March 3, 2014, 12:50 PM

Sponsored Special Report: E-mail marketing gets personal

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Benchmark data from Experian Marketing Services show that when retailers send a second abandoned cart reminder, they experience a 54% lift in revenue versus sending only a single message. "We also recommend that e-mails sent as part of a series have a consistent look and feel, and eventually include a discount. If the discount has been tested and proven effective, then it makes sense to send it from a ROI standpoint," Hassemer says. "It is best, however, to offer the discount in the last e-mail, because customers sent a remarketing message often purchase without a discount."

Indeed, leading with a simple abandoned cart reminder, then following up with a modest incentive in the second message and sweetening it in subsequent e-mails can help a retailer protect its margin, experts say. This strategy can also train consumers not to automatically expect a discount every time they abandon their cart.

"It's in a retailer's best interest financially not to go all out on the first attempt to pull a shopper that abandoned her cart back to complete the sale," dotMailer's Taylor says. "Another option for starting the process is sending accessories or add-ons in the first follow-up message, then offering free shipping before significantly upping the ante."

Rapid response

Other types of remarketing e-mails include marketing campaigns triggered by browsing behavior, such as when a user clicks through an e-mail to a web site, browses and then leaves the site. In these instances, a retailer can show the shopper the product she looked at in a note near the bottom of the e-mail, and then tell her whether the item is in stock and if it is on sale.

"The closer remarketing e-mails are sent to the time of the activity, the higher rate of opens, clicks and transactions," Hassemer says. "While most marketers send remarketing e-mails one to three days post abandon or activity, real-time remarketing—sending the message within minutes of an abandoned cart or other activity—has become increasingly popular over the past few years because of the increases in opens, clicks and transactions remarketing messages deliver."

Engaging shoppers who regularly open e-mails but don't buy is another major challenge facing retailers. E-mail marketers tend to feel more frustrated with this group of customers than those who do not open e-mail at all, experts say, because even though retailers are connecting with them, they are not converting these e-mail readers to buyers.

One solution is to survey these customers about their interests and the kind of offers they'd like receive to find out how to connect with them on a more personal level. "Retailers can also go back and identify the pages these customers have viewed in the past, the types of products bought, the brands they favor and the offers that prompted a purchase, and build a series of e-mails based on that information," Taylor says.

E-retailers can also use data like this to score e-mail accounts to assess the likelihood they'll be able to re-engage dormant recipients and craft messages to appeal to them, Hassemer says.

Data quality

Within every e-mail list there is a percentage of addresses that are wrong, and messages sent to those addresses bounce back to the sender. In fact, 67% of U.S. companies believe that inaccurate data within their e-mail lists caused deliverability issues during the past 12 months, according to Experian Marketing Services' Data Quality's research report, "The State of Data Quality."

High bounce rates indicate to e-mail system providers like Google, Yahoo, AOL, Microsoft and Comcast that the sender is sending unwanted e-mail, and can lead to more of the retailer's e-mail being routed to spam folders. E-retailers can lower their bounce rates and decrease the likelihood e-mail system providers will block their messages or shunt them into spam folders by carefully monitoring how e-mail addresses are added to their e-mail lists. Segmenting welcome e-mail messages based on how the e-retailer acquired the e-mail address can help retailers closely monitor performance without impacting the rest of their e-mail programs. For example, an e-retailer might segment addresses acquired verbally at the point of sale or through contest entries—channels that can be prone to collection errors—until they confirm those addresses are correct and their owners want to get messages.

"Onboarding high-risk acquisition sources in a quarantined environment will help to weed out the bad data," says Bronto's Davidson. "Point-of-sale data will be littered with typos. Contest entrant [e-mails may include those] who were only after the big prize and may take the lazy man's unsubscribe route and click 'spam' when you e-mail. Once these data hygiene measures have been taken, valid subscribers can be migrated to your primary subscriber lists."

Another way to validate e-mail addresses is to use hosted validation services that perform a series of checks to make sure e-mail can be delivered to the address. E-retailers should also strive to acquire e-mail addresses through opt-in, permission-based methods because addresses gathered through opt-in campaigns tend to be more accurate, Experian Marketing Services' Hassemer says. Retailers also shouldn't overlook validating addresses for consumers who haven't opened a message for months. These consumers can account for as much as 50% of an e-mail marketer's list, he says.

Make messages look good

With many consumers using multiple devices to check their e-mail, retailers need to make sure their messages look great everywhere they may be viewed. With this in mind, some e-retailers use responsive design, a technique that automatically adapts a message to the size and type of screen of the device the consumer is using to view them. However, e-retailers applying responsive design to their marketing e-mails need to consider more than what the e-mail message looks like; they also need to make it easy for the consumer to act.

Design tips for usability include writing style sheets for single-column layouts and including large links, buttons and fonts so mobile users can read and respond to messages without pinching and swiping their screens. Experts also recommend creating alternative images with dimensions that will fit mobile devices' smaller screens to maintain clarity and crispness. This helps avoid white screens that appear while a large image downloads to a mobile phone.

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