Just How Engaging are Birthday Emails?


By Joanna Roberts
Account Manager, Client Services
I recently celebrated my birthday and received a few nicely crafted birthday emails from retailers that I have a relationship with. We’ve all heard before that birthday emails typically generate better response rates than normal email newsletters and promotions, but I wanted to see for myself if that was true.  I know I opened and interacted with each of these emails, but did others? To answer this question, I used data found in Return Path’s subscriber engagement and competitive analysis tool, Inbox Insight.
Using Inbox Insight, I was able to find data on each of these birthday emails, including how often the retailer sends birthday emails, what size list they are sending them to, what type of engagement they are receiving on these emails, and how that all compares to their regular email sends.  Here’s what I found:
Panera Bread
Subject line: It’s Your Special Day…
From line: MyPanera (rewards@mypanera.com)
Offer: A “special surprise” loaded onto my MyPanera card, good for 60 days
From Inbox Insight, I can see that Panera sends their birthday email to subscribers every Monday. My birthday was on a Thursday this year, and I received this email the Monday prior. I liked that Panera’s email was so timely, and I can see now that this is due to their frequent sending pattern. Because it’s sent so frequently, the send size of each is very small (around 500 panel subscribers each, which is about 3% of their total panel size).
Panera Data from Inbox Insight
This birthday email from Panera consistently sees Excellent engagement from their subscribers, as do most of their regular emails. The birthday email has an average Read rate of 53.42% over the past 30 days. In comparison, the average Read rate for non-birthday emails (removing welcome emails and password resets) is 34.45%, representing a 55.07% increase in Read rate for birthday emails.
The birthday emails also saw better User-Marked Spam and ISP Spam rates than normal campaigns. What stood out to me most, however, was that the Deleted Unread rate and the Deleted After Reading rate for the birthday emails were significantly lower than the rates that typical emails saw. This means that subscribers were not only reading these emails at a higher rate, but also saving them in their inboxes at a more frequent rate, likely as a reminder to themselves to visit Panera for their “special surprise.”
Panera Birthday Email
Sports Authority
Subject line: Happy Birthday! Enjoy This Special Reward
From line: The League by Sports Authority (SportsAuthority.com@em.sportsauthority.com)
Offer: 20% off my next purchase, good for the month of my birthday
Unlike with Panera, Sports Authority doesn’t seem to have a regular sending schedule for their birthday emails.  I saw emails from Jan 7 (Monday), Jan 29 (Tuesday) and Feb 26 (Tuesday).  Each instance of this campaign was sent to about 1% of their total panel size, which was surprising to me as I would have expected larger sends based on their less frequent sending schedule.  Perhaps they do not have birthday data for all of their subscribers, which is something they could work on collecting via a preference center.
Sports Authority’s birthday campaigns also see consistent Excellent engagement, whereas other Sports Authority emails see anywhere from Below Average to Excellent engagement. The average Read rate for their birthday emails was 42.45% for these three campaigns seen in January and February. Average Read rate for Sports Authority non-birthday emails (minus welcome campaigns) during the same time period was 21.05%, representing over a 100% improvement in Read rate for birthday versus non-birthday emails.
Like with Panera, the User-Marked Spam and ISP Spam rates for the birthday emails were lower than for the regular emails, as was the Deleted After Reading rate.  The Sports Authority birthday emails, however, also saw a significant improvement in Forwarded rate (72% increased Forwarded rate for birthday emails over regular emails) and User-Marked Not Spam rate (20% increased User-Marked Not Spam rate for birthday emails over regular emails).  These increased rates show that subscribers are finding the birthday content and offer – 20% off your next purchase – valuable and are not only sharing it with friends but rescuing it from their junk folder.
Ann Taylor LOFT
Subject line: You say it’s your birthday? (Your gift is in the mail)
From line: LOFT Card (LOFT@mail.loft.com)
Offer: Birthday gift coming in the mail, good during the month of my birthday
Using the data in Inbox Insight, I can see Ann Taylor LOFT sends their birthday email to subscribers on a regular schedule – once every three weeks on Fridays. This campaign is consistently sent to about 70 panel subscribers, or about 1% of their total panel list.
Like Panera and Sports Authority, the LOFT birthday emails also saw Excellent engagement. Regular LOFT emails see mostly Average and Above Average engagement.  The average Read rate for Ann Taylor LOFT birthday emails in the past 30 daya was a whopping 67.22%, whereas average Read rate for non-birthday emails (minus welcome and re-engagement campaigns) was 17.35%.  This is a 287% increase in Read rate for birthday emails versus non-birthday emails!
As we saw with Panera and Sports Authority, the LOFT birthday emails saw lower User-Marked Spam rates than regular LOFT emails did.  Interestingly, the LOFT birthday emails saw slightly lower Forward rates than regular emails, but this makes sense as the email content was simply letting the subscriber know a gift was  oming in the mail (not really forward-worthy content).  
We saw lower Delete Unread and Delete Without Reading rates for the birthday emails than for regular LOFT emails, which shows again that recipients are holding onto these emails, likely in this case as a reminder to check their snail-mailbox for their birthday gift.
And the Winner Is…
Using data from Inbox Insight, we can see that the common belief that birthday emails typically get better engagement and read rates than regular, non-birthday emails holds true.  If you aren’t currently sending a birthday email to subscribers, what are you waiting for?!
So who was the winner of my three birthday emails?  In terms of Read rate, Ann Taylor LOFT was the obvious winner.  But, it’s now almost two weeks since my birthday, and I still haven’t received my gift in the mail, and by now that gift, if I ever do receive it, will have expired.  That is certainly a poor customer experience.
I did use the offers that Panera and Sports Authority gave in their birthday emails.  I actually went to Panera for lunch on my birthday with some colleagues, and was able to redeem my “special surprise” – a bakery treat of my choice. I forwarded the Sports Authority email to my husband to use, which he did almost immediately … and he actually bought something for me instead of himself!  
We can see from the Sports Authority birthday email forward rate that others are sharing this offer with friends and family as well.  So in terms of ease of use and forward-worthy content, I declare the Sports Authority email the winner!  It’s clear from the Inbox Insight data that subscribers are finding these emails valuable, as they are reading them at a 100% improved rate over regular emails, are forwarding them at a 72% improved rate, and are rescuing them from the junk folder at a 20% improved rate.  These are rates to be proud of, and something that other email marketers can take note of.

One thought on “Just How Engaging are Birthday Emails?

  1. I’m wondering why these companies don’t send out birthday emails on the “day of” the birthday? Most people, I would think, would be looking for birthday wishes, deals, etc., via email on the day of their birthday and would be more likely to open a birthday email on that day as opposed to several days or a week before. From personal experience, I’m far more likely to open a birthday email on the day of my birthday as that’s the day I expect them. If you can match up your data with actual birth dates, it should be relatively easy to have an email automatically generated to go out on that day. It should lower the send size even more that the grouped weekly batched sends. The added benefit would be the lift your email open and retention rates would get from the perceived on-birth date timing, i.e., “It’s your birthday today – Happy Birthday!” versus “It’s your birthday sometime this month – Happy Birthday!”

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