Category Archives: Best Practice

Speaking Your Customers’ Language

I ran an all-day customer workshop recently with one of our customers, a rapidly growing online retailer.  There were seven of us in the workshop altogether; myself, three colleagues and three key people from the customer (one technical, one commercial – the founder, in fact – and one marketing).  The meeting went well and we covered a lot of ground, however one of the things that slowed us down a little early on (and I have come across this in the past) was the fact that we weren’t always talking about the same thing, even though we thought we were.  Specifically, we were using certain terms (‘personalisation’, ‘data quality’, ‘inactive’ and even ‘spam’) however some assumptions had been made about what each of these terms meant.

The first reason I bring this up is that it reminded me of the importance of having a common understanding of the terms and language that we are using every day, especially in an industry such as ours where new terms are being created (and forgotten) on a rapid and ongoing basis.  Using the above example to illustrate the point, we very nearly spent a substantial amount of time discussing the relative merits of the different data integrity tools on the market – those which help ensure your email data is accurate, correctly constructed, current and so on – when in fact the customer wanted to discuss how best to qualify the value of different contacts dependent on the recency and nature of their last contact.  For him, ‘data quality’ was a value term, not a measure of the likely accuracy of an email address.  I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, but I do think it was critical that we were able to find a common understanding earlier in the conversation as it saved us all a lot of time.  Another example might be personalisation, a popular term at the moment throughout our industry.  I’ll bet if you ask three of your colleagues what they think personalisation means, you’ll get three different answers, even if you limit the context to email marketing.  The reason why this is important is that it’s all too easy to make the assumption that everyone agrees on the definition of a term (especially one like personalisation) and a lot of time and money can subsequently be spent (wasted?) pursuing separate goals.  Getting this kind of thing right up front is critical.

The second reason I think this is important is with regard to speaking your customers’ language.  This mattered in the customer meeting I talked about earlier (aside from the ‘data quality’ discussion, their technical attendee talked about all email marketing campaigns as ‘spam’ as a matter of course, which took a while to get my head round!) and it is even more important when as marketers you’re communicating with your customers.

Understanding and using the kind of language that is familiar and accessible to your customers is critical to successfully growing and retaining a loyal customer base.  This is even more important if your customers are based all over the world and not just for the obvious reason.

Here are just two examples of companies that I think do it well.

1.    Selfridges
Selfridges is a global brand with global customers.  Everything about its brand image resonates premier quality and class.  They’ve been named the world’s best department store twice and they work hard to manage their online relationships in a way that complements this established reputation.

They do it well.  Their emails are consistently elegant, understated and easy to navigate, just like their store.  They also offer additional personalisation options to further reinforce their credentials and whilst the language is subtle, by offering next day delivery, international click and collect, complimentary returns and a gift wrap service, the overall experience is precisely the kind of thing that I would expect to appeal to a Selfridges subscriber.

Selfridges example (shortened)

2.    Innocent Drinks
From the moment I signed up to the Innocent Drinks newsletter, I had a feeling I’d be in for something a little bit different.  Having carefully cultivated their quirky image (all the way back to their Headquarters, Fruit Towers), they have since sought to speak to their subscribers on the same terms.

Whilst email marketers often limit themselves by focusing exclusively on incentives and ROI, Innocent has always aimed to take a different approach reading more like a collection of cool stuff a friend might send you on a Friday afternoon.  Although product launches or company announcements do get mentions, you’ll also find links to models of ants’ nests, the world’s poshest treehouse, odd-shaped clouds and Labradors in tutus.

This ‘tone of voice’ helps Innocent to maintain a personality that resonates well with their customers.  They take it further still by soliciting customer feedback – an oft overlooked opportunity – and better still, acting on that feedback, all of which helps them maintain a positive relationship with their subscribers (even despite some of the challenges they’ve faced in this area since Coca-Cola became a key shareholder in 2009).

Innocent Drinks example

To finish, the message here is simple.  Whatever you do, make sure you think about the language you use more in the future than you are already doing today.  You’ll save yourself a whole lot of time in the long run and if you get it right then your customers will be amongst the most loyal of all.  Good luck!

Here are some other interesting articles and posts about the same subject;


You’re beautiful

Believe it or not, “you’re beautiful” were the words that I uttered when I was doing some last minute online Christmas shopping for my wife. Not because she is (although for clarity she certainly is), but because when I was buying some beauty products for her from online beauty retailer I had some beautiful email experiences.

This is clearly a company that sees the value in email, so let me share some of the experiences that made me gush out loud.

They understand the importance of data collection

When you first arrive on the site you’re presented with a well-crafted home page. Centre stage above the fold is a clear call to action to subscribe, reading “STAY IN TOUCH for beauty news and offers”. At this stage I simply wanted to move on and buy, so searched for the Kardashian product range that was top of my wife’s gift list. Each page thereafter, not only showed me the products, but included the call to action to subscribe, which is so often a missed opportunity.

The experience then got even better when I discovered the product was out of stock! Why? Because they used this as an opportunity to collect my email address, so they could notify me when it came back into stock. Customer experience and data collection rolled into one… and I was that impressed I still bought something else from the collection (or should that be Kollection for all you Kardashian fans?).

They use email to enhance the customer experience

The good email experience wasn’t just limited to data collection though, when have your email address they know exactly how to use it. I quickly selected the products that I wanted and went through to the checkout to pay. As well as entering my payment details I could confirm whether I wanted to receive email reminders when my product was likely to run out and, once the transaction was complete, I was prompted to share details of my purchase with my friends via social media sites and email. Not appropriate for my Christmas gift, but a nice touch none the less.

But now I’ve become a customer, is just getting started. I immediately received an email confirming my order, showing me exactly what I’d bought and where it was going to be delivered to. Customer service was top of mind here as they clearly highlighted how to get in touch if I had any questions. My next email was just as impressive; letting me know the exact time my product had been delivered. Of course, this also included details of how to get in touch if I had any problems and a call to action to start buying again. Customer experience and revenue generation all nicely tied up together!

They use email to sell me more

Now I’m officially a customer, are using email to help me buy even more. And much to my wife’s delight they’re doing it rather well. I’ve received emails telling me that the first product I’d wanted is now back in stock and I’ve just received a reminder that I should think about replenishing the lip gloss I bought in the first place, all perfectly times to tie in with my original purchase. As well as this, I’ve I’ve received a beauty diary and some exclusive special offers. I’ve also noticed that the brand provides a subscription service enabling you to set the frequency of the reminders you receive to replenish your products- this sounds like a great tactic to me, especially if you’re a regular user of the products they sell.

The DMA’s own National Client Email Report 2013 ( shows that on average businesses see a return of £21.48 for every £1 they spend on email marketing. With my own experience in mind, I suspect that is generating a significantly high ROI for their email marketing efforts; even higher than £21.48 I think! No wonder they continue to be one of the UK’s fastest growing companies and are winning awards for their ecommerce site, product range and customer service – they’ve a really beautiful email programme and are reaping the benefits (clearly, so is my wife!) And much to her delight, I now quite look forward to being able to go back to to top up her makeup and my desire for seeing innovative email marketing!


Let’s get engaged!

Email subscribers are expecting more and more from the messages they receive in their inbox these days, making us, as marketers, work harder – and rightly so!

Email marketing is no longer about taking a single message and broadcasting it to your entire database. Irrelevancy is the new spam and anything your readers don’t find interesting or relevant, they will delete or mark as spam and complain to their ISP.

So, as users stop interacting with your emails, what can you do about it? How can you reach these subscribers and attract their attention?

Identify Inactive Subscribers

Identify inactive email subscribersHow you identify inactive subscribers will differ depending on your business. For example, if you are emailing your subscribers more than once a month and they have not engaged with your mailings for between 3-6 months, they are turning inactive. Inactivity for longer than this and they are already inactive. For some businesses this will be shorter/longer and it really is a very personal decision based on your business rules and customer lifecycle but should always be looked at over a period of time rather than based on engagement with an individual campaign.

When you decide on the rules to use in your organisation, if you are able to, you can even go one step further and match email activity to activity with your brand or website (such as purchases or logging in) in order to create an even more comprehensive view of the subscribers activity and interest in your brand and inform your messaging.

However you decide to identify inactive subscribers, one thing is always true: If subscribers have not interacted with your mailings for a long period of time, they are showing that something is not hitting the mark with your messaging, frequency or other elements of your email programme.

Fix the problem

Fix email marketing problemsOnce you have identified an inactive sub set of your subscribers, the first thing you should do is look to identify any problems or areas of discontent that are causing this inactivity and fix the problems to minimise this in future.  This could include looking at all the elements of your email programme from the point of sign up to the unsubscribe process, and identifying particular areas or specific campaigns that could be contributing to the issues.

You can also implement a series of emails that aim to reactivate these subscribers; a re-engagement (reactivation) campaign.  Four ideas to considering when creating reactivation campaigns include:

  1. Remind the subscriber about the benefits of the website/email programme and talk them through key areas that they could be benefiting from.
  2. Give a special offer to encourage subscribers to make a purchase.
  3. Offer a survey to find out more about your subscribers and want they want to hear about from you.
  4. Prompt the subscriber to update their preferences to directly inform your segmentation strategy and allow you to provide relevant, targeted content in your mailings.

Removing subscribers

If a subscriber is not engaging with your content, product or service, it suggests a lack of interest, especially if they have not gone on to engage with your reactivation campaigns.  By broadcasting your campaigns to subscribers that are not engaging with your emails you can encounter three main problems that can damage your sending reputation, leading to deliverability issues:

  1. Increased chance of hitting recycled spam traps.
  2. Deflated engagement rates.
  3. Increased complaint rates.

Removing subscribers from your database is a decision that should be made individually for each business, and if you decide not to remove these subscribers altogether, ensure that you separate them away from your main,  important mailings using IP segmentation to ensure any negative ramifications caused by this data do not effect your key broadcasts.

However you decide to handle inactive subscribers in your database, the important thing is that you do something to either minimise disengagement from the start of the relationship by providing targeted, relevant content at the right time, or to reactivate or remove these users.


Often missed part of successful email split test strategy

A mega test for sure, Marketing Experiments took 300 subject lines suggested by their readers, picked what they felt were the best ten and ran a split test.

The table of results is below. Read the original post for details of how it was run but before you do read on here for a quick lesson in email split test strategy not mentioned elsewhere.

MECSplitNotice that the top three had the same level of performance, within level of confidence. The next five subject lines, lines 4 to 8, also shared the same performance level too.

Had only the top three subject lines been tested there would have been no winner! Had the test been just the five subject lines, lines 4 to 8, there would have been no winner – in five tests.

The crucial lesson is that testing is a game of skill and quantity. A key ingredient to email split test strategy is simply doing enough tests and different treatments to discover a big gain. Doing occasional tests won’t do it.

If you are running A/B subject line tests then be prepared for several tests showing no performance improvement. Don’t get despondent but keep persevering.

As a rule of thumb expect out of ten test treatments for one to make a big shift to the needle, 3 provide some learning and improvement, 3 no winner and 3 under perform (but you’ll still learn).

When you’ve enough data to run multiple tests concurrently then it’s great to do as it accelerates learning and optimisation. However, remember your sample sizes need to be large enough for statistical significance. A 10,000 list split into ten test cells of 1000 each won’t give any valid result.

Stay on the straight and narrow with this split test calculator. to work out sample sizes and check statistical significance of results.


First rule of email marketing – simple, working unsubscribe

It is not a lot to ask and most ESP’s won’t allow you to send an email without an unsubscribe link. The problem is often how the unsubscribe is implemented and this can vary considerably. Its surprising how some big brands can still get their unsubscribe wrong.

I always say that unsubscribes aren’t a bad thing. At some point the recipient has opted in to receive your email and an unsubscribe is just them saying, thanks but I’m not interested in this anymore. Nobody wants to lose a customer but if they have no further interest then they won’t convert and its not worth sending them an email in the first place. Its good to remember that an unsubscribe is a whole lot better than a spam complaint.

First, try not to hide your unsubscribe. I dislike finding unsubscribe links hidden away in the terms and conditions at the bottom on an email. I believe brand trust plays a big part in email marketing and when I see an unsubscribe that is “hidden” in the footer of an email, it erodes away a little bit of that trust. I always suggest putting a clear unsubscribe in the pre-header as well as at the bottom of the email, not in the small print. If someone truly wants to unsubscribe they will do, either by clicking your unsubscribe link or complaining to their ISP.

I recently decided to clean my inbox of everything that I don’t read. This is not what I would class as spam but just emails I have opted in to receive but am no longer interested in reading. Here are two examples of how I believe an unsubscribe shouldn’t work.

The first was an online retailer and there was an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. All seems straight forward. However when you click on the unsubscribe link it takes you to a page on their website that says “if you know your account password you can unsubscribe by changing your preferences or enter your email address below and we will send you a link that you can use to unsubscribe”. Not exactly what I was expected. I don’t want them to send me another email so I can unsubscribe. I just want to unsubscribe. Anyway I enter my email address and click “Send Confirmation Email”. To my surprise it comes back with an error saying “we have no record of your email address. Please call our customer care team”.

I checked the address the emails are sent to and its correct. I even tried matching the case just in case but still no joy. So I had no way to unsubscribe. It took a call to the customer services team to get my account “reset” so I could then login and unsubscribe. Not a very satisfying customer journey and makes me think twice about using them again.

The second was a newsletter that I had been receiving for years but wasn’t actually reading so time to unsubscribe. The unsubscribe link was in small text near the footer and used the text  “not useful ? unsubscribe”. I clicked on the link and it takes me to their account login page and asks for my username and password. I can’t remember either but all is not lost as there is a “reset your password” link. However, this link now asks for my username and email address. I then have to search my email archive to try and find my login details to unsubscribe. Not the user experience you want to happen.

An unsubscribe link should be simple and do exactly what is says on the tin. Ideally it should pre-populate with the email address that the original email was sent to (for people who have many email aliases) but at least you should just enter an email address and unsubscribe. At some point in the future you want your unsubscribes to return so you should try and part as friends.


Ideas from the last Email Tracking Report and launch event

Back in October I attended the launch of the Email Tracking Report in London, which was a great event – with a great atmosphere and some refreshing new perspectives shared. It’s been a while and between moving jobs, I’ve been mulling over the findings from the report and the ideas shared at the event, and pulled a few together, with my own take on them here. The main themes were (surprise, surprise): device, relevance, and engagement. Let’s dive in.

Mobile campaigns impact brand before sales
According to the tracking report, people still don’t buy much on mobiles. Just 4% of respondents said they’d buy straight away on a mobile if they were emailed a product they liked. 39% of consumers who see a relevant email on their mobile will wait until they on a laptop or PC to purchase. Instead, consumers are using their mobiles as an email management tool – to skim subject lines and delete emails. When they get to their laptop, they’re looking at an already filtered list of emails that they have decided to keep…so far.

This left me wondering if this new behaviour reduces the negative impact of irrelevant messages, because they’re now deleted in a context where that’s the specific task and probably alongside multiple brands. People are engaging with emails on mobile in the way they engage with tweets – skimming headlines, dismissing anything that doesn’t trigger interest. Will we one day see a combined ‘inbox’ where tweets, emails, facebook statuses, SMS, and other ‘micro messages’ from brands are all viewed from one interface?

What you can do about it: if you want your messages to survive the mobile inbox so they can be acted upon on another device, you need a relevant and descriptive subject line and pre header, and a mobile template that helps viewers skim your content. Just don’t expect to see a dramatic uplift in sales on mobiles – it’s just not how people shop right now. One smart tactic I have seen used is the ‘send me this email later’ call to action. I will be trialling this in my own mobile-responsive campaigns and will keep you posted.

Consumers expect email relationships
The number of consumers that say they want to be rewarded for their loyalty has almost tripled since 2011. Consumers are subscribing to fewer brands than before. 55% don’t access emails at work, so when your marketing messages get read by most consumers it’s their own precious time they’re spending. All round, consumers are more selective. To me, these stats indicate a growing level of commitment on the consumer’s side – that subscribing means more than it used to, and that our email exchange is meaningful to them. It’s not one-way, or a one night stand, it’s a relationship.

What you can do about it: specifically deliver what your subscribers have asked for, in a consistent way. Make a concerted effort to find out what that is or was, and respond with the right stuff. Most importantly, keep in mind that the relationship is volatile and don’t threaten it with messages that disappoint. View email messages as part of an ongoing brand experience or relationship, as opposed to individual ‘campaigns’ in isolation.

Think harder about relevancy
Marketers are obsessed with relevancy, constantly trying to reach customers with exactly the right thing. And yes, relevancy is vital. But an irrelevant email is not a disaster. Take a look at these stats from the report:

1. A third of consumers say that over half the email marketing messages they receive are relevant.
2. They also said that they have now use mobiles, to delete the irrelevant messages without reading them.

What this means: If consumers perceive most messages to be relevant, it’s likely because they only sign up for, open and digest the relevant ones, especially now that they are using mobiles to ‘skim and delete’ the ones that aren’t.

What this means for you: keeping the mobile ‘skim and delete’ habits in mind, if consumers have to open email to work out that it’s not relevant, that creates a worse experience than having to delete it because the subject line tells you it’s not relevant, so aim to qualify opens with a descriptive subject line as well as aiming to make the messages relevant. That minimises potential disappointment all round. You should get less opens but your click through rate will go up. The right people will be opening. The right people will be deleting your emails which is not a bad thing. And if you’re not sold on that, check out the Open Reach report which explains more on this.

Better than sorting tabs and email ads
I was unsurprised to hear at the event in the report that consumers were not fazed by new inbox sorting technologies, like Gmail’s tabs. Of course as email marketers we think it’s a big deal.

Brands want to encourage loyalty and repeat purchase, and consumers have told the us they want to be rewarded for that loyalty. given the big three email providers are also the big three search providers what I want to see it them helping both of those parties meet those goals by integrating search and email.

The main opportunity I see is “promotions’” emails (as gmail call them) organised in the promotions tab according to search data. And vice versa.

For example, If I search online for a red toaster, and a brand has previously emailed me a deal on toasters, which I haven’t noticed – I want to know about it. I would welcome Google Search highlighting that (unopened, even deleted) message for me, for example, in my search results, or Google+ notifications tab. As a consumer, I’d value this, and as a marketer, I’d pay for it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Gmail were already using email engagement as one of the thousands of ways that they personalise search results. Has anyone seen evidence of this?

And that’s it. Credit where it’s due – the good and bad ideas above were seeded by the event’s speakers: Dela Quist from Alchemy Worx who got me excited about email again, David Cole from FastMAP who shared the data that gave us something to talk about, JC Mighty from DMG media who’s had the best quote of the day “Email is your shop window; social media is the coffee shop across the road.”, and Fiona Robson from the DMA who made sense of everyone’s ideas, as well as the tweets I read on the day.

The report is packed with stats and insight on that way consumers are engaging (or not) with your emails. Check it out and please do share your own thoughts below.


Managing your Sender Reputation

Over the last decade or so, marketers have faced many challenges with deliverability (getting emails delivered to the inbox). Today, the most important factor associated with successful email delivery is entirely in your hands! As a marketer there are many different factors that you need to be aware of in order to successfully deliver email marketing campaigns; the most important of which is your Sender Reputation.

Sender ReputationA Return Path study found that 77% of delivery problems were based on sender reputation. Your Sender Reputation is a measure of how trustworthy you are as a sender (like a credit score), and has a direct relationship with getting your emails delivered; If you do not have a good sending reputation, you will not get your emails delivered.

So what’s included in building your Sender Reputation and how can you ensure you keep a good Sender Reputation and the best chance of being delivered to your recipient? Here we are going to look at 5 key elements.

  • Infrastructure

Ensuring your technical infrastructure is in place so that receiving ISPs can identify that you are who you say you are, is the first element you should consider when starting your email programme as well as maintaining a good Sender Reputation.  You infrastructure is often the first thing that the ISPs look at when determining whether or not to deliver your emails and includes the following elements (there are others in addition so make sure you talk to your ESP):

Make sure you look at the following areas of authentication in particular:

- WHOIS contact information

The WHOIS database gives users a way to contact you should they want to provide feedback, unsubscribe or complain for example so it is important to make sure your contact information is up to date and clearly available.

- Reverse DNS

Reverse DNS determines the authenticity of a domain compared with the IP address it is originating from.

- DKIM (DomainKeys Identified Mail) + DomainKeys (only used by Yahoo!)

Your domain reputation starts with validating your domain by implementing DKIM authentication. Having a DKIM record is often a requirement to be able to apply for feedback loops.

- SPF (Sender Policy Framework)

Senders must publish an SPF record for their (sub)domain to prevent spam and spoofing by validating that they’re sending IP is allowed to send from that domain.  Most ISPs will check for a valid SPF record and if it is not present/valid, will often place the emails into the junk folder.

- Monitored postmaster@/abuse@ email addresses on your domain

This allows ISPs to contact you should any issues occur with your email programme so ensure that you have these set up and monitor them regularly.

  • Volume

Spammers have a tendency to send inconsistently and in high volumes. To ensure you don’t appear in the same way, it is important to consider the typical volumes you send and the consistency of your volume so that ISPs can learn your sending behaviour.

  • Spam Traps

Many ISPs will reclaim email addresses after a certain period of inactivity (one of the two types of spam traps that could appear in your list). By emailing subscribers that have been inactive for a long period of time, you run the risk of inadvertently emailing one of these reclaimed spam traps.

The other type of spam trap that could occur on your list has been set up by ISPs as a decoy email specifically designed to catch senders who obtain addresses through data harvesting. This may not even be something you are doing yourself, but if you are using a purchased list for example, you may inadvertently be buying this type of spam trap (purchased lists may also include spam traps created through inactivity).

To avoid spam traps, try following some of the below tips:

- Only email users that have explicitly opted in to receive email communications from your brand.

- Ensure that you are segmenting your database by activity recency and changing your messaging strategy for those who are inactive to try and re-engage them.

- Monitor external sources of data that you may be using to ensure data quality.

  • Complaints

Complaints are one of the biggest reasons for a drop in sender reputation and decreasing deliverability.  There are many reasons why people complain (press the ‘spam’ button) including receiving too many/too few emails (and not recognising the brand), a difficult unsubscribe process or they simply didn’t understand what they were signing up to and when emails would be received.

If you are generating complaints (and it doesn’t take many to start causing deliverability issues – just 0.3%/3 in 1000 recipients) it is a good indication that something is not hitting the mark with your email programme.  In order to minimise complaints, it is important to provide targeted, relevant campaigns and deal with the reasons why people have chosen to click the spam/junk button to register a complaint.

Try focusing on some of the following elements to improve your complaint rates:

- Set expectations at point of signup.

- Ensure that your emails are what people expect to receive and sent when they expect to receive them.

- Make it easier to unsubscribe than to complain.

- Remove unsubscribes from your list immediately.  If someone has given you the benefit of the doubt and unsubscribed from your mailings, they may not do this again if they continue to receive communications from you and may reach for the spam button.

- Send relevant, targeted content. Utilise the functionality available in most ESPs and the information you store about your subscribers to send triggered emails and dynamic content to plan and broadcast relevant email campaigns.

- Ensure that you unsubscribe anyone who complains

  • Unknown Users

Unknown users occur when a subscriber’s email address is not recognised due to reasons such as the email address simply doesn’t exist or a spelling mistake was made on signup; also called a hard bounce.

As a general rule, if an email address hard bounces, it should immediately be unsubscribed from future sends. Broadcasts with a high number of unknown users/hard bounces can contribute to a drop in Sender Reputation.

As part of your technical infrastructure you should have strong bounce processing procedures in place to remove these and other types of bounces.

In order to ensure the quality of your data, ensure that you are checking email addresses on signup, either through the use of double opt in or through email address validation. If you are using affiliate marketing or other 3rd party sources to collect your data, keep an eye on these sources to ensure data quality.

With Christmas approaching and the volume of email marketing broadcasts increasing, it is even more important to ensure you keep your Sending Reputation high to ensure you make the most of your campaigns with a high delivery rate.

How’s your Sender Reputation looking and what do you think you could do to improve it?