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It’s that looking-back time of the year again, and I’m going to reflect on some of the brilliant but under-the-radar campaigns that truly captured my eyes.

I love these because they illustrate the power of personalization, smart uses of data and the potential of a robust email service platform.

Dynamic lists blow past ticket target

Wyevale Garden Centres in the UK held a series of Halloween-themed events for kids in the days leading up to Halloween. A spook-themed email campaign, by the agency More2, broke with Wyevale’s traditional email template and language.

The campaign, designed to raise awareness of the five days of events, used a dynamic list of customers who had bought children’s products or engaged with child-related content in previous emails. This list ensured that emails went to the most up-to-date customer segment, and it also allowed the garden center to add in contacts from third-party data providers.

To stand out in the inbox, More2 used a colorful design and embedded monster animations within the email that played to the kids’ theme. The subject line, “Spooky fun for little ones this half-term” clearly told what the email was about in an appealing way. It resulted in a 31 percent open rate, while the message drover 48 percent more clicks than the previous year’s — and helped Wyevale exceed its ticket-sales goal.



Why I love it: This may seem like a simple campaign, but it was backed with a great deal of data analysis and customer segmentation. Not every email service provider (ESP) will let you embrace that kind of complexity; while others provide this functionality but require so much programming that it’s not feasible for a single campaign. This campaign shows what’s possible with a robust and easy-to-use ESP.

Email newsjacking

Reader’s Digest knew that its baby boomer audience loved David Bowie; when he passed away, the publication scrambled to put together a tribute for its email newsletter — a day before the newsletter was due.


Reader’s Digest wanted to position itself as a timely provider of news, and it wanted to increase email engagement by addressing a major breaking news event.

The top newsletter story was “David Bowie: A life in pictures.” The pictorial began with Bowie at age eight, and included his teachers’ report card comments. It charts his many personae and incredible musical output until his death just after the release of Blackstar.

To maximize engagement, Reader’s Digest tested two subject lines; one used the tribute’s title alone; the second teased three different stories. The A/B test showed that the Bowie-only subject line improved open rates by 35 percent.

The email, hitting toward the top of the news cycle, increased the click-to-open rate by 116 percent compared to the previous week’s newsletter, and 61 percent of the clicks went to the Bowie story.

Why I love it: Newsjacking is difficult to do with email, because of the operational overhead it may require. This email newsletter was packed with rich media, and it used a lot of digital assets. And, not only was Reader’s Digest able to produce this email on such short notice, it was also able to do A/B testing and optimize the campaign. This campaign was created on Adestra’s platform, which makes it easy to assemble assets and build a highly functional and effective email on the fly.

Scott’s Miracle-Gro plays to a micro moment

Mike Grehan of Acronym Media is a smart guy, and when he talks, we listen. In this “Agency Perspective” piece for Think with Google, Grehan talks about intent-based digital marketing, that is, not just picking search keywords but rather understanding the intent behind those keywords — and what the best content response might be.

His advice for brands is not to compete only at the bottom of the funnel during those “I want to buy” moments. Instead, he writes, “Reach these customers long before your competitor does, such as during the I-want-to-know moments, and build brand affinity. When you start at the top of the funnel, you have the largest addressable audience and you can position yourself as the authority in the field, so customers will have you in mind as they progress on their purchase path.”

For example, Acronym created a “barbecue playbook” for Scott’s Miracle-Gro. Aimed at first-time homeowners, it anticipated everything they would need to throw a successful ‘cue — including having a nice-looking lawn.


Why I love it: Grehan’s thoughts illustrate the importance of building campaigns that allow brands to reach consumers during the little steps of the customer journey. Email is an excellent way of providing information and resources. You can inform, educate and entertain via email. Don’t forget, email can be a strong demand-generation tool when done right.

Owning up to adversity

This last one isn’t a marketing campaign; you could call it an example of living your personal brand — and I think it’s an example that companies as well as individuals can learn from.

Sree Sreenivasan went to work at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013 as its first chief digital officer, following 20 years as a college professor. Three years later, he was out. While most of us would have felt like hiding, Sreenivasan is an amazing guy. He posted the news on LinkedIn, and put out an open call — to anyone and everyone — to have coffee, take a walk, or tell him, via a form, what he should do next. As a result, he got coverage from major news organizations, increasing his visibility and ensuring that business leaders knew he was available.

It’s no surprise that he’s also gathering names for an email list, promising to send tips and thoughts.


Why I love it: I love that he was able to share what was probably a very difficult moment with his community — and his community rallied around him to support him. Sreenivasan is every bit as genuine as you think he is. Being honest like this with your customers — even in difficult times when you kind of want to hide — can build a more authentic bond with them.