Tuesday, July 23, 2019

When Good Enough Shouldn’t Be: Optimizing Automated Emails

Email marketing is so effective and has such a high return on investment that brands often settle for good enough when they could be achieving much higher returns. In this blog post series, we’ll be examining several overlooked opportunities to increase your email marketing performance.

One of the biggest opportunities comes from optimizing your triggered or automated emails. These high-performing, workhorse emails reliably perform hour after hour, day after day. They include cart abandonment, browse abandonment, and post-purchase cross-sell emails, amongst others. 

Automated emails have been unfortunately lauded as “set it and forget it” emails. If you’ve consciously or unconsciously embraced that approach, then you’re settling for slowly diminishing returns and possibly deteriorating customer experiences.

These are living emails, and as such require ongoing attention to ensure that they’re healthy and thriving. With that in mind...

When’s the last time you took a serious look at the performance of your automated emails? Ask yourself:

  • How are my KPIs trending month to month over the past year?
  • How are my automated messages performing compared with industry benchmarks in your vertical?

When’s the last time you ran tests to optimize the performance of your automated emails? Ask yourself:

  • When was the last time I ran an A/B test in each of my triggered emails?
  • Are there opportunities to add or improve AI-driven recommendations or personalization in my triggered emails?
  • Have I tested swapping in seasonal messaging into my automated messages to make them more seasonally relevant? 

When’s the last time you did a quality assurance test on your automated emails? Ask yourself:

  • Are all of the links in my triggered emails working? Do they have accurate UTM tracking tags?
  • Do my automated emails render and function as intended across all of the email clients that are the most popular among my subscribers?

When’s the last time you audited your automated emails to ensure they’re in line with your current brand guidelines and styles? Ask yourself:

  • Are all of the logos, images, image styles, font families, and other design elements up to date with my brand style?
  • Is the language I use in my envelope and body copy consistent with my current brand voice?
  • Are the navigation bar links in line with my website’s or tested and optimized for my email audience?
  • When is the last time I redesigned my triggered emails? Are they based off my current email templates?

And there are so many more questions to ask, all of which can lead to better performance and more success. 

But that brings us to the second major hurdle around improving these emails: They are generally perceived as performing “fine.” They’re not squeaky wheels, so they don’t get the grease. This has led automated emails to get little attention to the detriment of the revenue of the channel and to digital sales overall.

Brands tend to spend a lot of time trying to boost the performance of low-value assets rather than trying to boost the performance of high-value assets. This isn’t always the best strategy, as small increases in high-performers can often yield more than big increases in low-performers. Optimizing your automated emails offers just such an opportunity.

Case in Point: Cart Abandonment Emails

Let’s focus on the abandoned cart email. It’s one of the highest performing emails in terms of revenue per email that you can send. 

Let’s say your abandoned cart email generates $5 million in revenue a year. Increasing your conversion rate from 2% to 2.25% is an incremental $625,000 annually. Worth it? Most definitely. Doable? Most definitely as well.       

Here are a few ideas to test that are categorized by the level of effort typically associated with the initiative:

Low Level of Effort:
  • Expand your friendly from name. Keep your brand name in it and keep it at the front, but add a qualifier like referencing the cart. For instance, your sender name could be “Your Brand Cart Reminder.”
  • Test your subject line. This is the classic test component. It’s not only super easy, but it’s super effective. Consider testing adding personalization (i.e. “Clint, you left this in your cart: Fair Isle Sweater”), increasing urgency (i.e., “Complete your purchase before prices go up” or “Grab it before it sells out: Sport Kayak”), or altering the tone of voice (i.e., “Do you need help deciding?”).
Moderate Level of Effort:
  • Improve the email design. Take a fresh look at your message with an eye toward mobile optimization and CTA location. Automated emails tend to be redesigned much less frequently than promotional email templates are. Take a look at your triggered emails and see how their design compare to the latest updates to your promotional emails.
  • Add seasonal messaging. When carts are abandoned during the holiday season or in the run up to certain key holidays for your brand, consider adding secondary messaging that adds that seasonal context. For example, for cart abandonment emails sent during the back-to-school season, add a secondary content block promoting your collegiate logo shop, your back-to-school checklist, or dorm room essentials guide.
  • Make it a series. Are you only sending one cart abandonment message? Expand it into a series. Try sending another email the next day. And if you’re only sending two, then consider sending a third email a couple days after that. Depending on your email service provider and the level of sophistication of your cart abandonment series, this may require a higher level of effort.
High Level of Effort:
  • Optimize the timing. For most retail and ecommerce brands, sending a cart abandonment email sooner rather than later is better, so don’t let that first abandonment message wait more than a few hours, if possible. If you’re sending a series of cart abandonment emails, test the delay between emails timing, especially between the first and second email. Depending on the technology you use and how flexible it is, this could be difficult. However, getting the timing right can mean the difference between being just in time and too late.
  • Insert dynamic content. Are you featuring the product(s) that were abandoned in the email? In not, consider adding it so you’re not forcing subscribers to click through to be reminded of what they left in the carts. If you’re already doing this, consider adding dynamic recommendations of other related or complementary products by using machine learning.
Other Automated Emails to Focus on

Once your cart abandonment email is fully optimized, look at your next best performing triggered email and think about ways to improve it. For many retail and ecommerce brands, that’s likely to be their browse abandonment email or welcome email.

Not sure which automated emails to focus on? Start with doing an inventory of all of them. Get some basic performance data and find out when each one was last updated. That will point you toward the ones that most deserve to be at the top of your priority list. 


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