Our recent search for the latest in email marketing led us to Jessica Mirabelli, Digital Messaging Specialist at Bond Brand Loyalty—who served up three tales (two shareworthy, one cautionary) that put experience front and centre, both for consumers and for marketers.

Knowing her team currently designs, builds and/or deploys campaigns for 15+ brands – we’re glad Jess was able to narrow things down to a few examples that can resonate across the industry. Each of them showcases how optimizing lifecycle email can influence and extend the experience beyond transactional touchpoints, so let’s get to it!

Win #1: Redeeming for travel—and help along the way

Rewards programs and lifecycles go together like, well, pretty much anything that goes together, really. Any program, especially those based on redeeming points, can benefit from having well-mapped triggers going to work for them. In one brand’s case, a comprehensive communication strategy was already surpassing expectations. What led to the positive results? A focus on campaign engagements based on relevant customer journey touchpoints.

If you’re into specifics (we are, obviously), 1 of 5 members redeemed 5X more points than before the triggers were launched—and when it came to cardholders booking travel with their points, Jess and company saw an opportunity.

“Knowing we’d be reaching travellers when it matters was just the beginning,” she told us, “we had to pinpoint useful content, too, and unique ways to deliver it. The ‘what’ and ‘how’ are always just as important as the ‘when’.”

First, handy travel tips, combined with calculated content designed to reinforce the program’s key feature and benefits, hit your inbox post-booking. Then, timely look-aheads – scheduled according to your travel dates – take over with dynamic real-time content to help the brand make the most of the moment and stay with you throughout your travel journey.

Closer to your trip, with the goal once again being to show that the brand’s thinking of you – and to amp up your excitement – you receive an email reminder that your flight is just two days away. What’s packed inside? A checklist of travel essentials, as well as a live weather forecast for your destination. And to cap it all off, a day before your return, you get another checklist, along with a live look at what the weather’s supposed to be like once you return home.

No matter what mother nature has in store, members are left feeling valued and recognized.

Key takeaways:

Win #2: CTR (Convenience Through Registration) and beyond

Of course, you don’t have to have a full-blown program to be sending emails strategically. Say you have an event. And say email is one of your channels of choice for communicating with prospective guests/registered attendees. Now, step out of those hypotheticals and right into this real-life scenario that plays out for Bond every year.

See, every Spring marks a new launch event for The Loyalty Report, a Bond staple and the longest-standing and largest global study on customer engagement, loyalty attitudes, behaviour, drivers and disruption. 2019 marked the culmination of an annual effort to maximize the registration flow and keep one of the company’s calling cards top of mind.

In Jess’ words, “We’ve always sort of tinkered with how we should talk when it comes to events—and how often,” she noted, “this year we upped the cadence a bit, and thought a lot about how we could turn emails that are usually transactional, into key moments in the overall experience.”

That cadence makes up a lifecycle that’s built to expand the experience, while opening the door for engagement before and after the event.

Your Registration/Invitation arrives in your inbox complete with:

Your Weekly Reminders leading up to launch day build anticipation by featuring:

And last but not least, your Post-Event Communications empower you to:

In the end, Bond saw registrants confirm their attendance faster than any other year, and more surveys filled out than ever before.

Jess admitted the results have had a trickle-down effect within the company, since Bond engages an overall audience of more than a million through its email and campaign marketing. “It’s not just huge for us,” she asserted, “it gives us some tried and true best practices, and a solid foundation that allows us to confidently set up other brands for success, too.”

Key takeaways:

Myopic fail: Return to sender

Before we cast off here, we wanted to note: Subscribers may not have even realized these next events took place, so keep’em on the down low, ok? Kidding aside, Bond recently had to navigate some choppy waters after embarking on what’s usually an uneventful migration.

At first glance, everything seemed normal. It wasn’t until a few months after the migration that a deeper look into one campaign revealed a consistently large drop-off in opens for the entire lifecycle. Not just a couple of triggers, every email.

The problem turned out to be simple: A provider was blocking Bond’s domains and preventing the emails from being delivered. 

The solution? It ended up being fairly simple, too, but here’s what played out. Contact was immediately made with the provider to remove the block and correct the issue.

The issue itself served as a catalyst for the team to implement critical changes:

“It’s led us to a more fine-tuned process, for sure,” Jess admitted, “it’s even shown us how we can get our Decision Sciences team involved early and often, so we can paint a really clear picture when it comes to the data that matters to our clients.”

Key takeaways:


It was a pleasure having Jess share these email insights with us. Thanks to her, and to Bond, for putting the time in. We posted the link earlier, but if you want to know more about what they’ve got going on, you can check out the Bond website anytime.

Huge thanks to Zach Cosby, Associate Creative Director/Copywriter at Bond Brand Loyalty, for his contributions on this piece!

There’s a lot to be learned from the past and the experience of others—building off their successes and learning from their mistakes. In this 2 Wins and a Fail blog series, we’re inviting clients, partners, friends and thought leaders to share their email marketing stories; both good and bad.


In this edition we highlight Faith Bukauskas, Senior Email Marketing Analyst for Hot Topic, and show how this pop culture retailer improved its email marketing results with three innovative real-time personalization strategies. Two of these email marketing examples exceeded expectations; and while the third didn’t go exactly as planned, Hot Topic has already learned how to adapt and find success with future campaigns.

Hot Topic has been the go-to destination for music, pop culture, and fashion for almost 30 years. With more than 600 locations across North America, the brand strives to ignite customers’ passions by offering only the best, authentic merchandise. Faith has worked on the organization’s email program for 3 years, and her stories and experiences hold valuable takeaways for marketers in retail, ecommerce, and CPG industries.

Win #1: A Time-based Targeting Strategy Leads to a 30% Increase in Clicks

Hot Topic is rapidly expanding its ecommerce presence and relies heavily on digital channels, especially email marketing, to showcase its giant assortment of products to its loyal fans and customers. 

Recently Hot Topic needed a new way to develop and deploy product-centric emails that were not just personalized, but could be updated in real time to deliver better customer experiences.

In the past, Hot Topic sent product promotion emails as soon as a particular product became available on its ecommerce site. But sometimes these products would sell out before all recipients opened the email (or even received it, depending on what time zone they were in). 

“It was a negative customer experience,” Faith said. “The experience confused and frustrated subscribers who weren’t able to act fast enough to get the product they wanted.”

Hot Topic’s marketing team considered sending these emails earlier so they would be in everyone’s inbox before their day started—no matter what time zone they were in. Yet they were concerned that customers would forget to act on them. Even if they didn’t, the original challenge remained: customers might still open an email with a link to a product that was now sold out.

A solution was found in the form of dynamic real-time content from Liveclicker’s RealTime Email platform.

“We designed a comprehensive time-based targeting strategy to handle this issue and deliver a better experience,” Faith said. “ We started using a dynamic image when announcing a product was now available in stores. Then when the product also became available online, we used moment-of-open technology to swap in a new image with that message and provide a link to encourage online shopping. And we also had a third ‘grayed out’ image prepared for when a product was out of stock, so openers knew whether something was available at the moment they opened the email.”

Hot Topic quickly discovered that this time-based strategy was a hit. These new emails produced a 30% lift in clicks, and Hot Topic saw a significant increase in click rates after the image was switched to show a new product was now available for purchase. 

Customers were much more engaged and now spent twice as much time viewing each email. Recipients now clicked before, during, and after a product went on sale; an improvement that generated new sales and revenue opportunities, especially in the case of customers who visited Hot Topic’s site before a specific product was even available.

The single biggest success metric was the reduction in customers complaining about receiving promotions for products that were already unavailable. Hot Topic has seen such improvement that they now believe they have virtually eliminated the problem on email. 

Key takeaways:

Win #2: Embedding Polls Increased Open Rates by 260% and Click-through Rates by 300+%

Hot Topic sells an incredible variety of pop culture-branded merchandise, including Harry Potter products. The retailer used to send all Harry Potter product offers to fans based on their past purchases of any and all Harry Potter merchandise. 

Yet this approach still wasn’t segmented enough; large fan bases are often split among different styles and preferences. Which band member is most talented? Who’s the coolest character in the movie? Which book is the best in the series? Such questions can divide as much as they unite.

One way the Harry Potter fans are split is among their school ‘House’ affiliation (Gryffindor, Slytherin, etc.), and that can have a huge influence on the type of merchandise they want. Customer service even noted an increase in customer complaints. If you’re a baseball fan, compare it to a sports retailer sending Red Sox fans personalized offers for Yankees jerseys. You can imagine the kind of response that would get.

“We wanted to improve overall segmentation for the fan base, but didn’t have the data to accurately divide this group,” Faith said. “So we did the most obvious thing we could think of: we asked them!”

The brand did this by embedding a poll in an email asking about subscribers’ house loyalty. This equipped Hot Topic with the data it needed to segment its list and improve future relevance, and minimized errors that might have occurred if they had to make assumptions based on click-stream or purchase data.

All of these efforts paid off. Where past Harry Potter control emails had a 10% open rate and a 1.2% CTR, Hot Topic’s new house-specific emails had open rates up to 36% and CTRs of nearly 5%. This represented improvements of 260% and 300+%, respectively.

The poll email was Hot Topic’s third-highest email in terms of highest clicks sent in 2018. The company also saw more than a 90% increase on average in click-to-open. In fact, this was so successful, the company is now considering new ways to use Liveclicker’s LivePoll element to increase explicit data from its customers, which can then be used to improve future targeting campaigns. 

Key takeaways:

The Fail: An Initial Geo-targeting Campaign Misses the Mark

Hot Topic freely admits that the use of geotargeting has been a challenge, especially since a significant portion of their database is made up of Gmail users. Gmail prevents geolocation information from being recognized and instead shows all users as being in Mountain View, California.

Hot Topic’s marketing team initially wanted to deploy an email campaign that would use geotargeting to send personalized messages to recipients near the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con event. 

“It was a really cool idea,” Faith said. “We had all this location-specific messaging and creative that would be perfect for anyone who opened the email within a certain proximity to the event. Unfortunately technical limitations with Gmail meant we had to table that strategy. We ended up serving the default message in email even though we went through the work of creating the segmented campaign and creative.” 

As a result, Hot Topic missed out on valuable opportunity to deliver personalized content that was more likely to connect and engage with its target audience.

Fortunately, good news is on the horizon. Hot Topic is planning on taking advantage of new Liveclicker functionality that will be able to anticipate a recipient’s location at time of open based on past behavior. 

Since activating on Geo-Prediction in the last few months, there have been 1.3 million impressions that have been predicted by LiveClicker. This means geo-centric content and promotions can be sent to Gmail users, along with personalized messages that can even be further targeted based on their operating system, device type, and other factors.

Key takeaways:

We would like to sincerely thank Faith Bukauskas and Hot Topic for sharing these great stories and examples. For more information, you can download the complete Hot Topic case study and subscribe to Hot Topic yourself for more inspiration (and great deals!).

There’s a lot to be learned from the past and the experience of others—building off their successes and learning from their mistakes. In this 2 Wins and a Fail blog series, we’re inviting clients, partners, friends and thought leaders to share their email marketing stories; both good and bad.


This week we had the pleasure to speak with Matt Berry, Digital Marketing Manager for Herschend Family Entertainment.

Herschend is the largest family-owned themed attractions corporation in the US, managing 23 entertainment, tourism and hospitality properties and theme parks including Silver Dollar City Attractions and Dollywood Parks & Resorts. Matt has worked with Herschend brands for 4 years and oversees email campaigns for many of the organization’s properties and attractions. His experiences hold valuable advice for any email marketer; especially those working in the entertainment, travel, and hospitality industries.

Success Story #1: Getting Subscribers Ready To Explore A New Land

Drumming up excitement for upcoming locations and attractions is an ongoing challenge for destination brands like Herschend’s.

When Dollywood started promoting its latest theme park expansion, Wildwood Grove, it took a strategic, measured approach.

Wildwood Grove will be the newest—and largest—addition to the world-famous Dollywood theme park. “Because of how significant the new area is, we really went big and are still going big with this announcement across all channels,” Berry said.

Dollywood wanted to create excitement and awareness about the new attraction and use that buzz as momentum to fuel related campaigns and sales opportunities. Though the big expansion wouldn’t open for several months, the brand started promoting it as early as last fall; right when it was going on sale with its season passes for the upcoming year.

dynamic email design example

Click here to see the complete interactive email!

The Dollywood team also tried something new with this announcement; a pre-sale campaign.

“When we announced, we gave guests the opportunity to ‘raise their hand’ to learn more about Wildwood Grove early,” Berry explained. “We also offered guests to sign up to be part of our limited time pre-sale, which would give them special pricing opportunities in addition to access to Wildwood Grove before anyone else. So we were using the announcement to sell season passes as well as offering special access to early adopters.”

A series of announcement emails directed interested subscribers to a specialized landing page where they could opt in to receive additional news and special offers related to Wildwood Grove. The email team segmented this list and sent it an extremely successful pre-sale campaign, taking advantage of Liveclicker features like fully-embedded video and slideshows in-email to build excitement and anticipation.

As icing on the cake, Dollywood made clever use of advanced tracking technology to monitor individuals who:

  1. Signed up for the special Season Pass Pre-Sale
  2. Went to the Dollywood site store where season passes were sold
  3. Did not make a purchase

The company remarketed this audience segment with highly-focused and effective ‘abandoned cart’ style emails.

The Wildwood Grove announcement and the campaigns launched alongside it have proven extremely potent for Dollywood, and Herschend is now adapting these tactics to its other brands to multiply its success.

Key takeaways:

P.S. Wildwood Grove is scheduled to open soon (May 11)…and it looks AWESOME! Check out this teaser featuring an introduction from Dolly Parton:

Success Story 2: A Concert Promotion Email Encore

The second big win Matt shared was an initiative to create interest and sell more tickets to concerts at another one of Herschend’s theme parks: Wild Adventures.

The park hosts a series of A-list bands, artists, performers and comedians with every new season. This year Wild Adventures adopted a new strategy that boosted both season pass and reserved concert seat sales.

Instead of announcing the complete concert lineup all at once, the team decided to ‘tease’ subscribers by just featuring a couple of the events on the schedule at the beginning of the campaign in the fall. These limited announcements were used as value-adds to drive early season pass purchases.

As the new season approached, Wild Adventures used the final main concert announcement as a miniature event in and of itself, using in-email countdown timers to build and maintain excitement leading up to the release date.

The email featuring main concert announcement was heavily personalized. ”We have rock artists, we have Christian artists, country, and so on,” Berry said. “If we saw that a user had attended a certain kind of event in the past, we made sure to showcase similar artists and performers and bring them to the top because that’s what they’re likely to be most interested in.”

But this year the company was careful not just to show a limited selection of events. They wanted to highlight the sheer breadth and variety of high-quality concerts and performances available. After all; people can have diverse tastes and interests in more than just one or two entertainment categories.

To showcase the broad suite of concert selections in the limited real estate of an email, Wild Adventures made great use of Liveclicker’s LiveSlides functionality. The interactive element could effortlessly showcase multiple artists in a particular genre, which was dynamic based on that subscribers preferences, while maintaining a sleek, user-friendly email design.

As an extra value-add, they explained that season passholders received exclusive first access to reserved concert seats a week before they went on sale to the general public.

entertainment brand email example

Click here to see the complete interactive email!

This multi-pronged approach has been hugely successful. Though only a few concerts have occurred so far this season, Wild Adventures is already up YoY on the limited reserved concert seats and has seen substantial growth in season pass sales since the main concert announcement.

Key Takeaways:

The Fail: “Oops.”

Herschend has seen a lot of email success across its properties. But even very well managed marketing programs aren’t always executed perfectly.

Matt was given an especially stark reminder of this after a Herschend property sent out a mass email with a crucial oversight.

This property is well known and respected for its fun, quirky email campaigns. So when it sent out an email announcing a pending price increase in membership costs, it got a lot of opens for a flash sale for memberships at the current lower price.

Unfortunately there was a critical mistake in the email. The link to the landing page where subscribers could buy at the discounted price was wrong. It went to an unrelated web page, and any openers clicking through expecting a good deal were immediately disappointed, confused, and frustrated.

This is a nightmare scenario for email marketers. Countless hours of creativity, strategy, and analytics—not to mention months or years of careful relationship nurturing and goodwill building—can all be sabotaged by a single mistake like this.

The property’s email team reacted in textbook fashion once it realized the error. They followed up with an apologetic, funny, and self-deprecating “oops” email. The email didn’t try to ignore the mistake; it owned up to the error and provided subscribers a comically large selection of correct links that would take openers where needed to go for the flash sale.

oops email example

“We have learned over the years that ‘oops’ emails actually perform pretty well..people like to watch you mess up and are more prone to open,” Berry said. “I loved the way this was written as it was calling attention to ourselves for making a mistake and putting less focus on the promotion itself. The message barely mentioned the sale, yet drove engagement and resulted in sales – possibly higher than the original email may have achieved on its own.”

This follow-up strategy proved to be extremely effective and earned exceptional open and engagement rates.

Key Takeaways:


Enormous thanks to Matt Berry and Herschend Family Entertainment Brands for these stories for us to share and learn from!

Matt recently shared even more of his experiences, expertise and advice at our Future of Email Atlanta event! If you’re interested in hearing more stories from email pros, register now to join the conversation at a session near you—it’s completely free for email marketers!