Silverpop - Email Critique: American Airlines AAdvantage Member 25th Anniversary Email
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Email Critique: American Airlines AAdvantage Member 25th Anniversary Email

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
20 March 2012

Nothing like waking up on a sunny Saturday morning and having an airline remind you in an offhand way how old you are:


I didn't realize I'd been a member of the AAdvantage frequent-flyer program for 25 years because I don't fly American very often. But the email did make me think about what was good and not so good about it and how you can create an anniversary message that resonates with your customers.

Customer, member, purchase and other anniversary emails are specific to the individual. So, they can be incredibly relevant and deliver a high return on a relatively low volume. Also, because they’re automated messages triggered by a date, they’re set up in advance and then automagically keep on delivering results.

Customers like to be appreciated for the money they've spent on you over the years. They have many choices, as your airline pilot is likely to remind you as your plane approaches the gate.

So, saying "Thanks!" is a nice touch, but like a birthday email, an anniversary email can do more than just deliver a simple greeting.

How well did this email from American Airlines do its job? Below are a few observations:

1. Inbox presence: American used a lengthy “From” name—"American Airlines AAdvantage Program"—which differentiates it from promotional emails. However, only "American Airlines" will show in many email clients and inboxes.

Although first-name personalization can be tricky, it works in this subject line: "Loren, Happy Anniversary!"

Because I'm not a regular American flyer, my participation in the frequent-flyer program isn't top of mind. But I did open the email because the subject line was intriguing, given that I didn't know which anniversary it meant.

Twenty-five years as a customer is a pretty significant milestone. So, the subject line should have been something like "Happy 25th Anniversary with AAdvantage." (Read more on “From” names and subject lines.)

2. Creative content: Seriously? I find this email ugly and amateurish looking. Perhaps that's a bit harsh, but it looks like someone just grabbed a stock photo of ribbon, inserted "Happy 25th Anniversary" and threw a box around it.

Email is a major branding vehicle, but this message does almost no branding. No planes, destinations or photos of flight attendants, pilots or happy passengers.

Zero creative thought shows in this email, even though the possibilities are nearly endless, including leveraging the obvious silver-anniversary theme.

3. Creative tone and personality: Anniversaries should be warm and fuzzy events, but this copy has no personality. It looks and reads like a business letter, from the salutation all the way down through the signature.

I did like that the message was from and signed by a real person, in this case the president of the AAdvantage loyalty program. But let's get some personality, shall we?

Here's where integrating your email and ecommerce or CRM systems can pay off. Tell your customers a little about their history with you, such as how many products they've bought over the years.

In this case, how about showing how many flight segments and miles I had flown over the years? Or my standing relative to other AA members, or how many other customers had reached the 25-year milestone? Perhaps the potential return might not warrant the resources needed to enable all these ideas, but some of this data is easily and readily available.

If the message doesn't offer an incentive or gift, the marketing team should expend a little effort to create more fun or engaging copy.

How about dynamically populating the emails with top movies from the anniversary's base year (in 1987 they were The Princess Bride, Full Metal Jacket and The Untouchables), TV shows ("The Cosby Show," "Family Ties" and "Cheers") or Billboard hit songs ("Faith" by George Michael, "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi and "With or Without You" by U2)?

4. Social presence: Buried after the signature are icons for what appear to be American's mobile app and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels. I have no idea what I'm supposed to do: Like? Follow? Post something? Watch the "United Breaks Guitars" video?

Twenty-five years is a long time. How about embedding pre-populated "Tweet This" and "Post to Facebook" links/icons with a message that declares something like "Whoa! I just had my 25th anniversary as an American Advantage member … That's a lot of flying."

How about a link to American's Facebook page asking me to post about a great experience on an American flight? (Perhaps this is dynamic content reserved only for top-tier members.)

Whether it’s a 10-, 15-, 20-, 25- or longer anniversary, turn the event into an opportunity to engage with your customers and allow them to tell your story for you.

5. Extending the customer relationship: This message had no promotion or call to action, merely a greeting. That's OK if your only goal is say "Thanks," but it doesn't acknowledge the customer history in any way.

Perhaps loyal frequent flyers on American received a gift or an incentive. But I would have liked to have seen a call to action that got me back to the website, and not just to buy a trip. I could have learned what's new at American, updated my profile, done some fare shopping or checked out vacation packages.

The message does have one valuable nugget of information: I can use my AAdvantage miles on 20 other airlines. How about linking to the website so I can find out which ones?

I happen to fly a fair amount—about 100,000 miles each year—but very little on American. Knowing my sporadic use of the airline, American could incorporate some dynamic content with messaging and offers that is commensurate with customer loyalty or history.

6. Overall Grade — D: I give American points for actually remembering and communicating my 25th anniversary as a member of its loyalty program, but I think the actual effort was equivalent to handing out a bag of peanuts: expected but not very memorable.

Are you leveraging customer anniversaries in your email program? Any experiences or lessons learned to share? And finally, what did you think of the American Airlines email? Please share your comments below.

Related Resources:
1) Blog: “Post-Purchase Emails that Drive Higher Revenue, Engagement
2) White paper: “Birthday Blueprint: How to Build a Top-Tier Birthday Email Program
3) Study: “Tapping the Power of Triggered Emails: Silverpop’s Retail Benchmark Survey


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