Understanding the why not the what

I have a really interesting experience last night talking to an owner of a large retail operation, and it reminded me that we can often forget about why we do things when we are to focused on what we need to do …

The scenario was that this retail company – let’s call them company x, have started to break traditional techniques and look online. Part of what they identified was the need to develop an email list to commence and email strategy direct to their customers. So they ran a huge campaign through their printed catalog where if you joined up to their email list, that they’d get a 25% discount coupon for their next retail purchase. The response rate was massive and their email list is growing at fast pace and they couldn’t be happier. The offer ends in April and the voucher is good until May.

I asked when the follow up email to everyone that took up the offer was going out, and got a blank look?

Then I went into a little more detail as to why I asked. I said that the end of the entry period is coming up, so why not email everyone who’s acted, reminding them that their voucher is good until the end of May and recommend some new products they might be interested in. I also suggested that they remind people that the deal ends in April – so if they had any friends who might be interested to forward them the email so they don’t miss out.

I finally suggested that mid May – a 2nd follow up should go out reminding people that they only had 2 weeks left to snap up their 25% discount.

My rational was

Follow up 1: Your reminding people about the offer, and encouraging people to share it within their own networks. You only get once attempt via a printed monthly brochure – so why not use your new channel to accelerate the campaign.

Follow up 2: You’re helping your customer ensure they don’t miss the benefit you offered for their email address. You’re also using a deadline to instantiate action. Two very powerful techniques.

To me these things seemed oblivious, but what was clear that whilst the owners of the large retail organization knew they needed a email strategy they had no idea why, and what it enabled them to do. They were comparing it to a snail mail brochure methods and not thinking about what new opportunities it created. To me it served as a reminder that if you’re doings things because you feel you need to, but don’t know why – you’re never going unearth real opportunities nor change anything.

That reminds me of many business owners I see who have websites because they were “sold” one but do nothing to get traffic to it and don’t give any thought to using it to generate any kind of leads.

There’s a reason email marketing provides the highest ROI around - but it’s a shame some people don’t realize you have to do more than just build a list, you need need to provide value and develop a relationship with your list to see that kind of ROI.

Great story with an important lesson there Shayne - thanks!


I think sometimes we forget what a shift it is for people, especially people who have systems of doing things in place, to adjust their mindset to the web. It’s a completely different way of thinking

On the flipside, I also work in a large retailer, and am constantly amazed at how they get an enormous response to email campaigns - my first response when I see an email from a retailer in my inbox is just to junk it. Does anybody else spend time reading through these mails?

These guys retail in an industry where brand loyalty is very strong. The type of industry where people ready every little piece of information, so it doesn’t really surprise me the results they are getting. But the conversion to date is based on the brochure (printed), they’ve got no idea how well emails will convert yet.

I read the emails I’ve requested, like the stuff I get from Newegg and Sitepoint - but if someone sends me their newsletter just because I’ve purchased from them in the past it’ll either be ignored or unsubscribed from promptly.

It all boils down to getting permission and sending stuff that people will be compelled to read.


Knowing WHY is far more important than knowing WHAT.

There are quite a few examples on the forum here where people have asked how to do something when they have decided what they want to do where that what isn’t necessarily going to get anywhere toward resolving why. By finding out why the person is looking for a solution a more appropriate what can often be offered as the answer.