I'm a big amusement park fan and I've written about Six Flags, the amusement park company, in this column twice in the past three years. The first was a column on Six Flags' general newsletter; the second was a critique of a birthday email. In both cases, I cited missed opportunities to engage the reader (in this case, me) and drive traffic to the amusement park.
So I was thrilled to learn that Six Flags had recently revamped its program. Here are some things it's doing right and some things it could still be doing better. And even if you aren't in the amusement park industry, you can apply these same tips to your email newsletter!
I'm going to focus on content, rather than layout, since that's the strategic aspect of the newsletter and, for the most part, there are some best practices here that should help readers.
I'm a season pass holder for Six Flags, but I was on the email list prior to that (with a different email address). So I can see that it's creating two versions of the newsletter, one for season pass holders and another for everyone else (see below; I've included both versions side-by-side to make it easier to note the differences).
The copy at the top right of the newsletter tells you which version is which. Six Flags has done a very good job of targeting the promotional calls to action to the segment being email. The differences are small but important, for instance:
Six Flags also gets kudos for intermingling promotional calls to action with editorial content. In the body of the email (the left column) you'll see a small promotional item after each article (it's got a gray background). This is important - when you put all your promotional content in a single place away from the editorial, it's more likely to be missed by readers.
Once again it's targeted the promotional content to the status of the reader:
Official Park Newsletter
Season Pass Newsletter
Again, a small thing, but offering a current season pass holder the opportunity to buy a season pass isn't a good use of space in the newsletter.
In most cases you are deep-linked to the relevant page when you click, so you don't have to go searching. Seems simple enough, doesn't it, but that's a place where many companies still fall down (and, unfortunately, Six Flags still isn't doing this consistently).
The season pass, purchase tickets in advance, and flash pass links all go to the same landing page. If you click on one of the first two links, it's not so bad, since information on both of these options is above the fold. But if you're looking for information on the flash pass…
This doesn't work so well. You have to scroll to find it (and it's not just below the other items, there is content on the page between those and the flash pass information). Also, for season pass holders, it's a bit confusing because the information above the fold is not relevant. Something for Six Flags to work on if it's serious about selling flash passes.
It'd be interesting to know what the conversion rate is for people clicking through from the email to buy flash passes. And to see if it would improve if those visitors were taken to a page dedicated to flash passes, or at least to an anchor link on the current page that put flash passes at the top of the viewing area.
Season pass holders also get an extra section of discounts and coupons not provided in the general email newsletter. These all seem to link to pages dedicated to the offer cited, which is great. It's a shame that the 20 percent coupon (season pass holders only) for cabanas wasn't mentioned in the cabana ad in the body of the newsletter; that would have made the offer stronger.
One lost opportunity in both these newsletters appears in the "Upcoming Events" section. When you click to learn more about a specific event you're taken to the events home page and you have to search to find what you clicked on.
Upcoming events are listed on that page, which helps, but it would still be nice if the event you clicked on were "blown out," providing full details instead of making you look for it and "click on it here" to get them. When an event has a dedicated page (which some do), you have to visit the events home page, find the event, click on the item there to "blow out" the details, then click again to get the full page. Bottom line: there are too many unnecessary clicks.
A couple more thoughts on these newsletters…
You may be wondering why the articles are the same in both versions but appear in different order. I've no idea. I'm hoping that Six Flags is targeting it based on some type of observed or reported behavior, but I don't know.
The "Weekly Contests" are a great way to engage readers - too few companies use tactics like this to make newsletters more interactive.
The "Keep in Touch With Us" section is also good. Notice that the season pass call to action appears in the general newsletter but is omitted from the season pass holder version. There are lots of options for engaging with Six Flags.
It's a shame that, for all of the email newsletters I looked at, the right column was longer than the body of the email. And the "Special Offers" section is always at the bottom, most likely to be missed.
These "Special Offers" appear to be paid advertising, so they are another type of revenue generation for Six Flags. But the fact that there's nothing in the left column to pull people down here makes me question its effectiveness. As an advertiser, I wouldn't be happy. As a reader, I don't really care, because I'm not looking at this newsletter for third-party advertisements, I'm looking at it for park news.
Until next time,
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Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.
March 19, 2014