The Friendly From: Harrison Ford, Donkey Kong, and Nana Chubbs
It’s been several weeks since my post on Chubbies–a men’s apparel brand for short inseam aficionados. In that post, I called out some of the unique and entertaining aspects of their email program, one of which was their creative usage of the “friendly from.” With Chubbies emails landing in the inbox with friendlies such as “Whoops.” “Henry Chubdini,” and those mentioned in the title of this post, their approach is way outside of the consistent and well-branded best practice recommendation that most of us take for granted. You can check out a few of their inbox gems below sorted by date (including the “friendly from,” the subject line, and some of the pre-header summary).
Since this is such an unusual approach to a box that many of us check and forget, there isn’t much analysis on the topic. By looking into the crystal ball of competitive analysis that is Inbox Insight, I was able to dig into their performance data and review the impact this approach had on their campaigns. Since many of you are not playing around with Inbox Insight on a regular basis (although high-five if you are), I’ll go ahead and define the metrics I looked at. You can read more about these metrics (and their importance in regards to spam filtering) in this guide.
For this analysis, I focused on four key metrics that are major components of inbox placement and subscriber engagement:
- Spam Placement Rate—This is calculated by looking at the number of emails delivered to the spam folder out of total emails sent. These emails are probably not going to see the light of day until right before they are deleted en masse by subscribers.
- Complaint Rate—This indicates the percentage of your subscribers who click “this is spam” on your messages. Not only does this indicate subscribers are not happy with your brand or mail stream—it is also a major factor in how mailbox providers filter your mail.
- Read Rate—The read rate is calculated as the number of emails marked as “read” out of all emails sent. Read rate is similar to open rate but accounts for all emails viewed, regardless of image rendering. Think of this as messages going from bold to unbold in your inbox.
- Delete Without Reading—This is completely self-explanatory but since I have descriptions for all the other metrics it seemed weird to leave this one out.
Now, for the fun stuff! I went through my inbox and tagged campaigns based on their usage of a standard or interesting “friendly from.” I tagged over 40% of the campaigns in Inbox Insight from 12/11/15 through 3/17/16.
As you can see in the graph below, campaigns using the standard from address saw slightly better inbox placement rates and fewer subscriber complaints, but this didn’t translate to higher read rates. Campaigns using fun and unusual “friendly froms” saw higher read rates and lower delete without reading rates. Even though the read rate difference is minor, this translates to 10 more sets of eyeballs for every 1000 emails sent. Depending on your total list size, that can add up.
Chubbies employed several different “friendly from” approaches, so I decided to group them and look at any additional detail that might lead to a potential differential impact.
I tagged campaigns with the following:
- Chubbies—This indicates the sending domain was simply “Chubbies” or ”CHUBBIES” (more about that later).
- Includes Chub—These subject lines incorporated “Chub” in one way or another. Examples include:
- Chubmiral Ackbar
- Hulk Chubogan
- Dr. Chub, Medicine Shorts
- Completely Random—These “friendly froms” have zero to do with the Chubbies brand but often tie into the subject line (indicated in parenthesis):
- Oh Farts (I Still Don’t Have Christmas Gifts)
- COW (ABUNGA)
- A Thighrishman (Your St. Paddy’s Day Party Shorts)
Interestingly, it looks like both subscribers and mailbox providers seemed to like the “Completely Random” messages more than the “Includes Chub” campaigns. As I thought this through, it made sense. While the “Includes Chub” friendlies are almost like word puzzles (i.e. we have to know that “Chubmiral Ackbar” is a play on Admiral Ackbar, a character from Return of the Jedi), the “Completely Random” friendlies were often easier to process when doing a quick skim. Since subscribers do not devote much time to messages before they determine value, complex subject lines could be less compelling.
Along those same lines, the “Completely Random” friendlies were much shorter, averaging only eight characters compared to 16 for the “Includes Chub” “friendly froms.”
Let’s not neglect the fact that the “Completely Random” subject lines might just be more fun and engaging for the audience.
As for the good ol’ dependable brand name, a standard and all-caps treatment was used during this time frame. Since I was already in here and running numbers, I looked at that too. The all-caps CHUBBIES drove read rates more aligned with what we saw for the “Completely Random” approach but maintained mailbox provider marked spam rates in line with plain old Chubbies. This technique also had the highest average user marked spam rate, because hey, people usually don’t like getting yelled at.
Hold Your Horses
Before rushing out to employ a similar tactic, let’s talk this over for a second. No, Chubbies didn’t get completely banished to the spam folder when they used odd friendlies and yes, they did appear to see a lift in engagement that was associated with them. Is this a good tactic to try out in your own program? Maybe. And if you do, do it carefully.
I couldn’t identify the exact time this tactic was implemented, so couldn’t develop a before and after analysis to indicate whether this impacted total performance for the brand as associated with the sending domain. I also wasn’t able to find other brands that employ a similar tactic so this is relatively anecdotal at this point.
Finally, and probably most importantly, you may be walking a fine line with the CAN-SPAM Act. The part about “intentionally misleading” sending addresses is open for interpretation but how far do you really want to push it? I’m going to just go ahead and leave this here (CAN-SPAM Act of 2003) and it’s up to you to sort it out. I’m not a lawyer and this blog post (or any blog post for that matter) is the last place you want to look for legal advice.
If you’re going to try something like this, I have a few recommendations:
- Consider easing in—Try using an all-caps treatment or highlighting the type of content you send along with your brand name. It’s not as fun, but it’s a start. If you have an obscure product or service, you may want to include a brief description of what you offer or what you do.
- Talk to your lawyer—If you’re going to dive in and get wild with the friendlies, make sure you’re not crossing the line. Consider the different countries you mail to and be sure you’re not playing with compliance fire. No one wants that kind of burn.
- Keep character limits in mind—Watch out for truncation by referencing this handy chart.
- Test it out—Experiment with a segment of your list and see how your subscribers (and the mailbox providers) react.
- Monitor results—In addition to tracking engagement rates, keep an eye on your inbox placement rates. As many a marketer has learned the hard way, once you get into trouble with mailbox providers, it can be hard to dig back out.
- Be brand appropriate—Think about the subscriber experience and tailor the approach accordingly. Chubbies knows their market and can get away with some things your brand most likely cannot. Keep that front and center when dreaming up fun friendlies.
Know of other brands that get creative with their “friendly froms”? Let me know in the comments so I can review the data and piece together a clearer picture of the impact this approach has on performance.
About Casey Swanton
Casey has a healthy fixation with helping marketers realize the potential of their email programs by addressing human needs, building better relationships, and ultimately driving improved results for the business. Her nine years of experience and obsession with evolving the email space helped land her a spot on ExpertSender’s list of “25 Email Geeks to Help You Get Your Geek On.”