Using Data to Make Email Marketing Messages Valuable

Email marketing – when used effectively – can be super powerful.

Still not convinced? Here is some more proof that email marketing is far from dead.

My theory for why some folks still don’t believe in the awesome power of email marketing is that they are doing it wrong. And to be clear, by “wrong” I don’t mean they are “breaking the rules” and sending mostly-HTML (or mostly-text) emails. Nor are they “doing it wrong” by sending emails with the word “free” or using ALL CAPS in the subject line. Nope. As long as you are testing to determine what works best for your audience, I’m a huge advocate for being an email marketing rebel.

Instead, I think that many marketers are not using data that they have to personalize/customize emails for various segments of their list. Too often, marketers send the same email to their entire database. Sure, that tactic can be effective. However, you’re likely to get better results from your email marketing program if you send targeted, timely, VALUABLE emails to your audience.

That’s exactly what Norm Thompson did this morning. Check out the email below.

Norm Thompson Thank You

There are many things I love about this email – 6 to be exact. Taking it from the top…

1. The Subject Line: As I’ve said before, along with the from name (sender), the subject line is critical to getting someone to open your email. In this case, Norm Thompson chose the following subject line: Thank you for being a loyal subscriber. Enjoy 20% off your next purchase. What’s great about this subject line is that it leads off with a thank you and follows with a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) … 20% off next purchase. I opened the email immediately. Mission #1 accomplished.

2. The Preheader: Norm Thompson did not waste that valuable real estate above the header (aka, the preheader) with boring, non-valuable text. Nope. Instead, they included some clickable text that allowed me to take advantage of the 20% off offer immediately: You deserve a gift! 20% off your entire order.

3. The Lead: The first text above the main call to action image read, “thank you for being a loyal email customer for 1 year!” YES! Norm Thompson used subscriber data to segment its list! While many marketers ask for a subscribers birthday so they can send a special offer, Norm Thompson decided to use my one-year “subscriber anniversary” as the date to give me 20% off. Unique. Smart.

4. The Main Call to Action: One of my biggest mistakes marketers make is sending emails with no clear call to action. Make it obvious. If I have to guess what action you want me to take, it’s a lot less likely that I’ll do it. Think about it. In this case, Norm Thompson makes it very very obvious what they want me to do. The main image is clickable as is the “coupon” and “shop now” button. Love it.

5. The Messaging: I really love is the copy. It’s simple. It’s direct. It’s not super-fancy. Phrases and words such as “thank you,” “loyal,” and “you deserve a gift” all give me the warm fuzzies.

6. The Simplicity: The final aspect of this email that is really smart is the fact that Norm Thompson does not make me remember some crazy coupon code in order to redeem my 20% offer. In fact, they don’t provide a coupon code at all. As the messaging reads, all I have to do is “Just click through this email.” To be nitpicky, I would suggest making that a bit more clear – maybe even putting it in red/bold text below the image: “Note: You do not need to enter a coupon code at checkout to take advantage of this 20% offer. Just click through this email and the discount will automatically be applied.”

Now, the questions I cannot answer with certainly are these: How effective was this email? How did the open and click-to-open (CTO) rates compare to other emails? How many of the 20% offers are redeemed with these emails? What impact do they have on sales?

Note: If someone knows a person on the email marketing team at Norm Thompson, I’d love to chat with them!

April 3, 2013 UPDATE: I spoke with some of their team and, while they are unable to share specific numbers, let’s just say … it’s been VERY effective!

How are you using data to make your email marketing messages more valuable? What are you doing to make your email subscribers feel special? Please share in the comments below.

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. Give the latest episode a listen!

Email Marketing Made Simple


I recently launched a new online course, Email Marketing Made Simple, that promises to help make you a better email marketer.

-Having trouble growing your email list?
-Not sure what a preheader is?
-Avoiding using the word “free” in your subject lines because someone told you it was a “rule.”
-Having trouble figuring out how to use social media and email marketing together?
-Not sure what you should be testing and how often?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions (or all 5!), I can help.

Learn More about Email Marketing Made Simple


6 Tips for Making Your Email More Like Snail Mail

Sadie Cornelius
I’m on vacation right now … likely checking in every so often … so I figured it was a good time for a guest post. Thanks Sadie!

Sadie Cornelius is the Director of Marketing for Cover Story Media, Inc. leading the charge on all brand management, social media strategy, graphic design and marketing growth initiatives. With more than 9 years experience in communications, new and traditional media, public relations, special events and film, her experience ranges from Fortune 500 companies to local non-profits. She’s also a pretty awesome, cool, fun human being. I mean, check out her picture. Fun, right?

In an age when the post office and traditional mail have become less and less common, we become much more reliant on email as a way to get our message to our friends, family and customers. Email these days is still one of the more personal forms of communication despite the fact that it’s used in a very mass ways. Like telegrams or cards, emails are between two people and are a one-on-one way to communicate electronically.

But over the past few years our inboxes have become more of a mailbox full of junk. It’s hard to sort through the pile and toss out or delete what’s irrelevant when there is so much to dig through. How do you avoid going in the trash? Think of your inbox in a more traditional way like a mailbox – what do you look for first when you get the mail? The baby shower announcements, the wedding invites, the birthday cards. People tend to gravitate toward these personal human connections.

How do you translate those emotional and personal connections to business? As an email marketer, it’s time consuming and can be expensive to keep up with your CRM efforts – birthday emails, thank you emails, etc. But an easy way to implement humanization into a mass communication message is to include something personal in your emails, even if it’s just the recipient’s name.

In researching for this blog post, I dug back through my notes from 2008 on “Email Best Practices.” While the facts may have changed in the past 5 years, the tactics remain the same: segment, personalize and deliver a one-to-one message. Direct mail marketing shares these strengths. So let’s get back to the basics and use these snail mail techniques in our email campaigns to make them more effective.

1. Share an Anecdote or Story – In a world where we are fed thousands of advertisements a day, a simple way to grab people’s attention as they sift through the coupons and dentist cleaning reminders is to share something personal. Just have a baby? Show us! Did you have a great time at a conference in Vegas? Tell us. The reason reality TV and Facebook has become so popular is people like entertainment and storytelling. DJ did a great job of this in his recent Valentine’s Day email.

DJ email

2. Include your Email Signature and your Personal Social Media Links – It seems simple but so many people forget to do this. Think of it as the equivalent of putting a return address label on your envelope. Not just a way to contact you, but actually encourage them to get in touch. Take it a step further and put a photo of you to put a face to the name. As we in the SEO world are realizing how important Authorship is, giving a personal author and face to your content in email is also likely to be a game changer in the future. See example below.

Jessica email

3. Person to Person – Unlike web content, with email you have the ability to personalize your message, so make it personal. A simple “Hi John” might get their attention more so than a generic “To whom this may concern.” And keep in mind that people want to connect with people, not a brand. Unless you offer ongoing weekly e-deals like an airline, you may want to consider having your emails come from a personal address. I guarantee you even if they don’t recognize the from name, it will at least make people stop and think they might know you which may increase your open rate.

4. Use Personality in your Voice – Let’s be real, okay? Don’t talk like you would in a sales pitch, or to a second grader. Pretend like you are writing a letter to a pen pal. Although the recipient might be a complete stranger, you want to be human. If you have fun writing your content, it is more than likely they’ll have fun reading it, too. No one wants to read a long-winded research paper in the middle of his or her day. Keep it light, be brief and if possible use a little humor. It will give your readers something to look forward to in their inbox versus just another email to read.

5. Compelling Subject Line – When you check your home mailbox and you see a card or package that interests you, you open it and you open it with excitement! The same goes for email, but with email you get the chance to tease your recipient before they open with a compelling subject line. Give them a reason to open and more than likely they will, and that’s half the battle. Once their eye balls are inside your email, you’ve at least captured their oh so precious attention (Editor …errr … DJ Note: I’m a big believer in the power of a compelling email subject line).

6. Timing is Everything – Like an RSVP for a wedding, you might not react right away, and that’s okay. Unless you have a compelling offer like a one-day sale, the lag time on email can be up to a week or more. So be patient and as you send out email campaigns, be conscious of your timeframe. You wouldn’t send a wedding invite the day of, so don’t expect your readers to take immediate action, no matter how exciting your content. If you do have something timely, make sure you know the turn around time. Although email seems like it’s as easy as pressing a button, there are many steps involved. Mail doesn’t just magically show up on your doorstep. There are many steps that get it there. And if you miss the boat, don’t be afraid to send a belated birthday wish. It’s never too late to admit you missed out. Send a follow up post-event or take advantage of the less congested rush hour.

In conclusion, similar to the way Facebook has succeeded with sharing personal aspects of our lives, don’t be afraid to show a little personality in email marketing, too. You are likely not just another credit card application so don’t act like one. What grabs your attention? Who do you think has done a good job of personalizing email? Put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and think about what would make you open and read your email then implement this plan.

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. Give the latest episode a listen!

Email Marketing Made Simple


I recently launched a new online course, Email Marketing Made Simple, that promises to help make you a better email marketer.

-Having trouble growing your email list?
-Not sure what a preheader is?
-Avoiding using the word “free” in your subject lines because someone told you it was a “rule.”
-Having trouble figuring out how to use social media and email marketing together?
-Not sure what you should be testing and how often?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions (or all 5!), I can help.

Learn More about Email Marketing Made Simple


FW: Break the Rules: Using Gimmicky Subject Lines

When I logged into Facebook this morning, this was the first update I saw:

Really sick of promo emails with FW or RE in the subject lines. Class it up, marketers. We can do better!

To be clear, the person who posted this is a friend as well as someone whose job is very closely tied to marketing.

My first reaction to her post was something along the lines of “YOU TELL ‘EM! I’M SICK OF THOSE GIMMICKS TOO!” (and yes, I did yell that out loud).

Then, I paused.

I recalled this book that Jason Falls and I just wrote – The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing – that’s all about breaking “the rules” of email. I had to remind myself of what we talk about in the book and what I preach all the time:

Best practices are those that are best for YOUR audience.

What if these “gimmicky” subject lines actually work? What if – for the audiences of these email marketers – subject lines using “FW” and “RE” lead to more opens, click-throughs, and conversions?

Would you do it? Would you at least test it to see how your subscribers responded?

Take a look at this email from Marketo (Note: I’ve removed some information to protect the innocent):

(Click on image or here to view entire email)

If you look closely, it appears as though Chelsea Kovak received this email from “Marketo Events” (her employer) and forwarded it along to my friend. I could be wrong, but my bet is this was not a one-off email; instead it was part of an email marketing campaign.

Here’s one more example that I received last week. It was sent from “Matt Steinmetz” (not sure who he is) and included an invitation to attend Content Marketing World – an event hosted by a colleague of mine, Joe Pullizi.

Check out the 4-minute screencast below:

Having trouble seeing? View it on my Screencast-O-Matic page.

I agree with much of what my colleague Loren McDonald said in his June 28th Email Insider column: Subject Line Gimmicks Won’t Solve Your ‘Open’ Problem.

But again, what if it works? Who are we to say what tactics and strategies email marketers should employ?

So …

My questions to you:

1. What are your thoughts on using “gimmicky” tactics like this in an email subject line?
2. Would you open, click, and buy something from an email like the two examples above? Have you in the past?
3. Have you or your company ever tried this tactic? If so, has it been effective for you in the short and/or long-run? Please share some metrics. I’d love to do a follow up blog post.

Finally, if you work at Marketo or are named Matt Steinmetz or Joe Pullizi … I’d love to hear how effective these emails were for you.

DJ Waldow
Waldow Social

P.S. Have you heard the news? Nick Westergaard and I have started a weekly podcast called The Work Talk Show, where we interview crazy-smart folks about how work gets done. This week’s guest is John Morgan! Listen to what John has to say about 2-hour power working.

Speaking of breaking “the rules” of email marketing, did you know that my buddy Jason Falls and I just wrote a book called The Rebel’s Guide to Email Marketing: Grow Your List, Break the Rules, and Win?

Yup. It’s true.

In the book, we talk about growing your email list as well as breaking “the rules” of email marketing. Break the rules and grab your copy today, right now. Here –> AVAILABLE NOW!

Reminder: There is no such thing as “best practices” when it comes to email marketing. Best practices are those that are best for your audience.

Are You Personalizing Your Emails?

As I’ve said time and time again, the secret to effective email marketing is to send timely, targeted, valuable email to people who have opted in.

If you follow that simple (yet not easy) mantra, it doesn’t matter if you break the “rules” of email marketing. Want to send a not-so-pretty looking email? As long as it’s valuable, go for it. Want to send an email with ALL CAPS in the subject line? Do it, but be sure it’s targeted.

However, if you want to spice up your emails a touch, consider personalizing them for each and every subscriber. To be clear, I’m not talking about simple first name personalization. I don’t really count adding my first name to the subject line or adding “Hey DJ” to the opening of a message. Instead, when I discuss personalization, I mean including content that is specific to me.

Last week, I received an email from Sears with the following subject line: It’s been a while since we’ve seen you online – check out new offers just for you!

When I opened up the email, this is what I saw (below):
Sears Email - Personalization
Note: Click on the image to see the full version (this is just the top half)

4 Reasons Why This Personalized Sears Email Rocks

I love this email for so many reasons (4 of them, actually).

  1. Subject Line: While on the long side at 82 characters (the purists will tell you this is a no-no, but I don’t agree), this subject line drew me into the email. It did what it’s supposed to do … led me to open the email! They played on the fact that I’ve been “gone” for awhile, which was true, as well as “offers just for me.”
  2. Preheader: Notice the “Hey, we remember you” messaging in the preheader. Not only does this sentence extend the subject line, it also adds a bit of “human” to an otherwise large company.
  3. Header: As an email marketing guy, I really love how Sears took advantage of the header space to ask me to subscribe to their “special offers” email list. Using email to … grow your email list. Nice! Additionally, they included a big ‘ol update your preferences button. However, instead of just the button, they added a nice call to action question: Does this email interest you?
  4. Personalized Content: While #1-3 were nice additions to the email, the main guts (body) of this email was dedicated to content that was personalized just for me. A few months ago, I purchased a new dishwasher from They remembered! Well, technically they used customer purchase history to personalize this email based on the data.

Personalization Matters

By personalizing the content of this email, Sears was able to accomplish a few things. First, it gave them an excuse to email me. I’ve been receiving their emails, yet not opening or clicking through on them. Based on the subject line and the personalized content, they sucked me back in. Also, they provided real value in this email. As it turns out, our disposal is quite old. By offering a complimentary product to the dishwasher, it’s quite possible that I’ll buy that disposal too, from Sears of course. They’ve made it easy for me to buy it right now.

Are you taking the time to personalize your email marketing messages beyond the “Hey [first_name]” stuff? If so, how effective has it been for you? If not, what’s holding you back?

As always, I’d love to hear from YOU. Please leave your comments below.

DJ Waldow