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Should you be sending email campaigns linked to topical events?

February 28, 2013

February brought us three calendar events in a row: Chinese New Year, Pancake Day, and Valentines’ Day– and online retailers had a field day. It wasn’t just the usual suspects. Even Screwfix got in on the act, with a Valentine’s campaign featuring a half price offer on a gleaming circular saw and a ‘forward to your loved ones’ link.

We like this example from Red Hot World Buffet for valentines’ day:

The recent snow then provided a bonus opportunity for a topical email, with at least two major fashion retailers promptly sending out campaigns out on the theme of ‘it’s cold outside, so shop online’.
Topical campaigns aren’t always quite so harmless, though. Take the email from a data company linking their sales message about providing accurate data to the fact that good data played a key role in the capture of Bin Laden. In the B2C sector, American Apparel was heavily criticised for its Sandy Sale, which involved sending out emails offering 20% off for those living in states affected by Hurricane Sandy. 
The problems aren’t limited to major faux pas. There’s also a big risk of damaging your brand by boring your readers, particularly if you’re in B2B. Emails focusing on an obvious topical theme can easily look clumsy and unimaginative. I for one long ago gave up reading any emails that reference ‘the current economic climate’. And every marketer faces the problem of standing out in a crowded inbox. Might you actually be making things harder by using the same theme as the dozens of other marketers all competing for the reader’s attention?

So, what works?

As always, the most successful campaigns are those that put the reader’s needs and interests first. For simple consumer products, a special offer might be enough– if you can get it noticed. But even in B2C, it’s not always about short term sales. Going back to Hurricane Sandy, Sears Catalogue showed they cared about customers by issuing information on topics such as what to pack in an emergency kit. B2B firms can earn credibility by adding their own slant on current events, looking at implications for their particular industry sector; or coming up with an interesting and relevant angle on something that might seem completely unrelated. It’s not easy, but if you can do it, you’re showing customers that you’re intelligent and on the ball.

So, should you be referencing current events in your campaigns? If you can come up with something original, engaging, and relevant, give it a go. Otherwise...

Posted by Paul Latham
Topical email

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