The success of email newsletters rests on a delicate balance between regular communications and flooding your customer’s inbox.

I take a look at HMV’s email marketing efforts, which offer a lot but fail to deliver.

HMV, a latecomer to the online world, re-launched its ecommerce site in 2006 and digital download site even later.

The site is easy to navigate, has some great editorial reviews and I especially like the way you can listen to a 30 second preview inside the page without the need to launch a player.

Prices are reasonable enough, the order process is simple and delivery is free. As a result I am a frequent shopper.

I should explain that I am a bit of a music fan. I have a diverse taste in music, with an extensive CD collection and am always keen to hear something new.

So when HMV offered me the chance to sign up for its email updates I was happy to do so.

Initial signs were encouraging. On the sign-up page I could specify CDs or DVDs, tick boxes of my favourite genres of music and select to receive special offers – well we all love a bargain!

The reality was very different. I wasn’t specifying my personal tastes so HMV could send me tailored and personalised emails, I was in fact signing up for individual email communications for every box I ticked.

It’s as if each genre had its own separate team, deciding on the content of their email, the special offers and when to send it in complete isolation.

There was absolutely no connection between the email I received on Dance music and the other about Chart. And timing is bizarre – some days I will receive 3 emails then nothing for a week.

As a consumer it is very difficult not to click the unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email or even the dreaded Spam button in my Yahoo mail.

HMV Special Offers

Many companies are investing heavily in email marketing. According to figures from the DMA in August 2007, email marketing has overtaken direct mail in terms of volume, with the average volume of emails rising by 52% year on year.

Stats in the E-consultancy Email Marketing Platform Buyer’s Guide show the UK market was expected to be worth £221m by the end of 2007.

It is also a very cost effective marketing channel. The barriers to entry are relatively low and the potential sales very high, delivering a solid ROI.

However, get the frequency wrong and it could be damaging your brand. A good indication of over-mailing is a declining open rate and a spike in the unsubscribe rate.

Sending targeting emails is a great way to tailor the content towards your customers. But fail to have some simple de-duplication across your different emails and you simply over-mail people.

Look after your database. It is far easier for customers to opt-out of your email database than a postal mailing database. And once they have gone, it is very difficult, and expensive, to get them back.

Overall, hats off to HMV for investing in email marketing thus far, but all brands take note - today’s customers expect a far more sensitive use of their personal data and opt-in permission.

Matthew Finch

Published 29 January, 2008 by Matthew Finch

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Comments (1)


Richard Phillips, Principal Consultant at Experian Integrated Marketing

Point well made, Matthew. I see a lot of this, not only in email but in other channels too.

Now that you've spelled it out one might think that this company would see the sense in your logic and make changes accordingly. That is, change from multiple subscription newsletter opt-ins to multiple preference options for a single subscription. But I can tell you now that it won't happen overnight and here's why:

The trouble isn't that anyone would disagree with your suggested approach (how can you argue with what the customer wants!). The problem is how large organisations are engineered (i.e. in silos) and in particular, how silos are measured and rewarded. Typically this kills the collaboration necessary to design a solution around the customer.

So fixing it requires more than changing the email sign-up options. To move away from the inter-departmental bun-fight, it often requires substantial organisational changes. Departments (however the company is split up) need to work together to serve the best possible email (and other channel) content to best influence the customer at any point in time.

Designing ultra-efficient data-driven marketing solutions would be far easier if organisations were built (operationally) around maximising customer lifetime value, rather than around product lines. Of course it takes C-level changes in approach before their teams will operate and cooperate as required. I know that sounds all very high level for what on the surface looks like a simple email process error. But it’s the ultimate root cause of the problem!

over 10 years ago

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