A Tale of Two Emails (and a Call to Arms)

A Tale of Two Emails (and a Call to Arms)

I recently signed up for two very different email lists, Pottery Barn and Chubbies. Why on earth would I add more email to my already exploding inbox? In the case of Pottery Barn, it’s because I want some new towels for my guest bathroom and I was hunting for a discount code. In the case of Chubbies, it’s because I heard from a co-worker that their emails were hilarious, and I wanted to see them for myself.

Welcome to the List!

I got welcome emails from both brands in a pretty short amount of time. Pottery Barn’s welcome email predictably had a 15% discount code. They also pointed me towards some free interior design services as well as their other brands, Pottery Barn Kids and PB Teen. All in all, a perfectly acceptable welcome email that had the discount code I’d been angling for. It was exactly what you would expect Pottery Barn’s welcome email to be like.

Then I got the Chubbies welcome email. It thanked me for joining the Chubster Nation (which given our current geopolitical climate might be an excellent alternative to consider). It also featured the brand’s call to arms, “Sky’s out, thighs out,” a phrase which had never otherwise appeared in my inbox. And then there were a bunch of downright hilarious images and animated gifs of dudes (and a dog) wearing Chubbies attire (mens’ shorts that are almost too short, in case you’re wondering). It was delightful. I read through the entire email, even noticing the cleverly worded unsubscribe link. The whole email was designed to be fun. And I had fun reading it. As a 35-year-old female human, I looked forward to more from these mens’ shorts purveyors, which is not a thing I ever pictured myself saying.

Our New Relationship

Over the course of our short new relationship, Pottery Barn has emailed me two more times. Email #2 came a day after the welcome email, and it was the exact same email as the welcome email, but with a different subject line. Now, I know that email marketers will sometimes do this - they’ll resend the same email with a new subject line to people who didn’t open the first time and see if that gets more opens the second time around, and it usually provides a little bump. But I had actually opened the welcome email, so seeing the same thing again did not thrill me.

And then, things got really heartbreaking. I was then sent a 3rd email 3 days later that was, you guessed it, exactly the same. The only things that were different were the subject line and the inclusion of “Last Chance!” in the copy. Otherwise and image-for-image word-for-word copy of the previous two emails. It did not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling about the brand, and now I kind of want to buy guest bathroom towels somewhere else just on principle.

And then there’s Chubbies. I got their Weekender newsletter (the Chubster Nation is very pro-weekend, I’m learning). This email featured:

  • A story about the world’s largest Nerf gun
  • A link to something called The Big Man Run, a 4-mile run that involves beer and hot dogs
  • A recipe for a gluten-free salad that is primarily composed of a bowl of french fries and cheeseburger patties
  • A Spotify playlist for the weekend
  • A scathing critique of the laughing dog from Nintendo’s Duck Hunt

I LOVED this email. Whatever selling it did was extremely subtle (the images for each section included a lot of dudes in shorts). The good folks at Chubbies seemed simply to want to bring me joy. And they damn sure didn’t show me the same old thing. It was refreshing. The only thing sad about this email is that I won’t get it again for another week.

So, Is Any of This Working?

I think we all know at this point that I am pro-having fun in emails. And that’s lovely, but do the numbers back it up?

I took a look in ReturnPath and compared Chubbies to a few other brands where men of a certain age might acquire shorts of varying lengths - Urban Outfitters, Aeropostale and Abercrombie & Fitch. Chubbies had 25% of their emails read, beating out the rest. Pottery Barn came in at 19% (under Pier 1 Imports’ 23% and above Restoration Hardware’s 14%).

Then I checked out the Deleted without Reading scores, and Pottery Barn came in at 12% while Chubbies came in at a low, low 7%. 

So is the Chubbies approach to emails working? Based on this extremely cursory glance, yeah, it looks like it could be.

A Common Sense Defense of Fun

Stop being an email marketer for a second. (We’ll cover for you if your boss asks where you went.) Now go to your inbox because I have a few questions for you.

  1. What are the emails in there that delight you? Like many people, I love The Skimm’s daily email and how they package up the latest news with a fun, laid-back vibe. I always look forward to CMI’s emails because their content is so consistently great.
  2. Which emails have you gotten that you’re still thinking about months later? Litmus’s “tweet us and we’ll show you the next TEDC location” still comes to mind. And I once got an email from Phrasee that contained the words “boner pills” that makes me smile every time I think about it.
  3. Which emails do you look forward to getting? Of course, I love Phrasee’s newsletter. I love the Really Good Emails newsletter because there’s so much great content curated in there. And I get upset when the latest Dear Prudence newsletter from Slate doesn’t arrive promptly! And the Digiday Daily “5 Things You Need to Know” is as essential to me as morning coffee.

Now go back to being an email marketer. (Hurry, we held your boss off as long as we could!) Take a look at your emails. Really look at them. Do any of them make your smile? Do they bring you, a human being, joy? Can you not wait to send them out because you just know everyone’s going to love them? Do you love them? Do you even like them? Or did you have to get something out the door so this is what you came up with?

And hey, listen - I’m not judging you if that’s the case. We’ve all been there. We’ve all sent something out that was less than ideal - that happens. But if you look at your entire program and the overriding feeling you get is “meh,” don’t you think your subscribers will too?

“This isn’t another one of those ’send better content’ things, is it? Because if someone tells me that again without explaining exactly what it means, I’m going to barf.” It’s not, I promise; I hate that advice. It’s outrageously vague. But….yeah, it kind of is about sending better content. So here’s how to do that:

  1. Take your welcome email. Just start with that. Could it be more fun? Can you add humor or link to some other really superb content? Can you trim down the amount of copy? Run it through the Hemingway app - is it easy to understand? Does it look good? Is there room, in the email and in your brand’s voice, for an animated GIF of a puppy doing something adorable?
  2. Repeat process with other emails until you feel delight.

Email marketers: we can do better. A lot of us are. But some of us are sending out the same old same old, and while it gets you through the day, it’s not amazing. Let’s work towards amazing, and have some fun doing it.