Retailers are pushing out millions of emails every day, most of which end up being ignored — or worse — sent to the spam folder. Many more are simply dropped by an ISP. And most marketers are misfiring on the timing, the subject lines and the content.
Only a few are consistently getting it right, and among these brands, in my opinion, are Uber, eBay and REI (disclosure: Uber and eBay are clients). Here’s how these three retailers provide a good case study in effective email marketing.
A portion of Uber’s email traffic is transactional in nature; their emails serve to close the loop on a ride. You step out of an Uber, and within seconds, you receive an email notification informing you how much your ride cost and reminding you to review your driver. There is nothing more simple and pure than this form of messaging.
Business travelers can quickly take a screen shot of their Uber emails and use them as receipts in their expense reports. Riders know exactly what they paid and can rest assured that no further charges will be incurred. Simultaneously, riders are reminded of why they chose Uber: a seamless transaction that didn’t require them digging into their pocket for a wallet, waiting for a receipt or tipping.
Transactional messaging has the highest open and click-through rates; this is a universal fact. According to Experian’s Transactional Email Report, customers tend to open transactional emails repeatedly, and the average revenue per transactional email is two to five times higher than for standard bulk mail.
Because transactional email is only sent in response to a user-initiated action (e.g., using a service like Uber) it is never sent out of the blue. It’s always contextualized — as long as the marketer doesn’t get too overzealous and pack their template with a ton of commercial content which would skew the basic intention of the message.
If email is digital glue, then transactional emails are the tendons and ligaments that keep the entire operation flexing and moving forward. It’s the most fundamental piece of messaging that a company starts with and builds on.
One of the most common, and most effective, forms of triggered messaging are messages based upon recent site activity — for example, abandoned shopping cart emails.
With over a billion listings on its site, eBay has something for everyone. But what happens when most of your offers are extremely time-sensitive? What happens when your listings expire, or deals have limited inventory? You’re then faced with reinventing the abandoned cart email in a way that makes sense for your rapidly changing inventory.
eBay has faced and sorted highly perplexing challenges because of the unique space it operates in: hundreds of millions of user activities occur each day, and many deals are in short supply because of how valuable and rare they are. All of these factors make creating relevant and engaging emails significantly more complex than ever before.
Despite the numerous peculiarities and nuances, eBay does a masterful job of delivering highly personalized communications. One of the ways that eBay has been successful is by creating open-time rendering and personalization capabilities that update the content of the email when the recipient opens it.
Since everything in eBay’s inventory expires, a static email promoting items similar to ones they’ve purchased in the past — or are watching or bid on — is good for only so many hours. If a customer opens it after the offer expires, they’re presented with a new set of content to ensure that as an engagement vehicle, the email is always relevant and personalized.
This technology is a sophisticated solution to a complex business model. Alex Weinstein, director of Marketing Technologies at eBay, explained to me: “One-on-one personalization is key to our CRM strategy. We aim to deliver the most relevant offer to each customer based on our up-to-the-minute understanding of their intent. Real-time activity processing and open-time rendering are the enablers that allow us to take this personalization even further.”
The customer is at the center of a nexus of communications that have to remain up to date if the brand is to stay relevant. This pull technology is not unlike a mobile app’s inbox, where message content is pulled fresh from the servers every time the inbox is opened.
The other advantage of using open-time rendering technology in an email is that you decrease the total number of emails you have to send an individual. Instead of sending a new email after items have expired, one email can stay relevant for a much longer period. By decreasing email volume, eBay effectively decreases potential churn associated with over-messaging and thereby extends the total lifetime value of their customer base.
And if all else fails, or you’re feeling particularly creative, inspired or brazenly brave and ready to go against convention, you #OptOutside. REI’s #OptOutside campaign started in 2015 and urged customers to, in the words of Fleetwood Mac “go your own way” by disengaging with in-store shopping on Black Friday and go outside to enjoy nature.
Although this might seem like a radical departure from what could be considered normal, or even sane marketing, you have to hand it to REI: They know their customers. As a sporting goods retailer, they exist to outfit outdoor enthusiasts — from amateurs who need their first pair of light hiking boots to ice climbers who need a new ax.
REI’s demographic is by its very nature “outdoors,” and to urge them to do what would come naturally anyway only increases their clout, importance and authenticity in their vertical. Who knows? You may still need those hiking boots before the holiday and find REI’s message compelling enough to buy a pair from them.
Not every brand can be as bold and urge their users through email, banner ads and other forms of messaging to ignore a major retail holiday. However, every company should strive to be as authentic in their messaging as REI.
A well-thought-out and succinct message and a thoroughly contextualized call to action based on a unique buyer persona can help keep a brand top of mind and top of the inbox. That’s right — messages that are highly contextualized are more likely to be clicked by users.
Message opens are a universally accepted measure of engagement on both sides of the mailbox provider divide. Marketers look at open rates as a measure of engagement, and mailbox providers also look at message opens as a positive metric that improves a particular sender’s email reputation and subsequent ability to deliver future emails to the inbox.
Relevancy and content are intimately connected to inbox behavior. And brands that are thinking about their unique market segments, focusing their calls to action on discrete outcomes with very specific actions, are helping their users by delivering value through email.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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Author: Len Shneyder