It's important to keep in mind that the subject line is the first thing that the recipient will see, so it should be attention-grabbing and relevant to the content of the email. You may want to test out different subject lines to see which ones perform the best. Here are 24 subject lines for New Year's emails for an ecommerce business:
I hope you take these examples and modify them to suit your A/B testing in emails during the festive season. A/B testing is the best way to learn how to optimize your email campaigns over time. If you would like to work with me on your email campaigns, get in touch!
Here are 5 tips on creating effective subject lines that will avoid the spam folder:
Keep it short and to the point: A subject line that is too long or unclear can easily get lost in the clutter of a crowded inbox. Keep your subject line concise and focused on the key message you want to convey to your audience.
Avoid using spammy words or phrases: Spammers often use certain words and phrases in their subject lines to trick recipients into opening their emails. Avoid using words like "free," "earn money," or "click here" in your subject line to avoid being flagged as spam.
Personalize your subject line: Adding the recipient's name or referencing their specific interests or needs can increase the chances of them opening your email. This personalization shows that you have taken the time to tailor your message to their specific needs and makes your email more relevant to them.
Use numbers and symbols wisely: Including numbers or symbols in your subject line can help it stand out in a crowded inbox. However, be careful not to overdo it, as this can make your email look spammy and decrease the chances of it being opened.
Test and optimize: Testing different subject lines on a small sample of your audience can help you determine which ones are most effective in getting more clicks to your site. Use the results of these tests to optimize your subject lines and improve your overall email marketing strategy.
Here are examples of subject lines that could be considered spam - avoid these formats:
"Earn $500 a day with this secret method"
"Click here to claim your free gift"
"Get rich quick with this amazing opportunity"
"Special offer: 50% off all products"
"This is not spam: Important information inside"
"You're a winner! Claim your prize now"
"Your account will be closed unless you respond"
"Amazing breakthrough in weight loss"
"Join our exclusive members-only club"
"Miracle cure for [disease] discovered"
Here are examples of subject lines that would not be considered spam - use these formats to improve your results:
"Join our webinar on [topic] this Wednesday"
"Limited time offer: 20% off your first purchase"
"New blog post: [title]"
"Invitation to our [event] this weekend"
"Check out our latest [product/service] review"
"Get the latest industry insights with our newsletter"
"Thanks for subscribing to our [blog/newsletter/etc.]"
"Join our community and receive exclusive offers"
"Don't miss out on our [event/promotion] this month"
"Customer service update: [important information]"
"Limited time offer: 20% off your first purchase"
"New blog post: [title]"
"Invitation to our [event] this weekend"
"Check out our latest [product/service] review"
"Get the latest industry insights with our newsletter"
"Thanks for subscribing to our [blog/newsletter/etc.]"
"Join our community and receive exclusive offers"
"Don't miss out on our [event/promotion] this month"
"Customer service update: [important information]"
"Get a sneak peek at our new product line"
"Join us for a free webinar on [topic]"
"Limited time offer: 15% off your first order"
"Don't miss out on [event] - register now"
"Your feedback is important to us"
"Thank you for being a valued customer"
"Introducing our new [product/service]"
"Limited seats available for [event]"
"Exclusive discount for [company] employees"
"Join us for a special [event/sale] this weekend"
I hope these tips are helpful and provide useful examples for your own email marketing. Get in touch if you would like to work with me on improving your overall email marketing strategy and results.
Today, almost everyone has a device in their pocket. Businesses can no longer expect their customers to come to them. Instead, businesses need to reach customers wherever they are at any time. This usually means you will find them while they are looking at their phone. One of the key elements that signals to your audience that you understand the things that matter to them is the subject line of your emails. The best way to ensure that your message gets across is A/B testing each subject line for almost every email you send.
This brief guide will give you the building blocks for establishing an effective subject line A/B testing strategy.
How does A/B testing work in email marketing?
As the name implies, A/B testing is a process in email marketing to determine what brand messages can provide the best results. It is up to your business to define what ‘best results’ means, but for the purpose of this discussion, we can assume that the results wanted are some type of conversion: a click-through to the website for a purchase, a sign up to a webinar, or a newsletter subscription.
There are many different types of A/B tests, some more complex than others. For example, you could test whether your subject line performs better or worse than a different subject line. You can also test whether sending an email on Mondays works better than Tuesdays or Thursdays. This discussion is focused solely on subject line A/B testing because subject lines are the most important part of your email marketing strategy since they’re the first interaction a customer has with your business messaging in their private inbox.
Subject Lines can make or break a campaign
Subject lines can make or break your chances of converting a lead. Every email campaign your company sends should have at least two subject lines and be delivered as an A/B test. Not only will this testing help you optimize your campaigns by helping you avoid putting all your eggs in one subject line basket, but you can review previous subject lines to see which ones have performed best and modify them to use them in campaigns to further refine results.
Subject line effectiveness varies from industry to industry and campaign to campaign. It’s always worth trying different subject lines to find a style that works best for your type of campaigns.
Why should you use subject line A/B testing?
To get better conversions, of course, but there's another, deeper reason for using subject line A/B testing in your email marketing.
Most businesses live within their own bubble where internal assumptions about the business, the audience, the market, and everything associated with them is hardly ever challenged. A/B subject line testing helps you avoid groupthink via the simple method of testing multiple ideas about your company, your customer, and your market, via the emails you send regularly. It is a low cost tool for experimentation that can be measured and modified as you learn new information and incorporate it into your marketing messaging.
What is the structure of an effective subject line?
Subject line testing isn’t a random process. There is a structure to effective subject lines that can help you get started and build subject lines that are more likely to get past the spam filter and reach your customer’s inbox.
Keeping your subject lines short is helpful. Keeping your message truthful is also helpful: baiting your customers with misleading or outright incorrect subject lines is the most certain way to get them to declare your emails as spam.
The subject line that works can be a conversation opener for your audience, for example:
The point of following the structure is to help you keep your message short, sharp and to the point. Remember, most people will be looking at these messages on their phone, so you have to assume that you only have, at most 5 words to get the message across. You can use more, of course, but whether they will be visible on the screen is debatable.
Naturally, the effectiveness of a shorter or longer message would be subject to - you guessed it - subject line testing.
This structure is meant to be a helpful scaffolding to begin your experiments. It would be irrational to talk about subject line testing, how it is individual to your business and audience, and then declare that this or that type of subject line will work for you. The only way to find out what works for you based on this structure is to do your own testing during your email campaigns.
What are effective subject lines?
While subject line testing has an obvious objective (increasing conversions from the email), focusing on just that one objective robs the strategy of additional value. Effective subject lines aren’t about your business, they are about the interests of your audience. A/B testing subject lines constantly allows you to probe, test, and confirm (or falsify) your assumptions about your audience, how your business is perceived in your market and how your audience perceives your business. This is an effective method for improving not only your email marketing, but your overall marketing content. Effective subject lines are the ones that reach your audience in a manner they think is best. To do that, it is good to know what your audience values about your product or service.
What is the content of an effective subject line?
Once you decide to build on the structure mentioned above, you need to worry about what content you will test. Usually, this means testing what you think is important for your audience. You learn what is important for your audience in the easiest way: you ask them.
If you’ve done an audience survey, you may glean from the response's words or themes that you can test in subject lines. You can set up a question in a pop up on the site, to try to sharpen customer interest in your products or services.
You can also do a list of your own assumptions about your audience and set them up as subject line tests to see how well your audience reacts to them.
Nothing is easier than simply offering a discount with every email you send. The subject line that includes a discount, limited time offer, usually gets good results. But if you constantly tell your audience that your products are available at a discount, you may get them addicted to getting that message and they may not purchase again until they see it in their inbox.
Subject line testing allows you to branch your message out by emphasizing the value of the products you sell to the audience. In the case of makeup, for example: Instead of offering 10% discount for makeup sales until Friday, you could offer ``Here's a way to make your eyes shine” or “here’s makeup that doesn’t cause breakouts”. You could test all three subject lines to see which one gets the results that are closest to the discount offer, and continue to refine them over time.
If you're marketing a webinar to women in their 30s and 40s, you might want to experiment with different subject line variations like “Meetings this Week?” “Women in Business” or “Your Step-by-Step Guide to Success.” Different angles to the main proposition in the email give you the chance to see how your audience views your product and what they find valuable about it.
You can use your A/B testing plan as a way to learn what your audience values simply by testing multiple value propositions with every email campaign or automation you send.
Don’t forget the Preview Line
The subject line is not the only part of your message that your recipients will see. There’s also the Preview line. That’s the line that appears directly under the subject line in most inboxes. In subject line testing, the preview line could remain the same in both A and B versions, however, you could also do a B version of the preview line to see if the message can be improved, particularly with more complex offerings, or with messaging that would be longer than 5 or 6 words just on the subject line.
One of the best ways to use the Preview line is as a continuation of the subject line. It can be used as a way to complete the thought that the subject line starts. For example:
Subject Line: “What’s Your Favorite Color?”
Preview Line: “Our fall selection is sure to have it”
The preview line can supplement what the subject line states, and act as the friendly invitation to act on the email right away.
Subject Line: “This Friday: Learn Microsoft Automate”
Preview Line: “Automation to save time and hassle every day”
An effective subject line is always paired with a good, explanatory preview line.
What about the content of the email?
It’s important that the content of the email continues the message in the subject/preview line pairing. Sometimes, the subject line can be a motivator for the email content itself, but often it reflects the content of an existing message that, presumably, the customer will find valuable. The connection between the two should be firm and without ambiguity.
When can you stop doing subject line A/B testing?
As long as your business is alive and acquiring new customers, then subject line A/B testing adds value to your email marketing strategy. As your audience and your business changes, subject lines (and preview lines) are the first point of contact for your brand in a customer’s inbox. The more in-tune you are with what your audience values about your product or service, the better results you will get from your subject and preview lines, and so from your email campaign in general.
Test your subject lines to see what are the things your audience values about your product or service to create an effective marketing messaging strategy. Keep the content of your emails tightly focused and clearly related to your subject/preview lines pairing.
A constant testing approach to your emails means you will avoid creating a monoculture of messages that your customers will learn to ignore over time. Keeping things fresh and your audience engaged are the best rewards of a successful subject line A/B testing strategy.
When I work with companies using Klaviyo, usually, they have questions about metrics and what to track for evaluating their email program.
If you search the internet for ‘email marketing metrics’, you will find a wealth of articles online discussing a variety of ways of using the data generated by email delivery systems like Klaviyo (Omnisend, Sendgrid, etc.) to create reports that will reflect the performance of your email efforts.
People who have read those endless articles about email marketing metrics worry about numbers such as open rates, click rates, deliverability, bounce rates, inbox reach, etc.
I usually begin the discussion about metrics by asking: What do you want your email campaigns to do?
Usually, when it comes to ecommerce businesses, the answer is: bring money into the business so the program pays for itself and makes a solid contribution to the bottom line.
Non-ecommerce businesses, usually B2B arrangements, have different ideas about what they want their email to do. In their case, it is a tool to bring interested individuals into a non-email driven sales presentation process (demo, sales chat, appointment setting, etc.)
Once there is a clear idea of what the business wishes to obtain from an email program, then I can proceed with creating a dashboard that shows results that will be legible to the business.
I build dashboards to answer specific questions the business may have about email performance.
For example, for a specific time period (month, week, etc.) and assuming that Klaviyo data are your primary source for your email campaign dashboard, I usually start by trying to answer these questions:
1. How many sales have campaign emails brought into the business?
2. How much income have those sales generated?
These two questions deal with the heart of the business need. Usually, your email program should be bringing at least 20% of your store’s income per month, depending on what you sell and how you sell it.
The answers to those first 2 questions set the table for the next set of questions. Based on those results, we can ask further questions to clarify the answers provided for the first 2.
3. How much friction to sales do our email programs generate?
4. What can we do to reduce such friction and improve the results of the programs?
This last question will always come around, regardless of whether the email program is making 20, 40, 60 or 80% of the sales for the site. The assumption is that it can always do more.
At this point, the dashboard needs to display data showing how the email program is performing by answering questions that clarify potential problems with the current way of doing email.
5. How are the Open Rates relating to the Click Rates of our email program?
6. How are the Click Rates relating to Started Checkouts and tracked through email?
7. How are Started Checkouts related to Orders Placed and tracked through email?
Questions 5 - 7 provide you a good way to understand how your campaign-based email program is performing per time period.
This information can help you create potential tests to see if you can move the numbers you see in the data. For example:
For example, one problem that may arise is the requirement by the business to use brand-approved fonts in their emails. Unfortunately, unless such fonts happen to be web-safe fonts, it is unlikely that many individual computers will happen to have font-families like Inria, Mulish, Wigrum, etc. or whatever designer-selected font was chosen by the brand. This means that, if the text is ‘live’ in an email, it will likely display with web-safe font substitutions when it reaches the recipient's inbox. Sometimes, the email may not be readable at all because of this and have a negative effect on the areas concerning Question 5.
You can solve the specific problem of using brand-approved fonts by making the entire email a series of images, or a single image. The fonts will not be affected by the recipient’s inbox. However, you do have to make sure that the phone version of the email does not shrink the text in such a way to make it unreadable for recipients. You can also solve the problem by sticking to web-safe fonts as much as possible for live text that can be personalized.
But I digress.
Question 5 provides the opportunity to split the information by campaign and by list, so the data will be doing double duty in terms of providing good ideas on what is likely to work with which segment of the audience in your list.
Questions 6 & 7 expand the concerns of the email program to the areas where the conversion is supposed to take place. It is important that the email program not be siloed within the organization and that good communication exists between the website group and the email group so tests can be performed and corrections made in case there are misalignments, but also as a process of continual testing leading to improvements in the answers for Questions 1 & 2.
Question 7 brings into the dashboard data from the automations created to manage specific situations like abandoned carts. The data can be derived from Klaviyo and added to the dashboard to illustrate where things stand. Usually, the same data points are used in both areas so it is easy to see where things can be improved and/or corrected.
Outside of campaigns, data from automations can be used to establish how they are contributing to the answers to Questions 1 & 2. The procedure is the same, and the dashboard information is added in separate areas for clarity.
I usually build dashboards using Google Data Studio, and bring Klaviyo data on a regular basis to update the information during the year.
If you have data for multiple years, you can expand the power of the dashboard by adding time-based line charts that can compare the state of specific data points at similar times in the past. You can use these to consider potential trends or compare the performance of the business from year to year. However, time-based charts also have to take time-based historical considerations that could have affected performance and had nothing to do with email itself.
By focusing on answering specific questions, the content of the dashboard is very clearly related to the state of the business (as the business defines it), and using email and store-generated data through Klaviyo provides a simplified data management method for understanding the state of the program, its usefulness to the business, and potential avenues for improvement.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dashboards, and every business has a different take on how they want to view their email data, particularly as it pertains to attribution. This discussion focuses solely on using Klaviyo and Store data to derive a dashboard to understand the performance of an email-based campaign and automation program. Depending on the complexity of your needs, and your priorities, you may have a completely different approach that incorporates other aspects of the business and makes the dashboard valid for your business needs.
One of the great promises of email marketing is to ‘get the right message, to the right people, at the right time,’ with the expectation that you will get the ‘right result.’ The fulfillment of this promise involves audience segmentation.
You could say that a successful, sustainable audience segmentation will provide value in the mind of a customer beyond the message of constant discounting.
There are 5 elements that can make up successful, sustainable audience segmentation.
A thoughtful approach to segmentation that builds upon a customer-centric strategy is very likely to help you succeed in your email-driven efforts. Good segmentation gives meaning to to ‘get the right message, to the right people, at the right time,’ in the context of whatever you are trying to get across, in circumstances dealing from Business to Business or Business to Consumer.
We've discussed the automations that form the main support of an email-based customer acquisition and conversion system. Automations depend on the constant, consistent, and pre-qualified acquisition of new names for the main list of the online business.
If everything goes OK with your acquisition program outside of email (your print, social, search engine, and digital campaigns), and you get a lot of names going through your automations, you may be satisfied with your results and that would be the end of your work with your email setup.
However, if you find yourself wishing that you could do more with email, then you open the door to email campaigns.
Automations are designed to be 'fire, optimize, and forget' types of things. There is no rule that states you cannot constantly tinker with your email automations. However, the main idea behind email automations is to generate 'free revenue' that comes into the store without you having to worry about it. Of course, reviewing the performance of automations every quarter (or every month) makes sense. You can catch problems as you find them and fix them. But overall, automations are meant to run year-long in the same state so you worry about other things.
Campaigns, on the other hand, are your 'email act of will.' You send them when you want to, to as many or as few profiles in your list as you wish, and with whatever message you decide.
When you have an email automation properly setup, there are several cases where campaigns make sense:
These are very specific areas where campaigns can complement email automations and provide real value to an email marketing strategy. This approach also provides a structure for email cadence, which depends, in great part, on the number of SKUs and on the ability of the brand to have a story to tell about its products.
A store with a large number and variety of SKUs can maintain a cadence of weekly emails by highlighting individual areas of the catalog that are either in need of a boost or which have received new additions. If you are constantly adding new products to your catalog, then your weekly email is your communication to your customers of those additions. Depending on what you sell, your chances of getting sales from those communications is high.
If you have a small number of SKUs (less than 20 products) and your catalog does not increase on a regular basis, then a weekly newsletter would not make sense if it is focused only on the specifics of the product: if you highlight how your main product solves problem Y to the profile list that is already convinced, then you are wasting your effort.
If a segment of your list is simply not engaged with that problem or the solution you provide, then you need to be very creative about how to present the problem and its solution so the emails have value in their ingenuity and presentation as much as for the actual value of the product.
In other words, if the only message your brand can generate is related to the actual qualities of the product and nothing more, then weekly campaigns will be repetitive and will likely lead to unsubscribes. Unless you can come up with a story-based approach that builds on the product to be more than the product alone, then you are better off relying on automations than weekly newsletters and can use campaigns for the purposes outlined above when they suit your email calendar.
What's a story-based weekly campaign like? Ask yourself: is your product like a screwdriver, or a swiss army knife? If it is a Swiss army knife, you would have little difficulty showing all the situations where your product would come in handy. Each one of those situations would be the subject of an email, for example. You could even ask your customers to show you how they are using the product, and put their contributions in your weekly newsletter.
But what if the product is more like a screwdriver? Then the number of situations where a screwdriver could be used (these may be humorous or just plain silly) may allow you to tell more stories about the product and highlight its features. They may not be real situations, but the idea is to engage people in the act of purchasing your screwdriver (which has only one function).
It's easy to abuse email campaigns. The need to enhance revenue every quarter is a huge driver for sending repeated, unwanted emails. If you have a small number of SKUs, you may be tempted to hammer the same point over and over every week or every month and hope that customers will finally 'see the light' about your product.
Maintaining the email campaign stream within the guardrails outlined above provides a useful story to tell about each email you send, and depending on what you sell, they should carry value for your customers. And they will complement your email automation setup.
However, not everyone in your entire list will respond to these emails in the same way. This is where segmentation plays a part. Campaign strategy should involve incorporating purchasing behavior and email response behavior into your segmentation. This will improve your deliverability numbers (your open and click rate) and if your message resonates, it will also deliver more sales.
And of course, the emails should be sent with an awareness of each other, so they do not pile up in the customer's inbox. Smart Sending your campaigns helps keep the customer's inbox uncluttered and your messages top of mind when they arrive.
What is the role of automation in email marketing, and how (or if) should you use campaigns to reach out to our email audience? On this article, we discuss the uses of email marketing automation for an e-commerce business and how it can be complemented by weekly or monthly campaigns.
What is email automation and why should you use it?
The promise of automation in email marketing is 'free money.' By setting up a series of automations that catch your influx of customers as they come into your online store, you can, in theory, provide enough points of contact via email automation to manage the customer journey from 0 purchases to 2 or more purchases. Automations, as the name implies, are triggered when a subscriber meets a specific condition and is added to a pre-designed series of emails.
Pre-Purchase Automated Flows
The automations you can use to manage the customer journey usually are described below. These flows work together to turn customer interest into customer purchases. These are Pre-Purchase flows.
The flows described below tend to the relationship with the customer after a purchase. They are Post-Purchase flows.
The 7 flows outlined above would, in theory, take care of customers who are brought into the store via external advertising, SEO, word of mouth, social media, etc. To make the automation successful, the brand has to constantly provide a flow of new names into the system. Since the automations only work when someone becomes a subscriber, either via a purchase or via newsletter, the more emails are added to the system, consistently, the better chance of getting regular conversions from the collection of flows.
Naturally, there are standard automations like shipping and order confirmation emails, but those are assumed to exist separate from these 7.
Adding Campaigns To The Mix (for the win)
Once you have setup, and tested, your automations for an online store, you should be good to go. The next question is: what do you do with all the names that are accumulating in your database once they have gone through your automations? The automated flows can only activate if the customer does a specific action. Once they are used up, you will end up with profiles in your database that could be doing nothing if left on their own.
Targeted email campaigns are designed to solve this problem. They bring individuals from your database into action so they can be managed by the flows again, in the case of a purchase, or the Winback, in case they have fallen out with the brand.
What are good ideas for targeted campaigns? That depends on the number of SKUs in your store. If you sell 4 items, then constantly reminding your list to buy one or all of the four could be annoying. If you can realistically expect them to purchase more than once, then a monthly newsletter with anything new about the items, or selected social media driven stories about the use of the items, might make people purchase again.
If you have a large store with hundreds of SKUs, the newsletter's task is to offer a selection of SKUs to the people who are most likely to purchase them. Segmentation is the tools for selecting who is likely to purchase the items again. The success of these campaigns is heavily dependent on the correct assessment of how your customer views the product. If you sell items that are really meant to be purchased only once, then constantly asking people to buy them again will not work.
Repeat purchases are the result of need or desire on the part of customers, and using email campaigns to generate them and bring people back to the flows is one of the best uses of email campaigns that complements the 'free money' generated by the automated flows.
From Wholesale to Direct To Consumer
5 Ideas To Bring Your Wholesale/Retail Product Business Into E-Commerce
The current business landscape is wrecking long-established direct-to-physical retailer and physical retailer-to-consumer relationships. Both types of relationships are affected because consumers are reluctant to shop in physical spaces, either because they are concerned about crowds, or because it involves a considerable amount of thought consideration that, before, was not even a blip on their radar. The situation is uncertain: no one knows when the current physical retail environment will recover, and what shape that retail environment will take once the situation, as eventually will, stabilize, and the ‘new normal’ is established.
What we do know today is that many consumers, because of lockdowns, uncertainty about facemask rules, and a general desire to avoid crowded spaces, have turned to their phones and computers to do the kind of casual shopping that would normally support a group of stores in a physical retail environment. If your business depends on selling products to wholesalers, who then resell them to physical stores, or if it relies on physical locations, then your revenue is likely to be lower than it used to be at this time of year. And you need to go where your customers have gone.
The Role of Online Wholesale Retailing
The answer has been to complement the physical business by moving or kick-starting the business online. Some brands have responded by creating a space on Amazon or similar large online retailers. These double as digital wholesalers, with the advantage that you are likely to regain sales, but your business does not gain any of the advantages of digital sales due to individual online marketplace restrictions and marketing constraints. Inside one of those marketplaces, your business is also faced with a large amount of one-click-away competition, automatically generated by the Amazon or similar algorithm that places different sellers side by side for comparison. This usually leads to price competition that drives profitability down to its lowest sustainable point, and sometimes below.
This situation is different from what is encountered in physical retailing, where the appearance of similar stores within a restricted physical area (a street, a boulevard, an open air mall), has the effect of keeping a customer interested in a purchase through the exploration of multiple physical locations about that particular product. One retailer’s approach has a good chance to find its mark through the random distribution of individuals physically circulating through a shopping street without having to worry (too much) about the pricing or setup of a neighboring storefront. The randomness involved allows for a fair distribution of purchasers, over time.
Online marketplaces provide ‘naked competition’ that comes down usually to brand recognition, pricing, and convenience. The intangibles about the brand, if they are not supported by large advertising campaigns, are lost in this kind of transactional environment.
Beyond Wholesale Online Retailing
In contrast to focusing only on the sales that a large online retailer can provide, with their attendant limitations, some brands have decided to open their own online shops by building websites and establishing a relationship with their customers, one-to-one. In terms of long term sustainability for the business, this approach - which uses all the tools available for digital sales and focuses them all on your business and its customers - offers the best opportunity to not just survive the current difficulties, but to provide a springboard for consistent, profitable growth into the future. This approach may not exclude the use of a large online marketplace as a ‘home base’ for sales. Instead, it complements it because it makes a brand smarter about its customers and their connection to the products on offer.
An example is the ‘old’ Apple Computer Company, the one that existed prior to the current incarnation. That company had a close relationship with its customers. In the days before social media and the internet, Apple customers literally had a face-to-face opportunity to talk to people inside the company via the MacExpo in San Francisco, at least once a year. Not only did the company get to connect directly with people who purchased their products, but they had a rich environment that, if studied properly, provided excellent clues as to what the purchasers of Macintosh equipment would likely want next in their products. The same can be said for the days when Apple’s products were the object of discussion in specialized magazines, where editors well-versed on the products provided excellent criticism and offered (unpaid) ideas that could find themselves incorporated into future product plans. This was the method behind the ‘go where the puck will be, not where it’s gone’ idea that sometimes surfaced in the discussions about Apple’s direction with its products.
You don’t get the sense that the current version of Apple Computer has a two-sided relationship with its customers. Not through their online presence, their phones, or their online stores. Individuals may feel connected to the products as they use them, but this is on their own - an empty connection unsupported by the company itself and its customer management system. It is a fandom, not a symbiotic relationship. Apple is not learning from its customers anymore (unless it is through loss of sales due to failures of equipment - as with their ill-fated attempt to ‘innovate’ on keyboards that backfired). Apple now is like many other companies, working through a process of imitation of other companies like itself in a competitive environment, but without a path of its own.
It is a behavior similar to the murmurations of bird flocks. Each bird looks to the one next to it for guidance while flying but none of the flock is aware of the overall shape of the flock itself in the sky and no individual bird contributes to the outlines of the shape except during the process of following the others around it.
Carving Your Own Path For Your Brand
You carve a path of your own for your brand by engaging, listening, and learning from your customers, and taking that environmental information into your company to tweak your products, their presentation, and messaging, and transforming them, little by little, into something unique that may not be predictable from day one - but that as a goal, has a better chance to stand up to any competition into the future because it cannot be easily imitated: people may imitate the externals of your brand, like knock-offs of famous brands you see selling on streets in many cities, but they will not feel right to the consumer you want to have as your regular brand user.
You don’t have to be a guru about your brand and its products - but you do have to care about the people who will spend money to obtain them. That expression of caring, of being willing to understand why people purchase what you sell and how they use it, holds the key to what made the old Apple Computer special, while the new Apple Computer just feels mundane.
Steps to Avoid Being Mundane - First: Interact With Your Customers Non-Transactionally
To avoid being mundane, the crucial thing is to find a way to be relevant to some decision that someone is going to take during their day. It might be almost every day, as a grocery store does, or it may be occasionally, as a computer maker does.
To avoid being irrelevant, you need to understand the decisions that are important to your customers - about your products, and about your brand presence, and their timing in taking those decisions.
A well structured, set of automated email flows that can track specific customers either browsing or purchasing products on the site and then (with subtlety), tease out their reactions after several transactions, can help in this type of situation. This is usually supported by a strong survey-based system that is segmented and structured to appear at different moments during the customer journey.
If you already have a list of individuals in your email system, then building this approach requires careful segmentation based on product and other parameters that can be added, slowly and steadily, to the customer profile as they move through their journey. The parameters and the particulars of the journey are individual to the brand, even in transactional environments. Some brands may require customer education, and so a parameter that indicates their level of engagement with relation to that education would be helpful in segmentation, for example.
Second: Test Your Merchandising on Email
Another way that helps you be relevant to your customers is merchandising your products in a manner that is relevant. What makes a presentation ‘relevant’? If you get customers to react to it, share it on social media, and/or share it with their close circle of acquaintances, then you know that you are on the right track. You may use some of the information from the previous step to begin this type of exploration. However, a website may prove to be too inflexible for that kind of work, and a landing page, too ‘salesly.’ Instead, a flexible testing mechanism based on multiple email layouts, merchandising messages, and presentations can yield valuable information that can then be translated into the more permanent environment of the website both in terms of copy and images. After all, email delivery mechanisms have been designed from the start to yield data on everything their user touches, from clicks to views to engagement via open rates.
Three: Expand Your Learning To Multiple Channels
As information is coming into the company, and it is being put to use in everyday communications via email and the merchandising on the website, it is important to use the knowledge for testing on third party platforms as live presentations, videos, or series of related-theme postings. This need not be done via paid advertising, but using the relevant information gleaned from the ongoing activities to find another non-transactional way to connect to customers online via social media channels. This can be giveaways, or live demonstrations of the product, or any other activity that can be delivered only by the product-owner. Every product has a story to tell and you as the temporary owner of that product can tell that story in many ways and find an audience that is interested in them. This is how the search for relevance in the consumer’s life can take shape.
Four: Tell Your Product's Story But Focus on Its Relationship To The Customer - And The Testimonials That Back It Up
As much as you may be internally fascinated with all the ins and outs of your company's process, chances are that customers, existing and potential, may not share the same type of fascination. Customers like to know that you have thought about them when you are working on your products: how will they feel when they use the product, how will they react when they receive the packaging, how will the product make their lives better. Content marketing that is focused on benefits and the process of delivering them makes for a solid bridge between your brand and your customer base. The existing customer base will be reassured that they have 'backed the right horse' vs. the competition, while the potential customer base will be tempted to take a chance on you based on your content. This is where testimonials play an important part in your product's story: as the last chapter in the product's promise. Any brand can state whatever they want about their product (within legal limits), but only customer testimonials can validate those claims through impartial user opinions. Your content marketing, communicated through all channels, but especially through email flows as part of a 'conviction flow', enhanced by testimonials, has a good chance to open doors for your brand via referrals and relinking.
Five: Keep An Open Mind - But Focus On The Ultimate Goal
Regardless of how much time we put into the discovery and analysis work, there is no replacement for the process of learning how to apply it to the individual audience involved. There are no shortcuts. True, there are some problems that are already solved - for example, instead of creating an entire e-commerce system from scratch, you can use Shopify to create a perfectly suitable store that you can then customize as you need it to make it your own. You don’t need to worry about many elements that used to be cause for concerns for people like me when the internet just began to be commercialized, where nothing was known, and you had to create your shopping cart from scratch for your store. Your particular design problems can be resolved as the store takes shape and you have more income to better manage the details.
Your ultimate goal will likely be to create customers who enjoy using your products, come back for more of them, and tell people about them. But not every customer you gain will hit all those notes. And not every customer you gain, even with all the effort to connect to them, will be open to a non-transactional connection to your brand. People compartmentalize, and you have to make sure that you understand when they don’t want to connect with you, as much as when they do. Keeping an open mind and continuing the learning process will ensure that your brand pursues the ultimate goal of establishing itself in a crowded marketplace with a self-replenishing pool of customers coming and going over time.
The myth of Sisyphus tells the story of a man punished by the gods to forever roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down again once he got it to the top.
Rather like looking at your email every day.
The most important real estate in an email is not in the email itself. It is the recipient’s inbox, where your email subject line will take its place among many others that arrive every day, for many reasons, fulfilling many purposes. The success of your email campaign depends on your successful management of your place in your recipient’s inbox.
If you are old enough to remember the 1990’s, you may remember that, prior to the advent of the commercialized internet, the printed catalog ruled the physical mailbox. Imagine if every Shopify or boutique store on the web was delivered to you as a semi-large print magazine, with glossy images, itsy-bitsy copy dedicated to telling you a story about a product or summarizing the features of the same for your entertainment.
For a while, mailboxes all around the US were flooded by prospecting catalog companies that had purchased lists from one another or from list brokers and were trying their luck to expand their audience to meet ever higher business goals. In those days, physical mailboxes were considered an amazing expanding infinite space, capable of taking in as many catalogs and selling publications as could be crammed into them by a mail person.
A physical mailbox has one clear advantage over a digital one. If the mailbox owners are likely to clear the mailbox, entirely, every time they open it. You end up with Mailbox 0 every day, and you don’t have to worry about leaving stray letters or magazines in the mailbox. Normally, you take them all out and you make decisions about them: this one comes inside the house, this one goes straight into the recycling bin. Which selling pieces survive the tired decision making of the mailbox-owners and avoid a trip to the recycling bin is usually determined by three primary elements: whether the mailbox owner knows and expects the company that sent the catalog and whether they consider the selling piece important to them at the moment they look at it. This could be triggered by a headline or an image.
The third element is the mental state of the person while dealing with the mailbox-clearing task: If the person had a lousy day, or been fired, or is having a day where they’ve been contradicted by everyone they’ve talked to, or are simply tired of making decisions all day, chances are, regardless of the brilliance of the images and headlines available in the catalog, that the desire for simplifying life, for making the decision making process as simple as possible, leads the person to take one decision: unless it is a check, or an essential notification of some sort, or a personal letter, everything is going into the recycling bin.
The eyes glaze. The headlines go unread. The beautiful images are unseen. Only the minimum engagement is needed to make that decision.
Who sent it? Is it important? Is it personal? No? Then out it goes.
There may be a bit of a thrill in rejecting all the calls to your attention embedded in the pile of physical mail.
Buy. Read. Watch. Wear. Do.
Not today. (Ha! Owned you!)
Digital mailboxes don’t have the luxury of providing a catalog cover with multiple headlines to increase the chance of a single one grabbing the attention of the inbox holder. You only get one line. And perhaps you get to display your secondary text below it, if the inbox is set up that way. And while most people deal with their physical mailbox only once a day, dealing with an inbox is a constant task during the day and night, a task that is repeated, day after day, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the hill until the end of time.
This means that you are more likely to find yourself at the wrong end of the same impulse that a physical mailbox owner experiences when decision-exhaustion hits. In the trash bin. Or worse, in a fit of anger, labeled as Spam.
Establishing a relationship cannot be done ‘top down’, with the business taking the ‘top’ and directing the customer to have an enforced relationship with them on the basis of consent to email. Establishing this type of relationship, on a remote basis, with email, requires consensus on both sides on the boundaries and benefits of it.
As customers scan row after row in their inbox, day after day, their eyes glaze over the beautifully thought out subject lines, the emojis crying for attention, and they stop seeing you. They stop looking for you in their inbox.
How can the customer see you in their inbox? How can you get them to seek you out there and smile when they see a message from you?
By treating the recipient’s inbox real estate as a scarce, not infinite, resource.
This isn’t simply a matter of cadence of messages. There are times, as when a purchase has happened, where a customer is happy to receive progress reports of the purchase completion and delivery. The messages received are understood to be like passing road signs that don’t require additional attention or action, but that by appearing in the inbox, help transform a remote purchase into something real.
The problem appears after the first purchase, or the first newsletter signup. Most email marketers assume that because there’s been consent to receive email, there is a relationship there, and they gleefully start piling messages into the inbox like someone who can’t believe their luck that anyone would agree to pay attention to them and now that they have successfully ‘breached your defenses’ they are going to take advantage of that situation until told to stop.
That’s how emails in the inbox get to be ignored, deleted and/or labeled spam. The assumption that consent to email is the establishment of a relationship between recipient and business is simply incorrect.
The relationship still has to be built. Step by step. And it is up to your email marketing to do it.
How do you build that relationship? It is a combination of the number of messages and the approach the messages take. It is possible to test the cadence of messaging using tools to establish how a delivery schedule can be optimized beyond the basics. That is relatively straightforward.
The tougher part is where no tools exist to assist you. The part where you as a business has to build and nurture a relationship with someone who may or may not want it.
The first step, then, is to assume that you have no relationship with the customer, even though you have consent to email. The second step is to assume that consent to email really means consent to test whether a relationship between the two parties could exist. From that point of view, you have to create messages that aim to build that relationship and put it on a solid footing so both sides understand where they are in relation to each other.
One way to do this is view your prospect or paying customer as another version of you. A more evolved version of you. One that you are curious about and want to learn more about simply because you feel that you still have to understand them.
Use your email to greet them and talk to them as that more evolved version of you. The You that you would like to be.
The Zulu greet each other with the word Sawubona. It literally means “I see you, you are important to me and I value you”.
By thinking of your email recipient as a more evolved version of you, you can make your messages carry the Sawubona feeling that you see and value the recipient and that you want to learn about them and understand them better.
Email messages provide the opportunity to demonstrate this state of affairs via text, copy, images and the description of your business actions. By exploring this situation from your side, you may find that the relationship has a good chance to exist and survive over time.
And by using the concept of focusing your emails on a more advanced version of you that you want to learn about and understand, you may find yourself respecting their inbox and modulating the cadence of your messages to meet the shared mutual importance between the two members of the relationship.
It may not always work. Not everyone wants to be close to you. But you improve your odds of success by treating the potential of a relationship as just that, instead of assuming that consent to email means you can fully deploy the tricks to trigger a sale.
Going Out of Business...Again!
Some observations on Content Marketing derived from visits to San Francisco's Chinatown.
When I used to live in the United States, I used to travel to San Francisco for conferences and meetings once or twice per year. I arranged those trips so I would have time to enjoy the city a bit. I like to travel to cities and explore neighborhoods via walking and public transport, whenever possible. San Francisco offered those opportunities, so I had a chance to enjoy many of the things ‘the locals’ enjoy, plus some of the more touristy areas that have a charm of their own even though the majority of visitors are from out of town. One of these areas is the San Francisco Chinatown.
There are a lot of shops in the SF Chinatown. Many of them sell the very same items and Chinese-style ornaments, statuary, toys, small gifts, and other items. Often, these stores stand side by side or across the street from each other. The target audience for them is composed of ‘people from out of town, visiting for a few days or perhaps hours, who want to take home a little ‘something’ from Chinatown so they can talk about it to their friends and/or remind themselves of their time in San Francisco.’ For many of these visitors, San Francisco may be a stop in a ‘trip of a lifetime,’ part of a ‘bucket list’ item for a trip to California, or simply part of their ‘get to know America’ from places like China itself and other parts of Asia.
The competition among shopkeepers to attract customers, one would think, is fierce. Since the target audience is not exposed to their wares on a regular basis, the only part of their business that is likely to win a customer is how the store presents itself: what ‘vibe’ it projects, and whether it feels accessible. The purpose of the arrangement is to inspire trust for the visitor who is browsing a store to check it out.
This situation is very similar to what we find when shopping online. A search engine results page reduces our entire online presence to a ‘bazaar’ setup that makes all of us shopkeepers in a tight environment, struggling to entice someone to click through to our store and engage with us.
Content marketing is the tool we use to stick out in the ‘bazaar’ of search engine results and a way to make it count for us is to ensure it is helpful in the task of creating a leads magnet while at the same time contributing to the overall value of the store’s presence, the ‘vibe’ that can bring people into the shop and have them leave with a purchase and a story, which create an experience that they want to tell others once they have returned home.
In the case of the physical stores in Chinatown, this ‘content-driven marketing’ is done via decoration and interior design (or merchandising, if you want to use the precise term): certain stores just look and feel more interesting and attractive than others. How do they do it? Some bring unusual wooden sculptures, that are not for sale, into the store. These could be dragons, or special images of the Buddah, or some type of large flower arrangement that is striking and serves as the ‘lead magnet’ to bring people exploring into their space. The authenticity, strong detailing, and just impressive character of these unique items bleeds over the other items in the store that are for sale, therefore creating an aura of value for a visitor. The presence of unique items is also an invitation to photograph, or learn the story of the item, which helps cement the experience for the visitor.
Other stores take the time to write explanatory notes about the cultural aspect of the items for sale, to help create a ‘buy something and take it home together with its story’ situation. Patrons who have a chance to read something and perhaps chat with someone at the store about it are more likely to not just purchase, but also remember and mention the experience to their friends.
Yet others use their merchandising literally and cleanly with the mission of delivering items for sale for people who are just curious to come in: These stores feel like a clean and easy to navigate bazaar of merchandise, properly arranged and priced, and inspire confidence via transparency. They try to emulate a store a visitor would find at home, and by bridging that gap with familiarity, they hope to entice those who want a small ‘something’ to take back home but don’t want to work too hard to get it.
For some stores, like a Chinese apothecary, the intention will be to show as strong Chinese culture as possible with as little ‘give’ toward the clientele from out of town as they can get away with. Transparency is the last thing they want to project. They need to project authenticity as their main value: If you are looking for a Chinese herbalist, you want one who is steeped deeply into Chinese culture and whose shop has all the signs in Chinese, without translation. Not only does this feel a little intimidating to a casual visitor, but it enhances the thrill of a visit for someone who is willing to let themselves be challenged by the experience. Not everyone will be willing to buy herbs or potions at a Chinese apothecary, but those who venture in will experience a unique, well coordinated, ‘content-marketing’ approach that will feel authentic.
As with the stores that sell more ‘visitor-friendly’ products, a Chinese apothecary creates value just by having someone walk through it once. The number of interesting unique items, even those not for sale, the interaction with a ‘culture’ that is not your own, and the small thrill of exploring a commercial situation that is very different from what you normally find at home, all contribute to make the ‘content driven’ expression for each type of small shop a valuable part of the business. They help make sales by making each store explore and present a unique angle and so feel authentic. Most shoppers associate ‘authenticity’ with ‘honesty and veracity,’ so these are good goals for the ‘content marketing’ approach.
There is another type of ‘content marketing, however, that is also on show at some stores in the San Francisco Chinatown. That would be the eternal ‘going out of business’ sale.
If the target audience for a shop is composed of people who are unlikely to come back any time soon, then one way to entice people into the shop is with a ‘bargain of a lifetime’ approach. One way to project this out onto the street is via a sign that says: ‘Going out of business.’ This automatically implies to anyone passing by that the store will have discounted items inside to avoid having inventory once the store finally disappears.
For many visitors, even those who walked through Chinatown without any clear intention to buy anything, the potential ‘bargain of a lifetime’ is a difficult gamble to resist. They may be able to find something big and obscure that they can buy relatively cheaply, take home, and tell others about how they took advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself. Every time they look at the object, they will reassure themselves that, not only did they purchase something they can be proud of (vs. a useless trinket from any seller out there), but they did so under circumstances that cannot be repeated: the store is going out of business, after all. No one can go back to San Francisco now and repeat the experience they went through. In other words, by being time-sensitive, it acquires an authenticity of its own.
However, if you, like me, happened to return to Chinatown on a regular basis, but many months apart, you may have noticed that the very same store that was going out of business last year, is still going out of business this year...again!
The ploy is exposed: if you were to know the detail about how the store keeps going out of business all the time, then the purchase, for a visitor, loses all the trappings of authenticity as part of a ‘purchase with a story.’ It merely becomes a transaction, and not a very good one at that, since the ‘discounts’ you can get from a ‘going out of business’ sale are usually the same ones you can get at any other store that is less time-challenged to move its inventory.
Worse, if someone a purchaser knows also buys something at that store, and they share stories, the obvious will come out: no one was going out of business, and they both fell for a pitch that just wanted their money. The item they bought will now not reflect their savvy or their ingenuity. It will represent to them something that was part of a cheat. Likely, the purchase will end up in a basement, or sold at the next garage sale. Out of sight, out of mind.
That type of ‘content marketing’ works as a sales driver, but it depends on single purchases, not repeat business (you can hardly expect repeat business if you say you are going out of business).
This is a risk shared by using time-driven marketing for online stores. It works for certain types of customers, usually, single purchase customers, but does not encourage multiple purchases simply because the target audience would not invite that kind of approach: they derive value from being opportunistic, not from being steady purchasers with a relationship with a brand.
If you rely on limited time sales or coupons to push forward business, you are encouraging opportunism as the main driver of a purchase which is not conducive to regular business and may harm your prospects over time (your customers tell each other to ‘wait for the sale’ to come before you purchase anything). The regularity of the discounting is what they end up looking for, and they abandon you if they find something else that is similar, may cost more, and provides them with a different type of story to tell.
Consider these items when you think about content marketing for your online store, and particularly, with email messaging, which is one of the best ways to bring out your ‘vibe’ to your customers on a regular basis.
Daniel Loebl is an experienced Marketer focused on expanding the recognition of customer value inside a business and keeps a 'beginner's' mind approach to business problems.