Holiday email marketing and beyond

In our 29th episode of Expert Diaries, we are going to talk about some of the most relevant email marketing questions focussing on the holiday season and the period beyond it. To enlighten us regarding these important aspects, we have with us one of the most popular email marketers out there, Dela Quist.

It was in the 1990s when he identified email as a very effective means of marketing, and then eventually he went on to be associated with some very renowned organizations like Data and Marketing Association of the United Kingdom. He was also a part of EMC. Along with that, he was also associated with Interactive Advertising Bureau, and then again he was also a part of Future of European Advertising Stakeholders. Currently, he’s the CMO of Alchemy Worx, an email marketing agency that he founded in the year 2001.

Dela: Thank you. And the other thing that I would only add to that list by way of credibility—I always call this the “why should you listen to me” question. As you very kindly pointed out, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been associated with a lot of organizations. I was greatly honored to be named as the ANA email marketing thought leader of the year for 2022 as well, so that’s possibly another reason why what I say may be of value. As you pointed out, I founded Alchemy Worx—so long ago—around about 2000. I built it up and we joined forces with another agency, Sell Up.

We merged the two agencies, kept the name Alchemy Worx, and I’m still associated with that. So it’s been a it’s been a very long journey, but the one thing it does is it makes me able to recognize what’s truly new versus maybe what’s not, so thanks very much for the intro. I’m really enjoying looking forward to doing this session with you. Thank you.

Susmit: Firstly, congratulations on being the email marketer of the year in 2022. Talking about email marketing, the very first question that comes to my mind is that as you know, every single year, email marketing doesn’t change—people do the same things—but every year it’s a bit different. There is a uniqueness to every year. So, what do you think is unique about this year? Anything special, any unique attribute of email marketing in 2022 that should be taken into account with regards to the holiday season?

Dela: Oh, well this year—so, first of all, interestingly enough, I would actually contend that email actually does change a lot. The problem is it’s always there and the change is organic. It’s a bit like saying cars don’t change because they’re always cars. However, if you look at the same E-Class Mercedes model from 2022 and then you go back and look at the E-Class 1992 model, there’s huge change, but they still take you from A to B.

I’ll give you an example: When I first started doing email marketing, the number one question was, should I use HTML? It annoys users, right? Subscribers hate HTML because it clogs up their inbox. Actually no—it was the email database managers who hated HTML, but people didn’t mind it at all. And when the iPhone came—CEOs never used to care about creative until they had it on their phone, and suddenly their marketing will get a company call from the CEO saying, why does my email look bad on my iPhone? They didn’t care when it was a Blackberry.

I could go on and on. I actually think another good example is to look at what happened with the pandemic.

We didn’t see people face to face for nearly six months, a year, or whatever it is, and when you looked at them, they’ve just grown older, but if you’d see them every day, you wouldn’t have seen that.

So, what’s specific about 2022 compared with other years for the holiday season? I think there are a couple things that are different. So, last year, for example, the economic situation was very different. There was a lot of money around. Governments had been throwing pandemic money at their customers in the US and in the UK. There were several grants the government made—a lot of assistance—they put a lot of money into the system. Simultaneously, the whole of China was locked down.

So, last year, for example, the issue wasn’t really about discounts as usual. It was more about supply. So just having a product meant that you were the number one in everybody’s mind. They weren’t looking for a discount as such. Giving a discount for something you couldn’t get hold of didn’t make sense then. This year is actually very different; the money supply is incredibly different. We’ve got concerns about inflation in all the major economies. Mortgage rates are going up. There are fears around that. The cost of energy is exploding globally, et cetera. So there are a lot of things that are happening that are eroding consumer confidence. And when consumer confidence goes, that means you’re tipping maybe into a recession, or potentially it also means that for most retailers and people who want to market through the holiday season, their concern is they’ve already had a downturn in revenue, so they’re trying to make it up, or they’re worried that this is their make or break quarter which the holiday season typically is—and suddenly they’re not going to make their numbers. So market share is going to be very important.

I think discounting will probably be quite heavy, or as heavy as is possible. I think that marketers are going to be more concerned about actual demand and shoppers turning up to their stores than anything else and so potentially what’s different this year is that your own list of customers or subscribers is going to be really valuable. The reason is email is still the most cost effective way of reaching someone you know. Okay, now, I always say “someone you know” versus “someone you don’t know”, because if you don’t know them you can’t email them, because that’s a fact. But if you do know them and they have subscribed, it’s way cheaper to send them emails than to do a customer match on Google or Facebook or LinkedIn and pay them, what, 50 cents? I mean the CPM is ridiculously high for reaching those people in another channel versus email. So I think email’s always really important for different reasons every year, and you made that point that it never seems to change. The bit that it’s important doesn’t change, but why it’s important is because it’s flexible; it’s cost effective; you can turn things around in a minute. If your numbers aren’t good or your paid campaigns aren’t delivering, you can double down on your email really quickly, very cost effectively. So, I think this year it’s going to be super important for those reasons, even more than usual. I think usually most people are worried more about mailing too much or inbox overload. I don’t think they can afford to do that. 

I think the concerns this year will be cost effectively reaching people in a way that allows them to deliver discounts where they’re needed.

Susmit: The second question that comes to my mind is if it is the case that in email marketing, every holiday season, the inboxes get filled up, then people are also looking for a very specific kind of metric. Every year, as people are filling up inboxes, it also has to be taken into account whether the email has reached the recipient at the right time or not.

There is a chance that a good email gets lost in the clutter of all the unnecessary ones—all the irrelevant ones. So I think email marketers, until a certain point in time, did depend on send time optimization or the open rate. However, with the developments like Apple MPP, email marketers are completely depending on higher engagement metrics like click-through rates. Don’t you think that dependence on this very specific metric will affect email marketing? What is your take on this?

Dela: Well, I’ll tell you what the problem is. The problem is the word “open rate.” I hate open rates. I don’t follow open rates. I never have—I don’t mind about them. I certainly don’t use them as my main KPI. They’re at the very best an indicator, but they’re an indicator of some other activity going on further downstream. So, whilst they’re a poor signal, they’re a large signal. Click rates are the opposite; they’re a very accurate signal, a very powerful signal—but it’s tiny. It’s coming from a long, long way away. So let’s start with open rates. You’re confusing engagements with “open rates” as opposed to “opens”. So say you send one email a month and you have a 50% open rate—your list is 100 you have 50 opens. Okay, now if you send one email a week, suddenly you’re sending four emails per month. Your open rate has to drop, say, 15%, so now you have 60 opens. Who do you think Google or Apple is going to consider the most engaged list? The one where only 50% open and only sent one email, or the one where 60% of people engage with at least one email? And many of them would have engaged with two, three, or four?

So, you’re actually giving Gmail, Apple, Outlook—all of these people—a very good reason to say all this is engaged, right? So if you call “open rates” engagement, then you will fall into that trap. If you call “total opens” engagement, then you don’t fall into that trap. So here’s what happens: The inboxes are full at the holiday season, but so are stores, right? And so is the inventory in the store. So sometimes you want to buy something online and the website crashes because everybody is in a hurry to get it. People want it for a particular reason. The idea that email is unique is mistaken. There are more commercials on television; there are lots more billboards going up everywhere, promoting the holiday season. Every single bar, club, and store has got signs promoting the holiday season. Why didn’t we all die? This is because it’s completely expected; we’d be disappointed if the holiday season didn’t have full stores and there wasn’t this sense of camaraderie and joy and offers and special things and all that sort of stuff.

So to me, this is all we’re doing—we’re delivering to that. Now, we go to the final piece of the open rate. Let’s go with one email a week—maybe send time optimization is important. Send three emails a week, maybe send time optimization is less important. Now, if you send one a month, then send time optimization becomes very important. So the point is that, during the holiday season, we’re increasing our frequency to such an extent that people will open less but they will respond more. And I speak about this a lot and it’s the final thing about the signals (talking about click rates). Click rates are very powerful signals but so is “abandoned browse”; so is “purchased last holiday season,” which was more than 12 months ago. So in my book, someone who bought from you last holiday season and never opened a single email in a year since then is actually more valuable than someone who opened the last email two months ago but didn’t buy for you last holiday season.

So, there are things that you can look at within your database—and we do—and by the way, when the MPP thing came and everyone was worried that open rates would go away forever, we spent a lot of time looking at the alternatives. We can create the same alternative revenue, but we reach fewer people, right?

And so you’re getting to the bottom of the funnel. The pool is shrinking and shrinking because you’re mining fewer and fewer and more and more valuable people and nothing is coming in at the top. Let’s take Starbucks for example. I don’t need to open an email from Starbucks where the subject line is “50% off on coffee today.” I won’t open that email; I’ll just be walking past the Starbucks, see that there’s a discount, and I’ll walk in there. Now, I don’t get the attribution in email, so this is a very long way of saying, if I was to summarize it, that open rates are an extremely bad measure of engagement.

Total opens is better than open rate. If you have a database of one million people and in one quarter 250,000 people open, and in the next quarter 500,000 people open—I don’t care what the open rate is—500,000 opens is better than 200,000 opens by a long way, and the revenue that you get will be a lot more. So open rates are not so important for engagement for me. And secondly, they haven’t gone away because Apple is only one part of the ecosystem. It’s a big piece, but it’s not everything. All the others are still working. You still have to use open rates for them.

The third thing is that if open rates had gone away, what would deliverability folks use? They can’t beat you with anything, so what the deliverability people are doing is they’ve started recalculating what the impact is of MPP on the opens.

So when you see 50%, what did that mean? And so they look at the same day last year or the same list and then they say, “Well, last year the average open rate was consistently 20%; this year it is consistently 60%.” So, they’ll put in a delta and say, “Okay, divide this by 2.5,” and they’ll come up with an approximate number. You can do that as well, so they haven’t gone away. I’ve always thought that they were poor signal of engagement. They’re a good signal of potential intent, right? So what happens is, when someone opens, rather than saying you’re engaged, you say they’re in the process of engaging, and you start engaging them with all the other emails sent. The open itself isn’t the engagement, and only a small percentage of email recipients open, click, and buy, and that means that even so, how do you know they weren’t impacted by the fact that you send them three emails a week? So Brand A sends three emails every week, Brand B sends one email a week. Who are we going to remember? You’ll probably remember the one with three emails a week, so that’s the complicated thing. Opens are still there, but not so much for things like send time optimization—that’s a bit of a problem, but not a huge one. I mean, there are ways of getting around it, and all the people in that space are finding ways around that.

When you increase the volume in the inbox, the open rate will fall. That doesn’t mean people are less engaged, it just means you’re giving them more chances to engage. And that’s where the example I gave is illustrative—if your open rate is 20% and you send four emails a month, then 60 people open, right? Whereas if it’s 50% at one per month, it’s only 50.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with golf, but there’s an expression that “driving is for the show, putting is for the dough”. A really good golfer—and the person who wins the money—is a guy who can putt, not the guy who can drive 500 yards. And I’ve changed it to, “Marketing rates are for the show, totals are for the dough.” If someone walks into a meeting and says, “My rates are up, my conversion rate’s up 500%,” I’ll go, “That’s because you were only sending to two people last week, right?” But if someone comes and says, “I’ve increased our revenue by 5 million pounds,” I don’t care what rate it was. It’s five million dollars or five million pounds in the bank that wasn’t there before. That’s what I mean about show versus dough, so when you deliver me a million openers, I know you’re talking good stuff. If you say to me, “My open rate is 70%,” I’ll tell you it’s too high.

Susmit: Going to the next question: When it comes to email marketing and the holiday season, there are many email marketers that actually go ahead and practice email marketing in a seasonal manner. They will send out emails during the holiday season and try to re-engage with inactive contacts, not looking into the lists properly as to how many of those email IDs are genuine and how many of them might have been converted into spam traps. So taking all of this into consideration, certain email marketers are seasonal and they are not going to be permanent email marketers. What is your suggestion to those who are practicing email marketing only during the holiday season or who are seasonal in nature and become very active during this time of the year?

Dela: We have very few clients who are just purely seasonal, if ever. I don’t really recall a single client that was purely seasonal, so it’s not that I don’t have the knowledge—I don’t feel that I should speak about that, because that’s a different issue. However, there’s plenty more advice I can give to people who mostly increase their output in the holiday season. Most brands, B2B and B2C—even service kits companies who are going to be closed over the holiday season—they up their marketing because they’re passing on goodwill, etc.

So anytime I address a question around deliverability and getting blacklisted, I always give you this very clear proviso—it’s a disclaimer. I am only talking about people who email opt-in lists—ones that were grown organically. I’m talking about people who have organically grown lists of customers that they’ve built. Okay, so that’s the first thing—that’s the disclaimer. Now, here’s the funny thing: When was the last time you changed the email address that you use for your credit card?

Basically, no one does it. I’ve asked this question many times, and the best answer I can get is 10 years ago or 20 years ago, whatever it is. It’s a long time. It doesn’t matter; what matters is which email address they give you. Now, if the email address they give you is their trusted one—the one they use for people that they transact with, people with whom they have a strong relationship, people that they have respect for, people that they know are not spammers—why would they give you Why would they give you an email address that they don’t intend to use for more than a week as a throwaway? Why would they do that? All deliverability problems begin and end with your data and the quality of your data and how you collected it.

There is no deliverability person who will disagree with me on that point. We’re starting with a list of people. And let’s say for the sake of argument, by magic, as of today you have one hundred thousand or a million people who are all 100% engaged and have opened within the last 30 days or whatever it is, okay? Roll forward 12 months and I will guarantee you if you don’t do anything different, the vast majority of them will not open a single email in 12 months. It is somewhere in the region of 50% to 60% of every list that I’ve ever seen. I don’t care how engaged they were on day one; after one year, at least half the people will not open a single email.

It’s got nothing to do with the email address, because you’ve got the email address with their credit card they used to buy something from you in the holiday season last year. They don’t need Christmas presents again, or a candle, or a cake, or a tree for another 12 months. Why should they open your email? That’s the first thing. The second thing is, why should you stop mailing them? If you don’t stop mailing them, you’re keeping the list warm and engaged and you will not have the problem at the end of the season where you’re now trying to get five million people, 50% of your list, 20,000 people, or whatever it is, that you have not mailed for three or four or five months, and then suddenly you start mailing them. What do you think is going to happen?

Susmit: They will unsubscribe or they will complain.

Dela: However, if you had continued to mail them at least once a month, every month—I would normally recommend you to mail your contacts once a week, but I’ll compromise and say once every two weeks is fine—but if everybody on your list is emailed every two weeks, tell me why you’d have a deliverability problem in the holiday season when you suddenly increase that to two a week or three a week? Why would you have a problem?

Susmit: There won’t be, because the spike won’t be very noticeable in that case.

Dela: Thank you! That’s the point. This idea that you don’t want to upset them by sending them an email when they’re not buying from you, so you’ll hold off—that’s what causing the deliverability problem and that’s what forces you to do silly things like a re-engagement campaign.

And actually, the other thing I was going to say is that it also tells you that you should be doing your re-engagement the quarter before the holiday season, because everybody that re-engages the quarter before is now active for the holiday season quarter already. So your list of 60-day openers or 30-day openers, if you’re using open rates—or 60 or 120 or 360-day clickers, website visits, or whatever it is—it should be the biggest for the whole year at the beginning of the holiday season. It’s not luck. People take their active list as luck; “Oh, my active list is 50% today; oh, my active list is down to 40%; oh, my active list is 70%.” They just act as if God gave them the list and they have nothing to do with it. Whereas I say it should be your goal. The number one metric that I give all the email marketers is the percentage of all the opens—let’s say three months, six months, twelve months, twenty-four months—the number that drives your revenue. I cover a lot of things and for me email marketing is a whole organism; it’s really hard to talk about the leg without referencing another part.

Susmit: Now that we are talking about the holiday email marketing season and the different metrics—and along with that, we also talked about how cost-effective email marketing is. How do you see SMS campaigns going along with marketing emails? How do you see SMSs complementing email marketing during this holiday season?

Dela: It’s very important right and it’s something that we spend a lot of time at Alchemy Worx doing is working with both SMS and email. And again, as you know, my expertise is more about email than the specifics of SMS, but here are things that I do know. The complementary nature of the two are really important, so you have to consider two things: cost and impact. SMS has a very high impact and it has a relatively high cost—some might say very high. It depends on how you observe it, relative to other channels or email. What we’re doing is we’re looking to systematically try and use the channels in collaboration with each other. If we’re finding someone is not engaging, when we know they should have done—let’s say it’s 12 months since they last purchased, so you would be expecting them to purchase again. Then that becomes a very cost effective conversion driver, right? Because you tried everything else and boom, it does that. The reverse also holds true in the sense that when you send out SMS campaigns, you’re keeping yourself in their inbox and sort of reminding them that you exist.

So it’s about finding reasons and using cross promotions across the two channels. It is very important to the holiday season, because payday and purchases are so much greater, and you have such limited time. It’s about focusing on the intensity of that final conversion blast that you send, if you like, and whether that should be SMS or email, or how you do them, and it varies from client to client.

Susmit: So, taking a cue from what you said earlier, that there’s a platform which you don’t visit very often, and that platform sends the most emails. If we replicate that same approach in terms of our purchasing—and, say, I don’t visit the store often—what does the store do? The store comes to me via ecommerce functions, right? Most of the activity that happens during this holiday season is purchasing goods via ecommerce platforms. Ecommerce platforms, as usual, play a very important role during this time of the year. What is your suggestion for ecommerce platforms who are practicing email marketing during this time?

Dela: If you’re a small scale ecommerce retailer, for example, and you’ve just gone and picked up a plug and play ecommerce account, most of them come with basic email functions and can do basic email stuff that makes sense and does automations that maybe were more difficult to do 15 or 10 years ago. Now flip it the other way around, where email is already more important to you. I would suggest that if you do that, I would say paid media is more important to you, right? So, the way you drive traffic to your website is predominantly not email. It is really just a transactional thing for you. If you want to take email marketing and say that it’s for nurturing, I only want to buy someone once through paid media, whichever that is, I will keep them on my list and keep that list warm forever—for five years, six years, or seven years. I’ve seen people who’ve been on the list seven, eight, nine years. I’ve looked at so much data—and this is another advantage I have—I’ve done it long enough that I’ve worked with clients and I can go back and I can look over seven years and find a guy who has been on the list for seven years, and they’re still buying—some of them. It’s a smaller and smaller number but there is always a proportion of them that are buying again.

If your approach is that email is your own direct to market channel or direct to consumer channel—and it’s so cost effective it’s nearly free—imagine if the post office or an SMS company came and gave you a million calls, SMS’s a month At a CPM of 50 cents, what would you do? Would you be sending less SMS or would you be sending a lot more, right? Because SMS costs more than that.

The point is that if you feel that staying in touch with your customers is important, and the more you’re in front of them, and the more likely they are to open, it makes sense to use email as your predominant channel for staying engaged. In which case, I would say the functionality of the ecommerce platforms that just do email isn’t quite what you’re looking for in terms of content marketing, design, creative, ease of build, flexibility, and some of the targeting and stuff. Because with ecommerce platforms, you have to take their targeting, right? But with an email you can sort of create other segments and be more creative with them. Again, to be clear, you can do almost anything on a basic email-related commerce platform and you can do a lot of the basic e-commerce stuff on email platforms these days depending on what you get.

So the question is what’s driving you. If media is your predominant way of driving traffic, then an ecommerce platform is right. However, if you want to shift from a paid to a more retention-based approach, then email is a better option.

Susmit: Talking about ecommerce platforms, there was this question that I had in mind, given the latest developments that are happening around the world. Ecommerce platforms might show a tendency to venture into email marketing as well. This can be like sending out abandoned cart emails or acknowledgment emails or maybe at some point in time going ahead and sending out cross-selling or upselling emails, suggesting products and services. How do you see this affecting the world of email marketing or email marketing platforms?

Dela: Well, it doesn’t affect the email marketing platforms as much as it impacts the email marketers, because you make your choice, you build your stack, and you decide whether it’s going to be this heavy or that heavy. It impacts the market in a way by actually making it very difficult to join the dots and do cross-channel marketing. Because your abandoned cart is coming from one place, and sometimes they’re system-generated. Some of them, you know, were built by the IT department 20 years ago, and the reason they don’t change it because the IT department had built them 20 years ago and no one knows how to change that. So I think the more separation you have in your messaging between different platforms, the harder it is to pull them together.

The second thing, I think, is in terms of attribution, and again, the question is who cares. Whenever I talk about attribution, people say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter because the company is making the money,” and I go, “No; it’s because attribution is how you share a budget.” So I know that whenever a client buys another technology to supplement their email—more like ecommerce technology or something more like a CDP than an ESP, those kind of things.—as soon as they start taking over the identification of the clients and the segments, the attribution goes to that platform straight away every time.

Now, if it went the other way around and I started taking over, then someone would say, “Oh no, that’s cannibalization—it doesn’t count.” But when you spend a lot of money on a very clever platform that’s a black box that tells you that this person’s gonna buy and that person’s gonna buy, so mail them, you’re not going to attribute that back to email that you sent out every week for the last 20 years for free, right? So that’s really what I mean by saying “Who cares?” And it’s different departments. One of the things about it is that email marketers tend to be in silos. They tend to be the people who are not often getting involved in discussions about technological issues. It’s often an afterthought, and I think that’s what the problem is. As long as you don’t care, because you are the email marketer, or the marketing director, or the CFO, the money’s coming in and you don’t care, and those people are happy sitting in the corner and spending nothing—the email guys—and these people over there are spending millions of dollars, you’re going to attribute it to them. So the main problem is it drives inefficiencies, because in economics, what you should be trying to do, in terms of opportunity cost, is move dollars around until you can’t make any more money.

And if you have bad attribution, then that movement of dollars will be inefficient, and there’ll be places where you’re thinking that you’ll be making more money—and you can’t move it from there because you’ll lose money—where that is not the case.

Just to give you an example, if you were to do it the other way around, and you were to move your abandoned cart away from where it is now with the ecommerce platform and move it to email, what would be interesting is would they allow the revenue to be attributed away from the ecommerce platform to email, or would they call it cannibalization? I suspect they’ll term it as cannibalization. They’ll say, “You don’t need any more money, you only need one person to do the email. Look, you’re doing a great job—shut up, stay there.” If it was the other way around, I suspect they would be going, “See? As soon we bought this platform, it identified all the right people. These email marketers don’t know what they’re doing.” So they’ll say it’s correctly attributed if it goes one way, but it’s cannibalization if it goes the other way. 

Susmit: Since we have talked quite a lot about the holiday season and we talked about ecommerce, one thing that many email marketers still struggle with is the post-holiday churn, because that is the time when most of the email marketers who have already been busy with the market look at regaining the lost energy. So what do you say to the email marketers for this year who might go ahead and look into the post-holiday churn?

Dela: My first question is, “Who says post-holiday churn exists?” Define it. I’ve not heard of it. Does that mean someone who bought a holiday gift for Christmas for their wife, who isn’t going to buy her another holiday gift for Christmas for another 12 months—what, they churned because they didn’t open an email for a year? I don’t understand it.

If you mean people are going to open your emails less in January when they’ve got no money as they’ve spent it all on the holiday season, and you want them to open emails that say look at this lovely toy that you don’t have, or this wonderful product that you don’t have? No. To me the idea of churn means that you actually know how long your customers are there and you know them. So you’re saying this person who used to buy once a year now stops buying. Well, in that case you can’t talk about churn for at least 12 months, and probably 24, because one could be a blip; one could be the exception.

Churn is such an interesting thing. “They’ve stopped opening.” That’s not true. They may be less active from every perspective because they blew all their money in the holiday season. I mean this is another thing people forget: Human beings have much less money in January and February than they do at any other time of the year simply because of what they do, especially in the West. And different cultures have it at different times of the year, but it’s the same thing.

If you say that actually what happens is that there’s a bunch of people that stopped buying from you and hate you because you’ve sent them three more emails a month than usual—that doesn’t really exist in my mind.

What does exist is people take a break; you’ve been sending them emails a lot, right? And so that’s the same thing. That’s why there are no more holiday season commercials on television the day after. They do the sales for a few days, and then they stop, and they give you a break—but they don’t give you a break from everything. They then start giving you holiday and travel stuff, because most people book their holidays and travels just after the Christmas series. So it’s very seasonal, and it’s not like clothing retailers lost their customers and the travel retailers gained those customers. No; they’ve been in and out of activity. And this is the point that I try and make to people: At any given time, in every segment—let’s say your most active segment, the best segment you could ever think of—there’s at least one person in there who’s about to drop off and not open an email for another year. Now, take your least active segment, the ones that haven’t opened for two years. There’s at least one person on that list who is suddenly about to open and buy. You cannot know this, because in every segment there is every persona, in greater and lesser degrees, moving in and out. I call this audience management, because you need to understand where your audience is at any given time and make your messaging and your expectations appropriate to that. So if you’re managing your audience, you would expect it to be at its largest and most active—because you’ve worked towards that—in October, November, and December.

You would expect it to be at its least active and quiet in January, February, and March. So you think of things that would keep them okay without the expectation of their buys. People still buy, so you still have to make offers. However, maybe you do a bit more content, or a bit more light-hearted stuff, or something different in that period. And you also test different things, such as conversion buttons—how does a blue button work or a green button work. You shouldn’t do this in the holiday season; that’s crazy, because that’s your busiest time. I’ve been testing it maybe in January or February so there’s fewer people but you can be more creative. Also, because it’s less important to you from a financial perspective, the risk is lower. So that’s probably how I would ask you to think about audience management. Accept that when you know your audience—and I’m going to use a cinema audience as an example—at any given time there’s someone who must have a snack. At any given time, there must be someone who has to go to the toilet. At any given time, there’s someone who’s responding to an SMS, or is deeply engrossed in the movie, or closes their eyes because they don’t like what they’re seeing. You can’t predict that on an individual basis, but you can say, in an audience, I can predict with a reasonable amount of precision how many things I can expect and I should be working towards opening and what percentage of my audience should I expect to be active at any given time. That’s how I approach it.

The reverse is also true. If you’re constantly being reminded about someone when you think about something, then you’re probably going to go, “Oh, this is my brand.” And the other thing people forget is they act as if everyone is signed up to every single list. They’re not. How many insurance companies, say, are you going to sign up to? Not more than one or two, right? How many specific clothing brands are you going to sign up for? One, two, three, maybe five. What about holidays? One, two; is it going to be five? is it going to be 10? 20 or 30? So when you stop mailing them from your sector you’re leaving a space in the inbox for another brand. Because suddenly what will happen—car insurance is a good example—you know I’m not going to buy or renew for a year. You decide you don’t want to upset me. I secretly go and buy a dog—you don’t know that—and now I need pet insurance. You haven’t been in my inbox for ages so I didn’t think, “Ah, Geico.” I don’t think that because I haven’t seen them for a while. So I just go and type in to Google “insurance” and five of your competitors come up. I’ll go and click, and before you can pay for insurance, you have to give your email address. Suddenly, one of your competitors has you as an active buyer of insurance—a different kind—and they’re in the inbox when you’ve stopped mailing.


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