A batch-and-blast approach to email is not only lazy, it creates immense pressure on internal marketing teams for delivery inside your organisation (more on that later). Before we get started, I’d like to quickly illustrate why the batch-and-blast approach is a bad idea for most brands with some data of anonymised accounts I’ve analysed over the last year...
“Why can’t we email our list with offers every day? All the big brands do this. If it works for them, it will work for us.”
As somebody who has worked with a fair few of these “big brands” directly, I can tell you first-hand that the results and innovation inside these companies are generally awful on email.
A batch-and-blast approach to email is not only lazy, it creates immense pressure on internal marketing teams for delivery inside your organisation (more on that later).
My philosophy on email is relatively simple: proactively collect data on your recipients at each stage of their journey in order to serve them better. If you achieve this, engagement will go up and churn will go down.
That may sound incredibly complex (it’s not) so for the sake of simplicity, we’ll stick to the topic at hand in this article and deal specifically with the concept of email frequency by primarily focusing on the batch-and-blast approach brands take.
Before we get started, I’d like to quickly illustrate why the batch-and-blast approach is a bad idea for most brands with some data of anonymised accounts I’ve analysed over the last year.
Below, you can see an account that embarked on a batch-and-blast approach to email with an increased frequency and generic approach to segmentation. They started hitting their whole list sporadically as opposed to at the very least an engaged segment, getting caught up in vanity metrics and thinking “more is better”.
Not only did they double their production output, it came at the expense of eroding their deliverability and overall results.
You can clearly see that an increased sending volume didn’t improve anything except the amount of time they had to invest into their email strategy.
And while unsubscribe rate may have gone down slightly on an individual email-by-email basis, this is negated by the fact that they still lost more subscribers overall.
The unsubscribe rate was also kept in check by the fact that we excluded any new customer coming into the business for the first time by advising the client to not include customers passing through the Welcome Flow/Post-Purchase Flows into general campaigns (a topic we call ‘Exclusions’, which you can read more about here).
Why did their performance tank so hard? The reasons are often not clear-cut and more nuanced from brand-to-brand. However, if we were to hasten a guess, it would be that:
- The audience is fatigued by the messaging
- Desensitized to the creatives (the brand incessantly pushes out product promos several times per week)
- Inbox providers (Gmail, Outlook etc) started to respond negatively to their sending techniques and categorising them as spam
Here is another example of before and after batch-and-blast. While this only analyses 6 campaigns in total (3 before, 3 after), it is a clear illustration that more is not better, and the only thing you achieve by emailing your whole database is harming your inbox placement.
Note: metrics are Open Rate, Click-through Rate & Placed Orders, in that order.
In the above example, the list size was halved and an ‘engaged email 60 days’ segment was chosen instead. Even in the short-term, this helped to improve inbox rate placement, so all is not lost for brands who do follow bad practices on email campaigns.
Note: Please disregard the revenue attributed to the emails in the example above as well. There was a mixture of content to sales campaigns in the mix so it’s irrelevant to try and quantify that the first 3 emails were more effective due to overall revenue.
There is a plethora of statistics across all major ESPs that strongly advise against employing batch-and-blast techniques.
Here are some of the most important reasons you shouldn’t try to emulate the big brands with this scattergun approach to email.
1: Their budgets for acquisition dwarf yours
Big brands have unbelievable marketing budgets that allow them to rapidly penetrate markets. As such, losing customers is likely to be mitigated by the fact that they’re often acquiring thousands - if not millions - more in the process.
Given that you can’t compete with that level of acquisition through paid social, it makes more sense to focus on building relationships with your customers instead.
And while it’s expected that you’ll need to sell with email from time-to-time, the most effective way to achieve this is by minimising email churn and maximising engagement.
You can start at a very basic level by segmenting based on engagement levels over email to improve inbox placement, and then get more granular over time by progressively profiling your audience based on their interests and goals.
Doing so allows you to craft a more purposeful customer journey that sells more simply by serving your customers more efficiently.
For example, if you’re a fashion brand that retails both male & female clothing, you wouldn’t start remarketing to your customers with men’s jeans and t-shirt recommendations after they’ve just bought a dress. The likelihood of a cross-sell diminishes and the chances of churn rise.
When that happens, you’re going to have to head back to the acquisition channels to replenish the data you’ve just purchased to acquire. And as most of you already know, that quickly becomes an unsustainable strategy.
2: Bigger Brands have large Inventory Control Issues they need to tackle
While every eCommerce business needs to carefully manage inventory levels, giant retailers in particular often have tremendous pressure internally to shift volume quickly for both cashflow and seasonal purposes.
We’re often talking about milti-national brands that hold hundreds, if not thousands of SKUs that need to be delicately managed. When you’re sitting on a repository of over a million historical customers, that becomes a distribution channel where you need to rapidly push stock through.
The chances are that:
- You don’t have hundreds of SKUs
- You don’t have the capacity to create such offers without devaluing your brand significantly
- You’re unable to generate the creative assets in such a short timespan to constantly keep up with such promotions
Constantly managing and creating such offers can condition your audience to only buy when you’re on sale but also place tremendous internal pressure within your organisation to manage so many ongoing and recurring promotions.
Whilst customer loyalty is a contentious area of debate, there is also evidence that suggests customers who solely buy on sale are also more likely to churn from your business.
Giant brands are often focused on gross revenue through email, whereas your objective should be to maximise gross profit.
3: You can’t compete with their Creative Resources
As we saw in the introduction to this article, an increased frequency in sending volume can not only result in lowered sales but also the sunk cost of paying your creative team to generate such resources.
Email is an intricate channel that requires a lot of collaboration. Inside our own company, each project is allocated with a:
- Dedicated email strategist
- Project manager
- Email builder
I have seen many clients over the years try to hire in-house to reduce agency costs and increase email production unsuccessfully. People often underestimate how complex the channel is.
Given the above encompasses 5 separate roles, you have to ask yourself whether it’s plausible to put such demands on a copywriter who is probably also crafting product pages on your website as well as a graphic designer who’s knee-deep in social media design.
Big brands have tremendous resources and dedicated in-house production teams allocated to specific channels that allow them to reduce production time and increase output.
If you don’t have such resources at your disposal, you’re setting yourself up for failure trying to keep up with this speed.
4: Big Brands have Branding Prowess You Don’t
Let’s be honest: when you receive an email from Ralph Lauren VS Jenny’s Handcrafted Apparel, which one are you most likely to recognise and open?
It is a myth that smaller brands have higher loyalty than big brands or that consumers are increasingly rejecting them. People buy Coca-Cola because they know and trust the brand versus Bob’s Cola.
This also has the dual benefit of allowing big brands to be more aggressive with sales messaging. People rush to buy Ralph Lauren when it’s 50% off but seldom care when Jenny’s Handcrafted Apparel is on sale.
This form of ‘brand equity’ has often been built up over decades. If you don't have it, you can’t just magically conjure it up from thin air. It takes time.
Thus, your goal is to not pigeonhole email as a sales channel and replicate this strategy: it is to find creative ways to engage your audience, improve inbox placement and strengthen the customer experience.
5: Your Deliverability is at Stake
Email deliverability is by far the most under considered aspect of email marketing.
It is a travesty that brands completely bypass or neglect this most fundamental aspect of whether their marketing message actually gets delivered.
Ignoring email deliverability is akin to crafting copy and media for a Facebook Ad, spending hours investing in the creatives and then disseminating the media over organic and having practically zero reach.
When you have a poor sender reputation, that’s exactly what happens with your emails: it fails to reach the recipients inbox.
Although deliverability requires plenty of technical considerations, one of the key determiners of your success is simply whether your recipients are engaged with your emails.
And as we saw in the introduction to this article, the client who battered their list with a high volume of sends clearly ran into issues with their inbox placement.
Again, I reiterate my earlier point that it is a false economy to get drawn into the fact that you have 100k subscribers, therefore it’s better to cast a wider net rather than to email only the 25,000 that are engaged. Email simply doesn’t work like that, and thinking you can bypass this is wilfully ignorant and will land you in hot water with the most popular ISPs.
You may be wondering why for all the talent available to large brands who can pay significantly greater salaries do they continue to follow such malpractice.
From experience, I’ve found this is a combination of peer pressure from stakeholders who are uneducated on email yet demand to “hit the whole list”, alongside the simple fact that when you get into the habit of blasting over 1 million subscribers each day, it is very difficult to consider a ‘better way’, especially as you still get some degree of results through messaging all the recipients. After all, a brand that has a 10% open rate to 10,000 followers finds it difficult to justify continuing with the same tactics when compared to a brand that has 100,000 opens to every 1 million emails they send out. The unit economics make sense just enough to continue with this scattergun approach for the larger brand, but fall flat on its face for the smaller business.
Summary: Stop treating email as a Sales channel
You may be feeling thoroughly depressed at this point and confused as to how to approach email. Yet it need not be this way.
Email is a wonderful channel with a myriad of opportunities to enrich the customer journey and drive profitability to your business. It just requires a paradigm shift in your approach to achieve this.
Here are some great ways to differentiate yourself from the mess and rapidly improve your overall email marketing performance:
- Progressively profile customers at the top of the funnel: use pop-ups to segment customers based on goals/preferences, and filter this through to your ESP in order to serve the customers with more relevant campaigns and flows.
- Content distribution: people mistakenly fall into the trap of believing that email is solely for selling. It’s not. Email is also a fantastic content distribution channel where you can disseminate blogs, video tutorials, engage your audience with competitions and so much more.
- Surveys: email is a brilliant and cost-affordable way to help drive product innovation and implement qualitative research. You can use this data to segment customers more effectively and then serve them better and also generate new ideas for your business.
Each of these three strategies deserve their own article and could fill another 2,000 words on a page. At some point, I’ll get deep into the strategies we’re using on all of the aforementioned.
For today, at least, I hope I’ve provided enough evidence to help shift the mentality in your organisation behind the batch-and-blast approach to email and to at least make a start reframing your view of email as a communication channel.