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Tell the Merchandisers You Want Your Job Back

  |  June 3, 2011   |  Comments

Three strategies to help you regain control of email content.

It's amazing how much content for email campaigns is driven by the merchandising team instead of the email marketers, who might actually know better what their customers want.

So why is that a problem? Because what's hot in your stores or catalogs doesn't always match what your subscribers need or want.

As an email marketer, you might be fighting this battle now, especially if you have preference or behavior data showing email customers shop differently from those in different channels or in person.

Are you ready to take your job back from the merchandising team? Here are three strategies to help you regain control of email content:

1. What's hot isn't always what's right. Your merchandising team might be right on the money about the hottest new products, but your mailing list likely has pockets of subscribers who are interested in something completely different. Understanding buyer behavior and segmenting for differences is crucial here.

One client was disappointed that a recent campaign promoting a new straw handbag for summer didn't do as well as expected, even though the merchandising team said it was the best-selling product for the season.

After evaluating the results, we found that a significant portion of the client's email list was made up of customers who prefer leather handbags. They weren't interested in straw bags, and thus didn't respond to the email.

This client now segments its database by previous purchase and recent browse activity and features the best product for each customer segment instead of focusing only on the season's hottest-selling items.

The case illustrates the importance of leveraging behavior data to trump the general merchandising story for the season. Partner with your merchandising team to make sure you put the right content in front of the right subscriber.

Determine the top three product categories that your subscribers are purchasing from email. What products are most clicked and browsed from email?

Work with your merchandising team to come up with secondary stories to feature for these subscribers. Send the hot new item as the default version of the campaign, but target frequent buyers and browsers with content and products that are relevant to them.

2. The prettiest picture isn't always the right one for your email subscribers. Your creative team members often want to lay out the email content based on a particular design aesthetic. No surprise there; that's their job. However, it's not always the best way to drive clicks, which is the email's job.

In reviewing a client's heat-map reports on previous campaigns, we noticed that the top three and four clicked links in those campaigns were at the very bottom of the message. Clearly, the content and images above the fold were not what subscribers were most interested in.

Armed with this information, the client worked with the creative team to design a layout that enabled the marketer to include popular content in the top half of the message This case illustrates how valuable heat maps can be. Use them to identify the most frequently clicked categories or modules across multiple campaigns and tailor email content to reflect those interests. Ask yourself these two questions:

  • Are the main images and links featured in the top half of the email one of the top three clicked links in the email? If not, you are not featuring content that is of interest to your subscribers. Where else are they clicking? Try featuring that content above the fold to increase response rates.
  • Are modules or content below the fold within the top three clicked links in the email? If so, test moving this content to the top of the email to drive increased click-through.

3. Don't reinvent the wheel. Marketers often get tired of sending the same email content over and over again, but keep this perspective in mind: only 15 percent to 20 percent of your subscribers opened your campaign the last time you sent it. So, the chance that the same people will view your content over and over again is low.

Instead of creating one new campaign after another, look at what the data told you from previous campaigns. Use this insight to fine-tune and freshen up the campaign, and send it again.

Recently, a client was struggling to come up with a "radically different" promotion for Mother's Day. The annual "free shipping" campaign had always worked very well, but the team had grown tired of the same promotion each year.

This client decided to run a new promotion that included a brand-new gift with purchase. Unfortunately, this year's campaign did not perform as well as previous years' campaigns.

Even though the client's regular "free shipping" promotion seemed redundant, it was what subscribers wanted. Our job as marketers is to put the right message in the inbox, even if it is the same as in the previous three years.

In giving you these strategies, I don't want to set off a world war in your marketing department. Your merchandising and creative teams are skilled and knowledgeable people.

However, you are the email specialist. You have a lot of data available to enable you to make educated decisions about the content your subscribers are most interested in.

Your job depends on knowing how to drive the greatest clicks, conversions, and revenue from each email campaign you send. Show your team members you know what works and what doesn't.


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Heather Blank

Heather Blank is a seasoned online marketer with over 15 years of experience. She is currently the vice president of strategic services at Responsys and oversees a team of strategic, analytic, and deliverability consultants. She and her team work with clients to improve email ROI through triggered messaging and improved segmentation. Heather has had great success working with clients to identify their "seducible moment" and develop cross-channel strategies to grow online revenue. Prior to joining Responsys in 2006, Heather drove the online marketing strategies for SignOnSanDiego.com, the San Diego affiliate of CitySearch, and PETCO Animal Supplies. Heather is a frequent speaker at industry events hosted by Shop.org, EEC, DMA, NCDM, and MediaPost. Heather holds a B.S. in Journalism from the University of Arizona.

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