WAD-Based Marketing

I read an interesting interview with the CEO of a well known company that has a strong retail presence, but also markets extensively on-line. When asked about balancing these two channels and how he makes decisions he had a clear definition of his process: “it’s WAD-based…Whatever Amazon Does.”

Not a bad philosophy. In the last decade Amazon has gone from an online book seller to the dominant web based retailer in the world. I didn’t look up current statistics, but not too long ago Amazon was trending to replace WalMart as the top retailer, on or off line. They may have done so by now.

What can we, like this busy CEO, learn about marketing our own business from Amazon? A great deal I think. Amazon uses both paid and organic search results in numerous categories to drive sales. They also do an excellent job of suggestive marketing: identifying previous purchases and suggesting related items.

Another channel they have broadened their reach through is email. Once you give Amazon permission, they will send an average of four emails a week. In the past few months, as “Amazon Local” has emerged as a viable competitor to GroupOn and other deal sites, that email activity has increased to daily for those segmented on their list as candidates for these offers.

I want to share one aspect of Amazon’s email marketing with you: subject line length. As I’ve written previously, the subject line is critical to getting your correspondence opened and read. The subject line is the “headline” for your email, and like in direct mail, it must be a compelling interrupt or your efforts are wasted. Perhaps there is some wisdom in Amazon’s subject lines that we can glean.

A recent analysis of just under 200 Amazon emails sent over a period of several months tells us this:

• The average length of a subject line is 57 characters
• In this sample, the longest subject line was 140 characters (the shortest: 19)

There is a school of thought amongst marketers that believes that shorter subject lines are the best. Clearly that is not the philosophy of Amazon. Instead they adopt a strategy of using as few words as possible to give the information or incentive necessary to get the reader to open the email.

I think that is a better method than starting with the goal of staying at 50 characters or less.

Getting someone to trust you with their email address is not as easy as in years past. There was a time when people would sign up for anything that seemed remotely interesting. Those days are gone for good. The challenge now is to gain enough initial trust that your email gets opened. When you get past that hurdle you must continue to offer value and interest.

Most small business owners think of email marketing as just a sales channel. It must be more. If every email is a “sales pitch” your audience will stop inviting you into their inbox. You must over-deliver on value and interest if you want to be a treasured guest who gets invited back.

This is part of Amazon’s genius. We know that they are sending us an opportunity to eventually buy something. Yet, their open rates are far higher than average. Why? I think it’s because they write effective subject lines and send me an email that is tailored to my interests. I don’t often buy, but most days I’ll open and read. And isn’t that the bottom line goal of our email marketing?

Like the CEO in that article, I’m watching Amazon. Are you?