Hey AA – How ‘Bout Some QA?

I don’t like calling attention to errors, but nothing starts a vacation off quite like finding out at 11pm that your flight scheduled for 6am the next morning was changed to 8am, with no communication from the airline that anything was changed. Having booked our flights in March, and received only confirmation emails prior to a missed “Pre-Flight” email delivered at 8am, 24-hours before the take-off time, we were shocked to say the least when we found our flights had changed. I noted the Pre-Flight email was missed – we fortunately found out that the other party in our travel group was flying out at a different time, despite our travel being booked originally for the same flight set.

I had no plans to check-in prior to the flights as we had to check our bags, but considering the surprise from the change in flight times of our travel partners, I decided to click on the Pre-Flight email’s call-to-action (CTA) to check-in online, at least to see if the different flight time was correct. Uh oh again – the confirmation number wouldn’t pull up – no information found. WTF? Exactly, wtf.

After some trial and error, and several people attempting to sort through the confusion, we found that when loaded from the email CTA, there were two spaces at the end of the referenced confirmation number causing their site to load invalid information. So, we could load our itinerary. Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we’re getting to the big uh oh.

We’re about to start off our vacation on a really bad foot – our seat selection had been changed: myself, my wife, and my two young children were on three separate rows, with one pair of seats and two singles. Now, in many cases this might not be a problem, but when traveling with a five-year old and a three-year old… yeah, not going to work.

Of course, we were already on the phone with the airline trying to sort through this mess, and inquired about the seats – what can be done to move them around, to reclaim our four-in-a-row selected configuration. The answer? Nothing, it’s a full flight (of course, less than twelve hours until take off). Fortunately, we were able to get our seats rearranged at the counter when we checked-in and checked our bags – some resolution, small steps. So, that brings another question: is the flight full? Or not? Hmm…


Quite the introduction for today’s insight… sorry for the rant. But what I’m heading towards is that customer service is (should be) the center of all our efforts, at every level, of every organization. What are we without customers? We cannot be so vain that we let any other element of the business operation or reach to overpower our desire, our need to accommodate our customers. Without our customers we are worthless, we are nothing, we will cease to exist. “Customer-centricity” is a big catch phrase right these days, a “new focus” of a large number of organizations. This in itself is a shame – customer centricity should have always been a primary focus of all organizations, as serving customers in one form or another is the sole purpose of any organization. Everything we do must be centered around better serving them, as that will create, and compound, our potential for success.


In this case, the airline committed several critical failures in the initial stages of our customer journey:

  • They changed our itinerary, but did not inform us. Had we found out after getting to the airport at 4:30am, after waking ourselves and our children up at 3am, we would have been “just a bit” more frustrated, to say the least.
  • They changed our seat arrangements as part of the change in itinerary, which could have lead to a very long flight, for everyone on the flight.
  • No automated email program was in place, or it was unsuccessful in this case, to notify passengers of updates to their itinerary.
  • An oversight, or lack, of ongoing QA of their automated “Pre-Flight” email program, possibly not testing with live customer data and clicking all links in the emails, created an error in referencing customer flight information, allowing their primary CTA to load an error page.

The result from this sequence of customer service faux pas is a significant gap between expectations of service and reality of service. Fortunately, my family enjoyed a smooth and easy set of flights, and have been enjoying our vacation since. Plus, we have a few good lessons on customer service, including identification of a couple critical components of an automated email program which are critical to the successful and efficient customer service by an airline.



Unlocking the Unblast Step 1: Targeting and Segmentation

Simply defining the Unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing really isn’t enough, so I thought I’d share some more secrets with a series of steps to help you unlock it and to guide the way to a more effective email marketing program. The first step is Targeting and Segmentation. Truly the foundation of any marketing campaign, defining a specific target helps to determine content and creative, timing, and setting estimations and expectations of results.

In the interest of protecting ongoing and future strategies, I’ll take the perspective of one of my former employers: let’s say you’re a niche retailer of sporting goods, specifically a niche, core market snowboard retailer offering a selection of the finest, most desired, and most rooted-to-the-sport brands – none of those Dick’s Sporting Goods or other megamart brands, only the good stuff here, da kine brah.

You may start by thinking that a niche retailer like this really doesn’t need to segment its customer base any further, as the customer base has essentially segmented itself into a pretty finite, small market based on the products they’re interested in. But, you’d be wrong. Really, no need to be defensive, you’re wrong. Sorry. How? Simple – are your customers interested in men’s or women’s gear? Are they interested in clothing and accessories only, as they don’t have access to snow? Or are they interested in the newest and hottest snowboards?

Defining interests is a start. Let’s say you set up your website guestbook (or whatever you prefer to call it) with a number of interests allowing your subscribers to select among men’s or women’s gear, and each of the product ranges you offer. Done. Right? Not at all. Sure, you can build out a few queries for your email marketing program: one for men’s snowboards, one for women’s snowboards, one for men’s outerwear, another for men’s clothing, and so on. Great, good start.

So, let’s build out an email for men’s snowboards, set the target, and send it. Wonderful. 100% of the work for 25% or whatever it is of your total customer base. Not very efficient, is it? How about building out a single campaign that uses dynamic content to include either men’s or women’s (or both) snowboards based on the interests selected by the subscriber? Maybe include a bit of additional content for those subscribers who are also interested in outerwear? Now we’re getting somewhere, you’ve put forth 120% of the work to reach 40% or whatever of your customer base – I’ll leave it to the mathematicians and statisticians to determine the marginal increase in efficiency. But, the reality is that’s just it – a MARGINAL increase in efficiency.

So then what? All this extra work to for small bump? Yep, exactly. So why do it? Because now you’re speaking directly to your customers, rather than sending a “blast” with all the products you offer, and basically annoying your entire customer base because they have no idea what you’re trying to say, and they start to think that you don’t pay any attention to them. Guess what… your competitors are building out this same strategy of segmentation, and they’re using it. What’s more is that they are already building a relationship with your customer base, locking them in as an expert in the selective niche, the retailer that knows them, and speaks to them.

Targeting isn’t necessarily about driving numbers up. Rather, it’s about driving numbers down. It’s about dropping unsubscribe rates, dropping unengagement, dropping email deployment costs through smaller email campaign send volumes, and dropping the competitive advantage your competitors are already enjoying, with the side effects of increasing engagement, increasing your customer base, and, in the long run, increasing revenue by maintaining and growing your customer base.


Have any questions about other aspects of an effective email “unblast” campaign? Leave them in the comments below – I have a few others planned, but always open to requests.

Think Unblast: “The Secret” of Effective Email Marketing

Many marketing professions like to say (and some even believe) that they have the secret of marketing, the secret to turn your “failing” marketing program around with a few simple steps. Well, they’re wrong. If it was that easy, none of us marketers would have jobs. If it was that easy, a computer program would be developed and implemented running those steps, and all marketers would be out of jobs.

No, the reality is that there is a secret to email marketing that many overlook or fail to recognize or understand. There is a secret that can help nearly any email marketing program be more successful, but it is incredibly difficult to utilize. Ironically, this “secret” is right in from of us, hiding because we choose to utilize a different strategy, as it typically requires a complete paradigm shift across multiple business channels, and that paradigm shift is even more critical if your email marketing messages are typically called “email blasts”, “e-blasts”, or anything else using the word “blast”.

If you read my last post on email “blasts”, you may remember that “blast” is the four-letter word of email marketing. Well, if you fall into the “blast trap” that so many do, and you refer to your email marketing campaigns as “blasts”, chances are that your email marketing program could use some improvement, and it’s likely there’s a lot of room for improvement. So, I should be selling you a “secret”, taking lots of money from you, and providing tons of reporting data showing how much I’ve helped you, and asking for more of your money.

Rather, I’d like everyone to take the free, simple advice to simply “unblast” your email marketing strategy. If your strategy is to “blast” to your customers, you’re not targeting. If your content is designed to “blast” to a large audience, you haven’t optimized your content to your optimal customer. And, if you send any sort of offer to “everyone in the database”, you’re not speaking to your customers. No two customers are alike. So, no program designed to speak to everyone will be as effective as a program designed to speak to a targeted segment.

The unfortunate side of this is that if you’ve been “blasting” to your customers, you’ve likely lost some of them through unsubscribes. And, the longer you continue to “blast” your “blasts”, you’ll also continue to lose your subscribers and drive less-than awesome results.

So, take a step back, and start to think small. Small segments. Small groups. Small interests. Unblast your email marketing strategy. Your customers, and your bottom line, will thank you.

“Blast” – The Other Four-Letter Word of {Email} Marketing

Yes, everyone knows that “spam” is the four-letter word of email marketing. No email marketer wants to be identified as a spammer, but we all likely have been, at least if we’ve been at it long enough. However, “spam” is a form, or method, of email marketing that few email marketers exercise – it’s essentially a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch.

So, what’s the real four-letter word of email marketing? “Blast”.

(Source: Winnerumc.org)

It’s like nails on a chalkboard. Asking an email marketer to send a “blast” is like asking a surgeon to use a machete. That’s not quite how we operate – at least, not if we are to do our best work. No, the very thought of sending an “e-blast” evokes many of the same responses as the thought of eating regurgitated popcorn. Ewe.

What’s a “blast”, anyway? The basic definition, at least in my eyes, is an unguided, untargeted, unstrategized mass email that is a poor attempt to through everything at the wall and hope that something will stick.

So what should you do instead? If a blast is an unguided, untargeted, unstrategized mass email, some first steps to avoid a blast would be to develop a strategy, build a target audience, and deliver a clear, concise, targeted message to a small segment of your total audience using content and creative that speaks to their interests.

The Golden Rule: {Email} Unsubscribe Link Treatment

While we are now fully dependent on data and metrics to drive marketing strategy, I believe we can, and should, keep fundamental concepts like “The Golden Rule” in mind as a general guide and starting point for all aspects of a marketing campaign, message, or general strategy.

It may not be immediately apparent, but styling and structural treatments can, and in some cases, follow “The Golden Rule”-based foundations. One example I’ve often faced is placement, size, style, and quantity of “unsubscribe” links.

Regardless of phrase used – opt-out, unsubscribe, “say goodbye”, “disconnect”, or any other “creative” iteration – the unsubscribe link is one of the most critical, and legally required, elements of your email. That “legally required” part seems to catch a lot of people, as most questions I’ve been asked have involved burying or shadowing unsubscribe links to minimize their visual impact, the bare minimum to fulfill the basic legal requirement.

This strategy of burying or otherwise minimizing unsubscribe links, though, is little more than giving a big middle finger to the email recipient base. Why hide the link? So people can’t find it? Well, in very nature, that’s basically eliminating the subscriber’s only friendly option for opting out of receiving emails they don’t want, leaving them with the unfriendly option, “the spam button” (duh duh duh…….).


(Source: Breath of Optimism)


So, following the theme used in my recent “The Golden Rule: {Email} Cadence” blog, let’s visualize this with another hypothetical dialog:

Other: Can we make our unsubscribe link really small and put it at the bottom of our emails?

Me: I’d recommend placing it at both the top and bottom of the email, and while they can be smaller than regular body content, I wouldn’t necessary make them “small” – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: What? Why? Can we make it a color similar to the footer background so it doesn’t stand out?

Me: I always like text links to be bold and underlined – it’s good for accessibility, and helps to overcome challenges with consistency between email client/device combinations. And, you should use a legible color – make it easy for your readers to find.

Other: But why would I want to make it easy for people to find the unsubscribe link – I don’t want them to unsubscribe.

Me: Unfortunately, that’s not our choice. If a subscriber wants to unsubscribe, they will, either by unsubscribing through your unsubscribe link, or through their device/client adding unsubscribe options such as Gmail and Hotmail, or by hitting spam.

Other: But if my link is obvious and easy to find, everyone will unsubscribe.

Me: High unsubscribe rates are often indicators of an unhealthy email marketing program – subscribers are or become uninterested, they receive too many emails from a specific company, they receive too many emails in general, the emails they receive are or become irrelevant, or they had an unpleasant experience with a company and are simply done with it.

Other: I still don’t think that’s a good idea, I think the link should be all the way at the bottom and hard to find. Now you’re not only talking about making it easy to find, but you also want to put one at the top!?

Me: Ok, let’s look at it another way. What would you do if you kept receiving emails from a company you didn’t want to hear from – maybe you went hiking once, hated it, and never want to think about hiking gear again. But, you signed up to a company like REI’s email list, and keep getting their emails. You finally had enough, you went to unsubscribe, but couldn’t find the link. What would you do?

Other: Well, I’d hit spam. I can’t stand it when companies like that keep sending me stuff.

(mic drop)