The Best Email I Ever Received

Many years ago (and I mean MANY), when I started my career in email, I had a mentor whom I still respect very much. She was a critical contributor to my success in the channel. She showed me some tough love, challenged my opinions, and taught me how to be confident in the advice and direction I shared with clients. Most important, she taught me to truly love what I do. Thank you, Tricia Pridemore (or more affectionately referenced by me as TRob).

One of the most important lessons I learned from her was the 40/40/20 Rule of Email Marketing. I would walk into just about any meeting with her, and she would tell clients that 40% of their program’s success was driven by delivering someone the right message; 40% was driven by getting the message to them at the right time; and 20% was determined by the creative. She would say that you could write your offer on a cocktail napkin, in lipstick -- and as long as you handed it to the right person at the right time, you had an 80% chance of converting.

I’ve always been a big believer in this rule, but as engaging images and video became the norm, I wondered if it could still hold water. To be honest, the more I talked with clients and brands about their creative and their content, the further this rule drifted from my head.

Then it hit my inbox: the very best email I have ever received.

It was a Saturday morning, and my family and I were in the car on our way home from a soccer game. We were talking about how I had been chosen for jury duty and had to report to the courthouse that Tuesday. I was checking my email (while my husband was driving, of course) and there it was. An email from “Juryinfo Systems.” The “from” name had me – but I was skeptical. I thought it could be SPAMMY. Then the subject line caught my eye:  “From: Lake Circuit & Superior Courts.” Well, that’s my county, could be legit, I thought. So I opened it.

There wasn’t much to it: three simple sentences. No HTML, no images, no nothing. Just this: “Kara, you DO NOT need to report on 01/20/2015.  Your jury service panel has been released from jury service.  No further action on your part is required.”

I think I might have danced a jig in the car.

The point is that it didn’t matter what the email looked like.  The message came to the right person at the right time. I do receive some pretty good-looking email in my inbox, but that's the one that I remember.

I know this content is pretty unique, but each of us as marketers should be trying to identify that unique message to deliver to our email subscribers: content that's going to make them say that YOUR email was the best email they’ve ever received.

Sometimes we spend a little too much time on the “pretty” and not enough time on the “substance.” Take some time with your program this year to bring some substance back in to it -- and maybe, just maybe, that 40/40/20 rule of email marketing CAN still hold water.

Sometimes we spend a little too much time on the “pretty” and not enough time on the “substance.” Take some time with your program this year to bring some substance back in to it -- and maybe, just maybe, that 40/40/20 rule of email marketing CAN still hold water.

7 comments about "The Best Email I Ever Received ".
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  1. Bill Kaplan from FreshAddress, Inc., February 9, 2015 at 11:34 a.m.

    Great point, Kara!!!

    However, there's one other critical element to a successful email program that's implicit in your argument but might be easily missed. The best content, timing, and creative in the world will not drive action or revenues if your email is not delivered to your customer's current, preferred inbox.

    To that end, marketers need to hygiene, correct, and validate their registrations prior to sending their initial Welcome emails and then refresh their email lists on a regular basis to ensure they're reaching the right person at the right time at their preferred inbox.

    Over 50% of a marketer's database is comprised of inactives or unengageds (i.e. no opens or clickthroughs in months). While a portion of these might be due to customers/donors no longer wishing to hear from you, the vast majority of these inactives are due to sending to email accounts that no one is reading anymore.

    While marketers do need to focus more on substance than on "pretty," they also must focus on the freshness and accuracy of their databases. Database problems have the greatest impact on deliverability...... and problems with even just a few addresses (e.g. spamtraps) can bring one's entire email program to a grinding halt.

    So ensure your working list is always SafeToSend if you want to get the most out of your email marketing programs.

  2. Janet Roberts from Content by Janet Roberts, February 9, 2015 at 12:12 p.m.

    Kara, I agree with you about right time/right content but also to second your shout-out to Tricia Pridemore. I also met her in my early email career, and I was so impressed by her smarts and her willingness to share her insights with me and readers of my Ezine-Tips column ("ezine?" yeah, that was a while ago!) Thanks for the reminder!

  3. Tom Baer from TBI, February 9, 2015 at 1:24 p.m.

    I'm sorry, but the email you reference is totally irrelevant as an example of email marketing. HOWEVER, I do think your 40/40/20 rule is a good one. I would add that the first 40 percent is not just delivering "someone" the right message, it is delivering "the right person" the right message. And I would also not discount that last 20%. While the first two percentages are key, you can "lose the sale" by failing on the last 20%. Maybe not if you are just informing someone they do not have to show up for jury duty, but that is a little different that trying to close a sale.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, February 9, 2015 at 3:40 p.m.

    "More matter; less art." Hamlet's mother, the Queen, to Polonius.

  5. Andrew McIver from Responsys, February 9, 2015 at 7:37 p.m.

    Maybe the best email you've ever received, but only because you didn't want to participate in jury service. Good email marketing is about making the “right message” decision informed, not just blind luck, as in your example.

  6. Amy Perderson from Conde Nast, February 13, 2015 at 8:31 a.m.

    This is the worst example to correctly express this rule. It's like me receiving an email later today from my mom and then touting how relevant, segmented and targeted the email was.

  7. Kara Trivunovic from Epsilon, February 13, 2015 at 3:06 p.m.

    I appreciate all the feedback, positive and negative, but I recognized in the context of the post that this content was unique to the situation - and urged marketers to find that content that will really hit home with subscribers. It seems that the point was lost and that was not the intention.

    Yes, it is a unique message, very relevant to me at a moment in time and was not a marketing communication. The fact remains that, as marketers, we need to find the right content - what ever that may be for your specific brand - that can stand alone and really pack a punch.

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