’s Lowery. “It is just finding a new direction by interacting with other technologies and applying them to proven marketing techniques.”

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