Q&A: Sara Ezrin, senior director of strategic services, Experian CheetahMail

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Two words – “friends and family” – can have a significant impact on the success of an e-mail marketing campaign, according to a survey from Experian CheetahMail. The e-mail marketing service provider recently found that friends and family e-mails had 43% higher open rates and 29% higher click rates than bulk promotions. Direct Marketing News talked with Sara Ezrin, senior director of strategic services at the firm, about the trend.

Direct Marketing News: What are the study's most important findings?
Sara Ezrin: One of the major points of interest is the power that simply using the words “friends and family” carries. The fact that the same offer, by the same client, during the same period of time didn't have as good a response as the same offer with the words “friends and family” attached to it signified that those words bring an incremental lift to a campaign.

DMN: So what does that mean? Will more brands begin to use them?
Ezrin: We saw a pretty significant increase last holiday season, in particular around the use of friends and family, and we've seen an increase throughout the year as well. Last year, we saw a large increase during the months of October and November. Then we saw a reminder campaign during the holiday season. I have already started to see clients who haven't done widespread campaigns like this in the past doing so this year, and I expect that to increase. What will be interesting is the question of where is that tipping point? Where is the effectiveness diluted by mass adoption? That is the one question, with friends and family, does it need to be a consistent part of every marketing program? I think it still needs to carry some element of surprise or be viewed as a new offer, or an infrequent offer, from a client.

DMN: What other results were significant?
Ezrin: The metrics were more positive when the “share with a friend” and “share with the network” links were more prominently displayed. That was something we didn't see being adopted across the board by clients. For example, one client's e-mail said “friends and family” but it didn't have a clear call to action for sharing. We were happy to have data stating that having a call to action...is effective and is a best practice for these types of campaigns.

DMN: What does this mean for holiday e-mail campaigns? Will offers targeted at friends or family members do better than others?
Ezrin: That is absolutely the case. This study did look at the holiday time period, since it is such a highly promotional time period for all clients. We looked at the same offers for clients with a 20%-off offer during the holiday season and at those with a 20%-off offer during the holiday season who also had “friends and family” included in the campaign. We saw friends and family perform better, and we saw an incredible increase in the number of campaigns using the words “friends and family” last holiday season. We have already seen that increase again this year, and we think it will be widely adopted, especially with the adoption of social networking, which adds a lot of opportunities for clients to gain prospects that they otherwise might not have had. That is the thing that is so great about friends and family; it incentivizes people to share it. So you get exposure to people who may not be customers and you get that through an associate or a friend of theirs.

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