October 21, 2022

Email Best Practices for DTC eCommerce Brands

David Bozin is a Partner at Structured, the highly collaborative DTC digital marketing agency helping brands grow paid acquisitions, retention, and revenue through omnichannel campaigns. 

We connected with David for a deep dive into his expertise and best practices within the space. We cover: 

  1. General acquisition vs. retention tactics for branded emails
  2. Ideal benchmarks for measuring the health of campaigns
  3. How to build email flows around seasonal products
“Email is one of the most effective levers for consumer brands to drive revenue. It isn’t always easy, but it can make or break a brand.” - David Bozin, Partner at Structured 

Email for Retention vs. Acquisition: Is It Really That Different? 

The answer is absolutely! David shares that there are two primary funnels — pre- and post-purchase — which require different messaging, cadence, and incentives.

Acquisition: How to Create Intent to Purchase

Acquisition tactics are aimed at the initial storylines and funnels when someone hits your website and starts engaging or interfacing with the brand for the first time. Acquisition exists across:

  • The popup/Website – The primary source for acquiring window shoppers and customers
  • Checkout – When a browser actually becomes a customer
  • Events, giveaways, etc. – Collaborations with other brands, wherein the acquired audience is trickled into a “welcome series”, an email flow introducing your brand.

That trickled flow is normally a modification of the welcome flow, where the first email caters to language around the giveaway/event/activation, and then runs them through the typical brand intro. For most of the brands that David works with, the welcome series will span anywhere from five emails to upwards of ten+ emails.

Retention: How to Drive Future Purchases & LTV

The retention side is what occurs after the purchase. When someone purchases, that is the highest degree of intent brands can get from a consumer. Thereafter, the question becomes how you can retain and nurture that customer to become a repeat-purchaser.

Transitioning from acquisition to retention efforts shifts from coaxing customers to purchase to doing everything possible to convince them to buy again.

For most brands, repeat purchasing is not immediate. 

Some brands immediately attack with retention marketing, which works well if they sell impulse purchases or stackable products, like jewelry and clothing.

David sees retention as a science. There’s a difference in tone and approach — between being aggressively "salesy" vs. a manner aimed at building lasting relationships.

Retention becomes a matter of expressing, "You just made the best decision of your life. You purchased my product. Now, here's what to expect." 

That builds on the consumer psychology — they’re likely experiencing that slight giddiness and anticipation around getting the product, and you just elevated it. 

Brands can build that feeling over and over again once someone gets the product in their hands. 

Through platforms for delivery tracking and transparent comms during post-purchase, like Wonderment or AfterShip, brands can push the second purchase in a way that feels authentic. 

"Authenticity and meeting the consumer where they are in their journey go a long way to building an enduring relationship." - David Bozin, Partner at Structured 

Benchmarks for Impactful Email Marketing

Generally speaking, when measuring the success of an email campaign funnel, David looks at overall blended email-attributed revenue.

This method is similar to how many brands view their marketing performance through the lens of MER (market efficiency ratio) instead of looking at channel-specific data points.

David does look at individual components and highlights some critical targets for brands: 

  • Email-attributed revenue should be between 20% and 30%, depending on the brand. 
  • For single-purchase products, it could be anywhere between 15% and 25%. 
  • For products that have a lot of cross-selling and replenishment opportunities, the goal should be between 25% to upwards of 40%. 
  • For outlier brands that have email baked into their business model, they could be sitting comfortably at 50% or 60%. 

Breaking down email-attributed revenue, David emphasizes that, ideally, brands are operating at a 50/50 split on email flows and campaigns between pre- and post-purchase.

Email Flow-Specific Benchmarks

Welcome series — for new customers coming in — primarily drive flows. That means around 80% of flow-based, email-attributed revenue should come from the welcome series.

Overall, about 40% of email-attributed revenue should come from acquisitions.

Retargeting flows are mainly characterized by the abandonment series, with four layers of abandonment that make up the remaining 40%.

Finally, replenishment is the rest that should bring us to 100% of your email-attributed revenue. 

The Importance of Even Campaign-to-Flow Split

Campaigns play a vital role in acquiring customers and driving follow-on purchases.

For David, a brand's split between flow- and campaign-attributed revenue is indicative of the overall health and success of your email marketing channel. A relatively even split is the goal.

David explains that, when he first comes on to support a brand, he can usually diagnose key problems and opportunities based on the campaign-to-flow split.

He’s seen brands hitting the 50% email-attributed revenue goal, but campaigns are 90% and flows are 10% — meaning an inefficient split, which indicates flow-based problems.

It likely means that the brand lacks a super built-out flow or a set of effective funnels on the flow side. Or there aren’t enough potential customers coming in from top-of-funnel activity.

"Finding the right balance of nurturing and selling can be tricky. Optimizing your use of flows and campaigns is a good place to start." - David Bozin, Partner at Structured

The Material Impact of Seasonal Shifts on Marketing

Smart consumer brands leverage and adapt to seasonal shifts, namely summers and holidays, to maximize the effectiveness of their email marketing.

How to Use Email Campaigns as a Seasonal Tool

Again, David separates the field of play into flows and campaigns. At their core, flows are evergreen content, while campaigns are more so one-offs that are attuned to a specific moment. 

For seasonal businesses, campaigns will be the primary driver of email-attributed revenue because they deliver messages tied to a specific discount or promotion.

Typically, the goal is for a brand to sustainably sit at a 50/50 split between flows and campaigns. During sale seasons, there will be that skew toward campaign dominance.

It could be 60/40. And, in other cases, David has seen almost total cannibalization at 90/10. The split depends on the cadence at which campaigns go out.

During the BFCM rush, some brands even push five weekly emails and see a significant shift in campaign-attributed revenue. Other brands know this is the time to impact P&L, so they push hard, sending 10+ in a week. 

Fighting to Break through the Noise

In addition to campaign-attributed revenue, there is typically a shift in open and click rates during sale seasons due to increased email volume from nearly every brand.

A shopper might be excited and looking forward to seeing a sale from a specific brand they love, but that email could be buried in hundreds (if not thousands) of others. 

As David puts it, "Distraction is most definitely a thing." This ties into the strategy of send times, send days, and when you start a promotion going into more significant sale periods.

When it comes to navigating inbox traffic, it can be a (both fortunate and unfortunate) self-fulfilling prophecy where brands with intelligent operators decide to send more and more.

When paired with other brands operating in a similar mindset, as a consumer, your inbox can go from receiving 20 emails in a day to four or five times that amount.

At 80​​–100 emails a day, there's no way the consumer can carefully look through all of that content. The game shifts to who wrote the better subject line and who broke the pattern.

Even for brands that nail subject lines, there’s a usual decrease in open and click-through rates.

How to Design Seasonal Campaign & Flow Schedules

Is the key looking at the brand's major seasonal events, then building campaigns accordingly?

David says, “Not quite.” He looks outside of and into the channel. If there are significant seasonal peaks, everything in the lulls and low points is strategically building up into that peak.

Flows and campaigns during a slow period are all opportunities to build out the broader email list as much as possible. 

Brands will run giveaways, paid marketing, or tackle all the other levers that help grow that list.

David recommends using low-conversion periods to build up the list, so that, when it’s time to fire up seasonal campaigns, the brand will have a far larger audience to outreach to. 

While building a list in slow periods will often contain bloat — signups from an audience that isn't likely to end up engaging — brands want to build that out as much as possible.

Afterward, brands can audit and identify the efficacy of having built out that list vs. the hard costs and net-new lift (and compare that to running it without the extra effort to grow the list).

A Holistic View of Seasonality: Go Beyond Email

Looking outside of the channel, brands have the opportunity to think about how seasonality impacts planning product roadmaps. 

Using swimwear as an example, a brand may currently produce swimwear, but there are multiple directions they could go to manage seasonal demand for swimsuits.

Athleisure is one category of items that a swimwear brand could build out on the product side and then market across retargeting and retention during the Fall and Winter seasons.

“The goal is to build and maintain a connection with that customer so whenever they receive your emails, they’re open to what you’re offering.” - David Bozin, Partner at Structured 
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