Posts filed under ‘Market Strategy’

Are emailers effective? A review of communication tactics, Part 2

As mentioned in my last post, with an aim to analyse the marketing emailers that I’ve received, I let promotional emails accumulate in my Gmail folders for over three months – from June to August this year. Presented in this post is an analysis of these emailers, an experiment I’m glad to share with the readers of this blog.

Background Notes:

I almost never notice ‘marketing / promotion / lead generation’ emails sent to me. That’s because Gmail, my primary email client for personal emails, detects and filters unwanted emails with an alarming accuracy level – less than 0.1% of email in the average Gmail inbox is spam. And the occasional, unsolicited ones that I do spot in my inbox are duly marked ‘spam’ which ensures that I don’t see more such in future.

As I downloaded the emails accumulated in my spam folder, I noticed that more than 90% of those emails were for Banking and Financial services (BFSI) products. It was a significant volume of emails from one sector, so I removed the small number of emails from other sectors and am just presenting the findings from the 469 emails from the BFSI sector.

Hence, a caveat, this is a biased analysis. The analysis is only of BFSI product emails sent to me specifically, based on how I have been profiled by a) email marketing service providers / databases (ESP), and b) BFSI products/brands that I purchased or interacted with; as well as c) a few ‘opt-out’ choices I made over the course of these 3 months from some of the email databases.

Deliverability insights:

Did you notice that I mentioned that these emails were pulled out from the spam folder? A probable reason for emails from these senders being classified spam is their domain / IP reputation, not to mention the ‘quality’ of their email lists.

The graph below shows the top email sending domains and the number of brands they’ve sent emails for.  For instance, I received 65 emails, on behalf of 15 different brands, from one of these senders, mailpost.in. These domains are pretty much in the business of ‘bulk’ mailing – repeatedly sending emails to the same consumer for various brands.

1 DomainsSendingEmails

Would a brand really want to be associated with such bulk senders?  As marketers, before picking or approving an ESP, some hard questions need to be asked. How was their database built? How good is their segmentation? What data protection systems and processes do they have? What is their spam rate? How do they measure deliverability? What tools do they use for email authentication? What is the domain and IP reputation? Digging deep into these even before an email is designed ensures tremendous campaign success later.

Time based insights:

As I opened these emails to glance at the contents, the quantum of such email kept increasing and this trend continued even after I stopped opening them and unsubscribed to some of these databases. From about 2.6 emails every day in June, they went up 3x to 8.2 emails per day by August. The one thing that ESPs are clearly good at is tracking open rates and ensuring their future mailing tactics maximise chances of meeting their objectives.

2 EmailsByMonth

The next variable I looked at was day of the week. BFSI brands prefer weekdays, with a slight peak in emails sent on Thursdays and Fridays, and a clear drop on Sundays. 

3 EmailsByWeekday

At an hourly level, the trend is clear too; email receiving peaks between 11AM to 1PM. I got 40% of all emails in that slot and this trend was fairly consistent across weekdays and across months. These trends are in-line with some send time learning on email marketing.

4 EmailsByHour

Product category insights:

Among the various sub-segments that comprise BFSI, Life insurance has the maximum share of voice (SOV) on mass media (TV, print and radio). It’s followed by Mutual Funds and Retail banking (thanks to all the new banking licenses), and I expected the same aggressiveness and SOV in digital/email marketing as well. But, more than a third of emails I received were for Credit cards followed by those for Personal loans. The former are being pushed aggressively by traditional banks while the later were being pushed by NBFCs.5 EmailsByProduct

Banks still send 44% of all emails.  But what is really interesting is that if you remove credit cards, both NBFCs and online aggregators/dotcoms are giving tough competition to traditional banks. Online aggregators have started to go beyond regular insurance products and are sending out a fair mix of emails on other financial products.

6 EmailsBySenderType

Messaging insights:

In terms of the actual emails themselves, to see how many different ‘creatives’ are being sent, I analysed the subject lines. I began by assuming that the email content / message is the same if a subject line is the same; many a time the email content was the same even with a changed subject line,  I ignored this scenario.  I noticed that both the quantum of duplicate emails as well as their proportion kept increasing as months went by. While this is a telling commentary on how an email marketing companies’ business model works; what is of greater concern is that brand marketers are opting to re-send the same set of creatives for months together.

7 DuplicateEmailsOverMonth

As mentioned in my earlier blog post, the email subject line has a critical role to play in email marketing. It has to provoke and interest a person enough to make him open and read the email body. And because email open rates are abysmally low, the subject line has an additional burden of delivering the brands’ benefit. The word cloud shown below visualises the words used in the subject lines in these 469 emails that I received over the 3 month period, with the brand and product category names removed. The more prominent the word, the more frequently it is used in the subject line.

8 WordCloudAllBFSI-redone-banks removed-horizontal

Once the brand name and product category is established, brands seem to be mostly communicating promotions – free, no fee, save, cash back, complementary, vouchers / tickets, offer etc. Very few talk about  other important benefits that drive brand image, such as a) service levels – expert, stress free etc., b) process – instant, e-approved, cashless etc., and c) network – large, convenience, etc. The basic selling of almost all products on discounts and rewards is quite telling, it probably indicates one of these – heavy competition in this space, current stage of category evolution and/or undifferentiated benefits.

Coming to the content of the emails, what I received was an overdose of image-based emails. Most email clients suppress images by default;   this not only leads to wrong measurement of ‘open rates’ but also a bad user experience as a consumer doesn’t seeing anything immediately  on opening an email. The other problem with image-based emails is that they leave little scope for personalization basis name or even basis segmentation and profiling of consumers.

Then there is content that seems to follows a standard template, what I call ‘the bullet point’ approach’. These mailers typically have 4-5 undifferentiated features listed, stone-cold, without a mention of the overarching final payoff in terms of what it gives the consumer (functional benefit) or how it makes them feel (emotional benefit). The functional benefit, even if attempted, is just a description of what the service does (e.g. quick financial assistance for all your needs), it does not ladder it up higher to how it improves the customer’s life (So what ? How does this matter to me? How will it make my life better?).

9 EmailContent

In many cases, the heading is another feature or a call to action and neither it nor the image add any value to the subject of the email. The reason why someone opened an email is because they are interested in knowing more about what is promised in the ‘subject’ line. When an email message doesn’t deliver or explain what the subject line promises, the click-through rates plummet.

10 EmailContent-MultipleCTA

Then there were some mailers that made the unpardonable mistake of having multiple call-to-action (CTA) or worse still not having a CTA. While the image itself is clickable, how is the consumer to know what action is required from him / her to get to what is being promised?

11 EmailContent-CTA-Missing

The typical CRM emails wishing customers on various occasions (festival, celebration etc.) fall into this category too. It’s critical to balance value and frequency and avoid over-sending emails.

Analysing the emails from the past few months, I get a sense that marketing teams often completely outsource email marketing to generalist agencies and ESPs, spending very little time and effort  monitoring and reviewing email marketing  strategy and campaigns.  This essentially means most email marketing programs fail to deliver on their objectives, or even if they do, they deliver them sub-optimally. Email marketing is by no means easy and it has many moving parts that the brand has to get right – strategy, technology, creative (design, copywriting) to robust analytics.  Here’s hoping to see a few email campaigns in the near future that are pathbreaking.

  • Ravindra Ramavath
Advertisements

September 18, 2017 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

Are emailers effective ? – A review of communication tactics

I am a regular follower of marketing charts (note: slow to load) and every so often I notice a chart  which  shows that marketers still consider email to be a valuable marketing tool.  For instance, various polls among marketers showed that a) they considered email marketing to be the most effective and least difficult vehicle for lead generation, b) email marketing provided the best ROI of any digital channel, c) 89% have decided to either increase or keep the same spends on email marketing. And if millennials are the segment that you’re targeting, this Adobe survey showed that email is one of the best ways to reach millennials.

On paper, email is still one of the most cost-effective ways to reach consumers, both in terms of total cost as well as cost per contact. Ever wondered what actually happens to all such awareness/promotion/lead generation emails being sent out? How many are noticed by the recipients in the inbox of their email account? More importantly, what proportion of recipients open and read them? What impact do they have on the reputation of the company / brand? What metrics should be used to measure effectiveness?  As a marketer concerned with the effectiveness and ROI of any communication tactic or channel, these are the nature of questions that I’m always trying to answer.

Fin-serv - part 1 - image

As I see it, there are fundamentally 3 critical aspects to getting a lead generation email marketing campaign right: a) ensuring the email lands in the target’s inbox, at the right time, b) Ensuring the email is actually opened and c) ensuring the relevant message is delivered and call to action achieved. A strong understanding of technology, analytics and creative is required to deliver all three. A lack of understanding of any of these aspects results in inefficient spends and belies the claim of cost-effectiveness. The onus of closely monitoring and reviewing the execution of email marketing campaigns lies with marketers as not all digital marketing agencies and email service providers (ESPs) possess the right mix of people with technical, analytical and creative understanding.

The following sections explore each of the three points mentioned above in more detail.

Landing in the inbox, at the right time:

This is one of the most critical aspects to understand, but one that marketers often pay little attention to. The marketing departments at many companies depend on a generalist digital agency that in turn goes to the cheapest database provider and ESP – often a single entity – for generating leads.  Using such providers, buying or renting databases from them is pretty much the worst thing a brand can do.

Firstly, email addresses in such databases are probably obtained by dubious means. Secondly, the authenticity, profiling and segmenting of such databases tends to be of extremely poor quality. To make things worse, these databases are likely to have been milked dry for other brands. All these lead to a low IP reputation of these ESPs, making it easy to identify emails coming from them as spam. Plus, all it takes to train the machine learning spam filters are a few disgruntled recipients who mark the emails as spam. Spam filters work really, really well (99.9% accurate) leading to poor delivery of emails into inboxes.

Once this ‘deliverability’ problem is taken care of, it’s time to move on to the ‘when to deliver’ problem. Send the email on the wrong day and it is likely to remain unopened, or, once opened, be ineffective as the call to action has been rendered meaningless. Send the email at the wrong time and it is likely to be ignored.

To sum up, finding the right email agency is crucial. Email marketing is moving away from being a piecemeal activity to one that is cross-functionally integrated into marketing, sales and customer service. In such a scenario, two critical points – to have a specialised email agency on board which has the right ethics, technology, strategic thinking, analytics and creative capability, and for the marketer to periodically oversee and review the activity.

Ensuring emails are opened:

In our regular work, we’ve seen varying email open rates for some email campaigns on opt-in email lists generated by the brand. Open rates have been as low as 2% in the case of those sent out by a consumer goods firm, to 8% for an apparel e-commerce firm, and as high as 16% for an aspirational youth apparel brand. One reason for such huge variance and underperformance – at as basic a level as ‘open’ – of email campaigns is the time problem described in the earlier section. But a lot of it is due to a messaging problem too, as described in the next section.

The email subject line has a critical role to play in email marketing. It has to grab attention, provoke, interest and encourage further opening and reading of the email body. And because such email open rates are abysmally low, the subject lines have to lead to and sometimes even deliver the brands’ benefit. In short, between the ‘from’ and the ‘subject’ the intended recipient should get a crystal clear idea about the brand and the benefit. No wonder good email marketers are most interested in optimizing their subject lines for higher open rates.

Messaging and Action:

This brings us to the next piece on content of the email – the creatives.  I see this as one problematic area where there is a vast scope for improvement.

Some of the best innovations are happening in this space in terms of email interactivity. While some like embedding gifs are plain rookie, others like collapsible menus and shopping carts are really interesting. It’s time to use some of these innovations to improve campaign objective metrics.

Yet most awareness/promotion/lead generation emails that I’ve noticed over the past three months consisted entirely of images with little text. Going forward, a majority of emails are going to be opened on mobiles. Many such image-only emails are going to be resized by the mobile email apps making them difficult to read. If emails aren’t being optimised for or made responsive to mobile, chances are they aren’t getting the desired results.

Another huge problem is the email content itself. Senders are increasingly getting into ‘create once and send multiple times’ mode.  The same set of email creatives are sent multiple times with a different baiting subject line. While such tactics might help optimise ‘open rates’, they cause a deterioration in all other call-to-action parameters. Ensuring that the content is relevant and consistent with the brand, and that the subject line of the email matches what is actually in the content body is critical. And this is where regular tracking and reviewing all the other critical email marketing metrics – click-through rate, conversion rate, list grow rate, sharing rate etc., – is critical.

In order to have shareable data to illustrate the points mentioned, I decided to use the promotional mails that I received as examples. For the same, I let promotional emails accumulate in my Gmail folders for over 3 months with an aim to analyse and learn from them. Now that this post has established some fundamental principles, my next post will present a detailed analysis of those emails.

 

  • Ravindra Ramavath

 

September 14, 2017 at 8:35 am Leave a comment

From No-No to Yes-Yes

 

NanoTwist

I’m generally indifferent to cars and know them only as a system with four wheels, steering and seating that get me from point A to point B with minimum effort on my part; yet I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of the Tata Nano GenX. The journey of the Nano has such interesting twists and turns that it rivals a Bollywood potboiler, and as a student of marketing, I really want to see how Team Nano manages the tough task of making consumers warm up to the Nano Gen X. ( I’m hoping it succeeds and wishing the Nano Best of Luck, by the way). Meanwhile, in the run-up to the launch (until I have fodder for another post, that is), here’s the story of the Nano thus far :

Phase I: The people’s car The 1 lakh car

Launched in 2009, the Tata Nano was supposed to be ‘a people’s car’, the savior of the Indian middle class family which relied on a scooter or bike to transport all four members, offering them a safer and more comfortable alternative. To ensure affordability, the initial price was brought down to as low as Rs. 1 lakh per car through frugal innovation. Watch this ad to get a taste of what this brand was supposed to stand for and the role it was expected to play.

However, most of the hype around the car was focused on its cheap price and it became known as ‘The 1 lakh car’. For the middle class, both urban and rural, owning a car is a matter of pride and self-esteem. So, rather than gladly discovering that this fantastic upgrade from a two-wheeler actually had a reasonable price, Nano’s portrayed image put the product in the situation of being viewed as a compromise , not an upgrade.  “Ek prestige view se thodi down hai,” as one respondent expressed it during a transportation related research a few years ago, while another respondent termed it ‘the No-no’. Dangers of letting a low price be the defining feature of your offering!

Mr. Ratan Tata gives a crisp explanation in this article , “I always felt the Nano should have been marketed towards the owner of a two-wheeler because it was conceived to give people who rode on two-wheeler an all-weather, safe form of transportation, not (the) cheapest,” Tata said. “It became termed as the cheapest car by the public, and [also] I’m sorry to say, by the company when it was being marketed,” he added.

Another problem that the Nano faced was that of high expectations from those who did see it as an end to their transportation woes. During the same transportation related research mentioned earlier, we also found that the same Indian family that would uncomplainingly seat four people on a scooter or bike and balance their shopping bags too, somehow morphed into a demanding set that wanted adequate boot space in their car to keep luggage – just in case they had to drop a relative to the station.

The performance problems with the initial batch of cars did nothing to boost Nano’s image either. Soon after the cars hit the road came reports of some of them catching fire, which was seen as an indicator of low quality and a lack of reliability. While only a few such issues were reported, we’ve found that some people still mention these spontaneously when the Nano is mentioned.

Phase II:

Here’s where the change begins and the marketing team begins explicitly targeting a different TG –  young professionals in urban centers ; you can click on the links here  , here and here to view the ads and see for yourself  the distinct change in tone and style of ads from the earlier people’s car ads. By now, the no-frills car also had some add-ons such as the ‘best – in –class A.C.’ mentioned in the print ad shown below.

nano pic 3

 

Phase III :  Launch of Nano Twist – from ‘cheap car’ to ‘smart city car’

This is when an attempt was made to radically alter the Nano’s positioning in order to make it appeal to the new TG of urban professionals. The ‘you’re awesome’ campaign targeted  young urban folk and tried to showcase to them the new stylish Nano – new colours, better interiors, a car that could seat a couple of friends , a fun n’ smart car to hang out with. Did it work? I recall discussing this campaign and its effectiveness with a young colleague early last year and she felt that it was having some impact, two of her friends had noticed the ad and actually purchased the Nano Twist. Multiple news reports also mention that the customer profile for the Nano had indeed changed over the years, a heartening sign – the proportion of Nano buyers in the 24 -34 years age bracket had expanded to 40 percent, from the earlier 15 to 18 per cent.  Another interesting change happening in the Nano script is the growing base of women. Today, they account for 28 per cent of its customers, a substantial jump from 12 per cent in the earlier ‘people’s car’ phase.

That’s only part of the story though; take a look at the sales data for the rest – as per this article, in the April – December period of ’14-’15, Nano only sold 13,333 units, down 18.64% from the same period of ’13-’14.  

What could have limited the impact of such a high decibel campaign? NanoTwistWell, one reason could simply be that the impact of the initial launch advertising and PR campaign in ’08-’09 was so strong that the ‘cheap car’ story could only be over-written over the long haul , and it’s not a task that one ad alone could shoulder. Another could be that while the ‘You’re Awesome’ campaign did have a smarter , more stylish feel to it, there was no over-arching product story communicated about how the Twist was better than the earlier version of the Nano, neither about how it was better suited to city travel than other cars. While some shots in the ad did imply easy maneuverability, it was not explicit enough, and got overshadowed by the messaging on style and aesthetics ; the ‘smart city car’ benefits were explicitly mentioned only in print ads. When a repositioning as drastic as this one is being attempted, consumers probably need to hear that the car has improved significantly too.    

Phase IV: Launch of the Nano Gen Xnano pic 2

And thus to the eagerly awaited launch of the Tata Nano Gen X later this month! Now clearly aiming for the ‘smart city car’ tag, the Gen X has a host of improved features, see details here here and here

But has the 2013 campaign succeeded in erasing memories of the 1 lakh car launched in 2009? Will the Nano get to make a fresh start? Only time will tell…  

 

  • Zenobia Driver

May 14, 2015 at 10:57 am 8 comments


Recent Posts

Categories

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 40 other followers