Bye, bye, BUY! The perils of overly salesy emails

May 10, 2015 12:15 PM

Email marketing excels at driving sales. That’s in large part due to consumers’ overwhelmingly preference to receive deals, discounts, and other promotions via email rather than through other channels. However, there are very real dangers to being overly promotional with your email messaging mix.

Here’s Why…

The number of promotional emails that retail brands send each of their subscribers has more than doubled on average over the past seven years, according to my own tracking. In 2007, retailers sent each subscriber 95 emails on average. Last year, it climbed to 215. And that doesn’t include the growing number of triggered emails that are sent in response to cart abandonment, browse abandonment, inactivity, and other behaviors.

Email marketing’s high consumer acceptance and strong return on investment are two of the reasons for this increase in message frequency. The rise of mobile is another. It addition to making email messaging more immediate because people have constant access to their inboxes, mobile has resulted in shorter messages because of the constraints of smaller screens. While that constraint has forced marketers to be more judicious about what content they include in each email, it has also resulted in content that would have fit in one email a few years ago being broken up into two emails today.

The net result is simply more commercial messages reaching consumers, but for retailers it means something more—that they are sending their subscribers more emails between purchases. While email subscribers love a good deal, an endless stream of “buy, buy, buy” messages can cause subscribers to tune you out except for when they decide they are in the market to buy.

That’s a big lost opportunity because:

  • You lose the chance to inspire your subscribers into making a purchase
  • You miss out on impulse buys
  • You get fewer referrals from forwards and social mentions connected to your email content
  • Lower email engagement may hurt your deliverability, reducing the number of subscribers that get your emails in their inboxes

How to Fix It…

The solution is to have a smart mix of hard-sell and soft-sell messaging, so subscribers stay engaged even when they’re not looking to buy. This is not a new concept—Drs. Foster & Smith learned back in 2008 that leading with helpful content can boost sales—but it’s one that many retailers have been reluctant to embrace.

To get you inspired, here are several soft-sell tactics that retailers are using to engage their subscribers, along with some real-world examples:

Education. For many products, consumers don’t know they need it until they’re educated about the product or about the circumstances that drive its need. This is particularly true of complex products like electronics, health, and pet products, among others.

Drs. Foster & Smith has been leading with educational content in many of their emails for years. This approach has allowed them to establish the problem and then promote the products that solve those problems. The pet supplies retailer does this in this email that offers tips for traveling with pets, as well as travel-related products.

How-To. Similar to education, how-to advice is rather critical for suppliers of raw materials, like home improvement stores and art supplies stores. No one buys grout if they don’t know how to use it and don’t have a project in mind.

In this email, Michaels combines the urgency of the Halloween season with project details for a Halloween tulle wreath. Rather than trying to sell the tulle, foam, scissors, and clip-on spiders, Michaels tries to sell subscribers on the idea of making a Halloween wreath.

News & Information. News and other updates can keep subscribers engaged with the product category that’s key to your business. A great example of this is NFLshop, which has a good blend of outright promotions and more newsy content. For instance, in this Apr. 22, 2015 email, they included the game schedule for your favorite team, knowing that excitement about the upcoming season will drive sales.

Social Interactions. Part of what becomes grating about promotional emails is that it’s always the brand talking at the subscriber. By leveraging social interactions, you can bring the voice of your customers into your messaging. That makes it so it’s more like your customers are talking about your products with your subscribers.

For example, in this May 7, 2015 email, J.Crew shares the looks that are pinned the most from their catalog, the most talked about products on their website, and #jcrewdenim pictures from Instagram. Nearly every call-to-action includes the word “shop,” but the hard-sell is softened by the fact that all the content is drawn from customer activity online.

Cause Marketing & Branding Building. What does your company care about besides selling things? For instance, The Container Store is proud to be one of the best places to work in America, and uses their email program to remind subscribers of that fact. American Apparel is proud to be made in the USA, and makes sure subscribers remember that. In this Apr. 22, 2015 email commemorating Earth Day, American Apparel also let their subscribers know about their director of recycling, playing up their concern for the environment.

While the hard-sell will always be a big part of email marketing, the soft-sell will become a bigger part of the equation for retail email marketers as email frequencies continue to rise and as more Millennials, which generally dislike at being sold to, become retail email subscribers. It will be a significant shift for many retailers, but a more editorial approach is now needed to build trust and maximize email marketing revenue, long-term engagement, and subscriber lifetime value. Take a look at your email content calendar today and look for opportunities to soften your approach.

Litmus provides email creation, preview, and analytics tools.





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