What Short Shorts and M.C. Hammer Taught me About Email Marketing

What Short Shorts and M.C. Hammer Taught me About Email Marketing

Content Writer: Cory Miller Cory Miller Marketing Program Manager
Being that we’re a company that provides email marketing, it’s important that we remain students of the game. I encourage everyone here to join as many email lists as humanly possible. The fact that we’re able to be consumers of a service that we offer ourselves is pretty beneficial. We’re able to keep our work fresh by studying the email genius of others while researching and testing our own ideas. A lot of companies send sweet email (RevLocal, for example), but there’s one company that’s my absolute favorite emailer. The company is called Chubbies Shorts, and let me tell you why it’s awesome.

Don’t let the name fool you, this company is active. Chubbies Shorts is an in-your-face men’s clothing retailer. Chubbies’ email strategy is effective because it’s acutely in tune with its consumers. Chubbies communicates well. The company uses hilarious emails that are jam-packed with nonstop over-the-top-awesomeness.

You’ve got a lot of mail.

Chubbies sends a lot of email. In July alone, Chubbies’ sent me 12 emails. We generally don’t recommend a high send strategy for our clients because send frequency doesn’t necessarily correlate with increased sales. Actually, as a general rule of thumb, send frequency and engagement (which we measure by open and click rates) are negatively correlated. For those of you interested in learning more, MailChimp has studied this theory in depth.

With that being said, Chubbies is dispelling this idea.
Email Marketing Campaign Sends
Over the last seven months, Chubbies has aggressively increased its email marketing activity as the weather has warmed up. While it seems simple on the surface (more email equals more sales), this is actually a much more calculated strategy. I’ve opened about 80% of the email that Chubbies has sent me. I’ve also clicked on nearly half of these campaigns (it's short season, guys). To the email gurus at Chubbies, a high open rate and a well above average click rate suggests that I’m very loyal to the Chubbies brand (the approximate open rate for a retailer like Chubbies is around 23%).

MailChimp, our preferred email service provider, has the ability to create list segments by subscriber campaign activity. This means that Chubbies can send a higher frequency of email campaigns to its most active subscribers without the risk of wearing out its entire list of subscribers.

Subscriber Segment

Divide and conquer.

In the above example, I created a segment of subscribers who opened every recent campaign and also clicked on the last five campaigns (you can also create segments by member ratings which is determined by the overall engagement level of an individual subscriber). As a marketer, I know that these subscribers are the most eager to receive my advertisements and information. The benefit of campaign activity segmentation is that a business can interact with the subscribers that demonstrate the highest level of brand loyalty and reward them for doing so. For example, Chubbies could send an email with a special discount code to its most engaged subscribers to see if it can spur a few extra sales.

It’s important to remember that this high frequency model works for Chubbies is because its list is experiencing an attrition rate less that’s less than the growth rate. In other words, the number of opt-outs per campaign is less than the number of new people who subscribe to its list. This is also way campaign activity segmentation is important. It limits the number of opt-outs by sending less email to the most vulnerable subscribers. Of the 12 emails that Chubbies sent me, it might only sent four campaigns to less-engaged subscribers.

Unless your list is quite large (at least 25,000 subscribers) a high send frequency is a risky strategy. Even with the immense size of Chubbies’ list, if it sent 12 campaigns a month to all of its subscribers, the health of this list would dramatically decrease. Pretend that your email list has 10,000 subscribers. Even with a conservative opt-out rate at 0.20%, you’re going to lose around 20 subscribers with every send. That’s around 200 subscribers you’ll lose per month if you’re sending 8-12 email campaigns.

Stop, hammer time.

Remember when I said that send frequency and engagement and negatively correlated? Well Chubbies understands this too, which is why it’s thinking outside-of-the-box to increase its open rates. On April 10, 2014 I received an email from M.C. Hammer. I knew I couldn’t touch it, but I did anyway. The email wasn’t from the real Mr. Hammer, but rather Chubbies Shorts announcing its new line of “Hammer Prints.” Genius! It changed its sender name from Chubbies Shorts to M.C. Hammer and it totally worked.

I’d bet my bottom dollar that Chubbies experienced a fairly significant increase in its open rate with this maneuver. The company continued to experience with different sender names over the next few months and now uses an alias in almost all of its campaigns.

We decided to try this idea ourselves. We wanted to see if increased open rates actually increased or would just lead to unhappy consumers. We selected a small pizza chain with about 5,000 subscribers for this test. The email that month focused on a new teacher appreciation special. Previous to this campaign, we had an 18.85% average open rate, which is a little above the industry average. We paid homage to Magic School bus and changed the sender name to Ms. Frizzle. The results were quite shocking.
Email Comparison
As expected, the abuse complaints jumped quite a bit, but still fell in the range of normal. Subscribers likely flagged the email as junk because of the unfamiliar sender. Or maybe they just really disliked Magic School Bus? What was shocking was the nearly 10% increase in open rate. We’ve since repeated this test several times with a variety of clients and have experienced increased open rates in nearly every send. Consumers are conditioned to changes in subject lines, but not changes in sender. General curiosity causes them to open email at a higher rate because they’re left asking themselves, “Who the heck is this?”

What’s the moral of the story? Emails are valuable. As a small business, do whatever you can to increase the size of your list. A larger list affords you the ability to send more email, which could mean more sales. In the words of Ms. Frizzle, a large list means you can take chances, make mistakes and get messy.