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Black Friday, Email Marketing and GMail's New Inbox

It's Saturday, the day after Black Friday, and my inbox is loaded with promotions about expiring offers, extended sales, and upcoming Cyber Monday. It reminded me that this shopping holiday relies heavily on email, GMail's new format now has a very significant impact, and that I had written an unpublished, related blog post about the subject early in November... Here it is! email promotion

Much has been made about the new Gmail interface and it's implications on email delivery / readership. Gmail now organizes emails algorithmically (Primary, Social, Promotions and Updates). This effectively filters emails from brands and commerce providers into sub-folders like Promotions and Updates. And while it is consumer friendly (I much prefer it) - it has significant implications for on commercial providers.

There are some good pieces about those effects - including from MailChimp who claims that open rates across their network drooped from 13% to 12%. Litmus did a similar study and noted a 7.75% decrease in Gmail open rates.

Perhaps that is why Bonobos sent the following email over the weekend. Instead of merchandising new products or a sale - the emails's primary (and only!) purpose is to have recipients move Bonobos into the Primary inbox.

Not only is that savvy - it is proof of how important email is to merchants... and how important these interface changes can be.


Quora & Twitter's Weekly Digests via Email. When Does Facebook's Arrive?

I write a fair amount the 'findability' problem that results from vast amounts of content (yes: it is a first class problem!). Curation - social, declared and algorithmic - plays a key role. Nevertheless, users still swim in oceans of available, interesting and timely content from platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Quora, Pinterest, etc... and that doesn't include media sources like the New York Times. So why am I writing an intro paragraph that looks so similar to many of my other posts? Because Twitter and Quora are attacking content overload in a simple way: terrific weekly emails (simple to the user!). That's an ordinary concept and runs the risk of getting lost in my inbox of too many messages filled with too much marketing. But the emails are:

1. really good looking - and optimized for mobile... where much of my email is read 2. rooted in social connections - notice that every article is surrounded by people I am connected with 3. really, really great content that I almost-certainly would have missed without the email... meaning: I want to read these

How long before Facebook creates a similar email? How long before Facebook verticalizes that for photographs and for links and for statuses?

Spotify's Valentines Day Email Promotion: Reminder of Timeliness & Segmentation

A good reminder here from Spotify about the:- power of timely marketing campaigns, and the - importance of user segmentation / relevant messaging

The good: this is a clever email merchandised nicely for Valentines Day (timely) and creatively (just really well designed and done - I like it). It is also actionable and tempting: a free 30 days of Spotify Premium? That is a strong offer and Spotify knows that the switching cost once you've tasted their mobile offering is high.

The bad: I am already a subscriber. So I shouldn't receive this. It isn't relevant and frankly a little off-putting since I didn't receive this offer =)

While that is not a real problem: it is a reminder that user segmenation of marketing, messaging, offers, etc is really important. For instance, if I had received this a day or two after initially subscribing - it would have been more uncomfortable.

Different Emails for Different Users, Usage. Facebook Demonstrates

When done effectively and appropriately - email is a marketer's most powerful retention tool. Here is an example from Facebook that demonstrates both effective and appropriate email marketing. The key: deliver different emails to different users / user patterns. Conceptually, its very basic. In practice, it's actually quite hard to deliver relevant emails, at the right frequencies, and featuring the right products (why? creation and delivery can be difficult - but featuring content that is appropriate for that user is the real challenge).

Here are two emails that I have never received because I am an overly active Facebook user. The recipients here are less involved so Facebook delivers too different types of emails:

1. You Have Notifications Pending!

The goal is clearly to drive logins by demonstrating that the user's network / profile has activity. If a user logins daily, notifications are prominently featured across the header... this is an attempt to enforce that habit.

2. You Have a Birthday this Week!

Again, for users who login daily, this is prominently featured. Birthdays are important drivers of engagement - ie posts, messages, events, JibJab cards =) For early users, this is a compelling email that gives me an immediate action. For more active users, this could be overwhelming and Facebook is probably better served promoting deeper interactions like messages and/or new features.

What's this mean for you? Segmenting your communication is a powerful way to drive engagement / retention and guide users through your product. To do it effectively, you also need to determine what products and communications make most sense for each segment / class of user.

Facebook Deals Brings Friends Into Emails

I write a lot about Facebook Deals and I start each post with something along the lines of: I am not sure what Facebook Deals will become, but I give Facebook a lot of credit for the rate of innovation and their UI / UE treatments. Facebook Deals continues to test new visual treatments (examples here and here)... and here is yet another clever, compelling one.

Facebook's stance with Deals has been to overlay your social graph with your geography and your Facebook Places activity. They have done a good job merging those in the web experience... and here they do it via email. The first thing you see in the email is *not* the deal or the deal provider. It is the list of your friends (and their Facebook profile pictures) who have either liked the deal or the deal provider. Eventually it could of course be the friends who have visited the location, purchased the deal, etc (as we have seen in their online units

As your inbox gets more crowded -and marketers / brands fight for your time - this is a powerful way to capture your attention, improve conversion and tell a unique, differentiated story:

The Difference Between Marketing Emails & Notification Emails. Facebook & Twitter Demonstrate.

Groupon, Rue La La, Gilt Group, etc have built big businesses atop big email lists and great email marketing. Twitter has beefed up their email efforts by delivering notifications for retweets, mentions and favorites by your followers. It's a powerful engagement lever unlike anything else (except perhaps for mobile notifications). And Facebook is masterful at sending targeted emails about core engagements / activities: mentions, photo tags (so important, viral and underrated), deals, etc.

And here is a new, more generic email notification from Facebook: an alert that a friend likes a link. This is a less engaged action, for instance, than a mention, reply, or photo tag... but it begs to be clicked because: 1. it is a friend who took an action upon one of your actions, and 2. the email is intentionally broadly worded ... not much is revealed - so you want to see more

Whatever the size of your email list, you should think about email as a critical lever for driving engagement around relevant notifications. Of course, flooding users with emails will have negative consequences - but in general, if your users are active, they want to be alerted of activities related to actions they already took. That is a confusing statement - but it's important! So let me repeat and dig in:

- if your user explicitly took an action - such as post a link, favorite an article, etc - and something related to that action since occurred - users want to be alerted because it is tied to *their* actions / behaviors - this is very different, for instance, than getting product updates from the service... This is the different between marketing emails and activity emails... and users have a limited tolerance for marketing