Better Customer Marketing Goes Beyond Email Drip Campaigns

Email gets a bad wrap these days. The New York Times recently ran an article titled, “Life’s Too Short for So Much Email”. Paul Graham listed “Replace Email” as one of his 7 frighteningly ambitious ideas in March. Fred Wilson wrote a post in February called “The Black Hole of Email”. While the “email” problem is probably worse if you are somewhat famous, I suspect nearly everyone reading this has grown frustrated with email at some point.

Some significant portion of this email (and a particularly annoying part) is from companies or organizations rather than friends or colleagues.  Looking specifically at those emails, there seem to be broadly two types: emails I get from companies I interact with and emails from companies I’m not a customer of (let’s just call this junk mail).  While the junk mail is still a major problem in my physical life, spam filters seem to have taken care of most it in my email – so for me, the problem is really companies of whom I am (or was) a customer.

Let me start by laying this out there: I personally delete about 95% of customer marketing emails from companies as soon as they hit my inbox.  Here’s why:

  • They aren’t interesting.
  • They aren’t relevant.
  • They aren’t useful.

In short, I’ve been trained to think of them as a waste of time, and I suspect I’m not alone. Think about the typical emails we get when we sign up for a new website:

  • Initial Welcome Email. For the most part, there’s no content in here that I need – and if I did, I could find it elsewhere on the site.
  • Drip Email campaign over the next couple of weeks to build my usage and help with onboarding.  These emails usually try to introduce basic features – which I’ve either already found and used, or the problem is different – I just haven’t found the time to get started, and I don’t see the value in it.
  • Marketing Emails announcing new features or products. Again, these emails rarely discriminate on whether I’ve already used the features or whether they are even relevant to me.
  • Retention Emails sent when I get close to the end of a free trial. If I haven’t converted yet, you want to convince me I can get a ton of value from your service – especially if I haven’t been logging in.  For the most part, these emails are a lot like the below – not compelling, not personal and I’m guessing not particularly effective. I got this email after never finishing setup for a particular web dashboard – and heard nothing for 3 weeks of the trial until I got this.

So – I delete nearly all of the emails companies send to me.

But let’s step back for a second and take a completely different approach. Ignoring technology, what emails would you want to get?

For me, I can envision several emails that I’d be happy to open:

  • An email that arrived with helpful tips on a feature after I’d spent an hour using it for the first time.
  • An email telling me how to complete setup if I got 4/5’s of the way through and looked stuck.
  • A marketing email with a discount focused directly on products I want.
  • A personal email asking if I want help with a specific, tangible thing I’ve been using the tool to accomplish.

So the problem isn’t email, it’s that emails from companies usually focus on what’s best for the company (more money or what’s easy) not what’s best for the customer (how to generate value using the tool based on your specific needs).

Here’s how companies can fix it:

  • Put the technologies in place so you can trigger emails based on customer behaviors. This means linking your usage or purchase data, your support data, and your email data so you can automatically trigger emails when someone does something.  In the current world of simple API’s and third party integrations, putting together this system is much easier than it used to be.
  • Think through the emails you would want to receive. While technology used to be the limiting factor, it’s now possible to have personal communications that do pretty much anything you want. So start with the message you want, not with what the technology will allow.
  • Test. Don’t fall into inaction or go to far down one course just assuming it works.  Email is cheap, and testing isn’t that hard. Implement an email with a subset of customers, compare the results, and iterate.

At Klaviyo, we’re trying to make personal, useful and results focused emails to customers possible for all companies. I’m tired of having to delete so many bad drip email campaigns.


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