Email marketing case study: Lessons of seduction

A blond woman in a pair of sunglasses posing on a white background.

Social media might be sexy and fun but email marketing is one of the most effective tools to get people onto your website. What’s more, customers from email marketing tend to stay longer and spend more, so they say.

But have you ever been swayed by an email marketing campaign? Have you ever had an email autoresponder series take you on a journey right up to the cash register?

Until recently, I would have said no.

Belinda Weaver - copywriter - and her dog
Me and my buddy, Fenris

This is our dog, Fenris. He’s an adventurer, an explorer and a mighty warrior with big eyes, wrapped up in silky fur. I know his ability to stick his puggy-nose in where it doesn’t belong will get him into trouble one day, so I have been investigating pet insurance.

I went to one of those review sites that submits your details to a number of companies so they can give you a quote. I submitted the relevant info and sat back to wait.

The email journey begins

Out of the nine companies contacted, six made it through my spam filter into my inbox.

The first two quotes came in pretty quickly. I was in the mood for action when I submitted my details, and they took advantage of that by being the first company names I saw. Even so, I held off making a decision until the other quotes came in.

Over the next few days, one of the companies, APSCA, started following up their quote with emails.

Their email marketing included information about their cheapest plan and what it covered with facts that would help me compare policies. They reminded me about the benefits of getting pet insurance with some statistics that would motivate some action (it had been a few days since they sent their quote through). They kept using my dog’s name. They adapted some of the imagery so I was looking at my dog’s breed. And they consistently provided links so I could take the next step.

How marvellous, I thought. While the other companies were dragging their electronic feet, ASPCA was arming me with the information I needed to make a decision.

What I liked about these emails:

  • The quote prices were in the email, so I didn’t have to do anything to access it. They gave me a few options too, so I could see the good, better and best.
  • The emails were personalised with my dog’s name and adapted imagery (pictures of pugs, like Fenris). I felt kinda special. I felt as though they were offering a policy that suited my dog.
  • It was genuinely useful information that helped me compare policies.

By this time, I had some quotes from other companies and I was comparing them with the benchmark that had been set by ASPCA.

ASCPA were ahead—way ahead.

But then it got awkward

ASPCA were sending me up to four emails a day, every day.

Now, there’s the argument that says it doesn’t matter how often you send out marketing emails,  as long as you’re continually offering value.

That’s where ASPCA went wrong. I received the same four emails every day, on rotation, for 18 days. My inbox was swamped!

My opinion of ASPCA went from the benchmark everyone was being compared with, to being an annoying force in my life. I unsubscribed, and I deleted, and it was a relief.

So what are the lessons for your email marketing?


If you are responding to a trigger event, like a request for a quote, timeliness is everything. You don’t want to be the fifth or sixth business responding, have the person deprioritise the reason they got in touch or have the problem solved before you even show up.

If you’ve created the trigger event, like a subscription, don’t let them forget about you.

Avoid the spam filters

If you want a chance to show people that you’re awesome, you have to actually get in front of their eyeballs. That means making sure your emails get through the spam filters and get opened. Test subject lines and measure the results.

Help the decision making

Think about why someone has given you their email address and attend to that need. Sure, you might be arming them with information that drives them to your competitor, but in most cases, you’ll be building trust, and that trust is worth more than the time it takes to develop a great campaign.

Make life easier

I know that click-through rates are great to track and that you want to drive people to your website, but ultimately, you should be making life easier for your customers (current and potential), not creating metrics.

If you can provide information in the email rather than making them go to your website, do it. Then, your click-through has meaning because it’s someone taking action, not just checking information.

Give them a reason to click

If your email marketing is connecting to something such as a blog post or video, do more than just provide a link and expect people to take action.

Show them why the click will be worth their while with an excerpt or context. Remember, when you ask someone to click a link, you want it to be more worthwhile than answering the phone, making the cup of tea they’ve been craving, or making dinner.

Don’t overdo it

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have too many emails in their inbox. Getting the right balance of being helpful without stressing someone out is tough but critical.

Above all, think of your audience

What was the problem that led them to give you their email address? Solve that one first, but then think about what other, related problems they might be having. That’s where your email marketing can really add some value.

You might be wondering which company I went with (or not). It wasn’t ASPCA, but I have to admit, if they had the best deal, I would have gone with them, even after they overloaded my inbox.

At the end of the day, VALUE WINS. It might just be better to be the most persistent voice and risk turning a few people off. What do you think?


13 Responses

  1. Great story, Belinda! The volume of emails from ASPCA reminds me of Publishers Clearing House. Oy!!! My S.O. entered their ever lovin’ sweepstakes and he’s getting BOMBARDED with way too many emails every day. Unfortunately, he’s tried to unsubscribe to no avail. 🙁 I have NO respect for relentless and ruthless and ridiculous email campaigns.

  2. Thanks for the really useful ideas I can apply immediately in setting up autoresponders Belinda. It is so true that bombarding people turns valuable information into spam. (Please give Fenris a cuddle for me and tell him my black pug Marli Mops – aka Executive Foot Warmer – says “Hi”.)

    1. My pleasure Robbie. I’m glad you found them useful. Some people would say that it’s ok to be “persistent” as you’ll get more people who sign up, than sign off. Personally, I like to keep on the good side of people I email and would hate to think someone was reacting to my emails the way I eventually reacted to the ASPCA. It’s aaaaall about balance.

      And cuddles gratefully accepted 🙂

  3. Email marketing is another tool for marketers. Which helps directly promote the products by sending the commercial message to group of people. but when it comes to email marketing, Customer database is very important for repeat business.

  4. Hi Belinda, Happy 2014!

    I was on a roller coaster of highs and lows reading your post.

    First, the sweet subject, and seeing adorable Fenris again. Then happy that the ASPCA came through with a customized, “personalized” approach to their e-mail marketing to win you over. Later, bummed that they made such a silly mistake by needlessly bombarding you with the same e-mails and turning you off.

    Have you thought about contacting them to share your experience? Not that it’s your responsibility, but even by sending a link to this article they might adjust their strategy – which could mean simply resetting their auto-send frequency in AWeber/MailChimp, etc. at the very least. Or they will realize how brilliant a marketer/seo copywriter you are and hire you to help get them on the right track! 😉

    1. And to you Alison!

      I hadn’t thought about contacting them but I should. It would be a shame to see them turn other potential customers off just because of the email scheduling.

      The surprising thing, for me anyway, is that while it was a relief to make a decision and unsubscribe, my opinion of them isn’t really tarnished at all. If they’d had the best deal (and it was close), I would definitely would have chosen them.

      I guess that’s the power of email marketing. You can be forgiven a lot if you add real value to someone’s life.

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts and sharing the post!

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