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Creating Effective - and Profitable - Birthday Emails

  |  May 16, 2011   |  Comments

Four companies show how easy it is to make your birthday email program more effective and profitable. Part three in a three-part series.

In my last column, I offered suggestions for improving the content of birthday emails based on a message sent to me by Six Flags. In the column before that one, 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, in my opinion, birthday email I received this year, which happened to be from the NHL.

Today, I'm going to look at a few other birthday emails, both good and not-so-good, which stood out in my inbox.

But first, let's talk about birthday offers. I broke the offers I received in my birthday email messages into three categories:

  • 40 percent were discounts, meaning that I had to make a purchase to get the savings
  • 40 percent offered free stuff, meaning that no purchase was required
  • 20 percent offered nothing but good wishes

Discounts are pretty standard birthday fare; in this column I've focused on creative free stuff offers and one half-hearted attempt at a birthday email with nothing but good wishes (and hardly even that).

DC 101, one of my local radio stations, sent me some non-gift gifts that benefit both of us (below). The subject line was "Happy Birthday from DC101."


Its goals here are obviously to: a) drive traffic to its website, and b) to increase the time spent listening to the radio station. And it gave me motivation to do both. Mentioning the free stuff, especially the free app, in the subject line is something I'd recommend it test to boost open rate and ultimately, response.

I liked the "Automated Greeting" stamp at the top and the tongue-in-cheek opening paragraph. It's very much in line with the DC 101 brand. Read your email messages to see if the voice and tone reflect your company's image. Not every brand can get away with this type of copy, but there are things you can do to make the email sound like your organization and set the voice apart from all the others in the inbox.

The "Photos" section was intriguing to me - I didn't click through, but I was tempted to look at banned album covers. What did get me was the "Music on Demand." Rather than just telling me about this service, DC 101 gave me examples of videos I could view online, which did work. I clicked through and enjoyed a few. And I've bookmarked the page so I can return when I need a little break from work.

The inclusion of links to download a free radio app, customized for the most common smartphones, was also a grabber. This is an easy way to make the radio station more accessible and I can see myself downloading and using it (although I haven't yet).

Is this directly generating revenue for DC 101? Probably not, but it's helping it meet other goals that will lead to increased advertising revenue. And it made this email worth sending, for DC 101 and for me.

Some companies are making some effort at birthday emails, but it's a bit half-hearted. The birthday email I received from P&G Everyday Solutions (below) falls into this category.


Did you catch the special content for my birthday? No? That's because there isn't any here. The subject line was personalized - "Happy Birthday, JEANNE: Get $113 in P&GbrandSAVER Coupons" - but nothing else in the email mentioned my milestone.

I'm normally not a fan of subject line personalization like this. I've done tests, and while it's intended to increase the open rate, I haven't found that to be true. A recent study by MailerMailer backs up my findings. It showed that average open rates were influenced by personalization (which traditionally means first name), but not in the way you might think:

  • Message only personalized: 12.6 percent
  • Not personalized at all: 11.8 percent
  • Both subject line and message personalized: 6.9 percent
  • Subject line only personalized: 6.7 percent

Test personalized subject lines with your audience and see how they perform before you make them your control. Here's the breakdown on personalization from the birthday email messages I received:

  • 48 percent had message-only personalization
  • 29 percent were not personalized at all
  • 14 percent had both subject line and message personalized
  • 10 percent had the subject line only personalized

Back to P&G, which personalized both the subject line and the message with my first name. It should test and see if only personalizing the message lifts response.

Coca-Cola (below) had an inexpensive but relevant present for me - a recipe for a Coca-Cola Birthday Cake.


This email came in on my birthday with the subject line "Happy Birthday from Coca-Cola." Some mention of the recipe might have helped the open a bit. The recipe doesn't cost Coke anything and it's an innovative way to use its product; it's an inexpensive way to offer me something relevant on my birthday. And while I won't be baking this for myself, I can see myself trying it out for a niece's or nephew's birthday in the future.

Finally, one of the least exciting email relationships I have online gave me something that I know I'll use. It was CVS/pharmacy (below) and the subject line was "Jeanne, Our gift to you on your birthday!"


See the statistics and note on personalized subject lines above. Every message CVS sends me has my name in the subject line, so maybe it has tested it and it boosts response. Or maybe CVS just assumed it would boost response and put it in place.

The "free gift" was $3 off any purchase at CVS. Not necessarily as exciting as a free entrée or a discount on clothing. But I know that I'll use this and there weren't any strings attached. No minimum purchase, only the standard limitations on what it can be used for. This is an example of an online brand that doesn't offer traditional birthday gifts providing me something I'll use. CVS could have ignored my birthday or sent a general message with no offer, but it didn't. Smart move. The message increased my brand loyalty and engagement.

So, after reading these three columns, do you have some ideas for making your birthday email program more effective and profitable? I hope so.

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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