Forget RPE, What's Your PPE: Personality-per-Email?

  |  April 30, 2013   |  Comments

As we pay revenue its appropriate due, let's not forget to leverage personality in our marketing to build relationships with our customers founded on affection and trust, not short-term gain.

Since the recession of 2008, many companies felt a winning strategy was to cut costs, cut "unnecessary" spending, and focus all marketing on lowest-price offers, trying to win a race to the bottom.

Yet, as the waters calm, and we count the companies still around, we find that some survivors chose a different strategy: staying true to their values. In their operations and their marketing, these companies stuck to the things that defined their perception in the mind of consumers.

In my recent work with clients, especially bigger companies, I've discovered a near fanatical importance placed on revenue-per-email (RPE). While revenue is important as a measure of immediate value that a company derives from its efforts, it is only one of a collection of results that define the value of an email or cross-channel marketing program. Just like the diet that focuses on the exclusion of carbohydrates and nothing else (like, say the benefit of healthy fats), overinvestment in the RPE metric can lead to an unbalanced and suboptimal marketing mix.

People buy from companies they like and trust. Where does that affection and trust come from? Certainly not promotions, specials, and clearance items. Affection and trust come from personality (what some may call brand).

Zappos has become a well-known example of a company with a well-defined personality. It delivers happiness. That simple goal, along with a few others, defines almost every step it takes as a company, including its email programs.

Every email from Zappos, from promotion to shipping confirmation, reflects the company's personality. For example, rather than the standard "Hi Justin..." greeting, Zappos greets me with "Hello Zappos Zealot!" What follows is usually some fun and quirky language letting me know my order is on the way or what's new. Plus, each email includes one of Zappos' 10 core values, such as "Be Humble," near the footer. Reading these is like peering into the journal of Zappos - I begin to know the company, and I like what I learn.

Why spend time on such personality? Why not just send a simple shipping confirmation with a tracking number, and say "Thank You For Your Order"? I imagine the RPE for a single Zappos email is on par with the RPE for many other clothing brands. But I can almost guarantee that the lifetime value (LTV) of a Zappos customer is higher. It's so much easier to like and trust Zappos.

Another example of a brand with high personality-per-email is JibJab. Unlike Zappos, JibJab inserts its personality through intelligent use of visuals in email. Since JibJab makes customizable e-cards (the one's you can put your face on), it's natural to leverage the fun and playful visuals in its emails.

But it's not merely screenshots of the e-cards that make JibJab's emails have high personality-per-email, but the selection of e-cards to promote. As the Harlem Shake became a viral video, and then an Internet cliché, JibJab sent an email highlighting all of its dancing-themed cards, subject line: "No Harlem Shake Required." Fun, witty, playful - clearly JibJab. Even emails for its new venture, StoryBots, reflect the fun videos and activities for kids in a way that is appropriately appealing to parents and representative of the StoryBots personality.

JibJab has free cards as well as a paid subscription, so perhaps it is lucky that a focus on RPE is probably not viable for its business, forcing the company to think of other metrics to measure the success of its campaigns. But even Zappos, a straight-up retailer, sees the benefit in promoting its personality along with product offers.

Overreliance on RPE comes from a combination of the following pressures:

  • The pressure to show short-term financial results
  • The pressure to show growth in a measurable way
  • The pressure to attract customers through promotion (in other words, the pressure to make up for a lack of personality)

Not everything that is valuable, even to a company, is measurable. And, as history shows, too much focus dedicated to short-term financial results can become a cancer that slowly destroys the company, even as RPE is high.

Our customers are people, and so are we. As we pay revenue its appropriate due, let's not forget to leverage personality in our marketing to build relationships with our customers founded on affection and trust, not short-term gain.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.



Justin Williams

As one of StrongView's in-house marketing strategists, Justin Williams helps email marketers develop and implement strategic lifecycle marketing campaigns that are continually optimized to increase engagement and revenue. For the past five years, Justin has applied his expertise in email marketing, social media, web design, and other interactive marketing disciplines across a variety of industries, including retail, finance, media, and technology. In addition to founding his own consulting company, Justin has built go-to-market strategies for early-stage startups and worked with brands like Cisco, Qualcomm, and Geeknet. Justin holds a BA in cognitive science from the University of California at San Diego.

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