Monday, July 10, 2017

Descendants 2?: A Story of Untargeted Email Advertising

This morning, immediately after turning off my alarm, I did what I always do first – I checked my email. Unsurprisingly, I received an email from Party City (I hear from them about 3x/week), but, instead of deleting the email without opening it (which is my typical course of action), I decided to open the email check out what they were advertising.

A little about my history with Party City – I placed one order with them on February 23, 2014, for less than $50 – purchasing a Bachelorette sash and piñata for a wedding in which I was the Maid of Honor. I know this since I received a “Thank You for your Order” email (which I definitely did intentionally open upon receipt). And, since then, I have received literally hundreds of emails from the Company, none of which I believe I have opened.

Today’s email had a subject line of “Shop Now for your Descendants 2 Watch Party!”. Hm. I didn’t know what “Descendants 2” was (maybe something sort of like Game of Thrones?). However, upon opening the email, I learned that it is a new Disney Channel movie premiering in a few weeks. Bizarre. Why would Party City send me this email? What tools are they using to take the (relatively little) information they have about me and decide how and what to advertise to me via email? Don’t technologies exist to make their email ads more targeted? This email seems to be a “let’s throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” type of approach to email advertising, which to me seems ineffective and not a best practice if they want to retain customers/get them back without clogging their inboxes and being reported as spam. There has to be better technology out there!

So, I took to Google, and learned that when it comes to targeted email advertising, there are companies doing it better – much better – than Party City. Pinterest is blazing a trail in this regard, in that the Company “did away with batch-and-blast emails earlier this year and replaced them with emails that are 100% tailored to the user.” Wow. After my “Descendants 2” experience this morning, this seems fairly revolutionary. How are they tailoring their emails to their users? They are doing so in a few ways. First, they are sending triggered emails based on customer behavior and engagement with the social media site (i.e. pinning, liking, or subscribing). User behavior dictates email deployment. Additionally, the Company is empowering its users, enabling them to customize their email settings, outlining what type of emails they would like to receive from Pinterest, and how often. These settings can be updated by the user at any point in time, too. This is also key, since when a user receives an email from Pinterest, they know, on some level, that it is related to recent activity, and in some sense, was requested by them.

Now, Pinterest has a definite competitive advantage over Party City, in that they have much more current, and much more volume of, data about their users. That said, there has to be a better way for Party City to optimize on its email advertising strategy. How can they do this?
1.     With customers about whom they have limited information, start with the big, generic holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) and see what, if any, traction occurs. Perhaps send a “We’ve missed you, here’s 10% off your next order " email in conjunction with one of these holidays.
2.     Look at where the Customer lives, and see if any local events (i.e. NYC Marathon) are taking place. Perhaps those are opportunities for email advertising, too.
3.     If a customer hasn’t opened an email from you in a year, stop emailing them so frequently! Remove them from the list, or at least make a reduction in number of emails/week.

PS - No, I won’t be throwing a Descendants 2 viewing party in two weeks. And yes, I did ultimately delete the email.

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