“Same old, same old”: Retailers are sending the same e-mails to the same people.

As with so many aspects of marketing these days, data segmentation is key to the success of retailers’ sales efforts.

E-marketing may well be the most cost-effective method for reaching customers and driving business, but a recent analysis by Gartner of retail e-marketing activities shows that many retailers are employing tactics that are neither well-targeted … nor particularly compelling.

The Gartner analysis was performed earlier this year and published in a report titled Discount Emails — The New Playbook.  The analysis covered more than 98,000 e-mail campaigns conducted by 100 national retail brands.

Trumpeting discounts is one of the oldest tactics in marketing, of course, so it comes as little surprise that those sales messages are pervasive in e-marketing as well.

In fact, Gartner finds that more than half of all e-mail campaigns by retailers feature discounts in their subject lines.  Those discount messages are typically sent to nearly 40% of the retailers’ e-mail list — meaning that discount messaging targets broad segments of customers.

Gartner finds that those discount offers generate a ~16% open rate, on average.

Contrast this with retargeting and remarketing e-mails. They make up a much smaller fraction of the e-mail volume, but pull much higher open rates (around 31%).  Abandoned shopping cart e-mails generate an even higher average open rate of 32%.

“Welcome” e-mails tend to do well, too — in the 25% to 30% open rate range.

Gartner’s conclusion is as follows:

“Brands that employ less frequent, but timely, relevant e-mails triggered by customer site engagement or transaction outperform their peers.”

Gartner also found that the average national retail brand has more than 25% of its e-mail database overlapping with other national retailer e-lists, making it even more important for brands to differentiate the language of their e-mail subject lines and to engage in more data-driven e-mail targeting in order for their marketing to stand out from the pack.

Let’s see if the national retail brands get better at this over the coming year.

Changing Cross-Currents in E-Mail Marketing

Many marketers find it one of the easiest marketing tactics to execute … but also one of the least effective in terms of results.

In the realm of digital marketing, e-mail marketing has to be one of the most mature choices of tactics these days. It’s been around for a long time, and its relatively small hard-dollar costs make it one a natural “go-to” marketing tactic for many companies.

But today, a declining percentage of marketers see e-mail as one of their most effective tactics in the digital marketing arsenal.

So, what’s the problem?  Many companies have the technology and skills in place to perform e-mail programs using in-house resources. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that more companies are seeing their e-mail programs becoming less effective — for a variety of reasons. Among them are these:

  • E-mail filtering technology is making it more difficult to land e-mails into inboxes.
  • Privacy regulations are becoming more stringent.
  • Overuse of this marketing tactic means more e-mail messages than ever from more companies are being deployed – and with that, more of them are being ignored by recipients.
  • While e-mail used to be the only digital direct marketing game in town, today there are a bigger variety of ways to engage with customers and prospects.
  • Building a high-performing e-mail list that also conforms to regulatory stipulations is more challenging than ever.

This last point is particularly nettlesome for marketers: Data quality and data management are considered among the most difficult challenges for marketers – and also among the least effective in terms of their success.

So, in some ways the factors affecting the use of e-mail marketing are working at cross-purposes. E-mail marketing is easier to execute than other digital marketing endeavors … but as for its effectiveness, many marketers rate other tactics higher, including content marketing and search engine optimization.

In the coming years, it will be interesting to see how attitudes and behaviors regarding e-mail continue to evolve. Will this time-honored tactic decline in importance, or find new life?  Stay tuned …

Tripping the E-Mail Spam Alarm

Today, it’s more than just the “usual suspect” keywords that are landing e-mails in the junk folder.

se-mMost of us are aware of the kinds of words that trip spam alarms and cause e-mails to be sent straight to the junk folder – or not to be delivered at all.

How about these for starters:

  • Cash
  • Congratulations
  • Discount
  • Free
  • Income
  • Make Money
  • Urgent
  • Viagra
  • $$ / $$$

But research done by MailJet, an international e-mail service provider, looked at more than 14 billion e-mail communiqués and found that a bunch of other keywords are setting off alarm bells nearly as often as terms like “Urgent” or “Viagra.”

… Especially when considering the business categories that are so active in e-mail communications — retail goods, pharmaceuticals, providers of personal services, and the like.

Some of the other terms MailJet has found to be nearly as “toxic” are these:

  • bdcstDear Friend
  • FedEx
  • Increase Sales
  • Increase Traffic
  • Internet Marketing
  • Invoice
  • Lead Generation
  • Lose Weight
  • Marketing Solutions
  • Online Degree
  • Online Pharmacy
  • Order
  • PayPal
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Sign Up
  • Trial Offer
  • Visa/Mastercard
  • Winning

… And there are more, of course – including various permutations of the words and phrases above.

The inevitable conclusion:  It’s becoming more difficult all the time to use the most common phrases in “subject” lines and “from” lines that’ll land your e-mail in someone’s inbox successfully.

And getting into the inbox just the first step, of course.  The next is motivating the recipient to actually open your e-mail and engage with it, which are additional hurdles in themselves.

What words or phrases have you found to be surprisingly problematic in getting your e-mails delivered to your customers’ inboxes?  How have you dealt with it?  Please share your experiences with other readers here.

Cue up the e-mail Rogues’ Gallery: Here’s what people are purging from their inboxes.

e-mail rogues galleryAnyone who’s had an e-mail account for any length of time likely faces ever-increasing inbox volumes.

And trying to keep those groaning inboxes in check can be a never-ending task.  Now a recent report gives us clues as to what e-mails are being purged most frequently by recipients.

It’s been released by Unroll.Me, a service that scans users’ e-mail accounts for all of the lists to which they are subscribed — knowingly or not.  It then gives people the opportunity to unsubscribe, or to consolidate groups of e-mails into a single regular update.

It turns out, many people are unwittingly “subscribed” to receive e-mails from vendors based on something as benign as making a single online purchase.  So Unroll.Me finds a substantial incidence of people taking unsubscribe actions when given the chance.

Unroll.Me’s report claims that it prevented more than 1 billion e-mails, offers and updates from reaching inboxes last year via its service.

Of particular interest than the overall volume is the list of e-marketers that have been dissed the most by customers.

Leading the list is 1-800-Flowers.  A whopping ~53% of Unroll.Me users had those e-mails stopped during 2013.

[A personal note about 1-800-Flowers:  Over the past five years, our family has used this service to order flowers twice a year (Christmas and birthday) to exactly one person.  For those twice-a-year transactions, I estimate conservatively that we receive more than 200 e-mail solicitations each year — most with breathless offers promising deep discounts on orders.  Do those offers make us more inclined to purchase from them?  Hardly.]

According ton Unroll.Me, other e-marketers that experienced high unsubscribe rates in 2013 include:

  • Ticketweb:  ~48% unsubscribe rate
  • ProFlowers:  ~45%
  • Expedia:  ~45%
  • Active.com:  ~45%
  • Oriental Trading: ~44%

At the other end of the scale are companies and services that remain subscribed to by two-thirds or more of those who received their e-mails.

This “Star Gallery” is made up of Facebook, Google+, Twitter and LinkedIn.  What these e-mailers share in common is that they are social platforms, with engagement and interest levels higher because of the topics involved (friends, acquaintances, contacts and shared interests).

In other words, it’s the people they know, not the things companies want to sell them.

Now, back to the purging …

Sometimes “permission slips” aren’t enough when it comes to e-mail deliverability.

Bounced-emails-undelivered-emailsIn case you’ve been wondering how much marketing e-mail actually reaches its intended targets, a recently released benchmark report from e-mail scoring and certification services provider Return Path has some answers. It finds that only about 75% of “permissioned” e-mails are actually making their way through.

That means one in every four e-mails are either hitting a spam or junk folder, or are being blocked by ISP-level filtering.

The report was based on analysis of data from Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor service, which tracks the delivery, filtering and blocking rates for more than 600,000 e-mail campaigns.

Interestingly, the delivery stats for business-to-business marketing e-mail aren’t much lower than for business-to-consumer e-mail. This was considered somewhat surprising because of company-level filtering systems like Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec that are installed at many large corporations. Presumably, they do a more thorough job of filtering e-correspondence.

The Return Path report also included a few cautionary notes for marketers:

 Many e-mailers believe that whatever gets deployed and doesn’t bounce must be reaching inboxes. But senders are notified only when the e-mail is a hard bounce – not if it has ended up in a spam or junk folder.

 Relying on rented e-mail files in the B-to-B world can be dangerous, as those files can be riddled with spam traps. Commercial entities are always on the search for new prospects and leads … but merging a good in-house list with a few of these bad boy rental lists can result in compromising the entire database.

 In the consumer sector, many marketers aren’t paying close enough attention to inbox placement rates. For example, data about Gmail shows that while many marketers are ostensibly achieving a 90%+ deliverability rate, fewer than one in five of those emails are actually being directed to the “priority” inboxes within Gmail as designated by the recipients. And you can bet that precious few of the other ~80% are getting any sort of attention at all from consumers.

More details about the Return Path report can be found here – well-worth checking out.

Personalized e-mail campaigns? Nothing personal … but it’s not that important.

e-mail personalizationIt’s been a nagging question about direct marketing for years now: To what degree does personalizing a mass marketing program improve audience engagement and action?

Back in the old days, personalization was difficult to pull off, because the limitations of printing meant that the way people’s names were inserted into letters looked awkward and even jarring – different typeface, different ink concentration, etc.

Instead of creating a positive impact that suggested a personal relationship with the recipient, the effect was often just the opposite: the ill-fitting interpolations screaming “mass mailer.”

Today, with so many marketers targeting consumers electronically versus via postal mail, personalization has become a common technique used for the same purpose: to draw the reader’s attention by making the e-communiqué “unique” to him or her. Plus, it’s much easier to accomplish.

But how is this working out in the digital age? The latest e-mail marketing metrics report from email marketing and newsletter services provider MailerMailer, LLC, issued in July 2011, uses data compiled from more than 977 million opt-in e-mail newsletters in a sampling of over 1,600 customers. It found that adding the recipient’s first or last name to the subject line of an e-mail often generates negative, not positive results.

On the other hand, personalization within the message portion of the e-mail makes it a tad more likely to lead the recipient to interact with the message.

Here are the open rates MailerMailer found based on the degree of personalization:

 Subject line personalized: 4.1% open rate
 Both subject line and message personalized: 4.6% open rate
 Message personalized: 12.6% open rate
 No personalization at all: 11.4% open rate

[MailerMailer claims that personalized subject lines perform less favorably because this has been such a common tactic used by spammers in recent years. I claims the method has been so overused, recipients now associate all such e-mails as spam.]

And what about clickthrough rates — the more important metric? MailerMailer’s findings track neatly with the open rate trends, as follows:

 Subject line personalized: 0.8% clickthrough rate
 Both subject line and message personalized: 1.1% clickthrough rate
 Message personalized: 3.0% clickthrough rate
 No personalization at all: 3.0% clickthrough rate

So another thing the MailerMailer report is telling us is that the effort to personalize e-mails may not be worth it in the end. It’s true that a slightly higher open rate may occur with personalized message content … but the clickthrough rate, which is the more important metric, doesn’t budge at all with personalization versus without it.

So it would seem that personalizing e-mails isn’t something that’s going to “make or break” your direct marketing campaign’s success rate. Better to focus on the other classic success factors: the message, the offer, and the target recipients list. You know … just like always.