Creating email marketing messages that get responses is an incredibly valuable skill for marketers. Responses in the hotel email marketing world typically equate to directly attributable revenue - direct bookings, upgrades, amenity purchases, and more. They can also drive engagement, develop a rapport with guests who have booked with you in the past, and make them more likely to book again in the future. But, what makes an email likely to get a response? What's the secret sauce?
There's a lot of advice on the web about how to write a good email, from general writing advice to full sets of pre-written email templates. But almost none of that advice shows the data behind it. Boomerang, a Gmail app that adds scheduled sending and email reminders, did some research to find out what factors really matter when you want users to respond to your emails. Please note that not all of the emails involved were marketing emails. Some of them were sales emails and internal communications. But there are some great takeaways for marketing, too. Here are the basic points that are relevant to hotel marketers:
1. Write like a 3rd grader
The Boomerang study found that emails written at a 3rd-grade reading level were optimal. They provided a whopping 36% lift over emails written at a college reading level and a 17% higher response rate than emails written even at a high school reading level.
Of course, the action item for you based on this data will depend on what segment of your guests you're targeting when composing an email. Think about who your guests are. For example, if you're located right next to Harvard University like The Charles Hotel and your guest database is likely comprised of people coming to town for events related to one of the top universities in the United States, then it's a good idea to elevate your writing. Otherwise, if you don't have a reason like this to adjust the writing level, 3rd grade is a good default. One of my favorite free tools to test the grade level and readability of a piece of writing is the Hemingway App.
2. Write with emotion
Another significant factor in determining response rates is how positive (words like great, wonderful, delighted, pleased) or negative (words like bad, hate, furious, terrible) the words in the message are. In Boomerang's findings, emails that were slightly to moderately positive OR slightly to moderately negative elicited 10-15% more responses than emails that were completely neutral.
Translation? When talking to your guests, flattery works, but not excessive flattery. Response rates for positive emails with a slightly warm tone peaked about 15% higher than neutral emails. After that, response rates declined as the amount of positive language exceeded what would look "normal" in an email. (As a side note, for hotels, we don't recommend using negative emails for marketing purposes. It might work for some businesses, but in general, hospitality should stick to positive sentiment.)
Boomerang did this with Sentiment Analysis - a similar tool to what Revinate uses in its hotel reputation data analysis. Here's how Boomerang's version of the tool works: Sentiment analyzers output a "sentiment score" that ranges from -1 (completely negative) to 1 (enthusiastically positive), with 0 representing a completely neutral email. To give you some context, here's what some positive emails look like:
- Hey, I was thinking about you earlier. Do you want to get pizza? 0.0, true neutral. A little positivity would boost the response rate.
- Hey, I’d definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza?
0.35 positive sentiment. Perfect! It’s easy to add positive sentiment to an email – this is all it takes.
- Hey, it would be really great to see you and catch up. Do you want to get pizza? Positive 0.55 sentiment. This will also work better than a neutral email, even if not quite as well as the version above.
- Hey! It would be absolutely wonderful to see you! Do you want to get pizza? I’m so excited! Over 0.9 positive sentiment. This email would be about as effective as a neutral email – not bad, really, but not optimal.
Testing the sentiment of your hotel's emails takes more work than calculating the reading grade level. While we trust the outputs for sentiment analysis on aggregate data with a large sample size like online reviews, your best bet for evaluating the sentiment of your hotel's individual email campaigns is up to your own judgment.
3. Keep it short (but not too short!)
According to the Boomerang study, the sweet spot for email length is between 50-125 words, all of which yielded response rates above 50%. Again, please note that these are not necessarily marketing-specific emails, but the takeaway is the same - be brief and on-point. Less text in your email body means people will be more likely to click through.
4. Use short (very short) subject lines
Email marketing veterans know that testing subject lines is a critical step in designing an email campaign that will have a high open rate. Likewise, the length of your subject line impacts response rates, and the optimal length is shorter than the researchers at Boomerang expected. Subject lines with only 3-4 words received the most responses. It's also important to note that including some sort of subject line is critical: only 14% of messages without any subject line at all received a response!
5. Try using questions
In the body of your marketing emails, it may be worth your while to try asking questions. The Boomerang study found that email marketing messages that asked 1-3 questions are 50% more likely to get a response than emails asking no questions.
Here's how something like this might work for hotels: Say an imaginary hotel in Colorado is sending an email to guests who last stayed with the hotel 6 months prior, in the winter, which is peak ski season. It's now summer, and the hotel has a totally different offering with golf, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and more. An email to guests who stayed in the winter for a ski trip could look something like this:
Hi [Guest Name],
We are so glad you enjoyed your time skiing with us, but we were curious: What do you like to do in the summer?
The email could then include links (with photos!) to package deals on a hotel booking and some of the summer activities that the hotel offers.
6. Experiment with subjectivity
If your natural writing style has a “just the facts, ma’am” bias, you should consider including more opinions and more subjectivity into your email marketing messages! According to the Boomerang study, the more opinionated the content of the email, the higher the response rate climbed.
Of course, it's best to use the Bartender Rule of Thumb here - avoid specific or alienating opinions on sensitive subjects like religion, sports, and politics. For example, you might want to offer something special to repeat guests who are staying at the hotel during the NBA finals. It's probably okay to drum up excitement about the game in general, but in this situation, it could be risky to align yourself with a certain team.
But this is an opportunity to make your brand stand out in a crowded inbox full of boring objective emails. Think about some ways you can take a stand in a harmless way.
Here's a summary of Boomerang's best practices for making your hotel's marketing emails more likely to get a response:
- Use shorter sentences with simpler words. A 3rd-grade reading level works best.
- Try including a question in your email.
- Make sure you include a subject line! Aim for 3-4 words.
- Use a slightly positive tone, which outperforms a completely neutral tone.
- Take a stand! Opinionated messages see higher response rates than objective ones.
- Write enough, but not too much. Try to keep messages between 50-125 words.
Want to learn more about email marketing for hotels? CLICK HERE to access our on-demand webinar, Email Marketing Best Practices for Hoteliers.
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