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A Lesson from Sears: Creating Relevance in Email Marketing

by Stephanie Miller  |  
February 24, 2009

Sears performed a courageous email-marketing act in mid-December.

Like every retailer, Sears was surely eager for additional sales and revenue as the worst holiday season in memory reached a crescendo and the sales window started to close.

Despite that pressure, the Sears team had the discipline to hit the pause button on the hard sell in attempting to make a connection with subscribers. Instead, it sent a co-marketing email with Heroes at Home, promoting a national gift registry for returning US soldiers.

To top it off, Sears tested embedded video in the message, which is very cool stuff and a hot topic for email marketing right now; and, in this case, it was well implemented.

There is nothing worse than using technology just because you can—but the tactic works for this message, because the video is central to telling a heart-warming, patriotic story.

In this message, a video segment runs on a loop inside the email (the full video was hosted on the Sears site), but its audio is on request; that is, it can be turned on and off. So, from a subscriber-experience standpoint, the presence of video is no more intrusive than an animated gif.

All of it renders right in the email client using the VHD Technology solution—which, however, does not promise compatibility with all email clients.

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Stephanie Miller is vice-president of market development for Return Path, Inc. ( Reach her via Twitter (@StephanieSAM) or

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  • by Astralis Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    Being a subscriber to retail emails such as Sears, I realized I never received this. I then went back into the spam folder and found it. I'm quite certain that with the embedded video that it was tagged for a safety risk because the other Sears newsletters were in the inbox. This is why I will not run embedded video yet.

  • by Mitch Tarr Tue Feb 24, 2009 via web

    I think the interesting point of this would be the behind the scenes testing.
    50% of list gets courageous new video email (cool) and measure against goals and 50% of list gets old fashioned html (properly rendered I hope) email and measure against goals. And the winner is . . . ?
    Otherwise this is another example of the incredible wastage in marketing money spent by big (and suddenly not so profitable) companies.

  • by Erin Mon Mar 2, 2009 via web

    It’s fantastic that a campaign launched in mid-December is still generating so much buzz. I actually had the privilege of hearing Andrew Kordek, Manager of Email Marketing Transformation from Sears talk about the ‘Heroes at Home’ program at the eTail conference this week, and the audience was sitting at full attention. I think what makes this campaign so noteworthy is not the technology; it’s the relevancy and timeliness of the message it portrays. Sears really knows their customers, and I think this campaign did a great job of engaging them during the hectic and economically-challenged holiday season.

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