MediaPostBack in November of 2010, I wrote an Email Insider column titled ‘Best Practices’ Are Dead, in which I argued that the term “best practices” has been much abused and was too broad to cover what I called the never-break “Ethical Imperatives” and the okay-but-unwise-to-break “Recommended Practices.” I didn’t know it at the time, but that column would be the genesis of my new book, Email Marketing Rules: How to Wear a White Hat, Shoot Straight, and Win Hearts, which discusses 108 email marketing best practices.

That column discussed six practices that I consider critical to being a legitimate member of the email marketing community. All six involved permission, which is still the vital element that separates us from spammers.

The book expands on those never-break rules, bringing the total to 10, which I’m delighted to share exclusively with you here… Read my entire Email Insider column >>

The evolution of Williams-Sonoma's browse abandonment email program

Because of their high ROI, cart abandonment emails are growing in popularity, although only 20% of retailers are using them, according to recent research. Adoption is even lower for browse abandonment emails, which are emails that are triggered in response to a subscriber browsing your website but not purchasing anything. However, that lower usage rate is to be expected because browse abandonment is intrinsically more complicated because the subscriber’s intention is much less clear.

With a cart abandonment, the subscriber has made their product choice or at least seriously narrowed it. But with a browse abandonment, it’s significantly much less clear if they product they last viewed was a great interest to them or not. Browsing can just as easily indicate directional product category interest as it can interest in a specific product.

Because of that, it leads to many potential questions: Did the subscriber like the product but just isn’t ready to buy? Did they like the product but were unsure if it was a good deal? Were they unsure if it had all the features they needed? Were they unsure about the product’s quality?

In a store, a shopper could ask an associate for more information and the associate would be able to ask questions to help the shopper come to a decision. Recreating those interactions in an email is challenging but increasingly feasible.

The evolution of Williams-Sonoma’s browse abandonment email program is a great example of how these emails have become more sophisticated. Williams-Sonoma was one of the earliest adopters of browse abandonment emails, sending them as early as 2009. Back then they acted like many of the cart abandonment emails do today, reminding the subscriber of the item they browsed and of some of the reasons to shop with the retailer.

Over time Williams-Sonoma recognized that a browser’s interest was less focused than a cart abandoner, so they added some top-rated products to these emails and then later made those additional product promotions more tightly related to the product that was browsed. They also added a “Shop Similar Items” call-to-action to the “Buy Now” CTA for the browsed product. By the end of last year, they were also including banners for seasonal products, like wine for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

In addition to broadening out the messaging, Williams-Sonoma’s program also began to address the different reasons for abandonment more specifically. For instance, if an out-of-stock product was browsed, they made the logical assumption that you might be interested in purchasing it when it’s back in stock and send you a notification when it is.

And there’s certainly more room to up the sophistication further. Crutchfield’s browse abandonment program is my favorite. They have different ones set up to address subscribers who browse different product categories like HDTVs, Blu-Ray players, stereo receivers, 6-3/4” speakers, and DSLR cameras, as you can see in this example. It was sent in response to me browsing the Nikon D5100. You can see how they used that information as a starting point but went well beyond it to get at what my needs and concerns might have been, just like a good store associate would have done.

More prominent email signup forms and links perform better. In-your-face lightboxes take this logic to the far end of spectrum and are enjoying growing popularity, particularly among retailers.

Ann Taylor email signup lightbox

Unlikely the justly vilified pop-up and pop-under, lightboxes or popovers don’t launch a new window. They are a part of the page you’re already viewing and require you to complete the form or close the lightbox to regain access to the rest of the webpage, which is usually greyed out in the background, as you can see in this Ann Taylor example.

Ten percent of marketers are using lightboxes for email signups, according to ExactTarget research involving more than 160 B2C brands, including retailers, restaurants, manufacturers, travel and hospitality, and nonprofits. With more than 13% of retailers using an email signup lightbox, they are more than three times more likely to use this tactic than non-retailers. A few years ago hardly any marketers were using lightboxes.

Brooks Brothers post-signup lightbox

The risk with lightboxes is that they are interruptive and therefore potentially annoying if they pop up too often. To minimize this risk, most brands set limits on how often lightboxes can be triggered for a particular visitor and some only trigger them for first-time visitors. Some also delay the launch of the lightbox for five or more seconds to give visitors a chance to start engaging with the site.

While all the talk lately has been about lightboxes for email signups, roughly as many marketers use them for post-signup confirmation instead. This is particularly true of brands like Brooks Brothers that have an email signup form in the footer of all their webpages. Their post-signup lightbox thanks the new subscriber for signing up and also asks for some additional information and preferences to improve their email experience.

Not only are more B2C marketers sending welcome emails, more are sending welcome email series. The first weeks of an email marketing relationship are the most critical, so they deserve the extra attention that a welcome email series can provide.

Twenty-five percent of marketers send a welcome email series, according to ExactTarget research involving more than 160 B2C brands, including retailers, restaurants, manufacturers, travel and hospitality, and nonprofits. Of those marketers that send welcomes, 31% send a welcome email series rather than a single welcome email.

With 30% of retailers sending a welcome email series, they are nearly twice as likely as non-retailers to do so. And the percentage of retailers sending a welcome email series has tripled since 2009.

Many welcome email series included three emails, but a few included as many as five. Most of the emails in these series were interspersed with the brand’s usual promotional emails rather than all sent sequentially.

The messaging in each of the emails generally was one of the following:

  • Promotional welcome offer, which tended to be a percentage-off or free shipping offer
  • Reminder of soon-to-expire welcome offer
  • Touting private label goods
  • Follow us on social media
  • Download our mobile app
  • Explanation of website features and tools
  • Introduction of store services

Welcome email series are even more powerful when you tailor them to different subscribers based on how they joined your email list (homepage, store, etc.) or their previous interactions with your brand.

Below are six of my favorite welcome email series from Barney’s, Crate & Barrel, eBags, Target, Vera Bradley and Zulily.

Barneys welcome email seriesCrate & Barrel welcome email serieseBags welcome email seriesTarget welcome email seriesVera Bradley welcome email seriesZulily welcome email series

 

Welcome emails are among the top-performing emails that a marketer can send, so I was happy when my latest research found that more brands than ever are sending them. However, a closer look uncovered that there are still big opportunities for marketers to get better performance from their welcome emails.

Victoria's Secret welcome emailNearly 81% of B2C marketers send welcome emails to their new subscribers, according to ExactTarget research involving more than 160 B2C brands, including retailers, restaurants, manufacturers, travel and hospitality, and nonprofits.

Retailers are considerably more likely than non-retailers to send a welcome email, with nearly 87% of retailers sending one versus only 70% of non-retailers. When I last looked at retailers’ welcome email practices in 2009, more than 74% were sending welcome emails, so adoption has grown significantly among that group.

Although adoption has increased, the effectiveness of welcome emails is still dampened by a couple of factors.

First, some marketers don’t send their welcome emails immediately after signup, when subscribers are most likely to open and act on them. For example, welcome emails from Applebee’s, West Elm and several other brands took 3 or more days to arrive. And Victoria’s Secret’s welcome email didn’t arrive until 2 weeks after signup. Delaying the delivery of your welcome email drastically reduces its effectiveness.

And second, a number of marketers also sent welcome emails that rendered poorly, including the ones from Tide and Drs. Foster & Smith. Because welcome emails are key to delivering a good first impression, make sure that yours renders well—with and without images enabled. Because ISPs change their coding support without notice, it’s wise to periodically confirm that your welcome and other triggered emails are still displaying as intended.

Tide welcome emailOn the plus side, marketers have gotten much better at using their welcome emails to drive action, whether it’s trying to ring up a sale, doing progressive profiling, or exposing new subscribers to their mobile app or social media presence.

Marketers are also making their unsubscribe links more prominent in their welcome emails, in case a new subscriber has second thoughts. Recognizing that unsubscribes are way preferred over spam complaints, brands like Victoria’s Secret include opt-out links in the preheader and the primary message block. I was relieved to see that only one brand sent a welcome email that wasn’t CAN-SPAM compliant.

When’s the last time you reviewed and updated your welcome email?

I’m very pleased to share with you the introduction to my new book, Email Marketing Rules: How to Wear a White Hat, Shoot Straight, and Win Hearts, which is about the best practices that lead to spectacular results, while steering you clear of trouble. I feel that too many people don’t understand what best practices really are, which is understandable given the increasing amount of misinformation and misdirection out there from those who are against best practices. Here is where I stand on the issue:

>>To preview even more of the book, visit the book’s product page on Amazon.com and click on the book cover to LOOK INSIDE.

I’m happy to announce the release of Email Marketing Rules: How to Wear a White Hat, Shoot Straight, and Win Hearts. It’s available now around the world exclusively on Amazon.com in the Kindle Store. (Download free Kindle Reader app for your smartphone, tablet or computer.)

Through 108 easy-to-understand rules, Email Marketing Rules is your guide to understanding the practices that lead to spectacular results, while steering you clear of potential trouble. While beginner-friendly and a great training tool, the book’s crisp dissection of best practices will help even seasoned veterans make tactical improvements that boost the performance of their email programs.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my amazing editors, Email Marketing Reports publisher Mark Brownlow and Smith-Harmon co-founder Aaron Smith. Their sage advice and expert guidance was absolutely invaluable.

I’d also like to thank all my other friends in the industry. Email Marketing Rules is really the culmination of the thousands of conversations I’ve had with all of you over the years. Thank you for shaping, confirming and challenging my views.

Get the Book

Download the free Kindle Reader app for your smartphone, tablet or computer.

The Last Word on February 2013

The Last WordA roundup of articles, posts, tweets and emails you might have missed last month…

Must-read articles, posts & whitepapers

Email Engagement: Often Talked About, Rarely Defined

Mini posts cans of spam in apology for email blunder

Ignore Droid at Your Own Risk (infographic)

Winter Storm Nemo: Newsjacking & Ad-Hoc Email Templates

In Defense Of Email

Insightful & entertaining tweets

@K_Hamerstadt: Segmentation from my fav retailers should make me feel like I have an online personal shopper. I don’t get that experience today. #ETCafe

@martinlieberman: “Anyone without an email address is the digital equivalent of a homeless person.” http://t.co/ILgeIeki (via @DelaQuist)

@EmailErika : You only have 20 words to make an impact. From, subject line and pre header. Organic search terms make gd subject lines. #EEC13

@mitchdf: RT @indystar: Editorial cartoonist Gary @Varvel on U.S. Postal Service stopping mail delivery on Saturdays: http://t.co/jgk2EnNp

@jcohen808: .@SeinfeldToday – Kramer gets into the spam game, pretends to be a Nigerian widow. Jerry: “What’s the big deal with using a hyphen?” #eec13

Noteworthy subject lines

Victoria’s Secret, 2/23 — One way to live #TheFabLife…
Mercedes, 2/22 — #Untamed. A digital photo installation.‏
Adidas, 2/16 — #allin4allstar‏
Bluefly, 2/8 — Shop So Hard…#ThatSaleCray
DCCC.org, 2/5 — #ShameOnCantor
Crate & Barrel, 2/24 — Easter&Sunday‏
MAC Cosmetics, 2/23 — Dress your lips Red Carpet Red with Gregory Arlt‏
Walmart, 2/20 — Make the most of your tax refund – Save on TVs, laptops, bedding, tires & more‏
Michael’s, 2/18 — Technology-free with your family‏
Aeropostale, 2/18 — Day Off? Let’s Shop! Everything 50% – 70% Off‏
Threadless, 2/13 — 24 hours only: Tees for just one honest Abe (that’s $5).‏
The Container Store, 2/2 — Groundhog predicts: SPRING IS NEAR!‏ [promoting spring wardrobe organization]
The Children’s Place, 2/2 — Groundhog Says… Stock Up for an Early Spring with 25% Off!
The Container Store, 2/28 — Made in the USA with American ingenuity‏
ModCloth, 2/27 — These cute clothes give baby sloths a run for their money!
Home Depot, 2/24 — Get Curb Appeal At An Appealing Price‏
ThinkGeek, 2/12 — ThinkGeek’s new…*sniff* What is that!? [promoting Geeky Candle Set]
The Crutchfield Team, 2/6 — Four steps take your car stereo system from blah to BAM!
ModCloth, 2/4 — *Ding Dong Ding* Hearing wedding bells?

A “swipe file” is a collection of tested and proven marketing communications that you keep to inspire and inform your future messaging. We love this concept so much that we’ve created a series of Pinterest boards where we’re pinning marketing campaigns that inspire us.

Today we unveiled the Email Swipe File, where you’ll find inspiring examples of email design and messaging—including full emails, series of emails, emails and their landing pages, preference centers, and even small email elements like headers, footers and secondary message banners. The Email Swipe File is home to outstanding examples dating all the way back to 2006 and we’ll be updating it every week with new examples, so please follow the board to stay up to date.

And we’ll be launching more Swipe File boards in the weeks to come, so keep a close eye on the ExactTarget Pinterest page for more marketing inspiration.

Email Swipe File pinboard

In Defense of ‘Low’ Open Rates

MediaPostNo one wrings their hands over email marketing’s stellar ROI, but I’m surprised by how often a big deal is made out of “low” open, click and conversion rates. Everything is about perspective. And that’s absolutely the case when looking at open rates, which can be highly misleading, especially when compared over long periods of time or between different companies.

But even when you add in opens when images are blocked and plain text email opens, the resulting “read rate” can still be quite misleading. For example, Return Path recently released fourth quarter 2012 data showing that the percentage of emails from retailers that were read fell to 15.2% from 17% in the fourth quarter of 2011.

On the surface that doesn’t look so great, but if you look deeper there’s much less cause for concern, if indeed any is warranted at all… Read my entire Email Insider column >>

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