Sender-Line Branding Tactics In Retail Emails

by , Apr 17, 2008, 2:00 AM
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The Email Experience Council recently posed a Two-Click Survey question on its homepage about whether the sender name or subject line was more important to generating opens. By a healthy 55-to-45 margin, respondents said that the sender name was more important, that the reputation of the sender is key.

That figure reflects recent studies showing that a majority of email users look at the sender name and address when deciding whether or not to open an email. If they recognize your sender line and think well of you, they'll likely open. If they don't recognize you, they'll likely delete you on the spot -- or worse, mark you as spam.

To gain a better understanding of the range of branding tactics used in sender lines, I examined both the sender names and addresses used in the promotional emails of 111 of the online retailers that I track via RetailEmail.Blogspot. Here's what I found:

Sender Name Branding
In their promotional emails, retailers used one of four branding tactics with their sender names:

1. They simply use their brand name. This tactic is used by 59% of major online retailers, including Bloomingdale's, The Home Depot, Omaha Steaks, Sears, Victoria's Secret and Walgreens. It's succinct, uncluttered and easy to recognize.

One interesting twist on this vanilla usage comes from Crutchfield, which uses the sender name "The Crutchfield Team." Crutchfield regularly uses pictures of staff in their emails so the "team" messaging in the sender line fits in well with their overall brand image.

2. They use their dot-com branding. This tactic is used by 26% of retailers. (I also included here those retailers whose brand names already includes a ".com," like Buy.com and Furniture.com.) For instance, Macy's uses the sender name "macys.com" and Dick's Sporting Goods uses "DicksSportingGoods.com." This tactic accomplishes two goals: It acts like a call-to-action, reminding subscribers to visit the site; and it familiarizes subscribers with the URL, which can be extra valuable when there's punctuation or another issue that might lead to uncertainty as to the URL, as in the two examples above.

That said, if you saw "BN.com" and "LNT.com" as sender names, would you recognize those senders as Barnes & Noble and Linens 'n Things? So this tactic is best reserved for marketers with URLs that are easily recognizable.

CompUSA.com gives their own unique twist to this tactic by using the sender name "The All-New CompUSA.com." CompUSA.com was acquired by Systemax in January so the "All-New" messaging speaks to the fact that they're under new management. However, at some point it won't be new anymore and presumably they'll drop the wording and subscribers will suddenly see a different, truncated sender name. In general you want to be consistent with your sender name, so we wouldn't recommend adding messaging to your sender name that becomes less relevant over time.

3. They use their brand name plus the name of the newsletter. This tactic is used by 11% of retailers. For instance, Wal-Mart uses "Wal-Mart Wire" and Norm Thompson uses "Norm Thompson E-News" as their sender names. While there's value in differentiating promotional emails from transactional and other emails by using a different sender name, other retailers have chosen to include their newsletter names in the subject line instead. Here are two such examples:

AbeBooks, 3/29 - The Avid Reader: Pictures of a Floating World
Barnes & Noble, 4/8 - This Week -- Coupons, Indie Music and Blu-ray Sales, Cokie Roberts, More

While starting the subject line with the newsletter name takes up valuable characters, it provides additional branding and increases recognition for subscribers. Studies have shown that open rates are often higher when marketers work their branding into their subject lines. Beginning your subject lines with the newsletter name is a secondary form of branding. For instance, "The Avid Reader" is a phrase that's synonymous with AbeBooks in the minds of their subscribers. That additional branding is reassuring and aids recognition.

4. They use their brand name plus the name of their division. This tactic is used by only 4% of retailers, including Hewlett-Packard, which uses the sender name "HP Home & Home Office Store." Most divisions really are different brands, just like Williams-Sonoma is different from Williams-Sonoma Home. So using division names to differentiate is fully appropriate and expected.

It's worth noting that no retailer uses the name of an individual as their sender name or as part of it. This tactic is not recommended for two reasons: Spammers often use individuals' names as their sender names; and it builds up brand equity in someone who could leave your organization and take that name recognition with them.

Sender Address Branding in Promotional Emails
Branding in the sender address is critical become not all email clients display sender names; some just display sender addresses. When looking at the branding of sender addresses of promotional emails, it comes down to whether the retailer uses branding after the @-sign in their address, or both before and after it. The consensus is the more branding the better, with 73% of major online retailers including their brand name both before and after the @-sign. The remaining 27% use branding only after the @-sign; none use branding only before it.

Clearly, a lack of branding before the @-sign is not a reason to change your sender address, but it's something to consider the next time a change of sender address is required.


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