Blog post: #3 Quick & Dirty Email Marketing Tip: how to be relevant

First, what being relevant really means? Second, how can one go about it to improve how relevant his message actually is?
Some, certainly not exhaustive, examples of what relevancy are: 
Timing. Catching your consumer at the right moment can be priceless. Timing can refer to a specific moment or during some act or even a broad time period like one month after your first purchase. There is always a best time to pitch something. Nailing it, can really make a difference in performance. 
Choose a topic that is close to your audience’s heart. Handle topics that you know your audience loves. It is a simple thought really but still important to have it mentioned and have it sink in. Say you are running an online bookshop, then an interview with a famous writer is a good way to get your audience interested. 
Copy-writing to stress on (or mimic) relevancy. Text matters. Words matter. Word arrangement matters. Period. So you could serve a relevant message to your audience and have performance ruined due to bad copy-writing. For example, a long vague subject title can appear the same as so many other newsletters in the inbox and end up in the trash as if by default. On the other hand, good copy-writing can save the day even if the message is not really relevant to the audience. For example, compare these two email titles: 
  • Weekly digest: if you participate in our program, you could enter a draw for a BMW
  • Dear [username], you have been shortlisted to the VIP draw for a BMW  
Which one would you expect to perform better? My money would be on Subject B for many reasons, the most important of which is that it mimics ‘relevancy’. How? By appearing to be an offer for select few rather than the full userbase. 
Some methods to help with achieve relevance – I feel this is actually a fuller list: 
Get to know your audience. Who are they, why are they using the particular product, what is the driving force behind it, what is the need they are trying to satisfy, why have they chosen your brand vs. competition, what they like about the brand, what they don’t like about it? Getting inside their head, ideally becoming  one of them, is the safest way to be able not only to best judge if a message is actually relevant or not to your audience, but also to be in a position to come up with relevant messages in the first place. No way around this one. Sorry. 
Segment your audience. This depends on the actual size of the audience but chances are that the audience is really a collection of different user types. But beware on how to define your user types. One way would be based on typical profile attributes such as age, sex, location, etc. A better way would be based on: 
  • how often users use your product, i.e. if they are high, medium or low users. For example, you can email/ call/ SMS your high users much more often and expect to get higher returns and lower optout vs. if you did the same thing to your low users.

  • why they are using your product. This is even true for the simplest of products. For example, consider Coca-Cola, as mass and as simple as products come. Still, Coca-Cola consumption patterns can vary greatly. For example consider two different consumption patterns: Coca-Cola with food vs. Coca-Cola as a mixer, e.g. Vodka with Coke. One can expect that a promotion “pizza +  coke = -20%” will perform differently between consumers of each of the two consumption patterns. 

Structure your customer interactions to manage their life-cycle. For example, when you subscribe to a website, you usually receive back a ‘welcome email’. This could be the first step of a time-line of interactions. What usually happens instead is that the next email you receive is the standard weekly newsletter sent out to the whole userbase, old and new users alike. There is much better way to go about this. Studying standard behavior user behavior patterns arise. A better marketing plan could study the common user paths and use email to encourage users towards that path. Also, there are usually time thresholds by which if the user does not reach a certain stage of the path, then that user most probably becomes inactive. Sending the emails before those threshold times could push users away from inactivity. It is easy to imagine that the improvement in user engagement can be dramatic.
Test, test, test. Even if you believe you are doing a good job, still there must always be room for improvement. So test. Effectively what you are testing for is relevance, the driving force behind any engagement. 
Lists are not exhaustive so be sure to mention additional points in the comments section.

Hands on Email Marketing for mobile: review of actual email campaigns

See below a screenshot from my mobile inbox. Stats say that mobile inbox is already the nr1 medium for reviewing emails. Most emails get deleted on mobile devices than anywhere else. Hence it makes sense to take a few minutes and review how your emails appear on mobile devices. For the sake of the exercise I am using the most popular single handset: the iPhone. The email senders are chosen at random and include:

  • Saks – the world famous retailer
  • Netrobe – a fashion iOS app  that I am currently getting involved with as an advisor
  • Kotsovolos – Greek subsidiary of Dixons
  • MelinaMay – leading online stock outlet for the Greek market.



Saks: apparel retailer

(-) There are actually two emails from Saks in my inbox. That is too much given that I have never ever purchased anything from Saks. Saks should have segmented me as an inactive user, tested multiple messages on that group and then send the best performing one to all inactive users in hope that the maximum of inactive users will convert to paying customers. Two emails on one day is a sure sign that Saks has not thoroughly tested those messages and also, as a recipient, I realize that these messages are not anything special that deserve my attention more than any of the previous messages I have been ignoring.

(+) Sender: varied sender helps as it differentiates the two messages and makes recipients think that the message actually is sent from two different sources – reduces the feeling of getting spammed.

(+) Positive marks also on correct targeting, serving me messages for males while indeed I am a male.

(+) Top message has a fairly effective title kicking off with a most impressive 70% discount. Also makes clear that it refers to male products. Not so keen on the Must-Haves descriptor which is too vague and hence conveys no real info.

(-) Negative marks for the descriptor below the title especially for the top email, which repeats the Sender and then reads like random text without any coherency. The bottom email reads a bit more logically but still it feels like an AdWord campaign unsuitable for a personalized message to an already subscriber.

NETROBE: a cool iOS app to help fashionistas organize their wardrobe

(-) Not cool though that it repeats its brand name in the sender and title – waste of character real estate really

(-) Also not cool that the title conveys no information – the real information, i.e. the topic of the email, is replaced by “…” as it lies beyond iPhone’s character limit

(+) The descriptor is ok as it reads as a logical text and provides brief product descriptors and brands that could engage recipients.

Kotsovolos Dixons: electronics retailer

(+) Good use of title and title effectively communicating who sends the email and what it refers to

(-) Negative marks for the topic of the email being only a CSR message (= look at us how great we are) offering no real incentive to read it. The correct implementation should include an invitation/ CTA on how the recipient can help or maybe what the Kotsovolos Dixons customers have already done to contribute to this good deed.

(-) Big time negative marks for having left a generic text as a descriptor – Kotsovolos Dixons must have never paid any attention to the mobile inbox.

MelinaMay Fashion: apparel discount retailer

(+) Positive marks on using favicons in the title and especially in the start of the title. A sure way to boost engagement. Also it matches well with the title’s copy which is always a plus.

(+) Good use of character real estate informing recipients that new items have arrived. Important incentive for the bargain hunter to read the email and find out what type of products came in.

(-) Missed opportunity to use the descriptor below the title to outline some of the product types, brands etc. that just came in.

Got any other comments on the emails showing in the photo or disagree with any of the points, feel free to say so in the comments section. 

#2 Quick & Dirty Email Marketing Tip: behave in a 1-to-1 manner

If you search for 1 to 1 marketing you will get results such as personalization, CRM technologies, userbase segmentation and so on. Before you go there and invest in a software or recruit an agency, first identify the principle behind all of those buzzwords and try applying it in your email marketing.

The juice: make the recipient feel like this message is intended to him personally rather than give him the i-am-bulking-everyone-i-have-access-to impression.  The more relevant the message, the higher the probability that the recipient will become engaged upon receiving it. That’s the juice.

How do you get recipients to get this feeling? Here a few examples:

-make the content of the message as relevant to the recipient as possible. One way to achieve this is through userbase segmentation. For example, segment in a list users that purchased a specific product and prepare a custom message for them only. Or make a list of customers that spent more than 100 Euros the past 15 days.

-be explicit in what you are doing. If you did segment your users and you are now addressing a specific segment of those, tell them so. And do so as early in the message a possible (see benefits of cutting to the chase). For example, “You have spent more than 100 Euros the past 15 days and that places you in our Golden Club and eligible for a unique offer…”.

-make copy personalized. The trick here is to make all copy seem as if it is written for this recipient only. This does not mean you need to change your brand’s tone of voice, no just imitate how a company representative would address a customer. To go a step further, you can make the message more personalized by addressing the recipient by his or her name (most email marketing software allow this functionality), explicitly explain why the message is relevant to the recipient, or even better make evident how this message is exclusive for the particular recipient.

-be polite. In 1-to-1 relationships manners matter more. Some examples: don’t try to trick them, don’t make unsubscribing difficult, don’t enroll them in the mailing list without their consent, don’t lie, etc.

-do not treat all customers equal. When I walk in a store and I am a regular, I expect to be treated as one. Similarly if I am not a regular, too much intimacy might be annoying. How would that translate in email marketing world? Segment your users in terms of worth, say gold, silver and bronze, and then treat each group differently. What could differ? The contact frequency first of all, the tone of voice, the quality of the offers, anything that signifies preferential treatment in your business

I believe the main pillars on how to make recipients feel special are here. Do all of the above and you will get 90% of the benefits a 5,000 Euro/ month CRM system could offer you. Have you found another trick in order to make recipients feel special? Please write a comment about it.

#1 Quick & dirty email marketing tip: cut to the chase


Being creative is cool. So is breaking the codes. Those are good ways to attract attention. But keep in mind that those cannot be but exceptions as one cannot be breaking the codes all the time. Why? Well simply because it is too difficult to get it right every time – unless you are Oliviero Toscani himself.



So rule nr. 1 is ‘cut to the chase’ as early as possible. Ideally, this should be in the title, or even better in the Sender’s name. You can try the occasional teaser or unconventional title but the vast majority of your promotional email communication should cut to the chase for the first word. To better explain what I mean, imagine the recipient to be climbing on a moving bus and you have a few seconds to shout something to him that will make him jump off it. This should the test. This why Mega sale! -50% off all designers clothes for next 2 hours is good title and Weekly Digest 20-May featuring Paul Stevenson is a terrible one.

So here are a few tips on how to make your newsletters more direct and effective:

-explain what it is all about as early as possible. Ideally in the subject line. This is the central theme of the newsletter and everything should revolve around this. You can add additional topics in the newsletter but this should be 2ary.

-be consistent: the first phrase of the body should repeat & elaborate on the key message expressed in the subject line

-if you add a photo or graphics, make sure those come after the 1st phrase no matter how interesting or sexy they are

-make sure the photo or graphics used support the key message from the subject line

-identify the common ground among all subject lines and come up with a sender’s name that is relevant. For example, if you are a retailer called Zachs and most newsletters announce flash sales that last for only a few hours, a good sender’s name could be Zach’s sale of the hour. That would leave you space to actually present what is special’s about today’s sale (Designers’ summer skirts at -50% until 15.00) and hence the recipient has all the important info.

To understand the power of being direct, you may do a test of a vague/ teasing title vs. a to-the-point one and compare the results in open and click-through rates. If you do, please share the results in the comments area.