Email marketing is the most lucrative digital channel, with 4400% ROI, according to the Data & Marketing Association. That statistic is particularly impressive when cross-referenced with this one: Toula and Movable Ink found that 54.4% of consumers delete at least half of the marketing emails they receive without even opening them.
The number of people who actually open all their marketing emails is very small — just 13.6% — and includes me. My full-time job is at an email marketing service provider and as a result, I find myself going through my own inbox with a fine-tooth comb. Whose subject lines are the wittiest? Which brands are strong in the personalization department? And which should seemingly be stronger, given the fact that I actually have a purchase history with them? As I ask myself these questions, no brand impresses me as much or as consistently as Airbnb.
Looking beyond beautiful imagery and personalization, here’s why:
“How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”
Why do people delete so many marketing emails? In part, because they receive so many of them. In their research, Toluna and Movable Ink found that 78.9% of respondents have unsubscribed from a brand’s list. Brands don’t always give consumers the option to control the cadence of the messages they receive. According to a November survey from Alliance Data, 69% of Internet users want a say; only 10% of retail marketers give them one.
Though Airbnb isn’t a retail marketer, the home-sharing marketplace does this well. Since I open everything, I’m likely included in the “most engaged users” segment. And yet, I don’t hear much from Airbnb when I don’t have a trip planned. When I do have an active reservation — or my site behavior suggests I will soon — Airbnb ramps up its email marketing. It always feels thoughtful, reflecting the trip I’m actually going on, not some other trip the brand is trying to sell me on.
It’s basic empathy, something marketers always purport to have. But anyone who’s ever received a promotion from a retailer they just purchased from knows that’s not a given. How many people buy shoes two days in a row, even if there is a really good sale?
A complete timeline of Airbnb email marketing
- March 10: I booked a place to stay for a long weekend in Miami, two weeks before a trip to Poland that had been planned since August.
- April 13: I received my first marketing message about Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb usually starts that much earlier, but in this case, the company left me alone until after Poland. (Where I also went on a vodka-tasting tour, courtesy of a marketing lifecycle timeline nearly identical to this one.)
- April 19: Airbnb sent me a reservation reminder.
- April 20: With the brand fresh in my head from the previous day, I got another message about popular Experiences. These Experiences were different from those in the previous email.
- April 23: Third time was a charm; I booked something.
- April 24: I got one more reservation reminder, since the trip was three days away.
- April 30: Airbnb prompted me to write the host a review.
Seven emails over a month and a half is hardly excessive. But the timing was perfect: often enough that I couldn’t forget them, but not so frequent that I felt like I was being badgered by the brand. Meanwhile, the airline has sent at least one marketing email every single day since I booked the flight. Including the days while I was on the trip.
Upselling is necessary for any brand that wants to increase revenue from email and nurture repeat customers. Airbnb Experiences are naturally the company’s primary upsell; nobody is booking multiple accommodations.
However, that initial reservation tells the company a lot about you — your budget and location, whether you’re traveling alone — on top of all your other customer data. That provides a good starting point. But more importantly, these emails never feel that aggressively salesy. Look at the language. Airbnb is clearly trying to sell me something, but the company comes off like it’s trying to help me out, by helping me make a memorable trip full of authentic Miami activities.
Strong, tailored triggered messaging
Post-purchase emails like the Experience upsells are just one example of triggered messages, the behavior-based prompts that account for 77% of email ROI. Triggered messages are too easy to get wrong. Generic welcome emails that don’t really capitalize on the consumer’s obvious, and likely temporary, interest. Relentless abandonment campaigns that follow you all over the Internet.
The abandonment strategy really highlights Airbnb’s strength as an email marketer. The overwhelming majority of online shopping carts sit abandoned, which makes cart abandonment crucial. According to SaleCycle, 48% of those emails are opened and one-third of those result in a sale. Even if someone doesn’t make a purchase, the fact that they added the item to their cart in the first place shows interest. Browsing sessions, less so. That makes browse abandonment inherently trickier, though Airbnb does those well, too.
Mount Tremper, a town with a population in the mid-700s, came up during a recent search for Catskills cabins. Like the upselling post-purchase messages, look at the language; it feels like Airbnb is watching out for me with this tip. (Which cannot possibly be true… can it?)
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