Understanding How External Factors Can Impact Your Email Campaigns

Last month we were at this year’s Festival of Marketing event in London along with 3,000 other leading marketers to discuss what we can expect from the future of our industry. The event itself is a great initiative, and I was delighted to have been invited to speak on the Data & Analytics stage—discussing the myriad ways in which external factors can have an impact on email campaigns.

It’ll be no surprise to most marketers to learn that consumers aren’t reading all the emails they receive from brands—the average consumer receives upwards of 500 marketing messages every month, and will open fewer than 1 in 15 (so around 7%).

What’s more, though, is that when you’re sending an email you’re not just competing for a share of market or share of wallet, but also for a share of mind. If a consumer is only opening 1 in 15 marketing emails, then as a sender you’re competing for that read time, too. Put simply, time spent reading a competitor’s email is time not being spent reading yours.

There are plenty of ways to optimize your chances to both land safely in a consumer’s inbox and catch their attention, but there are also a number of less controllable external factors that can affect the success of your campaigns. The good news is it’s possible to learn from these instances and be in a position to leverage them in future.

Hurricanes and Pop-Tarts might not be two things you’d immediately associate with one another. But several years ago Walmart wanted to see if there were any trends in consumer behavior in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley and found that the two might not be such odd bedfellows after all.


They found sales of Pop-Tarts, the strawberry flavored variety, in particular, increased when a hurricane was due to hit. (So did beer!) Responding to these findings, Walmart increased its promotion of Pop-Tarts in line with future hurricane warnings and saw a sales uplift of 15%.guyu1

Taking Walmart’s experience as inspiration, we ran some research to see if the weather has any effect on rates of engagement across email campaigns in the casual dining sector. Lo and behold, we made some interesting findings of our own.

Our research showed an interesting correlation between periods of warm weather and increased user-marked spam rates (and a general decrease in email activity) while cold weather produced the opposite result.

When applied regionally, additional trends emerged. Rain in France corresponded with higher response rates to marketing emails from restaurants, whereas downpours in the UK had a negative impact.

Senders can harness these findings by developing dynamic weather feeds that serve emails in context with a given location’s current weather, and we’ve seen serious increases in email engagement where this has happened.



Comparison of read and spam rates in the UK and France with low, medium, and high levels of sunshine.

The economy
Experian’s Q1 2015 Email Benchmark Report demonstrated a strong correlation between average earnings and email open rates. We have also seen from our own data that the concept of “payday poverty” (people are inclined to spend less the further from payday they get) is well established.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t still opportunities to be had. All-you-can-eat restaurants, for example, benefit from around 10% greater email engagement toward the end of the month.

Recipient sentiment
It goes without sayingthough there’s DMA research to support the argument, if need bethat people who have a bad customer experience with a brand will be more likely to complain about its marketing emails.

But less direct interactions (through negative news coverage, for example) can also trigger these kinds of responses. The email marketing team at TfL (Transport for London) had a tough time this summer, updating customers about regular Tube strikes.

This also provides opportunities for competition. Uber’s tailored campaign, coinciding with the Tube strikesand broadly capitalizing on public sentimentsaw a 40% spike in read rates.

Nudge theory
For a lot of people, a hard sell can be off-putting. “Nudge theory” is a softer way of convincing a person of something, and doing so largely without them being aware of it.

That may sound somewhat sinister, but in practice, it can be as simple as describing a social norm and then allowing self-perception to do the rest. The UK government, for example, has encouraged people to pay their overdue tax by demonstrating the vast majority of taxpayers (9 in 10, according to a recent direct mail campaign) pay their taxes on time. And it works: HMRC saw a 4.5% improvement to its revenue collection as a result.

This approach could be an opportunity for email senders too. The 2015 Consumer Attitudes to Brands report found that 74% of consumers were, in fact, happy to receive emails from brands that they like. Placing a statement such as this next to the email’s unsubscribe could be the “nudge” that influences a reduction in list churn.

Maintaining trust
Research from FastMap indicates that people are more likely to opt into an email program if they have trust in your brandsomething that ultimately is tied to its reputation. Email fraud attacks have a negative impact on this trust, whether they come in the form of serious data breaches or simpler, more obviously fraudulent nuisance emails.

As well as effecting the likelihood of initial signups, instances of fraud will also damage ongoing relationships with existing subscribers. We’ve discovered that after an initial fraud attack, legitimate emails from the affected brand are more likely to be filtered out by the user, and this trend only deepens as more attacks occur. Needless to say, all this can come at great cost to the sender.

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