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A Tale Of Two Emails: Why One Got Me To Buy Instantly And The Other Tanked

By December 2, 2013February 1st, 2018Email Marketing
A Tale Of Two Emails: Why One Got Me To Buy Instantly And The Other Tanked

The week before Thanksgiving, I received two emails within hours of each other, one from Bigstock, the other from Verizon Wireless.

I made a purchase within one minute of opening the Bigstock email. The Verizon Wireless email just made me scratch my head.

First, a little background. I’ve been a customer of Verizon Wireless – a very happy customer, for the most part – for about 10 years. My smartphone doubles as my personal mobile phone and my main business phone, and my wife and I use a family plan. I use the device predominantly for email, web browsing, talking and texting, using just a handful of apps.

I’ve been using Bigstock for a couple of years, almost exclusively for my own marketing materials – blog posts, website pages and social media business pages. I buy photo credit packs as opposed to having a plan that allows me to download a certain amount of images each day.

I only offer this background information to show how I use each company’s service and what information is readily available to both email senders. This should also prove that I’m not a bitter customer with an axe to grind.

First, Let’s Take A Look At The Subject Lines

This is where most email marketing campaigns are won and lost.

Here’s the subject line from the Verizon Wireless email:

Scott, see what we’re thankful for this year, plus get a head start on gift ideas and holiday apps in this month’s newsletter.

For those keeping score, that’s 125 characters. A good rule of thumb for an email subject line is 50 characters.

Personalization belongs in the body of the email, not the subject line, and the phrase “in this month’s newsletter” is unnecessary. Removing that text would shave off nearly 40 characters.

They’re also trying to sell three concepts in the headline, which is two too many. Pick a lead story and go with it.

This complexity leads to grammar issues. I’m not getting a head start on gift ideas and holiday apps, right? Also, you have two sentences incorrectly separated by a comma because they’re trying to jam so much information into the subject line.

As for the impact generated, I don’t care what Verizon Wireless is thankful for, and I’m really not getting a “head start” on gift ideas when it’s already the week before Thanksgiving. Most of my shopping was done at that point (don’t be jealous).

Throw in a mention of holiday apps and you have everything but the kitchen sink.

The headline is long, confusing and irrelevant. I only opened the email because I’m a marketing nerd who wanted to figure out what Verizon Wireless was thinking. I still haven’t been able to do that.

Here’s the subject line from the Bigstock email:

♥ Save 25% on Credit Packs – Black Friday Offer ♥

This subject line is 49 characters. There’s a clear, easy-to-understand value proposition and offer that a small business owner like me finds very compelling.

I don’t get the point of the hearts, and I don’t see why they call it a Black Friday offer when the offer was valid more than a week before Black Friday. They could leave that part off and the subject line would be just as effective.

But the offer is simple and substantial. And it got me to open the email and make a purchase quickly.

Next, Let’s Look At The Body Of Each Email

View the online version of the Verizon Wireless email.

There’s the main navigation at the top and account-based navigation above the image. Both are unnecessary distractions. I can go to the website for that stuff. There’s no reason to duplicate your website in an email.

The image with the falling leaves is lovely, but you need something besides a dynamic image and clichés to make me click. And I still don’t care what you’re thankful for.

I’m sure Howard Silverman is a great guy, but I don’t care why he’s been a Verizon customer for 30 years. How is his story relevant to my life? Maybe if you included an interesting detail about his life instead of patting yourself on the back, I would change my mind.

By the way, I read the story for the purposes of this post and it chronicled Mr. Silverman’s use of cell phones. Yawn.

Scrolling down further, “Apps that ease the holiday bustle” has potential, but how is Kayak any different from other travel comparison sites? Show me how one of these apps will save me money or make my life easier and you’ll be onto something. Might Kayak have paid for that placement?

Scrolling down even further, the gift idea section probably has the most promise. Unfortunately, there are no product names or descriptions – just a picture along with a phrase that describes who might want each product.

How about telling me the name of the product and what it does? That might interest me.

Scrolling down even further (noticing a theme?), there’s a section about mastering your operating system. I have no idea what that means. Is that like being master of your domain?

Scrolling down even further, we have an offer! $10 off a set of headphones. The offer could be stronger, but at least there’s a clear, simple offer with a call-to-action and expiration date.

Scrolling to the bottom, I’m offered the opportunity to give my phone a makeover with accessories and share account management, whatever that means.

And so ends a painful journey that I never would have taken if not for marketing-related curiosity.

I understand this is a newsletter with multiple components, but every newsletter should have a feature story. If the best you can come up with is “this is why we’re thankful,” don’t put out a newsletter.

On the bright side, they have information that could be used for at least three solid email campaigns – holiday apps, gift ideas and the headphone offer – if they overhaul the messaging.

Too. Much. Stuff. And not enough substance.

View the online version of the Bigstock email.

When you open the email, it clearly reinforces the subject line – 25 percent off credit packs – and includes an obvious call-to-action.

I don’t understand the image, and the Black Friday reference makes even less sense because the first line of content says, “Black Friday specials are so last year.”

If Black Friday is a bad thing, why associate your offer with it?

Get rid of the first and third paragraphs of content. It’s all fluff that does nothing to strengthen the message. I don’t know anyone who woke up one morning hoping to find a friendly shopping cart, whatever that is.

Despite these flaws, the offer is clear, simple and compelling. I was able to make a purchase in about four or five clicks.

If Bigstock could find an image that makes more sense, eliminate or clarify the Black Friday reference and cut out the unnecessary text, the email would be that much stronger.

The Bottom Line

The keys to an effective marketing email campaign are a strong headline, simplicity, clarity, relevance and an obvious call-to-action. Actually, these are the keys to just about any kind of marketing.

You could have the best product or service in the world, but if you can’t effectively communicate the value of what you have to offer, get used to being deleted.

As we get bombarded with holiday emails, what motivates you to open them? What makes you automatically delete them?

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Sylviane Nuccio says:

    Hi Scott,

    Very good illustration of an ugly email subject line and a good one. Then it doesn’t get any better with the body of the email either. Wow I’m wondering who’s sending those emails. In any case someone who needs some email marketing tips.

    Short and to point always works best, doesn’t it?

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Hi Sylviane – Yes, the best way to expose bad marketing is to put it side by side with good marketing, and vice versa. The people sending those emails are probably answering to execs who insist on stuffing everything under the sun into one email. I’ve been in that situation and it’s very frustrating. Simplicity is always best. Even the Bigstock email could have been simpler and as a result, probably even more effective.

  • Chataun D. says:

    As I consciously enter this new world of internet marketing, your suggestions give me confidence that I am on the right track. Although I have been on the social media scene for several years now, my postings and newsletters have so much room to grow (content, focus, target, etc.). More specifically, I can see how these tips will be helpful to my postings on Linked In; as the site consistently provides me with great leads.

    There is so much to this internet marketing thing that my brain hurts. I have read more than a few blog articles this morning and I am having to remind myself to take it easy; that this is a journey and not a race; and to enjoy the moment. So, I shall take my cue and sign off for the day. Thank you Scott for the helpful information and your down to earth writing style. You inspire me.

  • Scott_McKelvey says:

    Hi Chataun – Wow, the last sentence of your comment represents the highest praise someone like me can get, so I thank you for that. Yes, internet marketing is overwhelming and we have to constantly fine tune our approach. I’m glad you’re able to apply what I said in this post to other types of marketing! By the way, Linkedin is tops for me, too 🙂