When I think of what email marketers really want, I'm tempted to paraphrase Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street, substituting "greed" for "more."
More is good. Marketers want customers to purchase more and prospects to engage more; they want more email subscribers on their lists; they want more data to work with from more sources; they want more brand recognition than their competition. This might be somewhat of an oversimplification, but ultimately, the "more" that every marketer wants is revenue, and increasingly revenue is being influenced by user-generated content, especially product reviews.
There is a ton of data to suggest that purchasing decisions are heavily influenced by product reviews, with respondents to consumer surveys reporting that both positive and negative reviews factor into their decision making, and that their trust in online reviews is similar to personal recommendations.
So how can marketers make sure prospects see this revenue-generating content? Consider another highly influential marketing tool: triggered messages. There is an equally robust amount of data highlighting the benefits of triggered email messages. A recent Epsilon study found that open rates for triggered messages are 61 percent higher and click-through rates are 117 percent higher when compared to "business as usual" messages in the same period (Q1 2013).
For tips on how to create winning triggered product review campaigns, I looked at what some of the top retailers and travel brands are doing with theirs. I focused on campaigns with higher than average read rates (25 percent and above) across the month of September.
1. Use Crystal Clear Subject Lines
Of the 16 travel and retail brands, all used the word "review" in their subject lines. For example, REI used "Rate the Gear You Purchased - Write a Review at REI.com." A few retailers, including Amazon, Expedia and Best Buy, included one of the purchased products in the subject line. This had a positive effect on Expedia's read rates, with trip details in the subject line generating a 10.5 percent higher average read rate than the same type of campaign without them. Ticketmaster referred to ticketed events in their subject lines, contributing to a 28 percent average read rate for their campaigns.
2. Let Product Experience Set Timing
As every marketer knows, timing is as critical as content. Ticketmaster triggered their messages between 2-3 days following the purchased event. REI took a different approach and waited 2-3 weeks after the purchase to allow the customer time to use the product and form an opinion before writing, "Now that you've had a few weeks to test out the goods, we want to invite you to write a product review on REI.com."
3. Incentivize Reviews (with gifts)
There were also a variety of approaches used to encourage subscribers to submit reviews. Some brands, like Carter's, OshKosh B'gosh and Vitacost, featured incentives such as a chance to win a $100 gift card. Best Buy included the chance to earn "My Best Buy" points with the submission of a review, reflecting a practice used by other brands that tied the review process to their loyalty programs. For example, Sephora called out the benefits of its Beauty Insider program: "Your recent purchase was automatically added to My Beauty Bag, an exciting way to shop, collect, organize and pin all your favorite products online."
4. Incentivize More Reviews (with recognition)
In addition to a triggered message requesting a review, TripAdvisor used multiple types of triggered campaigns to encourage subscribers to keep the review content coming by marking various milestones in the review process. This included messages to subscribers who submitted their first reviews; a monthly update to previous reviewers letting them know how many people had read theirs; and a message letting other users in the subscriber's network know that they recently earned a Passport Badge. Hotels.com had a similar approach, with a campaign letting subscribers know that their review had been published. TripAdvisor's subscribers also saw their reviews featured in regular promotional campaigns for popular destinations.
5. Incentivize Even More Reviews (with goodwill)
Another tactic to encourage review content was appealing to subscribers' altruistic tendencies. Zappos prominently featured this as a call-to-action for their product review campaign to VIP customers with the subject line stating: "Help Others! Write a VIP.Zappos.com Review!" and a related call-to-action in the body of the message: "Yes. I Want To Help!" Carters also included similar language in their email creative, asking subscribers to "help other moms and dads make better purchasing decisions," and REI reminded subscribers of the importance of honesty for both helping "your fellow outdoor enthusiasts make their own gear picks" and REI improve their products.
Implementing product review campaigns may be more challenging than other types of triggered messages, which you can mostly set and forget. Complicating factors include the integration of purchase data, the functionality required to host online review content, the need to moderate the content received and the touch points associated with asking for and receiving content.
However, these messages can have a direct and measurable impact on increasing purchasing activity, especially for customers who are on the fence or are unfamiliar with your brand. In addition, you will also create a valuable subset of customers and subscribers who are vocal, engaged and inclined to give feedback. This tactic may not be simple, but it's definitely an example of more is more.
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As vice president of professional services at email intelligence company Return Path, Margaret Farmakis oversees teams of specialists helping global brands improve the deliverability, response, revenue, and ROI of their email marketing programs. Prior to her six years at Return Path, Margaret spent 10 years producing and managing multi-channel integrated direct marketing programs for Fortune 100 companies, focusing on the financial services and technology sectors.
March 19, 2014