When Too Much Is Not Enough

In my last article I talked about how the BabyCenter emails do such a great job of delivering timely content to parents expecting a baby. The click-through rate (CTR) garnered by the emails bears this out as well. According to a helpful soul on BabyCenter’s editorial staff, each recipient clicks about two times on each email!

BabyCenter’s marketers have an easier time of it than most marketers do, because they are in a position to promote to people ready to be promoted to. Most new parents have no idea what they are doing, and therefore a voice of authority and common sense in their inboxes is welcome indeed.

Nonetheless BabyCenter could’ve improved on some things.

Help Readers Find the Help They Need

For starters, after our baby arrived, the emails changed in tone but not necessarily in content. That is, they talk about older babies but do not focus on any particular issue at any one time. What busy parent has time to read a multipage email when he or she is trying to comfort a fussy, crying baby? The personalization approach needs to be centered on the problems that new parents have.

How about a way for the reader to interact with the articles and let BabyCenter know what articles are interesting to them? For example, when I read an article that I enjoy I would like to tell BabyCenter that I want to see more of that kind of content. My wife and I need to know techniques and approaches to get our baby to sleep every night and keep him asleep, but that type of content appears too infrequently for us.

And since there is so much content in each newsletter, I rarely have time to pore over the whole thing looking for that gem of a suggestion. When I do get a chance to read the three or so emails I have collected over time, the behavior I needed help with may already have passed!

Another simple approach to personalization would be to offer different types of emails, such as “Playtime Email” or “Nighttime Email,” with ideas, articles, and offers related to specific topics. Rather than subscribing to a large, all-encompassing email, I would like to look through topic-focused emails and subscribe to those. This would probably solve the problem described next quite handily.

Look to the Future

The great offers that used to be interesting are not so interesting anymore. They are generic offers and more focused on the baby’s current age rather than on what’s just around the bend. Most experienced parents know that most baby gifts that say “0-3 months” are useless after two or three wears or uses and that the “6-12 month” items are the ones that will come in useful.

If the emails were more focused around specific topics and appropriate age groups, the offers would be much more interesting. I have heard professional marketers call this a “segmentation strategy,” but why is it so rarely practiced?

Indeed BabyCenter claims that when it advertises a specific item rather than a general category of products, the response rate is much better (“Click Here to See the Wonder Baby All-in-One Stroller” versus “Click Here to See All Strollers”). But boy- or girl-specific clothing sells worse than nongender-specific clothing. Less expensive items sell better than more expensive luxury items.

Go figure.

This only means that you absolutely, positively must know your customer and what products you sell and how you should sell them. The context seems to be more important than the variety or selection.

Greater Segmentation

The delivery schedule of the emails feels like an avalanche now rather than the steady stream it used to be. It’s not that the schedule has been altered in any way but that we don’t have as much time to read the emails. The segmentation approach would help here as well, since those emails probably cannot be sent out as regularly as the mammoth, all-encompassing BabyCenter email is.

Seasonal tips (winter versus summer ideas), behavior tips and tricks, ideas for holidays, and how to take good pictures are all “applications” that can be integrated into an email campaign with very good crossover to retail tie-ins (witness how Shutterfly works with BabyCenter). People want a nice, quick spread of ideas with ways to act on those ideas.

And of course innovative programs like “Find a nanny in your ZIP code” or “Find ballet for boys in your ZIP code” may work well. The Internet is best when applying technology to real-world problems rather than creating new problems (e.g., time sinks such as labyrinthine content libraries).

Lessons for All

Some people may ask, “Well, these ideas work well for BabyCenter when the audience is well known and so are the problems, but how about for not-so-specific audiences or problems? How about the Amazon.coms of the world?”

I say, “GET SPECIFIC.” Figure out your audiences, and feed them the information little by little. Don’t make a customer answer 50 questions with five options to each question.

Learn your products, and get product champions to describe problems they have solved. Educate your customers. Encourage word of mouth that has merit and is insightful.

Don’t pester a customer or try to hard-sell. The average customer who buys online won’t take it. When customers opt in, they’re not saying, “Send me whatever you have! I have the time to read every little bit and buy one of everything.”

The main lesson to learn from the BabyCenter email campaign is that if they don’t evolve, even the best campaigns can get pretty boring and overwhelming. The content has to be tailored to the lifestyle of the person being marketed to. BabyCenter thinks it has baby and child content pretty much figured out, but it still doesn’t have the retail strategy put to bed.

A new parent’s lifestyle is time-stifled and Internet-impaired; BabyCenter should take notice, as should any email marketer that runs recurring campaigns to a very specific audience with very specific problems.

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