Have you ever scrolled through your inbox, only to be greeted by a flood of “limited time offers” and “exclusive discounts” that were anything _but _limited or exclusive?
If you’re nodding in agreement, then you’ve experienced first-hand the onslaught of discount-driven email marketing. Your customers might be nodding too.
The overuse of discounts in email marketing has become so prevalent it’s pretty much the norm in the eCommerce landscape nowadays. So much so that, for many marketers, it’s often unfathomable to send an email with no discount inside.
After all, everyone loves a good deal, right?
The problem is …
When discounts become the norm rather than the exception, the compelling call-to-action weakens, lost in a sea of predictable offers. So you go bigger, bolder, slashing prices even further to create that missing element of surprise, to inject that sense of limited-time urgency. And it works. For a while. Until this, too, becomes the norm.
The novelty wears off, the urgency fades, and your emails become predictable once again, resulting in customers that only perk up for a truly major deal. Which not only dilutes the value of your products and brand but also leads to low profit margins.
And so, if you’re wondering why your once irresistible email deals are meeting with lukewarm response rates… Or why your customers are only showing up for those mammoth 80% off deals…
It’s likely because they’re going through a major crisis of discount fatigue.
Discount Fatigue: the Monster of Ecommerce Email Marketing
According to this Data & Marketing Association survey, a jaw-dropping 82% of consumers consider less than half of the emails they receive from brands to be useful.
Given the discount-focused strategy many brands use nowadays, it makes sense.
When every email screams “sale” or “limited-time offer”, customers learn to ignore the noise.
It’s like walking through a bustling market where every stall-holder is shouting about their deals – eventually, the individual voices become indistinguishable, blending into a monotonous hum.
Similarly, your email is one voice among many.
If that voice is always echoing the same tune of discounts, it becomes predictable, uninteresting, and, as the study highlights, not useful for the majority of consumers.
So how do we change that?
How do we transform our emails from “more of the same” to a memorable experience in our customer’s inbox?
It’s all about diversifying the content, creating value beyond discounts, and re-sensitizing our audience to genuinely engaging offers.
Read on as we unpack the strategies to achieve just that.
Run Your Last-ever Big Sale
To re-sensitize customers to smaller, sporadic discounts, they first need to know you’re changing gears.
Or, in other words, that you’ll never sell your products at an 80% reduction ever again (or whatever price reduction you want to stop relying on).
It’s the kind of change that grabs your customer’s attention and breaks through the noise of consistent discounts.
But simply saying “this is our last-ever big sale” isn’t going to cut it.
To create a truly engaging campaign, you need to pair it with one of the most powerful words in the English language: the word “because”.
Research tells us that using or even implying the word “because” and then giving a reason results in significantly more compliance from other people when asking them to do something.
Here’s why this works in the context of online sales. Customers today are not just seeking products or discounts; they’re looking for transparency, engagement, and a sense of connection with the brands they choose to support.
When you’re running sales without a reason, it signals that you’re just trying to make a quick buck. But when you have a unique circumstance behind that sale, it lowers resistance and gets more people excited about the offer.
If we look at the example below, that’s exactly what Four Sigmatic is doing with their 50% off email. The only reason they’re offering such a big discount is because of their 10th anniversary as a company, and that calls for celebration (aka, a sale).
Add Storytelling to Your Email Content
Now that you’ve officially gotten rid of the mammoth sales, you might be wondering what types of emails you should be sending instead.
And the answer is this: anything that adds variety to your email content calendar.
That’s because according to this study, an unpredictable situation or event triggers more intense emotional reactions and activates the dopaminergic neurons in the brain. If your customers can’t predict what type of email you’re going to send next, they’ll start paying attention again.
My favorite way to do it? Storytelling.
In general, story-based emails lead to the phenomenon known as “parasocial relationships”. The theory was first developed by Horton and Wohl in 1956, and it refers to the psychologically perceived closeness and friendship people feel with a celebrity or fictional figure (including brands), despite having no physical interactions with them.
The more your customers know about you, the closer they’re going to feel to you. And the more they’re going to buy from you, as opposed to your competitors.
The proof is in the numbers. Here’s how this company went from just-below-average metrics on their emails…
To an average increase of 123.74% for their open rate and 63.15% for their click-through rate. All by including story-based emails in their strategy.
Ready to infuse storytelling into your email marketing strategy? Here are some ideas of story-based emails you can send:
BTS content helps you connect with your audience on a personal level, by making your brand relatable, approachable, and more human.
And according to the following report from SproutSocial, consumers like to know there are “real people” behind brand names. Which is why introducing your founding team, or key members of staff in your emails is such a great idea.
Plus, BTS content gives you the chance to showcase your process of creating the products you sell.
And if you’re competing with other brands on product quality, your process becomes an important part of your value proposition.
Here’s how to send behind-the-scenes content as part of your email strategy:
- Think about what makes your process different — What is it about your process that’s unique and how can you communicate that?
- Share your failures and successes — Transparency about both your triumphs and your learning moments can humanize your brand and foster trust.
- Reveal upcoming projects or products — Give your audience a sneak peek into what’s coming up. This creates a sense of anticipation and makes them feel part of your brand journey.
- Explain your decision-making process — This can range from how you choose your product ingredients, select services, or even curate your playlist for work. Giving insight into these decisions can make customers feel more aligned with your brand values.
- Show off your workspace — Whether it’s a quirky office environment, a buzzing factory floor, or a cozy home setup, giving your audience a glimpse of where you work can make your brand more relatable.
And here’s an excellent example of a behind-the-scenes story from the previously mentioned functional foods company, where they’re telling stories from one of their team-building events:
While story-based emails can be about you and your business (for parasocial relationship building), remember to also include stories about your happiest customers.
Customers often trust other customers more than they trust brands. So this type of social proof allows you to highlight the benefits and value of your product or service in a practical, real-world context.
Stories can be a lot more persuasive than simply listing a bunch of testimonials.
But what if you don’t have any customer stories to share?
In that case, you’ll need to reach out to your happiest customers and interview them, survey them, or ask them for a longer testimonial. Here’s how this company did it:
And once you’ve got the yes, here’s how Gartner suggests that you write out the actual story for increased engagement:
- First, consider your target audience’s interests and pain points
- Keep it simple. Choose a story arc that’s easy to understand and conveys your message clearly
- Cut out the parts of the story that aren’t resonating with the interests and pain points discovered in step one
- Sprinkle data-driven results across your story to add credibility and make your email as compelling as possible
Use RFM Segments for Strategic Discounting
What about smaller incentives? Should you get rid of those too?
Not really. In fact, when used strategically, smaller offers can often bring better results than mammoth sales.
And for that, RFM advanced segmentation can be a game changer. Here’s how it works:
RFM stands for Recency, Frequency, and Monetary value. It’s a strategy used to analyze and understand customer behavior by looking at when a customer last made a purchase (recency), how often they purchase (frequency), and how much they spend (monetary value).
Each customer gets a score from 1 to 5 (5 being the highest) for each of the three variables. Customers then get divided into purchase-behavioral sub-groups according to their score.
Once you’ve got the segments, it’s easy to see what types of emails and offers work for each one.
For example, a customer who buys often and spends a lot might not need a discount to encourage a purchase. But you might choose to reward them for their loyalty with a free gift or an exclusive offer.
Here’s how these brands are celebrating their most loyal customers:
By using RFM segmentation, you’re not just blasting out discounts left and right. Instead, you’re using them strategically, offering value where it’s most likely to make an impact.
This not only makes each discount feel more personal and relevant but also helps maintain the perception of value for your products or services.
Bonus Tip: Introduce Novel Incentives
Joggling with a bunch of different types of incentives is another way you can overcome discount fatigue and pique your customers’ interest.
Still, the main idea here is balance.
Don’t simply replace the weekly discounts with these types of offers. Instead, focus on adding more variety to your email marketing strategy.
If you’re sending one small discount this week, perhaps next week you’ll consider a different incentive. Something like:
Buy-one-get-one-free offers are a popular way to liquidate extra products or products that have a sell-by date.
Customers love them because they feel like they’re getting one item for 100% off, instead of two items for 50% off.
In fact, surveys show that 66% of shoppers prefer BOGO to other discount promotions and 93% have taken advantage of BOGO offers at least once.
- Free shipping
Whether you condition this offer to a purchase minimum or not, free shipping is one of the most enticing offers you can make.
A survey from Experian clearly demonstrates that: 78% of businesses who offered free shipping in an email saw an increase in CTRs and 47% experienced higher average order values. Plus, 72% of emails that mention free shipping are more effective than those that don’t.
- Free gifts
Customers love freebies.
And similar to free shipping, you can condition this offer to a purchase minimum or not. Plus, this might even work better than any of the discount offers you’ve used before.
That’s because customers perceive “getting more” as superior to a discount, according to this study in the Journal of Marketing.
Other examples of intriguing offers include loyalty programs or conditional offers, multi-buys (e.g. buy 2 at the price of 1), and more.
Discount fatigue is like a worn-out song on the radio – it loses its charm over time, and your customers are craving a new tune. But guess what?
You’ve got the power to change the station.
By launching a well-reasoned last-ever big sale, diversifying your emails with engaging content, and embracing the dynamite strategy of RFM segmentation, you’ll not just overcome discount fatigue, you’ll blast it into the stratosphere.
Remember: email is about connecting, resonating, and leaving a lasting impression. The more you work on building those relationships with your subscribers, the more you’ll sell as a result.
So here’s to shaking off the dust, to sending emails that sizzle and pop, and to standing out in an inbox full of “same old, same old”.