Tag Archives: email marketing

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.


The Curious Case of Roddy the Spam Troll – Sky News Producer casting stones from his employer’s glass house

Sky News Producer and Data Directive litigation Troll Roddy Mansfield has apparently won his 3rd “victory” against a brand – in this case John Lewis, who (soft) opted-him-in for marketing by using a pre-ticked consent box after he had registered his details with John Lewis’ website.

This was breathlessly reported on Sky News as “Spammer To Pay Damages After Court Victory,” Roddy – the spam troll argued that “an opportunity to opt-out that is not taken is simply that. It does not convert to automatic consent” Well he would know that! Given his track record one would think he more than anyone else in the UK would know what that pre-checked box meant.

The irony of it all is Sky his own employers operate an enforced opt-in policy which means anyone who registers for a Sky ID is automatically put on their mailing list whether they want it or not and the only way to prevent that happening is to tick a box and actively opt-out. Interestingly they do it the opposite way to John Lewis and most brands as you can see below and their approach is as good an example of psychological sleight of hand as you are likely to see. To add insult to injury Sky would seem to be opting you into receiving 3rd party offers from brands you may not actually ever want to hear from, something John Lewis do not.


One of the challenges with the 2003 EU Directive is that it is open to interpretation and as such many Experts, Brands and even Countries apply it in different ways. I have no doubt that Sky’s lawyers are pretty certain that their interpretation stands muster, but I know many brands and commentators who would not feel uncomfortable with their approach and might argue that consent for 3rd party mailings should not or cannot be via opt-out. Most websites require registrants to explicitly opt-in to receive 3rd party mailings.

So what does this mean to those of you out there who concerned by this ruling? My understanding is that County Courts have no power to set legal precedent and as such you are free to use a pre-checked box, particularly as it is one of the most widely accepted interpretations of the Directive. My guess is that John Lewis could have appealed and most likely succeeded, but decided it would be cheaper to pay up and move on. Which is precisely why it is so difficult to stop litigation trolls using the small claims courts as a handy way to top up their holiday fund by suing large employers and brands.

So if there are any other people like Roddy out there go register with Sky and fill your boots!

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.

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;



What happened last month in the email world ?

The big news last month was that Gmail added an unsubscribe link to its interface. What actually happened was that Google have made it easier for recipients to find the unsubscribe link and moved it next to the senders address in the header. It used to be slightly hidden in a drop down menu and as a result many people didn’t know it was there. The Gmail unsubscribe works by using the information in the senders List-Unsubscribe header  which should be implemented by your ESP. It can be either an email address or a web page that allows the recipient to unsubscribe.

Gmail unsubscribe

Gmail unsubscribe

Google’s head of anti-abuse was quoted as saying, “One of the biggest problems with the Gmail spam filter is identifying unwanted mail or soft spam. Users are signing up for emails but then use the Spam button when they no longer want to receive these emails, sending the wrong signal to Google about that message in particular, and about that sender in general.” This is a problem faced by all marketers.

I have always advocated making your unsubscribe as visible and clear as any of your other calls to action. If someone no longer wants to receive your emails it is better that they unsubscribe than mark you email as spam. I always recommend putting an unsubscribe link in the pre-header and this is effectively just what Google have done.

Last month Google also announced they were going to pilot a spam complaint feedback loop (FBL). A feedback loop let’s senders get information on which subscribers are classifying their email as spam and take appropriate action. Unlike other major ISPs Gmail has never previously provided an FBL. Unfortunately it’s not all good news. It looks like the Gmail feedback loop is going to be more of an overview report showing the number of complaints and not the actual subscriber details. It is still in the early pilot stages so hopefully this may change in the future.

Without the big fanfare that marked its launch, Facebook has quietly shutdown its email service that gave everyone their own @facebook.com email address. The Facebook help page doesn’t actually talk about the email service being shutdown but they are just “updating” the way “facebook.com” addresses are used.  Nice spin. Any emails sent to @facebook.com addresses are now forwarded to the Facebook users primary email address.

Facebook launched its email service back in November 2010 in hopes of providing one inbox where users could send and receive emails and messages. In 2012 they automatically changed everybody’s email address on Facebook to be their new @facebook.com address which people didn’t find amusing. I suspect that nobody was using the email service so they decided to try and force people into using it. Never a good idea.

In the war between Google and Facebook I think it is fair to say that Google has won the email battle without having to muster its troops. The social battle is still raging and Facebook are well entrenched and holding back the advancing Google but the eventual winner is anyone’s guess.


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 feelunique.com 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 feelunique.com 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, feelunique.com 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, feelunique.com 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 (www.dma.org.uk) 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 feelunique.com 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 feelunique.com to top up her makeup and my desire for seeing innovative email marketing!


The World of Email in January: Money, Dirty Politics, and Murder

In our January council round-up on ‘the world of email’, we were fortunately spared a review of “predictions” for 2014.  Instead, the January session was varied and exciting with all the hot news in email – a focus on the unsubscribe arena, plus other headlines involving money, dirty politics, murder and a… fridge.  Ha – try and get that lot that into a cohesive blog.

Email was under scrutiny again right from the word go, in 2014, with the revelation that a top aide to the US government was using their Yahoo email for government business – allegedly the official was orchestrating a political vendetta. (full story here.. ) This has again raised the whole question of how government staff can use personal email accounts and text messaging when conducting official business, sidestepping the public record laws.

One thing is unlikely though – that they will be using Slack, a new collaboration tool for the workplace, dubbed the “email killer” (see where the ‘murder’ comes in?). Slack ‘replaces’ internal email with real-time messaging and searchable content.  Unlike email where records would be personal to someone’s mailbox, Slack offers a kind of ‘institutional memory’ – so e.g new starters could catch up on recent history.  In our discussion, concerns were expressed that this could potentially generate a huge information overload, and email’s demise on account of Slack was deemed unlikely, but maybe we’re biased?

However in case anyone actually believes the general “email killer” myth, don’t be misled. You only had to be keeping one eye open during the festive season to know that email is still a hot commodity. In case you missed it, I’m referring to the acquisition of Responsys by Oracle for $1.5b.  Without wishing to get into predictions, it’s another reminder that multiple marketing forces are converging, again with email at the heart of CRM.

But aren’t subscribers just overwhelmed with email now?? Well Unroll me seem to think so. Their aim is to help you regain “control of your inbox” offering a way to unsubscribe from all unwanted email communications in one fell swoop.  The most recent DMA Tracking study actually showed that customers are not receiving too many emails, but leaving aside whether you think this tool is valuable or not, the data they have captured in the process does give a unique and public perspective on something that has previously been a discreet activity.

Here are the top ten companies for unsubscribes (via unroll.me)

  • 1800 Flowers
  • Ticketweb
  • Pro Flowers
  • Expedia
  • Active.com
  • Eventful
  • Oriental Trading
  • Shopittome.com
  • 1800 Contacts
  • Party City

One of the key communalities on this list (eg of flowers, tickets, and travel) is the sporadic nature of transactions.  If customers are unlikely to buy these products on a regular basis it’s logical that demand for regular emails might also be reduced.

For me, this list highlights the importance of having an email contact strategy, with recency of transaction as a vital element. It also reinforces the need to maximise other email touchpoints  – transactional email, email media, abandonment emails… in addition to newsletters.

The second list published in this report is the top “Roll ups” – those emails that people want to keep but don’t necessarily want to read all the time.  Top Roll-ups include companies like Amazon Local, Groupon, & Living Social Deals.

This list speaks directly to importance of not being too quick to remove apparently “non-engaged” subscribers from your mailings.  Engagement needs to be measured over time, and not just per email campaign. The brand proposition for these companies is clearly understood, and the customer wants to hear from these brands as they expect some value from them at some stage. Here’s the link for the full report

And finally….

Finally, here’s something that I didn’t see on even the best list of 2014 email predictions. And (Monty Python jokes aside…) it’s unlikely that anyone ever thought that the words “spam” and “fridge” would be put together in the context of email.  But, actually a fridge was indeed discovered to be sending out spam emails over Christmas, after it was compromised in a web attack.   Perhaps this is the email equivalent of cold calling?…. [sorry, Ed] Anyway –  here’s the full story.

If you’ve got any more email news to share, (no pressure to beat the fridge story) please do add your comments.