Email content masterclass: The Revolution Masterclass on email content

Email marketing needs to be spot on to be effective. Marketers should look at targeting and technology, as well as the words, says Emma Rigby.

A badly written, designed or targeted email campaign will generate as much audience resonance as a poorly prepared stand-up comic in London's East End. But, with more than 27 per cent of users viewing opt-in emails positively, according to an online survey by market research firm Dynamic Logic, brands who do them well are poised for a good performance.

Successful work kicks off with accurate segmentation. sends out an average of 120 different newsletters based on user profile, including gender, location and shopping patterns, and achieves an uplift of 30 per cent on non-targeted mailings, according to Sonia Sudhakar, CRM manager at the travel and entertainment e-tailer.

An email must have perceived value for users to open it and respond, and the message must resonate with the audience and reflect the brand.

A good subject line should seduce readers, followed by excellent content to engage them. Jim Brackin, director of insight at psychographic marketing consultancy ESP (Extra Sensory Perception) Consultancy, feels building brand loyalty is vital. Rich media, technology and deliverability must also be considered.

User demographics

Direct marketing giant Experian launched a push for its consumer data-collection site TheSurveyPlace. this spring and worked with ad agency TBG to devise a generic theme, with specific rewards geared to user demographics.

More than four million emails were sent out in a twin-track promo offering females the chance to win a day at a health spa and males a track day in a Ferrari 360. Response was 150 per cent higher than non-targeted campaigns, says TBG.

Denis Sheehan, chief executive officer at CheetahMail UK, an Experian company, says it is becoming increasingly necessary to supply information based on subscriber profiles as competition for brand loyalty is greater than ever. Profiling lets practitioners maintain effective relationships with subscribers. According to Sheehan, generic information is less effective, with higher unsubscribe rates than well-targeted emails. "A key factor in segmentation is to keep it simple," he says. "Don't bombard subscribers with questions to build highly detailed profiles that aren't used. Keep to the segmentation criteria you need, build the profile slowly by asking one or two questions per email, and re-qualify that criteria periodically."

Segmentation enables brands to understand their customers better: who buys online, what they buy, and who the most valuable or frequent buyers are. "Armed with this information, brands can change email content so it is relevant to each segment and maximise response," adds Sheehan. "It's a good idea to give subscribers access to update their profiles."

When Mazda launched its RX-8 online exclusively in February, it segmented its html newsletters based on traffic from its microsite (, which allowed users to pre-order the car by paying a deposit of £1,000, even though they hadn't seen it. An opt-in newsletter on the microsite, developed by digital agency Syzygy, provided updates to 'hot' (those who had placed a deposit online) and 'warm' users (who had registered but had not purchased).

Content for hot customers included the prize of a trip to Japan to see the RX-8 being built. Both emails explained why they were being sent, with an unsubscribe facility. The result was that 1,777 pre-orders were placed on the site before the RX-8 launched, some 75 per cent above target.

Shopping profiles

Brackin uses ESP Consultancy's Linguistics Analysis Software (LAS) to scan the language content of emails to build profiles based on personality types for clients such as Bradford & Bingley and Center Parcs. Classifications include introvert or extrovert, whether users plan ahead or are impulsive, and if they are logical or emotional thinkers. "By drilling into a user profile, companies can tailor campaigns," he says. "Holiday brands could fire last-minute deals at impulsive types and send pre-brochure booking information to those who like to plan. If a shopping profile indicates that the user is 'introverted', they will be more responsive to information about a chalet in the Greek mountains than a clubbing trip to Ibiza."

Sudhakar agrees: "It is important to respond to consumers and update information. We can mine our database to find opportunities. This could be regional targeting, such as flights from Manchester targeted through clickthrough interest, or transactional data." sends tactical mailings using its in-house software, E.piphany, to analyse user types. This spots look-alike customers, so offers can be matched to identical profiles. "Tactical email marketing is the way forward," says Sudhakar. "Being intuitive in determining what a customer is going to buy will give a bigger return." Doing it in-house bypasses data agencies. "Companies miss sales because of lengthy processes," she adds. "Today's customers know it's quick to turn around information online."

Brands should use different methods for different communications. has a lengthy approach for its newsletters, but promotes exclusives quickly using a simple template into which it can drop an image and text, for delivery within five minutes. "If we have an exclusive on Jerry Springer tickets for 24 hours, speed is everything," says Sudhakar.

So, you've targeted your audience and delivered the email, how do you persuade users to open it? "Subject lines are not always the place to put humour," warns Sudhakar, "but there are different rules for different campaigns. We might advertise a shopping trip to New York by targeting 30-year-old females using Sex in the City in the subject line. With football tickets, we might use a funny line. Some consumers are bargain-led, others are quality-led, and the subject line should reflect this."

CheetahMail's Sheehan echoes this caution: "One of our customers sent a campaign with a sexual innuendo in the subject line. Minutes later, the email was blocked to the tune of 80 per cent - ISPs and firewalls identified it as porn spam. Desirable emails should contain the funky factor," he explains. "In viral marketing there's a huge misconception that when an email is incentivised it will increase the call for action." Not so - getting someone to open an email depends on its perceived value to the reader. "People only pass something on if they think it makes them look good," he adds. The chance to win a £100,000 Ferrari is less viral and will bring in a poor ROI compared to offering users the prize of a fridge of alcohol of their choice, which has sponsorship opportunities.

Effective timing

In addition, timing can affect response rates by 20 per cent, according to Sheehan. "Selling in the afternoon is more effective than first thing in the morning when inboxes are full. Generally, emails sent over-night and over the weekend are more likely to be de-leted." Email marketing company Mamta has found that the most responsive days for mailing travel newsletters are Monday and Tuesday mornings. But, Sheehan adds, "there are exceptions to this rule. For example, the recruitment industry generally generates a great response at the weekend."

So, your target audience has opened your email, but how do you engage them? Sudhakar reckons the secret is to keep the content brief, punchy and relevant. "We see our brand as a little bit edgy and irreverent," she explains. "Brands oversanitise products because they worry about causing offence and campaigns can lose impact. Never underestimate your audience's ability to understand irony and respect their intelligence. We use humour because it represents our brand, but if you are a functional brand with a straight product it can cause damage - it's better to avoid humour than do it badly."

Psychology expert Brackin asserts: "The way a brand constructs the words in an email is more important than the content used." In a one-to-one conversation, 55 per cent of communication depends on building rapport.

This can also be applied to email. Some 38 per cent of communications depend on tone and tempo, with content only carrying seven per cent of the communication's value.

"Different language can be used to segment by gender," suggests Brackin.

"Women can process lots of thoughts at once and respond to ideas that trigger feelings. If you want to sell them insurance, you might talk about security, family protection and peace of mind about possessions. Men, who process thoughts sequentially and use logic, would prefer 'you want cheap insurance, here it is'."

Language structure is also important. "Teenagers use clipped language, with unique content, whereas marketers are more likely to build rapport with the over-60s by using personable, longer emails, without abbreviations," explains Brackin.

Mamta finds that online brands benefit from clear identification and no-nonsense tactics. "Brands work best when they follow the does-what-it-says approach, especially as there are so many quirky brands and domain names," says web marketing & development manager Mamta Ruparelia. "We have a number of travel brands that do what they say - Holidays-Direct, Ski-Direct and Cruise-Bargains. These are reinforced by the main Co-op brands: Co-op Holidays and Co-op Cruise Holidays Direct. We know our customers' expectations from our brands and we meet them through the design, tone of voice and content of our email newsletters."

Brackin illustrates the point: "We use voice inflection to imply a question or command and this can be translated to email. The command 'ready to buy now' predisposes consumers to buy, whereas the question 'ready to buy now?' doesn't. The 'complex equivalence technique' describes a stream of statements that are true and then tags on a statement that you want someone to believe is true."

For example, 'you are reading this article, it's about email marketing and it's relevant to your brand'. By installing the 'yes' response, you're more likely to buy into the last statement.

Broadband allows wider use of rich media and exciting creative, but there are restrictions. Lastminute's Sudhakar says: "Broadband would potentially allow us to be ultra-creative, but at present the ISPs and email providers are very strict about file content. Our first priority has to be to get into subscribers' inboxes. No matter how flash the Flash is, no email, no success. As a legitimate e-marketer, we would ideally work with email providers to develop a solution that entertains but still protects the customer. The golden rule remains that no amount of novelty will compensate for lame content," she adds.

Dean Donaldson, account manager of digital marketing agency Lawton eMarketing, says rich media use is a problem as two-thirds of consumers still use web-based email accounts and plenty have dial-up. Lawton eMarketing creates emails using html, rather than rich media, to keep the files small. When users opens them, the html calls up information from the internet to deliver rich-media video images.

Eye-catching graphics

Donaldson explains: "Once users open the email, the idea is to grasp their attention with eye-catching graphics - seconds later, the video downloads. This is where email marketing comes into its own. People don't like downloading MPEG videos - they are likely to close the email if there's a large attachment." Of the people who open it, 90 per cent see the video, he adds, and there is a 10 per cent lift in response.

When Ordnance Survey wanted to promote its new personal online mapping service OS Select, Lawton eMarketing produced a downloadable video on its web site. Visitors to saw the Avoid the Edge campaign, which features the demise of a cyclist who didn't plan his route.

At its peak, the viral was downloaded 7,000 times a day and was the fourth most effective viral on the Lycos chart in February, being downloaded almost 20,000 times.

For those without a big design budget, permission email marketing firm Arial Software has launched, which lets businesses send html newsletters. Themes include finance and holidays, and the templates can be customised with html editors. Mike Adams, president of Arial, says: "Quite simply, they make you look good."

Finally, after creating your campaign, ensure deliverability. Skip Fidura, director of European operations and member of the deliverability hub (a sub-group of the DMA Email Marketing Council), advises that if you have doubts about the deliverability of your email, test it first. "Sign up to different ISPs - hotmail, Yahoo and so on - and send your email to each of the test accounts. Be really smart about how you manage your data list - ISPs will block emails that are undelivered or are complained about. So, if someone asks to be taken off your list, or you receive undelivered notifications, remove them immediately."

But, what about spam filters? "Avoid numerical amounts or references to sex in the subject line," advises Fidura. "Be smart - some spam filters recognise flesh tones in images. Lifestyle brands can get around this by using black and white or sepia tones."

And, whatever you do, don't ever put the word viagra in the subject line.


Denis Sheehan is chief executive officer of CheetahMail UK, an Experian company. He gained experience in developing e-marketing strategy as former principle consultant at CRM and email service e2 Communications. Previously, he worked in brand development at Emap.

Jim Brackin is director of insight at ESP Consultancy. Formerly a creative director at DM agency Amherst, he has some 18 years' experience in the industry. He has chaired the DMA Creative Council and is a practitioner in neuro linguistics and a qualified hypnotherapist.

Sonia Sudhakar is CRM and customer information manager at, overseeing all outbound customer communications and the database. She was formerly senior account manager at ad agency WWAV Rapp Collins North and senior marketing executive at BA.


The Cheltenham Festival, held this year on 16-18 March, is the biggest event in the horseracing calendar for bookmakers.

Formed from established bookmaker Surrey Sports, Sky Bet is part of BSkyB, the broadcaster and producer of the Sky Sports channels.

Previously, Sky Bet used direct mail to advertise Cheltenham to existing customers and promoted the betting odds online.

However, this year, a dedicated microsite was created for the event (, which was promoted via an integrated online campaign and email alerts, created by digital agency DS.Emotion.

The microsite had a dual purpose: to drive traffic to and encourage people to place bets; and to provide news, expert opinion, offers and a competition to win tickets to the Grand National.

A teaser email was sent to Sky Bet subscribers a week before Cheltenham, outlining forthcoming exclusive offers and prompting them to visit the microsite. It also pushed and linked to the Grand National competition.

Further emails went out before each day of the festival, advising of special offers for the next day's racing and encouraging users to visit the microsite. Each email highlighted the best results from the day before and teased users with what they could have won if they'd placed a bet.

The daily newsletters linked to the main web site, microsite and the Grand National competition.

The tone captured the excitement of Cheltenham to encourage users to place a bet immediately.

The microsite saw 13,532 unique users, of whom 1,500 clicked through to enter the competition and 2,500 played a quiz to win a £10 free bet. A quarter of visitors to the web site arrived from the initial teaser email sent before the first day of Cheltenham.

The e-marketing campaign tied in with above-the-line direct-marketing and press advertising to maximise betting on Cheltenham through existing customers and new acquisitions.


1. Make sure the data, whether in-house or from a third-party, has opt-in permission.

2. Keep it clean. Remove duplicates, inactive accounts and spelling mistakes as 13 per cent of data collected online has typing errors.

3. Identify who you are. Include your reason for mailing and make it simple to unsubscribe. Emphasise your brand - recognition is key in a crowded market. Be consistent across channels, mirroring concurrent media campaigns. Consider email to follow up or pre-empt a postal campaign.

4. Avoid common spam-filter 'triggers': capitals, exaggerated punctuation and expletives. However, beware of seemingly innocent phrases that are popular with spammers, such as 'dear friend', 'savings', 'free trial' and 'save up to'.

5. Create interactivity with html links and email options, which will help tracking and analysis.

6. Subject-line testing is standard, but drill deeper for larger campaigns. Test by age, demographic, region and interest.

7. Timing. Pay attention to weather, season and topical events, even the time of day.

8. Whether using an ASP, managed or in-house solution, make sure the IP address used to transmit the email isn't blocked by major filter and blacklist companies (EmailMonitor's IP BlockAlert will check your IP addresses daily).

9. Tracking and analysis. Track delivery, open rate, clickthrough and results against objectives.

10. Delete users who wish to be removed from your data and monitor which parts of your mail generated the most response.

Tips sourced from IPT's Guide to Email Marketing, available for free download at


Questions that should be asked when thinking about email marketing


- Is your campaign segmented and targeted?

- Are you updating and responding to user profiles?

- Can subscribers access and update their profiles easily?

- Does content resonate with your brand?

- Is the language appropriate?

- Is the email free of large files?

- Are you using rich media? If so, is it ISP and user-friendly? What

percentage of your subscriber base will be able to access or view it?

Does it improve user experience?

- Does the email include an interactive element, enabling measurability

and accountability, and does it really drive traffic to your web site?

- Does the content of the email have perceived value to the user?

- Have you considered timing the delivery?

- Have you tested the push for deliverability?


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