“Best Practices” & an Email’s Effectiveness

In the email world, we marketers hear a lot of things about: relevance, timely delivery, engagement, consistency, click-through rates, the infamous 43-to-1 ROI, all the “ility’s”, and all this geeked-out mumbo-jumbo around making our messaging effective. For about two years now I’ve also heard about how ‘email is dead.’ Well, world, it’s not. 

Know how I know? 
Big brands continue to push emails out at an ever-increasing pace and social media continues to rely on email to keep constant communication with crowds of fans and customers (follow notifications, friend requests, network activities, event updates, weekly activity summaries, top discussion headlines, etc-etc)

Since the beginning of February 2010 I’ve received 53 emails from BananaRepublic.com. That’s almost 2 emails a week for 26 weeks of this year.  Too much emailing? Maybe for some. I’ll probably end up with 120 to 130 emails from them at the end of the year, which works out to be roughly 2.5 emails a week and I’m not really concerned with unsubscribing. 

Why does this message cadence not bother me, but maybe cause others to unsubscribe?
1. I know this channel gives me 30-40% off on each send
a. Sometimes up to 50%
2. Shopping online has “Free Shipping Every Day”

That sounds like a good deal to be getting twice a week, right? 

However, given the chatter about the “relevance,” “ility’s,” and always testing “creative” subject lines – don’t you think a huge brand like Banana Republic would do better than these stats?

1. 40 of 53 contain this exact phrase, “+ FREE Shipping Every Day” in the subject line  75% of mailings.
2. 28 of 53 contain “__% off” in the subject line – 53% of mailings
3. 42 of 53 contain a single or multiple ALL CAPS words in the subject line – 79% of mailings
4. 11 of 53 come from the same email address with a different From Name21% don’t contain a consistent From Name

Also, the cadence of emails month-over-month is inconsistent. Does this look weird to you?

1. Feb – 3 mailings received 
2. March – 3 mailings received
3. April – 7 mailings received
4. May – 17 mailings received
5. June – 15 mailings received
6. Up until July 15th – 8 mailings received (on track for 16)
 Banana Republic Email Sends - Monthly
I understand that January through March is close to the end of the year holidays and New Year’s Eve, but almost tripling cadence in May after a handful in April seems like a serious ramp, yes? I’m sure tax season, summer, and Easter play into the ramp, but an almost 3x ramp none-the-less.

Check out the day preference too: 
Banana Republic Email Sends - Daily

Monday wins the day for sends followed by Thursday and Friday. Overall, the sends are spread over 7 days a week sans a few step-sends on Saturday. My guess: Banana does what drives purchases, not what “experts” recommend.  Monday – drive customers in when foot traffic is naturally slow, Thursday and Friday are pre-weekend deployments to keep the stores busy. 

So, What’s the Point, Rory?

My point to this post is this: all the marketing chatter around “email marketing best practices” and related subject matter are mostly garbage.  It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in “email,” how many emails you’ve sent in your career, what company you worked for, how well you code, and I definitely don’t care if you’re an “expert.”  At the end of the day, it’s about data; it’s about results and overall achievement of the channel in conjunction to the goals set for it.  If you don’t have goals on your email channel – start tomorrow.

Looking at this data and then watching the industry evangelize practices just shows that there’s a disconnect between the reality and the spin. If you’re out there spinning email marketing best practices and you aren’t actively sending emails that apply all of your practices – stop it.  Banana Republic is a great example that the only constants in their subject line messaging are “Free Shipping” and “__% off”.  Everything else (application of subject line best practices, steady time of send, predictable day of send, and all other attributes of “setting expectation”) is off-kilter. 

Which means, don’t over analyze your email marketing. Find your own best practices and stick to your guns. Test until you find a great spot and then leverage that configuration until something better shows up. If you’re always testing you’re not always focused on generating revenue. Test, Optimize, Execute – then milk it for a minute. 

Last thought: why can’t you use email as a CPM-type channel? If Banana Republic gets a dismal open rate on emails but continues to increase revenue after each deployment, email still works. If the subject line, “Save 45% today in stores + FREE Shipping Every Day” drives sales, who cares about opens?

Viva la Email.

– Rory Carlyle

5 thoughts on ““Best Practices” & an Email’s Effectiveness

  1. Excellent article Rory. So much of what they do goes against convention, but it is a perfect example of why convention means very little in an industry where virtually every interaction can be tracked and optimized.

  2. Rory, well said and well put. The notion of creating your own best practices seems to be lost on short-term, high impact marketing cultures. There’s such a rush to ‘show the return’ that re-thinking the KPIs used to track success fall to the side in favor of old ways, or overly simplistic ways, of measuring modern brand experiences. I think your article and POV stretches beyond email to most areas of Business Strategy that look more heavily at short term performance and ignore the longer term lessons that data and research are telling us each year.

  3. Thanks Tim and Andy,

    I agree with both points here. We have the ability in this digital world to track users at a granular level. The ‘best practices’ that need to be evangelized aren’t and the ones that are get vague explanations of what it is that the email marketer is supposed to ‘practice’. Being a short-sighted marketer is a dangerous position to take – without measurement and evaluation over time data can be as useless as opinions.

    Cheers on the comments fellas.

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