Are You Tapping Your Inner Contrarian?

I’m a huge fan boy of Elon Musk (PayPal, Tesla, Solar City, SpaceX, Hyperloop), not just for his entrepreneurial brilliance and how he is changing industries, but also for his contrarian mindset.

One example: Tesla's direct-to-consumer sales model bucks the incumbent dealer model. It isn't done just to be different, but from Musk's sincere belief (now proving to be correct) that it's the best approach right now for selling the company's electric vehicles.

In contrast, marketers tend to prefer what’s safe,  deploying what I call “generally accepted best practices” (GABPs), because everyone else does it.

Granted, that approach is less risky. You can point your boss to hundreds of examples from other brands when she asks why you want to add a pop-over opt-in form when someone visits your website’s home page.

I'm sure I have contributed to this attitude somewhat by advising email marketers to start with the safe-and-proven method. But I also urge them to test to find what works best for their situation.



The oldest joke in email marketing is that the answer to every question is “It depends, and test it.” But this adage is as true today as it was when I joined the industry in 2001. What works for one company, or even 100 other companies, might not be the best approach for your brand, budget, resources and customers.

When GABPs Can Go Wrong

I almost always recommend that retail and e-commerce clients trigger the first email in a cart-abandonment remarketing series within 20 to 60 minutes of abandonment. This tactic has dramatically increased revenue and conversions for many companies that previously sent 24 hours or later.

But this might be the wrong approach for companies serving B2B customers, who often need to get a purchase order approved as part of the buying process. For these and other companies, a day later is a safe bet.

For your brand, even tried-and-true practices could cost you money. With many retailers seeing email readership at 60% or more on mobile devices, would time of day (e.g., evening, when consumers are home on desktops/laptops and tablets) instead of time after abandonment produce better results?

For B2B e-commerce companies, emailing two to three days after abandonment might produce higher conversion rates and revenue.

When to Let Your Inner Contrarian Loose

These three situations call out for a contrarian viewpoint:

1. You're new to the email team.  As the newcomer, you generally have implied permission or might be expected to ask why things are done the way they are.Shortly after starting her job, a client marketer questioned her company’s tactic of resending emails only to those who hadn’t opened the first email. She tested resending to openers instead. It proved a massive success, increasing conversions and revenue significantly.  

2. You're starting a new email program. So you’re getting ready to launch a pop-over on your website that asks only for an email address, as almost everyone does. In contrast, a publisher specializing in articles for parents of troubled kids asked eight content-related questions, plus name and email address, and saw a 400% lift in opt-ins and 265% increase in sales from its welcome series.

3. You're redoing/tweaking existing programs.  You focus on those emails you usually send on Thanksgiving. But rather than tweaking and testing to drive more sales on Thanksgiving or Black Friday, you go in another direction.

One client sent a “Thanks” email to its subscribers and customers, withholding promotions on the day that used to be reserved for football, family and turkey. Instead of generating piles of revenue, it produced an outpouring of hundreds of emails and positive comments from customers who appreciated the simple “thank you” message.

What contrarian approaches have you tested and been successful, or proved wrong? Please share in the comments section below.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

1 comment about "Are You Tapping Your Inner Contrarian?".
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  1. Amy Do from SPARK, October 31, 2015 at 5:57 p.m.

    Excellent post. Brings back memories when I was new to an email team and questioned the segmention of the emails and how they were targeted. They were targeted from the mindset of the brand, but not the consumer behavior. With one test of the updated targeted, the open rate doubled. Never stop testing and don't always take statistics at face value. Great reminder, Loren. 

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