Category Archives: Content

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!


Goodbye “channels” – Welcome the marketing “channel of one”

The practice of creating a seamless customer experience across digital channels has been a common marketing challenge for a long while now, and integration of some offline and online channels through campaign segmentation is the norm. However, for most of us it is difficult to get a grip on every part of the customer experience.

To put this into perspective, there are typically more channels or touch points throughout a customer experience that are entirely generic and not personalised at all, versus those that are. They are not personalised by name, proposition or offer, call to action, location. None of that. This is diluting the effectiveness of a CRM strategy because we don’t have a clear understanding of what every individual experiences through every single channel. But this is changing.

Take a look at this:

Technology is beginning to bridge some of the knowledge gaps to identify non-converting prospects who visit their retail stores. Some brands have tried to patch over this marketing need with solutions such as in-store wifi, but this newer technology is incredibly powerful to marketers. The customer experience in the video above could have resulted in a simple browse and no sale. The marketing opportunities created from understanding that experience through the data collected, will help us to follow-up appropriately with the right content, at the right frequency at the right time – all with an enriched profile of that customer.

The marketing challenge is beginning to shift towards a desire to converse “sequentially” with prospects and customers through any channel at any time. Sequential messaging across multiple devices, locations and mediums. All of these could be personalised, tailored and in a defined, tested and optimised sequence:

  • In-store offers and personalised greetings
  • In-product messaging (some cars are already enabled in this way)
  • In-app messaging
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Website
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Delivery messaging

What would this list look like for your brand?

Algorithms could be developed, to enable CRM platforms to intelligently learn and adapt to the best performing sequence of proposition, content and timing. Automatically.

What does all of this mean for Marketers?

Marketers will soon be spending much less time thinking about which message to send through which channel, but more time deciding on the right sequence of messages with the channel serving as a distribution channel. I like to think of this as ‘the channel of one’.


Content marketing’s underrated rocket fuel

Rocket being launched to represent the awesome power of email to supercharge your content

3, 2, 1…Send!?

When you launch a content campaign, you probably send an email to promote it to your database at some point. You might think that this email will only drive traffic from your current database, however my experience has taught me that by making email the first channel you launch on and with a little work, you can increase the conversion rate for people outside your database – i.e new visitors. And I don’t mean with the forward button.

It’s the momentum gained from that launch email that is so valuable, for 6 key reasons:

Email helps you optimise your landing page
The instant surge of traffic means you can split test, and optimise your landing page so the new customers that get there, are more likely to convert.

Button that says lift offEmail kickstarts social shares
If you carefully encourage your database to share your content on social networks, you can get almost instant social proof (i.e social share numbers displaying on your page) This has been proven to increase your conversion rate.

Email with social can get you indexed
These social shares will help your page get indexed by Google so if it’s optimised for particular keywords you’ll start to rank, and get your share of search traffic sooner.

Email testing helps you optimise all channels
If you’re split-testing, you can use the results of these tests to inform your headline, tweet content, ad creative and other persuasive copy for your webpage via the results of your email split test, to optimise everything!

Email triggers help you nurture content leads better
You can set up a series of automated campaigns that fire once a contact has converted that:

Include related content, so you can gauge interest in other topics and build a richer profile of that customer’s interests. This can help you score your leads.

Promote related products and services – hey, if you’re interested in a topic enough to download something, then you’re a reasonably warm lead – if not right now, in the future. So don’t miss the obvious opportunity to start nurturing them now.

An email campaign used to generate social shares

Click to view the full email

Email can help you get feedback
In addition, you can automate a campaign that asks readers to share your content or provide feedback. This example shown right asks for a Tweet, Google +1, or comment on our ‘Data Driven Email Marketing’ whitepaper. It’s worth asking, and even if it doesn’t result in a share, it at least gets readers onto your social channels.

I may be biased, working for dotMailer, but the numbers show that our content marketing campaigns wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful without email – via emailing our list and when promoted in 3rd party newsletters. I believe email is the best catalyst for the best content campaigns, capable of getting your campaign the kind of reach that you might pay a celebrity or ‘influencer’ for. Content marketers – don’t overlook it!

Go responsive in time for Christmas!

Santa is coming! OK, so it’s not quite time to get my Christmas albums out, but it’s definitely time to start thinking about your festive marketing strategy.

It really does pay to be organised with your email marketing, especially at the festive time of year. So, with the coming months leading up to what will undoubtedly be the busiest time of year, you should be taking a serious look at adopting responsive email design – it could mean the difference between a customer converting or deleting!

Responsive Email Design aims to provide your recipients with the optimal viewing experience, with easy navigation no matter what device they’re using; smart phone, tablet, desktop etc. It works by responding to the end user’s environment and uses adaptable images and layouts to automatically stack, shift, or hide, fitting to the device the email is being read on.

We know that mCommerce is on the rise, with more and more people purchasing on the go. In fact, it’s said that by 2017, 25% of all online retail transactions will take place on a mobile or tablet. With this in mind, you should be aiming to make your customer journey as smooth as possible, with email which guide them to purchase no matter what device they’re using.

So why is this most important at Christmas? Well, more and more people are on the go over the festive period – rushing around buying gifts and moving from party to party, so it’s more important than ever to make sure you make it easy for your recipients to read, click and convert whilst on the go. Looking at the Communicator Multi-Channel Retail Report of Christmas 2012, we found that 82% of brands researched sent emails which weren’t responsive, during the Christmas period. With 41.2% of all emails sent being opened on a mobile device, it makes little sense that a lot of these emails weren’t optimised. It’s a competitive time of year so you’re going to be battling for your recipient’s attention; make sure you make it easy for them to purchase from you or they’ll go elsewhere!

Communicator’s Responsive Email Design Guide can be used by anyone who’d like to build a responsive email template, giving you guidance on how to create an email using a responsive template and allowing you to get the best out of your campaigns.

Email design change driving a 61% click increase

You can’t have missed the many reports and stats about the growing use of mobile devices to read email. Brands I work with are seeing anywhere from 15% to 70% of their emails being read on mobile devices. The average is 45% and the most popular email client, rated by number of emails opened, is now the iPhone, source

The DMA have been testing a new mobile first email design. Its optimised for mobile with a skinny design approach of 400 pixels wide, as opposed to using another technique such as responsive design. If you’re not sure about the different mobile design methods then read this short primer that explains skinny, scalable, fluid and responsive email design.

The DMA use the same template across many of the DMA newsletters. The design format change was put to the test by the DMA production team with an A/B split for the DMAs ‘Infobox’ newsletter. A newsletter dedicated to email marketing.

The skinny design treatment delivered a 61% increase in clicks over the control, with statistical significance of 99%.

However, the conclusion is not the obvious one. Can you see why? Here are the two designs used in the split test:


We can’t conclude skinny rules just yet. In making a design change of this significance there are many factors at play. Potentially important changes in this design treatment include:

  • Mobile friendly width change to skinny 400 pixels
  • Single column layout
  • Removal of thumb nail images
  • Increase in font size
  • Large call to action buttons
  • Removal of editorial introduction
  • Reduced copy
  • Changed call to action copy
  • Removal of in this issue contents list

So the question arises as to what really drove 61% click increase? Drilling down into clicks on individual links gives more insight.

I would expect some of these factors to change click response evenly across all links, such as font size change.

However, I found one particular link in the treatment was responsible for the majority of the overall click increase in the split test. This implies the copy and call to action changes are driving the click increase and not the change to skinny design.

To put the theory to the test that copy changes were driving the difference a further test was run, this time further synchronising the copy between the control and treatment, in particular ensuring the same calls to action. These are the two emails in the split test:


Note how the control, the design on the left above, now has the same calls to action and lead in copy to the CTA button as the treatment.

On this test there was no click rate response difference between the two designs and in fact both performed well. The skinny mobile friendly design no longer looks to be the cause of the improvement.

It would have been easy to initially conclude that the mobile friendly approach is driving the results after the first spit test. However, a failure to truly understand key causes of change means you’ll make future decisions based on your wrong perception of what’s important.

There are always unanswered questions, in this test what about:

  • The impact of the introduction editorial copy in the email, does it increase clicks or just re-distribute them?
  • Is there a difference in response between desktop readers and mobile readers with the different designs?

The DMA has further tests planned to provide more answers and gain clarity as to how design can improve click response for the DMA . Watch out for an update on this blog and I’ll be sure to share with you as to what we find next.


Stop everything – we need to re-design for mobile devices

There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks among various groups about whether or not mobiles have become so important that we should all be designing new templates for mobiles either optimised or using responsive design. A recent study by Blue Hornet says that 80% of people will delete an email on a mobile device if it doesn’t look good so this suggests that we should.

Now, a survey is only as good as the questions it contains and how these are phrased so let us look at the question. “If you get a mobile email that doesn’t look good then what do you do”. So what constitutes “does not look good”

Lets go back a few years to the days when Blackberrys where the only smartphones we had to worry about. In these days the html renderer on a Blackberry was pretty terrible and only the simplest of html would be readable and older versions would only give you the text version of the message. If was pretty safe to say that any html you sent would not look good.


Nowadays the html renderers on smart phones are excellent and they will pretty much render anything that a desktop email client will. Just because people are opening your email on a mobile device and you haven’t fully optimised your campaign for mobile it doesn’t mean these people aren’t engaging with your campaign.

So, everyone can relax a little. Without doing anything, you have a mobile strategy because people can read your emails on a smart phone and engage. It maybe harder to navigate around the email on a mobile device and the calls to action a little difficult to click but if your email looks good on a desktop then the odds are it will look ok on a mobile device.  If you want to improve the user experience on a mobile device then it is not about getting your campaign to render on a mobile device but about optimising it for mobile devices.

The question is will this improve your campaign results? Every campaign is different and just because Litmus say that 43% of emails are read on a mobile device it doesn’t necessarily translate to your target audience. Tim Watson from Zettasphere analysed the data and found there are still campaigns at both ends, some with almost no mobile activity and some with almost only mobile activity. If you have historical campaign data to your subscriber base then look at your open stats and see what your mobile open rate is across a variety of campaigns.

However, don’t be misled by your mobile open rate. Just because someone opens your email on a mobile device it doesn’t mean they don’t then open it on their desktop as well. If I receive an interesting email on my mobile device but find it difficult to read I just wait until I’m in the office and read it on my desktop.

One thing that does generally improve campaign performance is re-designing an old template whether it is related to mobile or not. If you put the time and effort in to look at your existing template and re-design it with the mobile user experience in mind then I would expect your results to improve. No matter whether this is related to mobile opens or not.  Its a win win. The new template should get more opens on the desktop and mobile devices.

Everyone should be thinking about mobile devices and how this affects their campaigns but you don’t necessarily have to drop everything and rethink what you are doing. Look at your recipients and stats. If it has been a long time since you changed your template then it may be time to think about creating a new simplified template with mobile devices in mind.