Email Marketing: 11 Top Tips from the Brands Capitalising on Automation

Tips from the brands identified in dotmailer’s Hitting the Mark benchmark report as succeeding in the world of email marketing

On a rather balmy summer afternoon, what better way to spend a few hours than in an air-conditioned office with a rotating garden pod and cool, bottled water…I mean than in the offices of email marketing experts, dotmailer, learning about how better to connect with our customers, and how automation can take the hassle out of doing so?

Well we did just that (learnt a heap of useful tips and cooled off) with dotmailer’s Digital Strategist, Gavin Laugenie, along with some of our clients who are looking to make the most of their email marketing efforts.

The session cenrtred around learning from what the best of 100 brands studied by dotmailer do well as reported in their benchmark report: Hitting the Mark. They became customers of a variety of US and UK brands and sat back and waited to see how the companies would further communicate with and engage them as a customer. The results were very varied and, in some instances, surprising (take a look here to see the halls of fame and shame). The good, bad and mediocre that we chewed over were all retail examples, as these are the brands the report looks at, but we learnt many tips that can be applied to other sectors.

Thinking back, as I write this, we covered an awful lot in a few hours! So we’ll share with you, here, a few ideas of things to think about.

1. Automation shouldn’t lose the human touch

Whilst a lot of what we focused on was around automation, that’s not to say that we are trying to act like faceless automatons. People like to hear from people. Therefore whatever you are sending out, make sure you invest in the emotional content.

2. Say ‘Hello’ and ‘Happy Birthday’

In keeping with the above sentiment, a welcome email is a must. As Gavin made the point, if someone gives you something, you thank them. It’s the same with someone giving you their email address. Thank them and welcome them to your brand and let them know what they can expect. This is also a good point to ask them for a little more info to send them relevant emails in the future.

Another great example of using data is to send a birthday email. Not everyone wants to tell you how old they are (some of us need pretty big birthday cake surfaces these days), but they might not mind sharing the day and month of their birthday and you can use this to send them a birthday greeting. This doesn’t have to contain an offer, but if it does, it makes sense to send a follow-up email to remind them that they still have a voucher or offer code to use.

3. The fortune is in the follow up

Post-purchase emails are laden with potential. This can also come as a thank you message but is your opportunity to upsell and cross-sell and this can be personalised. Speaking of which…

4. Get personal

Personalisation is where data really comes into its own. Trainline, for example, know where you are and so can send you information to inspire you to take journeys to places you can reach from your location; Holidays Extras know where you are and where you are flying from and so can suggest using the airport lounge if you live nearby, or a hotel near the departure airport if you’re not so close.

5. Content: what’s right?

You have to decide what is right for your brand and your particular campaign, but there are a variety of elements that you could incorporate. We took an anatomy class to dissect a great email from online fashion brand ASOS. This revealed the following elements:

  • Direct content – loyalty points accumulated are displayed  in top bar of email
  • Took note of gender
  • Playful copy that kept user engaged
  • Calls to action
  • Competitions
  • User-generated content (UGC)
  • Ways to keep in contact
  • Easy to view browser link
  • Social links

That’s not to say that every email you send should include all of these elements but there are plenty to consider.

J Crew are another brand that used an engaging combination of content. They employed creative content; a blend of editorial and UGC; product-led content and invited subscribers to get to know them by coming to visit a store and trying the clothes. Perhaps we could all reach out to our customers a little more?

6. To offer or not to offer?

Offers, vouchers, discounts – any kind of incentive can be, well, just that – an incentive to buy and can have good returns. 92% of the brands that dotmailer investigated used offer-led emails at some point. The key thing is to target them. This is achieved with segmentation and personalisation using data. The danger though is that you are teaching your customers to only buy when you have an offer on. There is likely plenty more to talk about and a combination of some of the above content elements can be a winner. dotmailer tell us that global shopping cart abandonment rates are around 69% so there is much to do with these almost-customers. Sometimes an offer is right but equally just reminding them of the product they’d been looking at could be all that is needed.

7. Leave them wanting more

You need engaging content in your emails, but the aim is to get the reader to your website and ultimately for them to make a transaction.

8. Mobile, mobile, mobile

Yes, it’s all some agencies tell you, but for good reason. At Other Media we always take a mobile-first approach. 70% of all ecommerce transactions are expected to be completed on mobile devices (1). Building an email is no different to building a web page – it needs a responsive design with images perhaps cascading and buttons being appropriately sized (though this bit is a tricky science as they need to be big enough to click on but small enough to look like a button, just ask our UX designers, they love this kind of debate!). Equally, while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to make sure you have a mobile-friendly check-out (something our developers would be horrified if I didn’t point out its importance).

9. How often should we send emails?

The sweet spot identified by dotmailer may surprise you. They found that one of the highest-scoring brands in their report was sending 11 emails per week. The average was around 4, which will probably sound more reasonable to most readers. It’s the quality that is more important than the quantity. It’s ok to send 11 emails in a week if they are all relevant. Just because you spoke to your colleague this morning, doesn’t mean you have to ignore them for the rest of the day when you have something important and useful to tell them (yes, I would love a coffee please, even though you told me about your weekend this morning).

10. Test everything, then act

Whatever campaigns you’re running, it’s important to have objectives (such as capturing data, reducing sales cycle) from the outset so that you can test and measure against these. If something is working, great, but don’t just set it and forget it, keep looking at it. If something isn’t working change it. This can be reviewed by segment in order to see what works for what people. Sometimes a small tweak is all that is needed, maybe the subject line needs a subtle word-change.

11. Data really is important

So much of our engagement with customers these days relies on data. Having a strategy to capture data is only going to improve your marketing efforts. Identify what data you need, what you have, and then close the gaps. When you are looking at the data you have, consider how good it is. Explicit data, where the user gives you information as asked, might not quite be the truth, so be cautious in your interpretations. Implicit data could be more useful – looking at users’ interactions with your site and emails can sometimes give better user data. Actions sometimes do speak louder than words.

It is vital to encourage data capture with as many visible touchpoints as possible. This means the top and bottom of the page and could mean pop-ups. Many marketers are horrified at even the thought of pop-ups, but they can work. A pop-up stops your browsing but if you are rewarded for that pause, for example with some exclusive content or an appropriate offer, then you may be inclined to interact more with the site. It is worth considering split testing on gathering email addresses, for example with and without an offer.

What are the key campaigns to implement?

dotmailer identified for us 5 key campaigns that are well worth investing some time in setting up and getting right:

1. Welcome:

This can be a 2-stage process where the second email encourages them to tell you a little more about themselves to help target future emails. It’s about kicking off the relationship and educating the customer about your brand.

2. Replenishment:

Goods and memberships often need to be renewed and from knowing when a product was bought you know when that renewal time will be getting close.

3. Post-purchase:

Review sites can be helpful here. A slightly more time-intensive way that could reap rewards is a “share and win” approach where your customers do your marketing for you by showcasing your products.

4. Lapsed:

Once you have defined what, for you, is a lapsed customer, you can begin to recruit these dormant people. Just simply getting back in touch can be a useful reminder. However, let the truly lapsed customers go. Spend your efforts where there is potential rather than where emails are continuously not opened.

5. Abandoned cart:

Also as relevant to abandoned browse. Re-engage these people and move them along their journey, maybe with some more information.

In summary: plan, capture, review, revise and be you

So be sure to plan by preparing campaigns and the ways to capture the data that will enable you to reach the right people with the right campaign. To have a better chance of attaining this, test and review. Give time to the content and ensure that your customers know about your brand and who you are.

1.Criteo 2016 State of Mobile Commerce Report (