Easter Email Egg-cellence!

Posted by Guy Hanson on

The run-up to Easter is a time when email marketing activity shows a distinct seasonal spike. This is fully expected from the chocolate companies, but actually brands from every sector imaginable jump on the bandwagon. Over the past few days, I have seen Easter-themed promotions from voucher code aggregators, restaurants, hardware stores, jewellers, retailers, financial comparison websites, and travel companies.

The challenge for these senders during these periods is they have all had the same idea – send more email to drive seasonal sales activity. The problem is that few are considering their subscribers-it’s not just them in isolation that are ramping up their broadcasting activity. Every other program that those subscribers are registered with is doing the same thing, creating serious inbox overload.

This impacts negatively on senders’ reputation metrics. Uplifts in email volume, often to the most disengaged segments of their mailing lists, leads to increased spam complaints and unknown users rates. In turn, sender scores decline, reflecting lower levels of inbox placement. As a result, subscriber responsiveness diminishes, creating a vicious (if virtuous!) circle.

Consider the following example of a well-known UK chocolate brand in the run-up to Mothers’ Day. Chasing sales through scaling up volume generated an increase in subscriber complaint activity. This caused a significant decline in this sender’s reputation metrics, and deliverability was materially impacted as a result.

Now consider a second UK-based chocolatier’s email program in the run-up to Easter. A key difference is that this program is certified with Return Path’s global white-list, and complies with a wide range of email marketing best practices as a result.

Note how this sender has been able to achieve a 5-fold increase in email volume over the 30-day period, while only causing relatively marginal variations to its sender reputation metrics, creating only a minor impact on its Inbox Placement Rates (IPR).

Email deliverability is increasingly influenced by subscriber engagement. Major ISPs such as Hotmail, Yahoo! and Gmail are using subscriber interaction with their emails to determine whether they should be delivered and – if so – where in the inbox they should be placed (think Gmail’s Priority Inbox feature). Behaviours such as reading the emails, voting them as “not spam”, and forwarding them to other recipients are regarded as positive. Emails that generate spam notifications, or which are deleted unread are considered negative. More than ever before, it’s vitally important for marketers to produce engaging emails – a combined function of targeting, timing and relevance.

An easy way to achieve this is by making use of pre-broadcast testing. I plugged some senders into Return Path’s Competitor Intelligence toolkit to produce the following examples:

  • Another well-known UK chocolate brand ran a split test using three subject line variations:

    1. Easter is coming! Make someone a very happy bunny
    2. Easter's coming! And you know how to make someone a very happy bunny
    3. Make someone a very happy bunny this Easter

The varying effectiveness of these subject lines can be seen in the following graph:

The 3rd version is clearly the most effective, achieving the highest Read Rate and lowest Deleted Unread rate. A possible reason is that the first two variations start by stating the obvious – “Easter is coming” – while the third begins with a strong call to action – “Make someone a very happy bunny”

  • Moving away from Chocolate, but staying with the seasonal theme, a well-known UK airline advertised bank  holiday special offers using the following personalisation variations:
  1. [Common Name], book your Bank Holiday getaway
  2. [Less Common Name], book your Bank Holiday getaway
  3. Hi, book your Bank Holiday getaway

By “Common Name” I mean well-known names such as “David” and “John” (minimum 30 instances in my sample) with “Less Common Names” being anything else. Some subject lines used “Hi” which I am interpreting as the default value if name was unknown. The learnings from this approach are as follows:

Where the subject line personalisation used a “Common Name” Read Rates and Deleted After Read rates were highest. Interestingly “Less Common Names” performed less well – my hypothesis is this segment included names that were mis-spelled, and were therefore less effective drivers of engagement. The default value of “Hi” was least successful, possibly because it lacked the positive effect of the personalised versions, or perhaps because it was regarded as overly informal.

When dealing with the additional challenges that are posed by seasonal marketing, approaches such as these become vitally important to provide marketers with the additional advantage that makes their emails stand out from the inbox crowd. Ensure that you are doing the following for your email program:

  • Work all year round to achieve the best possible set of sender reputation metrics.
  • Provide your subscribers with engaging content that is targeted, relevant and timely.
  • Don’t assume that you can simply re-activate dormant subscribers in pursuit of quick sales.
  • Carry out regular testing (learn from your competitors too!) to continually optimise your program.

Doing so will ensure that you are the owner of a high-performance email program, that sends emails to healthy inboxes and happy subscribers, and which ultimately maximises your attributable ROI.


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About Guy Hanson

Guy is a passionate advocate for intelligent use of customer data to drive responsive email programs. With a knowledge base that now spans nearly 15 years, he is a global e-mail expert and thought leader. Leading Return Path’s International Professional Services consulting team, Guy has worked with a broad range of clients across 5 continents to improve their email delivery, subscriber engagement and revenue generated. Outside of work, Guy is the Chairman of the DMA Email Council. In this role, he works with industry peers including brands, agencies, and service providers to promote the best interests of the email industry to a broader audience. He is also a regular contributor to the industry press.

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