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What happens when a retailer allows individual stores to control local customer communications?

I guess it depends on the level of training and guidance afforded to staff, but oftentimes things can go awry, especially when it is patently clear that there’s no kind of instruction from head office.

Take Oddbins, my local wine merchant that regularly uses email to invite some of its clientele to wine tasting events. This appears to be coordinated from the store's Outlook account, rather than via any kind of centralised email marketing platform, and while the staff are to be applauded for their initiative, there are some lingering concerns.

Thankfully, they have stopped using the CC field when emailing several hundred local customers, but unfortunately they continue to rip up the email marketing rulebook.

There’s no subject line, for starters. Nothing.

The from address doesn't say ‘Oddbins’ or ‘Oddbins Battersea’, but just ‘Battersea’.

There are no contact details contained within the email.

The email is sent as plain text, by default.

There are a bunch of typos / grammatical errors, alas.

The body copy includes multiple exclamation marks!!!

And, most importantly of all, there is certainly no kind of opt-out / unsubscribe message.

Retailers should help local staff to communicate with customers using best practice methods, as well as making sure all of the legal obligations are met (specifically, in this case, a way of unsubscribing and the inclusion of contact details).

I don’t blame the local Oddbins staff for not knowing about this – after all, they know a hell of a lot more about wine than I do – but head office should be supporting this kind of proactive marketing with basic training in email techniques.

Further Reading
Email Marketing Buyer's Guide 2008
UK retailers failing to follow best practice

Chris Lake

Published 16 September, 2008 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Rolv E. Heggenhougen

This is why Marketing should be coordinated from HQ. There are systems out there that will let HQ decide what the different promotions are in an email campaign and can vary these based on sender. WrapMail for example is a system that actually focuses on the regular emails that employees send every day any way. This system has a back-office where management can decide what user gets what wrap so they are targeted to their audiences. The big difference with WrapMail is the focus on the regular email - it's basically an interactive letterhead that is added to external emails but it's a server-solution so there's nothing installed (that could be changed) on any individual computer.

eMail marketing obviously works or so many companies would not be using it. The challenge in larger organizations is to focus on the right message based on who the email is coming from. Recipients should be able to reply so the sender should not be a "do-not-reply" address - those make no sense at all.

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

I think that it can be done at a local level, so long as there are a few guidelines in place and possibly managed via a central email platform (that will append emails with the opt out message / refuse to send if a subject line is left blank, etc).

about 8 years ago

Rob Smith

Rob Smith, Managing Director at BlueleafSmall Business

It's incredibly important in today's climate that every single touching point with a brand is consistent, well branded and with the same personality! A unified strategy is required, if not marketing controlled at HQ.

It's a strange thing that as soon as a local authority decides to do something outside of the normal corporate remit that all rules (and sometimes common sense) becomes abandoned. In your case above I'm amazed that they don't put 'Oddbins' in the from field in any way - this to me is not a lack of education or training, but a lack of common sense.

about 8 years ago

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Roddy Graham

A very interesting article, but I have to take issue with one point. Emails are meant to be plain text. It is just wrong to send anything else. Until a standard for html / rtf email is established and universally accepted, one should not stray beyond plain text.

How often have you received 'formatted' emails with links which don't work?

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hi Roddy,

Yep, I thought I'd get pulled up on that. Personally I prefer a nice HTML email but I've personally been guilty of messing up links in HTML newsletters, so you have a point.

I just think you can get a better response rate from a good looking email, and that plain text looks a bit lo-fi these days.

I also effectively whitelist some newsletters by turning on images (rather than off by default), which I assume helps deliverability.

Still, if it's about deliverability and response then a descriptive 'from' field and subject line are two things to get right before we worry about the look and feel of the email ; )

c.

about 8 years ago

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Oddish

Oddbins HQ have mailing lists for each individual Oddbins branch (which the branches can't access) aswell as an additional mailing list from their wedsite. They are, however highly incompetent at using either. This forces Oddbins managers with initiative to formulate their own independant e-mailing database and send e-mails in their own time from their home PCs (due to lack of technology in the branches). As a result amateur marketing e-mails are being sent and ultimately backfiring as bad PR due to the points mentioned above! I'm sure the lights will go on in Odd HQ one fine day...

about 8 years ago

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Jeremy Mathias

If Oddbins' staff did follow the basic tenets of marketing communication (which really only amount to respecting your audience's entitlement to know who you are, and giving them the opportunity to terminate your communications if they so wish) then I think the non-centralised approach suits their brand values better (or at least what those values were a few years ago).

I would far prefer to receive an insightful account of my local branch activity, its personalities and, of course, its wines, than the dumbed down, impersonal trash which HQs often spew out. However, for this strategy to work, a high standard of writing, and the ability to engage, are essential prerequisites.

about 8 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

I couldn't agree more - they simply need a bit of a steer, and maybe some centralised platform that helps them mail their local customer base in a manner that doesn't damage the brand.

about 8 years ago

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Westie

The potential pitfalls of branch level email marketing are huge. Never mind it being amateurish, it is wide open for abuse by members of staff.

about 6 years ago

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