The 3 Ps Of Better Email Marketing Campaigns

Brands can send more effec­tive emails to con­sumers sim­ply by mak­ing sure those mes­sages are portable, per­son­al, and pre­scrip­tive.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 1 comment

While social and con­tent mar­ket­ing long enjoyed the lime­light, email suf­fered as a mar­ket­ing tool. But, barber&hewitt’s Michael Bar­ber recent­ly argued that like Mark Twain, the reports of its death by some media out­lets has indeed been great­ly exag­ger­at­ed. And brands that want to har­ness the full poten­tial of this mar­ket­ing tool – which, notably, has been made increas­ing­ly rel­e­vant by mobile devices and wear­ables – should, in part, ensure emails are opti­mized for mobile, per­son­al­ized to each cus­tomer and put said con­sumers in the driver’s seat.

By and large, email mar­ket­ing cam­paigns suck. Or so said Michael Bar­ber, founder of mar­ket­ing firm barber&hewitt at Dig­i­tal Sum­mit Phoenix last week.

That’s in part because 78 per­cent of email is spam and 94 bil­lion mes­sages per day cost the glob­al econ­o­my $20 bil­lion.

In fact, Bar­ber point­ed to one brand that sent nine emails on Cyber Mon­day as a good exam­ple of where email mar­ket­ing has gone wrong.

For the aver­age per­son, that is over­whelm­ing,” Bar­ber said.

In addi­tion, sub­ject lines and URLs are too long, call-to-action but­tons are too small, mul­ti­ple col­umn lay­outs are too con­fus­ing, and brand emails still go out with greet­ings like, “Dear F*Name,” because brands don’t test their mes­sages first.

Yet there’s still a big oppor­tu­ni­ty to tar­get mobile cus­tomers with email. Email inter­ac­tions are up over­all, dri­ven large­ly by mobile. In fact, Bar­ber point­ed to a study that showed 80+ per­cent of smart­phone users said they even use their phones in the bath­room.

Fur­ther, per Bar­ber, Think with Google found email assists in the path to pur­chase and pro­vides a halo effect after­ward. And he cit­ed an addi­tion­al study that found con­sumers that receive email cam­paigns have high­er touch num­bers than those that don’t.

Where Did Email Go Wrong?

As mar­keters, we were real­ly enam­ored with social and con­tent for the last five years and for­got about email,” Bar­ber said. “While we were all enam­ored with Face­book, Twit­ter, and con­tent strate­gies, devices changed and the media turned on us, but they’re start­ing to turn back.”

In addi­tion, email providers have thrown anoth­er wrench into email mar­ket­ing over­all as they have got­ten bet­ter at fil­ter­ing by giv­ing con­sumers the abil­i­ty to unsub­scribe and instant­ly mark mes­sage as spam, “destroy­ing the rep­u­ta­tion you’ve built up with a con­sumer,” Bar­ber said.

He also said email providers have lay­ered on rep­u­ta­tion data to the met­rics they use to deter­mine whether to deliv­er a mes­sage to an inbox or junk fold­er or whether to quar­an­tine or block it.

You do not con­trol this rep­u­ta­tion data as a brand or agency. This is con­trolled by the con­sumer,” Bar­ber said. “How many con­sumers open the email, how many mark it as spam, how many delete it…if you have a good rep­u­ta­tion, you’ll hit the inbox. If not, you’ll go to junk, etc.”

What’s more, some email providers have moved pro­mo­tion­al emails out of the inbox alto­geth­er. Fur­ther, Gmail’s inbox app allows users to delete a thread by swip­ing left, which means an entire brand cat­e­go­ry could, in the­o­ry, be gone in a sin­gle swipe.

Fed­er­al gov­ern­ments have also got­ten smarter about email mar­ket­ing cam­paigns and spam. Bar­ber point­ed to Canada’s tough anti-spam leg­is­la­tion, CASL, in which con­sumers have to give explic­it opt-ins that brands can doc­u­ment that say they are allowed to send con­sumers emails. Bar­ber doesn’t expect rules like this to appear in the U.S. “in our life­time,” but not­ed it will pop up in oth­er coun­tries, mak­ing this an impor­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for brands and agen­cies doing inter­na­tion­al cam­paigns.

So, Bar­ber said, email mar­keters must sim­ply make their mes­sages suck less. And they can do that by focus­ing on what he calls the Three Ps: Portable, Per­son­al, and Pre­scrip­tive.


Portable emails go every­where users go and fol­low them through­out their days. Any email that doesn’t do this sim­ply isn’t rel­e­vant, Bar­ber said.

And the first step toward cre­at­ing portable mes­sages is to use a sin­gle-col­umn for­mat, like the emails from fur­ni­ture retail­er Room & Board that also have sin­gle calls to action around one top­ic.

It gets to the point and tells me what it is doing,” Bar­ber said.

Sin­gle-col­umn emails also respect that users are busy.

In oth­er words, Bar­ber said, “Tell me what you want me to care about because I don’t have a lot of time.”

In addi­tion, emails should be respon­sive or mobile aware so they are deliv­ered the right way for the right kind of device.

And calls to action should be larg­er than 44 pix­els to make it easy for con­sumers to click and arrive at the desired des­ti­na­tion, even if they have fat fin­gers, Bar­ber said. He also high­ly rec­om­mend­ed elim­i­nat­ing “click here to register”-buttons alto­geth­er.

For a brand look­ing to stand out from the crowd, Bar­ber said it’s easy to incor­po­rate GIFs or videos, such as men’s cloth­ing retail­ers Bono­bos and Jack Spade do.

If you have the abil­i­ty to cre­ate inter­ac­tion, you should do it,” Bar­ber said.

And don’t for­get pre-head­ers, which are like sec­ondary sub­ject lines and increase the clar­i­ty of val­ue for con­sumers.

Good tools include, Lit­mus,, and Email on Acid, Bar­ber said.


Brand emails must cater to the needs and desires of each con­sumer and the expe­ri­ence must be unique to each cus­tomer. Per­son­al emails uti­lize data on what con­sumers do on the web and in social and on what pur­chas­es they make to meet those objec­tives, Bar­ber said.

That means using tags to lay­er on inter­est­ing ele­ments or social icons to have con­ver­sa­tions and expose con­sumers to a wider audi­ence and to dri­ve social opt-ins.

Brands can even bake in social con­tent by putting real-time social feeds into email cam­paigns based on when the email is opened, mak­ing that mes­sage time­ly and rel­e­vant, Bar­ber said.

Con­sumer data also allows brands to do things like send a wel­come email, Bar­ber said. Those mes­sages have 20 to 30 per­cent high­er open rates. And it doesn’t hurt to remem­ber dates like birth­days and anniver­saries, which also mean tap­ping user data in smart ways.

Brands can also tap into infor­ma­tion about gen­der to cater email con­tent or even sea­son­al ele­ments like weath­er to have con­ver­sa­tions with con­sumers based on what is hap­pen­ing in real life, such as retail­ers Jack­Threads and Bono­bos did when it was snow­ing in Col­orado in late May 2014.

Always give me some­thing more,” Bar­ber said.

He also point­ed to Bono­bos, which sent a link to a cat video to watch after he placed an order as some­thing to do while he wait­ed for his pants.

It makes me want to open it,” Bar­ber said. “I can’t help but want to open [future emails] just because I want to con­tin­ue to inter­act with the brand.”

Tools for per­son­al­iza­tion include: StrongView, Jan­rain, and Full­Con­tact.


Brands are no longer in con­trol of their email con­ver­sa­tions. They need to let con­sumers take con­trol or risk destruc­tion of the chan­nel, Bar­ber said. Pre­scrip­tive emails do just that.

We are no longer in con­trol of the con­ver­sa­tion,” Bar­ber said.

When work­ing with Mary­land water­front resort des­ti­na­tion Nation­al Har­bor, Bar­ber said the brand asked its 400,000 sub­scribers what sub­jects they want­ed to hear about and cus­tomized its first large call to action based on those respons­es.

A real­ly great way to get insights is sim­ply to ask cus­tomers what they want,” Bar­ber said.

Brands should also ask con­sumers how fre­quent­ly they want to hear from them and give them lots of options.

Also: Give con­sumers rea­sons to inter­act. And if cus­tomers don’t start inter­act­ing, get a reen­gage­ment strat­e­gy in place, Bar­ber said.

Start a cam­paign flow to get them to be part of the con­ver­sa­tion,” he added.

But if cus­tomers want to get out of the con­ver­sa­tion, make it easy, he rec­om­mend­ed, point­ing to yoga retail­er Lul­ule­mon, which puts its unsub­scribe but­ton at the top of the page.

Or, give that cus­tomer a rea­son to stay, Bar­ber said, point­ing to deal-of-the-day web­site Groupon, which has a cre­ative “Pun­ish Der­rick” video for its cus­tomers that want to unsub­scribe.

And, final­ly, Bar­ber said, “Die pur­chase lists, just die.”

Every sin­gle met­ric [and piece of] research says it doesn’t do any­thing good for you. Com­plaint rates and CTR go in the wrong direc­tion,” he said. “Please stop buy­ing them…this is not what you want to hap­pen.”

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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