Email As Discovery Tool? Try It, You'll Like It!

A successful shopping experience isn't just one where you find exactly what you wanted. Dedicated shoppers know it's also serendipity, such as discovering a tasty gourmet ravioli on your way to pick up a 25-pack of paper towels.

Sending the most relevant offers to customers is important. So is using email to introduce products to customers who might not find them any other way, or who think of your company and products only once a year at holidays.

My recent family vacation in Greece got me thinking about email's essential role in discovery as well as sales and branding, and how marketers can use it to make their emails more useful, valuable -- and, ultimately, irresistible.

Wine-inspired Marketing Lessons

My wife drinks mainly Chardonnay, and I prefer red wines. Usually, this isn't a problem, but we had decided one night to go with white wine given the evening's lingering heat and our restaurant's outdoor setting. Alas, Chardonnay wasn't on the list. Now what?



Our restaurateur recommended and let us taste a local Sauvignon Blanc, which we loved. When we returned to the restaurant two nights later, we ordered a bottle of the same wine again. Now, back home in California, I've rediscovered Sauvignon Blanc wines along with my usual reds.

Great sales and marketing doesn't just leave the discovery process to chance. It creates the right context for discovery success by using data, customer insights, product knowledge and intuition to present products customers might not know they want or like.

Three Elements of an Email Discovery Campaign

1. Recommendation engine:  Go beyond the usual approach ("You bought this camera; so, you might like this camera bag") to find less obvious and direct correlations.

"Like-minded" analysis might show that a significant percentage of people who buy a particular kind of camera also tend to purchase a certain brand of headphones. Brand affinity could be a hidden driver here, which purchase and browsing behavior might not reveal.

2. Behavioral data and persona marketing:  Perhaps a shopper hasn't purchased from you, but the links he clicked or pages she browsed indicate certain interests. Besides remarketing for those specific products, your merchandising and content teams can create discovery campaigns based on data and creative packaging.

You could promote energy-saving devices such as energy cost meters and rechargeable batteries to customers who browsed water-saving devices such as low-flow showerheads and rain barrels.

You're marketing to a persona – the environmentally conscious person – with strategically chosen content and offers. Your behavioral data, merchandising and great content set them up to discover products that they hadn't planned to buy. 

Naysayers might argue that it's easier to send a broadcast email to your entire database to market the energy cost meter. Well, sure. But, if you promote 10 products per email, what's the chance that your target subscriber will find that item in your email, let alone open it if the subject line doesn't mention it?


You’ll need to test this approach and conduct cost-benefit analysis to ensure the effort provides a good-enough return.


3. Content:  Content marketing is and always has been a key aspect of great selling and marketing.

Consider my wine example above. Content can inform your customers about Sauvignon Blanc by highlighting traits it shares with certain red wines, or suggesting they substitute it for a cold beer.

Marketing a white wine to a red-wine drinker with just a promotional offer will likely fail. Educate your customers in terms they understand, and you might convert them. Without that context, 25% to 40% off probably isn't enough incentive.

Putting Discovery into Practice

Discovery can be risky because you're operating outside your usual comfort zone of direct correlations. But it can also open up new products and categories to customers who might not find them any other way.

Correct handling is essential in a discovery campaign, from the products you choose to match up with customers' interests and behavior, to the way you showcase them in the email.

The subject line and email content must work together to provide a rationale for presenting products the customer might not have bought or browsed before. Together, they should imply, "We think you'll like these products, even if they're out of your normal comfort zone."

Until next time, take it up a notch. Opa!

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