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Birthday E-mails: A Missed Opportunity

  |  May 2, 2011   |  Comments

Here is how a fun brand could have avoided disappointing a potential fan. Second in a three-part series.

In my last column, I provided a client case study showing that birthday emails can lift conversion rates by 60 percent over non-birthday email messages with the same offer. I also did a quick review of the most effective birthday email I received this year, which happened to be from the NHL.

Today I want to look at the least effective email I received this year - one full of missed opportunities and lessons you can apply to make your own birthday email message more effective and more profitable.

But first, a few statistics. I analyzed my birthday message based on the type of sender. The results were:

  • 32 percent came from retailers
  • 20 percent came from restaurants
  • 32 percent came from other types of entities

The other entities included:

  • An amusement park
  • An astrology website
  • A coupon website
  • The dealership where I bought my car
  • A hotel chain rewards program
  • A local radio station

My point: birthday emails aren't just for restaurants and retailers anymore. I still haven't received any from B2B organizations, but it's just a matter of time.

Now on to this week's example. In a recent survey done by MarketingSherpa, 56 percent of email marketers cited "targeting recipients with highly relevant content" as their most significant challenge. It's something that many of my clients struggle with, but it's something I can often solve just by repurposing content from other sources.

That's the biggest issue with the birthday email I received from Six Flags (below). I've offered up Six Flags as a company that could improve its email marketing in a previous column. It's sad to me, because it's such a fun brand and has so much unrecognized potential for exciting email marketing.

This email arrived on my actual birthday; the subject line was "Wishing you a More Fun Birthday."


When I got this email my first thought was - is the park open yet? The weather here in D.C. is getting nicer…that would be a fun day! But nothing in the message answered that question.

Because I was writing this article, I took the time to visit the website (while there are no obvious links, the images here do go to the Six Flags home page, below). There I learned that the park wasn't open yet (my birthday was April 12), but that the opening date was April 16, just four days later. So maybe a belated birthday celebration would be in order? Six Flags should have suggested that in the email - it's a missed revenue opportunity that would have cost nothing extra, since the email was being sent anyway.


Also on the home page was a link to learn about birthday celebrations at the amusement park. Talk about relevant. I know they're probably more targeted at children, but again, the email was being sent anyway and aren't we all kids at heart when it comes to amusement parks? What a fun all-ages party!

The packages include cake, ice cream, gift bags, and access to the park for a flat fee per person - and the birthday boy or girl is free. There's a two-week advance reservation required, so it would have to be a birthday-plus-a-month party at this point. Should Six Flags have sent a message with this information to me a month prior to my big day? Maybe so - I looked and I didn't receive one.

Also on the site - season passes are now on sale and there was a special offer. If I had bought four back on my birthday I would have been before an April 25 deadline, allowing me to get free parking all season long. This offer is very timely and, again, a missed revenue opportunity for Six Flags. I realize that this offer couldn't be included in birthday emails all year round, but why not pull it in at key times? Dynamic content would make this relatively simple - and you could pull in other special offers or notice of special events throughout the year.

The content is the biggest missed opportunity for Six Flags in this email. But there are other smaller things that could have been done more effectively. These include the salutation ("Hi Sixflags") – the personalization is basically wasted since the type is so small. It wouldn't really jump out at you, even if it was my first name.

I'm not sure where the "Sixflags" salutation came from (just under "Blow out your candles…"). I do tag a lot of the email that I sign up for, so "6flags" is part of the email address I used when I registered here. But I'm surprised that they would change the "6" to "six" - and I'm not a fan of just using part of the email as a salutation. Either you have a first name or you don't, and if you don't you shouldn't try to personalization with a first name field (use a default term instead). There was no link to a subscription management center, so I imagine that they don't have my first name.

Six Flags also isn't leveraging the AutoPreview option on Outlook (below); the content that appears there, under the "From" and "Subject" field entries, is a standard view online message. It's not going to engage readers and motivate them to read the email. I've written about this in past columns; leveraging AutoPreview or snippet content is an inexpensive way to boost your response rates.


The header is an image, so with images blocked only the view online message appears. Again, nothing to engage readers. The birthday balloons do have some impact when images are enabled (see above) - but it's not personalized and there's no reason for me to look further.

If the content of the email were more relevant, as discussed above, a more effective subject line could be used. Subject line copy that referenced a party at the park, or even the "birthday person is free" angle would be great. As it is it's pretty generic and pretty uninteresting (as are many of the others, if you look at the full inbox).

While I'm a fan of white space in email message, this message has too much. The "Happy Birthday" message appears in rich text and in the cupcake image - a redundancy. It pushes the personalized content down and isn't a good use of the space.

In the final column of this series I'll talk about a few other birthday emails I received, all either as examples of things done well which you can emulate - or things that you can do better in your birthday efforts.

Until next time,



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Jeanne Jennings

Jeanne Jennings is a recognized expert in the email marketing industry and managing director of digital marketing for Digital Prism Advisors. She has more than 20 years of experience in the email and online marketing and product development world. Jeanne's direct-response approach to digital strategy, tactics, and creative direction helps organizations make their online marketing initiatives more effective and more profitable. Digital Prism Advisors helps established businesses unlock significant growth and revenue opportunities in the digital marketplace; our clients learn to develop and implement successful digital strategies, leveraging data and technology to better meet bottom line goals. Want to learn more? Check out Jeanne's blog and Digital Prisim Advisors.

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