One of the most important things we can do as marketers -- B2C or B2B, large or small -- is to obtain permission to email a new customer. As soon as they buy, we want them on the file so that we can nurture the relationship and encourage a repeat purchase. Yet, buyers are a fragile email asset. 60% of buyers who purchased four times or more in the past year said they were likely to unsubscribe if the messages were not relevant. This is ten points higher than the average email user (where 50% said they are likely to unsubscribe). (Source: Jupiter Research, The Social and Portable Inbox, 2008.) Clearly it takes some bit of TLC to engage them.
So, I was excited when colleagues of mine here at Return Path undertook a study of how buyers are treated by email marketers. They literally purchased products, and tracked the email message flow. Then, they signed up with a different email address to the same companies without purchasing, and tracked that message flow in comparison.
The results are in. We were delighted to see that some email marketers are taking the extra step to treat buyers like they are special and to respect buyers' preferences. These kinds of practices are what separate the acceptable programs from the optimized.
You'll find here lots of great ideas to steal for improving the subscriber experience. Several marketers (all retailers in this study) did some very cool stuff.
Most (64%) got permission before sending email to buyers, though many of them used a pre-checked box.
A large minority (42%) customized for buyers the first message to follow or the welcome message.
A few (15%), including Best Buy and Cabelas, sent very targeted follow-up messages with recommended products related to the ones purchased. They put into practice the trusted direct marketing principle that recency is a great driver of repeat purchase, and offered great selections and discounts on related products. One, Toys "R" Us, invited our shopper to submit a product review and become part of the toy-buying community. This is especially smart for industries where recommendations from other shoppers -- even strangers -- can be more influential than those from the company itself.
In an area frequently abused in our industry -- frequency -- just under half of marketers studied adjusted the frequency of messages between buyers and non-buyers. One quarter (23%) sent buyers more messages per week, and 18% sent non-buyers more. The rest (59%) sent the same frequency of messages -- an average of three a week. Frequency is a central element in relevancy and subscriber fatigue -- the two pillars of response and inbox deliverability. While there is no universal right answer for frequency, buyers and non-buyers certainly have different needs and a different brand relationship. They should get different email streams. More for buyers, or less? The right answer for each marketer lies in analysis of your own response data, segmented by buyer profile and customer status. In this recession, marketers are looking for every new revenue opportunity. Order confirmations and other transactional messages are typically welcomed and read, which makes them prime real estate for marketing promotions. Despite that opportunity, many transactional messages are still difficult to monetize because they are sent from CRM or other legacy ecommerce systems that do not allow for dynamic content or segmentation. So it's impressive that a solid 40% of the companies studied included promotional content in their transactional messages. Perhaps because of those system limitations, most were generic evergreen promotions, although a handful targeted these promotions based on the purchase made.
All of these strategies improve the subscriber experience, boost results, build brand loyalty and encourage sharing via social networks and forwarding to friends. And they keep your sender reputation high, so you continue to reach the inbox consistently. Buyers can be a large part of that opportunity, when they are treated with respect.
With inboxes overflowing, these results provide a call to action for the larger email industry and specifically the retailer community. Marketers who send irrelevant, poorly timed messages to subscribers acquired with weak permission will soon be in the smallest minority, we hope.