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It has the most extensive loyalty scheme and probably the biggest database in the UK. The company is not short of cash either, as it accounts for something like one in every seven pounds spent in the UK.

So Tesco must have the clout to talk to their customers relevantly as individuals through email...surely?

I recently received an interesting email from Tesco. The big guns, who must be flooded with engagement, purchase and behavioural data. The thing is, this email really got me wondering if they know me at all. 

I'll talk through the email and show you exactly what I mean:

The Banner/Key Message Area

Banner and Key Message area of the Tesco email

Tesco know that I am male so I'm not sure why they tried to get me in the mood for a girl's night in with the latest chick flick, bottle of wine and some unhealthy snacks.

At least, if I'm not interested in that, I'm bound to be game for some World Cup action, right? Maybe they've forgotten who I am and taken a stab in the dark at a dual male/female promotion? Who knows?

Introduction

Introduction text and offers in the Tesco email

The introduction is personalised (so they do definitely know I am male), and the text is really information rich, but fails to deep-link into the website. They are really missing the trick here. The DVD that they are really pushing isn't even a text link.

So many opportunities to capture interest in specific products, but no links to them. What happens if I am interested in buying the DVD? Do I have to look for a link somewhere else in the email?

Offers

Offers in the Tesco email

The offers all seem like good deals, but when I click on the first section titled 'Great Half Price Offers >' or the image below it, I'm take to a half price offers page with a page title called 'Christmas'. It's definitely not Christmas.

When I click on the Ascot section, the landing page has in fact been changed to a Wimbledon promo page, which is understandable but still confusing. Surely it would have been better to start a fresh page on the site for Wimbledon? The rest of the sections take you to the category pages, such as the frozen food section.

Banner

Banner towards the end of the Tesco email

Lastly, the final message is a weight loss and dieting banner. At the beginning, I was being teased with crisps and a DVD. How does dieting relate to this, other than if you eat a lot of crisps and watch a lot of DVD's you'll soon need to think about dieting?

To conclude, I was left completely bemused as to what had happened to me. Tesco, I thought we were friends? You know what I buy and in that case, I'm pretty sure you know what I like. You definitely know I'm male because you send me emails addressed to 'Mr', and your staff still call me 'Sir'. What's happened to our relationship?

Philip Storey

Published 28 June, 2010 by Philip Storey

Philip Storey is Global Head of Strategic Services at Lyris, London and is a contributor to Econsultancy. He can be found on Twitter

6 more posts from this author

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Richard Turrell

A fantastic example of how a company can have the right tools but fail to deliver so dramatically.

If Tesco have effective processes in place to enable them to send targeted and relevant vouchers via their postal marketing, why they are unable to use the same thought process and strategies to do the same with email is unbelievable.

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

What a mess of an email! 

Nicely dissected Philip. You're right that, with all that data about you, Tesco of all companies, should be able to send you targeted emails. 

Does this suggest that their internal systems and databases don't talk to each other i.e. that the email marketing team don't, perhaps, have access to the sort of data that you'd expect them to?

Of course, as a customer of any organisation, we expect it to be 'joined up'. To be truly effective at email marketing, organisations need a 'centralised view of the customer' so that all data can be cross-referenced and used for segmentation and personalisation. 

Although the only personalisation they've used here is your first name...

Do you have the ability to visit an Email Preferences Centre in order to adjust your options and the content of the emails?

over 6 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant AgencySmall Business

Thank you for your replies. None of the emails I have recieved have given me the option to change my preferences. At least that would give me the opportunity to tell them what I am interested in. As Richard said though, they must have the data if they are able to use it for postal direct marketing.

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Thanks for the reply Philip. 

No option to adjust your email preferences either?

Tsk, tsk...it goes from bad to worse ;0

over 6 years ago

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Moe

Interesting article, but what if they knew you are a male, being a male there is a big chance that you would be married, got a girlfriend or got some female friend who would be interested in the content sent to you ... perhaps.

Now the question is, Would it work if that was the case? i would appreciate your input.

over 6 years ago

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Richard Turrell

Hi Moe,

Tesco are in the privileged position where they know what you eat, what you drink, what DVD's you watch, what CD's you listen to...

If this data is not readily available within their online data set (legalalities) then by knowing that you are a male and live in England probably gives you enough info to go with the Football themed copy as the lead header. Assuming that you may be married (and care enough for your wife to let her watch Sex and the City during the world cup finals) is realistically less likely.

I have always adhered to the thought process that you should only personalise your email marketing as far as your data will permit. If you have to start taking speculative guesses to create splits then you are probably going to alienate as many people as you are going to engage.

In this case Phillip felt that the email wasn’t well catered to his needs so the segmentation failed. Andrew is right with the need for a list of preferences, if Tesco need more data to help them segment their marketing lists then why not ask the recipient?

over 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

An interesting point of view, but actually you do not *know* that this email has failed to deliver because you do not have access (I assume) to the KPI's that were set for the campaign or the resulting performance metrics. I think all that you can actually say is this email did not work for you and perhaps a few other marketing people that have a view on how they would run a campaign. That is a different perspective, I would suggest, to the vast majority of Tesco customers perhaps. Maybe this email works well enough for the vast majority of people that would give it a far more cursory read.

We should also not ignore the fact that Tesco is a massively successful organisation with significant resources and expertise. It might be worth learning from them rather than assuming that "we know best". What could we learn? Well it might be that in terms of ROI this email is as close to optimum as needed. As it stands it delivers a return, if the cost of making your "improvements" would only translate to a marginal financial increase then in commercial terms it is a waste of time. Just because something can be done does not mean that it makes commercial sense to do it. Luckily Tesco is run by commercially astute business people. My guess is that they will have heard about email personalisation and considered it... and then someone with budgetary authority will have rejected it (probably some time ago!).

Of course I do not have access to the really useful KPI and ROI data either, so I am just speculating as much as everyone else ;) But it is a different perspective that I think is sometimes overlooked and therefore worth putting forward.

over 6 years ago

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Keith

Sorry Ed, that doesn't cut the mustard.

And that is a flipside of the problem. They could analyze the results and get postive ROI because, for arguments sake, lots of girls fancied a girls night in. High-fives all round, down to the pub.

But to send a girl-themed email to the boys, or a boy-themed email to the girls, is just plain rude, and that can only damage their brand long term. Even more so considering it is Tesco, and we all expect them to send us wonderfully targetted offers ...

over 6 years ago

Ed Stivala

Ed Stivala, Managing Director at n3w media

@Keith Personally I think we are massively over scrutinising this and overstating both the impact and it's importance. I really don't believe that "send a girl-themed email to the boys, or a boy-themed email to the girls, is just plain rude" or that it will have any significant long term brand consequence. But I can understand from an agencies point of view why this needs to be presented as a major issue.  

It's just an email and I think the vast majority of non-marketeer / non-agency recipients will see it for what it is. Therefore, I can't help feeling that it is just fine in the bigger picture.

Suggest we agree to differ on this one. 

Kind Regards

Ed

over 6 years ago

Andrew Lloyd Gordon

Andrew Lloyd Gordon, Digital Marketing Expert, Speaker and Trainer at New Terrain Limited

Ed, I can see your point and I understand where you're coming from. Although I would suggest that it's unsurprising that the readership of a web marketing blog are poring over the detail of an email and analysing it more than 99% of the population would. 

But to claim that, 'It's just an email' misses the point of this debate and the bigger picture that you're referring to. 

This is not one untargeted email to one Tesco customer. It represents, probably, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of untargeted emails to Tesco customers. 

Of course, the vast majority will not dissect it like we will.

What they will do is open it, see that it's stuffed full of a rag-bag of different offers and either delete it or file it. Some, naturally, will click on an offer or two.

So, as you say, this one email won't make much difference. 

But if Tesco keep on sending untargeted, unpersonalised and unsegmented emails then the drip, drip effect of this will be damaging. One of the key complaints I hear about various brands is, 'I wish they'd stop sending me useless emails! It really annoys me!'

If, over time, more and more people stop reading these emails (which I suspect they will) then that's when Tesco will start to lose money. Because if people are ignoring your emails then you can't sell anything to them via email!

Finally we, nor Tesco, should never forget that this isn't 'just an email'. Unfortunately email marketing is often seen that way by organisations and treated with less respect than it deserves. 

It's actually a piece of communication between an organisation and a customer. If Tesco think that they can get away with 'spray and pray' emails then this suggests a lack of appreciation of the value of a customer's email address. 

And is this day and age, when email marketing can and should be better personalised than this (Amazon can do it) then the big, powerful organisations with plenty of data and money should show the rest of us how it's done. 

over 6 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant AgencySmall Business

@Andrew - thank you for your comment. I think it pretty much sums up why i wrote this. As i said, I have a relationship with that company that I just felt was nonexistent here. It does not in any way fit with the any other element of my customer experience with them. Email is not an island...

over 6 years ago

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Darren

I had the same email and made exactly the same assumption. What a poor use of customer data. It became something of a joke around the office...

over 6 years ago

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Alex Jenkins

I am male and I love Sex and the City and unhealthy snacks...

over 6 years ago

Hayden Sutherland

Hayden Sutherland, Director at Ideal Interface

If this was a one-off (e.g. just to Philip) then it might be reasonable to suggest that he was part of a control group. I’ve used these in the past to measure the campaign effectiveness against better personalised / targeted emails sent out – by showing an improved click-through rate or other metric However, as Darren has just received the same email (and I assume Darren is male) then this looks to be a marketing SNAFU by Tesco.

over 6 years ago

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Obvious Point

Maybe Tesco just made a mistake? Even a corporate behemoth can send a female-themed email to a man if somebody presses the wrong button. It happens.

over 6 years ago

Nico Koepke

Nico Koepke, CEO at KODIME LtdSmall Business

Maybe someone should reach out to Tesco Email / Marketing dept (I bet some staff are on the econsultancy member list) and just check with them, I also believe it is likely a SNAFU and they may be pleased to hear about it so they can fix it.

over 6 years ago

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Adam

Alex Jenkins - "I am male and I love Sex and the City"

Are you sure? Have you checked your undercarriage?

over 6 years ago

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James Hart

Is this a relevance issue or a technical one.  It easy to have a go at the big players but when you are managing databases of this size, no one gets it right 100% of the time.

I'm not defending Tesco here.  I'm taking a practical view or a complex area.

over 6 years ago

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Paul

Whilst I agree with the points you raise in this article to assume 'boys like this and girls like this' is a very outdated way of targeting your customers.

Adam, I am male, love Sex and the City and having just checked my 'undercarriage' everything is where it should be.

Are you sure your previous purchasing patterns have not led to the generation of this email? Have you perhaps purchased a gift for somebody who might like sex and the city or bought a 'girls night in' CD as a gift etc that would lead them to believe you're interested in this type of offer, in the same way Amazon recommends things I am not interested in sometimes because I have bought gifts for friends and family.

over 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

I got the 'Girl's night in' email from Tesco as well...

over 6 years ago

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Andrew Marshall, SEM Manager at s1

It doesn't look like they have made a mistake, it looks like they have just made a generic email that probably isn't using their full data segmentation that's available. Maybe they just wanted to send a out a massive blast to hit a sales target for the website. Do they normally send out personalised / obviously segmented emails?

over 6 years ago

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Michael Clarke

I think Ed and Alex have made excellent points. You could equally have pervcived the same email in a completely different way for example if you were gay? I'm not sure if you mentioned how you got to be on the database? If it was from doing your on-line shopping with them then maybe the contents are in line with that? Tesco famously stole the new mother market analysing purchasing behaviour in this way so they know what they are doing. Maybe your purchases put you in a category for this particular e-campaign? There's a lot of unknown unknowns about you Philip!

I think Paul's nailed it, you are reading this in a very straight way. Pick up a copy of Men's Health. We're all worried about the same rubbish these days.

over 6 years ago

Philip Storey

Philip Storey, Founder & Principal Consultant at Enchant AgencySmall Business

Thank you for all of your replies. Regardless of the fact that the gender targeting could have been a mistake or it is even deliberate, the content is not relevant to me (it addresses me as a woman in the banner), and I feel that it contradicts itself as I explained before. This is an account of what I thought when I received the email. I am simply surprised that I have been served up this content, and some of you agree, some don't. I appreciate all of your points of view.

over 6 years ago

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Sundeep Jagatia

I must say this was a very good analysis of Tesco's email and I am in agreement that gone are the days when you can just send out generic content to the whole database. I also agree that many perceive email marketing to be a less important marketing communication tool but done correctly with good segmenting and targeting will keep your customers engaged and even recommend a friend. If the content is not relevant, timely and engaging the cusotmer will just unsubscribe or even worse hit spam button. Now this will really effect your sender reputation. Lets just not go there.

over 6 years ago

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Stephanie Stevens, Account Manager at TMB (The Marketing Bureau) UK Ltd

I think your first paragraph sums it up Philip. Tesco have the know-how and the money to make a better fist of it. A gender split is pretty basic segmentation, so why didn't they do it on such an obvious gender specific promotion?

over 6 years ago

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Dennis

Nice to see, that big companies have such problems. But database management and its right usage is probably one of the biggest probs - independent from the companys size.

over 6 years ago

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Dela Quist

Hi Philip

I read your post with interest and judging by the number of comments that have been made, lots of other people were as taken aback as you were. Could it possibly be true that Tesco - one of the most successful retailers in the world, winner of the 2009 Econsultancy Innovation Award for Email Marketing and top rated brand for the question "which companies do email well?" in the recent DMA Digital tracking survey could be guilty of failing to deliver relevant emails?

Taken in isolation the email you received on the 2nd of June would seem to support the argument that Tesco send newsletters full of irrelevant content that fail to take your gender (which they know) into account and fail to use any of the engagement, purchase and behavioural data they have on Mr Philip Storey.

This is simply not the case.

I can assure you that Tesco consistently use purchase history of their customers in combination with Clubcard and other behavioural data. This ensures that wherever possible their newsletters feature  products that are targeted and relevant to the recipient. In fact in terms of the number of business rules and products featured, the weekly newsletter is almost certainly one of the most complex dynamically assembled email campaigns in the UK.

Although it doesn't look that way, Tesco do not practice gender based targeting because their tests have shown that gender based targeting delivers them a lower return than offers based around purchase history. And as we can see, when you get it wrong people tend to get very upset.

How do I know this? My company Alchemy Worx have been providing the Tesco newsletter team with operational and consulting services for around 3 years and are probably more familiar with what Tesco do and do not do with their email programmes than anyone else outside of WGC.

So if this wasn't a case of Tesco failing to recognise who you were or use any of that information, what went wrong? The answer is quite mundane - it was a mistake with the banner copy.

It should have read "All you need for the Perfect Night in!" Film preference aside, if you take away the word "Girls" and the issue of whether the receiver is male or female disappears. It should also not have been in the subject line, which is generally taken from the top banner. In short, the promotion was not gender specific and about wine and crisps not DVD's; which also explains the lack of links to the Sex And The City movie.

Then there is the question of whether to include deep links to products or offers mentioned in the intro copy. The practice was stopped about 6 months ago as part of a long term (and so far inconclusive) test programme, so don't be too surprised to find deep links to intro copy returning sometime soon.

Finally with regard to your point about the dieting banner at the bottom, Tesco are very careful not to use purchase data or behavioural insights in a way that might cause offence. As a result any promotion of the Tesco Diets site is to the entire database.

In summary, good spot though it was, what you identified was a one off copywriting oversight (everyone hopes so anyway) and not an ongoing systemic failure on the part of the email marketing team at Tesco to deliver timely and relevant offers to their customers.

over 6 years ago

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Jenni

It's the use of the apostrophe in 'Girl's' (rather than Girls') that worries me. Perhaps you're supposed to be a loner as well...?

over 6 years ago

Nico Koepke

Nico Koepke, CEO at KODIME LtdSmall Business

Well done Dela for showing up here and getting it sorted. Back to work, folks, no major fail by mega Tesco - maybe someone should upload some Argos campaigns next :-)

over 6 years ago

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Andrew Marshall, SEM Manager at s1

I don't get Tesco emails but hopefully some of the people who have commented on here will let us know how the next couple of emails go. Social media in action right here!!

over 6 years ago

Richard Turrell

Richard Turrell, Group Digital Marketing Manager at The FiveTen Group

I appreciate that we have all over analysed this email but as Dela claims that Tesco has 'one of the most complex dynamically assembled email campaigns in the UK' and this is an example of the results then I feel that we are well within our rights as Marketing Professionals to discuss and analysis the campaigns of a company that have placed themselves on such a pedestal?

I agree that it's great that Dela came online and explained the mundane reason behind this email but even if you remove the text from the header it still leaves a gender specific email that is not targeted to its customer base, remaining key messaging includes:

  • ...help you have the perfect girl's night in

  • a fabulous night in with the ladies.

  • Supported by a themed banner that uses imagery of rose wine and a sex and the city DVD.

I appreciate that Sex and the City and pink are not exclusive to a female audience but I still perceive this email as much more than just a mundane mistake in the header.

over 6 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

A crap email, crap marketing.

Tesco doesn't care any more about its customers than Walmart does. It's a big operation and customer service is the bottom rung. They probably did get good numbers on this campaign (hey half the recipients do match the target audience) and will continue arrogantly along until the whole edifice collapses from indifference and arrogance and crappy customer service.

Dela's email was the funniest piece of weak damage control I've seen in a long time. Thanks for stopping by and making all of our day, Dela. "We screwed up and we're proud of it!"

over 6 years ago

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Bangalow Accommodation

This has got to be one of the funniest corporate bloopers I have ever seen. Maybe it was one of Tesco's trainee marketing executive's first day on the job? Go figure.

over 6 years ago

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