Last week, I spent time inside my 100th Klaviyo account.
In under 3 years, we'd like to think we've seen it all when it comes to email marketing: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
But the truth is, you never stop learning from every single brand you work with.
Today I want to share the 10 most important lessons from these accounts.
With the imminent iOS15 updates about to hit email as hard as iOS14 did Facebook Ads, you can't afford to NOT implement these lessons.
Big changes are coming to the email landscape. Are you prepared?
Learn the 10 lessons...
Last week, I finished auditing our 100th account inside Klaviyo in under 3 years of business.
Out of these 100 accounts I’ve observed, our team has worked with over 70 of them directly (either setting up email automation or managing campaigns on a retainer basis).
It’s been quite a whirlwind to say the least.
And despite this breadth of experience we’ve amassed in our team, I am continuously surprised at just how much there is still to learn about Klaviyo and email marketing in general.
It is this culture of innovation and thirst for knowledge that we believe sets us apart from the rest, but you’re not here to see me virtually pat myself on the back - you want to know about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly that I’ve observed.
Unfortunately, I hate to say it, there’s been a lot more of ‘The Ugly’ than I would have liked to to have seen in these audits, but failure leaves clues and we’ve been able to apply these lessons to accounts under our control to not only drive great results but also turn misfortune into opportunity for brands that have caused significant damage to their email list.
If you’re in the latter category, all is not lost - it just takes a commitment to rebuilding with good practices, starting now, and you can get back on the right track.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 most important lessons I’ve learnt for eCommerce email marketing.
1: Deliverability trumps all
There is not a single email marketing strategy or technique that matters if the health of your account is not in good shape.
And while deliverability can be a complicated subject (especially for big accounts), at its core, I’ve found the take-home message to be to only send to engaged subscribers.
The most common mistake I’ve seen in all of these accounts is the misconception that just because you have a big list of subscribers, you’ll automatically generate tens of thousands in revenue with every send.
This leads to the owner of the account running amok, blasting out relentless sales campaigns, before their sending infrastructure is warmed up.
Because these batch-and-blast messages are generic and often not relevant to the buyer's journey, they end up being categorised as spam quickly by inbox providers such as Outlook and Gmail.
To overcome this, you’ll want to prioritise investing in automation first.
This is because the emails from flows are opened, clicked and engaged with much more than generic email campaigns.
And when you do start to send campaigns, you’ll notice an increased response rate after warming up your infrastructure correctly.
Before you send any campaign, make sure at the very least you have your Welcome Series and Abandoned Cart switched on for 2-4 weeks, and only then send to engaged segments first before casting a wider net.
2: Batch-and-blast campaigns destroy accounts
This is intrinsically linked to the first point.
Most account owners see a big list and get lured into a trap. They think the more subscribers they send to, the more revenue they will generate with each campaign.
This is patently false.
When you embark on a batch-and-blast campaign focused solely on gross subscribers, you quickly erode your sender reputation and hit a point of diminishing returns with each send.
Unsubscribes sky rocket, open rates plummet, and immense pressure is placed on acquisition teams to replenish the subscribers you’re hemorrhaging.
A common objection to this I hear is that “the big brands do it, so why shouldn’t we?.
I’ve written extensively about why this is a terrible practice to follow here.
Focus on sending to engaged segments at a most basic level, and explore an RFM model if you have enough data to warrant a more sophisticated strategy.
3: Focusing on Revenue Per Recipient (RPR) can lead to bad practices
I believe an obsession with Revenue Per Recipient (RPR) leads to terrible email practices within accounts.
When you treat email solely as a sales channel, you feed the beasts from #1 & #2 and cause your deliverability to tank.
Treating your subscribers with contempt and blasting them with incessant offers may look appealing on face value from a RPR perspective, but your unsubscribes and spam rates may be hideous.
Anybody can manipulate RPR by sending out 50% coupons to the database over a period of time. It doesn’t mean it’s good for the business though.
Instead, treat email as an engagement channel, and focus on evoking a response from your audience.
Nurture them with content, leverage surveys, and encourage customers to participate in competitions and quizzes.
They’ll voluntarily share more insights about themselves which can be used for more effective retargeting and deliverability will improve as engagement increases.
It’s a win-win for both customers and brand, and this is the relationship you should be seeking to establish with your audience at every step of the way on email.
RPR is important to pay attention to on sales-related campaigns and may provide good insights into how effective a promotion or offer was. But for overall email strategy, it isn’t a great benchmark of success on the channel.
4: A lack of creativity is killing email marketing
eCommerce brands invest a lot of effort and creative energy into social media marketing. But when it comes to email, they suck.
The modus operandi is to group together the marketing team and decide what % coupon they can offer their audience.
This quickly leads to a point of fatigue as engagement tanks and your audience becomes desensitized to the constant offers.
At best, you’re driving short-term revenue. But the reality is you’re likely doing it at the expense of long-term sales and margin preservation.
A lot of agencies are too happy to appease a client’s insatiable appetite for short-term sales by taking this route; rarely is this the best decision for the company, however.
It pains me to say it but email has become the least creative marketing strategy for 90%+ D2C brands.
It’s all about selling, rarely about giving value to their audience.
However, this presents a clear opportunity for brands willing to do things differently and challenge the status quo.
With everybody else focused on short-term revenue, it creates a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd by doing things differently.
There is no limit to creativity here but as a starting point, focus on:
- Using email as a content distribution platform that adds value to the customer journey
- Running creative competitions that stimulate a response and improve deliverability
- Leverage surveys to collect key insights and segment your audience more effectively
5: Email Automation has so many benefits beyond revenue generation
Most people are familiar with the main revenue-generating flows such as:
- Abandoned cart flow
- Welcome flow
- Browse abandonment flow
And most stop there. Which is a mistake.
Email automation has the potential to alleviate customer service headaches by providing timely order and transactional updates.
It can be used to create user-generated content (UGC).
You can even set up affiliate programs and automate the onboarding process via email.
These are all cool things we’ve helped clients set up in the last few months/years that go well beyond revenue generation.
As an email marketer, it’s your duty to look beyond the basics and provide solutions to the businesses pain points beyond the foundational revenue-generating flows.
Applied correctly, email can be a powerful addition to the customer service department, as well as the overall holistic marketing stack.
If you focus solely on RPR (point #4), you’ll miss these opportunities as you’ll become obsessed solely with selling.
6: Standard A/B testing seldom leads to statistical significance - good branding is more important
So many clients we’ve onboarded have been overly focused on A/B testing inconsequential elements in email as opposed to building exceptional experiences for their customers.
Examples of this include:
- 10 vs 15% off in coupons
- [First name] and other weak personalisation variables in headline copy
- The best time of day to send a campaign email
Rarely do these tests lead to groundbreaking discoveries or statistical significance.
For the majority of the brands, it makes more sense to invest time in the customer experience and branding.
You need large data sets and resources to draw meaningful conclusions from the majority of standardised email A/B tests. This effort could be better channeled into more creative elements that can move the needle more significantly in the beginning for most brands.
7: Email design is becoming more challenging
As brands move toward delivering better experiences and D2C companies have more strict brand guidelines, this is often coming at the expense of inbox deliverability.
Custom fonts, dark mode, and the sheer massive amount of browsers and devices in the hands of consumers are making email design more intricate.
It is essential to have not just a competent designer at the helm, but a fully-fledged team of email specialists with knowledge of email editors and code.
And, with AMP technology potentially about to heat up, expect more clients to enlist the resources of experts to deliver great experience to their recipients.
8: You have to look beyond just collecting an ‘Email Address’
It is no longer enough to just capture an email address in a pop-up. You have to proactively collect as many data points as possible.
We’ve seen with the recent iOS 14 and now imminent iOS 15 privacy updates, in addition to the phasing out of third-party cookies, that retargeting and overall marketing efforts are about to get a hell of a lot tougher.
One way to make our life easier is to stop being solely focused on front-end conversion and more on building out the customer experience.
I’m a big fan of Formtoro and we’ve been collecting a single data point with Klaviyo’s own signup forms and using this to personalise experiences for the clients that we work with.
Not only are we creating distinct customer journeys based on these data points, but they’re also improving segmentation strategy once customers opt-in.
The results so far are staggering: increased CR upon sign-up, open rate upon delivery, and click-through rate not just in the Welcome Flow but also the wider campaign strategy. All from a simple pop-up on the front end.
The ‘secret’? You’re not guessing when you’ve already uncovered your customers goals.
It’s not just on the front-end pop-up as well where this begins and ends; you need to proactively and aggressively seek this information out at each touch point in the customer journey in order to serve your customers better.
Yes, it takes more time, effort and creativity to execute this. But the rewards are worth it: a deep understanding of your customers and unlimited opportunities to personalise their experience, leading to increased LTV (lifetime value) and a strong affinity towards your brand.
9: Qualitative Research is Essential
Taking the above one step further, I now consider it mandatory to constantly work to enrich the profiles of your customers and understand them more deeply.
We’ve been leveraging Typeform’s integration extensively within our organisation in the last few months, and the opportunities to segment and collect insights has proven invaluable.
The companies we’ve worked with that are constantly looking to enrich customer data are the ones who are delivering great experiences with email and winning.
With the aforementioned privacy updates and phasing out of cookies, expect qualitative research to become even more important in the coming years ahead. We have no choice but to go the extra mile.
10: Discounts should be secondary to content
Out of all the creative ways you can engage your audience with email, using it to send discounts is the least creative and most fatiguing method on your audience.
Heavy sales-led emails are certainly part-and-parcel of a strategy for revenue generation, but there is a limit to their effectiveness.
The brands we’ve observed who rely solely upon email to send discounts are going to suffer massive implications in the coming months and years as filtering becomes more advanced and their deliverability tanks.
Now is the time to work deeply to understand our customers, get them to willingly share more insights about their goals and lives, and to serve them better based on that data.
Batch-and-blast discounts, while being good for a temporary revenue jolt, achieve none of those goals.
Instead, strive for value creation at every step of the way. This may mean a reduced email frequency, but it will come with the added benefit of serving your customers, learning more about them and keeping them engaged with your brand for the long-haul rather than looking for quick-wins.
I probably could have rambled on for another 50 lessons, but 10 will suffice for now!
With the imminent changes happening across email marketing, I expect it to get much tougher to succeed on the channel. We’re going to see the cream rise to the top, and the marketers that deliver poor experiences fade into obscurity.
Choosing which side of the fence you’re going to be sitting on is a conscious decision, so choose wisely.