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Email CSI: What killed the response?

Posted by Randy Mitchell on June 9, 2015

It was a dismal spring evening in the City of the Big Shoulders.

Outside my office window a teaming mass of humanity marched drearily down into the subway, hoping for a marginally clean train and an open seat. Inside, it was a different scene. The day had been extremely busy at our agency, but now things were quiet.

Almost too quiet.

Suddenly my phone buzzed and I knew it was trouble: A frantic text from a colleague in California. She was launching a new product for her business and was relying heavily on a successful email marketing campaign to spread the word. But her first email had died as soon as she hit “send.” Response was pitiful. Now she was desperate and clueless.

“What happened???? We did everything right,” her message implored. “I’ll send the remains of my email to you. Can you investigate it for me?”

I felt her pain. Or maybe it was that tempura pizza I devoured for lunch. Either way, I promised to give the victim a look over. Kind of an “Email CSI.” But when it arrived in my inbox, I was shocked at the carnage.

 Clue #1: Mistaken identity
Once I examined the email, one thing stood out right away. Actually, it didn’t stand out at all and that was the first clue. Her marketing team had neglected to put the company’s name in the “from” line. Even worse, the email was sent to previous customers so they certainly had an affinity with the brand. If they had made it immediately apparent that the email was coming from a trusted company, it would have gone a long way toward boosting open rates.

Many marketers also incorporate the company’s name in the subject line. It’s a well-known email marketing fact that having your company’s name in the “from” line and subject line helps increase open rates, reduce unsubscribes and avoid spam complaints. But in this case, the poor victim was anonymous and that was a crime.

Clue #2: The missing buttons
As I looked deeper into the email for clues, I uncovered a little good news: There was a call-to-action button. Unfortunately, that discovery came with some bad news: There was only one button and it was difficult to locate. Turns out the button didn’t stand out in the email design, which made it hard to find. To paraphrase another email marketing fact, if you make people search for a call to action, they probably won’t. To complicate the issue, the text on the button read: “Please click here for more information on our exciting new product release.” That’s not a call to action, it’s a mission statement. The same message could have been covered concisely with the words, “Learn more.” Anyway, I was feeling adventurous, so I clicked on the button.

Clue #3: The mystery dump
Initially, I thought the call-to-action button should read: “Learn more.” Now I learned it should have said: “Learn less.” Once I clicked, I was dumped onto the company home page and left to fend for myself. This was disorienting because there was no clear logic flow from the email information to this page, and I had to search to find a link to the new product page. That’s another hurdle to response and that’s why successful email marketing campaigns take prospects to the content they are seeking. Again, if you make your target audience search, they could very well decide to go somewhere else.

Here’s another important point: If your customers need to do something once they get to the landing page, such as enter a product code or member ID, be clear about that in the email. When people know what to expect, they’re less likely to become frustrated and abandon the page.

Clue #4: The wrong suspects
The next clue was hidden behind the scenes and took a little digging to bring it to light. I asked my friend in California to better define who the target was. “Previous purchasers of this specific type of product,” came the reply. “And who was this email sent to?” I asked in cross examination. “Our entire list. Oops.”

Oops indeed. Segmentation is a vital factor in successful email marketing, and it’s critical in helping to keep your communications relevant. Neglecting segmentation and, by default, sending multiple irrelevant emails to customers can have long-term negative effects.

It conditions customers to see your emails as unimportant or even spam. As a result, when they do receive a communication that should be relevant to them, they delete your email without even opening it.

Segmentation isn’t the only way to ensure relevancy. Personalization can be a powerful tool as well. If you have an existing relationship with a target audience use that to your advantage by leveraging the customer information you’ve accumulated. For example, mention the types of products they previously bought or actions they’ve already taken to guide the content of future emails. If they purchased a hat suggest a scarf. If they downloaded a white paper drive them to other resources you offer on the topic.

Clue #5: Template overdose
One final clue was revealed in the examination: The victim had overdosed on template. Don’t get me wrong, using email templates can be a smart and effective way to streamline production and build in design best practices. But too much similarity and repetition means your emails might start to look the same to the casual observer. And remember, customers are only scanning your emails briefly trying to decide if they want to read further. Unless you grab their attention, your customer is likely to move on. Continually using the same template can work against you in this sense. By design, they make emails look similar. Consider using several mobile-optimized email templates to keep your communications fresh in the eyes of customers.

When I had all my clues compiled, I shared the difficult findings with my friend in California. Believe me, it’s never a pretty picture. But if we can prevent another email CSI, it will be worth it.

Now that we’ve finished the investigation, it’s time to learn the proven best practices for direct response. 

Topics: Email Marketing

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