Even the safest bets in the online retail world — the household names, the brands that generate hype and speculation with everything they do — can’t dial down their marketing efforts. Even Apple can’t simply say “Hey, here’s some iPads” and expect to beat its previous quarter.
Other brands will step up to tempt your audience away with flashier features and the basic allure of novelty, and consistency alone won’t defend you against the onslaught of competition. You need to do something more — to go beyond that fundamental value proposition with some added touches that are capable of drawing people in and convincing the skeptics.
Think about how many ecommerce emails the average online shopper receives each day. Daily deals are great, but they lack weight when every retailer offers them (plus most people are aware of the painstakingly-optimized cycle of discounts intended to make things seem alluringly cheap without actually cutting their prices by much). Your mission is to find crafty ways to make your marketing emails stand out from the crowd.
So how should you approach this problem? Ramp up the clickbait titles? You won’t BELIEVE what this product does! Tweak your timing? Send out your emails at 3am in your target region and the competition will be minimal! Both viable (if strange) options — but no, those aren’t the tactics we’re looking at here.
Instead, the purpose of this post is to look at how you can step up your email marketing efforts by introducing bonuses, benefits, and rewards.
What do they entail? How can you deploy them? Keep reading this post to find out more.
What are bonuses?
In the context of an ecommerce email, a bonus is something extra that the prospective buyer can receive by meeting certain conditions: ordering in a particular time, for instance, or in a certain quantity.
We saved these and got you 20% off
The bonus can be anything that serves as an incentive. It could be a discount, an extra product, or some other kind of ‘free gift’: it could even be a contest entry.
By tweaking the conditions and the value of the bonus on offer, you can find a way to bump up your sales without eating too heavily into your profit margins, though it’s easier said than done.
Last call for $20 off
You also need to be wary of the risks. It’s possible, for instance, to get overzealous with an order bonus only to see too many people rush to take advantage and cause a stock shortage.
So what’s the difference between a bonus and a reward?
A bonus is something uniquely provided in a specific circumstance, whereas a reward is a part of an overarching scheme intended to engender loyalty.
What are benefits?
Sandwiched between bonuses and rewards here, you might assume that benefits are also additions intended to convince shoppers, but that’s only half right.
They are content additions, certainly, but they don’t alter the value on offer: they simply present it differently, making it much clearer what the broad consequences of buying the highlighted product are likely to be. In other terms, it highlights your products’ benefits: what will customers gain when they use your product?
Let’s say you’re trying to sell a vacuum cleaner, and you usually highlight its features:
- It can operate for this many hours
- Achieve this level of suction
- Ships with this range of convenient attachments.
That’s useful information and certainly worth presenting, but it’s important to remember why people buy things.
This all comes back to the retail trope of benefits, not features. That a handheld vacuum cleaner can run for 20 minutes on one charge instead of the 10 achieved by the previous model isn’t innately interesting (at least, to people who don’t care about battery technology). It’s interesting because of what it means: that the user needs to spend less time waiting for it to charge.
By focusing more on benefits in your marketing email copy, and aiming those benefits at the specific target audience to which it will resonate, you can improve your email marketing performance. And the long-term cost of this switch is almost non-existent.
What are rewards?
We’ve already noted that a reward is part of an overall loyalty program, but what does it involve?
Way to Chipotle, you earned a reward
It’s extremely common for an online retailer to maintain some kind of point-based system whereby each purchase earns the buyer some points. Especially in re-consumable industries where creating a habit is very important, like with Groceries and Food loyalty programs.
Over time, the points accumulate until they can be redeemed — typically for a ‘free’ product.
You’ve earned 10 Cocoa Beans!
Some loyalty programs also allow their customers to progress through tiers as they buy. When a customer spends a certain amount, they can move up a new tier where they can gather points at an increased rate and most likely have new options for using them.
The point of bringing rewards into your email marketing strategy is to place greater importance on individual purchases. If someone is contemplating placing an order, learning — or being reminded — that it will generate additional value down the line, can motivate them to come back for additional purchases.
When you make a product sound great in the moment and position it as a great investment, you paint it in the best possible light.
How to use bonuses, benefits, and rewards in e-commerce effectively
We’ve covered why these strategies are useful, but how can you actually deploy them to optimal effect?
Let’s run through some key tips for doing just that. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it should give you an excellent baseline to guide you as you adapt your strategy:
Sign up to your competitors for research
This is a great idea for email marketing in general, but it’s particularly handy for the topic of this piece because timing is everything for bonuses and rewards and context is key for finding unique ways to position your products.
Visit all your main e-commerce rivals and join their email newsletters.
Additionally, if you can spare the funds to buy some items from them, do so: subsequent emails will offer insight into how they approach personalization (more on that later).
You need to remember that the efficiency and strength of your emails will always be relative to the other emails your prospects receive.
You can put a lot of time, thought and effort into your emails only to see them fail because your main rival has done slightly better across the board — but you can set yourself apart by taking the time to carry out some in-depth research.
Pay close attention to the times targeted, the points made, and the offers highlighted. What can you do better? What elements recur with such frequency that you’re best served to avoid them? You might think one approach is the right way to go, but if every email in your inbox takes one road, there’s a lot of sense in simply being contrarian: one odd subject line or intro will really stand out.
Lean on seasonal motivations
Think about the run-up to Christmas, or Easter, or even the entirety of summer (people like to get excited about the sunshine). Needs and desires move in predictable directions.
Hurry up! Use those plays in Starbucks
When you’re mentioning product benefits, you can position them to suit seasonal motivations.
Let’s return to that handheld vacuum example: “Saves you a lot of time while cleaning!” is a fine benefit, but “Makes the Christmas mess disappear!” hits harder in November.
The more closely you can adhere to the thoughts of your audience members, the more easily you can convince them to buy what you’re selling.
You can also use seasonal interests to promote your bonuses. Free gifts, for instance, are considerably more interesting when people are trying to find small Christmas gifts for casual acquaintances and coworkers.
Use personalization whenever viable
Personalization can seem scary at first, but its actually easier than you think, and is very valuable. There’s a good chance that you already use dynamic product recommendations, typically through the insertion of a template item that automatically populates based on the contact. We’re looking at something similar here.
Here’s an example of an ideal scenario:
- You are running an online grocery shop
- Your customer has a history of buying snack foods for weight loss
- Email marketing:
- Benefits: Focus on the nutritional benefits of your products
- Bonus: offer a free protein bar as a bonus if they place an order above a certain value,
- Reward: highlight the exercise items available as reward items.
There’s a limit to what can practically be achieved, of course: you don’t have the time or resources to manually personalize every email, and automation can only go so far. It’s also true that personalization can get creepy and make you come across as overly familiar to the people you’re trying to convince.
Even so, by splitting customers into segments based on interest, you can achieve a decent level of personalization without having to invest too much time in the project.
Subtly cross-sell through bonus products
If you’re not familiar with cross-selling (and upselling, something that often goes with it), check out this post on how to use it effectively in emails.
FYI: The price on this JUST dropped
It’s a simple concept, really: when you’re promoting one product, you can find opportunities to promote another product that goes well with it.
You want to sell the first product and the second alongside it.
Cross-selling can be done quite effectively through bonuses and benefits in particular. We talked about seasonal interest leading up to summer, and that can offer some great examples of how this can work.
Imagine promoting a barbeque set, for instance: if it works with any type of charcoal, you could list a benefit of “Works with any type of charcoal, including […]” and link to your own charcoal packs and varieties.
At the same time, you could offer a bonus product of a book of recipes: recipes using ingredients that you also happen to sell.
In addition to making the core offer more appealing, that bonus addition might well end up sending the customer back to you to buy other things. As a result, your customer benefits from the cohesive experience and you benefit from more opportunities to make money.
By adding interesting incentives to specific offers, building your content around carefully-chosen benefits, and typing individual buys to long-term reward schemes, you can make your ecommerce marketing emails more compelling and help them stand out against comparable emails.
Carrying out a lot of competitor research, understanding what people want based on their preferences and the time of the year, and taking all opportunities to get people hooked into your overall product range will help you improve your email marketing efforts.