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Marketing Isn’t Always Sell, Sell, Sell

January 11, 2001

In online marketing, e-mail retention campaigns have taken off as the preferred choice for companies -- e-tailers, business-to-business, anyone who wants to leverage the Internet for marketing.

Despite the growing clutter in online mailboxes, marketers are constantly challenged to improve the performance of e-mail campaigns. Often the simple ideas work best.

There are two ideas for the new year that may spice up the typical mix of mostly hard discount offers and major sale messages that are seen screaming in the subject lines of e-mail that you read every day.

"Thank you." When was the last time you simply thanked the best-performing segment of your house file, which probably includes recent clickers who are multiple buyers and high-margin buyers, with no strings attached? This message would include a straightforward subject line and a simple message, with no offers or discounts, that gets right to the point and thanks this core group for helping build your company by being good, loyal customers. Of course, you might also include a true gift (co-branded or inhouse), but if you attach strings to the message, you have missed the point.

Our experience shows that when you recognize your best-performing segments and thank them accordingly, they know how to thank you as well. These simple recognition campaigns have been some of the top-performing campaigns in terms of click-through rates and conversion rates. Those are double-digit percentages in both cases -- often more than 20 percent CTR and more than 25 percent conversion rate.

Now for some e-mail heresy: "Please unsubscribe." When was the last time you invited the worst-performing segment of your house file to leave or to unsubscribe? And that does not include the standard and nominal copy at the bottom section of the e-mail message.

Send a proactive e-mail campaign that directly addresses the non-clicking, non-opening or one-time buyer who has not purchased in six months or more. This message would include a straightforward subject line and a clear message recognizing that, for whatever reason, this user has not responded to any message or offer.

Every marketer knows about this dormant, yet sometimes surprisingly large, group of e-mail names. These names help keep house list counts high, and most often are used for bragging rights in company press releases. Yet this group never responds.

Our experience with this proactive approach has been gratifying. Not only have previous clients actively "cleaned" the house file of passive nonresponders, but they also received a higher click-through by users who wanted and demanded to stay on the file. Some users went so far as to state in their e-mails that they will click more often and consider the offers of the client.

Though unsubscribe rates rose slightly for this ad hoc mailing, the rates were not startling. And though this message was not primarily an activation message, CTRs and conversion rates on orders were higher than usual. (And, in future campaigns, we had a more accurate picture of click behavior because we no longer had this segment of dedicated nonresponders holding down CTR and conversion rates.)

For those marketers who want to brag about the size of their customer files, how about an alternative: Brag instead about higher conversion rates, better performance and more customer loyalty.

One caution: The tone of the message and the sincerity of thanking or asking someone to leave your list should be taken seriously by the advertiser.

• Rick Cairo is chief permission brain at eBrains inc., Alexandria, VA. Reach him at


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