Category Archives: Best Practice

Comments surrounding the recent court ruling against John Lewis

As the comments surrounding the recent court ruling against John Lewis fly around fast and furious, I am concerned that everybody is weighing in without being in full possession of the facts.  I know that I don’t know what happened but what I do know is that the two scenarios that I have seen in the press are very different and therefore my opinion of the outcome equally different. I should point out that I am not a lawyer and am speaking from a best practice perspective. In most cases best practice exceeds the standards set forth in the law so by following best practice a marketer should never have to worry about running afoul of the law.

The Drum and Sky Scenario

The story as first reported indicated that Mr Mansfield had registered on the John Lewis website and then proceeded to browse the site. John Lewis then used the soft-opt in principle as the basis for sending marketing communications.  The soft opt-in principle is that a business can mail a customer about “similar goods and services” and it defines a customer as anyone who has “entered into a negotiation” for goods or services. John Lewis relied on the ICO guidance that a negotiation starts when a consumer asks about the price of a specific product. Since prices are included on the John Lewis website I can see their point but I personally think this is a very aggressive strategy as in this case the website is really nothing more than a digital catalogue. If an item had been placed in a shopping basket however, I think you could clearly argue that a negotiation had started but this does not appear to be the case here.

The Register Scenario

The details that appeared in the Register are very different. In The Register version, Mr. Mansfield wanted to check on the cost of delivery from Waitrose and was forced to register on the site to get this information. He then received marketing emails from John Lewis. Even if you could argue that a negotiation has begun with Waitrose (which I don’t think you can), John Lewis is another brand and does not sell similar goods and services. Unless it was very clearly stated in the Waitrose email capture form that the details would be shared with John Lewis, there is not a situation where sending emails from John Lewis would be alright. The first thing a marketer has to ask themselves is would a consumer expect to get this email given the information they provided. If I have given my details to Waitrose, I would not expect to get an email from John Lewis. It does not matter that John Lewis owns Waitrose.

The Information Commissioner has recently revised its guidance and has said that a pre-ticked box would not be acceptable in most cases and I think most legitimate email marketers are taking steps to change their current data capture processes but as we know these things take time within big organisations. Interestingly, I did a quick check of some of the sites where the story has appeared as well as the Waitrose and John Lewis websites. The Drum and The Register use a pre-checked box and Sky uses a check this box if you do not want to receive anything. The Waitrose registration however, requires the user to check a box to get information about the John Lewis Partnership and specifies which brands that includes while the John Lewis registration requires the user to check a box to get information on John Lewis. Maybe this case has pushed to guys at John Lewis along and hopefully coverage of this case will push other legitimate email marketers along as well.


Are you delivering to vulnerable email users?

An interesting discussion topic was raised during a recent DMA meeting; one which is highly relevant in terms of email marketing, however isn’t as widely discussed or documented as you’d expect. That topic was:

How well do you understand your recipients’ needs?

Sound like you’ve heard this before? As an email marketer, I’d assume if you’re sending targeted communications based on recipient preferences or behaviour and you’d consider yourself as having asked this fairly recently.

But have you ever considered their needs in the context of anything which would potentially make them unable to access, open, read or respond to your emails due to being a ‘vulnerable user’?

Vulnerable users defined and the current approach

I’d define a vulnerable user as: anyone who is unable to access email content easily due to a health condition, disability, impairment or age.

Chances are there are people on your mailing list who are vulnerable email users and there are countless difficulties and limitations these people could face when dealing with email. However, at this particular point in time it’s rare for companies to have policies in place to cater for vulnerable users. As email is vastly opt-in, it’s often assumed that recipients understand and are able to interact with the content they’re being supplied with.

When considering the potential issues vulnerable users could face, it’s prevalent that it would be near impossible to ensure your emails cater for every recipient eventuality; however there are places you can turn to for advice on how to tackle this issue.

What can I do to improve my emails?

The Business Disability Forum offer advice to members on how to tailor communications and marketing materials for the relevant audience. They recommend that email features such as fonts, colours, sizes and languages should be considered when creating marketing communications.

From an email marketing perspective, how do you learn about your recipients? Do you ask questions such as “do you have any disabilities or impairments which could potentially affect how you read or receive emails?” or do you think approach is too direct? A preference centre could be utilised to enable users to specify whether they’d like to receive emails in larger fonts, certain colours, or would prefer a telephone call over an email where company resource allows. For now this topic is fairly new, but it’d be interesting to see how companies incorporate strategies to understand whether their recipients are vulnerable users, and to see how this could potentially develop the future email marketing landscape.

A Privacy Policy that Wins Business

Business is built on trust and trust is built on transparency. Both the DMA and ICO have long urged companies to be clear with their customers as to what data is collected and why.

As soon as you act in a way that a customer doesn’t expect or makes them feel abused, then any hard work previously done building trust immediately evaporates.

Simply put, nobody will do business with a brand they don’t trust.

According to the Customer Acquisition Barometer 2014 85% of consumers will only share their information if it’s made clear that it will be used only by the company that collects it and 32% say they expect a clearly worded privacy policy before they share information.

And there is such concern about data and privacy that the EU Parliament is busy voting for much tighter rules on data use and protection.

Whilst the privacy policy is the cornerstone of ensuring compliance it’s no secret that few people read the privacy policy. Do you?

So it was refreshing to see a totally different approach to a privacy policy from Lookout. A visual approach that gives consumers the big picture about the key issues at a glance.

It’s even a responsive design so it looks beautiful on mobile as well as desktop, view it online here. To top it all it’s built on open source and brands can pinch the code to create their own consumer friendly privacy policy.

LookoutPrivacyDesktopIt’s responsive too, how it looks on a mobile device:

LookoutPrivacyMobileThis must be the most consumer friendly privacy policy – ever.


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.