Archive for October, 2009

How often have you read an article and thought ‘I’m going to forward this on to xxxx’/I know someone who would be interested in this…’? Using the forward to a friend (FTAF) functionality within your email program is an ideal opportunity for growing your database.

Due to this years’ economic climate, data acquisition has been much less of a focus for many companies, with efforts being placed on optimising the potential of existing databases through retention models and organic growth. Using FTAF as a simple call to action within your regular newsletter, means that for no additional cost you are facilitating the action for an existing customer to help you grow your database through their network of friends, family and colleagues. Examples of campaigns we have worked on have seen significant results of more than 2000 new subscribers within 2 weeks!

Using FTAF as a link/call to action within the template allows you to measure the performance of the campaign and respondents, whereas simply forwarding cannot be tracked in the same way. With FTAF you can use this information to build loyalty programs for customers who are interacting through a variety of offers such as sneak previews of new product ranges, fashion collections, voucher offers etc…

Despite the low cost and ease of implementing this solution, there are many companies, retailers in particular, who are still missing the opportunity of including a FTAF link, or perhaps are using it but not in the most effective way.

The busiest time of year is about to begin so I thought I would take a couple of examples of companies with target groups of women in the 18-40 range, who are highly responsive groups for purchasing in the run up to the Christmas party season and are more than likely to forward articles on to their friends if you provide them with the tools to do this.

Oasis F2AF

1. Oasis: In the top right hand corner there is a clear call to action with a FTAF button. Remember that many customers don’t have the time to open all their emails and more often than not use the preview pane, so don’t forget to get your strongest messages in the top section of your email. Oasis is also making good use of the image below the navigation bar, where there is a clear call to action that the Christmas collection is now available.

Once I have clicked on the FTAF button, I am taken to a fully branded Oasis page where I can fill in up to 8 friend’s contact details, plus I can enter a personal message which increases the personalisation making my friend(s) far more likely to engage with the brand.

Dorothy Perkins F2AF

2. Dorothy Perkins: Despite having great content and a clear call to action at the top of the email with a Free Delivery and Discount Offer, at no point is there any link for me to forward this email to a friend. In this email they are talking about new shoe and dress collections plus a focus on Breast Cancer, all things that I would want to share with my friends, but leaving me to use outlook to forward on to my friends gives Dorothy Perkins no visibility of my behaviour or the network I am sharing this with.

Avon F2AF

3. Avon: They have done really well with their re-brand over the last year.  As with Oasis, they have a clear call to action with a Refer a Friend button in the top right hand corner of the email and this takes me through to an easy to follow page that again allows me to personalise the message I am sending to my friends. One minor point is that it can be off putting to have too many cells to fill in; I suggest 5-8 fields as opposed to 20 as shown here.

Clarins F2AF

4. Clarins: A very popular brand when considering Christmas presents for friends and any female family members (in fact I do know a few guys who don’t sit too far from me that will consider treating themselves to a few Clarins products!). They are using the FTAF button, but it sits below the fold of the email – so my attention isn’t drawn to it as soon as I open the email, or if I am viewing it in a preview pane. However, it’s good to see they have a fully branded FTAF page and the option for a personal message.

So to summarise… As you can see there are some brands who are spot on with their use of the FTAF and others who are completely missing the opportunity. Where does your company sit??

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. By using FTAF you can identify your loyal base and bond with them, they are more likely to continue to share with their friends if they feel they are getting something in return from the brand
  2. Remember a friend who has been recommended is more likely to convert to being a real customer
  3. Make the customer journey as easy as possible. Many ESP’s offer FTAF, but as a standard this is non-branded. Make sure you brand your page to increase loyalty
  4. Remember to thank your customer for sharing the message with their friends
  5. Using FTAF is great as a quantitative measure, to track individual customer behaviour, however don’t forget to use your own blogs, communities etc… as a qualitative measure to see what people are saying in the public domain about your brand.

If you would like further information on using this solution, or examples of live campaigns, don’t hesitate to comment or give eCircle a call.


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Email deliveryOn my commute to work this morning, I was reading the Metro and came across an interesting article about the proposed Royal Mail strikes. Advice from DirectGov is telling people to abandon postal services if the strikes go ahead. “If possible, email or telephone rather than using the post,” it tells consumers. In more recent news, the ISBA, the body representing UK advertisers, warns postal workers that strikes will drive marketers from direct mail to email. This really got me thinking. Do we really need to rely on the Royal Mail as much as we do? Perhaps companies should take this as an opportunity to embrace online business communications instead, and more specifically email marketing.

Email marketing is a much cheaper alternative to direct mail and there is no need to rely on the Royal Mail to deliver your message, making it a fast and reliable communication channel! Using email means you can tailor your message to specific individuals and plan future emails based on real-time customer responses.

A large financial client of eCircle’s has reduced operating cost dramatically by switching from sending paper statements to secure statements delivered via email.

By no means am I suggesting that email can replace Royal Mail, particularly with regards to the delivery of goods but it can help us communicate with customers in a cost-effective, fast and efficient way particularly during the strikes.

Our email client Argos offers a ‘reserve online and collect in-store’ service which seems to be an ideal way of alleviating delivery concerns by providing an alternative of collecting items in store.

What do you think? Will the strike encourage direct mail users to reduce mail volumes in favour of email marketing? I’d like to know your thoughts.

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Going socialForget going green: it’s all about going social. Everyone’s talking about their social media efforts – or lack thereof – and it seems that social commerce (or the business of monetising social media) seems to be scaring the hell out of many marketers who feel they’re missing the boat because they’re simply overwhelmed by the options. People are talking to their networks about how to live, eat, socialise, date, shop, vote etc.  This dialogue, otherwise known as User Generated Content (UGC), is going on right now, but opening up your brand to potentially negative feedback is pant-wettingly worrying…unless you open your arms wide to embrace and deal with it.

‘Tis the season for conferences (or Summits, as our American cousins more inspirationally name them) which are a great way to catch up with suppliers and clients on what’s hot and what’s not. I attended two in the last couple of weeks that had a seriously social slant: Bazaarvoice Social Commerce Summit 2009 (on Twitter: #scs 09) and Webtrends Engage Online (#wtel09).

Here’s just some of the assertions I jotted down: we’re living in an ‘enormously transformative age’ of ‘accelerated digital development’, living in an ‘Always On’ culture of ‘SO-SO’-ing (we all ‘switch on[line] to switch off’ from work) or indulging in ‘Bleisure, staying constantly connected via smartphones and doing business during leisure time (thanks to the very cool Tom Savigar, Trends Director at Future Laboratory, for those ellipses).

Taking stock of the new interactive world we live in, there are some equally bald statistics giving weight to the commercial potential for social media:

  • 70% of the digital universe will be generated by individuals by 2010 (Source: TechCrunch 2009)
  • Facebook is now the 4th most-visited website, with more than 300 million active users of which 50+% are logging in every single day. The fastest growing demographic is 35+ yrs old, people have 130 friends on average and the most prolific users are on Facebook for mobile (Source: Facebook)
  • It’s not just the under 30s who are constantly connected: 33% of 45-54 yr-olds and 23% of 55-65 yr olds are always online, a hugely lucrative demographic segment (Source: Future Laboratory + Virgin Media 2009)
  • Bazaarvoice clients using Ratings & Reviews or Ask & Answer UGC products report big increases in conversion (>10% increase for top-rated products on Argos.co.uk; 40% increase for mistergooddeal.com)

 Putting personality into your brand to create a real, human, emotional connection with consumers, is the first step to a serious social strategy.

 At the Bazaarvoice Summit, the keynote opening talk was Feel and be Felt’ Ze Frank, a frankly bonkers video blogger-cum-social-guru. He advises us to always strive to connect with consumers in an implicitly personal way to provoke a response. Achieving a truly emotional connection is tricky, but if you’re listening to what people are saying – what moves/upsets/amuses/annoys them – there should be common themes upon which to build ‘projects’ or viral campaigns which will strike a chord in your collective customer consciousness.

Take this YouTube clip of an epic water slide off the side of a house that some kids in America made,  which was picked up by Microsoft Germany for the launch of their ‘megawoosh’ website for Microsoft office 2007,…and is surely not far away from the hugely popular Barclaycard water slide ad,  which has in turn been spoofed by Specsavers, my point being of course that these companies seized on water slides because they resonate with everyone.

Creating a community for your brand of online conversations has worked for many early-adopters, either on the website itself or on a network such as Facebook or Twitter:  Topshop has nearly 500k fans who can clickthrough for the latest Kate Moss or Christopher Kane launch, and the  ASOS Community has nearly 700k profiles. Of course, as cool of-the-moment fashion brands, they have a clear identity and loyal/instant user base, but a more unlikely community success story is eSpares (spare parts) – their reviews have become a way for customers to interact and advise others how to fit spare parts properly.

Once the floodgates are open, there’s no going back, so, as Argos, EPSON and eSpares all advised during the Bazaarvoice Panel Q&A, it’s critical to have response plans in place for both negative and positive feedback, with customer service teams, suppliers and manufacturers. Respond to feedback quickly and personally – there have been examples of ‘turnarounds’ where furious customers, tweeting their spleen about a recent purchase or service issue, are spotted by an astute and nimble company representative monitoring their #tags closely, and offer a swift free replacement or discount vouchers – unsurprisingly there’s a tweet volte face and the astonished customer can’t praise the company enough.

To keep the conversation about your brand going, encourage multi-network dialogue and multi-channel distribution of content: share website UGC with your Facebook page and encourage tweets and re-tweets: keep the conversation going! Bazaarvoice also unveiled their Social Network Accelerators, similar to Social Fusion  or share-to-social email products, which ‘close the loop’ to automatically post email content to social sites. Spread the word across other online/offline channels: feature reviews in email, brochures and instore – ‘social syndication’. The Body Shop share reviews and suggestions in email campaigns to drive sales of their star products.

I spoke to one conference delegate last week who was angry with the term ‘social media’, saying social conversations and interactions are entirely organic and cannot be commercialised. But that’s not the point: it’s more a case of capturing their hearts, then their minds and wallets will naturally follow. Instead of focusing on direct returns, through really listening and interacting online, companies have a huge opportunity to use all the multitudinous digital tools at their fingertips to create a real relationship with customers. The Them&Us divide of Corporation&Consumer is blending – a natural convergence of rapid digital growth, a timeless public appetite to interact and a dissatisfaction with the previous unaccountability of Big Corporates in a recession.

Another term I’ve been hearing a lot of in the last few weeks is ‘Building Brand DNA’ (or personality). Thanks again to Tom Savigar at Future Laboratory for summing it up with the latent identities of these global brands: Virgin + British Airways, Apple + Dell. I like to think my company, eCircle, has a very different ‘DNA’ to our more American Corporate competitors too! But if social media is integral to building brand DNA, and brands now reach far into the digital stratosphere, how on earth are we to measure and optimise, as all good marketers ought?

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According to suggested best practice on email creative there are set standards which many in the industry claim will determine the success of an email campaign. For the majority of emails this holds true. However sometimes it can be more effective to break away from the norm and try a more creative tact. The beauty of email is that you can always try out new ideas with split testing to see what really works for your audience before jumping in at the deep end.

Here are a couple of examples from my inbox, which help to demonstrate my point.

If you search in Google for ‘email subject lines best practices’ it comes back with a possible 19,100,000 results, which illustrates just how much information is out there on this topic! ‘Limit your subject line to 50 – 70 characters’, ‘keep it short and sweet’ and include your ‘company name’ in the subject line. These are all probably suggestions you’ve come across before. But with this ‘Martin’s Money Tips’ email all this advice goes totally out the window! They’ve gone for the longest subject line in history, but it works for me because it tells me everything I need to know. The subject line is loaded with the most important information on all the offers and deals you need to be aware of and suits the style of the email itself. It’s not trying to be clever but still manages to prompt me to take action and open the email. However, I’d only suggest using longer subject lines when there is a compelling reason to do so but in this example there obviously is!



In the competitive fashion industry image is everything and this literally holds true for this Karen Millen email, which emphasises images over copy in a big way. To a certain degree, this goes against the traditional best practice advice that using lots of images should not be done because of image blocking issues. However, these days there are numerous steps you can take to avoid image blocking, such as always including an ‘add to address book’ link, preferably in the pre-header as this will ensure all images are directly shown to subscribers and incorporating a ‘view a web version’ of the email as well.

Karen Millen

Another email marketing best practice principle is that you should keep the length of your email relatively short. However, keeping it ‘above the fold’ isn’t something ASOS seem to be interested in as this email is looong (click on the image to see the full length version)! But do they need to? This email includes relevant calls to action and imagery that really would appeal to the fashion conscious.


So what works best for your campaigns? Shorter or longer emails? Images vs. text based? Testing is the only way to uncover the true revenue potential of your email campaigns. Best practice is there as a guide but there are no universal rules. I’d recommend you test and alter your campaigns based on responses rather than what worked for someone else. Be proactive and don’t stop testing!

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