Using Email for Word-of-mouth Marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is so powerful. But it’s hard to get right.

Here is an idea I thought up:

DANAT is a gourmet chocolate manufacturer (not a real company). Their fans absolutely love them but only 0.005% of chocolate lovers in the US even know of DANAT. DANAT could spend on spray and pray marketing but they want to use their marketing dollars wisely. DANAT wants to reach friends of DANAT fans.

So they send their super fans an email with an interactive map. The teaser copy reads, “Can you think of 1 close friend who would love DANAT? Where does this friend live?”:


The reader feels compelled to interact with the map (all humans feel compelled to interact with interactive maps). Picking a state takes them to a landing page. For the sake of argument assume they click Michigan. This is what they’ll see on the landing page:


When they visit this page a cookie is set. That way if the visitor returns to email and clicks on some other state the site recognizes the cookie and prevents the user from making an alternate selection.

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Super Cool Order Confirmation Email

Order confirmation emails are boring.  And the reason is simple: order confirmation emails are generated after the customer has given up their credit card info.  So why bother making it cool or interesting?  That’s what the retailer is thinking, anyway.

But that isn’t how thinks.  Here is their order confirmation email:

Thanks for your order with CD Baby!


Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy. We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved “Bon Voyage!” to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as “Customer of the Year.” We’re all exhausted but can’t wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!


We miss you already. We’ll be right here at patiently awaiting your return.

Was the product you received defective or damaged? Check out our Return Policy.

All your friends at CD Baby
Sell your music on CD Baby and in stores worldwide

Lesson: Show your personality every chance you get.

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Within 0.01 seconds of landing on this popup appears:


Like, the page hasn’t even fully loaded and the popup is in my face.  Is that the best tactic?  What do you do when you get startled?  I know what I do: I get out of the way (in this case I click the [x]).  In a world where we can A/B test just about anything why not test the timing of this popup?  I mean, it’s a good offer and I would likely have wanted to signup for a 10% savings.  But give me a second to catch my breath.

What would have happened if the popup appeared once I engaged with the page (defined as time on site or pages seen)?  Would the signup have worked better?  Even if the absolute signup rate might be lower I bet you’d get better quality signups (i.e. people likely to buy your product).  In the end, isn’t that what really matters?

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Segment or Die

Email marketing is a magical thing.  Instead of waiting for a new or past buyer to stumble on your site, with email marketing you can take a product page and literally send it to the subscriber’s inbox.

But because marketers exploit email marketing so much its effectiveness goes down with each passing year.  Shoppers are getting more emails, and they’re receiving these emails more frequently.

Here is the typical story with nearly all email marketing programs: they start with the online retailer sending maybe one email a month.  Then one day you decide to send 2 emails every other week and see a nice bump in sales.  Aha, doubling frequency had a 80% lift in sales (it isn’t as good as 100%, but hey, 80% ain’t too shabby).

A few months pass and you get antsy so you up the frequency to 3 times a month.  This time the bump in sales is even smaller but the overall revenue through your emails is still impressive.  When you were sending an email a month you had time to craft a thoughtful message that had a personality.  Now email marketing is more cookie cutter.

The trouble with this story is that it leads to a bad place because eventually you’ll end up sending emails twice a week.  What you’re experiencing here is the law of diminishing returns; and it sucks.

So what’s the way out?  Send customized emails: messages that have a very specific focus and are addressed to a very specific subset of your mailing list.

Should a person buy Goodyear tires, he or she may be added to Goodyear’s mailing list. When winter rolls around, it stands to reason Goodyear would like to let their customers know about their new snow tires. Do Goodyear customers in Florida need that email? No.  But Michigan customers do.  And if you want to make this email even more effective send it out to Michigan shoppers 24 hours after a major snowstorm.

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This Is How an Email Address Is Captured …

I was on  Then I moved my mouse to exit the site and saw this popup–


This is a very clever strategy because while knows I’m not going to buy right now (I’m exiting in under 30 seconds) they want to at least get some demographic info about me.  And what’s even more clever is that they’ve shown a multiple choice question that’s very easy to answer, so most people will select an option (it’s pretty much impossible to not make a selection if you have a baby).  And once you’ve made the selection (I selected the 0-6 months option) they show a new screen–


What’s really clever about the second screen is that it is related to the option I selected (0-6 months).  The copy reads, “Owlet is designed to fit most children up to 18 months old and give your Peace of Mind“.  The “Owlet is designed to fit most children up to 18 months … ” line matches my selection.  Also, the Peace of Mind messaging is smart because it’s the emotional need Owlet is looking to solve.  Obviously every parent wants peace of mind, who would say “no” to that??  And below that is the big ask: enter your email here.  Oh, and by the way, the appearance of a smiling baby isn’t an accident.

This is how great marketing is done.

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Guest Checkout, like most retailers, offers Guest Checkout—


But what they do that’s smart is that when Guest Checkout is selected they ask for an email address before revealing other fields–


This might seem like a small detail. But consider this: 20% of shoppers who reach shipping/billing page don’t complete the order. By capturing email address upfront might not guarantee a sale but they will capture an email address and can use email marketing to pitch to 80% of shoppers who didn’t place an order.

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