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A Look Inside My 5 Best Friend Brands

by: Dave Walters (@_DaveWalters)
29 December 2014

I normally don’t use real-life marketing interactions as examples when speaking with customers. I figure clients can see examples of the theories we discuss in their own inboxes.

So I’ve been a bit surprised during the last couple months with the in-depth questions and deep interactions I’ve received around sharing my Top 5 “Best Friend Brands.” Given the reaction I’ve gotten, I’m going to end my 2014 posts with an in-depth view into how I see my inbox, and the attributes that make me absolutely love certain email relationships.

In case you didn’t see my original post on Best Friend Brands, the short version is that everyone has a special spot carved out for their most important email relationships. Silverpop did a study on how brands can reach this true inner circle, and the results show that:

  • Trust and relevancy trump everything
  • Email fills a critical role in the customer/business relationship.

I offered a deeper analysis of the research in an earlier post, so now let’s dive directly into my personal inbox in reverse chronological order (yes, like a Dave Letterman Top 10 list).

5) Spotify

Spotify is absolutely brilliant because it understands the role that streaming music plays in my world – pure new artist discovery. Music is an absolute central part of both my work and home life. As I write this, I’m listening to Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti’s 1987 Decca recording of Puccini’s La Boheme on 11. And with opera, I’ve explored many more Puccini and Donizetti operas to hone my ear for both tenors and sopranos – and yes, Pavarotti is still my top pick.

The beauty is that Spotify both allows and suggests I listen to multiple versions of the same opera but understands the recommendation engine should behave differently when it’s pop music. In these instances, it sees me listening to new music (Chvrches in the example below) and recommends other new music that’s similar.

Spotify Example 1 

For that reason – and even deeper brilliance like a fully personalized “Your Year in Music” campaign (see below) – Spotify drives content relevance like few other brands in my inbox. And yes, go listen to Eli “Paperboy” Reed if you love Philly-style pop soul.

Spotify Example 2 



While those who know me wouldn’t really use the phrase “fashion-forward,” I do actually pay attention to clothing and accessories – and even dress myself without much help from my wife.  When it comes to shopping for these items, my favorite email relationship by far is with GILT.

Although I only buy two or three times a year, I really enjoy consuming GILT’s email content for one very specific reason: All the key brands are smartly placed in the subject line. Does this virtually destroy the old rules around 40-character subject lines? Absolutely. Do I look at every single one that lands in my inbox? Absolutely, again.

When I receive content, such as the message below, containing brands I like (Tumi Luggage, John Varvatos, Hickey Freeman, etc.), I often clock three to five opens and the same amount of clicks. And when I buy, it’s typically not a $15 pair of socks. Suffice it to say I’m a good value proposition for GILT.

Gilt example 

Again, for understanding how (and when) I want to consume ecommerce content, GILT is in my Top 5 Best Friend Brands — even if I rarely hit the buy button.

3) eBags

When you travel as much as I do, a go-to retailer for luggage and travel accessories is a must-have – and eBags is my personal favorite. Beyond specializing in items my wife swears I buy like Carrie Bradshaw buys shoes, eBags has honed an incredibly personal stream of content for me. And it absolutely proves the fact that a Best Friend Brand can send five to seven campaigns a week and retain strong engagement.

As you’d expect, eBags is good at cart abandonment emails and even sends me an extra message if the price of an item I’ve carted drops. Beyond that, it also has browse abandon campaigns set up on a brand-by-brand basis, as you can see from the Samsonite message below that followed my web-based session by about two hours.

eBags example 

And finally, eBags clearly understands the affinity that’s a major behavior driver in the travel industry. Not only does it deliver timely offers and have its own reward currency (which has directly driven a conversion from me in the past), it’s affiliated with Delta’s SkyMiles Shopping, which gets me even more miles per dollar spent, as shown below.

Delta eBags example 

For its aggressive frequency, deep stack of almost any travel-related item, and a clear understanding of my buying drivers, eBags is my No. 1 pure-play ecommerce brand.

2) Creative Market

Many of my more technical customers are aware I’ve been known to hack up an optimized landing page or end up deep in conversation about how best to tackle the age-old question of responsive design for email templates. While I don’t necessarily create assets in Photoshop, I’m a great collector of content from Creative Market. The site is a designer-driven marketplace of fonts, templates, icons, and almost every other asset a designer or developer might need to build beautiful campaigns.

And Creative Market absolutely nails the value proposition of our email relationship by delivering a weekly email containing six free assets packs – three on its site, and three on its Facebook page. There are three to four other campaigns every week that educate me on the latest trends and deliver great offers, but the free asset email gets me every time. In fact, I keep a subdirectory with just those zip files for a rainy day of hacking. And where do you think I go every time I need something beyond the freebies? Yep, you guessed it – I’ve become a 10- to 15-purchase customer during the last couple years just by Creative Market engaging me via email.

Creative Market example

For its understanding that trial leads to purchase – and for keeping me up-to-date on the latest trends in design – Creative Market is second to only one brand in my inbox.

1) Delta Airlines

If there’s one brand I’m medievally loyal to, it’s Delta Airlines. Having clocked just short of 200,000 miles in 2014, I spent an inordinate amount of time planning, booking and flying – often across multiple channels for every trip. I’m likely to research seat-level availability with a Diamond Medallion desk call center rep, purchase the ticket in my corporate travel portal, modify some aspects of the trip in the mobile app, and then maybe even circle back to the call center pre-flight. To call me channel-agnostic would be a stunning understatement.

Delta understands me at a level most brands couldn’t achieve. It knows my notification preferences, and its Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system in the call center even recognizes my phone number and routes me to a rep who has my upcoming itineraries on their screen before they even greet me (which they do by name). And beyond just the flight experience, it builds partnerships with other travel brands like Starwood and Hertz that leverage my Delta status to receive preferred benefits at those other companies.

While they’re amazing, even your Best Friend Brands can have sub-optimal programs. For me, that’s Delta’s SkyDining program, which earns me a few miles every couple months but does nothing to affect my choice of restaurants. The quality and relevance of the locations just isn’t up to the standards I expect of Foursquare in terms of reviews and other forms of social proof. But do I stay enrolled in the program because I love getting the Complimentary Upgrade email shown below? Absolutely.

 Delta Airlines example

So because I spend a metric ton of my work life with Delta Airlines and have the highest expectations of its digital programs, it’s my No. 1 Best Friend Brand.

What are you Best Friend Brands? Share your picks and why you rate them best @_DaveWalters, and I'll check ‘em out. Who knows, maybe they’ll wind up on my next Best Friend Brands list.

Related Resources:

1) White Paper: “Are You a Best Friend Brand? How Relevance and Trust Can Get You into the Inner Circle

2) Blog: “5 Barriers to Loyalty, and How Marketers Can Overcome Them

3) Video: “Mobile Apps 2.0: What Marketers Need to Know About the New World of Apps


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