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What is the marketing value of an “out of office” reply? by Jordie van Rijn @jvanrijn

What is the marketing value of an “out of office” reply? by Jordie van Rijn @jvanrijn

Email Marketing : What is the marketing value of an out of office reply?

What is the marketing value of an out of office reply?


What is an out of office reply worth to an email marketeer? Most of us filter them from the “real” replies as soon as they come in. Or we even block the replies altogether. But that doesn’t do justice to the nature of that automated reply message. So what is the value of an out-of-office reply?

Winning first prize

The travel website boekvandaag.nl won first prize at the Dutch EMMA-nl email marketing awards 2010. Their case shows how they were able to build a successful online travel site within a year using smart email marketing.

Boekvandaag.nl has a daily travel offer on the website and in your inbox. It’s daily candy for travel. People don’t book a trip every day, so keeping the message interesting is very important. Inspiring travel locations and trips are a big part of that story. Email frequency is also a big issue, I’ll come back to that.

With a daily email going out, they receive a lot of out of office replies. But how to create value out of them?

Value #1
Profile information from out-of-the-office

About 60% of all the replies are just people who are taking a day off. But it also offers a lot of personal profile information. What time of the year a person goes on vacation, which destination, active or sun vacations, long trips, short trips.. People write all of that in their out of office replies. That is a golden nugget of personalization info for each travel agency. On average 20% of all replies contain vacation information. But with a big fluctuation, on Thursday and Friday and especially during holidays the number of vacation messages are much higher.

The information from the out-of-office replies is combined with preferences, response behaviour and bookings. With the help of the email platform Clang, segments based on this dataset are automatically generated. The information is used to send messages best suited to the subscribers profile. They don’t make different versions of the emailings (yet). Instead they filter out the irrelevant ones, bringing down the email frequency. If you stated in your preference that you love sun, you will receive that sun vacation offer. They use the out-of-office info in the same way, if it stated you where going on a beach vacation.

Value #2
Timing insights

Looking at the aggregated out-of-office information, they were able to distill patterns in customer behaviour. If people are traveling on Saturday, a large group already takes off from work on Thursday. That is really valuable information, timing is key in vacation messages. Already 5% of the total volume are “have a nice vacation” or “welcome home” emails. These pre and post-vacation emails contain upsell offers like last-minute upgrades, car rental, insurance and review requests.

Value #3
Lowering email frequency: Smart use of the out-of office

With a daily email program a lot of traditional unsubscribers actually don’t want to unsubscribe. They just want to reduce the amount of mails they receive. Boekvandaag has a preference center where you can switch to a weekly mail instead of daily. And also a pause function, where you can temporarily stop receiving emails. These measures are responsible for a shocking 35% decline in unsubscribes.

Your subscription is actively put on pause using the out-of-office information. Cleaning out your inbox after being away for a while is a big annoyance. When people come back from vacation they won’t find a list of boekvandaag mails waiting there, just one service email: “We have temporarily paused your emails, have a nice vacation.” In this way they are adding value by communicating less, people greatly appreciate it.

Roy Platje, CEO of boekvandaag.nl: “For us the reply mails are such a great source of information and service. We will be optimizing the use of it even more during the course of the year. But then again, a large part of the subscribers just go on vacation once a year.”

Meet us in London at the European Email Marketing Conference!
Catch me or Roy Platje of boekvandaag at the European Email Marketing Conference 1 – 3 November 2010. Roy will be presenting their winning case together with of E-village / Clang with a lot of other smart email tactics they are using.

Takeaway: Even out of office replies can provide valuable data and an opportunity to score points with your subscribers if you think outside the box.

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Your thoughts here
  1. What a great idea, just from a simple out of office reply. On the note of mass emails it is important to track your emails, especially when it comes to how many were opened or gone straight through to spam. Dyn have a solution to this.



  2. Jordie,

    Great post. Especially, the ‘reason’ for out of office.

    Keep em coming.

  3. I just want to let you know that I have linked to your valuable post from within my email marketing tips blog carnival.


    John W. Furst

    • Thanks for including us John! Jordie really has great insight and we’re glad to have him blogging with us!


      Jim Ducharme
  4. Nicely done. My only concern is the “creep” factor. My immediate reaction to a “Welcome home” email from a travel company that I may not have used for my trip would freak me out a little. It’s a great idea and very valuable usage of OOO replies, but I can see this turning people off in dramatic fashion.

  5. Great post!

    Just last week I advised clients yesterday to filter the “Away on Maternity” leave messages and send congrats on the baby and coming back to work at the appropriate time.

    • Be very careful with baby and timing. I’ve been involved in a project in which we also used the the newborn child time-line, but with great caution. Thing is that sometimes the baby or mother has (health) problems or even dies. Even if these numbers are small, the emotional impact is always huge. A thing to think seriously think about.

  6. Hi Kelly & Marc

    Actually a lot of people put valuable information in their Out of office.
    About 60% is “normal day off”. The rest is made up out of questions (15%), unsubscribe requests (5%) and vacation messages (20%).

    Actually the time it takes to handle these is less than you would think. For now they handle the emails manually, but the followthrue is automated (via ticketing and ESP system). That should be totally scalable, because the variable costs would mean variable addition in value.

    But don’t forget Roy Platje will be available for all questions during his presentation at the European Emailmarketing Conference next week (1 – 3 november)! I also heard there will be a prize for the best question…


  7. Like the post – smart use of available data – what I want to know is how scalable this is – they must have trawled through all the out of office replies in order to gain that information – or did they use a smart passing script to get the info?

  8. Jordie,

    This is a very interesting idea and something I hadn’t previously considered. A few wrenches I want to throw at you to see how Boekvandaag handles them:

    1) Do many people really put what they’re doing and where they’re going in their “out of office” replies? I rarely see details beyond “I am out sick” or “I’m out on vacation” or “I’m traveling for work”.

    2) What if the contact is out of the office because they’re sick or traveling for work? Does Boekvandaag separate these folks so they don’t get a “welcome back from your vacation!” message?

    3) Just based on the sheer volume and differences in “out of office” replies, how does Boekvandaag automatically or not, or have the time to, parse through all the data?

    Thanks for putting some ideas in my head, Jordie!
    -Kelly Lorenz

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